Earlier this year on Diversity in YA I compiled a list of YA novels about transgender characters. Only one of those books was written by a transgender author, and it was co-written with a straight author (f2m: the boy within by Hazel Edwards and Ryan Kennedy, published by Ford Street Publishing in Australia). I don’t believe that the author has to be exactly like the character they’re writing, and when it comes to underrepresented populations, unfortunately sometimes it takes a member of the mainstream (many of whom are wonderful allies) to bring a story about that underrepresented population into the broader public eye. At the same time, it’s important that people who have lived the experiences being written about also have the opportunity to tell their own stories.
That’s why for this month’s YA Pride, I set out to find books written by transgender writers about transgender characters. I knew that it would be difficult to find trans books by trans writers published specifically for the YA market, so I broadened my search to include books published for the general adult market. I found a number that were about young trans people and which might be of interest to young trans readers. Some are from small presses; some are anthologies; some are nonfiction. Many are probably difficult to find in bookstores, so I recommend checking your library system. The book descriptions that follow come from the books’ publishers.
Choir Boy by Charlie Anders (Soft Skull Press)
A gonzo Confederacy of Dunces mixed with Sarah, Choir Boy combines off-kilter humor and its own brand of modern day magic in a rollicking, bittersweet story about growing up different.
Twelve year old Berry wants nothing more than to remain a choir boy. Choral music and the prospect of divinity thrill him. His fellow humans-from his feuding parents to the teenage transsexual prostitute who befriends him-always let him down. So in an effort to prevent his approaching puberty and exile from the choir, Berry injures himself, then convinces a clinic to give him testosterone inhibiting drugs. But there’s a catch-the drugs come with a hefty dose of female hormones. Suddenly Berry finds himself with a set of B-cups and a lot of explaining to do. In the resulting uproar that overtakes the church and town, Berry faces what is both monstrous and silly about humanity and falls in love in the process. Choir Boy is both a journey across genders and a wildly inventive romp alongside an outcast who refuses to grow up gracefully.
Abounding with bewitching religious symbolism, self-mutilation, bizarre suburban torture, drugs, class-based violence and hidden meanings, Choir Boy unmasks the very adult world most children live in. A fantastical coming of age fable in the tradition of Geek Love, Charlie Anders’s first novel reminds us just how much power and horror there is in following one’s true heart.
Nevada by Imogen Binnie (Topside Press)
Nevada is the darkly comedic story of Maria Griffiths, a young trans woman living in New York City and trying to stay true to her punk values while working retail. When she finds out her girlfriend has lied to her, the world she thought she’d carefully built for herself begins to unravel, and Maria sets out on a journey that will most certainly change her forever.
“This book blew my mind. It’s everything – personal, political, funny, raw, hyper-brainy and down to earth. I want to stay in Maria’s brain forever as she rides her bike through the streets of Brooklyn, doggedly hashing out her existence with humor and befuddled honesty. A really powerful new literary voice. I’m really excited about Imogen Binnie!” — Michelle Tea author of Valencia
Celebrated transsexual trailblazer Kate Bornstein has, with more humor and spunk than any other, ushered us into a world of limitless possibility through a daring re-envisionment of the gender system as we know it.
Here, Bornstein bravely and wittily shares personal and unorthodox methods of survival in an often cruel world. A one-of-a-kind guide to staying alive outside the box, Hello, Cruel World is a much-needed unconventional approach to life for those who want to stay on the edge, but alive.
Hello, Cruel World features a catalog of 101 alternatives to suicide that range from the playful (moisturize!), to the irreverent (shatter some family values), to the highly controversial. Designed to encourage readers to give themselves permission to unleash their hearts’ harmless desires, the book has only one directive: “Don’t be mean.” It is this guiding principle that brings its reader on a self-validating journey, which forges wholly new paths toward a resounding decision to choose life.
Tenderly intimate and unapologetically edgy, Kate Bornstein is the radical role model, the affectionate best friend, and the guiding mentor all in one.
My New Gender Workbook by Kate Bornstein (Taylor & Francis)
Cultural theorists have written loads of smart but difficult-to-fathom texts on gender theory, but most fail to provide a hands-on, accessible guide for those trying to sort out their own sexual identities. In My Gender Workbook, transgender activist Kate Bornstein brings theory down to Earth and provides a practical approach to living with or without a gender.
Bornstein starts from the premise that there are not just two genders performed in today’s world, but countless genders lumped under the two-gender framework. Using a unique, deceptively simple and always entertaining workbook format, complete with quizzes, exercises, and puzzles, Bornstein gently but firmly guides readers toward discovering their own unique gender identity.
Since its first publication in 1997, My Gender Workbook has been challenging, encouraging, questioning, and helping those trying to figure out how to become a “real man,” a “real woman,” or “something else entirely.” In this exciting new edition of her classic text, Bornstein re-examines gender in light of issues like race, class, sexuality, and language. With new quizzes, new puzzles, new exercises, and plenty of Kate’s playful and provocative style, My New Gender Workbook promises to help a new generation create their own unique place on the gender spectrum.
One in Every Crowd by Ivan Coyote (Arsenal Pulp Press)
Ivan E. Coyote is one of Canada’s best-loved storytellers; her honest, wry, plain-spoken tales of growing up in the Yukon and living out loud on the west coast have attracted readers and live audiences around the world. For many years, Ivan has performed in high schools, where her talks have inspired and galvanized many young people to embrace their own sense of self and to be proud of who they are. One in Every Crowd, Ivan’s eighth book with Arsenal Pulp Press, is her first specifically for queer youth.
Comprised of new stories and others culled from previous collections, One in Every Crowd is for anyone who has ever felt different or alone in their struggle to be true to themselves. Included are stories about Ivan’s own tomboy past in Canada’s north, where playing hockey and wearing pants were the norm; and about her adult life in the big city, where she encounters both cruelty and kindness in unexpected places. Then there are the tales of family and friends who live their lives by example, like Francis, the curly-haired little boy who likes to wear dresses, and the brave kids she meets at queer youth camp.
Funny, inspiring, and full of heart, One in Every Crowd is really for everyone; it’s about embracing and celebrating difference and feeling comfortable in one’s own skin, no matter what the circumstance.
f2M: The Boy Within by Hazel Edwards and Ryan Kennedy (Ford Street Publishing)
School-leaver Skye plays guitar in the all-female Chronic Cramps band. Being accepted in the punk/indie scene is easier than FTM (female to male) transitioning: from Skye to Finn, from girl to man. Uncovering genetic mysteries about family heritage tear the family apart. Trans gender identity is more than injections and surgery, it’s about acceptance. Going public, Finn sings ftm lyrics on TV. With a little help from bemused mates and family who don’t want to lose a daughter, but who love their teenager, Finn is transitioning.
* Hazel has known 34-year-old Ryan since he was presenting as an 11-year-old girl. This is Ryan's first book and Hazel's 200th.
Kicked Out edited by Sassafras Lowrey (Homofactus Press)
In the U.S., 40% of homeless youth identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer(LGBTQ). Kicked Out brings together the voices of current and former homeless LGBTQ youth and tells the forgotten stories of some of our nation’s most vulnerable citizens. Diverse contributors share stories of survival and abuse with poignant accounts of the sanctuary of community and the power of creating chosen families. Kicked Out highlights the nuanced perspectives of national organizations such as The National Gay & Lesbian Task Force and The National Alliance Against Homelessness and regional agencies, including Sylvia’s Place, The Circus Project and Family Builders. This anthology, introduced by Judy Shepard, gives voice to the voiceless and challenges the stereotypical face of homelessness. To learn more, visit us online at KickedOutAnthology.com.
Roving Pack by Sassafras Lowrey (PoMo Freakshow)
Roving Pack is set in an underground world of homeless queer teens. The stories follow the daily life of Click, a straight-edge transgender kid searching for community, identity, and connection amidst chaos. As the stories unfold, we meet a pack of newly sober gender rebels creating art, families and drama in dilapidated punk houses across Portland, Oregon. Roving Pack offers fast-paced in-your-face accounts of leather, sex, hormones, house parties, and protests. But, when gender fluidity takes an unexpected turn, the pack is sent reeling.
“Remember that time in your life when you had just escaped the terror of childhood to create your own path in the world, maybe a queer path of chosen family, desire and love and lust and intimacy on your own terms, remember all the joyful pains and painful joys you were discovering? Roving Pack nails that bold and precarious time with a precision so rare it’s almost claustrophobic in its intimacy.” — Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore
Invisible. Unheard. Alone. Chilling words but apt to describe the isolation and alienation of queer youth. In silence and fear they move from childhood memories of repression or violence to the unknown, unmentored, landscape of queer adulthood, their voices stilled or ignored. No longer. Revolutionary Voices celebrates the hues and harmonies of the future of gay and lesbian society, presenting not a collection of stories but a collection of experiences, ideas, dreams, and fantasies expressed through prose, poetry, artwork, letters, diaries, and performance pieces.
First Spring Grass Fire by Rae Spoon (Arsenal Pulp)
Transgender indie electronica singer-songwriter Rae Spoon has six albums to their credit, including 2012’s I Can’t Keep All of Our Secrets. This first book by Rae (who uses “they” as a pronoun) is a candid, powerful story about a young person growing up queer in a strict Pentecostal family in Alberta.
The narrator attends church events and Billy Graham rallies faithfully with their family before discovering the music that becomes their salvation and means of escape. As their father’s schizophrenia causes their parents’ marriage to unravel, the narrator finds solace and safety in the company of their siblings, in their nascent feelings for a girl at school, and in their growing awareness that they are not the person their parents think they are. With a heart as big as the prairie sky, this is a quietly devastating, heart-wrenching coming-of-age book about escaping dogma, surviving abuse, finding love, and risking everything for acceptance.
Don’t forget to check out the Giant YA Pride 2013 Giveaway to win tons of wonderful LGBT YA novels.