“I’ve learned to shy away from binaries. They’re usually false.”—Akwaeke Emezi
There has been a lot of buzz recently around trans and non-binary people and their rights. Across cultures and time, the concept of gender has changed a lot. In the United States, a rather strict dichotomy of “male” or “female” has developed, but that is slowly changing. Nonetheless, trans and gender non-conforming people are facing hate crimes, psychological torture in the form of conversion therapy, high rates of suicide, harassment, discrimination in employment, and much more RIGHT NOW. If you need resources or are interested in learning more about how you can help, visit the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE).
If you’ve never heard the words, or have seen others used, here is a quick rundown of what the terms trans and non-binary mean:
According to the NCTE, “transgender people are people whose gender identity is different from the gender they were thought to be at birth. ‘Trans’ is often used as shorthand for transgender.” Some people do not fit into either category of male or female, and prefer to use neutral pronouns such as “they” or “ze”. Also from the NCTE, “People whose gender is not male or female use many different terms to describe themselves, with non-binary being one of the most common. Other terms include genderqueer, agender, bigender, and more.”
This list features writers that self-identify as trans or non-binary and offers a wide array of writing styles, so you’re sure to find something you’ll love. This list is also available on Bookshop.org.
Written by Ari Bachechi
Pet by Akwaeke
Akwaeke Emezi draws from their own experiences to write stories filled with power and the magic found by living at the intersections of identity. Pet follows Jam and a creature she meets named Pet as they hunt a monster supposedly living at Jam’s best friend’s house. Jam fights to protect her friend, but also for acknowledgement that monsters do exist even when they are ignored or invisible. Pet is Akwaeke’s young adult debut, but is enjoyable and relatable for people of all ages.
Akwaeke Emezi is an artist and writer based in liminal spaces. They process their reality through video, performance, writing, and sculpture. Akwaeke is also featured in our exhibit My America: Immigrant and Refugee Writers Today. Hear more about their experiences and writing at My-America.org.
Tomorrow Will Be Different by Sarah McBride
Tomorrow Will Be Different is Sarah McBride’s heartbreaking 2017 memoir. The book follows her story as a political activist in her home state of Delaware and across the country. It also explores her complex relationship with her late husband, Andy Cray, who lost his battle with cancer.
Sarah McBride is an activist and spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ advocacy organization. She previously worked for former Delaware Governor Jack Markell, Attorney General Beau Biden, and in the Obama White House. She is also currently running for a state Senator position in Delaware. If she wins, she will be the first openly trans state senator in the United States.
More Than Organs by Kay Ulanday Barrett
More Than Organs is the newest book on this list, having come out earlier in 2020. A book of poetry that “questions whatever wholeness means for bodies always in transit,” it is described as a love letter to queer people of color everywhere. Simultaneously sad and triumphant, K captures the transient spirit that defines them in these poems.
Kay Ulanday Barrett is a poet, performer, and educator, navigating life as a disabled pilipinx amerikan transgender queer in the U.S. They are a three-time Pushcart Prize nominee, have been featured in more publications than I can easily list here, and have several books and collections of poetry.
Don’t Call Us Dead by Danez Smith
Don’t Call Us Dead is a collection of poetry that confronts history in surprising ways. The first piece imagines an afterlife for black men shot by police where they enjoy the safety and comfort they could never find here on earth. It can be a tough read, but poetry lovers will be happy they took the time to open their hearts and minds to the truths that Smith writes.
Danez Smith is a Black, Queer, Poz writer & performer from St. Paul, Minnesota. Danez was at the American Writers Museum in February where they spoke with high school students, as well as a public evening program with Britteney Black Rose Kapri to promote Smith’s newest collection, Homie.
Before I Had the Words by Skylar Kergil
Before I Had the Words is Skylar Kergil’s first memoir, detailing his transition and his experience sharing his story through YouTube. By turns funny, sad, informative and entertaining the book includes journal entries from Skylar and interviews with his family members. If you are an auditory learner, try visiting his YouTube page to hear his story through videos.
Skylar Kergil began documenting his transition from female to male on YouTube in 2009. Since then, he has become a speaker, educator, performer, singer-songwriter, and mentor traveling to share his story with others. He currently lives in Boston.
An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon
This book is for the science fiction fans out there. I recently read this book and was getting some serious Octavia Butler vibes from the way that Rivers Solomon writes, which is just about the best praise I can think of. Their story follows Aster, a young woman living on the space vessel Matilda which so happens to be run like the antebellum South. Aster must unravel a mystery left by her mother that may just lead to real change and improvement for her people. The book touches on so many relevant political and social aspects, but is also just an exciting and well-written story.
Rivers Solomon is originally from the United States, and they graduated from Stanford University with a degree in comparative studies in race and ethnicity before receiving an MFA in fiction writing from the Michener Center for Writers. An Unkindness of Ghosts is their first novel, followed by The Deep and the forthcoming Sorrowland.
Asegi Stories: Cherokee Queer and Two-Spirit Memory by Qwo-Li Driskill
Asegi udanto is a Cherokee term referring to people who are neither men nor women, or who mix men’s and women’s roles. Qwo-Li Driskill uses the term asegi as a way to reinterpret Cherokee history in order to listen for stories deemed “strange” in colonial eyes. Asegi Stories is the first full-length scholarly book that develops a tribally specific Indigenous Queer or Two-Spirit critique. For the academics reading this list, you will definitely want to check this one out. For everyone else, it is worth at least looking up essays by Qwo-Li Driskill, as Indigenous Queer theory has been woefully missing in an academic arena dominated by white heteronormative studies.
Qwo-Li Driskill is a (non-citizen) Cherokee Two-Spirit and Queer writer, activist, and performer. S/he is an associate professor in the Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies Department at Oregon State University. Hir other works include Walking with Ghosts: Poems and s/he was co-editor of Sovereign Erotics: A Collection of Two-Spirit Literature and Queer Indigenous Studies: Critical Interventions is Theory, Politics, and Literature.
Written by Courtney Borjas
Courtney started at the AWM as a Storyteller in April 2017. She has since moved into education where she enjoys sharing the contextual significance of American literature with students and helping to empower future writers. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Illinois at Chicago with a B.A. in History and earned an M.S. in Library and Information Science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.