Finlay Games has been keeping himself rather busy since his Narratively piece, I Didn’t Know I Was Trans Until I Got Sober, was published in 2018. The latest projects on his plate include transgender mentoring, chronicling his life on YouTube, and getting his first book published — set to come out in April 2021. The book, Top to Bottom, A Memoir and Personal Guide through Phalloplasty, focuses on the lived journey of his gender transition and specifically, his lower surgery.
Games talked to Narratively about his popular YouTube channel, how his writing became a major part of this mission to show trans experiences, and the difficulties that arise when writing so openly about your own life.
Narratively: By the time your Narratively piece was published two years ago, your YouTube channel, FinnTheInfinncible, already had a large following. How did that begin?
Finlay Games: I had always been a journaler. When I started my transition journey, my journals just weren’t having the same impact on the way I normally process things. It made me realize that perhaps a video would be better because then I can actually see the changes happening.
So, I started sharing my trans story, the journey to being seen by a gender clinic, starting hormones and surgeries. But also, I was sharing other stuff because being trans is just a part of me. I started sharing everything about my mental health, my recovery, and it just evolved from there to now it’s almost like putting my personal diary online.
Narratively: How did the Narratively piece come out of the YouTube channel?
Games: The essay came from this epiphany I had. I had always been convinced that I was going to be a counselor; that was my goal as I went through my recovery. But I have quite problematic mental health which is more managed now but still a problem. I realized that I just wasn’t well enough to be a counselor and I had this moment of sadness thinking my mental health had let me down again. Then I started thinking, ‘well I’m making videos, and I’m helping people; I’m writing blogs and I’m helping people and yet my mental health isn’t getting in the way of that. Is there some way that I make my YouTube and my blog my full-time career?’
So that was the first time I had actually written something very publicly. It was also the first time I had written my trans story from the perspective of my alcoholism. There was a kind of fear about being judged as a writer because it was my first professional piece but also of having it be out there as a written piece.
Narratively: And now writing really has become a major part of your work! How did the evolution from writing articles and blogs to full-length books come about?
Games: I had this Tumblr blog on my lower surgery but there were a lot of problems with [Tumblr] taking photos and content down because of the adult nature. Then, when I wasn’t getting as many articles written as I had wanted, I thought, “Well I’m going to turn this into a book then.”
So, I poured myself into it, deciding that I was going to take a year and get it written and then look at what to do with it. My first thought was to self-publish but then *ping* there’s an email from Jessica Kingsley Publishers saying, “Hi do you have anything you’re writing?” and I said, “Well, funny enough, yes.”
Narratively: As you said, your YouTube channel charts your day-to-day experiences like a journal. In what ways does your forthcoming memoir differ?
Games: It goes a lot deeper into stuff that I can’t say on YouTube for fear of getting banned. It’s intimate. What it’s like to be in a body where genitals don’t match who you are. Then as your genitals change, learning about your own sensuality and sexuality, so it’s also about my experience discovering myself to be a gay man.
While there’s lots of medical information around the lower surgery, there’s very few lived experiences and I personally found that really tricky. What I wanted to do was create the kind of content that I wished I’d had access to. Because yes, we know it takes six weeks for this bit to heal, but how does that process feel? How do you cope? How do you manage? It allows people to follow the whole journey over the three years that it took for my surgeries, and to see that internal shifting and changing. How you become more comfortable in your body and you learn how to use parts that you never had before.
Narratively: Were there any worries about writing something so personal and close to your own experiences?
Games: Oh yes. There aren’t that many people who talk this openly about it. It’s very intimate too, so there’s a bit of a worry because for years whenever trans people were interviewed, the common question was, “Well what’s in your pants?” I wanted to make sure that this book isn’t sensationalizing the surgeries or people’s genitals. I wanted it to be far more than that because we’ve tried to move away from talking about trans people’s parts and here I am, creating a book about it. But the book is much different, it’s not just penis for penis sake. There’s a point to why I’m sharing, and I really do think it will make a difference to so many people.
Narratively: Aside from the memoirs, are there any other directions you think your writing may go?
Games: I have no idea from one minute to the next. It’s really important for me, more than anything, to get as much trans literature out there as possible. We need to see ourselves to find ourselves. When there was very much a lack of transgender stories, I couldn’t find myself and I went for years not knowing who I was because there weren’t the words. So, for me it’s really important that there are words that we can go and find ourselves in.
I do have ideas for a mental health book as well as some fiction ideas. I’m so passionate about my main message which is that everyone can recover their life and rewrite their story that I just look to get it into whatever I do, and it seems like a new idea will come up and I try that. I just tend to follow what my inner self is saying one minute to the next; it’s what I’ve done my whole recovery. One day at a time. Even when it feels terrifying because I have no idea what I’m doing.
Narratively: What advice do you have for writers working on pieces that focus on intimate or personal experiences?
Games: First, reflect on how it will feel to have something personal about you read and reshared on the internet. It is vital that you feel comfortable being that vulnerable. It also helps to be clear on your reasons why you are sharing intimately — what is it that motivates you? For me, sharing intimately about my past has helped me to feel less ashamed for things that I had no business feeling ashamed about in the first place. It also helped my difficult past to feel like a gift rather than a burden, as I know that my sharing has helped people to feel less alone or inspired to make changes.
Ultimately, it is incredibly rewarding to know that your words can make such a difference; as the saying goes, never be ashamed to share your story, someone somewhere is waiting to hear it.