Hello! Thanks to all the lovely people who attended my … Q&A/Talk/Ramble thing at Blue Willow yesterday. Being my usual rambly self (spellcheck is telling me that rambly isn’t a word, maybe it’s supposed to be rambley except it doesn’t like that either) I wound up going off on some huge digressions so I didn’t get to as many of your questions as I might have liked and I also didn’t get to do quite as much of the “if you liked this book you might also like” stuff as I might normally do in an event at, y’know, a book store.
So I’m going to do a couple of follow up posts. I’ll do the “answering some more of your submitted questions” posts later this week but I thought I’d start with the “if you liked this book” post because, well people like book recs and there are quite a lot of questions to look at.
If You Liked This Book, Why Not Try…
Something I touched on in the Blue Willow event is that I wrote A Lady for A Duke with an awareness that for a lot of readers it might be the first book they’d read with a transgender protagonist. If that’s you, fantastic! I hope you liked it. But please, please, please don’t make it the last book you read with a transgender protagonist.
Plus, it’s pride month. And while I have a vague annual tradition of kicking off pride month with a tweet saying “I’m really grateful for your support but please remember to give a shit about LGBTQ+ people the rest of the time too” it’s still a really good time to be doing book recommendations.
I should say from the outset that I am one million percent not an authority here. I’m going to recommend some books I liked but this shouldn’t be taken as anything even remotely resembling an exhaustive list or as a reflective of anything other than books I happen to have come across. It’s not my place to validate other people’s work, especially not when they’re writing about their own experiences. This really is just a starting point for people who might have been read A Lady for a Duke and been inspired to look into the wider world of books for, about and by trans and nonbinary people.
I should also add that it’s going to be very eclectic, in no particular order, and, because I write pan-LGBTQ+ myself, is going to have a bit of a pan-LGBTQ+ flavour. I’ve tried to bias the list towards trans and nonbinary people writing about trans and nonbinary characters, but I thought it would be kind of hypocritical not to also include trans and nonbinary people who happen to be writing about cis characters and people who are currently presenting as cis (which, let’s remember, is all you can ever really know about an author’s identity) writing about trans and nonbinary characters. So a bit of everything but all of nothing might be the best way to put it.
If you’re looking for more historical romance that features trans and nonbinary characters, I’d start with the work of Elijah (EE) Ottoman: he writes in multiple genres, but, given he’s an actual legit historian, he’s probably best known for his histrom. Lately I’ve really enjoyed both The Craft of Love and The Companion. The former is a very gentle, mutual respect-driven romance between a (cis female) quilter and a transmasc silversmith. Like most of Ottoman’s work, it focuses a lot on the historical context (in this case crafting in the 19th century) and the challenges of self-expression and self-agency, both within relationships and in the world at large. The Companion is a polyam romance set in 1950s New York, between a trans man and two trans women: it has a more melancholy feel than The Craft of Love, but the same emphasis on friendship, healing and the security those things can bring in a world that may be otherwise hostile. If you want to branch out from histrom, I also have a personal soft spot for A Matter of Disagreement, which is an academic rivals to lovers story set in a steampunk-esque fantasy world, and … well … I was the editor for Documenting Light, an incredibly moving contemporary romance between a nonbinary character and a trans man that is explicitly an exploration of how to find yourself in the world when your place in history has been diminished and erased. This is actually a really good starting point for readers who want to learn a little more about the challenges of queer and trans history without jumping into straight into heavy academia.
Other historical romances with trans and nonbinary protagonists that I’ve enjoyed include, KJ Charles’s The Rat Catcher’s Daughter and An Unsuitable Heir (these are second and third books in a series respectively and while they mostly stand alone they’re probably best in context), Erica Ridley’s The Perks of Loving a Wallflower (for whatever reason this was packaged and marketed as f/f but it’s actually a very sweet romance between a bluestockingy cis woman and a nonbinary person), and Cat Sebastian’s Unmasked by the Marquess, which is a very Heyerish “stuffy Marquess has his world turned upside-down by an unconventional person” story, except the unconventional person in question is a nonbinary person who has been living as a man, and Sebastian uses the beats of the typical (and often problematic) histrom disguise plot to ask some serious questions about power, gender, and the socially constructed nature of both.
Branching out into contemporary-set stories either by out trans or nonbinary authors or about trans or nonbinary characters, it seems a bit nonsensical to mention both Casey McQuiston and Meryl Wilsner here, two nonbinary authors whose work is, y’know, better known than mine. But if you’ve read me and not heard of them, something has gone hinky in your universe. There’s also Jack Harbon, Cole McCade and Roan Parrish: my favourite Harbon is The Meet Cute Club (a romcom about two men who fall in love at their romance bookclub), my favourite McCade is probably his current long-running thriller series, Criminal Intentions, the darkness of the plotting balanced by a genuinely lovely central relationship, and my favourite Parrish is The Remaking of Corbin Wale, a magic-realism tinged holiday story with a baker for a love interest.
Moving towards contemporary romances that feature trans or nonbinary protagonists, I really enjoy the work of SA/Austin Chant. Coffee Boy is an ultimately very sweet romance between a transmasc intern and his cis male boss which navigates the power dynamics of that situation quite carefully (although that setup might be a dealbreaker for some). Okay, I’ve already gone off track, but I also love Chant’s Peter Darling, which is a return-to-Neverland Peter Pan story with a transmac Peter eventually getting together with Captain Hook. I mean, who doesn’t need that in their life? Staying actually on track with the contemporary theme now, Anita Kelly’s Love & Other Disasters is a romcom set on a reality TV cooking competition between a sunshiny cis woman and grumpy-seeming (but actually just understandably guarded) nonbinary person. There’s some pretty explicit reckonings with transphobia in the world at large in here, but it’s balanced by a genuinely heart-warming romance, and—as you might hope from a book centred on a cooking show—lots of food porn (including some rather literal food porn occasionally, about which your mileage may vary).
As is well-documented, I’m a huge fan of the work of Kris Ripper (and have been zir editor): ze writes across genre and across the queer spectrum, and some of my favourites of zir books include Kith & Kin (the book I edited), the entire Scientific Method universe (which follows a complicated polayam relationship from its inception through the general challenges of life), Fail Seven Times (another polyam book, this one involving an incredibly grumpy and damaged protagonist letting himself fall in love with his two best friends) and The Hate Project (omg, another grump book, I’m beginning to see a theme here). Of zir work featuring trans and nonbinary characters, I recommend The Queer and the Restless (this is book 3 of Queers of La Visa, a self-consciously soapy series of contemporary romances set against the background of an on-going murder investigation. They mostly stand alone, except the last one, but it’s best to read them in order), The Love Study (romcom about a man with commitment phobia falling for a nerdy nonbinary YouTuber) and Book Boyfriend (another romcom, this time about the hopelessly lovestruck PK who has a massive crush on his nonbinary best friend and no idea how to communicate this).
Other contemporary romances I’ve enjoyed with trans and nonbinary characters include Anna Zabo’s Reverb (the third book in their Twisted Wishes series), which is a nice, um, twist on the bodyguard trope, with a trasmasc hero, Penny Aimes’ For the Love of April French, a kinky-but-tender romance with a wonderful transfemme heroine, and Hold Me by Courtney Milan which is basically a total nerdmance between a physicist and a transfemme science blogger.
Heading in a more fantasy/paranormal romancey-direction, there’s Devin Harnois who writes panqueer stories across a range of fantasy subgenres (I’m very fond of Rainbow Islands, which is the fluffiest, warmest fantasy romance about a transmasc teenager who finds love and family on being exiled from his repressive homeland), May Peterson who writes rather dreamlike panqueer fantasy novels (though the final book of The Sacred Dark, The Calyx Charm, has a transfemme heroine), AJ Demas whose Sword Dance series features an AU classical world and a lovely romance between a damaged ex-soldier and … okay this a bit complicated because it crosses some complexity disability/gender identity lines but … a nonbinary eunuch, and Jordan L Hawke, whose Whyborne & Griffin series is a collection of Lovecraft-themed adventure stories connected by the developing relationship between a shy museum curator/ancient linguist and an ex-Pinkerton agent.
I don’t want to stray too far from romance into fantasy and fantasy YA and YA because I’m simply less familiar with those genres (and because we’re travelling ever further from ‘if you liked this, try that’) but books I’ve read by trans and nonbinary authors that aren’t romance that I’ve really enjoyed include: Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender, Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas, pretty much everything Sarah Gailey has ever written ever (special shout-out for Upright Women Wanted and The Echo Wife), and The Black Tides of Heaven by Neon Yang. Similarly, lit fit isn’t really a genre I have much insight into but (and please do thoroughly investigate trigger warnings before diving in here) two books I read semi-recently that gave me a lot to think about were Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters and Tell Me I’m Worthless by Alison Rumfitt.
When it comes to non-fiction it becomes even more difficult for me to … um. Be at all useful. Firstly, because I’m not an academic or a historian, and also discourse moves really fast so something that was super current and relevant in 2018 suddenly just, well, isn’t in 2022. Something I briefly mentioned at the event at Blue Willow is that, especially when you’re looking at, biographies of historical figures they can problematically talk about their subjects in quite trans erasing ways. For example, it’s quite hard to find an biography of James Barry that uses him/pronouns like he, y’know, asked us to. Similarly, a lot of historical biographies go into levels of details about people’s bodies that are … reflective of historical fixations and probably, therefore, in a dark way reflective of historical experiences but aren’t necessarily going to be comfortable for a modern reader.
So therefore, I’ve tried to keep my non-fiction books to books published mostly within the last 3 years or which talk about their subjects in ways that—as best I can judge—I think people are unlikely to find too erasing or triggering. I should stress that I’m not saying there’s no value in looking at older sources and it’s what real historians absolutely do but I’m assuming if you’re a real historian you don’t me to give you pointers. Again, this list is not exhaustive and basically just reflects shit I’ve read semi-recently. On top of which, as I also discussed at Blue Willow, I don’t really consider this “research” so much as … some books I read because the issues and the people in them matter.
Starting with books about contemporary trans issues and identity, I got a lot out of both Trans Like Me by CN Lester and The Transgender Issue by Shon Faye. Do be aware, they’re very UK-centric but, well, I live in the UK. There’s also an interesting collection of essays called Trangender Marxism edited by Jules Joanne Gleeson and Elle O’Rourke. Like any collection of essays, they’ll be bits that work for you and bits that don’t, and those won’t necessarily correspond with the bits that worked and didn’t work for me, but I mention it because I think it’s important to highlight the ways in which different sorts of injustice intersect.
Some autobiographical writing from trans and nonbinary people I’ve read recently include (and, again, please check trigger warnings for these and don’t take my perspective as meaning anything other than ‘these books exist and a person read them who liked them’): trans girl suicide museum by Hannah Baer (a fascinating but excoriating text that, in its last chapter, self-describes “a very specific book about a very specific sort of transness”), Unicorn: The Memoir of a Muslim Drag Queen by Amrou Al-Kadhi (a really compelling memoir about identity, faith and self-acceptance), Yes You Are Trans Enough by Mia Violet (a very personal journey that does not attempt to present a unified message about trans feminine identity, but is also very accessible, warm and reassuring, as the title perhaps suggests), Fairest: A Memoir, by Meredith Talusan (another very personal book about intersectionalities of gender and race, since Talusan is a trans feminine Filipino-American with albinism) and I’m Afraid of Men by Vivek Shraya (a quick intense read about masculinity and misogyny—specifically Shraya discusses the way masculinity was imposed upon her as child, and how masculinity functions aggressively in the world).
I recommended these history books at rambling and somewhat incoherent length at the event, but I’m just going to note them here in case anybody wanted to investigate them further. I mentioned Transgender History by Susan Stryker, which originally came out in 2008 (though it has gone into a second edition recently), because it’s sort of the first book people tend to get recommended if they’re interested in the history of transgender identity in American in the 20th century. Also having made a big deal of Trans Like Me and The Transgender Issue it seems only fair to remember Americans exist. Black on Both Sides: A Racial History of Trans Identity by C Riley Snorton also has quite an American focus. It’s worth nothing that this is not a biographical look at trans Black people, it’s a socio-cultural look at the way we define and conceive of Blackness impacts inextricably the way we define and conceive of transness and vice versa. It’s quite dense and academically heavy, but I found it very interesting.
Something with a more narrative, biographical bent is The Hidden Case of Ewan Forbes, by Zoë Playdon. This is the story of a Scottish Lord who—and I know this language is complicated but it’s sometimes unavoidable—was AFAB. He lived quietly with his wife throughout the 20th century until his elder brother died putting him in line to inherit, at which point a cousin turned up and attempted to challenge his right to inherit. One of the things that’s really difficult about trans history (and queer history in general) is that we usually only learn these sorts of stories from secondary sources—usually legal or medical ones. Forbes, however, had actually written an autobiography (albeit not a very read one) which means that Playdon can tell his story, supported by his own words about his own thoughts and feelings. It’s genuinely a gripping story, and Playdon is respectful of Forbes’s identity throughout.
Female Husbands by Jen Manion is a look at—again, I appreciate this language is difficult for some readers—AFAB people in the 18th and 19th centuries who lived, or partially lived, as men. Manion (who prefers to be referred to by name, rather than by particular pronouns) opens the book by advancing a definition of trans history that is more inclusive and less erasing than the commonly accepted one of, if we’re being honest, setting an impossible burden of proof (I mean, there’s literally letters from James Barry where he says he’s a man, and he’d like to be remembered a man, and if that’s not proof enough, I’m not sure what would be) while also acknowledging the complexity of trying to understand, describe and label choices made by people hundreds of years ago in radically different social and cultural contexts. Mannion’s take is (and I apologise for reducing a complex idea to a simple soundbite) that transgender history can and should encompass any social practice performed beyond one’s birth assigned gender. And It is through this lens that Manion explores the subjects of this book ( the ‘husbands’ are referred to using they/them pronouns throughout).
Finally, Before We Were Trans by Kit Heyam isn’t actually out yet (and I’m sure I’ll have more to say about it on GR at some point) is a trans-inclusive look at people across history who lived outside the gender binary. Like Manion, Heyam is actively engaged in a reconstruction of how we talk about and perceive trans history, which is similar to Manion’s take, yet different, and equally fascinating.
Phew. And breathe.
tl;dr there are loads of great books out there either by, about, or both by and about trans and nonbinary people in a whole lot of different contexts. Please don’t take my book as either the first or the last word, and please don’t take these recommendations as the first or the last word either.
Happy Pride, good reading, and if you’re going to buy any of these books please consider buying them from an independent bookshop (e.g. Blue Willow).