I hate lists. I cringed just typing the title above, as it feels reductive and clickbaity in all the ways I detest about this particular genre of web content, web content also being a thing I don’t have much use for. But, as someone who often posits that it is possible, indeed necessary, for people outside the world of transgender literature to read literature by transgender people, I’m regularly asked where people should start. Then, after doing the work of listing as many trans writers as I’m familiar with, the list slides down Twitter, disappearing forever from view. So I’m going to make something a little more permanent.
A few caveats, though. First, these books are not unified by theme. I’m not listing books by transgender people that you should read because something happened, but because you need to be reading transgender people. The books themselves will instruct you what, if anything, they are a response to. Second, it would be possible for me to do a list like this every week for a period of time that stretches out far longer than I can comprehend, so this is just what’s on my mind as I’m typing. Third, as I don’t want to fall prey to the pitfalls of the capsule review, rather than describe these books to you in my words, I’ll be using the cover material from the publishers and authors themselves. Where applicable, I’ll link to their work in The Wanderer, which is the literary magazine that I edit that can also function as an answer to the question “Hey Colette, which trans people should I be reading?”
Y’all have got some catching up to do. Let’s start!
Mannish Tongues, by jayy dodd. To speak in tongues is to be possessed / overcome by your own body. This collection speaks to these charades of understanding / some things about language, something about possessions & higher powers. [read jayy’s work at The Wanderer]
trigger, by Venus Selenite. trigger is the debut poetry collection from Venus Selenite, a bold, intimate, and comfortable/uncomfortable quest in being Black, being queer, being trans, and being a woman in the 21st century, in what continues to be systemic and oppressive, but also adventurous and ecstatic.
Reacquainted with Life, by KOKUMO. KOKUMO’s poetry, is what happens when survivors spit sperm and other bodily excretions in the face of those who abuse them. KOKUMO’s poetry, is what happens when Aunt Jemima becomes Rambo. KOKUMO’s poetry, is what happens when the piece of shit you stepped in, corporealizes then knocks you the fuck out. And no! Resilience, has never sounded sexier. [read KOKUMO’s work at The Wanderer]
There Should Be Flowers, by Joshua Jennifer Espinoza. “Espinoza’s debut is a searing interrogation of the world and the self at once. Here, the body is a fixation-as if to look away from it, even briefly, is to risk having it erased. As such, this is a book of unblinking human preservation, and how we trespass ourselves seeking safer spaces. “There is nothing I love more than an honest storm,” Espinoza writes. There Should Be Flowers is a storm to ravage and rearrange us from our crushing certainties. This book doesn’t need a blurb. It simply needs to be read.” -Ocean Vuong, author of Night Sky with Exit Wounds
To be human once more, by Esdras Parra, translated by Jamie Berrout. This ebook spans over 216 pages in total, including 190 individual poems. I won’t say much on Parra’s poetry here, as its extended meditation on interior and physical landscapes – marked by recurring images like stepping forward through chasms, blossoming bones, the trembling foliage of plantain trees, a sky sculpted from stone, abandoned lakes, the city where a life smolders – defies efforts to be categorized or summarized, but samples of these translations can be read here at my blog. [read Jamie’s work at The Wanderer]
Never Coming Home, by Tyler Vile. What do you do when you live in a moldering mansion with a disappointed megalomaniac father and a mother who can’t stay conscious long enough to cook her own dinner? [read Tyler’s work at The Wanderer]
oropel/tinsel, by Raquel Salas-Rivera. Raquel Salas Rivera has published poetry and essays in numerous anthologies and journals. In 2011, their first book, Caneca de anhelos turbios, was published by Editora Educación Emergente. In 2016, their chapbook, oropel/tinsel, was published by Lark Books & Writing Studio, and their chapbook huequitos/holies was published by La Impresora. Currently, they are a Contributing Editor at The Wanderer. If for Roque Dalton there is no revolution without poetry, for Raquel there is no poetry without Puerto Rico. You can find out more about their work at raquelsalasrivera.com. [read Raquel’s work at The Wanderer]
Sea-Witch vol. 1 (May She Lay Us Waste), by Moss Angel Witchmonstr. Sea-Witch is a genre-phobic novel-in-fragments of contemporary transsexuality that focuses on the life of a girl monster named Sara who lives inside a witch-god named Sea-Witch. Follow the occult fairytale story of how this young monster came to be, of the origins of Sea-Witch, of Sea-Witch’s god family that preceded her & of 78 men who cause pain by using their laws and cops against monsters like Sea-Witch. Also there’s lots of hot trans-on-trans sex. [read Moss’ work at The Wanderer]
Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars: A Dangerous Trans Girl’s Confabulous Memoir, by Kai Cheng Thom. Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars: A Dangerous Trans Girl’s Confabulous Memoir by Kai Cheng Thom is the highly sensational, ultra-exciting, sort-of true coming-of-age story of a young Asian trans girl, pathological liar, and kung-fu expert who runs away from her parents’ abusive home in a rainy city called Gloom. Striking off on her own, she finds her true family in a group of larger-than-life trans femmes who live in a mysterious pleasure district known only as the Street of Miracles.
Small Beauty, by jia qing wilson-yang. The novel Small Beauty by jia qing wilson-yang tells the story of Mei. Coping with the death of her cousin, she abandons her life in the city to live in his now empty house in a small town. There she connects with his history as well as her own, learns about her aunt’s long-term secret relationship, and reflects on the trans women she has left behind.
If I Was Your Girl, by Meredith Russo. Amanda Hardy is the new girl in school. Like anyone else, all she wants is to make friends and fit in. But Amanda is keeping a secret, and she’s determined not to get too close to anyone. But when she meets sweet, easygoing Grant, Amanda can’t help but start to let him into her life. As they spend more time together, she realizes just how much she is losing by guarding her heart. She finds herself yearning to share with Grant everything about herself, including her past. But Amanda’s terrified that once she tells him the truth, he won’t be able to see past it. Because the secret that Amanda’s been keeping? It’s that at her old school, she used to be Andrew. Will the truth cost Amanda her new life, and her new love?
Video Games for Humans, edited by merritt k. Behind the fluorescent veil of modern big-business video games, a quiet revolution is happening, and it’s centered on a tool called Twine. Taken up by nontraditional game authors to describe distinctly nontraditional subjects—from struggles with depression, explorations of queer identity, and analyses of the world of modern sex and dating to visions of breeding crustacean horses in a dystopian future—the Twine movement to date has created space for those who have previously been voiceless within games culture to tell their own stories, as well as to invent new visions outside of traditional channels of commerce. Videogames for Humans, curated and introduced by Twine author and games theorist merritt kopas, puts Twine authors, literary writers, and games critics into conversation with one another’s work, reacting to, elaborating on, and being affected by the same. The result is an unprecedented kind of book about video games, one that will jump-start the discussions that will define the games culture of tomorrow.
The Black Emerald, by Jeanie Thornton. A high schooler finds her drawings corrupted by a haunted stone she inherits from a suicidal underground cartoonist. A video game addict discovers a vast, hidden dimension to colonize in the walls of his girlfriend’s apartment. A philosophy student seeks anonymous Craigslist sex with the ubiquitous devil that stalks her. In this new collection from Jeanne Thornton, author of The Dream of Doctor Bantam (a Lambda Literary Award finalist in 2012), reality and relationships blur, creating a queer pulp experience with a literary sensibility, a hallucinatory journey into despair…and, possibly, toward hope.
Queer and Trans Artists of Color: Stories of Some of Our Lives Vol. 1 & Vol. 2, by Nia King. Vol. 1: A collection of sixteen unique and honest conversations you won’t read anywhere else… Mixed-race queer art activist Nia King left a full-time job in an effort to center her life around making art. Grappling with questions of purpose, survival, and compromise, she started a podcast called We Want the Airwaves in order to pick the brains of fellow queer and trans artists of color about their work, their lives, and “making it” – both in terms of success and in terms of survival. In this collection of interviews, Nia discusses fat burlesque with Magnoliah Black, queer fashion with Kiam Marcelo Junio, interning at Playboy with Janet Mock, dating gay Latino Republicans with Julio Salgado, intellectual hazing with Kortney Ryan Ziegler, gay gentrification with Van Binfa, getting a book deal with Virgie Tovar, the politics of black drag with Micia Mosely, evading deportation with Yosimar Reyes, weird science with Ryka Aoki, gay public sex in Africa with Nick Mwaluko, thin privilege with Fabian Romero, the tyranny of “self-care” with Lovemme Corazón, “selling out” with Miss Persia and Daddie$ Pla$tik, the self-employed art activist hustle with Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarsinha, and much, much more. Welcome to the future of QPOC art activism. Vol. 2: A celebration of queer and trans Black and brown genius… Building on the groundbreaking first volume, Queer and Trans Artists of Color: Stories of Some of Our Lives, NIA KING is back with a second archive of interviews from her podcast We Want the Airwaves. She maintains her signature frankness as an interviewer while seeking advice on surviving capitalism from creative folks who often find their labor devalued. In this collection of interviews, Nia discusses biphobia in gay men’s communities with JUBA KALAMKA, helping border-crossers find water in the desert with MICHA CÁRDENAS, trying to preserve Indigenous languages through painting with GRACE ROSARIO PERKINS, revolutionary monster stories with ELENA ROSE, using textiles to protest police violence with INDIRA ALLEGRA, trying to respectfully reclaim one’s own culture with AMIR RABIYAH, taking on punk racism with MIMI THI NGUYEN, the imminent trans women of color world takeover with LEXI ADSIT, queer life in WWII Japanese American incarceration camps with TINA TAKEMOTO, hip-hop and Black Nationalism with AJUAN MANCE, making music in exile with MARTÍN SORRONDEGUY, issue-based versus identity-based organizing with TRISH SALAH, ten years of curating and touring with the QTPOC arts organization Mangos With Chili with CHERRY GALETTE, raising awareness about gentrification through games with MATTIE BRICE, self-publishing versus working with a small press with VIVEK SHREYA, and the colonial nature of journalism school with KILEY MAY. The conversation continues. Bear witness to QTPOC brilliance.