An interview with: Susan Kuklin, Author of Beyond Magenta

| Mar 27, 2023
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Susan Kuklin

Susan Kuklin is an American photographer and award-winning writer. She is noted for books for young children as well as for older readers and is the author of Beyond Magenta. Kuklin was born and raised Philadelphia, Pa., then studied theater at New York University and the Herbert Berghof School. After graduate school at NYU, Kuklin began studying photography. Her nonfiction works frequently cover controversial topics (e.g., AIDS, poverty, and transgender youth), and often blend photography with writing. Despite Beyond Magenta’s many honors, it has been the center of controversy because it was deemed anti-family. It included offensive language, homosexuality, sex education, and political and religious viewpoints, and it was unsuited for young age groups. Librarians also noted that they wanted to remove the book from the collection to ward off complaints. According to the American Library Association, it was the 27th most banned and challenged book in the U.S. between 2010 and 2019. Furthermore, it was one of the top 10 most challenged books in 2019 and 2015.

TGForum: Of the six transgender people you included in the book, who stood out the most and why?

Ms. Kuklin: It’s impossible to choose one person over the others. I love and admire everyone who participated in Beyond Magenta — their bravery, vulnerabilities, triumphs, intelligence, irony — I could go on and on. As I worked on each portrait, that person was my favorite. And still is. They are all special.

TGForum: Why did you write Beyond Magenta?

Ms. Kuklin: I wrote and photographed Beyond Magenta with four goals. First, to give trans and nonbinary young people the opportunity to publicly define themselves on their own terms. Second to provide accurate, relevant information. Next, to let other trans, nonbinary, or questioning youth know that they are not alone. And lastly, to help those who are not part of the LGBTQ+ community understand those who are.

TGForum: Was it difficult to locate transgender/gender-neutral young adults who were willing to be interviewed?

Ms. Kuklin: I try to include the LGBTQAI+ community in my nonfiction books to reflect the diversity in the American population. Fortunately, I live in New York City and have friends from various communities, and I learned which organizations were the particularly important ones for this project. I spent about a year attending LGBTQ+ events, reading, and speaking with various professionals. I wanted to know what information would be most helpful for the trans community and I needed to be confident that I was the right person to do this project. Eventually I met the doctors, social workers, and psychologists who were part of the Callen-Lorde Health Clinic in New York City. They have a program specifically created for teens and young adults. It’s called HOTT (Health Outreach to Teens).  The staff read some of my previous books and we had in-person conversations about how to preserve the privacy of their clients, how not push anyone to participate, and how to feature a diverse group. Their help was enormous.

The book became a collaboration. The participants read their chapter for voice, facts, and authenticity throughout the editing process.

TGForum: Were all the book’s reviews positive or did you receive any backlash?

Ms. Kuklin: All the major reviews were positive. Thrillingly positive. It also won many awards. But then, a year later, in 2015, I was surprised that the book ended up on the American Library Association’s Most Banned and Challenged Books. It was also on the list in 2019 and 2021. My website has a list of awards and reviews.

TGForum: What is your involvement, if any, within the transgender community?

Ms. Kuklin: I consider myself an ally to the transgender community. And these days, what with various dangerous and shameful manufactured culture wars rearing their ugly heads, I will do whatever I can to support the community.

TGForum: Would you rather take photos than write?

Ms. Kuklin: I’m more secure taking photographs than writing because I was a photographer before becoming a writer. Throughout a photo session I feel a close bond with my subject. Interviews are more complicated. I worry whether I’m asking the right questions? What details am I missing? Am I pushing too much? Not enough?  I rewrite draft after draft after draft, searching {in the recorded and transcribed interviews} for voice, a strong narrative, clarity, and authenticity.

TGForum: Combining writing and photography skills offers a real one-two punch.

Ms. Kuklin: Yes, I’m grateful and appreciative of the opportunity to do both. Despite my statement above about writing being more complicated, I really enjoy both the writing and the photography. My mantra is, hard is good and hard is exciting.

TGForum: Your website dissertation about the pronunciation of your name is interesting. 

Ms. Kuklin: Thanks. Most people mispronounce or misspell my name. Kuklin as in Brooklyn helps. A lot of people chuckle when I say that line.

TGForum: What’s the best place to purchase Beyond Magenta?

Ms. Kuklin: Independent bookstores, Amazon and Barnes & Noble all carry Beyond Magenta. It can also be downloaded as an eBook and there is an audio version.

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About the Author ()

Shelley Anne Baker has been part of the transsexual and transgender community for six years. Wandering about the California BDSM community, she finally found her stride in making the transition to dresses and high heels. Today, her women’s apparel, and shoes outnumbers her male apparel (that she just has to have for certain occasions, but such is life). She has seriously considered HRT, but now feels life has passed her by on that count. She is a professional writer and experienced corporate brand marketing and public relations consultant. For interview consideration and participation email Shelley Anne at

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