By: Warren Kuhlman | October 18, 2021
Meredith Talusan (she/they), author of the acclaimed transgender memoir, “Fairest”, award-winning journalist, and founding executive editor of them, Condé Nast’s LGBTQ+ digital platform, presented a talk to University at Albany students this week. “Fairest” recounts her life as a Filipino with albinism who immigrated to the United States in childhood, attended Harvard, and went through a gender transition. The book illuminates the illusions of race, disability, and gender.
Since "Fairest" was originally published in May 2020 with all events for the book being held virtually, the Craft Talk held by the NYS Writers Institute and the Office of Intercultural Student Engagement was Talusan’s first in-person event for the book.
“Titles are important. They are the tent pole of a project,” Talusan stated as she spoke to the student moderators. One of the major themes of her memoir was justice and fairness: what does society owe us, and what do we owe society?
What inspired Talusan to write this memoir was imagining people like her reading it and getting inspired. “I wanted to illustrate myself to myself as honestly as I can. You have so much power as a memoirist, you can hide yourself within your writing,” said Talusan.
It was never part of her plan to write a memoir. Growing up in a rural Filipino area there was no notion of a career or planning a trajectory in life. So, Talusan did what interested her when studying and working. When she was acquiring her honors BA in English and American Literature from Harvard College, she was doing so in hopes to become a scholar, not necessarily a writer. During this time she considered herself a visual artist, focusing mainly on photography, who could also write. After having a difficult time with creative writing she earned her MFA in Fiction from Cornell University. During this time she bumped into a journalist and essayist career.
Her career in essay writing started with one op-ed for Buzzfeed about the state of trans memoirs. In 2015 most of them were lacking, mainly written for a cisgender audience to understand the trans experience.
One little known fact discussed at the event was the US Military’s creation of the curriculum for the Philippines education system in which they included only white writers for children to learn from. This means Talusan never saw herself in the works she was reading and did not think she could be the one telling the story.
After overcoming the self-doubt, Talusan decided that if there were no minority written books, she would write one herself. With the unique privilege of being a minority transgender person (who is also an immigrant, disabled, and has albinism) Talusan started a memoir to fill the gap of representation.
Talusan broke "Fairest" up into three sections: childhood in the Philippines, Harvard, and discovering her gender identity and Transitioning.
At the event, Talusan read from the second section, the beginning of chapter seven. In the scene Talusan was arriving at Harvard, interacting with the taxi driver and creating her own narrative of where she came from and who she was. Instead of being from the Philippines, she was from California. Instead of being different from everyone else she tried to fit in and had a large portion of herself. The last sentence she read was, “A place where I could belong.” Right afterward she informed the audience, “It didn’t work out by the way.”
"Fairest", a Lambda Literary Award finalist, is available for purchase at the local, independent Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza.