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After decades of marginalization from mainstream publishing, transgender literature is having a moment in the spotlight.
Trans literature naturally defies definition, but scholars like LaVelle Ridley, who is an English and Women’s and Gender Studies doctoral candidate at the University of Michigan, define it as work that thinks critically about gender as a way to process the world. Often, it’s work by trans people, for trans people — but that may be changing, notes historian Jules Gill-Peterson.
This shift has been signaled by the success of novels like Torrey Peters’s “Detransition, Baby,” which was among the first by a trans woman to be published by a major publishing house. Peters has pushed back against framing the novel as “the first trans mainstream hit novel,” noting her place in a long literary tradition. But the book also presents a concept that may be new to many cis readers: that they can see themselves in trans characters, and that it may be useful to see the world through a trans lens. Trans writers like Peters, Kai Cheng Thom, Janet Mock, Akwaeke Emezi and Vivek Shraya have won critical praise, landed spots on popular book club lists and produced TV series.
But while trans artists and activists are figuring out how to seize this moment to advance trans liberation, right-wing factions are doing the same to restrict it by passing waves of anti-trans bills across the country. Ridley noted that it is difficult to square this cultural ascension with the fact that trans women, especially trans women of color, continue to be disproportionately vulnerable to violent crime, poverty, suicide and unemployment.
“We’re often pushed to consider visibility as progress, when in reality, for trans women — especially trans women of color — our hyper-visibility has not improved our lives,” Gill-Peterson said. “On the contrary, it’s directly led to forms of backlash.”
Despite — or perhaps because of — this increased vulnerability, telling complex, diverse trans stories is more crucial than ever, Gill-Peterson said.
“As a trans woman of color, it’s really important to try and think about how to render my own life in beautiful terms, because that’s not what the world does,” she said.
We rounded up recent releases by transgender and nonbinary writers to check out this Pride Month, including a new memoir from a best-selling Nigerian novelist, a comedic novel about sex and masculinity and a heartfelt rom-com with a trans lead.
By Akwaeke Emezi (June 8)
In their first memoir, best-selling Nigerian author Akwaeke Emezi tells the story of exploring their gender and body, their path to success as a writer and the turmoil of relationships.
By Emery Lee (2021)
Noah Ramirez, the lead of this young adult novel, keeps a blog called the Meet Cute Diary, a collection of trans “happily ever afters” — that he happened to make up. When a troll exposes the blog as fiction, Noah’s world unravels. This is the first novel from Emery Lee, a children’s lit author, artist and YouTuber.
By Shola von Reinhold (2020)
In this genre-breaking novel by Scottish writer Shola von Reinhold, protagonist Mathilda discovers a photograph of the forgotten Black modernist poet Hermia Druitt and resolves to learn as much as she can about the mysterious figure.
By Vivek Shraya (2020)
Canadian writer and musician Vivek Shraya found critical acclaim with her 2018 novel, “I’m Afraid of Men.” Her latest novel is about an indie musician whose song is covered by an Internet artist — and then it goes viral. The two musicians meet, but before long, they’re pitted against each other. And they find themselves at the center of an Internet firestorm.
By Jackie Ess (2021)
This novel’s titular character, Darryl Cook, explores the cuckolding lifestyle but finds himself tugging at threads that threaten to unravel his marriage, his town and himself. In this debut Black humor novel, Jackie Ess explores themes of marriage, manhood, basketball, sobriety and the secret lives of Oregonians.
By Kay Ulanday Barrett (2020)
Kay Ulanday Barrett is a poet, performer, multidisciplinary artist and disability advocate. Their latest poetry collection is “a love letter to Brown, Queer, and Trans futures.”
By Rivers Solomon (2021)