As trans writers, we are expected to reduce our lives to narratives (“born in the wrong body,”) and practices (gratuitous deadnaming) that maximize cis titillation. This expectation hamstrings all of us, not only cliche-ifying even the best of memoir but precluding other forms of storytelling. If the world had its way, trans writers would only produce journeys, and two of the most interesting books I read in 2020 wouldn’t exist.
Indie heroine Torrey Peters sidesteps rather than destroys convention with the hotly anticipated Detransition, Baby (One World, 2021), an intelligent and daring subversion of the bourgeois novel about three Brooklynites—cis, trans, and otherwise—trying to create a queer family of their own. Peters’s mastery of her craft is undeniable in that the world she has created recreates the world around it: Baby presupposes the possibility of mainstream conversations about trans people that are almost as sophisticated as the ones we have amongst ourselves.
“Whip-smart” is just one of the many flattering adjectives and fawning superlatives people are going to overuse for this wise book by a glamorous, fascinating woman, and who can blame them? Its incisive exploration of chasers, divorce, trauma, queer parenting, and detransition itself is going to play a role in defining the literature of 2021 and beyond.
You’ll have to wait an additional year for Manhunt (Nightfire, 2022), the electrifying debut novel by horror author and critic Gretchen Felker-Martin. At 500+ pages, Manhunt’s breakneck worldbuilding brings to life a post-apocalyptic wasteland in which a viral plague has transformed all cis men into zombies. Following Beth, Fran, and Robbie, trans people fighting to survive (and, in the cases of Beth and Fran, harvest life-saving hormones from zombie testicles), Felker-Martin’s foul-mouthed, operatically visceral writing style foregrounds the gnarly stuff, rendering the occasional glimpses of beauty all the more precious. You’ll feel like you’ve earned every bit of happiness you can wring from its bloodied pages.
Manhunt takes me back to rainy grade-school afternoons at the Butte County Public Library (Raymond Carver branch), where I would curl up in an empty chair and lose time in Stephen King’s own armageddon epic, The Stand, peopled with plague, demons, and desperate humans. Before now, I don’t know that I’ve ever read a book that imagines people like me in the world that comes next. I definitely haven’t read one by an author with Felker-Martin’s talent for interlacing the terrors that trans people face with the redemption we deserve.