16 joyful, devastating, tender and eye-opening trans books you need to read
For Transgender Awareness Week 2021, why not choose one – or two, or three, or more! – of these superb books by trans and non-binary authors, and immerse yourself in a different world.
There is something for everyone on this list. From novel to non-fiction, sci-fi to memoir, young adult to historical diary – trans and non-binary authors have range.
And at a time when most of what is written about trans lives in the media is written by cisgender people, it’s never been more vital to read, share and celebrate the trans people writing about trans lives – and the trans people writing about literally anything other than transness, because we are not here for pigeonholes.
This year, a real plethora of new trans books have been published, with bigger publishing houses and jazzier marketing campaigns to boot. Most of the books on the list below are brand new, but some older reads that people might not have come across have snuck in, too. It’s thrilling to be able to share so many magnificent books by trans and non-binary authors.
1. The Transgender Issue: An Argument for Justice, by Shon Faye (2021)
Arguably the most game-changing piece of long-form non-fiction that’s ever been written about trans liberation, Shon Faye’s book, published in September 2021, was an instant Sunday Times bestseller.
The Transgender Issue has gone on to challenge the very terms of the “culture war” debate that trans and non-binary people find ourselves embroiled in, centring trans and non-binary people’s struggles in an attempt to correct the trans-hostile consensus in the transphobic British media. The book addresses actual issues that trans and non-binary face, including the class oppression faced by the majority of trans people, difficulties securing stable employment, homelessness, sex work and the crisis in trans healthcare.
Feminist philosopher Judith Butler and British girlband Little Mix have both endorsed it, so what are you waiting for? Buy it from beloved LGBT+ bookshop Gay’s The Word here.
2. Youngman: Selected Diaries of Lou Sullivan, edited by Zach Ozma and Ellis Martin, with a foreword by Susan Stryker (2021)
Lou Sullivan (1951-1991) was one of the first publicly gay trans men, known for his successful campaigning for gay trans men to be permitted access to gender-affirming healthcare at a time when medical models of transness only recognised heterosexual trans people as valid.
He was instrumental in forming support networks for trans men in the US and beyond, and in bringing together trans men through meet-ups, newsletters and relentless socialising at a time when the existence of trans men was nearly invisible, even within queer and trans circles.
Lou kept a diary his whole life and intended for them to be published after his death; he died of AIDS-related complications in the early 1990s. His diaries are a frank, moving, exhilarating ride from his teenage life through to his death. The New Yorker described Lou’s diaries as a “radical testament to trans happiness” – and what could be better than that? Find a place to buy them from here.
3. The Hidden Case of Ewan Forbes, by Zoë Playdon (2021)
This historical investigation painstakingly uncovers the real-life story of Ewan Forbes, a Scottish aristocrat and trans man whose life unexpectedly had a profound and long-lasting impact on trans people’s legal rights in the UK.
Ewan transitioned in the 1920s, and The Hidden Case of Ewan Forbes gives us rare insights into life for trans people a century ago, including what options were available in terms of medical transition and how upper-class society treated what we would now call transness.
Ewan’s 1968 legal case concerning primogeniture – as in, whether Ewan could inherit titles from his father that were supposed to only pass down the “male line” – was, until now, a fiercely guarded secret. Through solving this mystery, the book reveals how trans legal equality in Britain was taken for granted – and then taken away. Buy it from beloved LGBT+ bookshop Gay’s The Word here.
4. The Death of Vivek Oji, by Akwaeke Emezi (2021)
This novel is everything: joyful, devastating, tender. Written in Emezi’s characteristically expansive and dynamic style, the book begins, as per the title, with the death of Vivek Oji, and then rewinds back to Vivek’s childhood in Nigeria.
Vivek’s sudden death could be as a result of transmisognynistic violence, but as the story unfolds, non-linear, jumping between a Vivek who is dead and a Vivek who is alive, what happened becomes more complex, just as Vivek’s understanding – and that of their friends and family – of gender deepens and widens with age.
Non-Western perspectives on gender are vital yet, given the whitewashing of the trans experience and the cultural hegemony of the US, still rare. Buy this book from Gay’s The Word.
5. Black on Both Sides: A Racial History of Trans Identity, by C Riley Snorton (2017)
This book tells the overlooked stories of Black trans people from the mid-19th century to the present, going back to how the system of slavery produced racialised gender and bringing us through time to the present day of anti-trans bills and racist violence, examining how Blackness and transness intertwine.
From Lucy Hicks Anderson to James McHarris, the book examines how and why Black trans people’s lives have been largely erased from trans history. A whole chapter is dedicated to the story of Phillip DeVine, a disabled Black man who was murdered in 1993 alongside Brandon Teena, a white trans man whose brutal rape and murder is one of the best-known modern murder cases of a trans person and formed the basis of the film Boys Don’t Cry, starring Hilary Swank. DeVine was left out of the film, allegedly due to racism.
Black on Both Sides has won multiple awards, including the Lambda Literary Award for Transgender Non-Fiction (2018) and the Sylvia Rivera Award in Transgender Studies from the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies. Buy it here from Blackwell’s.
6. What It Feels Like for a Girl, by Paris Lees (2021)
This raw and unflinching memoir details Paris’s working-class upbringing in the 90s on the outskirts of Nottingham and takes us through to her arrival at university in Brighton. Told from the perspective of a young Paris, this book is memoir as novel – autofiction, if you will.
Showing the reality, for one woman, of growing up trans and poor in the UK, What It Feels Like for a Girl is written with Paris’s distinct chatty humour and in a Midlands dialect. She takes us through the drama and the dreariness of drug use, underage sex, sex work, a dysfunctional family, school bullies, poverty and mental illness with a kindness towards her younger self that warrants emulating.
Now a Vogue columnist, regular TV and radio presenter, and one of the most high-profile trans people in the UK, Paris’ coming-of-age story is one of the best trans memoirs of recent years. Buy it from Waterstones here.
7. Detransition, Baby, by Torrey Peters (2021)
This glorious novel about love and motherhood was one of the most hotly-anticipated works of trans fiction ever, and it was received with critical acclaim by trans and cis readers alike.
Detransition, Baby is set in New York and follows the story of three people: Reese, a trans woman, Ames, Reese’s detransitioned former partner, and Katrin, Ames’s boss slash lover, who is (accidentally) pregnant with Ames’ child. The ensuing pursuit of parenthood by the three is a delicious tangle, gleefully unconcerned with presenting a palatable version of transness or explaining any of the jokes, which is both refreshing and darkly funny.
Longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction, you can buy it from Gay’s the Word here.
8. Transgender Marxism, edited by Jules Joanne Gleeson and Elle O’Rourke, with a foreword by Jordy Rosenberg (2021)
9. Top To Bottom, by Finlay Games (2021)
This debut book from YouTuber and mental-health blogger Finlay Games is the first dedicated to detailing phalloplasty, also known as lower or bottom surgery, a series of operations to make a penis.
Part memoir and part self-help guide, Finlay generously shares his emotional journey, relationship with his body, experiences of gender dysphoria and quest for a penis. Each stage of the surgery is documented – form the decisions that have to be made, the recovery, healing, and Finlay’s changing relationship with himself and those around him.
It’s rare to be invited so closely in to someone’s medical transition, and Finlay tells his story with warmth. It’s published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers, and you can buy a signed copy here.
10. I Wish You All the Best, by Mason Deaver (2019)
A tender high-school romance but make it queer.
This young-adult fiction is the sweetest, most heart-wrenching story of a young non-binary person coming out, being rejected by their family, and falling in love with a fellow student. With a dreamily written narrative, what sets this book apart is its quietly groundbreaking approach to young people exploring their gender.
That’s because it takes one to know one, and what Mason Deaver gives us with I Wish You All the Best is a triple threat: a high-school romance for older non-binary people who might have missed out on that experience, a gorgeously told story about non-binaryness for cis readers, and for younger non-binary people, hope. Buy it here.
11. Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars: A Dangerous Trans Girl’s Confabulous Memoir, by Kai Cheng Thom (2016)
A surrealist novel telling the story of a young Asian trans girl who runs away from home.
Written for young adults, this Canadian book was a finalist for the Transgender Fiction category at the 2017 Lambda Literary Awards, and its fame grew in 2019 when Harry Potter star Emma Watson chose it for her feminist book club, Our Shared Shelf.
Buy it from independent booksellers Queer Lit here.
12. Fairest: A Memoir, by Meredith Talusan (2020)
This is both a trans and a migrant memoir, for Talusan is a Filipino-American trans woman living in the US. As such, it breaks apart both genres, recounting her coming-of-age as a person with albinism and delving into the messy overlaps of their identities.
A finalist for the 2021 Lambda Literary Awards Transgender Fiction category, it was described by trans poet Ocean Vuong as “a ball of light hurled into the dark undertow of migration and survival”.
Buy it here.
13. Duck Feet, by Ely Percy (2021)
This novel is written in Scots dialect, which quickly brings readers in to the teenage world of Kirsty Campbell and her friends at school in Renfrewshire, Scotland.
Duck Feet follows the group through school, exploring the dark and sometimes light messiness of teen crushes, family abuse, heartthrob boybands and homophobic bullying.
Buy it direct from publishers Monstrous Regiment here.
14. An Unkindness of Ghosts, by Rivers Solomon (2017)
This science-fiction novel was book of the year in the Guardian, NPR, Publishers Weekly, Bustle and Barnes & Noble – and those accolades are much deserved.
An Unkindness of Ghosts tells the story of botanist and healer Aster Gray, who is on a ship ferrying the last humans living towards a mythical promised land.
Buy it from Queer Lit here.
15. Gender Euphoria: Stories of Joy from Trans, Non-binary and Intersex Writers, by Laura Kate Dale (2021)
Nineteen writers fill the pages of this groundbreaking anthology with their stories of joy, happiness and hope – the perfect antidote to the grim transphobia that abounds in the world.
Framing transness as coming from feeling gender euphoria – rather than its more commonly seen inverse, gender dypshoria – this book speaks to a diverse range of experiences of joy. Feelings of pride, elation, confidence and freedom are the overriding themes, making the book a true joy to read.
Edited by video game journalist and trans activist Laura Kate Dale, you can buy Gender Euphoria from Queer Lit here.
16. Release the Beast: A Drag Queen’s Guide to Life, by Bimini Bon Boulash (2021)
Non-binary drag queen Bimini Bon Boulash skyrocketed to fame earlier this year as a contestant on RuPaul’s Drag Race UK Season 2, winning hearts and minds with her sharp east London gags and moving conversations about being non-binary with fellow contestant Ginny Lemon.
Following their huge success on the show, Bimini went on to write a book – billed as a guide to transforming your life using lessons from drag – which was, satisfyingly, an instant Sunday Times bestseller.
Release the Beast is an expansive offering, giving young people who are curious or unsure about their gender or sexuality something more than a guide to pronouns to help them. With images from trans illustrator Jules Scheele, this book is a must-read for Drag Race fans, young queer people and families of non-binary people alike. Get it here from Gay’s The Word.
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