Transgender books are a field on the verge of exploding exponentially, but there are classics, too. Trans lit covers stories about being trans, as well as stories that feature transgender characters.
These books will give you a deeper understanding of trans people and the issues they face, as well as show a range of ideas and experiences. There are hundreds of options, but here’s a good place to begin.
Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics
(Nightboat Books, edited by TC Tolbert and Tim Trace Peterson, 2013)
Too often, trans poetry feels like an afterthought hastily added to a gay-themed anthology, or lumped into a women’s studies publication. But trans culture, experience, and concerns are very different from both of these and deserve a place in the mainstream literary platform as well as a place of their own. This collection is a great start for more than fifty transgender poets.
The Collection: Short Fiction from the Transgender Vanguard
(Topside Press, Tom Leger et al., 2012)
An outstanding anthology of short fiction featuring transgender narratives. Twenty-eight authors. You can pick and choose, or read cover to cover—there’s a lot of food for thought here.
Chris Bohjalian, 2001
With this book, bestselling writer Bohjalian eerily predicted today’s culture wars in the news, over bathrooms and human rights for transgender people. But this classic is not about politics, it’s a love story. Middle-aged Allison falls head over heels in love with a man who just happens to be on the verge of revealing herself as trans.
Both women question the importance of gender and biology to their identity and humanity. While we have many more complex fiction works today that go beyond the coming-out story, this was for its time a groundbreaking work and the depth of its emotion is unparalleled.
Conundrum by Jan Morris
(New York Review Books Classics, 2006, first published 1974)
This pioneering memoir is essential to every library, not just trans people or their admirers. Morris was a respected historian and travel writer who had a wife and five children and served in the British Army. In 1972, she travelled to Morocco for one of the first publicized sexual reassignment surgeries, and this is her story about that journey from male to female.
Take Me There: Trans and Genderqueer Erotica
(Cleis Press, edited by Tristan Taormino, 2011)
You didn’t think I was going to skimp on the good stuff, did you? There are lots of websites and books that feature transgender erotica. Some are trite, some are exploitative, some are hot. But if you like yours served up in a more literary fashion, getting to know these writers is a great way to expand your horizons. These stories range from bondage to long-term love, but they’re steamy, explicit, and hold nothing back!
Trans Book Review: Redefining Realness by Janet Mock
When Tina, who is a media liaison for Transexual Hookups told us about Janet Mock’s memoir, Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More, we were thrilled and decided we had to read it right away. Janet Mock rocked the media world when she came out as trans in 2012. Janet is a former staff editor of People Magazine, and her coming out surprised many. She transitioned at eighteen, during her freshman year of college. She’s been a media darling, causing some controversy when she corrects people who say she was raised as a boy, telling them, “I was born in what doctors proclaim is a boy’s body.”
What we loved about Redefining Realness was that yes, of course it was about her transition, but it was about so much more. It wasn’t just the story of a transwoman, but the story of a person. The book follows her life from Hawaii to California, and then to New York as she navigates becoming a woman. The biography is also different than many other trans biographies out there because Janet did not come from a privileged background, and she is a person of color.
“I love that I can relate to so many points in the book,” Donna, a trans woman and community outreach associate at TSmeet.com told us. “Like when Janet was dealing with how to tell her boyfriend Aaron about her trans history, and the ways in which she had to deal with her family. Even though her story was different, I completely related and it was very touching.”
Unlike other similar memoirs, the book doesn’t dance around difficult issues. She discusses her experiences with sex work, poverty and abuse. The best part about the book though, is that she comes out on top and has lived through all the difficult times to share her bravery and determination with us today.
“Janet Mock is definitely an amazing trans advocate,” Donna exclaimed. “It’s people like her who are paving roads for all trans women in America today, and making it easier for us to get out there, get great jobs, and live the dream. I’m happy that I can do my small part to help trans women on the dating scene, but that pales in comparison to Ms. Mock.”
New Book about Transgender and Nonconforming Older Adults
What does it mean to be part of a civil rights moment for a particular community? It’s a time when the historical oppression communities such as black people or women turns to a discussion of human rights wherein societies, governments, and institutions must change to accommodate and reflect their humanity. For transgender people, it is also a time of shifting from hidden and invisible to visible and celebrated.
Part of that visibility shift is society’s realization that transgender people have been there all along, part of our families, workplaces, and neighborhoods. If we are still in the process today of recognizing transgender people’s contributions and humanity, part of that is simply a numbers game: not everyone has met or seen or interacted with many transgender people (or aware that they have).
Books like To Survive on This Shore, from Kehrer Verlag publishing, are important contributors towards changing that through art and visibility.
Photographer Jess T. Dugan and social worker Vanessa Fabbre created To Survive on this Shore: Photographs and Interviews with Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Older Adults. Traveling for years throughout America, from coast to coast, from villages to big cities, they sought out everyday transgender people to photograph, interview, and create a document of their lives. In particular, the book focuses on older transgender people who may not have a role in the trendy reality and drama shows that feature young trans people.
These are artistically stunning portraits of an under-visible group within an under-visible group, bringing our attention and awareness to the humanity of transgender people aged fifty to ninety.
To celebrate the release of this amazing book of more than eighty portraits in words and photographs, there is an accompanying art exhibition in St. Louis at projects+gallery.
The cover photo is a gorgeous portrait of a woman in a fur coat. Gloria, of Chicago, is well known for running a charm school, where she mentored other trans women on “how to be a lady.”
Grace Sterling Stowell, one of the book’s subjects, sums up the past half century journey of society to trans civil rights:
“In the 1960s, they called me a sissy; in the 1970s, they called me a faggot; in the 1980s, I was a queen; in the 1990s, I was transgender and in the 2000s, I was a woman… Now, I’m just Grace.”
Trans Amorous Love: The Book
Trans Am: Cis Men and Trans Women in Love by Joseph McClellan, examines the phenomenon of men who love transgender women. The author is himself a trans admirer and shares his own experiences, as well as talking with other men who are attracted to T-girls.
This is the book you’ve all been waiting for! Sort of.
I was super excited to find a book by and for men about trans love. It’s about time! McClellan seems like a nice guy, and I respect how he’s made himself vulnerable to tell his truth and illuminate aspects of human sexuality that are still very much in the dark.
On the downside, I was really hoping for a book that was frank, practical, and affirming without all the cumbersome academic politicizing.
One transgender friend told me in no uncertain terms, “our existence itself is political.” Another disagreed with her completely.
“Stop turning my body into something political with all your big words and theories.”
I fall in between. It’s important to talk about history, human rights, and the political implications inherent in equality and visibility. But too often, the jargon of discourse is too heavy handed to have any meaning in the real world.
This book gives graduate students and gender philosophers plenty to chew on, but I dare say it will alienate the vast majority of men who love transgender women AND the trans women they love!
Words like “episteme,” “taxonomy,” “facticity,” “thematization” and “synechdocal” recur far too often, not to mention “genderfucker.” And while it is certainly the author’s prerogative to approach the subject theoretically, I do believe that what we most desperately need is down to earth information, a “people’s history” if you will, from and for everyday guys.
For example, my friend Nadia continues to work post transition as a forklift operator, a job she did for fifteen years as Nathan. It was a bumpy ride at first but Nadia’s tough. Some of her peers there have dated her, and one confessed he’s been seeing a trans lady for a decade. Nadia said she couldn’t understand a word the book was trying to say. She works with blue collar men—some a threat, but most potential allies, and some trans amourous among them. She’d like a book she can share with all of them.
All that said, it’s still worth leafing through for some interesting discussion among trans admirers and trans women about removing the stigma of trans amory.
Both society and political transgenderism as a movement have been guilty of denigrating men who love trans women as fetishists or objectifiers, making the love of trans people something shameful, to be viewed as an aberration. As my friend Megan says, “Honey, I’m not going to condemn the people who love me.” At the very least, this book, geared to these academics who problematize your kind of love, attempts to break that stereotype and validate and affirm the desire of some men for trans women.
By sharing his own experiences both in relationship with transsexuals and one-night sexual liaisons, McClellan argues that the trans admirer is as human as the trans women of his fantasies.
In a nutshell, this quote works best. “Condemning cis men who wish to articulate a distinct sexual attraction to trans women seems to avoid, deny or suppress a real phenomenon that is not, to my mind, invalid… I will not be ashamed of my desires.”