Update: As of March 31st, 2021(aka Transgender Day of Visibility) I’ve updated the booklist with a few new titles. See the whole thing at this link).
Today, November 20th, is Transgender Day of Remembrance. It’s a day to memorialize the individuals who have lost their lives due to anti-transgender violence — a shockingly normal occurrence. There’s not much I can say about the stats that would be adequate, but I will say this: take a moment and show some love to a transgender person you know today, beautiful people, even if it’s yourself.
The week before today is Transgender Awareness Week. 80% of Americans apparently have never (knowingly) met a transgender person, according to GLAAD. I think I’m fortunate in that I’ve always been around a lot of different sorts of people–part of the birthright of being a cis Black woman in the Western US. However, it was around this time last year that it occurred to me that I’d read few, if any books by transgender authors. About trans people, sure. But trans-ness was thin on the ground in my book collection–this is what I came up with, when all was said and done.
Pitiful. The only transgender author I’d read was Eddie Izzard’s (disappointingly dry) memoir. The rest were books about trans people from decidedly cis-straight perspectives, either as projects, side characters, or nebulous speculative concepts.
Like I said, pitiful.
So, I decided that between last Transgender Awareness Week and this one, I’d make an effort to read more books by trans people.
I’ve read two. And started one other.
Well, that’s something to keep working on in 2021. In lieu of my usual list of “books I’ve read around a theme” this is going to be more of a “books I want to read around a theme, eventually” list. See the whole shebang here, including a few books I didn’t have room for in this post. Let’s get started with…
Books by transgender authors I’ve actually read…
This book has made its way onto several of my 2020 lists, and for good reason. It’s an intimate memoir about a South African transgender man’s life escaping from abuse, discovering success, and embarking on a gender confirmation journey. Landa reached out to me personally about the review and was super nice about it, as well, even sharing it to his Instagram story(!). Still, even if he hadn’t contacted me, I’d still have pretty high praise for this personal, affecting work.
I didn’t like Filipina Harvard grad Meredith Talusan’s memoir of life as an albino immigrant trans woman in the Ivy League nearly as much as Mabenge’s story. To be fair, Talusan is pretty open about how little she cares about being likable in text, but still, months after reading this, something about the way she portrays herself irritates me. That said, there’s something to be said by how intentionally she steers the narrative away from trauma and dysphoria, acknowledging that not all transgender people have the same experience and being very authentic to her own personal one.
Books I started…
Akwaeke Emezi is personally non-binary, not transgender, so I debated on whether or not to include them on this list. They’re here because Pet’s teenage protagonist, Jam, is a transgender girl. I can’t tell you much more than that–I didn’t get very far into this novel yet. There’s nothing wrong with it–I just never seem to be in the mood for YA when I pick it up. I would recommend it though–what I’ve read so far is intriguing. Also, the author has stated in interviews that this book is about a Black transgender girl living a supported, happy life going on adventures–I’m sold just because it promises joy and isn’t trauma-focused.
Books I Want to Try To Read in 2021…
Okay, so first of all, best laid plans of mice and men, okay? Like most heavy readers, the list of books I want to read is far longer than the books I have time for, and listing these here doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll get to them. A girl can dream, though…
Dreadnought, by April Davis – I’m pretty sure I’ll actually get to this one before the end of the year–the premise is just too good to pass up. Teenage Danny Tozer hasn’t even come out as transgender yet when she discovers dying superhero Dreadnought, who passes her his mantle as his last act. The cape holds the power to make the wearer resemble their ideal self and suddenly shy Danny Tozer is a hot super(cis)woman, much to the chagrin of her friends and her transphobic father. Sounds great, and I can’t wait to read it, personally.
Little Fish, by Casey Plett – This book won the Lambda award, and sounds like the kind of intergenerational family drama that Netflix movies are made of. A young transgender woman finds out that her stern, hyper-masculine, religious grandfather might have been (closeted) trans which results in a journey to discover if the revelation is true. There’s something remarkably affirming about seeing yourself in your family history(and seeing your family history in you) and this seems like both an unfamiliar(to me) and heartwarming take on the theme.
Sorted, by Jackson Bird – Someday I’ll tell you all the story of the first time I (knowingly) met a trans man, and how badly I mucked up the encounter. For now, it’s enough to tell you that the endearingly awkward tone of the first few pages of Jackson Bird’s memoir of coming out as trans at 25 and kind of muddling his way through it reminds me a lot of that long ago guy I embarrassed by not understanding that transgender men actually existed(it was the late 90s, not that that’s an excuse) and asking a very uncomfortable question(no, not THAT one…it was about name changes). Bird’s memoir seems to have a lot of grace for those of us trying to understand trans experiences from the outside as he navigates it from the inside, and something about the tone is very appealing to me.
Felix Ever After, by Kacen Callender – Everyone else I know seems to have read this book, but again, it’s one that I never seem to pick up when I’m in a YA mood. It’s a teen romance featuring a young trans man, and seems to have the sort of sweetness you’d expect from any other book in the genre. I’m saving this one for a light beach read, come the day I can safely travel to a good reading beach again.
The Black Tides of Heaven, by Neon Yang – I happened upon this as I was clicking through my Goodreads recommendations and my eyes popped a bit at the description. It’s the first novel in a science fantasy trilogy (in the vein of N.K. Jemisin’s The Broken Earth ) featuring everything from dinosaurs and robots to psychic powers and mad scientists. There are apparently trans and non-binary characters galore, and the author is non-binary as well, a former scientist who calls their intensely creative writing style, with its foundations in the author’s academic training and Singaporean heritage, “silkpunk”. Never heard of it before ten minutes ago, but it’s going on my to-be-read list right away!
That’s it for now, fellow readers. What books by transgender authors have you read? Any suggestions for my list so that next year I can be a little less pitiful?
(Thanks for reading, fellow readers. Check out these books and more at my online Bookshop here, and be aware that this blog has affiliate relationships, so any clicks and purchases made at links you reach from here do result in a commission being paid. Peace!)