A Dream Introduction to Nia Nal: Bad Dream by Nicole Maines and Rye Hickman

Bad Dream cover

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On October 14, 2018, transgender actor and activist Nicole Maines made history by appearing as Nia Nal/Dreamer, the first transgender superhero on TV, in Supergirl. She has since gone on to pen Dreamer’s comic debut in the DC Pride #1 in 2021 and Dreamer’s mainline DC continuity debut in Superman: Son of Kal-El #13 in 2022. This year, Nicole and artist Rye Hickman teamed up to create the YA graphic novel Bad Dream: A Dreamer Story. This graphic novel provides a beautiful and moving origin story for Nia Nal that will resonate with queer readers of any age. 

Teen Nia Nal spends most of her free time alone reading and drawing superhero costumes. She’s always idolized her mom, a former powerful seer from the planet of Naltor who relocated to Earth to raise a family, and supported her sister, who has been training to inherit her mother’s powers. When a freak dodgeball accident awakens Nia’s precognition powers, Nia is shocked. Her sister, as the sole AFAB child, should be inheriting the powers. Worried about what her mother and sister will think, she runs away to Metropolis. It’s there that she meets Taylor Barzelay, another transgender superhero (main character of Galaxy: The Prettiest Star), her girlfriend, and an entire community of queer people and aliens. She begins to feel like she can find a home in this supportive community of people like her. However, events will soon force her home and into a confrontation that will force her to reckon with her new powers and the responsibilities they entail.

Nicole Maines and Rye Hickman do such a great job creating a story that reflects the very real painful and hopeful experiences that so many queer people go through. Through fantastic writing and evocative artwork, readers are made to feel Nia’s pain at being ostracized by the people in her hometown because she is transgender. We can feel the guilt she carries for, as she sees it, causing problems for her mother and her sister. These are things that so many queer people have gone through in their own lives. Queer readers will relate to all of these feelings so much and empathize with Nia, while cis and heterosexual readers will, hopefully, come away with a greater understanding of our experiences.  

At the same time, Nicole and Rye infuse so much hope into this book. Through putting Nia into contact with characters like Taylor, her girlfriend Katherine, and their friend Yvette, they show readers that there is always a community to find. They show that no matter how dark it may feel, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. It’s also a beautiful message about the power of community. It tells readers that haven’t found their community yet to keep looking and those of us who have to keep fighting for it. 

Bad Dream: A Dreamer Story is an origin story worthy of this groundbreaking character. Nicole Maines’s writing, coupled with Rye Hickman’s gorgeous art, make this book another fantastic inclusion in DC’s line of graphic novels as well as the wider canon of queer young adult literature.

Identity in Transition: Us by Sara Soler

the cover of Us by Sara Soler

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Growing into one’s queer identity is often more a journey of discovery than a destination, and loving someone through the discovery phases takes one on the journey as well. Us by Sara Soler is a graphic memoir of love in motion. It follows two partners as they journey from perceiving themselves as a typic heterosexual couple, to realizing there was something far from hetero about both of them.

As one partner, Diane, discovers her identity as a trans woman and begins transitioning, the other, Sara, begins the self-reflection of what it means for her own self-concept. Diane’s struggle of finding her true self while trying to maintain the difficult balance on her relationship with Sara is truly heartbreaking and achingly beautiful. Meanwhile, Sara tells her own journey with stark vulnerability. She describes the conflicted feelings of going from being locked in the heteronormative mindset, to realizing she is in love with a woman for the first time in her life, and really exploring what that means to her. 

Us is a memoir unafraid to delve into the challenges. It shows both the heights of queer euphoria and the despair and darkness that can come from such a journey. It does so unflinchingly. Sara is unafraid to discuss the negative and unflattering thoughts she had in the early days of their journey, being willing to show herself as the flawed human she is. Sara’s openness in this memoir is important because she allows readers to journey along with her growth, to see her challenge the heteronormative thoughts she had from society and find both unconditional love for her partner, and understanding of her own queer self. Us is able to delve into these themes while maintaining a compassionate space for young Sara and Diane, and for all those who are less far along on their own journey of deconstructing gender and sexuality.

It’s the art that truly brings this story its easy accessibility. Drawn in a comforting, cozy style, it feels like a warm hug. Sara makes the fascinating choice to give the people who are supportive detail and definition, while leaving the people who have been unkind during their journey—and the outright transphobic people—mostly formless shapes. In part, this is likely to protect the guilty by revealing less of their identities. However, it also creates a stark picture of the people who are still stuck in the binary of gender and sexuality as less well-formed and colorless, while those who embrace their queerness burst into each page with detail and holistic beauty. The color pallate of the story further creates both a cozy sense and focuses on the gender euphoria: coloring everything in the shades of the trans flag throughout.

Ultimately, Us is a gorgeous memoir that can educate and move the reader. It is a lovely story made more powerful by the fact that it is true. Us invites us to become fully defined people, embracing our queerness and letting it make us whole.

Chris Ceary (she/they) is a psychology professor by day and a reviewer of all things queer media by night. They host the podcast Thirsty on Toon, which covers queer indie and small press media, as well as the podcasts Gotham Outsiders and Talking Comics. Chris can be found screaming about their latest reads across various social media sites linked at linktree.com/themythofpsyche

A Dark, Magical Story of Gender Versus Tradition: Her Majesty’s Royal Coven by Juno Dawson 

the cover of Her Majesty’s Royal Coven

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Her Majesty’s Royal Coven, written by Juno Dawson, is an enthralling urban fantasy that explores gender in a magical world that, similar to our own, finds itself strictly divided along the binary. It questions concepts of power, friendship, love, and feminism in a world in which traditional power structures are challenged and, to some, are no longer acceptable. Taken together with its fantastic characters and thrilling story, this book is a must-read for anyone who’s a fan of queer witchy stories.

On the night of the summer solstice, five young girls named Helena, Elle, Leonie, and twins Niamh and Ciara are inducted as members of Her Majesty’s Royal Coven (HMRC), the official witch’s coven of the British government. Twenty-five years and one devastating magical war later, the sisters have gone their separate ways. Wealthy Helena is now Headmistress of the HMRC. Leonie has left the coven to start Diaspora, a coven of queer witches and witches of color. This stands in stark contrast to the more conservative HMRC. Elle is a nurse and housewife who has chosen to keep her witchly status secret from her husband and children. Niamh is working as a veterinarian, using her powers to treat animals. However, when the HMRC discovers an incredibly powerful young warlock named Theo who is prophesied to destroy the world, Helena recruits her old friends to help her decide what to do. Things get even more complicated when Theo is revealed to be transgender. Soon, battle lines are drawn. On one side stands Helena, willing to do whatever it takes to maintain the status quo. On the other side stand Niamh, Leonie, and Elle, fighting to nurture and protect this young witch. 

Her Majesty’s Royal Coven is filled with great storytelling and relatable characters that feel drawn from real life. Juno Dawson’s writing is full of clever turns of phrase and humor that balance well with the dark nature of the story. The pace of the book never feels rushed. It mixes slower character-focused chapters with more thrilling narrative-focused ones to great effect. The characters and the dynamics between them feel incredibly realistic. You really get the sense that these women had been the closest of friends when they were younger, which makes their split all the more painful to read. In terms of balance between the four main characters, Juno Dawson does a fantastic job of giving each of them arcs that feel complete and integral to the overall story. Even though Niahm and Helena get most of the focus in the story, Leonie and Elle still get moments to shine and fully-fleshed out arcs. Lastly, I loved the magic system in this book. I am always a big fan of magical systems that portray magic as limited and coming with a physical cost. This is not a world in which magic is used in a haphazard or casual fashion. Casting spells in this world comes with a price. This makes the magic feel more grounded while also adding an incredible amount of narrative weight to the characters’ actions in pursuit of their goals.

I loved how Juno Dawson uses the split between the erstwhile best friends as a way to examine one of the most contentious debates within modern feminism: the inclusion of transgender women in traditionally cis women-only spaces. Through the four main characters, readers are presented with varying ways in which people come to this debate in the real world. By giving it apocalyptic consequences, we are shown just how massively important inclusion is for many transgender people. It takes something that is often misunderstood and poorly reported on, presents it in clear terms, and effectively shows how much it means to the people involved. At the same time, Juno Dawson does not treat all sides of the debate equally. Time and time again, events in the narrative make it very clear that transgender women belong in women’s spaces and that choosing otherwise is choosing hate. So, although this book is an exploration of modern gender issues, it is never one that tries to play both sides.    

At a personal, character level, Her Majesty’s Royal Coven is also a story about the power of love and hate. Elle, Leonie, and especially Niamh push themselves beyond their physical and emotional boundaries multiple times in the narrative to keep Theo safe. Niamh and Elle especially go to great efforts to understand Theo and see the girl behind the chaotic magic. Despite the danger to themselves, they never once give up on Theo. On the other side, Helena travels a very dark route as she attempts to deny Theo’s personhood. She sacrifices her ideals, betrays her community, and becomes the type of monster she once fought against. All out of her hatred of what she does not understand. This conflict between radical love and unadulterated hate is a perfect allegory for what people, for better or worse, are willing to do in the fight over transgender rights. 

Another thing I really applaud Juno Dawson on is how she handles having a main character who ends up being a trans-exclusionary radical feminist (TERF). When I read Helena’s turn to TERFdom, I immediately got nervous. Despite my trust in Juno, I could not help but worry that somehow this would open the door to humanizing anti-trangender arguments. I was also worried that reading a character using anti-transgender hate speech over multiple chapters would be too triggering. Call it naivete or just simple world-weariness. Either way, I was wrong and came away incredibly impressed at how it all was handled. Never once is Helena portrayed as a sympathetic villain. Although you can see the causes of her turn to evil, you never are made to feel sorry for her or given the opportunity to side with her. The narrative shows how fear of the unknown can lead people down dark paths, but never once is lost the point that despite every chance given to reconsider her actions, she never does. Instead, she digs deeper and deeper into her hate, letting it consume her.   

I think if I had any complaint about the book it is that I wish that I could have seen more from the queer characters in the book. Leonie, for example, is the only queer main character and she gets the least amount of chapters dedicated to her. So, while the concept of gender is dealt with well in the book, it is mainly examined through the perspectives of cis straight women. 

That being said, I loved Her Majesty’s Royal Coven. It is an expertly written story with great characters and a thrilling narrative. Moreover, as a transgender woman living in today’s political climate, I absolutely adored how the debates that shape my life right now were made manifest and dealt with in such powerful terms.

A Queer M/F Romance of Healing and Reconciliation: A Shot in the Dark by Victoria Lee

the cover of A Shot in the Dark by Victoria Lee

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This novel is a masterful exploration of various themes, ranging from consent and communication during intimate moments to faith, substance abuse, and power dynamics. The author’s ability to delve into these topics with depth and sensitivity truly impressed me.

The novel shines in its approach to consent and communication during sexual encounters. Lee’s portrayal of characters navigating these conversations felt both authentic and refreshing. The way the characters navigate their desires and boundaries is a testament to the importance of open dialogue in relationships.

Furthermore, the exploration of faith and its impact on one’s identity within the context of the Orthodox community adds another layer of complexity to the story. Lee handles this topic with great care, highlighting the struggles and conflicts faced by Ely as she grapples with her past.

Substance abuse is tackled with a nuanced perspective, portraying the protagonists’ journey through recovery with empathy and realism. Lee’s portrayal serves as a reminder of the challenges individuals face on the path to sobriety, and how recovery is a continuous process.

The examination of power dynamics is another highlight of the novel. The teacher-student relationship between the characters introduces a layer of tension and complexity that is brilliantly executed. The internal struggles of the characters as they navigate their feelings while maintaining a professional boundary is both engaging and thought-provoking.

In conclusion, A Shot in the Dark is an exceptional read that skillfully weaves together a myriad of important themes. Victoria Lee’s ability to approach subjects such as consent, communication, faith, substance abuse, and power dynamics with sensitivity and depth is truly commendable. This novel is a must-read for anyone seeking a captivating story that sparks introspection and provides a platform for meaningful discussions.

Trigger warnings: substance abuse, alcohol, overdose, transphobia, abusive parent, antisemitism, drug use, religious trauma, relapse, death of a parent, domestic violence

Ambitious, Brutal, and Brilliant Trans Sapphic Horror: Tell Me I’m Worthless by Alison Rumfitt

the cover of Tell Me I'm Worthless

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I’ve been having a good run with horror lately, and Alison Rumfitt’s stunning work of trans horror Tell Me I’m Worthless kept that streak up. The pull quote on the front cover advertises it as “ambitious, brutal, and brilliant,” and I think that’s a good starting point for this book, because it’s not a nice or neat horror book. There is a house, and it is haunted, but not by any singular ghosts. Rather, the house deals in corruption, trauma, and the little terrible voice in the back of your head, and it can’t be exorcised or rebuilt. Rumfitt shoves her characters to scrabble in the metaphorical blood and muck of their mutual trauma and asks them to deal with their own memories and the creeping rise of fascism in their lives.

Tell Me I’m Worthless stars two women, Alice and Ila, who are both dealing with the trauma of a shared event. In their past, they were a unit – best friends turned lovers, even if they didn’t really talk about their relationship. Before leaving university, they and their friend Hannah had all decided to spend the night in a haunted house. Alice and Ila walked out with conflicting memories of what happened; Hannah never walked out at all. Now, Alice has turned to drugs and alcohol to escape the ghosts she can see, and Ila has joined the TERFs in an attempt to process her memories. But the House hasn’t loosened its grip on their lives, and it’s calling them back once again.

What I loved most about this book was the buildup and the edges. First you meet Alice and her ghosts. Her flat is haunted, and she can barely focus enough to do the sex work videos she relies on for income. Then you meet Ila and realize she’s joined the TERFs. And then finally there’s a chapter from the House POV and you realize it’s a real entity. As things start to fall into place, it becomes apparent that everyone’s being manipulated. I also loved how no one fit into neat boxes. They are absolutely scrambling to deal with their memories, and sometimes they fail, and sometimes they are overtaken by the real-life events they’re enmeshed in. As with many works of horror, Tell Me I’m Worthless has an element of the supernatural, but also relies mainly on the characters’ state of mind rather than jump scares.

If you go into this with your eyes open to the content warnings and think it’s interesting for you, I think it’s a great work of horror. I greatly enjoyed reading it, and felt swept into the mood immediately. I also love the editors lately who are greenlighting queer horror that delve deeper into queer experiences and states of mind in unique ways. There’s some great work going on out there, and Tell Me I’m Worthless is going onto my rec list.

Trigger warnings: sexual violence, sexual assault, body horror, mutilation, antisemitism, racism, and transphobia

Read These Sapphic Books by Trans Authors During the Trans Rights Readathon!

a graphic with the text Sapphic Books by Trans Authors for the Trans Rights Readathon with flowers around it

In case you missed it, there’s a Trans Rights Readathon happening next week! Read books by trans authors and raise money for trans organizations.

I wrote a post about it at Book Riot with more info, but the short version is that this is a great time to read books by trans and nonbinary authors, promote them online using the #TransRightsReadathon hashtag, and donate to trans rights organizations.

Of course, this is the Lesbrary, so I thought this was a great time to promote some sapphic books by trans and nonbinary authors! Some of these have trans main characters, some don’t, but all of them are by trans or nonbinary authors. Most of them have Lesbrary reviews linked. (Note: I’m including nonbinary books that might not fit neatly under the term “sapphic,” but I’m going broad to include as many book recommendations as possible.)

Fiction:

the cover of Nevada

Nevada by Imogen Binnie (review): this is one of my favourite books, following a trans lesbian who steals her ex-girlfriend’s car and goes on a road trip. It’s introspective, sarcastic, and unforgettable–and it recently got republished!

Missed Her by Ivan E. Coyote (review)—and everything else they’ve ever written: Ivan Coyote is an incredible storyteller, and I recommend not only all of their books, but also checking out their videos on YouTube.

Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg (review): It’s hard to overstate the important of Leslie Feinberg’s work in queer and trans literary history. You can download this for free on hir website.

The Collection: Short Fiction from the Transgender Vanguard edited by Tom Léger (review): this is a great way to be introduced to a bunch of trans authors, and it includes several F/F stories.

Lost Boi by Sassafras Lowrey (review): a queer punk BDSM retelling of Peter Pan.

A Dream of a Woman: Stories (review) and A Safe Girl to Love (review) by Casey Plett: beautiful literary short stories, most with sapphic trans women main characters.

Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters: this won the PEN/Hemingway Award along with many other honours and became an instant classic of trans literature.

Romance:

the cover of Wherever Is Your Heart

Chef’s Kiss by TJ Alexander: an F/NB romance with a foodie element.

Who We Could Be (review) and many more by Chelsea Cameron: this is a grown up Anne of Green Gables-inspired romance (between Anne and Diana, obviously), but Chelsea Cameron writes lots of “tropetastic sapphic romances”!

Caroline’s Heart by Austin Chant (review): paranormal romance with a bi trans heroine and bi trans hero.

Love & Other Disasters by Anita Kelly (review): an F/NB romance set at a reality TV baking competition!

Wherever is Your Heart by Anita Kelly (review): a butch/butch romance novella.

One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston (review): if you somehow haven’t already read this F/F time travel romance, now is a good time!

Mistakes Were Made by Meryl Wilsner (review): the milf F/F romance. You know the one.

SFF:

the cover of Light from Uncommon Stars

Meanwhile, Elsewhere: Science Fiction and Fantasy from Transgender Writers edited by Cat Fitzpatrick and Casey Plett (review): this is a fantastic collection that is also an introduction to a ton of trans authors, and it’s finally back in print!

Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki (review): one of my favourite reads of last year! This has two sapphic main characters and a trans woman character. It’s genre-blending and heartwarming—but also, check the content warnings.

From A Shadow Grave by Andi C. Buchanan (review): this is an experimental collection of connected short stories told in the second person about a trans girl in 1930s New Zealand.

Finna by Nino Cipri (review): this a wacky sci-fi adventure set at an Ikea. Ava and Jules are exes and coworkers who have to rescue a customer who went through a wormhole.

The Unbroken by C.L. Clark (review): an intense, unforgettable military fantasy inspired by the French colonization of North Africa. It has a will-they-won’t-they F/F relationship.

the cover of Her Majesty’s Royal Coven

Her Majesty’s Royal Coven by Juno Dawson: a fantasy trilogy following witches who fight the patriarchy and also fight TERFs.

The All-Consuming World by Cassandra Khaw (review): “a little bit heist novel, a little bit noir narration, a hint of Lovecraftian, and a whole lot of gritty sci fi.”

Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee (review): military science fiction with intense worldbuilding and a lesbian main character.

A Lake of Feathers and Moonbeams by Dax Murray (review): this is a queer, polyamorous Swan Lake retelling with a nonbinary main character!

She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan (review): an epic queer fantasy that begins with a sister assuming her dead brother’s identity in order to claim his destiny for greatness.

Unwieldy Creatures by Addie Brook Tsai: “a biracial, queer, nonbinary retelling of Mary Shelley’s classic novel Frankenstein.”

Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey (review): a Western dystopian about a queer caravan of librarians.

Horror:

the cover of The Red Tree by Caitlin R. Kiernan

Manhunt by Gretchen Felker-Martin (review): this is a gruesome post-apocalyptic zombie story with queer trans main characters.

The Drowning Girl by Caitlin Kiernan (review): an unreliable main character narrates two different version of events, and it’s unclear which really took place–if either did. This has a lesbian main character with a trans girlfriend.

The Red Tree by Caitlin R. Kiernan (review): one of my favourite horror reads, with a cantankerous lesbian main character who discovers a hidden manuscript that suggests a tree on the property she just moved into is haunted. It’s blurbed by Neil Gaiman.

Graphic Novels:

the cover of Eat the Rich

Eat the Rich by Sarah Gailey, Pius Bak, and Roman Titov (review): an over-the-top, gruesome, funny, anti-capitalism, queer graphic novel!

Stone Fruit by Lee Lai (review): this is a graphic novel that follows Bron (a trans woman) and Ray (a cis woman) and their complicated relationship to each other and their families. 

Darlin’ It’s Betta Down Where It’s Wetta by Rosalarian, writing as Megan Rose Gedris (review): silly lesbian mermaid erotica comics.

I Was Kidnapped By Lesbian Pirates From Outer Space!!! by Rosalarian, writing as Megan Rose Gedris: I’m linking a pirate website (appropriately) because the rights to this comic were essentially stolen from the author and it’s no longer available legitimately, sadly.

Young Adult:

Once and Future cover

The Heartbreak Bakery by A.R. Capetta (review): this is a heartwarming, super queer fabulist baking story with an agender/gender-fluid romance—not sapphic, but I can’t miss a chance to recommend it.

The Lost Coast by A.R. Capetta (review): a surreal story about six queer teen witches who band together to save one of them who disappears and then returns…empty behind the eyes.

Once & Future by A.R. Capetta and Cori McCarthy (review): “a queer, sci fi retelling of the Arthur myth, with a female Arthur. It’s somehow simultaneously dystopian, sci fi, and fantasy.”

The Never Tilting World by Rin Chupeco: a sapphic YA fantasy dulogy pitched as Frozen meets Mad Max.

Dreadnought (review) and Sovereign (review) by April Daniels: a trans lesbian YA superhero story–but do be prepared for a lot of transphobia included in the story.

Iron Widow cover

Not Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee (review): More teen superheroes! This one has a bi girl main character, but each book in the series has a different POV, including a trans guy.

A Lesson in Vengeance by Victoria Lee (review): “a dark academia, witchy, teenage boarding school sapphic romance which includes seances, a three hundred year old murder mystery, and ghosts.”

I Kissed Shara Wheeler by Casey McQuiston (review): this has an F/F enemies-to-lovers story at its core, but it has a big queer cast.

Out of Salem by Hal Schrieve (review): a paranormal YA novel starring a nonbinary witch zombie and a Muslim lesbian werewolf.

A Dark and Hollow Star by Ashley Shuttleworth: an urban YA fae fantasy with four queer teen main characters.

Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao (review): a bisexual, polyamorous, feminist YA novel with mechas and influence from Chinese history.

YA Graphic Novels:

Cheer Up: Love and Pompoms cover

Cheer Up: Love and Pompoms by Crystal Frasier, illustrated by Val Wise: an F/F YA graphic novel about two cheerleaders, one a trans girl.

As the Crow Flies by Melanie Gillman (review): this is a YA graphic novel about a queer Brown kid on a (white) feminist spiritual backpacking trip, where she feel very out of place until she bonds with a trans girl there.

Stage Dreams by Melanie Gillman (review): this is a fast-paced Western comic with a trans Latina main character and a heist plot!

YU+ME: dream by Rosalarian, writing as Megan Rose Gedris: this began as a webcomic in 2004 and ended in 2010, and there are some very big changes that happen in between. It’s a teenage love story–that then turns fantastical and experimental.

The Avant-Guards, Vol. 1 by Carly Usdin and Noah Haye: the adventures of a ragtag college basketball team.

Heavy Vinyl, Vol. 1 by Carly Usdin and Nina Vakueva (review): it’s like Fight Club, but teenagers at a record store.

Middle Grade:

the cover of Other Ever Afters

Ellen Outside the Lines by A.J. Sass: a sapphic middle grade contemporary with an autistic main character and nonbinary side character.

Other Ever Afters: New Queer Fairy Tales by Melanie Gillman (review): This is a middle grade graphic novel collection of queer fairy tales, most of which are sapphic!

Aquicorn Cove by Kay O’Neill (review): I love all of Kay O’Neill’s graphic novels, especially the Tea Dragon Society series. This is a MG fantasy book about grief with a sapphic subplot.

Princess Princess Ever After by Katie O’Neill (review): this is an all-ages comic about a princess acting as the knight in shining armor for another princess! It’s super cute.

Lumberjanes series by N.D. Stevenson (review): a fun and silly fantasy graphic novel set at a summer camp, with several queer characters and trans characters.

Nonfiction:

Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha cover

Tomboy Survival Guide by Ivan Coyote (review) and Gender Failure by Ivan Coyote and Rae Spoon (review): you should read everything Ivan Coyote writes, for beautiful thoughts about gender, love, and being a human in the world.

How Far the Light Reaches: A Life in Ten Sea Creatures by Sabrina Imbler: This was one of my favourite reads of last year! It beautifully weaves together Imbler’s memoir, including being Asian and nonbinary in the U.S., with science writing. I can’t recommend this highly enough.

Kicked Out edited by Sassafras Lowrey (review): This was published in 2010, so keep that in mind while reading it, but it’s an invaluable look at the experiences of homeless LGBTQ youth, told from their own perspectives.

Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha (review): This work is about disability justice: disability activism that centres queer and trans black, indigenous, and people of colour.

The Future is Disabled by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha (review): this is another collection of essays about disability justice, but focused on the experiences of disabled people during the (ongoing) pandemics.

Bodymap by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha (review): accessible, powerful poetry about being a queer disabled femme of colour. This is my favourite poetry I’ve ever read.


This isn’t a complete list! Let me know in the comments which books I’ve missed that have sapphic content and trans/nonbinary authors.

Maggie reviews Galaxy: The Prettiest Star by Jadzia Axelrod

the cover of Galaxy the Prettiest Star

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In Galaxy: The Prettiest Star, Taylor has a life-threatening secret. She is the Galaxy-Crowned, an alien princess hiding on Earth from the invaders that destroyed her home as a baby. Taylor’s guardian fled with her and two others to Earth, disguising themselves not only as humans, but also turning Taylor into a boy as an extra layer of misdirection. Taking their cues about normal human families from sitcoms, they settle into a small town to hide, and every year that passes Taylor grows more miserable. Not allowed to be her true self, not allowed to hang out with other kids after school lest they figure something out or be put in danger, not even allowed to grow her hair out, Taylor feels like something has got to give. Which is when she meets Kat, a new transplant from Metropolis. They click instantly, and Taylor has to decide how far she’s willing to go to be herself. Galaxy: The Prettiest Star is a beautiful trans coming of age story with a layer of superhero science fiction shellacked over top, and the result is an enjoyable yet emotional and impactful read that I deeply wish I had had access to as a teenager.

The being yourself narrative is strong within this story, and with Taylor being forced to repress not only her gender but her very species; she is trans both in her gender and in the very makeup of her being, bringing multiple layers for her to work through. Taylor the human boy plays basketball, has one bro friend, and isn’t allowed to grow his hair out or go to parties lest something give away that he’s not human. Taelyr the Galaxy-Crowned has purple skin and luxurious teal hair, discovers she loves to experiment with hair and makeup, and hangs out with her new girlfriend.

I love Kat—who among us does not wish they met a cool out-of-town girlfriend who helped us immensely with our self confidence in high school?. Kat is dismayed to find herself in a small town, but not dismayed by anything about Taylor. They share an instant connection, and when Kat states that she’s not into guys, she accepts Taelyr’s statement that she is not a guy, even before she reveals that she’s also an alien. Kat is the lifeline that Taelyr needs to grow her self-confidence because even though they’re not alike, Kat understand being herself as a conscious process. I think both adult and teen readers will appreciate both the emotional resonance and the sweetness of their romance, and watching Taelyr coming fully into herself is a fulfilling arc. It’s so significant for DC to publish a graphic novel about a trans character, and although I suspect that some may find making a trans character also a secret alien from outer space a tad heavy-handed, I’m equally certain that there will be plenty of people over the moon excited to project themselves onto a purple space princess struggling to find herself in a small-minded small town.

The other thing I really loved about this story is the artwork. It’s bright and whimsical and really sets the mood as a teen story. Taelyr’s long teal hair flows across the page as she tries on look after fashionable look, trying to find her favorite style. There’s a whole sequence where Kat’s studied second reaction after seeing Taelyr transformed is to get excited about a makeup palette she normally doesn’t get to use, and Taelyr’s party look is off the charts amazing. Kat’s green hair and stylish butch looks provide an equally fun counterpoint, and together they are a riot of teenage love and self-expression across every page and a sharp contrast to the more plebian townsfolk that reject Taelyr. Plus, Taelyr’s other constant companion is a little monitoring robot that takes the appearance of a fluffy corgi that scampers around after her, adding a little extra dash of cuteness.

In conclusion, sometimes I feel like DC’s young adult graphic novels are a little heavy-handed and simplistic but Galaxy: The Prettiest Star is gorgeous and radiates much needed trans and queer coming-of-age energy. It’s a fun story that nonetheless has an out-sized emotional impact, and the artwork is strong and sets the whole tone of the narrative. If you’re looking for trans and queer comics, I would definitely add this to your list, especially for the young adult readers in your life. It is a great read, and one that I will definitely be revisiting when I need a fun boost.

Meagan Kimberly reviews Gender Flytrap by Zoe Estelle Hitzel

Gender Flytrap by Zoe Estelle Hitzel

For National Poetry Month I chose to read this collection I’d picked up from Sundress Publications, an independent press. It’s a fascinating collection of poems about the interconnected nature of gender, sexuality, sex, and identity.

The poems’ forms start as stanzas and lines written in fragments, but as the speaker gains a greater sense of clarity of who they are, the images and statements become more solid. A few in between bolly back and forth between this fragmented style and coherent thoughts.

It seems as though the purpose of this structure is to literally indicate the speaker’s growing anxieties and uncertainness about their gender, sex, and identity. Hitzel shows an adept hand in using and creating structure that works perfectly in conjunction with the language and emotions of each individual poem.

While the poems’ structures vary between fragmented and complete, the word choice always creates a precise and purposeful rhythm and sound. It gives the feeling that even in the most turbulent of moments of doubt, the speaker knows for certain who they are and where they stand, somewhere beneath the insecurity and anxiety.

Hitzel delivers heartbreaking lines in the simplest language, like this one:

“the television showed what it was capable of showing
and my father heard what he was capable of hearing…”

Lines like the two above depict the common way discussions and discourse about transitioning and transgender individuals are often perceived and treated. The speaker throughout the poems often analyzes and talks about others’ perceptions about their identity, and how those perceptions affect their perceptions of themselves.

In another poem, “Dial-up Internet — Diagnosis” Hitzel delivers a gut punch of emotion that anyone who’s ever questioned their identity has felt. The speaker’s tone approaches the subject from an analytical perspective but still manages to send a shock of pain to the heart.

Hitzel excels at this juxtaposition of using a neutral tone of rationale to describe the turmoil of feelings on the subject matter. The poem “Math Problem” is another standout piece that takes an analytical eye to the topic of transitioning.

The titular poem is another standout piece in the collection as the speaker delineates all the different labels and names she’s been given. Its ending line packs so much in such a matter-of-fact statement: “I appreciate how the silence calls me nothing.”

There are so many poems to choose from with powerful lines and emotional messages. It’s easy to keep flipping from one piece to the next and savoring each word. Sometimes a second and third read is necessary to fully appreciate Hitzel’s brilliant use of language and lyricism.

Carmella reviews Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

It felt like I was seeing the vibrant front cover of Girl, Woman, Other everywhere (or at least all over lesbian bookstagram), so when it won the Booker Prize for Fiction, I decided it was finally time to buy a copy and see what the buzz was about.

The book follows twelve loosely-connected characters, each section switching to a new point of view. It begins with Amma, a black lesbian playwright, whose production of The Last Amazon of Dahomy is about to open at the National Theatre. After so many years living as a counter-cultural socialist activist, making it into the mainstream is both a source of pride and worry for Amma – is it radical for her play about black lesbians to achieve such a platform, or is she selling out?

From Amma, we springboard off into the lives of the other characters. Most of them (but not all) are black British women. Many of them (but not all) are queer. Some of them are closely connected – there’s Amma’s headstrong daughter, Yazz; her best friend and former business partner, Dominique – and some of them are several degrees of separation away – Carole, the hotshot investment banker who’s attending opening night; Morgan, the non-binary influencer caught up in a Twitter beef with Dominique.

Normally when I read a book that switches between lots of characters I get frustrated. There are always some stories I’m more interested in hearing, and some characters I care about more than others. I was worried I would feel the same way going into this book.

But that wasn’t the case at all – each one of Evaristo’s voices was so compelling that I was engrossed immediately every time. The experience felt something like getting into a Wikipedia rabbit hole, where you bounce from article to article as interesting tidbits catch your eye. Then you look up and you’ve lost six hours!

Of course, there were still favourite characters among them. I loved the determination of Bummi, a Nigerian immigrant and widowed mother who’s working hard to build a cleaning empire – and looking for love again with both women and men. But I think my favourite was Hattie, a crotchety mixed race nonagenarian who grew up in the agricultural north of England. After a lifetime of hard work on the family farm, she despairs of her lazy descendants – with the exception of Morgan, who often visits with their girlfriend to help out.

Not all of the characters are so easy to like. Dominique, for example, founds a trans-exclusionary ‘women’s’ festival. Penelope holds racist beliefs her entire life, and only starts to learn at the age of 80 that things aren’t as black and white as her parents taught her (including her own DNA). But even when you don’t agree with one of Evaristo’s characters, you’re still interested to learn more about them – and it’s a mark of wonderful writing that Evaristo can switch hats and ideologies so skilfully.

Without a unifying plot, what connects these voices are the themes of race, gender, class, and identity in general. Instead of providing a ‘one-size-fits-all’ answer to any of these, Evaristo examines them from every angle. It feels like she’s giving a cheeky wink to anyone who wants to read a novel about a black woman’s experience as a novel about the black woman’s experience.

If I’m making it sound intellectual and literary – well, it is, but it’s also captivating. I nearly missed my stop on the tube more than once because I was too glued to the pages to pay attention to anything else. It’s not a light book – it deals with serious topics like (of course) racism, as well as abuse, rape, and addiction – but it’s very readable, and there are plenty of fun, heart-warming moments mixed in there too.

I’m glad I finally gave into the social media buzz to read this book. It was well-deserving of its Booker win, and I hope it goes on to receive even more recognition in the future.

Content warnings: racism, rape, abuse, CSA, sexism, transphobia, addiction

Danika reviews Roller Girl by Vanessa North

I’ll preface this review by saying that I feel uncomfortable talking about a Riptide Publishing book right now. (I read this book before I heard about the racism and harassment happening behind the scenes at Riptide.) That being said, it’s a shame to punish all of the authors involved in this press (also, the editor of this book was not the one mentioned in the post), and I did really enjoy this title–which is one of the few trans F/F romance novels out there.

Roller Girl follows Tina, a trans woman who has recently divorced as well as retiring as a professional athlete. She’s adrift. So when she gets invited to play on the local roller derby team, she jumps at the opportunity. And it doesn’t hurt that the coach is a swoonworthy butch woman. They are drawn to each other, but Joe doesn’t want to endanger the team by admitting to dating a teammate, and Tina doesn’t want to stay a secret forever.

I don’t read a lot of romance, but I was delighted with this. Tina and Joe immediately click, and–at least initially–there’s a lot of open, healthy communication happening. They do both jump into angry tirades sometimes, but generally they try to talk to each other about their problems. (I hate when the entire conflict of the novel could be resolved if the characters just talked to each other.) I also loved that it was set in the world of roller derby! I don’t think any queer lady needs to explain why that’s a fun bonus.

I’m cisgender, and I don’t believe this is own voices representation, so I don’t want to be the arbiter of whether this is good trans representation, but I did really like reading a fun romance with a trans woman lead. It does come up in the story, but it’s just as much about Joe and Tina’s romance, or Tina’s journey to self-confidence, or trying to save the gym that she works at as a personal trainer. It’s a part of the story, but it’s not the whole story.

I wasn’t expecting this to get quite as steamy as it does! As I’ve noted, I’m still pretty new to the romance genre, and I was surprised by the amount and intensity of the sex scenes. I’m not complaining! I thought Tina and Joe had great chemistry, and they were very believable. But I did feel awkward reading it on the bus and in the break room at work!

This was a quick, fun read that I would definitely recommend.