This post is sponsored by Balls by Chris Edwards.
Changing your gender from female to male takes balls. And if you’re going to do it in front of 500 coworkers at one of the top ad agencies in the country, you better have a pretty big set! At a time when the term “transgender” didn’t really exist, Chris Edwards endured 28 surgeries to become the man he always knew he was meant to be. Chris is a pioneer who changed the perception of an entire community, and his memoir, BALLS, will touch readers’ hearts and open their minds.
Happy Trans Awareness Month! We exist! Some of us write books!
For someone who writes quite a few recommendation lists, I always find them difficult to write–particularly when I’m talking about trans writers. The issue isn’t always what I write for these lists–it’s often what I don’t write: there simply isn’t enough time for me to include every title, author, or even biographical details, that I want to and I always end up trying to cram too many items so that I don’t have to leave anything out. Eventually I’m forced to create arbitrary limits just to make sure that I eventually make my deadline. This list, like all my lists, is not a definitive guide to The Eight Trans Authors You MUST Know (I think those lists are silly) but can be thought of as a sampling of the authors that I find particularly captivating or relevant for one reason or another. Did your favorite author not make the list? Comment below! Share with the group! (After all, they probably were on my original behemoth of a list.)
Dane Figueroa Edidi – Edidi is one of those artists where you find yourself wondering if she somehow has more hours in her day than you. Her biography is far too long to do true justice to here but, in brief, Edidi is an African, Cuban, Indigenous, American trans woman performer, writer, priestess, and activist who is based out of Baltimore. Edidi’s work includes speculative fiction set in a world of Black trans women living with mystical and holy powers (Keeper, Wither & Remains: A Gathering of Bones, Yemaya’s Daughters, Brew) and a book of poems dedicated to her home (Baltimore: A Love Letter). She is also the Director of Global Initiatives for the Trans Women of Color Collective.
Esdras Parra – I’m indebted to Jamie Berrout for drawing my attention to Venezuelan poet, writer, and activist, Esdras Parra. Parra’s body of writing spanned genres and forms, from film criticism to poetry, and while it continues to be well-regarded today, twelve-years after her death, it can be difficult to find her work outside of Venezuela. Berrout, a talented writer, essayist, and poet herself, translated Antigüedad del frío (To Be Human Once More), a collection of Parra’s poetry originally published in 1997, and has been working to share the legacy of Esdras Parra.
Everett Maroon – After his memoir, Bumbling into Body Hair, Moon began work on the young adult novel, The Unintentional Time Traveler (which, depending on which rubric you use, may have been the first YA novel written by a trans author and featuring a trans protagonist.) When Jack Bishop’s parents take him to a new doctor for an experimental treatment (all he’s looking for is an end to the seizures that control his daily life) what he gets is a vivid hallucination of life as Jacqueline, a girl his own age in rural America at the start of the 20th century. As he continues to snap between Jack and Jacqueline he begins to realize that the world of Jacqueline is just as real as Jack’s. (On a side-note- the ebook is available for just $5 on Amazon right now, so you know, that’s pretty handy…)
Imogen Binnie – If you’ve read just one novel by a trans author there’s a good chance that book was Nevada, nominated for the 2014 Lambda Award for Trans Fiction. Often conversations about Nevada quickly turn into conversations about literary canon and how important it is for trans girls who came out after reading it (or so I hear, cause, uh, I definitely “didn’t” do that), while these conversations can be relevant in certain contexts, right now I’d like to focus on the fact that Imogen Binnie is a very good writer and Nevada is a damn good novel. Binnie’s punk, fucked-up, bleak, hilarious story is tightly crafted, prioritizing the characters and plot instead of trying to deliver a grand moralizing take on the Trans Experience.
jia qing wilson-yang – Set in the areas of Ontario, Canada, Small Beauty is an exploration of the Chinese diaspora in Canada and the impact of identity for a young Chinese-Canadian trans woman. In a biography posted on her publisher’s website wilson-yang describes a desire to tell a story of a trans woman that doesn’t focus on her transition but instead allows the protagonist to have her own narrative and identity outside of our often-sensationalized transitions. I was already planning on picking up a copy of Small Beauty just from the positive reviews I kept hearing but seeing an author articulate exactly what I hope for when reading a “trans novel” only made me all the more determined.
KOKUMỌ – When an author’s backcover biography includes the sentences “KOKUMỌ is the thought leader responsible for influencing the very framework of the modern-day trans movement. Yes! She’s you fav’rite advocates, fav’rite advocate.” then that’s a sign to sit up and take notice. KOKUMỌ has a long, respected history as an activist and performance artist based in Chicago and I’m excited for the opportunity that Reacquainted with Life provides to bring her work to readers who might not already be familiar with it. Reacquainted with Life is her first book, bringing together heart-pounding, devastating, gorgeous, chilling poems that all speak from her experiences as a Black, fat, femme trans woman living in America.
Lilith Latini – Lilith Latini’s debut poetry collection, Improvise, Girl, Improvise, holds a special place in my heart, not just as one of my favorite books of poetry, but as one of the first reviews that I wrote for Book Riot back in the summer of 2015. In that review I wrote that Improvise “smashed open the top of my skull and left me reeling in its wake of sequins and sex and gold lamé and emotional gut punches.” Nearly a year and a half later and when I reread Improvise, or in fact just think about it, this book still smashes me open. Her poems are short stories of trans women just living their lives however they can. From these lives, she draws out fragments to show us moments of tenderness, fear, sex, joy, and so much more.
Ryka Aoki – The other day I received a message from a friend, “I got Ryka’s poetry books and I can’t read them in public because after a couple stanzas I invariably start crying,” and although I’m personally immune to any semblance of emotional expression, I completely understood. Aoki writes in these gorgeous, flowing motions that sound so natural I am entirely convinced and captivated by her work. Her novel, He Mele a Hilo, was one of my favorite books I read in 2015 and has become one of the standards that I now hold anything I read up against. A story made of interwoven lives, He Mele a Hilo uses the characters’ Hawaiian Pidgin English to bring us into a tiny community on the big island of Hawai’i as they navigate relationships and questions of identity while a magical presence begins to turn everything on its head. Concepts of identity, relationships, and community also play out in her two poetry collections: Seasonal Velocities and Why Dust Shall Never Settle Upon This Soul. I was fortunate enough to hear Aoki read at the University of Massachusetts Amherst earlier this year and I walked away from it with an even deeper appreciation for her presence, both as a performer and as a member of literary communities, and particularly for her challenge of how we determine which work gets the label of “Trans Literature.”