Passion. I think the reader can tell when the writer is checked out. Reading now is more of a commitment than ever; life is busy, there are eleventy billion channels on television plus streaming services. Books are quiet and unassuming. In order for an author to grab a reader and keep them engaged, the reader must sense that the author is truly invested in the material. I think this also helps with the reader hearing the author’s voice in their work
As part of my series about “How to write a book that sparks a movement” I had the pleasure of interviewing Kryss Shane.
Named by The New York Times and many national and international platforms as America’s go-to Leading LGBT Expert, Kryss Shane, MS, MSW, LSW, LMSW (she/her) has 25+ years of experience guiding the world’s top leaders in business, education, and community via individual, small group, and full-staff trainings. She is known for making each organization’s specific Diversity and Inclusion needs become more manageable, approachable, and actionable. She is also the author of “The Educator’s Guide to LGBT+ Inclusion” the first book of its kind to guide K-12 educators, people working with or raising K-12 youth, and anyone wanting to become knowledgeable enough to educate others to become ready to support diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share the “backstory” about how you grew up?
It seems that most people who work in mental healthcare have a personal story or experience that draws them to this field. Growing up in small town Ohio, I was someone who was always the support person and the go-to person for my friends, but I never considered making a career of it until much later. I was always a believer in equality, and this led me to begin to become mindful of ways in which minority groups weren’t represented in my middle school and high school textbooks and in the media, I was enjoying. This led me to speak up a lot in class, asking questions that many teachers had no answers to because their education also lacked inclusion. I never saw myself as any sort of ally or activist or educator, I thought those were people who were much older and fancier than I was because those titles seemed reserved for these storied activists like Malcolm X or Marsha P. Johnson, larger than life individuals, not someone from small town Ohio!
Anyway, as I became increasingly more aware of the discrimination against LGBT+ people and people within the intersectionality (since any person of any background or identity can also be LGBT+ identified), I began to realize this problem in my community and in families. This led me to earn my bachelor’s degree at The Ohio State University in Human Development and Family Sciences.
Simultaneously, I was volunteering a ton with LGBT+ organizations. Over time, my volunteer work grew, and many began asking why I didn’t do this as my profession. It hadn’t dawned on me before then that I could. This realization sent me into my first master’s degree program, where I graduated from Barry University in Social Work, where I focused my studies on LGBT+ issues. As years passed though, I was always bothered by how often textbooks in schools still lack representation of marginalized groups. This led me to go back to school, where I earned my 2nd master’s degree, from Western Governors University in Education, specializing in Curriculum and Instruction. I am currently working toward my doctorate in Educational Leadership from University of the Cumberlands, where I get to bring my LGBT+ work through the lens of leaders in our world, thus making me better at educating others and teaching them how to improve their allyship and activism. I am also working in undergraduate and graduate social work departments Columbia University and Brandman University, and writing articles, book chapters, and books that focus on the minority populations that have been too long left out. That includes “The Educator’s Guide to LGBT+ Inclusion” the first book of its kind to guide educators, administrators, and school staff to become able and empowered to make their schools more LGBT+ inclusive, I am also hearing that many parents and those who work with or help raise youth are also seeing the book as a way to become better at helping to raise children who are anti-racist and anti-homophobic and anti-transphobic.
I still don’t see myself as ever being able to be at the likes of some of those incredible leaders but now I get the privilege of having some as friends; being surrounded by people like Andrea Shorter, Fredrick Joseph, and Jazz Jennings only further inspires me every day.
When you were younger, was there a book that you read that inspired you to take action or changed your life? Can you share a story?
Although I have always loved to read and once had a large collection of beloved books, the reading that stood out most to me as a kid was a poem from an edited collection. It was Edgar Guest’s “The Junkbox.” I found it in a book when I was about five or six and loved it so much that I memorized it just by reading it so often. Until now, I hadn’t wondered if it was still in my brain but *pauses to think for a few seconds* yep, it’s still in there, the entire piece!
Anyway, the poem is about how no one is disposable and even when someone seems different or broken, it doesn’t mean they don’t have value or worth. As a kid, I don’t think I realized it was really advocating for equity and equality, but as an adult, I find that it still resonates with me and my belief about humanity.
What was the moment or series of events that made you decide to bring your message to the greater world? Can you share a story about that?
I don’t think it was just one moment but rather the realization that LGBT+ people become 2.5x more likely to self-harm with every aggression or microaggression they experience. Life isn’t just one moment, it’s an ongoing series of moments. If non-LGBT+ people only witness one slight, one comment, one dirty look, it may not seem like much. However, LGBT+ people experience this every day, many times each day. I couldn’t know that without doing something about it in whatever capacity I could. That began with speaking up and volunteering, led to academic focus, moved through to specializing in the population, become my speaking and training platform, and has now led to this book!
What impact did you hope to make when you wrote this book?
My goal is/was simple and two-fold; 1. I wanted to provide every person access to updated, accurate information about LGBT+ people. I genuinely believe that most fear and hate comes from ignorance. When we know better, we can do better. This helps people to know better so they can be empowered to do better. 2. I wanted LGBT+ people to see this book and the results of this book as an ongoing sign that they are valid and they are valued. No one should ever go to sleep at night wondering if they matter nor wake up wondering if anyone cares about them.
Did the actual results align with your expectations? Can you explain?
Well, the book came out during a pandemic, where people are more overwhelmed than ever. It may mean that the book is slower to rise or that it takes longer to gain online and major media recognition. While my goal was never for publicity, I recognize that these are necessary for word of mouth to spread and for the book to reach the hands, minds, and hearts of as many people as possible.
What moment let you know that your book had started a movement? Please share a story.
I’ve also received a ton of support from some big names who have shared the book on their social media, which has further boosted its reach and shown that people from all backgrounds are wanting to learn to become anti-homophobic and anti-transphobic and more mindful and inclusive. We know that all it takes is one inclusive person to save an LGBT+ person’s life. This book teaches every reader how to be that person.
What kinds of things did you hear right away from readers? What are the most frequent things you hear from readers about your book now? Are they the same? Different?
There have been some incredible DMs sent via social media and some amazing stories shared via email on parents who are learning about their LGBT+ children. There are messages from educators sharing insights on how they will incorporate more inclusion into their lesson plans. The longer the book is out there and the more people share their ideas for its use or whom they will gift the book to, the more the stories of excitement and plans for its use continue to grow. I love hearing the creativity this book is inspiring in so many!
What is the most moving or fulfilling experience you’ve had as a result of writing this book? Can you share a story?
The most moving moments for me personally have come from the scariest part of the process; the endorsements. I was so afraid to ask for these. I just felt like I was asking a lot and that I did not have something to offer in return. As a first-time book author, I also feared that what I’d written would not be well-received.
First, I reached out to Marti Gould Cummings, who is running for political office in NYC. I think they had my email for all of 5 seconds before they immediately wrote back with an emphatic yes. It was the push I needed to keep asking. In the end, every person I asked agreed to put their name and their reputation behind the book, including the American Association of Suicidology, a neuropsychologist, a lifelong activist, and many others.
However, the most fulfilling for me came by way of the foreword and the afterword.
PostSecret’s Frank Warren had been a friend for a number of years and I’d told him about a year prior that I just had this feeling we would work together in some way someday. He laughed and told me to let him know when I figured it out. I’d been struggling with figuring out whom the right person would be for the foreword, to be the one voice of the entire LGBT+ community to introduce the book. One Saturday, it hit me; it wasn’t about one voice, it was about representing all of the voices… which led me to think of PostSecret. I sent Frank an email that I had an idea and could we talk sometime soon. He texted almost immediately asking if now was a good time. I don’t think he’d ever before allowed his secrets to go anywhere outside of his control. I was maybe three minutes into my pitch and he was onboard. He even offered to go through his archives for me to help me narrow down options. This incredibly busy man stopped his work to support this work. As someone whose work has consistently supported suicide prevention, I think he knew that we had the same goal in mind of keeping people safe and he believed that this book would do that.
As for the afterword, one of my very favorite organizations in the world is The Trevor Project, an organization that provides mental healthcare and a lifeline to LGBT+ youth. As the book was preparing to go to print, I reached out to one of its cofounders, James Lecesne, in the slim hope that he may even become aware of the book. He asked to read it. I sent him the manuscript as a Word document, no fancy cover or additional materials. When he wrote back, he said, “congrats on creating something the world needs.” He ended up being kind enough to write the afterword for the book.
To have people at the very top of their profession be so generous with their support was not only an incredible gift to my book, it was the personal validation that I hadn’t even known I’d hoped for someday. I still get emotional thinking about it and I am still as grateful for it today as I was then!
Have you experienced anything negative? Do you feel there are drawbacks to writing a book that starts such colossal conversation and change?
Oh goodness! I’ve been getting death threats for as long as I’ve had social media. I recognize that the ignorance in some results in fear and that the fear leads to a desire to attack what they are afraid of. I know that my work makes them either more aware of their ignorance or more fearful. It can be personally pretty scary sometimes. However, I think there is an opportunity in hearing from people who share their contact info or who send messages via their own social media. Sometimes that can turn into learning opportunities and growth opportunities. Not only do I want to make the world less scary for LGBT+ people, I want to make the world less scary for homophobic and transphobic people too. Luckily, this book can do both at the same time!
Can you articulate why you think books in particular have the power to create movements, revolutions, and true change?
Books are magic. They always have been. Since the beginning of language and transcription, books have been a handheld portal into other worlds and into others’ minds. They make us laugh and cry and grow and learn all within the safety of our own spaces. We get to control how much we absorb based on how long we read. We get to have this incredibly amazing experience while never being forced to take more than we want, which makes the experience feel easier to challenge ourselves with.
When we consider that with topics like those in “The Educator’s Guide to LGBT+ Inclusion” we have the opportunity to become self-reflective as quickly or as slowly as we can individually handle, without anyone knowing how long it took us to get through a chapter or even a paragraph. We get to review terminology and practice it over and over before moving to the next page, as many times as we’d like, all without anyone knowing. When we get this privacy to grow and examine, the change and the insight is deeper and holds tighter to us. As a result, a moment is more likely to occur than if we were to watch a video or sit in a room where we are mandated to go at the speed of others or to try to learn with others’ eyes watching.
What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a bestselling writer? (i.e. perseverance, discipline, play, craft study) Can you share a story or example?
Passion. I think the reader can tell when the writer is checked out. Reading now is more of a commitment than ever; life is busy, there are eleventy billion channels on television plus streaming services. Books are quiet and unassuming. In order for an author to grab a reader and keep them engaged, the reader must sense that the author is truly invested in the material. I think this also helps with the reader hearing the author’s voice in their work. I happen to be someone who is not especially formal in my delivery. (gestures to her tie dye attire, something she has become so known for that it’s even on her book’s cover). This book covers very serious things, but in words and language that aren’t formal and stuffy. I don’t want a reader feeling like they need a doctorate to understand or that they have to sit with a dictionary to make sense of half of the words. I’ve actually been told by some who have come to my trainings, workshops, or talks that my book reads the way I speak. While I knew that would happen while narrating the audiobook, I love that the feedback is that the book is as dynamic and approachable as my live work is known for being.
What challenge or failure did you learn the most from in your writing career? Can you share the lesson(s) that you learned?
I mean, I released my first book during a pandemic, so…. (laughs) I think what this has taught me is that this process is not linear. So often, we have this idea that we will follow the steps and then the results happen as if life was a cookbook or something. Instead, sometimes a person can fail upwards, sometimes a person can do everything right and have poor results. I was also really lucky that, right around the time of the book’s release, Tyler Merritt’s “Before You Call the Cops” video made an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel’s show, as part of his monologue in response to the Black Lives Matter protests. Tyler made that video about two years prior. However, when the world caught up to his message, the video was still there, and it was able to reach that many more people. He and his video taught me that it isn’t just about who knows about my book immediately but that it is there for people to find and benefit from when they are ready and when the world grows increasingly ready.
Many aspiring authors would love to make an impact similar to what you have done. What are the 5 things writers needs to know if they want to spark a movement with a book? (please include a story or example for each)
Who Are You? -If you don’t know who you are, you can’t possibly contribute your best to the world… heck, it may be that your process to answering that question becomes what you write about!
What Are You Doing? -Write about what you are already doing and share your experience. If you’re not there in your career yet, consider talking with people who are further along than you are who may be willing to share their stories. Just remember to give them proper credit and to elevate them rather than taking from them for your own benefit.
Why Are You Doing It? -If you don’t care, why would a reader care? When you care enough about something to spend enough hours to write and edit and publish a book, there must be a reason. Articulate that and make it your guide through your process and your goals with the book.
What Happens Next? -Don’t just give someone information, help them to learn what to do with it once you give it to them. A recipe is not just a list of ingredients, there are specific actionable steps. Don’t forget that your readers need you to guide them.
Who Are You (Now)? -After you’ve written the book, it goes out into the world and it leaves your control. Knowing who you are now, as an author with a book out there, is vital. Prepare yourself for both the backlash and the celebration of your work without letting it change who you are, what you are doing, why you are doing it, and what you will do next.
The world, of course, needs progress in many areas. What movement do you hope someone (or you!) starts next? Can you explain why that is so important?
I hope that those of us who are writing these “movement books” continue to grow in support of one another. Rising tides raise all boats. For example, Fredrick Joseph posted his excitement about my book to his social media channels. He is also about to release his first book, “The Black Friend: On Being a Better White Person.” I absolutely cannot wait to read it, nor to broadcast all about it to my networks. We all have different ways but we all have the same goal of improving the world through education and acceptance of one another. When we come together to celebrate and boost each other, everyone is safer, everyone is better, and everyone wins!
How can our readers follow you on social media?
My website: ThisIsKryss.com
Thank you so much for these insights. It was a true pleasure to do this with you.