(Editor’s Note: The “Everyday Heroes” series is a collaboration between The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and its journalistic partners, including ArtsATL.)
“My home base has been Charis [Books and More] my entire life,” says E.R. Anderson.
That is not hyperbole. Since he was 15 years old, Anderson has taken up space at the beloved bookstore.
His mother introduced him to Charis. A licensed therapist, she was acutely aware that her child was struggling. He had not yet identified as transgender, but his mother discerned her child needed an outlet.
“They have a writing group. You are a writer. You need to go to this space,” she told Anderson.
“It was a space for me, a multiracial, multigenerational place where I could be queer and a writer separate from school and church and my family; where I could actually express myself completely,” he remembers. “I was granted the gift of learning that there were a lot of people who wanted the same vision of the world that I want.”
Anderson is now the executive director of Charis Circle, the nonprofit programming arm of Charis Books and More. The shop is considered the nation’s oldest and largest feminist bookstore.
When he started, he says his primary responsibility was setting up chairs and listening.
“It benefited me a lot,” he says. “They loved and cared for me, but they also took the time to teach me. If I am anything today, it is because I was a good listener.”
At Charis, they try to continue that legacy. Being a bookseller at Charis is about more than selling books.
“People often say Charis is their secular church. We do a lot of what feels like pastoral care for people who feel as though they have nowhere else to go,” he says. “They have been kicked out where they were, or they do not relate to religion. They need a space that is a sanctuary.”
Before he found Charis, he struggled to find a space that affirmed all of him. Not only was he struggling with issues surrounding his identity, but as a person with diabetes, he felt his body betraying him. Charis became a saving grace.
To this day, customers can walk into the bookstore on the worst day of their life and be granted the same gift Anderson received. And then some.
“Their mother has died, or their partner has cheated on them, or their trans kid is getting beat up in school, or whatever horrible thing they have experienced, and if they don’t want to be talked to or bothered, they can just be without any questions,” he says. “If they need a resource or two to help get to a starting point during that visit, they have the most vetted resources available. There are no other spaces in Atlanta where people can go somewhere, at almost any time of the day, and get a starting point.”
His journey informs Anderson’s activism. His presence at Charis dispels many myths that have impacted others who identify as queer. Before he transitioned, he struggled with if he should or even could continue in his role as executive director. For many queer and trans individuals, coming out or transitioning sometimes means leaving home. For some, leaving home is about safety, and for others, acceptance.
“We have the right to be who we are. We deserve rural spaces and beauty. I made a conscious choice to transition visibly in my role,” Anderson says. “There was this idea that if I became a man, I couldn’t lead a feminist organization anymore.”
Plus, Charis raised him.
“I believed it important to not adhere to an outdated model of what it means to transition. I didn’t want to hide,” he says. “You can stay in the place you call home. You don’t have to go away to be someone else. You have honor wherever you are.”
HOW TO HELP
To learn more about Charis Books & More and Charis Circle, visit https://www.charisbooksandmore.com/.
WE’RE STRONGER TOGETHER: A SPECIAL PROJECT
This place we call home is filled with ordinary people who accomplish extraordinary feats. Their selfless acts make this region so special — and they bring out the best in all of us. With the holidays upon us, we wanted to share their inspiring stories, celebrate their accomplishments, and offer ways that you can help.
Just as the 55 people we’re profiling can’t do it alone, nor can we. That’s why The Atlanta Journal-Constitution worked closely with our partners (including ArtsATL) to bring you this collection of uplifting stories.
We hope they leave you feeling inspired and ready to tackle the busy new year that lies ahead. We hope they make you feel more connected to your community or to your neighbors.
And maybe, just maybe, they will motivate you to come up with your own small way to make a big difference in the lives of others.