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: http://www.keepyourbridgesburning.com/2012/02/toward-a-new-psychology-of-women/) 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? More