[HEAR ME OUT] It’s About Damn Time We Had A Trans Batgirl

So the other day while I was trying to do the opposite of doomscrolling by finding positive things on the internet, I came across the image above, shared by everyone’s favorite cosplaying drag queen, Dax Exclamation Point.

I haven’t read a Batman comic in ages, although for years that was the only DC book I followed. I knew enough to know that the character depicted was probably Alysia Yeoh, who I vaguely remember is roommates with Barbara Gordon(aka OG Batgirl). I didn’t know Alysia is trans, and I haven’t been keeping up with the storylines aside from that very boring new film so I had to go look up the character to know exactly what was happening in that panel.

All of this to say, when this image floated across my screen, I looked at it for a minute, checked the captions and the ‘fit and said to myself, “Hold the hell on…Batgirl is trans now?”

Alysia Yeoh isn’t the only transwoman superhero in comics. She’s not even the only one in books. To be completely fair, she isn’t even the actual Batgirl, she’s a member of the League of Batgirls in an alternate timeline. But she’s still something unique, although also completely normal–a trans, Asian superheroine, streetwise but also soft and smart and surrounded by a community of her own making.

Let’s talk about this, though. This one panel and its one throwaway line made something dawn on me. A trans superhero in an inner-city, diverse space would make SO much sense. I mean, think about it–how many trans people of color are real-life heroes and heroins in urban areas? Think Marsha P. Johnson, Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, Stormé DeLarverie, Sylvia Rivera, Tamara Ching, Willy Wilkinson, and countless unsung others.

Back in the day when I used to hang out in all kinds of unorthodox spaces and places in an attempt to understand the world from the “bottom” up, trans folk were usually the first people to stand up for soft naive Black femme me, the first folk to speak up for me when I couldn’t, and the first to protect me. I remember the time a trans woman who I barely knew at the time stopped a whole conversation in a bar, asked me what was wrong, walked me six blocks over to her apartment, put me in her car, and drove me all the way home one night because I was having a very bad time and the family member who promised to meet me to talk stood me up. I remember the talk she gave me on that drive about how as women, we deserved to be loved and protected just as much as we loved and protected the men and boys and children in our lives. I also remember her saying that there was also no shame in protecting myself if I had to and that in fact, I should and could and there was a way to do it that wouldn’t compromise anything about who I was as a woman. It’s taken me close to twenty years to really learn that lesson, but sometimes I still hear her voice when I have to chop someone down for trying to block out my light.

It was trans women who taught me how to carry a weapon safely, and how I should use it in a pinch. I’ve never had to, but I still know how.

Even when I was still very transphobic and prone to bringing the tyranny of fundamentalist religion into conversations without being asked, trans women were often the only people who would give me the space to be soft while also being smart without having to be “tough”–because they understood what it’s like to be continually denied the fullness of femininity by other people’s assumptions, and the fullness of your intellect because you are feminine.

A trans woman taught me how to properly order a martini. She taught me how to tell someone they were hateful and unwelcome in a way that made them laugh while they were leaving. She taught me that in her culture as in mine, femininity is not solely performed but also intrinsic. It was in her memory, many years later, that I truly understood how and why all women are valid and shook off(I hope) the last of the misinformation I’d been fed that had me out here hurting other women in the name of validity.

What I think I’m trying to say is this: a long time ago, I had a friend from Guam named Frances who was a superhero, and it’s ABOUT DAMN TIME somebody realized that trans women deserve space in the superhero gallery too.

But the first person this Batgirl needs to crack over the head is Batman. We’ll have to talk about that later.

(Beautiful people! Thanks for reading! This post really wasn’t very much about books, but if you want to read more books by transgender writers, I’ve got a list locked and loaded for you in the Equal Opportunity Bookshop. Click to find something good to read and don’t forget that we have an affliate relationship with the Shop of Books and will receive a commission for every book you buy at our links. Peace!)

[Reading Challenge] AAPI Writers With A Twist

(Check out the booklist here.)

We’re a two weeks deep into AAPI Heritage Month and I’ve already scrapped two other versions of this reading challenge in order to go with this one.

I think that non-Asian Americans are slowly familiarizing themselves with some Asian cultures. Indian, Chinese, and Japanese Americans have always been recognized, if not appreciated. Korean culture has a well-earned seat at the youth culture table right now so people are becoming more familiar with Korean-Americans as well.

But y’all…Asia is a BIG place. It’s no more a country than Africa is, yet we tend to flatten the diversity there into a few East Asian and Indian stereotypes writ large on the American psyche. For this reading challenge, let’s rewire our brains a bit, shall we?

Let’s try and read books from Asian-American authors whose ancestry is NOT Chinese, Japanese, Korean, or Indian. Fortunately, that still leaves us spoiled for choice. Poet and novelist extraordinaire Ocean Vuong is Vietnamese. Anthony Veasna So, author of the bittersweetly funny short story collection Afterparties was Cambodian-American.(R.I.P.). There’s also Rumaan Alam (Bangladeshi American), Meredith Talusan(Filipina American), and many, many more.

If you get stuck, check the list I made on Bookshop for recommendations. But if you’re not–what are you going to read, beautiful people?

(Beautiful people! Diverse reading isn’t just reading what you know of diversity–it’s reaching beyond, to unfamiliar and unknown viewpoints too. If you want to see more diverse booklists, check out the Equal Opportunity Bookshop. Remember that we have an affiliate relationship with Bookshop and other sites, and if you buy anything there after clicking on a link here, we’ll make a little cash and buy more books with it. Now, go read something good! Peace!)

[REVIEW] A Woman Is No Man, by Etaf Rum

(Buy this book here.)

This book is all about lovelessness, and I wasn’t really ready for it.

When Isra is 17, a man from New York comes to Palestine to marry her. She has hopes, dreams, and an overwhelming desire to be loved, but when she returns to the US with her husband her inner life is quickly crushed by having too many children too quickly amidst the realities of life as a Muslim immigrant in 90’s Brooklyn. Despite it all, her deepest desire is to love and be loved, even if it kills her.

The women closest to her are also led by love. Her daughter Deya wants to know if it’s possible. Her mother-in-law Fareeda refuses to hope that it even exists. All of their lives revolve around marriage–getting married, being married, trying to marry each other off. Unfortunately–marriage makes none of them happy or safe, and ultimately each woman has a different approach to how they handle this unhappiness.

It’s a strange and painful thing to live in a world that demands that women be soft, then does its best to kill us if we are. This book explores that conundrum deftly, but the conclusions it comes to are mostly sad, hopeless ones. These women don’t like themselves at all, and rarely like each other. Love is out of the question. The one character who manages to get out of the system is still too hurt by it to truly succeed. While the last chapter introduces new hope for Deya, after the trauma congo line that dances through the rest of the book I was too suspicious to be happy for her.

This is a simply written, fast-moving read that jumps through all three women’s thoughts over a period of about twenty years. When I finished it I felt… lonely. Ironically, I felt that way because that’s how everyone in the book seems to feel. It’s partly due to the oppression they’ve suffered as Muslim Palestinians, partly due to continuing trauma responses, and partly from their own choices. That all adds up to characters who are hard to like, but very easy to pity.

As far as this being a story of a Palestinian-American family? It is, in the same way that The Color Purple is the story of a Black American family and The Joy Luck Club is the story of a Chinese American family. Those weren’t happy, well-adjusted families with good stories and neither is this one. However much like those other books, A Woman Is No Man is a story of the trauma women are sometimes forced through in the name of culture and how they endure it. Like those books, I think it can be criticized for a very unflattering portrayal of men in the culture it portrays, although not necessarily an inaccurate one.

I can’t say I enjoyed this, exactly, but it was touching and emotionally provocative. It’s the sort of book that is empathy technology at its finest. It’s a perspective on love, gender, and unresolvable trauma from an Arab-American woman that doesn’t flinch away from hard truths or difficult moments.

Four stars and a box of tissues to A Woman Is No Man.

(Friends, Romans, fellow readers and generally beautiful people; hi. Thanks for reading this review, and I hope that wherever you are, you are loved or on your way to being so. If you want to read this book or more like it while supporting this blog, check out the Equal Opportunity Bookshop. This blog earns a commission for every book sold there, and Bookshop also donates a portion of their proceeds to supporting indie bookstores in the US. Whatever you do, read something good while you do it! Peace! )

[REVIEW] Rootwork, by Tracy Cross

(Get more information about this book here.)

(Full disclosure: Tracy and I were in the same master class at Under The Volcano this January, and she graciously sent me an ARC of this book in exchange for a fair review.)

Something about Rootwork feels like it’s from another era. While I was reading, tendrils of the story dug their way into my brain and wrapped themselves around totally unrelated thoughts, creating some pretty weird comparisons.

It’s like if Mildred D Taylor’s classic Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry was a supernatural horror.

It reminds me of the far-out fests that @scott.reads.books is always reviewing.

It’s like if Lovecraft Country was about pre-teen girls.

All comparisons aside, this is a story of three sisters – PeeWee, Ann and Betty – in segregated Louisiana. A few summer days spent in the woods with their hoodoo-practicing aunt Teddy turn into revelation, tragedy, and bloody revenge, and the girls’ lives lead in very different directions when all is said and done. This is a coming-of-age story with some heavy horror elements, written in a style you don’t often see now. It’s reminiscent of 70s and 80s YA– lots of long character studies, a little messy around the edges, with genuinely creepy elements that pop up seemingly out of nowhere and change everything.

Horror and revenge tales are emphatically not my thing, but for someone who isn’t a yellow-bellied chicken with a joy fetish, I could see this being a good read.

I don’t give star ratings to books by folk I’ve met, but I will give some gardening tools and a very special book sleeve(once you’ve read it, you’ll get the reference) to Rootwork. Thanks again to Tracey Cross for the book.

(Fellow readers! Thanks for reading this! As always, I have to tell you that this blog has an affiliate relationship with Bookshop. Although Rootwork isn’t available on the site yet, feel free to check out the site if you want to help keep the lights on and the words flowing around here. Peace!)

[Hear Me Out] The Television Adaptation of Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko Wasn’t Made For Me–And I’m Both Glad and Worried

(This is an edited version of a post from the Equal Opportunity Facebook page. To buy the book the series is based on, click here.)

Thanks to a kind and generous soul in The Black & Asian Alliance Network, I now have an Apple TV account and have been watching the series adaptation of Min Jin Lee’s epic generational saga, Pachinko. I read Pachinko back in the days before I started this blog, so I haven’t talked about it much here. I loved reading it, loved the keyhole view into the lives of the Korean diaspora, and loved the idea of a generational saga shared from an Asian-American perspective, especially since in the US the hardships of Asian immigrants are often hidden under a blanket of model minority success.

As a long-term foreign resident of South Korea(nine years and I miss it often) who actually went to the trouble of learning the language and getting involved, if not integrated into the local culture, there were some small points of confusion for me in the original book. It’s not my place to dissect them, but this post from Ask A Korean highlights them all, plus quite a few that I was too ignorant to notice. Despite that, I still liked the book and shared it with quite a few friends.

So, with all of this in mind, I was eager to see what the highly anticipated, high-budget Apple TV adaptation of the book would do with the Baek family and all of their tribulations and triumphs.

I have a lot of thoughts.

The first is that this is a beautifully shot, well-cast, well-produced show that is well worth watching. (The book is worth a read, too.) It’s about a Korean family displaced by Japanese occupation of the peninsula and their struggles to succeed in Japan and later, the US, and it does a very good job of establishing all of these places. I feel very present while watching this–it’s a very sensory show.

The second thought is that I’m glad I read the book first. It’s plotted chronologically, but the show is not. I’m not sure how well the asynchronous timelines of the series hang together for those unfamiliar with the storyline.

As far as casting, I’m thoroughly enjoying Youn Yuh-jung’s performance as elder Sunja, and although I wasn’t crazy about Jin Ha as Solomon at first I warmed up to him very quickly. I’m not at all impressed with Jimmi Simpson’s unnecessary inclusion as the obligatory goofy-yet-mean-spirited white businessman who needs to have Asia explained to him. (I appreciate that actor generally but every time he opens his mouth in the show I want to yell at him to go back to his country.)

But that brings me to a final thought — while this is a watershed moment for Asians in acting, writing, directing, and media the public response to it has been pretty tepid, which is sad. It’s a good show based on a good book but I suspect it’s partly fallen victim to the same prejudice that many Asian-American people deal with –it’s too Asian for “mainstream” America and too American for Asian markets.

That said, it’s not intended for those markets, entirely. There’s a commitment to language (the dialogue is almost entirely in Korean and Japanese with English subtitles) and a proud refusal to veer into areas of fetish or orientalization that makes this great storytelling and art, but probably also triggers a lot of people’s latent prejudices towards Asian people. This series looks like Asia. It sounds like Asia. To me, it seems very much like it is (with the exception of Jimmi Thompson’s crowbarred appearances) for the Korean diaspora.

As a Black American with a Korea connection, I appreciate the show a lot. At the same time, for me generational epics of triumphing over oppression are nothing new, culturally speaking. Pachinko has been compared to Roots in scope and tone, and while it’s not a perfect comparison, it does make a certain sense. These are American stories from recent history that need to be told, remembered, and celebrated. As much as I’m enjoying the show, it’s a love letter that isn’t addressed to me and I’m glad. Some people, however, will have a huge problem with that.

But it gets a little deeper than that.

I work in international education occasionally and just yesterday I overheard a white colleague telling a Korean student about how the show was good, but she didn’t know about the Korean-Japanese history and it wasn’t really all that important because in her opinion, there’s no reason to think about “things from the past”–and he agreed with her. Verbally, at least.

To say I was shocked was an understatement.

One of my big blind spots, and a blind spot for some of you as well, is how deeply some people want to downplay and water down history either in the name of progress and assimilation or because they don’t think it applies to them. I forget that the average person’s empathy gap when it comes to other cultures and countries–and even our own diasporas–is pretty big.

I’m not sure that Pachinko can bridge that, quite yet.

But I really hope I’m wrong.

Highly recommend watching this.

(Beautiful people! Thanks for reading! If you’d like to read Pachinko or another novel about Americans of East Asian heritage, check out this booklist on the Equal Opportunity Bookshop. In fact, check out the whole shop, and please note that we have affiliate relationships with Bookshop and other sites. If you buy anything from a link you find here, we get a little kickback, which is used to buy more books, which means I write more reviews and the cycle continues…

Peace! Go read something good!)

[Reading Challenge] Arab-American Heritage Month

Did y’all know that April is Arab-American Heritage Month?

I definitely didn’t. Apparently, it was only made official last year, although it’s been celebrated since 2017.

One of my favorite things about curating this bookish space on the internet is that I get to learn things and illuminate my blind spots publicly, sharing what I find with all of you. As it turns out, Arab-America is a big one for me.
I didn’t know many people of Arab heritage until I left the US and went to the UK. Embarrassingly enough, I can only recall reading one book by an Arab-American author before, which was Hisham D. Aidi’s excellent exploration of music in Islamic youth culture, Rebel Music.

So, that’s the April challenge. Let’s try to read something by an Arab-American. Bonus challenge–try to make it something joyous and lively, not just a war/oppression tale.

I’m way out of my area of knowledge here so I have nothing to really recommend. I did put together a very general booklist to get us started. I’ll probably start with Etaf Rum’s Palestinian-American generational epic, A Woman Is No Man because I’ve had a copy for ages.

But other than that? This is a month where we’re going to be doing some learning together, I think.

Anyone got any recommendations for good books by Arab-Americans? What are you reading for this challenge?

(Click here for a list of books by Arab-American authors. Remember that we have Bookshop affiliate space, so if you buy from this link, we get a little change. Peace!)

[REVIEW] Legendborn, by Tracy Deonn

(Click here to buy this book.)

Me, last year when Bookstagram blew up with 5-star reviews on a YA book about a Black girl who is somehow involved in Arthurian legends: That is a really stupid idea. No way I’m reading it.

Me, now, after reading that book: crackhead scratch WHERE’S THE NEXT BOOK? GIVE IT TO MEEEEEE….!

There’s nothing I like more than being proven wrong by brilliance, and this book is brilliant. It’s also done a bit wrong by its blurbs. If this was just the Knights of the Round Table with a Black lead, I’d have hated it. But it’s much more than that. The real story is…well, let me explain it from a personal angle.

Recently I did a DNA test and discovered, among other things, that I have significantly more European ancestry than I wanted or expected. My feelings about it are complicated, in a way that I also didn’t want or expect. My African and Indigenous ancestors are points of reverence, wisdom, and strength. My European ancestry? It’s a given that my recent Euro connections were not inspirations. They were very probably brutal oppressors at worst, and apathetic cowards at worst. As a result my life and lineage is inextricably tied to not only strength and survival but pain and cruel, thoughtless power.

This is the story that Legendborn tells, too. Bree, an early college student, is forced to face not only present reality, but her own ancestry–all of it. Her mother’s death seems to have brought on special abilities, which gets her wrapped up in the workings of a campus secret society who just happen to be the good ol’ boy stateside descendants of the Knights of the Round Table. No surprise here, but they’re the nutty descendants of former slaveowners with a fixation on racial purity and former glory. As much as I love the old stories, I hate Arthurian legend, mostly because the logical progression of them is exactly what’s presented here.

While there’s magic and monsters and sweet romance aplenty, the real story here is about looking all of your past in the face so you can choose which cycles to break and which to continue. It all forms a very clever commentary on the things that Black people must do to balance the dismantling of systemically racist structures while also acknowledging how deeply we are also connected to them, albeit unwillingly.

I’m being all deep and serious but this is also a wildly good, fun story. I spoke out loud to this book a half dozen times and cheered at the best parts.

I should have read this last year like the cool kids. I wish I could go back and read it for the first time again. 5 stars and a scabbard for Excalibur to Legendborn.

(Beautiful people! It’s not every day I write about a book I unequivocally recommend for not only reading, but buying if you can. If you believe me, consider purchasing from the Equal Opportunity Bookshop. Full disclosure, we get a commission from any purchases you make at that link, which is what keeps new books piling up on the nightstand as the good Lord intended. Peace!)

[REVIEW]How To Catch A Queen, by Alyssa Cole

(Buy this book!)

Black. Royals. In. Love.

Let me say that again, y’all.




That’s it. That’s the whole review. Go read the book.

Okay, fine. As much as I wish that was the whole review, it’s not. As much as I wanted to adore this tale of stern King Sanyu finding and wooing his One True Queen Shanti, it soured for me at a few points. Full disclosure; I went in to this biased and happy because I enjoyed Alyssa Cole’s sci-fi romance The A.I. Who Loved Me so much. I have developed an unreasonable soft spot for this author, so any criticism is definitely genuine.

Overall, the book is a lot of fun. It’s your standard romance novel with high steam levels and fun characters, so there’s not much to quibble with there. It’s an arranged marriage plot too, if that’s your thing. It is emphatically not my thing but I actually like the way it was introduced here, with a nod to modernity. There’s a little bit of adventure and politicking to keep things moving and the setting and side characters do what they’re there to do.

The thing that kept this from being a 5-star read for me is this: Sanyu, the male lead is not only king of a mean, misogynistic kingdom in need of a feminine facelift, but also king of the jerks. He’s prickly, emotionally stunted, and chooses toxicity again and again, despite having the power and intelligence to do better. There are very well-presented, well-written reasons for all of that, but I wanted his queen Shanti to pack it up and run for the hills after every plot twist.

Speaking of Shanti, she’s extremely likable–smart, fun, and politically engaged. There’s a depth and sweetness to her that romance heroines don’t often get, and as I said to a group of students the other day, only Black women write other Black women so sweetly, in any genre.

I realize that Sanyu’s emotional issues will probably strike a real chord with some readers because they’re true to life and well-handled. In fact, in some ways the book is a master class in patience, reconciliation, and the constant forgiveness that is a part of love.

But I’m already doing all of that constantly in my real life, so I want a little more manic pixie dream boy and a little less rough, gruff and dangerous in my romantic fantasies, ok?

Four stars and please Lord a good marriage counselor for How To Catch A Queen.

(Beautiful people, you know the drill. Something something legal reasons, something something affiliate, something something Bookshop, something something commission. Got it? Good. Now go read some Black romance, or be in one yourself. Peace!)


whew This is extremely late.

Things have been busy offline for me lately, but instead of boring you with that, let’s just jump into a reading challenge for what remains of this month.

March brings spring, flowers, and a month-long celebration of women’s history for us to read through.

There’s a lot I want to articulate about women’s history, my own sense of being a woman, and the deep sense of enjoyment I derive from my own femininity.

But instead of spotlighting my own thoughts and experiences, I’d like to challenge us all to read the work of women who are often marginalized and excluded even within our own sister circles. For the month of March, try to read a book by a trans woman, a disabled woman, a neuroatypical woman, or a BIPOC woman over 65(aka an elder).

I’m not sure what I’m going to read just yet. I’ve been reading much more slowly than usual these days, but I hope I’ll get back into my usual groove soon. Still, I’m finding that it’s easier to find books about these women than by them, which is interesting. I just heard about S.T. Lynn’s Cinder Ella, which reimagines the fairy tale as a romance starring a Black trans girl. I may actually finally read Akwaeze Emezi’s Pet, especially now that the prequel has been released and is burning up #bookstagram.

As far as books by disabled or neuroatypical women, this is my chance to read autistic author Helen Hoang‘s romance novels. Maybe I’ll read Keah Brown’s memoir about being a Black woman with cerebral palsy, entitled The Pretty One.

For a book by an elder Black, Indigenous, or of color woman, I might check out the latest Nikki Giovanni collection, Make Me Rain. Bombay-born author Thrity Umrigar just turned 71, and just released a novel about interreligious couples called Honor. And I’ve been saying I’m going to read something by legendary Anishinaabe writer Louise Erdrich for literally years now. She’s 71, I own about 4 of her books and have never read more than a chapter so maybe now’s the time.

What will you read, beautiful people?

(This blog has affiliate relationships with Bookshop, so if you click on the links and buy books, we get a commission. It keeps the page shiny and bright. Thanks for reading, and peace! )

[REVIEW] The Chiffon Trenches, by Andre Leon Talley

(Buy this book here.)

I was a very casual fan of the iconic fashion editor Andre Leon Talley. I remember seeing him on television shows in the 90s and early 2000s and being struck by his grandiosity. I also noticed him because even then I had a laser eye for #ownnormal fam living their biggest and best lives in worlds that liked to pretend they didn’t exist. I was sad to hear of his passing, and even sadder to find out that despite all the media memorials, the man essentially died penniless and alone despite his iconic status. Talley had a presence, and when he left I wished I had known more about him.

This may seem like an odd choice for a Valentine’s Day post during a month where I’m trying to encourage everyone to #readBlacklove. But what is this, if not a love letter to an industry? It’s a glitzy, name-dropping memoir of Talley’s rise from unpaid intern fresh from rural North Carolina to the first Black creative director at Vogue. He goes into gleeful, materialistic detail about the time he spent with fashion elites such as Karl Lagerfeld, Anna Wintour, and Manolo Blahnik. He’s also very candid about his sexuality and binge eating struggles. He doesn’t forget where he comes from, but his memories don’t linger there. Instead, they’re wrapped around encyclopedic recollections of who was wearing what and how it mattered in the backstage drama.

Talley’s memories definitely show status and privilege, but they also make it clear that he loved haute couture with every fiber of his being and never quite stopped being amazed that he was part of it. Perhaps the only thing he loved more, if you believe this book, were the people who created fashion. It’s like a who’s who of loving little anecdotes about the fashion community, made all the more poignant by Talley’s transparency about his difficulty with close relationships.

That makes it an even bigger shame that hindsight and Talley’s own rueful awareness shed doubt on how much he was loved back. As a reader, I learned from his love and loneliness equally.

4 stars and a pair of custom made Manolo Blahniks to The Chiffon Trenches