I didn’t used to be a huge fan of short stories. I tried to read a lot of story collections, but I’d always find myself mildly disappointed. So, over the years, they mostly dropped out of my reading life. I didn’t miss them. At least, I didn’t think I missed them. Now that I’ve started reading short story collections again, I can see clearly what the problem was: the stories I was reading before just weren’t queer enough! These days I cannot get short stories into my bloodstream fast enough. There are so many! More come out every month! There’s absolutely nothing wrong with non-queer short story collections, but as someone who grew up hungering for queer lit, this current abundance is especially satisfying.
So I’ve put together a list of 12 of my absolute favorite queer story collections from the past three years. Believe me when I tell you that these 12 are just the beginning. I limited myself to books published in 2020 and after, which means I didn’t include Look Who’s Morphing by Tom Cho, Sea, Swallow Me by Craig Gidney Laurance, or Love After the End edited by Joshua Whitehead. I’m currently reading Pretend It’s My Body by Luke Dani Blue (out in September), and after that I plan to devour Gods of Want buy K-Ming Chang (out in July). I could write several more paragraphs like this, but I’ll refrain.
These collections span a wide range of genres form contemporary and historical fiction to sci-fi and fabulism. There’s a book of Métis futurism, and a few collections that can only be defined as Weird Queer. You’ll find queer characters falling in and out of love, wrestling with big life decisions, contemplating time travel, turning into trees, having kids. I’ve tried to include books that represent as broad a range of LGBTQIA+ identities as possible, but of course no list will ever reflect the messy, wonderful diversity of queer lives.
Ready for your TBR to overflow with queer brilliance? Let’s go.
Rainbow Rainbow by Lydia Conklin
In these often unsettling stories, queer and trans characters grapple with darkness. They hurt and cause harm, experience violence and inflict it, make terrible choices, and struggle to understand themselves. Conklin writes about queer family making, desire, sexual violence, loneliness, abusive and toxic relationships, queer friendship, and teenage confusion. It’s not an easy collection to read, but it’s refreshing to see queer characters who are not always good or likable, but flawed humans with weird longings, hidden traumas, soft centers, and prickly edges.
Buffalo is the New Buffalo by Chelsea Vowel
In this collection of Métis futurism, Chelsea Vowel imagines seemingly-infinite potential futures rooted in and informed by Métis history, worldviews, mythologies, and community. A Métis superhero in 1950s Edmonton ponders how best to serve his family and community. A queer family uses Nanite technology to ensure that their baby only speaks Cree. A woman’s consciousness gets uploaded into a simulation, where she transforms into a buffalo. Each beautifully crafted story grapples differently with colonialism and climate change; together, they offer a powerful vision of healing, liberation, and renewal.
A Natural History of Transition by Callum Angus
This beautiful book of fabulist stories is all about transformation. Angus takes the idea of transition as a fixed journey from Point A to Point B and explodes it. Characters transform into mountains, give birth to cocoons, and switch genders based on the seasons. It’s a book full of stones and secrets, trans magic and queer joy, insects and lovers and complicated families.
Afterparties by Anthony Veasna So
Every time I try to write about this collection, I come up short. It’s just that good. Set in and around a small California town, the stories center the lives of Cambodian immigrants and their Cambodian American children. So’s prose sizzles and surprises; it is electric and alive in a way that still startles me whenever I think about it. So writes about generational trauma, the complexities of diaspora, and all the specific ways that history, family, culture, race, and geography live inside bodies. Some stories capture a moment of intense change; others beautifully illuminate the ordinary. Every single one is both singular and expansive.
A Dream of a Woman by Casey Plett
This is a collection about trans women and relationships between trans women — romantic, familial, platonic, adversarial. The stories aren’t exactly linked, but there are several that are broken up into sections that appear throughout the book — stories that keep returning to the same character, like a serialized novel. I’ve never read a collection that does this before; it’s such an interesting and innovative way to play with the form. Plett writes so brilliantly about her characters’ emotional interiority that you come to know them in a way that’s rare in short fiction.
Personal Attention Roleplay by Helen Chau Bradley
I often have trouble remembering short stories, even the ones I love: there’s just not as much material in a story as there is in a novel! But I didn’t have that problem with this collection. I can still vividly recall so many of the characters and settings: a queer band on their first American tour; two cousins on Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in Spain; a woman who becomes increasingly obsessed with an ASMR channel on YouTube; two people waiting in a line in the early days of the pandemic. These funny, brilliantly observed, tender, strange stories about mostly queer and Asian Canadian characters will stay with me forever.
Manywhere by Morgan Thomas
In these subtle and moving stories, Morgan Thomas blurs so many boundaries: between past and present, self and other, magic and reality. Most of the stories are set in the South — some in the present, some in the past, and many in a delicious in-between time, not quite then and not quite now. They delve into queer and trans history, lineage, and ancestry. The dialogue is especially vivid, and there is a deep sense of place in every story. This is a stunning debut — grounded in the physical and distinctly, queerly weird.
Las Biuty Queens by Iván Monalisa Ojeda
These slice-of-life stories are mostly set in New York City, and center a community of Latine trans women and femmes, many of whom are sex workers and immigrants. Each story hones in on a particular moment, conversation, or relationship, giving the book a sense of intimacy and immediacy. Ojeda doesn’t shy away from the hard stuff — his/her characters deal with transphobia and sexism and violence. They don’t all survive. But the collection as a whole is a witness, a celebration, and an ode to the messy complexity of queer and trans lives.
100 Boyfriends by Brontez Purnell
This wonderfully loud and sexy collection of stories is definitely NSFW. In stories that are by turns hilarious, upsetting, raw, and tender, queer men muddle their way through hookups, breakups, relationships, messy affairs, good choices, bad choices, and a lot of sex. Purnell writes with a direct, straightforward openness. His prose is witty and observant and full of truth-telling it’s hard to turn away from.
Sarahland by Sam Cohen
In this collection, a slew of characters named Sarah deal with challenges both mundane and fantastical. Most of these Sarahs are young Jewish women and college students, Millennials struggling with debt and breakups and family strife and sex. But there’s also a story about an older queer couple who decide to turn into trees and a retelling of the Sarah & Abraham story in which Sarah is a trans woman. Together, these stories explore queer identity, womanhood, power dynamics, loss, obsession, and a whole lot more.
Everyone on the Moon is Essential Personnel by Julian K. Jarboe
Fans of queer speculative fiction, listen up: you’re going to want to pick up this collection ASAP! It’s another genre-blending collection that has a little bit of everything. The stories are set in a variety of futures, some terrifying, some hopeful, and most a combination of the two. Jarboe explores bodily autonomy, desire, societal control, freedom, friendship, and queer community. In the title story, the longest in the collection, a character ponders whether to take a low-paying job on the moon. The collection is worth reading for this story alone, but the rest are wonderful, too.
Apsara Engine by Bishakh Som
I’ve been craving more graphic short story collections ever since reading this book! It’s an eerie collection of strange and fabulous stories, a mix of fabulism, sci-fi, fantasy, and realistic fiction. A trans mapmaker presents at an academic conference. A woman’s life becomes consumed by a past love. Som writes about trans and queer characters in ordinary and extraordinary situations; they get into all sorts of messy tangles, and sometimes find their way out. The range of art is striking — each story has its own style.
Looking for more fantastic queer short story collections? Check out this list I made of the stories I’d include in my dream queer short story anthology!