Danika reviews Meanwhile, Elsewhere edited by Cat Fitzpatrick and Casey Plett

This is a huge book. Metaphorically, of course: it’s a big step in queer lit that we have a collection like this now, a collection of SFF stories all by and about trans people. We’re finally moving towards having stories that neither minimize queerness nor make it our only defining feature. But actually, I’m talking about it’s physical size. It’s 447 pages, and the book is taller and wider than your average paperback: more like a textbook than a novel. Although I really enjoyed reading this, it did take me a while to get through, because its physical size makes it awkward to hold and the length was intimidating.

It was well worth the time it took me to read it, though! I was happy to see that there are plenty of sapphic stories included: in fact, at least 10 of the 25 stories has a women-loving-women main character. Although this collection is sci fi and fantasy, and trans people in general, there’s definitely a stronger presence of science fiction and trans women.

As always in an anthology, some of these were bigger hits than others, but even the stories I didn’t personally enjoy I could see other people loving. (Like “It’s Called Fashion,” which I found difficult to follow, but I can see other readers really clicking with.) The stories vary a lot in their scope and premise. Some build a complex cyberpunk world in 20 pages, while others imagine a world only slightly different than ours. One story follows someone in space quietly ruminating about microaggressions, while another follows a woman whose brain-eating amoeba communicates through dreams and grows via orgasms.

A few stories I found so fascinating that I could easily write papers about them: “Satan, Are You There? It’s Me, Laura.” by Aesling Fae attempts to reclaim Satan as a trans woman, and as the protector of trans women. Outside of context, the devil and a trans woman sounds offensive, but Fae makes it an empowering thesis. Like Carmilla the series takes the monstrous lesbian and turns her into a hero, this story does the same thing with the devil.

The other story that really made me think was “Rent, Don’t Sell” by Calvin Gimpelevich. In this world, the technology for body-swapping had been made viable, but under capitalism, it’s used for things like: swapping your body with a trainer’s so they can do your exercise for you, hiring someone to detox for you, and, of course, having sex while inhabiting someone else’s body. This has a lot of interesting discussions about identity. The side character is a trans women who swapped bodies with a trans guy, but now regrets it and wants to transition with her own body, so she’s suing to try to get it back.

Some of my other favorites were “What Cheer” by RJ Edwards, where the main character spends a couple days with her alien close, and learns appreciation for herself and her life; “After the Big One” by Cooper Lee Bombardier, where a motley crew of queer argue about discourse and privilege, but have to come together to survive disaster; and “Gamers” by Imogen Binnie, which is about Zelda and time travel and being in an unhealthy relationship with a dependent girlfriend.

I do want to mention some serious trigger warnings for transphobia, transmisogyny, violence, gore, and rape in various stories. Specifically, the one story I had a problem with is “Delicate Bodies” by Bridget Liang, in which the main character is a zombie who rapes and then kills her ex-boyfriends/crushes. I get the zombie revenge fantasy, but I was getting nauseated reading about her brutally raping multiple people, and the text seems to suggest that they deserve it. They may have been jerks, but they didn’t do anything comparable. It soured the collection some for me. I also want to mention a trigger warning for suicide in “Visions” (though that’s not one of the sapphic stories).

I highly recommend this collection to just about everyone. It’s ambitious and necessary and has some fantastic stories. (And that sapphic story abundance doesn’t hurt!)

Anna Marie reviews Small Beauty by jia qing wilson-yang

[The book and this review (although briefly) has these content warnings: transmisogyny, transphobic physical assault, death/grief]

I read this book in one day and it was the best decision! Like the ghosts/people who resurface throughout the novel I have felt its presence ebb in and out of my consciousness as I go about my life for the past week. It is a kind, sensitive, introspective and honestly deeply beautiful novel that had me marking half its pages because of the lyrical softness of the prose, or the relatability of the text or the enjoyment I had of tracing motifs and metaphors through it.

Small Beauty tells a meditative and sincere story of a mixed race Canadian Chinese trans girl named Mei. She spends a lot of time by herself in her dead relative’s home with her griefs over the death of her cousin, Sandy, her Aunt Bernadette and her grandma Nei Nei. But its not just a novel of sadness, instead it documents times before and after the various departures of her family and friends and showcases her complicated experiences and her heartfelt anger and love.

Mei, within the subtle, sweet and baring prose, doesn’t ever offer explanations of her identity to the reader or to anyone within the text either. Her transness and her whole self is allowed to simply be. Mei does experience a transphobic physical assault [pages 66-67 if you want to skip it!] but what is evidenced in the aftermath of this is her community, especially in the form of an older Chinese trans woman named Connie, supporting and looking after her. The evidence of some kind of intergenerational community was really warming and tender. The older “woodsy dyke” Mei meets whilst staying in the country is transmisogynistic but that too is treated with a softness, a multifaceted-ness and ultimately a forgiveness granted by Mei. The novel regularly refuses to pander to cis people and the narratives for trans folks that they create and one of the major reasons is because it treats things with nuance. Its also important to note that this is an own voices novel – that is that the author is a mixed race trans woman like Mei.

Trying to find an adequate example of the prose was difficult because so many small beauties are weaved throughout it. So this is one example of many of the soft ways in which images and words are formed:

The air is cold but he welcomes it. It is grounding and relieving to feel the ephemeral character of body heat. In the moment between chopping the last of the wood and the somatic realization of Winter, he is a new planet, a molten core spinning furiously, volcanic plumes billowing out of his breath. If not for the solidity of the ground below him he would believe that he orbited the forest instead of walked in it.

I loved the motif of the geese, which flies throughout Small Beauty and was done with this care and openness I really enjoyed. The geese offer a really lovely representation of community and family and ghosts. The geese, much like the prose, become this familiar presence to you, with this quiet strength. In Kai Cheng Thom’s review she wrote that it was a “deeply communal and strikingly unique” novel and I cant help but agree!

Anna Marie reviews Sea-Witch Volume 1: may she lay us waste by moss angel witchmonstr

“I have nothing to fear from monsters.

It was people who broke my teeth with rocks.”

[Before I get into the review I think its important to let folks know that I am not a trans woman! and therefore dont experience transmisogyny like moss angel does]

Sea Witch is a wild and transformative novel about love, community, girl-ness and pain. It speaks to the experience of Sara and the time she spent living inside a witch god named Sea-Witch. It’s also about family and Sea-Witch’s community of sisters and the 78 Men Who Cause Pain (78MWCP) via making laws and being cops and fighting against so called monsters like sea-witch. The story is told through scribbles and sigils, words and drawings and photographs.

It’s experimental fiction, it’s occult queer trans being stories, it’s a fragmented memoir and a graphic novel, it’s about being a fuck up, being mentally ill, being a trans woman.

It’s for all of us freaks who are interested in mythology and regularly create our own. It’s for all the queer witches, for all the Sapphic sea lovers. It’s about fucking up systems of power and trying to build through care, hope and positivity. Its about being marginalised and what oppression does to you, what it inscribes on your psyche and your body, on your community and your imagination.

Sara is living inside an oceanic gay witch god in an intense trans girl world which is both bewildering and makes complete sense. In its upside down logic and reworking of bodies it’s validating and poetic, beautiful in its descriptions of nature and witchcraft and sisterhood. The way time is treated also provides a tumultuous space of fluidity and fragmentary, exciting narrative–because time is distorted a normative transition narrative is subverted–Sara is in sea-witch always and never, it’s a space that is present and not present simultaneously, a little like when you look back at the past and realise you are trans and you have both always been and always known this and also not had a clue about why you felt like such a weirdo, like such a monster.

There are interesting symbols and repeated signs, or what look like sigils that mark some of the images in Sea-Witch. These flourishes of witchcraft were something that I really really enjoyed. What do all these symbols mean? What can they do? Some of them look like ropes tied together, box crosses over images, like nets that are both for capture and also for protection. Maybe that’s a little like being in Sea–Witch.

The novel ends with a sigil by Claire Diane for hope and resistance and care, (and hot trans make outs!) and that’s a nice touch too: maybe it’s an invitation to become your own sea-witch, or dog-witch or dirt-witch or strawberry-witch (and the list goes on!). An invitation to make our own community mythologies real, to fight the 78MWCP and all the despicable laws against our bodily autonomies and our lives.

Sea-witch is like an ocean, a dreamy, flowing and ebbing of thoughts and narratives and rhythms. In dreams and realities it opens new possibilities of girlhoods and healings and traumas and relationships!

You can read up to date writing from Moss Witchmonstr on her patreon and volume 2 will be published in September, which I really am looking forward to!! 8deadsuns.tumblr.com is Moss’s tumblr so definitely check her out and $upport her work!

Lastly, fuck the 78MWCP!!!!!

https://www.patreon.com/monstr

Tag reviews The Collection: Short Fiction from the Transgender Vanguard edited by Tom Leger and Riley Macleod

TheCollection

“In some ways, this book is a response to what so many professors of English language literature ask their students to consider at the start of each semester. Why literature? What does literature accomplish?”

The Collection: Short Fiction from the Transgender Vanguard is straightforward in what it is right in the title. It’s a collection of short stories featuring trans* characters. This in and of itself is rare, as transgendered or non-binary gender identified people are often left out of “queer” literature in favour of cisgendered lesbian or gay, or bi characters. It’s a huge void in queer literature I want to see filled much more than it is, but The Collection is such a surprisingly hefty read that it bridges the gap quite a bit. It’s almost 400 pages of stories featuring protagonists with one identifying feature in common: they’re all trans*-identifying (or non-binary, in a few cases).

“Literature” is exactly the word I would use to describe the quality of the content in this collection. Any genre you can think of makes its way into this collection one way or another; while most stories are realistic or contemporary, there are a few supernatural or superhero tales, all exquisitely written. There’s no shortage of representation from one gender identity to another, and several stories feature a multitude of transgendered or non-binary characters just being characters, much in the way other fiction has background characters that we would take for granted. With this collection it’s impossible to take them for granted, but they’re written and treated no differently from any other non-trans* fiction.

The stories aren’t without discomfort on a lot of levels. Many of them integrate the microagressions that transgendered and non-binary people face on a daily basis, but never in a way that feels cheap or fake. The realness of each portrayal is exactly what makes them uncomfortable, and I won’t deny that some stories have a cringe factor so high I had to put them down and take a breath before continuing (I’m looking at you, The Café). However, after that breath I couldn’t wait to pick this collection back up, and I didn’t want it to be over. What I really want is another few dozen in the same vein. Halfway through this I was already recommending The Collection to my trans* and genderqueer friends, and after finishing it I couldn’t help but recommend it again. This is an amazing collection with a lot of talent behind it and it belongs with any other collection featuring great literature.

[Also check out Danika’s review!]

Danika reviews The Collection edited by Tom Leger and Riley Macleod

TheCollection

When I first heard about The Collection: Short Fiction from the Transgender Vanguard, I thought it sounded amazing, but I didn’t think it would be relevant to the Lesbrary. Luckily, I was completely wrong! There are about 9 stories that I consider relevant to the Lesbrary (either bisexual or lesbian women, or genderqueer/genderless/agender stories). That’s a third of the stories in The Collection!

This book really does something that hasn’t really been done before: it’s a professionally published anthology of literary short stories, all featuring trans main characters. There is such a lack of representation of trans people (especially main characters) in literature, that you might expect an anthology to have to stretch to find enough content. Instead, this is a hefty 400 page book which is packed with really high quality stories. Although as with all anthologies, I like some stories better than others, I found the overall quality of writing to be excellent: much better than I would expect from any anthology. Although there are a few fantastical stories, and a superhero story, most of the stories in this collection are realistic and down to earth (one focuses entirely on the main character’s miserable Tuesday working in a coffee shop, dealing with endless microaggressions). The writing flows together well, also. They seem to have similar styles, which makes it pretty easy to move from story to story without getting whiplash. I sometimes get irritated with short stories that end without a real conclusion, as if they were just excerpts from a novel. For the most part, I found the stories in The Collection to be well-crafted and satisfying by their conclusions. Satisfying does not necessarily mean uplifting, though. Many of the stories deal with prejudice, microaggressions, and general discomfort. It can be be uncomfortable to read someone being continually misgendered and misunderstood by the people around them, but they read honestly and as affirmations of many people’s realities, which is necessary and even hopeful in itself. There are also more positive stories included (the superhero one previously mentioned is one), but for the most part The Collection does reflect the reality of being trans in a cissexist world. (Though I am cisgender, so of course I can’t claim to fully understand that reality.)

Short descriptions/impressions of the les/bi/genderqueer/etc stories follow:

“To the New World” by Ryka Aoki: You know what I said about this collection sometimes being uncomfortable to read? The main character in this story, Millie, is completely loveable, but she is into Sierra, a “radical” lesbian who is casually transphobic and racist (Millie is Asian). It is painful to read, but sadly completely believable.

“Other Women” by Casey Platt: Another uncomfortable story. Sophie deals with a tense relationship with her family after coming out as trans, with microaggressions from friends along the way. Only her best friend, Megan, really seems to understand and accept her. And then that gets messed up, too. Sophie seems to be bisexual, but by the end of the story I’m not sure what to think. Really, I think she’s just looking for someone to see her the way she wants to be seen.

“Greenhorn” by K. Tait Jarboe: This was one of my favourites. Olivia is a non-binary bisexual person who happens to regularly be accidentally visiting another dimension. (I’m not sure if they identify as bi, but they are attracted to men and women in the story.) I loved the idea of the story, and the writing was fantastic. I kept stopping to read things aloud to my partner. Like this: “I did know two people from college, and I ruined everything with both of them that same way, which was with sex and my personality.”

“The Queer Experiment” by Donna Ostrowsky: This was another great story, though I couldn’t actually see what the trans content was. In any case, it’s a great lesbian short story. Jennifer is an engineer at a university in the 1920s and, along with another professor and an assistant, is attempting to build a machine that will allow them to see the mystical world of the homosexual. It’s hilarious, even if it technically ends tragically (you know Jennifer ends up in an asylum from the first page.)

“Runaways” by Calvin Gimpelevich: “Runaways” actually has a trans man main character, but it is primarily focused on his best friend and her girlfriend. I loved all of their interactions, and the tension of Nike trying to decide whether to flee her relationship for a less responsible one (her girlfriend is currently trying to take care of her 10-year-old sister while their dad is in jail). The characters are so strong. (Also, Travis is Black and Nike is Filipino, so the story also touches on the intersections of cissexism/heterosexism and racism. Travis especially struggles with this.)

“Winning the Tiger” by Katherine Scott Nelson: This story is about a couple, both non-binary, dealing with being continually misgendered at a state fair. In the author’s bio, Nelson says that this story was once rejected from a mainstream publication for being “too aggressive”, which I think is teaser enough.

“Malediction and Pee Play” by Sherilyn Connelly: Yes, it’s as weird as the title suggests. The main character is technically in an open relationship with her girlfriend, Vash, but while she’s been striking out, Vash is getting closer and closer to her new partner. She attempts to get closer to Vash again, to try to get the sparks of their kinky relationship back, by helping her with a Satanic Black Mass production. But the despite the weird, the emotions at play are very relateable, no matter what your opinion on pee play. Or Satanism.

“Birthrights” by M. Robin Cook: The main character’s wife walks in on her dressed as a woman. Awkwardness ensues.

“Entries” by Riley Calais Harris: I’m not sure how to describe “Entries”. It reads almost like a condensed autobiography. She describes a radical activist who dumped her because she shaves her legs. The last line is “Oh, you know what? That’s probably why I shave my legs.” It’s not a very linear story, but I liked it. The ending is oddly uplifting.

I hope that this convinces you to pick up The Collection, even if you’ve never read any trans books before. It has great stories, a high quality of writing, and several lesbian stories! What more can you ask for?

Danika reviews First Spring Grass Fire by Rae Spoon

From about the first page of First Spring Grass Fire, I was already frustrated, for three reasons: 1) it is very well-written, 2) it is very short, and 3) it is, at the moment, Rae Spoon’s only book. I was dreading getting to the end of the book pretty much the moment I started it.

I first discovered Rae Spoon’s music by their tour with Ivan E. Coyote. I adore Coyote’s storytelling, and Rae Spoon’s music was a great match. I still listen to their music all the time, especially “We Become Our Own Wolves” and “Come On Forest Fire Burn the Disco Down”, so when I heard that Spoon was coming out with a book, I was really excited. First Spring Grass Fire does not disappoint. In a lot of ways, their writing does remind me of Ivan E. Coyote’s. Both talk about fictionalized (?) short stories from their own lives. Both have very easy-to-read, casual styles that simultaneously are deeply moving. Both discuss growing up queer in rural environments.

But Rae Spoon has a style all their own, as well. There are moments of almost poetry in their work. There is also a rawness and urgency to First Spring Grass Fire that is far away from Coyote’s usually positive remembrances of her childhood. Rae Spoon describes growing up trans and queer in a very conservative environment, but that pales to their childhood with their abusive and schizophrenic father. It is definitely, as the back cover says, “quietly devastating, heart-wrenching. . . “, but of course there is also a strength and hope to their memoir, knowing that Spoon escapes and thrives.

This book is intensely personal. Rae Spoon invites the reader into the most painful and difficult moments of their childhood, and shields very little. We get moments, quickly jumping from time to time and location to location. They are incredibly evocative, but they are only brief excerpts. As I have said, it makes me eager to read more of Rae Spoon’s work. I very much hope that they will be writing more, because from this slim collection alone (along with their beautifully written music), Rae Spoon has already been added to my list of favorite, just as emily m. danforth managed to do with her debut book. In case it isn’t obvious, I highly, highly recommend this one, especially for Ivan E. Coyote fans and for people looking for more stories of trans young adults.

Danika reviews Drag King Dreams by Leslie Feinberg

I loved this book. I still have yet to read Feinberg’s classic novel Stone Butch Blues, but I definitely am motivated to now. I read Drag King Dreams for an English class of mine, and I can see why it would be assigned: there is a lot here to tease out.

[mild spoilers] On the one hand, and probably the reason I enjoyed it so much, Drag King Dreams is a deeply political novel. Not just because it deals with subjects that are always politicized (trans* people and racialized people, especially), but because it is about Max’s political reawakening.

Max, as a visibly gender nonconforming person, spends the beginning of the novel just attempting to survive, just trying to get through day by day in a world that is largely hostile to hir. Throughout the novel, however, Max reconnects with hir activist past. I totally understand that there’s sometimes when the only thing we can do is just try to survive, but when that’s all you’re doing, every day, it becomes nearly impossible to do without losing momentum. In rediscovering activism, Max finds a reason to do more than just struggle to survive day-to-day, and I feel like that’s such an important message. [end mild spoilers]

There is more than just queer politics in Drag King Dreams, however. Max’s aunt, despite not being there physically, is a constant presence in the novel. Max’s experiences with virtual reality weave throughout the novel–though, arguably there are never really resolved. Max’s Jewish identity is explored. The war in Iraq plays a part in the novel.

It is odd that, despite Max playing on a computer, and despite the prominence in the novel of the war in Iraq, Drag King Dreams still felt like a timeless story to me. It explores, I think, the endless struggle in being part of an oppressed group. I really recommend this one, as long you’re okay with your fiction having a heaping dose of political opinion, and now I can’t wait to read Feinberg’s previous novel.

Laura Mandanas reviews Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg

A few weeks ago, I decided to bring a book into the tub for a relaxing bubble bath. When the temperature was right, I gingerly picked up the paperback and eased my way into the frothy suds, cautiously avoiding the slightest splash. I took careful pains to hold the book a deliberate 6-8 inches out of the water. I even piled up towels at the edge of the tub in case of slippery-fingered emergency. It didn’t matter; within 20 minutes the book was completely waterlogged. The culprit? Not bathwater, but tears. Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg had me weeping by the end of the first chapter.
Stone Butch Blues is a beautifully written novel. The main character, Jess, is a young Jewish butch coming of age in the late ‘60s. Drowning in loneliness, Jess finds companionship in the queer community frequenting working-class gay bars. In this pre-Stonewall era, however, their mere existence is enough to prompt brutal attack from all sides. As the story unfolds, each of these characters weather hardships of an enormity I can barely comprehend.

Jess is a complicated character, and the book (thankfully) never backs away from this. I particularly appreciated the range of characters shown throughout in the book. “Butch” identity is not reserved strictly for lesbian women that present themselves in traditionally masculine ways; men, straight and bisexual women, and transgender people can all lay equally legitimate claim to the identity.

 Stone Butch Blues is the winner of numerous literary awards, and its clear to see why. This book is an essential read — and not just for the person who “doesn’t identify as a man and is at least some of the time attracted romantically and/or sexually to others who do not identify as a man” (ha). This is a book for anyone with a soul.

Stone Butch Blues is one of the most widely read pieces of LGBT literature, and appears on the shelves of many major retailers.