Five Questions With… The Collection (Pt. 1)

It sounds a little ominous, but it’s not. The Collection is an anthology of fiction by trans writers edited by Tom Leger and Riley MacLeod. The below interview questions were borrowed from T.T Jax’s article on the Lambda Literary Review. Interviewed below are Casey Plett, Red Durkin, and Imogen Binnie, three trans women authors who contributed to The Collection: Short Fiction from the Transgender Vanguard, published in 2012 by Topside Press. The Collection is currently a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award in Transgender Fiction and was selected by the American Library Association on their 2012 list of top LGBT books for adult readers.

Do you consider transgender literature to be based on content (trans characters, trans experiences), theme  (transformation/displacement), form (experimental, hybrid), and/or transgender authorship? None, some, or all of the above? Please explain.

Casey Plett: When I think of trans lit, right now, for me personally, I think of trans content by trans authors. And the odd book by a cis person that involves trans people but isn’t stupid and terrible.

Red Durkin:  For me, trans literature is defined by its content. Specifically, trans lit prominently features trans characters, preferably as the protagonist. Everything else follows from that. I’d reject any classification that limits trans literature to a particular genre or theme.

A lot of people think authorship is important. Until recently, I would have agreed. However, I don’t believe that only trans people can create “authentic” trans narratives. Actually, I think that’s incredibly othering. It sets trans people apart as quintessentially unrelatable to cis authors. Admittedly, cis writers have tended to fail to write realistic, fully-developed trans characters, but that doesn’t mean they can’t. What’s more, I’ve seen plenty of flat, lifeless trans characters come from trans authors. Stereotypes and clichés don’t hinge on the identity of the writer.

Imogen Binnie: The term “transgender literature” doesn’t come up in my life that much, maybe in part because there’s so little “literature” that reads to me like it was produced for trans people?  Though I guess I’m answering my question- I consider trans literature to be literature that reads like it was produced for trans people. I mean, even Kate Bornstein’s first couple books were explicitly inclusive of cis people, they weren’t necessarily for trans people.

I think Whipping Girl was an important turning point in transgender literature. While it was written in a way that included cis people, it also popularized some really useful frameworks of understanding trans experience for trans people.

I keep coming back to this quote from Jean Baker Miler’s Toward a New Psychology of Women (it’s here: that describes the moment when the writing of an oppressed class stops using the terms created by the oppressor class and starts coming up with its own terms to describe its own experience among its members. I feel like Whipping Girl was a salient instance of that change starting to take place for trans people. I haven’t seen that change happening in fiction very much, but it’s something I tried to do in my novel Nevada. It’s the premise of Red Durkin’s upcoming novel Ready, Amy, Fire. I mean, it’s been going on in zines for forever, as well as on blogs, email lists and message boards, literally for decades at this point–though those things, of course, tend not to be framed as literature.

So I don’t think it has to be by trans people, or about trans people, I don’t think it’s about form, theme, or content. And my answer ultimately isn’t that useful because how do you quantify the audience for whom a book is intended? Is it a “you know it when you see it” kind of thing? I guess so. One thing that I think this understanding of “transgender literature” does do, though, is explain why so many works of fiction by and about trans people end up being so disappointing for trans people: it’s because despite having trans characters or trans authors, these works simply are not for us.

What are some of your favorite works of transgender literature?

Casey Plett:  Imogen’s book Nevada, which I just recently read, blows my fucking mind and if you don’t love that book when it comes out I don’t know what your freaking deal is. Others include Zoe Whittall’s Holding Still for as Long as Possible, Kate Bornstein’s A Queer and Pleasant Danger, Leslie Feinberg’s Stone Butch Blues. And while I haven’t read it in years and don’t feel a huge urge to re-read it, Jennifer Finney Boylan’s She’s Not There was really important to me when I was coming out.

Red Durkin: It’s obligatory, but I like Stone Butch Blues. I also enjoyed Some of the Parts by T. Cooper and would use Holding Still for as Long as Possible by Zoe Whittall as an example of well-executed trans literature from a cis author.

Imogen Binnie: I really like the comics that Sybil Dorsett (aka Amber Vile, aka Lillian Bloodghert) has made, although now she’s mostly doing paintings. Not to pick a book that I have work in but I thought that The Collection was a really good anthology. Also tons of blogging and zines and stuff: Anne Tagonist’s stuff. This zine 1-2-3 Punch! had a lot of good stuff in it. While I don’t feel like I know that much about it, people like like Merritt Kopas, Anna Anthropy and… I can’t remember her name, she goes by Porpentine. Maybe her name is just Porpentine? She made this body horror game called Cyberqueen that made me feel fucked up for like three days, that was pretty good. I think there are really cool trans narratives in that work.

What definition of trans literature do you see currently functioning in the writing world—an authorship or content-based definition? Would you like to see that change, and if so, how?

Casey Plett:  Currently functioning in the writing world? I think more content-based. What I more notice, in terms of what trans lit is out on a big box store’s shelf (if there’s any at all) is that it’s written primarily for a cis audience, whether it’s cis observations of trans people or memoirs by trans people that are written primarily for a cis audience.

I can tell you that what I want to see right now, primarily, is trans authors writing about trans things getting published and read by other trans people. I want to see that a lot. Both fiction and non-fiction. And while we definitely need more fiction, y’know, I don’t have a problem with memoir. I like memoir, I like reading it, I like writing it, it’s got its own set of powers. What I’d love to see change is to have more memoir written not only by us but for us.

As a distant second, I also want to see cis authors writing about trans people in a non-shitty way, without the book’s focus or raison d’etre necessarily being trans stuff. I only realized after I read Holding Still that while to me it’s trans lit, it’s not about trans stuff per se, it’s about three queer kids in Toronto all coming from superbly different places and trying to make sense of their lives, and one of them just happens to be trans. And Zoe Whittall handles the character’s trans-ness in a real and three-dimensional way without making it even so much a subplot of the book. It’s not that I don’t think it’s possible for cis writers to write a Trans book with a capital T (I like Cris Beam’s work) I guess, uh, I just wish a certain chunk of them with no knowledge of our lives would stop trying since so many of them are terrible? How about instead of books where being trans is a Tragic thing to be Dealt With, we have books about, say, a scrappy group of five wily post-apocalyptic warriors that fight dinosaurs and one of them is a transsexual? Whose specialty is setting some awesome dinosaur traps? Someone please write that book!

Red Durkin: We’re definitely operating on a content-based definition. In particular, most trans lit that’s getting published right now is targeted at young adults. I think that’s important to recognize, because it says a lot about how the publishing industry values trans literature. I don’t think most publishers are willing to take trans stories seriously. That needs to change.

Imogen Binnie: I don’t think I see much of a definition of trans literature functioning in the writing world! Becoming friends with Tom and Riley and Julie at Topside Press and talking to them about the way that, like, a ton of the stories in The Collection were things that writers had been sitting on because their authors had written them and then been unable to locate outlets for publication, I think it’s interesting. The weird interaction between the impulse to write for trans people and the reality that nobody has really wanted to publish work for trans people- where’s the money in that, right?- has produced this weird situation in the writing world where if you want to publish something about trans people, it can be memoir or fiction, but its central project has to be the humanization of trans people. But I’m like… I know a lot of trans people! They are human as fuck! I don’t want to read a novel that humanizes trans people, I want to read a novel that assumes the complex humanity of trans people and then tells a story with that as the background, not with that as the plot. Ideally with some ghosts or monsters in it.

But, so, in the writing world? Among trans writers I know? We do a lot of zines. We do a lot of performance poetry. I kind of feel like the non-possibility of even modest indie press distribution has led a lot of people who might otherwise be doing Trans Literature to focus on other kinds of writing, other kinds of performance or art. I know a lot of trans women who are in bands.

I mean I guess I feel like the aforementioned novels and memoirs intended to humanize trans people are the current definition of trans literature. Those kinds of books were really important to me before and during my transition but it’s been like a decade and I’m still trans- they don’t generally to do much for me any more.


Casey Plett grew up a kid in Southern Manitoba, Canada, and a teenager in Eugene, Oregon. She was the author of “Balls Out,” a column about her first year of transition, for McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and has published essays in Line Zero, Anomalous Press, and Cavalier Literary Couture. She is currently at work on a memoir.

Red Durkin is the managing editor of She is a writer, comedian, and vlogger. She has toured extensively as part of the Tranny Roadshow, performed at Camp Trans and the Transgender Leadership Summit, and was a member of the Fully Functional Cabaret. She has written nine zines and was featured in the final issue of Punk Planet magazine. Her work on Youtube has been shown in college classrooms, played at various events internationally, and translated into German.

Imogen Binnie is the author of the zines The Fact That It’s Funny Doesn’t Make It A Joke and Stereotype Threat. She is currently a monthly contributor to Maximum Rocknroll and has previously written for Aorta Magazine, The Skinny, and She writes about books at Her first novel, Nevada, was published by Topside Press in April 2013.

(Tune in for Part 2 tomorrow!)