This post is part of the Reading Writers of Color 2021 challenge hosted by Lonely Cryptid Media’s staff writer and editor, Dan Michael Fielding.
The Reading Writers of Color Challenge continues with April’s prompt: A book by a queer or trans author. As a queer person this is one of the prompts I am most excited about!
As I was putting together the recommendations for this month I realized that there is some specialized knowledge that you may need to find something you’ll enjoy reading that was written by a queer or trans author of color. As with any subculture, the queer community uses specialized terminology and insider language. For those outside the community, or people who are newly-identifying as queer, this terminology can sometimes be difficult to navigate. Hopefully, this guide will help you identify stories written by queer and trans authors!
Let’s start with a brief definition of both queer and trans.
You may be more familiar with the acronym LGBT than you are with the word queer. If you’re looking for stories, searching “LGBT authors of color” can be a good starting place. Queer, for some folks, may even feel like an offensive word to use! Queer has been reclaimed by the community for a long time, and the use of the word queer versus the acronym LGBT helps us acknowledge how non-heterosexual sexualities and non-binary genders are politicized through their mere existence.
From an academic perspective, the Queer Theorist Judith Butler helpfully reminds us that “queer” defies easy definition. It’s a slippery term, and that’s part of it’s power in a world where power is usually organized by fitting people into neatly labelled boxes.
So that’s queer. But what about trans? Sometimes used as a shorthand for “transgender,” the term “trans” can also be used as an umbrella label for a variety of gender identities that contest the gender status quo, which is how I’m using it here. Folks who identify as genderqueer, non-binary, transgender women, transgender men, agender, and many more all may also identify as “trans” or just “queer.”
Other concepts and terms that may crop up as you’re looking for authors to read include two spirit–a pan-Indigenous term for third, fourth, or non-binary genders in North America–and QTPOC which, in addition to being adorably pronounced “cutie POC, refers to queer, trans, people of color. Using these terms can help you identify books in whatever genre you most enjoy reading.
I say all this to let you know that sticking to the spirit of the challenge is much more important than trying to suss out if a given author is “really” trans enough or “really” queer enough. This isn’t a challenge about boundary policing.
The spirit of the overall challenge is to read own voices stories. These are stories about marginalized characters or experiences that are written by authors who also belong to the groups they are writing about. Own voices has become a rallying cry across the publishing industry to encourage us to think not just about the stories on the page, but also who is writing those stories and what their motivations, perspectives, and worldviews may be.
As you’re sitting down to choose a book or story to read for April’s challenge you may be asking yourself: How can I be sure that this book about queer and trans experiences was written from an own voices perspective?
The answer is: You probably don’t know, unless the author is out in their professional life. Coming out as queer or trans is both a personal and political decision. In a heteronormative society, and in a queer community that often centers whiteness, queer and trans people of color may wish to keep that portion of their identity to themselves.
As you’re reading for the challenge just keep these thoughts in mind, and be thoughtful about what you’re reading. Does this story seem to be written from an own voices perspective? Does it dismantle harmful stereotypes or support them? What might be the perspective or goal of the author?
Regardless of the genres you enjoy reading you’re sure to find a guide for queer and trans authors. In addition to the books I’m recommending below you may want to check out Electric Lit’s 17 Books by Queer Asian American Writers, these 10 Books Written By QTPOC Authors for the Resistance, or this user-generated shelf of QTPOC-authored Books. Some of the books on this list by Skylar Swift Kardon are also by authors of color.
If you’re looking for something a bit more local this Guide to QTPOC Organizations in The U.S. is a great place to find organizations in your state to reach out to for book recommendations.
What’s your favorite book by a queer or trans author of color? Let us know in the comments section!
Here are some recommendations from my own shelf to get you started:
Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha
The disability justice movement and the queer liberation movement are deeply intertwined. Both center bodily autonomy and the right to self-determination over one’s body, life, and relationships. This collection of essays from Lambda Literary Award winning Piepzna-Samarasinha is a great entry point into the connections between these two movements. It celebrates the work currently being done by queer people of color and also provides a toolkit for those looking to build resilient communities.
The Deep by Rivers Solomon
I’ve recommend the work of Rivers Solomon before and now I’m back with a recommendation of their novella The Deep, written with Daveed Diggs, William Hutson, and Johnathan Snipes. The Deep follows Yetu, holder of the memories of her people, the water-dwelling descendants of African slave women thrown overboard by slave owners. Yetu has been tasked with the responsibility of holding these painful memories for her people, the weight of which drives her to flee to the surface where she finds the world left behind.
Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity by José Esteban Muñoz
Queer theorist José Esteban Muñoz’s work shines in Cruising Utopia. Part critique of the assimilationist politics of a white-centric gay and lesbian movement, and partly a critique of the whiteness of queer theory, this book is a must-read for anyone interested in studying queer theory seriously. Muñoz develops a theory of queer futurity that centers the resistance of queer people of color. If you read that stuff up above about queer theory and thought, “I want to know more about this,” then this is a good place to start.
Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde
This collection is widely considered a classic, and with good reason. Widely known for her political poetry, Lorde’s development as an intellectual throughout the 1970s and 1980s shines in this collection of her essays. Those more interested in her poetry may also wish to check out The Black Unicorn, an early collection of poems that defy identity categorization that highlights her life as Black woman, mother, daughter, lesbian, and feminist.
What will you be reading for the challenge this month? There are so many great books and stories to choose from that it can be difficult to pick just one! Let us know your choice in the comments below, and happy reading!
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