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Earlier this year, trans author Emery Lee created the #TransBooks365 hashtag as a way to celebrate trans authors and their books every day of the year, and not just in response to transphobia or tragedy. A ton of fantastic lists of books by trans authors circulated around the internet on August 30, and it was a joy to see.
I have to admit that the only corner of the bookish internet I frequent is Bookstagram, but even there, scrolling through the #TransBooks365 hashtag, I saw a lot of the same YA books being featured over and over again. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this! It is a delight to see books like Cemetery Boys, Felix Ever After, Pet, and I Wish You All the Best (among many others) get so much well-deserved love and attention. There has been an explosion of trans YA in the past few years, and 2021 has been an especially great year for it.
But 2021 has also been an incredible year for adult trans lit. Happily, this is not an either/or situation; it’s a both/and situation. This list isn’t intended to take attention away from trans YA. I simply want to highlight some of the amazing adult books by trans authors that don’t get included on every trans booklist. I’ve included a few buzzy books, but a lot of these haven’t gotten as much attention as they absolutely deserve. Scrolling through the #TransBooks365 hashtag, these are the titles I only saw mentioned a few times, if at all.
Of course, the hashtag isn’t limited to books from 2021. But “adult books by trans authors” is way too broad a category for a list of 20 books. Picking just 20 from this year was hard enough. This list is proof that, as Book Riot editor Danika likes to point out, we’re living in the golden age of queer lit. Here are books by trans & genderqueer authors across just about every genre, from contemporary fiction to historical fantasy. You’ll find horror and sci-fi, memoir and poetry, and even a play. We’ve got short stories and epistolary books and a novel that takes place entirely inside Slack. Get ready for your TBR to explode.
Some important notes on how I made this list of trans & genderqueer authors: This list includes nonbinary and genderqueer authors, some of whom identify as trans, and some of whom don’t. Trans is both a specific identity and an umbrella term that encompasses people of many non-cis gender identities. The same is true for the terms genderqueer and nonbinary. Some nonbinary people are also trans; some are not. A person with a specific gender identity (agender or bigender, for example) might fall under the genderqueer umbrella, or they might not. Gender is personal and multi-faceted and so is the language we use to talk about it. My intent with this list is to highlight some of the incredible books written this year by authors who fall under the trans and/or genderqueer umbrellas. I encourage you to read not only these books, but also some of the wonderful interviews, articles, and essays these authors have written about gender as it relates to their lives and work.
2021 Fiction by Trans & Genderqueer Authors
Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters
This complicated and beautiful novel is about as far from Trans 101 as you can get. It’s about three women — two trans and one cis — exploring the possibilities of creating a nontraditional family together. When Ames, a trans woman now living as a man, gets his girlfriend pregnant, he decides to ask his ex Reese if she wants to co-parent the baby with them. What follows is a wild, funny, devastating, and deeply human story about love, desire, womanhood, parenting, queerness, and contemporary trans life.
Summer Fun by Jeanne Thornton
If you love books with unconventional structures, this inventive, funny, and sharply observant novel is definitely for you. Gala is a trans woman living in small town New Mexico, obsessed with the life of a famous 1960s pop star. In a series of letters to the singer, she reveals the complicated and surprising connections between her 21st century life and that of the singer she loves so much. It’s an engaging, playful, decidedly weird story about queer and trans identity across generations, what it means to be a fan, and the nature of creativity.
A Dream of a Woman by Casey Plett
This collection of short stories is a beautiful exploration of the complex inner lives of trans women. In one story, a woman returns to her hometown and discovers just how much she’s changed. In another, we follow a woman through the major events of her life: her first relationship, transition, a career change, a cross-country move. The stories center relationships between trans women; they’re about lovers, friends, roommates, family, mentors and mentees.
Several People are Typing by Calvin Kasulke
I’m not sure it’s possible to describe the absurd, surreal, delightful weirdness of this novel. It’s set entirely inside the Slack channels of a small New York PR firm. When Gerald, a mid-level employee, accidentally uploads his consciousness, his colleagues think he’s just joking around and working from home. He eventually convinces some of them that he’s actually stuck in Slack, and they work together to free him. In addition to this strangeness, there’s Slackbot, a character with his own motivations; a tender queer romance; and lots of hilarious office drama. It’s an earnest, optimistic book with a big dose of WTF.
She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan
This epic and ambitious fantasy is a deeply queer reimagining of the founding of the Ming Dynasty. After her brother dies, Zhu assumes his identity to enter a monastery as a young novice. Her brother received the fate of greatness when he was born, but Zhu is determined to rise above her own fate of nothingness and prove that she can be whoever she chooses, claiming the mantle of greatness from her dead brother.
Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon
River Solomon’s latest novel is impossible to classify: it’s got bits of fantasy, sci-fi, gothic fiction, and horror. Vern is a 15-year-old Black girl who escapes the religious community where she was born just before giving birth to twins. As she struggles for her family’s survival, she encounters terrifying monsters at every turn. She’s soon forced to confront the horrors of America’s racist past (and present), as well as her own power. It’s a dark and haunting novel, but it also contains many beautiful moments of queer joy.
Future Feeling by Joss Lake
2021 was been an incredible year for the genre I’ve dubbed Weird Queer — this bitingly funny and original novel being another excellent example. Penfield is a trans man who works as a dog walker and spends most of his time obsessing over Aiden, a social media influencer with a perfectly documented transition. He tries to curse Aiden, but accidentally curses a different trans man instead, sending him into another dimension, the bizarre world known as the Shadowlands. It’s up to Penfield to save him — and that’s only the beginning of the weirdness that is this story about magic, technology, and contemporary trans life.
A Natural History of Transition by Callum Angus
This beautiful collection of stories features trans characters who find themselves in all sorts of surprising situations. A man gives birth to a cocoon. A person turns into a mountain. One story is narrated by a swarm of insects. Angus’s characters are alive and morphing, constantly refusing the static idea that transition is an endpoint. It’s a truly unique book about the natural world, trans magic, human relationships, embodiment, and the possibilities inherent in our living, changing bodies.
Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki
This creative novel blends sci-fi and fantasy, but it’s mostly a coming-of-age story about found family, choosing your own life, and friendship. Katrina is a trans violinist who runs away from her abusive transphobic family. She happens to meet Shizuka Satomi, a famous violin teacher who made a deal to deliver seven violin prodigies to the devil. She’s in desperate need of a student. But Katrina and Shizuka soon become close, and their meeting ends up changing both of their lives. Oh yeah — there’s also an intergalactic refugee family who runs a donut shop and a fiery AI. This book is full of whimsy and humor, but it’s also a hard read, as it deals directly with the intense transphobia Katrina experiences.
In the Watchful City by S. Qiouyi Lu
A beautiful, beguiling blend of magic and technology, this novella is all about what it truly means to belong to a place. The city of Ora is controlled by a network called The Gleaming, a living web that provides both surveillance and protection. Anima is an extrasensory human whose job it is to watch over Ora’s citizens; æ can access all the memories and knowledge contained in The Gleaming, but nothing more. When a mysterious visitor comes to Ora, expanding Anima’s consciousness beyond the city’s walls, æ begins to question ær entire purpose in life.
For the Love of April French by Penny Aimes
April French is a trans woman who’s done looking for relationships. She’s had her fair share of heartbreak, so now she frequents the local kink club on the weekends and doesn’t expect much from her one-night stands. Until one of those one-night stands, Dennis, is determined to turn their immediate connection into a relationship. What follows is a heartfelt and lighthearted story about two people learning to trust each other and themselves.
The Companion by E.E. Ottoman
This historical romance, set in the 1940s, stars three trans people, though it’s as much about the quiet town in which they all find home as it is about their relationship. Madeline is a trans woman exhausted by trying to fit into Ne York’s literary scene. So she takes a job working as a companion for reclusive writer Victor Hallowell in his small home upstate. Soon, she finds herself falling for Victor — and for his mysterious neighbor and ex-lover, Aubrey. It’s a quiet, beautiful story about three people not only falling in love, but finding healing and refuge in each other.
2021 Nonfiction by Trans & Genderqueer Authors
The Natural Mother of the Child by Krys Malcom Belc
In this unusual memoir, Krys Malcolm Belc blends lyrical writing with photos and annotated court and legal documents to tell a powerful story about trans identity, queer parenting, and embodiment. He writes about his experiences with pregnancy, childbirth, and parenting as a transmasculine nonbinary parent, though this book is about so much more than that. In addition to his own story, which he recounts with vulnerability and raw honesty, he looks at the intersections of gender, sexuality, and parenthood, and how explores how stagnant ideas about womanhood and motherhood affect queer and trans families. It’s a beautiful and illuminating book.
Dear Senthuran by Akwaeke Emezi
This memoir is structured as a collection of essays to the important people in Emezi’s life: mentors, friends, lovers, family. In prose that’s gorgeous and revealing, they write about their ogbanje identity, about living as a non-human in a human body, about spirituality, trauma, art, and the business of publishing. It’s a book that’s impossible to classify. It’s devastating and deeply painful at times, but it’s also a bold and powerful celebration of self.
Black Boy Out of Time by Hari Ziyad
Hari Ziyad grew up in a family of 19 children with a Hindu Hare Kṛṣṇa mother and a Muslim father. In this memoir-in-essays, they write about the experiences that shaped them as a child growing up Black and queer in Ohio, coming into their gender and sexuality as a young adult, and healing from trauma. It’s a book about the sacredness of Black childhood, and the violence that so many Black children experience when childhood is taken from them by white supremacy and racism.
Belly of the Beast by Da’Shaun Harrison
In this illuminating and infuriating book, Da’Shaun Harrison, a fat, Black, disabled nonbinary writer, clearly lays out the connections between anti-fatness and anti-Blackness. They put anti-fat anti-Blackness in historical context, and delve into the many ways it shows up in everyday life, leading to the continued harm of fat Black people. This is a must-read for anyone interested in a gaining a deeper understanding of how anti-Blackness in the U.S. is intertwined with gender, sexuality, ability, and police violence — and how to begin dismantling those interlocking systems of oppression.
The Good Arabs by Eli Tareq El Bechelany-Lynch
In this collection of poetry, Eli Tareq El Bechelany-Lynch explores what it means to be Arab, queer, trans, disabled. They write about diaspora and displacement, cultural identity, the complexities of geography, and the inadequacies of language. The poems, set in Canada and Lebanon, are lyrical and accessible, by turns angry, playful, and celebratory.
How to Fail as a Popstar by Vivek Shraya
In this one-woman play, Vivek Shraya recounts her failed journey to become a pop star. Shraya writes about her childhood dreams of fame, her early experiences in the music industry, the betrayals and successes she encountered, and the many reasons she did not become a star. It’s a layered book about racism and transphobia in the music industry, but it’s also refreshingly honest and playful. Anyone who has ever failed at something they set out to do will relate to Shraya’s story.
As Beautiful as Any Other by Kaya Wilson
Kaya Wilson came out to his family only a year after a near-fatal suffering accident, and only a few weeks before his father’s death. In this memoir, he explores not only his own journey, but his family’s, including what he learned about their history after coming out. It’s a vulnerable story about grief, memory, and the stories that bodies hold.
Water I Won’t Touch by Kayleb Rae Candrilli
In these gorgeous poems, Candrilli writes about queer love, partnership, family, grief, trans identity, addiction, and bodies. There’s an honesty in them that feels almost painful at times. Candrilli is deeply giving of themself, in the ways they write about their body, their loves, the stories they hold. The images are breathtaking; though many of the poems are about change, transformation, memory, desire, they are all grounded in the physical world and how it feels to be a part of it.
Looking for more books by trans & genderqueer authors? If you’re craving trans YA, we’ve got you covered with this list and this one, too. Or maybe you’re looking for some trans SFF, audiobooks by trans authors, or comics about trans and genderqueer folks. You might want to check out this list of awesome books about trans history. Or how about these novels by trans authors, and these affirming trans books?
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