Welcome to QueeReads, our monthly review of the queer books I’ve been reading. I’m frequently asked about books that feature LGBTQA+ protagonists, themes, or authors so I’m here to share what I’ve found and what I thought. If you have a suggestion for future #QueeReads, please reach out!
It’s pride month and, what can I say? I’ve been reading a lot of queer lit. What’s awesome about the following four books is that they are so different from each other in genre, topics, and style—I’m sure there is at least one book in this set for any dedicated queer reader.
They/Them/Their by Eris Young
They/Them/Their is an all-inclusive guide to the T in LGBTIA+. With a mix of research, interviews, and personal experience, Eris Young (pronouns: they/them/their) covers everything you may want to know about people who identify as non-binary and trans, including chapters on dating, physical health, mental health, and how to create open spaces at work and at school.
Overall, they discuss these topics in a clear and relatable way. Not only does Young cover facets of trans and non-binary identities, but also details other lesser known letters of the LGBTQIA+ alphabet soup, such as asexuality (which they themselves identify with). The chapters are also stuffed with plenty of resources and further reading suggestions as well as reflection questions for every reader, whether you’re a parent, teacher, employer, colleague, therapist, clinician, friend, partner, or general ally.
As a queer woman, I was able to relate to a few of the experiences where sexuality and gender intersect. For example, as a rule, they write “I usually come out to anyone who I know for more than a half hour”—which is the best advice I’ve gotten on the subject. But as a queer woman, They/Them/Their was also a wake-up call that dove into the complex nuances within the trans and non-binary community. There is so much about gender and non-binary gender identities that I cannot relate to or did not know about—and They/Them/Their not only filled in those blanks, but drew new lines.
For example, I especially thought the chapter on the laws involved with genderqueer identities was not only informative, but also offered a wide, global perspective that compared existing policies from different countries. Continually, Young reminds the reader that genderqueer individuals are not partaking in a singular, private experience but one with ramifications that are affected by and are in many ways intertwined with every corner of society.
I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in learning more about pronouns, trans and non-binary folk, and gender expression—especially those who want to be better allies to their friends, coworkers, partners, and family members.
If you’re already neck deep in your queer studies (like me), you might think this book is a little like Gender 101, but I still strongly recommend it since it is intensely descriptive and informative.
My only worry with the book is the shelf-life (literally, because it’s a book), since the terms, attitudes, and resources discussed in the book are always evolving and growing as progress continues (and is thwarted), so I hope there are newer editions in the future!
They/Them/Their will be published on September 19, 2019 by Jessica Kingsley Publishers. Definitely keep an eye out for it this fall!
I would recommend this book to those who liked:
In Defense of an Other by Grace Mead
It’s 2007 in New Orleans and a young lawyer chose the wrong night to explore his sexuality when his evening at a local gay bar ends with him fatally defending himself against a hate crime. What follows is a suspenseful legal thriller as his case works through the justice system.
As a whole, I thought this book was an excellent legal story, but not as well written as I would have liked. At times, it felt like the characters were reciting facts from a chapter outline—no one seemed to have a recognizable personality. At other times, the story veered into seemingly unconnected scenes involving football games, lots of boxing training, and a field trip to an insectarium. Otherwise, the pacing is off, the setting descriptions are vague, and the character development misses a lot of the emotion (anger, passion, regret, hope, anything!) you would expect from characters in such a situation.
For example, (and I’m not spoiling anything here since this is in the summary description) I didn’t understand how this straight-edge guy: a). puts himself vulnerably out there to explore his sexuality, b). gets attacked by homophobic assailants, c). accidentally kills one of them, d). spends a whole weekend in a jail cell, e). is falsely accused of first degree murder in a drug deal gone wrong (a charge that could carry the death penalty), f). has to make 1 mil. in bail, and g). is outed to his mother all in one weekend—— and is so . . . chill? Like chill as a cucumber chill.
If you are into legal thrillers, the story may make up for writing style (I’ll admit that I’m a picky reader!). It was a quick read and in the afterword, Mead (a transgender woman) has an interesting essay about the legal arguments used in the book. There are discussion questions included as well. For those reasons, I can see it being an interesting book club book!
Defense of an Other was published in November 2018 by Clink Street Publishing. I would recommend it to those who like Jodi Picoult, Then Comes Marriage (Roberta Kaplan), and:
Lie With Me by Philippe Besson
This best-selling French novel is easily compared to Call Me By Your Name because it also invites you to enter the mind of a 17-year-old boy recalling a transformative, passionate chapter of his life in the 1980’s, but I must say I enjoyed this book even more than Aciman’s. Lie With Me is short, a mere 180 pages, and sweet—not in a ripe apricot way, but in a tenderness that often comes attached to recalling a lost first love.
Lie With Me starts in recent years when Besson runs into someone who looks strikingly like his high school love, sending him into a whirlwind of recollections about cultivating his secret relationship with Thomas, a boy from the neighboring rural, French town. As he recounts their story and his emotions at the time, he allows them to inform their estranged relationship for the following years (similar to Elio and Oliver’s forlorn, retrospective look in the past). It’s a novel about first love, first heartbreak, and how what is true never seems to leave you, even on a molecular level.
Lie With Me was published in April 2019 by Scribner books. I would recommend it to anyone who loved Brokeback Mountain and Call Me By Your Name:
Trans Power by Juno Roche
Trans Power is a frank, explicit depiction of trans and non-binary experiences, especially in connection to their bodies and sexual desires.
The mission of Juno Roche in her book Trans Power is to invite (and confront) the reader into the raw, internal discussion of trans individuals as they navigate relationships and intimacy in their personal lives. Through interviews with various trans activists and figures, Roche asks honest questions (all (!) imaginable topics are seemingly on the table) and collects perspectives about where trans folk were, are, and may one day be.
In her opening chapter, “Transcentral,” she addresses her discomfort with her identity. “I don’t feel like a woman (or a man) anymore,” she writes. “Nor do I feel non-binary as it includes the word ‘binary’ […] I feel trans.” Where other texts on Booked Club’s QueeReads list by trans authors take a more distant, recollective approach to their personal identity (such as Eris Young’s They/Them/Their), Roche cracks open her life, musings, and insecurities right away, asking the reader to listen as their connection with their gender identity transforms in real time, gravitating between poles or ultimately levitating away from identifiable binary-weighed labels altogether. In a sense, her writing reminded me of slam poetry; covering her journey of finding power in her trans-ness while also stopping to meditate on the transformative moments along the way.
The overwhelming power of Trans Power for me was the pervasive reminder that I was entering and occupying a space that was not mine. At times, I felt like a fly on the wall that got stuck in some sticky tack and was forced to listen in, or like my radio was randomly picking up someone else’s signal. Although I felt invited at times, Roche is not afraid to make you (or herself) uncomfortable, and even addresses and interrogates her own positions and ideas aloud throughout her discussions with others. For this reason, I do not feel I have the ability or the authority to appropriately rate it on a five star scale. So here are my closing thoughts:
In this sense, Trans Power is a complex, fluid, pocket of physical and mental exploration—and it is not for everyone. I would not recommend it for everyone partially because of the explicit nature but also because of the complex writing style. This is in part because the writing itself is queer—quickly shifting between academic theory, erotica, diary recollections, interviews, memoir, and fantasy—sometimes all within the same paragraph. I definitely would suggest it to any fans of explorative books such as Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts.
Overall, there is a lot to learn from and think about, but if I were to recommend it to someone, it would be a gender studies major, a queer reads enthusiast, or someone within the trans community seeking to take control of their internal power.
Especially within the empowering closing chapter “Trans in Beautiful.” It is full of celebration for the future of trans-ness, pointing to the progress and youth she has been observing and time trudges onwards, a logical conclusion to her internal struggle as she aspires to embrace trans—as a destination, as an aspiration. “Trans is that ocean, that landscape, that sky,” she writes. “Trans is beautiful.”
Trans Power will be published on October 21, 2019 by Jessica Kingsley Publishers. I would recommend it to high-level Queer Readers, especially those who liked:
Thank you to NetGalley for access to these four titles in exchange for an honest review.