Transgender Awareness Week: A Reading List
Transgender Awareness Week, typically observed the second week of November, is a celebration leading up to Transgender Day of Remembrance on November 20, which honors victims of transphobic violence. This year, PEN America is proud to partner with the Marsha P. Johnson Institute (MPJI) and Elle Hearns—founder of MPJI—to curate fiction and nonfiction books that center the stories of trans individuals and communities alongside the work of trans, nonbinary, and genderqueer writers. Their recommendations include a number of seminal works by theorists of Black feminism, Marxism, and other interrelated discourses, because trans liberation is not possible without an intersectional approach to dismantling injustice and the systems that support it. In addition to paving the way for more narratives about trans identities and individuals, these books work toward combating violence against trans individuals, as they affirm the depth and breadth of trans lives and the need to support, defend, and protect them.
Picks from the Marsha P. Johnson Institute and Elle Hearns
With the help of a wide range of images—from queer chosen families in the late 19th century to photos of the great Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, and beyond—this book illustrates the power of resilience while painting a much needed portrait of trans and queer histories to dream about and learn from.
The world of Dane Figueroa Edidi’s fantasy novel, Yemaya’s Daughters, weaves a journey between two women—trans priestess Inanna Au-set Oya and Maryam, mother of Jesus—that takes them beyond colonization and sets them on the path of not losing themselves.
The wonderful J. Mase III is direct and honest. This book of poems tugs at our collective consciousness but feels like a close conversation with anyone who is Black, Brown, and Indigenous living among white supremacy today.
While Assata Shakur’s autobiography does not directly speak to trans experiences, this book is a fundamental work for any young revolutionary. The book analyzes the ideas of Black liberation and white supremacy for yesterday’s and today’s readers.
A deeply researched and important work, C. Riley Snorton’s Black on Both Sides uses historical accounts from trans and gender nonconforming folks from our past to show LGBTQIA+ readers today that we too once existed beyond anyone’s imagination.
In this collection of interviews with prominent Black feminists, Keeanga-Yamahtaa Taylor honors the 40th anniversary of the Combahee River Collective Statement, which made a place for Black women in women’s liberation with unflinching observations like, “If Black women were free, it would mean that everyone else would have to be free.”
Hadas Thier’s accessible guide argues that capitalism, as a system, works against us under the veil that it’s “for us.” Without any heavy jargon, this book is essential for anyone who cares to analyze the ways in which our economy is unsustainable and might even be purposefully violent in its nature.
Picks from PEN America
In this anthology centering the theme of love, trans and nonbinary writers work to produce intimate pieces about their own respective thoughts and experiences with the topic. Trans Love is a groundbreaking work exploring what love and relationships—from the familial, to the romantic, to the one we have with ourselves—mean to trans people.
In this new YA classic, Felix Love—who suffers from the irony of never having been in love—has to grapple with bigotry and threats against his identity as a Black, queer, and transgender individual every day. After an anonymous student publicly posts transphobic messages about Felix, he cultivates a plan for revenge that unwittingly places him into a quasi-love triangle, forcing him to reckon with his own feelings about self-discovery and self-love.
This YA book is a surrealist, fantastical, and “sort-of-true” coming-of-age story about a young trans girl—who’s also a self-proclaimed pathological liar and kung fu expert. She runs away from home to find her true family among a group of glamorous trans femme warriors. When one of their number is murdered, our heroine joins her sisters to form a vigilante gang, and must find the truth and strength within herself to protect her new family and find herself.
George has been keeping a secret—while other people think she’s a boy, she knows she is a girl. When George’s teacher announces that their class play is going to be Charlotte’s Web, George devises a plan that will allow her to play Charlotte and let the world know her true identity. George was Alex Gino’s debut children’s novel and was the winner of the 2016 Stonewall Book Award.
Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl tells the story of Paul Polydoris, a shapeshifter and bartender at the only gay club in a university town in 1993. A coming-of-age story that pulsates with life, music, and the ever-shifting rules of intimacy, this book follows Paul as he transforms his body and gender at will on a cross-country adventure from Iowa City to the lights of San Francisco.
Janet Mock reflects on her experiences growing up multiracial, poor, and trans in America, offering candid insights into how she came into her identity as a trans woman. Redefining Realness tells the story of one woman’s quest for herself, and Mock’s journey is a powerful narrative that interweaves elements of resilience, self-actualization, and radical acceptance.
An audacious reimagining of the story of Jack Sheppard and Edgeworth Bess—a notorious pair of thieves and lovers in 18th-century London—Confessions of the Fox is also the story of Dr. Voth, a scholar coping with heartbreak who discovers a long-lost manuscript detailing the gender-defying exploits of Jack and Bess.
As the representation of trans identity has increased over the years, so has the influx of violence against trans people (especially trans women of color). Trap Door explores this paradox, coupling it with essays, conversations, and dossiers that examine various aspects of trans visibility, including activism for increased trans rights.
While managing her grief following the death of her cousin, Mei—a mixed race trans woman—revisits a town from her own family’s past, uncovering a queer family history in the process. A narrative about battling transphobia, racism, and trauma, Small Beauty introduces us to a web of compelling characters from Mei’s past and current life.
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