International Transgender Day of Visibility is an international observance celebrating the accomplishments of transgender and gender nonconforming people. It is also a time to raise the public’s awareness of the discrimination and harm many transgender and gender nonconforming people experience.
Here at Powell’s, it’s also an excellent excuse to share some of our favorite recent books and authors who explore themes of gender, identity, pride, and safety in creative, mind-expanding, and scintillating ways.
Talusan’s memoir examines her journey from an albino child star in the Philippines to a Harvard student exploring gender and sexuality to a trans woman. Talusan is an accomplished journalist, and her unusual life story is aided by a keen eye for detail and an even keener ability to impart the complex interrelationships between perceived whiteness and power, perceived gender and safety, and the challenge of corralling all the aspects of oneself into a cohesive identity.
Lawlor’s debut bildungsroman has been a Powell’s staff favorite since its moment of publication. (Catch our Q&A with Lawlor here.) Paul can change genders at will, and they do, often to engage in different sexual situations. This novel isn’t for the squeamish, but Lawlor follows Paul’s coming-of-age with humor, sensitivity, and acuity, filling the world of the novel with a spot-on replica of early ’90s San Francisco and an engaging, diverse range of supporting characters.
Maybe of especial value to high school and college students (Sissy spends much of its time reflecting on Tobia’s college experiences), Tobia’s sweet and funny memoir explores Tobia’s path to self-identity, while also exploring how gender limits and harms many beyond those who self-associate as LGBTQIA+. You’ll laugh (a lot), you’ll sigh, and you’ll quickly become a Jacob Tobia fan.
I just finished reading an advance reader edition of Sorrowland and while I have some quibbles (basically, Solomon includes too many themes and ideas, and does all of them too well, writing too beautifully, to make Sorrowland a cohesive story) it is still well worth reading. Solomon tells the story of Vern, a runaway from an oppressive all-Black community who may have been subject to government experiments and may be turning into something not quite human. Vern’s understanding of her gender and sexuality shifts over the course of the plot, just one fascinating element of this imaginative and overbrimming novel by one of America’s leading young writers.
Did you hear Peters’s interview with Sam Sanders on It’s Been a Minute and think, I need to read that book right now? Me too. Detransition Baby explores how three people — transgender, cisgender, and detransitioned — navigate parenthood and a complicated, three-way relationship. Peters illuminates the internal worlds, and external pressures, of her characters with riveting sensitivity and prose.
Schmatz’s creative YA novel combines a dystopian near future where difference is not tolerated with the sometimes lonesome and scary experience of growing up unsure of who you are and what you desire. Kivali doesn’t know who or even what she is; is she a boy or a girl? A human or a space lizard? And will the ultra-regimented agriculture camp she’s been tossed into for the summer help her find the answers, or reveal her as a threat to society?
This absorbing novel about an intense friendship between two South Asian Canadian musicians, Neela and Rukmini, isn’t directly about gender, sexuality, or identity. Instead, Shraya (I’m Afraid of Men, How to Fail as a Popstar) concentrates on the shared passions and experiences and professional rivalries that sustain, and ultimately undo, the relationship. Through it all, Shraya thoughtfully explores social media and texting as integral elements of the women’s relationship, something that most novelists still shy away from despite our cultural dependence on social media for work and leisure. A clever, nuanced portrait of life as a female artist of color in the 21st century, The Subtweet entertains and enlightens.
This fascinating, fast-paced novel explores gender and sexual identity, cultural dislocation, and mental illness through the lens of the Nigerian spiritual entity, the ogbanje. By attaching the main character’s gender fluidity and depression to a traditional Nigerian narrative of gods and possession, Emezi questions the Western impulse to pathologize difference while expanding the reader’s understanding of the possible. After reading Freshwater, you’ll be curious about Emezi; learn more in their forthcoming memoir, Dear Senthuran.
Most of the books on this list concern themselves with the lives of young people, but Jan Morris’s delightful Think Again covers more than half a century of her extraordinary life: summiting Mt. Everest in 1953, covering the Eichmann trial, writing monumental histories, and documenting her experiences with gender reassignment in the 1970s. Under the guise of a modern diary (six months of 2018), Morris’s recollections roam far and wide, and never fail to surprise.
Dubbed “anthropological/social” sci-fi by Kirkus, Anders’s The City in the Middle of the Night is a fabulous exploration of monetary privilege, colonialism, and true friendship, all on a half melting, half icy planet inhabited by humans and native, intelligent crocodile-like monsters. Anders manages a perfect balance of action and emotional development, forcing the reader to sit painfully with Sophie as she determines friend from foe, while also making them want to race ahead to the next space battle. Fun and smart: What could be better?
Zeyn Joukhadar’s much-loved debut, The Map of Salt and Stars, and beautiful essay for the Powell’s blog clued us in to his facility with language about place and identity, but I’m not sure anything could have prepared us for the poetry and intensity of his second book, The Thirty Names of Night. About Syrian American immigrants separated by time but connected through art, culture, and similar yearnings, The Thirty Names of Night is about the ghosts of history and the ever-unfolding, creative act of becoming oneself.
Comics author Julia Kaye (Super Late Bloomer) continues her chronicle of living openly as a trans woman with My Life, which takes a sometimes funny, sometimes heartbreaking, always honest look at Kaye’s dating and relationship experiences, as well as the everyday ups and downs of life post-transition.