‘We are a part of history’: ‘Both Sides Now’ author Peyton Thomas ‘resonates’ with Archer students

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Photo credit: Audrey Chang

YA author Peyton Thomas speaks to Archer students about his experience writing his first novel, “Both Sides Now.” Thomas visited Archer April 25 to speak on his experiences with different types of writing and advocacy.

By Audrey Chang, Staff Reporter

YA Author. Podcaster. Journalist. These careers all describe Peyton Thomas, who recently published his first novel, “Both Sides Now.” Thomas has written articles for Vanity Fair, Billboard and Pitchfork and hosts a podcast called “Jo’s Boys” about “Little Women” and its lesser-known queer legacy.

Thomas spoke to Archer students Monday, April 25, during lunch in the BlackBox Theatre. History teacher Beth Gold moderated the talk, which included a read-aloud from Thomas’ book as well as a Q&A portion. Thomas’ experiences of being transgender, attending an all-girls school in Vancouver and participating in the debate team there all influenced the production of his book. “Both Sides Now” follows a transgender teenager, Finch Kelly, and his struggles with identity when he learns he may have to debate against transgender rights at the National Debate Championships.

“There’s a lot of me in Finch, although Finch is way further ahead than I was in high school. I didn’t come out until after university,” Thomas said. “He’s much further ahead and having an experience that I didn’t get to have.” 

Although Thomas did not come out as transgender until after college, he said that his prior experience at an all-girls school allowed him to learn more about himself in a diverse environment.

“I got the idea from being in that environment that there was no real wrong way to be a girl. Of course there are girls who want to be fashion designers,” Thomas said. “We also had girls who were super into robotics and sports and every possible thing you could think of, so the environment that my teachers created was very easy to just be who I was.”

Sophomore Remi Cannon said she liked hearing from Thomas and learning more about how she can support transgender people and creators.

I would really encourage people to read widely, read even books and watch movies that you hear are problematic, or it can be really bracing to even read something you disagree with … It’s an opportunity to investigate why you disagree, and either change your mind or strengthen your convictions.”

— Peyton Thomas, YA author

“As an all-girls school, it’s not very often that we get to have that kind of diversity,” Cannon said. “So it’s really important to hear, listen and support trans creators but also just interact with them.”

Thomas emphasized the importance of buying books written by transgender authors and supporting transgender artists to amplify marginalized voices.

“The ‘representation matters’ discussion can center on really big voices in the theater, like we need trans people in Disney movies, we need a trans Marvel superhero and that’s great,” Thomas said. “But … a lot of the best trans writing and LGBT work is coming from people who don’t have that giant platform, so I would encourage people to look for smaller voices … a lot of the really interesting, rich, deep stuff can be a little further out of the mainstream.” 

Junior Grace DeLossa attended Thomas’ book talk and said she resonated with the idea of supporting non-mainstream authors and stories.

“The thing that really resonated was that there is space for all of these diverse and amazing authors and stories if you make space,” DeLossa said. “I love the idea of reading all the banned books and support all of the non-mainstream authors and people.”

Thomas spoke about his impactful experiences with service and advocacy work for senior citizens, specifically learning about their hard-hitting struggles during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Working in senior citizens advocacy was illuminating because they may not be the first group you think of when marginalized people come to mind,” Thomas said. “It’s eye-opening to visit the world of people you may not know much about and understand that they’re struggling. I also got to do a lot of work for LGBT seniors, who are often in the position of having to go back into the closet to nursing homes to fit in.” 

Cannon said she enjoyed listening to how Thomas has been able to intersect his identity as a transgender person into different parts of his life and work.

“I really liked hearing about how Peyton was just incorporating his queerness into both his art, his career and to also volunteer work with seniors,” Cannon said. “I thought that was super cool how he integrated it almost into his everyday life.” 

Thomas ended the event speaking about the progress of the LGBTQ+ community generally.

“As much as parts of this country are in a regressive moment, it is reactionary to all this progress that’s happening, and I would say look to progress and good things,” Thomas said. “There’s always been bleak moments in this country’s history of the world; there has been good news. But we are a part of history, we’re a small part of history, [and] we are moving forward.”