Expanding Words, Worlds, and Permissions to Be: Five Powerful Trans Books

Often, I’m asked, how does it feel to be you?  I wrote my memoir, Pretty because the few trans stories that make it through publishing are overwhelmingly white, and though I haven’t seen people like me—Black, trans, and masculine—dressed up on book covers, there are many books that gave me permission to be myself, and that alone is life-saving. Career-making.

Until you witness someone say the thing you thought was unspeakable, or make a turn of phrase that reminds you of the lingo of your people, or paint a city, a kith, a kinship so vivid, so crisp that it hurts to avert your eyes, you just don’t know that this life is possible. A life spent thinking up words to honor your people—especially when those people have been told by history that they aren’t worth lifting up. Especially when those people are no longer with us.

Because of this, I believe these books are worth giving flowers to. The words and worlds in them made Pretty possible; some may be recognizable, and others may be only cherished intracommunally—at least, until now.

I hope that, with this little curation of deep cuts, you allow these books to make you possible, too.


Leslie Feinberg, Stone Butch Blues

A revolutionary text of its time and ours, Leslie Feinberg’s autobiographical novel Stone Butch Blues is a perfect example of intracommunity storytelling—specifically stories about and starring butches, dykes, and transmasculine people. The biting syntax and the disavowal of the straight, cis gaze; this book made me unafraid of not explaining everything about the dangers of being not-a-girl when everyone is expecting girlhood out of you, and unafraid of depicting marginalized characters as imperfect.

Stone Butch Blues depicts the messiness of sapphic communities without punching down or making its narrator, Jess Goldberg, into a hero or villain—its only allegiance is to the truth.

It is the first book I ever read that depicted a community I fully understood; I am forever changed by its contents. We still have so much to learn from this book.

Dear Senthuran: A Black Spirit Memoir - Emezi, Akwaeke

Akwaeke Emezi, Dear Senthuran: A Black Spirit Memoir

It’s maddening, to live in such a binary world, and a world that is so hostile towards what it doesn’t understand—namely trans bodies and minds. Dear Senthuran is a beast of a memoir that is unconcerned with convincing you of Emezi’s reality—as a nonbinary god from a coarse Nigerian background who is anointed to write; it is instead concerned with telling, using craft, humor, and heartbreak.

This book told me to go harder, I think; it told me that anything’s possible if you commit yourself to being yourself, and you devote yourself to what calls upon you to write. This book told me that if someone walks away from your writing still not “getting it,” then trust that they will be patient enough to get it upon re-reading.

Emezi trusted us, and I trust them to lead us into a better literary landscape.

Black on Both Sides: A Racial History of Trans Identity - Snorton, C. Riley

C. Riley Snorton, Black on Both Sides: A Racial History of Trans Identity

A thing that we do too often is try to make multiply-marginalized people—like queer and trans people of color—talk about identities as if they are separate things. The history of trans people is a racialized history; specifically, the concept of gender has made it so Black cis people even don’t enjoy the same privileges as their non-Black counterparts!

I’ve been giving this lecture to anyone who would listen for years, so when I came across Black on Both Sides, it was like I’d been personally gifted a goldmine. This is a groundbreaking book on the history—from slavery to the founding of gynecology—of transness, and how that history has included Blackness from its beginning.

Truly, a must-read for anyone wanting to understand race, gender, and sexuality more. With this book, Snorton has written whole communities (like me) into history.

There Are Trans People Here - Melt, H.

H. Melt, There Are Trans People Here

It’s true: I am a Black trans person who has A Lot Of Thoughts about being from Texas. At times, it’s infuriating and embarrassing to be from a place that so politically devalues my people; at others, it’s rejuvenating, beautiful even to be from a sacred place that gifted me a little Black heaven, that has given me so many people/places/landscapes to be one with.

Melt’s There Are Trans People Here is one of the most tender depictions of a place—for them, Chicago—that I’d ever seen; it’s insistence on a telling you that trans people already exist, and their ability to still envision a future where trans people thrive is awe inspiring, to say the absolute least.

At times, I was worried that Pretty had too much venom—too much bitter disdain for the place I call home. Melt reminds me to be tender. To, as Chen Chen would say, stay that way “despite despite despite.”

We are lucky to have a community-minded poet among us. Read There Are Trans People Here for a clearer field of vision.

Becoming a Visible Man: Second Edition - Green, Jamison

Jamison Green, Becoming a Visible Man

This is one of those books that serves as an eclipse of a century, I think. Time and time again, when I was asking for books to read as I was finishing up Pretty, I was recommended this one, and upon reading, I wished that I’d read it much earlier. It depicts—with heartbreaking detail—the challenges of a trans life due to the pathologizing of transness, and the rigid social structures of gender that we’ve bought into, that we can always disavow ourselves from.

Becoming a Visible Man especially influenced my decision to keep a piece I wrote about going to the gynecologist, since it gives readers a view into one day of the constant incompetence one faces as a trans person, and Green bravely depicts his experience with gender affirming care. What is most disheartening about revisiting Green’s book is that some, but not much, has changed in the twenty years since it’s been published.

We’ve got work to do. I’m determined to ensure that trans tragedies aren’t depicted in memoirs twenty years from now.


Pretty: A Memoir - Brookins, Kb

Pretty by KB Brookins is available via Knopf.

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