A short overview of all the books with trans authors/content that I managed to read this year. I mean, I probably squeeze in a couple more before the actual end of the year, but my book club (a trans book club) is picking out our next set of books this week, so this seemed like a good time for looking back.
The Black Tides of Heaven by JY Yang
The Red Thread of Fortune by JY Yang
I started the third one too, but it’s written in found-document form and I just didn’t have the right mindset for it at the time, so it’s sitting quietly on my to-read list. For the first two, as cliche as it sounds, I loved everything about them except that they were too short. I mean, this is basically the queer Asian fantasy magic system based on the five eastern elements that I have been waiting for my whole life and it just kind of skims over some things; like okay, Akeha has a crush on his sister’s boyfriend but moving on and oh btw gravity is stronger in the south because reasons and also by “raptors” we mean “veloci”? I’m not asking for Grace of Kings here (I wanted to like it but it’s just So Much), but maybe something between Tiny Novella and Giant Brick.
I did make my book club read the first one, but only one person showed up, so maybe I’ll put the second one on the list for next year.
Documenting Light by EE Ottoman
A cute romance that had a tendency to digress into long asides about history and archiving, but that’s my sort of geekery so I was okay with it. Falls more on the sweet end of the romance spectrum than the sexy side, and while I do think we need more sexy trans stories in general, it was a relief to have the characters actually be interested in each other instead of just drooling over how improbably hot the other one is. Also, it’s a trans/trans romance, which I definitely need more of in my life.
For sure making book club read this one.
Queer Heartache by Kit Yan
It’s poetry, and I don’t really know how to talk about poetry. Also I read it way at the beginning of the year so I don’t remember it too well.
I want to do at least one poetry book, but I might push for Ryka Aoki’s Seasonal Velocities over this.
Surpassing Certainty by Janet Mock
Redefining Realness was very good, and this one was also very good. It’s nice to read a trans narrative that doesn’t stop at transition. It’s less about “being” trans and more about learning to navigate herself as being a young Black woman in her twenties (who is still very much trans). I was ambivalent at most toward womanhood in my early twenties, so this was a look into a very different experience for me.
We read Redefining Realness for book club already, so we might do this one at some point, but it’s not a top priority.
An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon
Loved it. Super heavy, but loved it. And I don’t do dystopias, even when they’re dystopian queers in space.
Hesitant to recommend it to book club, because it comes with a boatload of trigger warnings and the trans stuff is more background, but I’ll see what people are interested in before writing it off completely.
The Burnt Toast B&B by Heidi Belleau and Rachel Haimowitz
This was a re-read for me because I was making my book club read it. I still very much love it, but some people pointed out that the trans character doesn’t get a whole lot of growth; he has viewpoint chapters, but he’s still basically the Love Interest. In fact, I’m starting to notice that even trans romances that aren’t about “cis person learns to accept trans people” are still, in fact, “cis person learns to accept trans people,” just a bit more subtle. More on that with Hopeless Romantic.
Kim & Kim vol. 1 by Magdalene Visaggio
Kim & Kim vol. 2 by Magdalene Visaggio
Wacky space bounty hunter hijinks with two queer lady best friends – what’s not to love?And because I’m a nerd, I read the essays in the back, including a great one about how straight people writing queers with either kill off the 1 gay, or pair them off with the Second Gay in the Universe as a way to keep the queer from leaking over onto the Straight characters, while in reality, every queer knows lots of other queers.
Putting this on the maybe list, because I also want to do O Human Star, and that would be 2 sci fi graphic novels, and I’m trying to get a wide variety of things instead of just the stuff I like to read.
Life Beyond My Body by Lei Jing
Memoir of a Chinese trans man living in China. Rough reading at times, but I’m really glad to have this narrative. For one, there aren’t many trans narratives from outside the Western world, and in particular, I feel like transmasculine narratives in this context often get overlooked. I mean, we all know the “girl in Sexist society pretends to be a boy for survival but she is Really A Girl” story, and actual transgender men tend to get swept under that rug.
Likely candidate for book club next year.
Juniper Leaves by Jaz Joyner
One of indie books that really needed a more experienced editor. You could tell what the writer was trying to do – portal fantasy with a queer black girl – and I was all about that, but it read like a middle draft. I would like to see a sequel, so the author flesh out the world a bit more and really hit their stride as a writer.
Although the author is trans, the only trans character is the love interest who doesn’t play a huge part, so because of that and accessibility (it’s not at the public library), I might pass on this one; still, I’ll be keeping an eye out for future books by this author.
O Human Star vol. 1 by Blue Delliquanti
O Human Star vol. 2 by Blue Delliquanti
Robots as a metaphor for being trans but also trans robots so basically all robots are trans is what I’m getting, and I’m down for that.
George by Alex Gino
Another re-read for the book club, and maybe I didn’t actually cry as much this time, but I was still crying on the inside. That was a very interesting meeting, because one of the people there an older person who didn’t understand why adults should read kids books, and the other person (we only get like 3 people per meeting) was a middle school librarian, so there were some very different perspectives. This is why I run the book club and try to hit a variety of genres. Also I’m definitely making us do another middle grade book next year.
So You Want To Be A Robot And Other Stories by A. Merc Rustad
Look, I know robots are both trans culture and autistic culture, but I’m just not that into robots. Except when stupid Merc makes me cry over their stupid gay robots. Every time. There’s a line in one of their stories: “Life isn’t a fairy tale, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a happy ending” and I feel like that philosophy underlies a lot of Merc’s writing. That sometimes, when life tells you “This is how it is,” all you need to do is dig in your heels and say “No, I do not accept this, I will not give in to despair, I will not let you make me believe I am worthless, and I will fight with my last breath to survive and to thrive and to protect those I love.” And maybe you do not emerge unscathed, but you just don’t give up, and I just love Merc’s stories so much.
I made book club read this and maybe they didn’t love it quite as much as I did, but they liked it. We seem to get more lively folks on sci-fi nights anyway.
Long Black Veil by Jennifer Finney Boylan
Supposedly this is a mystery, and we do have it at the mystery book store where I work, but I’d call it more literary suspense than a classic mystery. Still, it’s the closest thing we have to a mystery with a trans woman who isn’t the dead body in chapter one (apparently there’s a new series with a trans woman detective, but the first book has her solving the mystery of a dead trans woman in chapter one, so I’m not sure that entirely counts). It’s very… literary. Almost pretentious, but that just might be because one of the viewpoint characters is massively pretentious. I’m not sure I liked it, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t dislike it.
Putting it on the maybe list only because it fills a genre list, and it’s weird enough that I want to hear what other people think about it.
Unmasked by the Marquess by Cat Sebastian
I feel very iffy about this one, because it’s a genderqueer historical by a (as far as I can tell) cis author, and Victorian historicals are one of those genres that is just not for me.
It was definitely a few shades better than the Plucky Crossdressing Girl narrative, but it still kind of follows that pattern. The protagonist says that they are not ‘really’ a girl, but the plot revolves around them being assigned female, and resolves around it as well in that they (spoiler) end up marrying a man and end up being viewed as an eccentric crossdresser because they’re wealthy and can get away with it. Overall it just didn’t really resonate with me.
Putting this on the bottom of the book club list.
Gender Failure by Rae Spoon and Ivan E. Coyote
I’m making people read this for November book club, and I really hope people show up because it’s the only we’ve done that isn’t available at the public library. I guess folks in the gender community mostly know Coyote from their writing, but I actually found out about this book because I’ve been a fan of Rae Spoon’s music ever since I saw the documentary film “My Prairie Home.”
It’s a series of essays that’s based on a stage show that the two did for a while, and it gave me soooo many gender feels. I feel like I underlined half the book. Highly recommended and worth spending money on in my opinion.
Hopeless Romantic by Francis Gideon
I like the premise of this romance – a gay-identified cis guy falls for a trans woman and starts to question his sexuality – but I was sadly disappointed. It was very explain-y on the trans stuff, and while it wasn’t quite Trans 101, it felt like it was still Trans 102. Seriously, is it too much to ask for a cis/trans romance where the cis person has met a trans person before?
Though there is a fun moment when the trans girl mentions (lesbian) separatists and the cis dude is confused because they’re in Canada but not Quebec (whoops, this is actually in Gender Failure. Apparently I’ve been reading so many Canadian trans books lately they’re blurring together in my head)
Overall it reminded me of our book club’s talk about The Burnt Toast B&B about how the trans character doesn’t go through any sort of growth. The cis character learns to reevaluate his perspective on gender and sexuality and become more flexible in his relation to gender/sexuality. Meanwhile the trans person very patiently explains everything and nurtures that growth while demanding to be respected as a person. What’s even more disappointing is that the author is actually trans, so I was hoping for more.
Then there is the whole arc of the main couple bonding over cheesy 80s movies and big romantic gestures without critiquing the heteronormativity of it; in fact, one almost gets the impression that the Cis Guy enjoys dating a woman for the first time because he can mimic the hetero Grand Romance. It’s weird. A better love letter to the 80s than Ready Player One, but still weird.
Again, bottom of the book club list. I seem to be the only one who’s really excited about romance, anyway. I still argue that if you like fanfiction, you have no business disliking romance, so maybe I’ll convert a few by next year.
Queerly Loving vol. 1 by G. Benson and Astrid Ohletz (eds)
Not strictly trans, but several stories in the anthology were, including the best teenage romance story. I don’t do YA, but these kids were just so dorky and useless and behaved like actual teenagers and it was incredibly refreshing. And another story had disabled characters with service dragons. And there was an aroace/aroace “romance”, though that one wasn’t trans. Do you need any more selling points? There’s a Shira Glassman story, though ironically it’s not the one with dragons.
Not sure about putting this on the book club list because it wasn’t quite trans enough, but I enjoyed it immensely and have volume 2 on hold at the library.
If you’re curious about the full 2018 book list for the Trans Book Club:
February – If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo
March – The Black Tides of Heaven by JY Yang
April – Transposes by Dylan Edwards
May – Redefining Realness by Janet Mock
June – Lizard Radio by Pat Schmatz
July – The Burnt Toast B&B by Heidi Belleau and Rachel Haimowitz
August – The T is Not Silent by Andrea Jenkins
September – George by Alex Gino
October – So You Want To Be A Robot and Other Stories by A. Merc Rustad
November – Gender Failure by Rae Spoon and Ivan E. Coyote