The Seven Canadian and Indigenous Lambda Finalists I’m Most Excited About

In case you missed it, last week the finalists for the 29th Lambda Literary Awards for LGBTQ+ Literature were announced, and there were some pretty rad Canadians and/or Indigenous folks on the list! Here are the finalists that I’m most excited about:

Fierce Femmes and Notorious LiarsFierce Femmes and Notorious Liars: A Dangerous Trans Girl’s Confabulous Memoir by Kai Cheng Thom, Metonymy Press: Thom’s amazing-sounding debut novel was nominated in the Trans Fiction category. (Aside, it’s pretty exciting that this year there are Trans Fiction, Non-fiction, and Poetry categories!) I read, reviewed, and LOVED her first poetry collection a place called NO HOMELAND and I have no doubt that this novel is also fabulous—or should I say confabulous. According to the publisher, Fierce Femmes “is the highly sensational, ultra-exciting, sort-of true coming-of-age story of a young Asian trans girl, pathological liar, and kung-fu expert who runs away from her parents’ abusive home in a rainy city called Gloom.” (Gloomy rainy city? Sounds like Vancouver to me). The main character Dearly takes off and becomes part of a chosen family of trans femmes, who form a vigilante group after one of their sisters is killed and fight the transphobes, bad johns, and cops. But when shit goes wrong, Dearly is gonna have to look long and hard at their use of violence and think about what it really means to “grow up.” It sounds deliciously and magically like Amber Dawn’s Sub Rosa.

small-beauty_cover_rgbSmall Beauty by jia qing wilson-yang, Metonymy Press: Another winner from Montreal’s Metonymy Press in the Trans Fiction category, Small Beauty is a beautiful, quiet, introspective book about family and identity. The main character Mei is a young, queer, mixed-race trans woman dealing with some big stuff: the mysterious death of her cousin—who was like her brother—and all of that aftermath of a relative’s death, including going to the small town where her cousin and aunt (who had passed away previously) used to live, to the house she has now inherited. While she’s there she discovers some family secrets—like she’s not the only queer in the family—and spends a lot of time thinking about the past and what it means to be trans and have Chinese and white ancestry. Flashback scenes to the city while she’s hanging out with her friend Connie, who’s also Chinese and trans, were my favourite. wilson-yang does a stellar job of showing use Mei’s life as both the ordinary and extraordinary thing it is. Check out my full review here.

even-this-page-is-whiteeven this page is white by Vivek Shraya, Arsenal Pulp Press: Are trans writers ever hitting it out of the part these days! Shraya’s debut poetry collection is up for the Trans Poetry award. It’s no surprise this collection is a stunning, diverse book, even though it’s her first book of poetry, since Shraya’s already an accomplished artist in many mediums. You know from the title that even this page is white is a book about race and racism, but this incisive, powerful content is only part of what makes the book incredible. Shraya is also playing with the craft of poetry, investigating and trying out poem types and structures in creative ways. It’s not often that I admire a piece of writing both for its poetic skill and its complex intellectual content! My prediction is that queer and trans writers—especially ones of colour—will re-visit this work time and again, and count it among their foundational texts by QTPOC and about being QTPOC.  Have a look at my full review here and see some excerpts!

a two spirit journeyA Two-Spirit Journey: The Autobiography of a Lesbian Ojibwa-Cree Elder by Ma-Nee Chacaby, University of Manitoba Press: A finalist in the Lesbian Memoir/Biography category, Ojbwa-Cree author Chacaby’s autobiography is both a harrowing and hopeful account of her extraordinary life. She recounts her childhood growing up in a remote Ojibwa community, where, on the one hand, she learned Cree cultural and spiritual traditions from her grandmother and trapping and hunting skills from her Ojibwa stepfather, but on the other she suffered physical and sexual abuse from various adults, becoming an alcoholic by her teen years. Her life in Thunder Bay after leaving with her children to escape an abusive marriage is a journey towards sobriety, becoming an alcoholism counsellor, raising her biological and foster children, acclimatizing to living with visual impairment, and coming out as a lesbian. In 2013 Chacaby was the leader of Thunder Bay’s first pride parade! While her biography deals with a lot of tough subjects, it’s also one where she shows off her faith, compassion, humour, and resilience.

the remedy zena sharmanThe Remedy: Queer and Trans Voices on Health and Health Care edited by Zena Sharman, Arsenal Pulp Press: I just recently finished reading this collection of essays, stories, poems, and graphic pieces, which is up for the LGBTQ Anthology category, but unfortunately I haven’t reviewed it yet. Watch for that review soon! It’s a great collection of really solidly curated pieces with a lot of diversity and depth. Here’s some of what to expect in The Remedy:  gay men writing about HIV/AIDS and the institutional resistance to responding to the crisis; trans people’s struggle to find respectful, competent health care providers; lesbians having to deal with heteronormativity while getting cancer treatment; genderqueer therapists contemplating their fraught positions as gatekeepers; bisexuals’ tips for avoiding biphobia if you’re a health care worker; asexuals having their orientations conflated with mental illness; and intersex people fighting to make decisions about their own bodies. It’s a testament to the quality of these stories that the book held my attention throughout even though it’s on a topic I’ve never especially been interested in.

girl-mans-upGirl Mans Up by M.E. Girard, Harper Teen: A finalist in the LGBTQ Children’s/Young Adult category, Girl Mans Up brings the much needed story of a butch/masculine/genderqueer lesbian to queer YA. It’s a very real, authentic, messy journey about gender, and the main character Pen’s struggle for respect and recognition. She knows who she is from the beginning, but over the course of the book she works toward demanding respect and recognition from the people around her, cutting off unhealthy relationships (especially with her cis dude friends who are the epitome of toxic masculinity), and forming ties with people who see and value her for who she is. An exciting, cute subplot centres around her becoming involved with a kick-ass video-game playing young woman named Blake that is refreshingly devoid of relationship drama! This is a subtle book about character development, and Girard wisely allows Pen to exist in all her complicated glory, including allowing her to sometimes be unlikable, make lots of mistakes, and not always be nice. See my full review here.

kissing boothThe Kissing Booth Girl and Other Stories by A.C. Wise, Lethe Press: A.C. Wise is a new-to-me queer Canadian author that I’m very excited to add to my to-read list. Originally from Montreal, she has a few books of fiction, including this latest one nominated in the SF/F/Horror category. The Kissing Booth Girl is a collection of short stories about “the fantastical, the weird, the queer and the poignant.” The title story is about Beni, a mechanically-inclined woman is wondering if the ethereal girl in the booth is either a wish come true or a false hope. Other stories include one about an order of deep-sea diving nuns caring for a sunken chapel, a high school boy asked to prom by the only dead kid he’s ever met, and a queer retelling of Romeo and Juliet called “Juliet & Juliet(te): A Romance of Alternate Worlds.” Although it contains a variety of styles, the overwhelming feeling is like a darker, fairy tale, magical fantasy. Wise’s writing is supposed to be beautiful: crisp, elegant, and polished. I can’t wait to read this!

Bonus! Did you enjoy this post or find it useful?  Consider supporting me on the Patreon for Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian that I launched in January! Patreon is a site where creators of all sorts of things can make some money via subscription payments from their readers/etc. It can be as little as a dollar a month! Help me continue to be able to devote time to this site and you can win stuff like queer books and postcards with personalized book recommendations! Click on the link for more details and to sign up.

Posted in Anthology, asexual, Asian, Bisexual, Butch, Canadian, Coming-of-age, Fantasy, femme, Fiction, Lesbian, magic realism, memoir, Montreal, News, Non-Fiction, paranormal, Poetry, Postcolonial, Queer, Science Fiction, Sex Work, Short Stories, Toronto, Trans, Trans Feminine, Transgender, Vancouver, Young Adult

This Is a Call-Out Post for the Transmisogynist and Anti-Sex Work Vancouver Women’s Library

A month or so ago, I started hearing about a women’s library that was opening in Vancouver. As a feminist book lover living in Vancouver I was obviously excited and thought, wow, awesome! Unfortunately my excitement and good feelings were … totally unfounded. It turns out this Vancouver Women’s Library, which is re-opening this Saturday March 11th, is both transmisogynist and anti-sex work.

Let me give you some more details about how we know that this supposedly inclusive library is anything but. One of the library’s organizers is well known in Vancouver as a proponent of trans exclusionary radical feminism (in other words, is a “TERF,” a term some of you might be familiar with) and sex worker exclusionary radical feminism (“SWERF,” a less well-known term). This form of “feminism” is by no means unique to this person or Vancouver, and is a well-documented faction of women especially since the second wave calling themselves feminists who believe trans women are not women and who do not support the rights of sex workers. This form of “feminism” denies trans women and sex workers dignity and respect.

We can tell the library supports this rhetoric by looking at the catalogue on their website (available through the link in the first paragraph). They have three books by Sheila Jeffreys, two by Valerie Solanas, three by Janice Raymond, and two by Mary Daly. These writers’ work is vehemently transmisogynist and full of anti-sex work dogma. The fact that the library is donation based doesn’t excuse this, nor does the idea that those books might be used for historical research. Any true feminist space with a commitment to inclusivity would carefully weigh the harmful ideas in those books against what use they might have for research, and label them explicitly to state that the library does not support the hateful ideas in them.

After the first opening in February, a group of feminists—sex workers, trans women, IBPOC (Indigenous, Black, and People of Colour), queers, and people in solidarity with them—wrote a letter that was circulated online calling for transparency over the library’s organization and funding, restructuring of the organization, pulling the hateful titles from the catalogue, and the stepping down of the organizer most well-known for TERF and SWERF politics. (This letter is no longer online because of privacy and safety concerns given the backlash the activists received from the library). Following the circulation of this letter, a bunch of really shitty things have happened. One of the trans protesters has had their name published online with malicious intent. A well-known TERF has donated substantial funds to the library. Instead of responding to the legitimate concerns like a truly inclusive space would, the library’s organizers have claimed that “anti-feminists” are attacking this women’s space. They have even circulated an email calling for nominations of their library for the BCLA (British Columbia Library Association) Champion of Intellectual Freedom Award.

Let’s be clear: actively promoting transmisogynist and anti-sex work voices to the exclusion of the voices of trans women and sex workers is not in any way championing intellectual freedom. Promoting hate speech is not championing intellectual freedom. Denouncing criticism instead of taking it into careful consideration is not championing intellectual freedom. As you can see, the hateful politics of this group are especially heinous because they have couched their exclusivity in the language of inclusivity. If you clicked on the link above and browsed around their site, you may have noticed that they claim to be open to “all women regardless of creed/race/class/gender/sexuality/age/profession.” Notice that nowhere on the site does it mention anything about the concerns levelled by the community or about expressly being open to trans women or sex workers.

I’m writing this blog post to both urge anyone reading NOT to support the Vancouver Women’s Library in any way and to sign an open letter condemning their actions and rhetoric and calling for initiatives run by and centring trans women and sex workers. You can read the letter here and email swtw.openletter@gmail.com to add your personal name and/or an organization’s name.

All of this is to say: A women’s library that fails to actively include and in fact deliberately excludes trans women and sex workers is not a women’s library nor is it feminist. NO WOMAN IS FREE UNTIL ALL WOMEN ARE. Oh, and Happy International Women’s Day!

Posted in Canadian, News, Vancouver | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

This Thing Called Love: A Review of Zoey Leigh Peterson’s Debut Novel NEXT YEAR FOR SURE

next-year-for-sureNext Year For Sure by Zoey Leigh Peterson was one of those books that I devoured, unwilling to leave the world of the novel for the “real” one unless I absolutely had to, and resentful at the daily existence of life like making food and going to work that interrupted my ability to read non-stop. For that, and that alone even though this novel has many other great qualities, I have to give debut novelist Zoey Leigh Peterson mad props. It’s been a while since a book has really made me feel that way, and I like to think I read a lot of really great books. (Plus, look at that fucking gorgeous cover, featuring a painting by Jarek Puczel. It’s definitely my favourite cover this year so far).

A bit about Zoey Leigh Peterson: I somehow had never heard of her before the publisher offered me a review copy of this book, which I’m so thankful for since I’m not sure Next Year For Sure would have been on my radar otherwise, even though Peterson is a Vancouver-based trans writer and librarian! Although this is her first novel, she’s already quite an accomplished fiction writer, having published stories in journals and magazines like The Walrus, EVENT, Grain, and PRISM international. She’s even been anthologized in Best Canadian Short Stories and has won a few fiction awards! The reason I think I likely might not have heard of Next Year For Sure is that the queer content is pretty minimal (although I have a theory about one character maybe being ace spectrum that is not explicit at all) and there aren’t any trans characters.

Funnily enough, this book reminded me that hey, I actually DO enjoy books about straight cis people sometimes (haha). But the fact that there are no trans characters brings up an interesting point: what does it mean for trans writers to not write about trans characters? Are they expected to? Who expects them to? Should they? Do they have a responsibility to? What factors are in play when a trans author decides to write a book without trans characters? I mean, the ciscentric and cisnormative state of publishing and why presses like Topside exist is that mainstream publishing is only interesting in publishing a very specific kind of trans narrative about being “trapped in the wrong body” and transition intended for a voyeuristic cis audience. Not saying that this is the case for Zoey Leigh Peterson, but I can see how trans authors who want to tell other stories would feel pressured to make their characters cis because the mainstream publishing industry thinks that those stories couldn’t possibly belong to trans people (real and fictional). Some folks forget this, but even people who do art for work gotta make money.

Anyway, onto the actual book, not what might have been (although I’ll get back to that at the end of this review actually). First off, I loved Next Year For Sure. It’s been a few weeks since I finished it, but the characters are still hanging out in my mind and I’m still thinking about them. If you like character-driven books that make you think (I know I do), then this is the novel for you. It’s also the kind of book that make you pause as you’re reading, stare off into space, say hmm, and reflect on your own life.

Next Year For Sure is about a long-term (cis straight) couple named Kathryn and Chris in their early thirties. They’ve been together for nine years and are the kind of couple others envy: they’re endlessly supportive of each other, they anticipate each other’s needs, they have their own little shorthand language, they complete each other’s sentences, they have lots of shared interests, they take showers together. But something isn’t right, in both their relationship with each other and in their own senses of self. This is really a luminous, complex look into an intimate, romantic relationship.

Kathryn and Chris hit a turning point in the stasis of their relationship when Chris tells Kathryn about this crush he has on a woman he sees at the laundromat. Them telling each other about little crushes they have on other people is not new, but Kathryn deciding to encourage Chris to ask this woman Emily out on a date is. They don’t intentionally set new boundaries for their relationship, but more kind of stumble into polyamory while trying to figure out what it is that they are both missing. Chris’s developing relationship with Emily leads them to become kind of a part of her big communal household, opening up even more possibilities.

In a statement from Peterson that I got with my review copy of the book, she says

A lot of people ask me why I wanted to write a novel about polyamory. The answer is I didn’t. I wanted to write about loneliness. I wanted to write about the loneliness I saw and felt in even the happiest of couples—couples where you couldn’t imagine a better, more loving, more compatible pairing, and yet there was a shared loneliness. I wanted to write about the loneliness of adulthood, when friends start disappearing into their careers or families. I wanted to write about the loneliness of ending a friendship that has become unhealthy, but then finding yourself bereft and broken in its absence.

Well, I couldn’t put what Next Year For Sure is about any better than that. It’s not that it’s only about loneliness, but it is a feeling that permeates the book. Like the title implies, there’s this overwhelming sense that something isn’t right but the solution is out of reach, something vaguely and indefinitely postponed, because you’re not really sure what that solution might be. I want to reassure readers that the fact that this book is about loneliness does not by any means make it sad, although it is thoughtful in a lovely way.

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Zoey Leigh Peterson / image via simonandschuster.com

Next Year For Sure is full of authentic, nuanced, flawed characters, richly drawn with compassion and generosity. This is not only true for Kathryn and Chris, but also all the other side characters:  Sharon, Kathryn’s old grad school friend that she’s slowly growing apart from; Emily, Chris’s new easy-going, vivacious girlfriend; and all the other members of Emily’s household. This is truly a gift for people like me who read for character above all else, who can tolerate a book failing in almost any other way as long as the characters are complex and real.

There’s a part early on in the novel when one of Chris’s ex-girlfriends tells him that “part of being in love with someone is not falling in love with someone else.” Perplexed at the time this was said to him, in the present of the novel Chris is finally about to actually explore how that isn’t true for him. He might appear to be a serial monogamist, but what would happen if he didn’t have to end one relationship to begin another? This is essentially the experiment of the novel, and what leads to Kathryn also dating people other than Chris. Later on, trying to navigate these different relationships, Chris thinks

This little word, in, makes Chris wild. It has never made sense to him, this love-but-not-in-love thing that people have been saying his whole life, like it’s a fact we all agree on, like it’s the difference between a liquid and a solid and a gas and no one has ever heard of plasma.

One last thing I haven’t mentioned yet that I also loved about this book was the Vancouver setting; actually I don’t remember if the novel ever specified it was Vancouver in name, although I think a few street names are mentioned. But the types of characters, the stuff they do, the descriptions of biking around the city and eating Asian and hippie food and going camping on the Gulf Islands and the rain were all so lovingly and authentically crafted. Speaking of craft, Next Year For Sure is also stunningly written, and full of beautifully understated turns of phrase that reveal so many simple truths about the characters and life, as her writing also continually propels the quiet narrative forward.

Thinking back to what I was writing at the beginning of this review about trans authors writing (and not writing) trans characters. How would this novel be different if one or both of the main characters were trans? How, if in any way, would that change this story? When I really sat and thought about it, I actually decided it would significantly change the course of the book. A lot of the struggles Kathryn and Chris have is wanting a different relationship model than the cis hetero norm. Their friends Sharon and Kyle are the archetype of people following this paradigm—moving outside of the city core, buying a condo, getting married—and Kathryn seems to think her old friend Sharon is changing for the worse, is not actually happy, and has chosen a partner who isn’t good for her.

Queer and trans people have already transgressed these norms with their very being, so—in an obvious oversimplification—in general are less attached to those norms and bogged down by those expectations. They’re also often in (queer and/or trans) communities that readily support doing relationships differently. Like, I can’t imagine any of my friends having the visceral, supremely unsupportive, and patronizing attitude that some of the characters in this book have about Kathryn and Chris opening up their relationship. Some of my friends are poly. So I guess what I’m saying is that if this was the story Zoey Leigh Peterson wanted to tell, it might have actually not worked if one or both of the main characters were trans and/or queer. How interesting is that…

How can we be happy? How do we find out what makes us happy? How can we build the best relationships with other people? And how do we do all these things in the face of dominant narratives that tell us what we should be doing but don’t offer room for us to figure out what we actually want? Next Year For Sure sure isn’t going to give you answers, but it might help you know yourself better so you can find them on your own.

Bonus! Did you enjoy this review or find it useful?  Consider supporting me on the Patreon for Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian that I launched last month! Patreon is a site where creators of all sorts of things can make some money via subscription payments from their readers/etc. It can be as little as a dollar a month! Help me continue to be able to devote time to this site and you can win stuff like queer books and postcards with personalized book recommendations! Click on the link for more details and to sign up. I’m currently at $61 a month, working towards my next goal of $75!

Bonus number 2! I would love to talk to someone who is polyamorous about Next Year For Sure because I have a lot of itching questions about how the book deals with this theme that I want to discuss but I don’t want to spoil things for people who haven’t read the book. So if you don’t want to know about the end of Kathryn and Chris’s relationship journey, stop reading now!

 

 

So, at the end of the novel Kathryn and Chris break up. It’s not that I’m disappointed that they break up, per se. It’s not like this book gives you the impression that it’s a happily ever after kind of story. But my question is that because Kathryn and Chris break up after both dating people other than each other—Chris forming a relationship with Emily and Kathryn forming one with Moss, one of Emily’s roommates—in some ways it feels like the novel represents opening up your relationship as a stepping stone to ending your relationship. If there were other poly relationships in the book, I don’t think this would be a problem. However, because there aren’t, it does feel like it misrepresents how polyamory can be a fulfilling and really positive move for certain relationships, even ones that didn’t start that way. At the close of the novel, I had the feeling that Kathryn and Chris exploring polyamory and wanting to date other people was merely a symptom of their relationship not working for them anymore and not something that people in a relationship that is working could do to make the relationship work even better.

This is the point that has been niggling me most since I finished the book. For a novel that in many ways is largely about polyamory, the ending doesn’t actually show any kind of functioning polyamory. There’s a restructuring of relationships, but no one is romatically or sexually involved with more than one person. Kathryn, who’s the instigator of the break up, is really happy with the new life she’s created for herself living in the communal house with Emily and Moss. She clearly realized the insular couple life she and Chris had been living was not working for her, perhaps had never worked for her, and so she rightly makes a decision to change that. But Chris is left in the lurch and is kind of worse off than he was at the beginning. He’s an introvert who knows the communal lifestyle of that house would not work for him. It seems like he’s the kind of guy who needs someone to be his main person, but in the end neither Emily nor Kathryn can be that for him, even though he is still dating Emily at the end. So was polyamory actually not for him, or does he just need a primary partner? Is he maybe on the asexual spectrum, like grey-ace but hasn’t figured it out yet? I have so many questions and I feel like this fictional person Chris who I identify with cause I’m also an introvert does too.

Posted in Canadian, Fiction, Queer, Trans, Trans Feminine, Transgender, Uncategorized, Vancouver | Tagged | Leave a comment

“All i want is to turn my lungs into a glass instrument and let them sing glory to my sisters”: A Review of Kai Cheng Thom’s poetry collection A PLACE CALLED NO HOMELAND

a-place-called-no-homeland-kai-cheng-thomHot damn, people, Kai Cheng Thom’s a place called NO HOMELAND is a fucking phenomenal collection of poetry. I have ho-hum experiences with poetry often enough—especially books I’m sent to review for the blog—that when I pick up something like NO HOMELAND and it’s as extraordinary as this collection is, I am ecstatic. You should all be really, really excited for when this debut collection drops from Arsenal Pulp Press in April of this year. I mean, I’m almost tempted to buy the regular copy when it comes out since the ARC I have only has the beautiful cover art in a smaller image and I know that this is a book I am going to re-read.

Honestly, I can’t even believe it’s her debut. I mean, I know by the time someone gets a book of poems published that means they’ve probably been writing for a while, getting poems published in magazines and journals and maybe—like Kai Cheng Thom—performing poems live, but still. Holy cow.

You might remember Kai Cheng Thom as she was one of the Canadian trans women writers that I featured in my list of “Six Canadian Trans Women Writers You Should Know,” where I was talking about what seemed to be her sudden bursting onto the queer and trans literary scene (which was likely the result of years of hard work). Her first novel, Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars: A Dangerous Trans Girl’s Confabulous Memoir, came out last year with Metonymy Press, and she also writes fabulous book-related things for Autostraddle, among other online and print publications. And this spring a place called NO HOMELAND is being released! What an exciting time.

Okay, onto the poetry! I’ve already told you how amazing these poems are, but what kind of poems are they, you ask? They are poems with strong roots in oral traditions and spoken word: you can really hear them in your mind and heart. So many of them I could picture being performed on stage; there were moments where I wanted to clap or snap my fingers, as if the poet was right there in front of me. These are the kinds of poems that make you want to pump your first in the air and yell, “fuck yeah,” or “preach!.” But they weren’t the kind of poems that seemed lost or out of place on the page, as if by taking them from the context of spoken word they lost some of their power or immediacy. No, they just seemed alive and present, as if Kai Cheng Thom was right there in front of you. People, that means $14.95 for this book is a fucking steal.

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Kai Cheng Thom, image via ladysintrayda.wordpress.com

These poems are tough and tender meditations on family, race, being trans, femininity, trauma, relationships, community, sex, books, and love. (All of the important and intense and complex and mostly beautiful things in life).

There’s not much more I can do now but present you with some of the poems from a place called NO HOMELAND with the knowledge that you will fall in love with them. You’re welcome.

How about this punch right in the throat short, short poem:

there is a poem
scratched onto the walls of my throat
no one has heard it
but it is there

How about when she writes what is one of the best opening series of lines I’ve ever read:

sit down, shut up, and listen.
dear white gay men:
you are neither the face
of my oppression
nor the hands
of my salvation

The poem “girlboy, you femme femme fabulous” is a beautiful trans femme prose poem manifesto:

you got to forgive yourself for hurting. you got to remember that your heart is not a clenched fist your heart is not a bruised face your heart is a mango full to bursting with sunlight oh sticky heart, smooth substance, there is joy in your aching, refuse to forget. boy, you got to love the girl in the boy in the girl in the boy in you in you in you

Doesn’t that make you want to burst into simultaneously sad and joyful tears?

Here’s one of my favourite poems in its entirety:

someday they’ll cut this body open
and discover that my flesh is made of sky:
azure, sapphire, cerulean, turquoise, ultramarine
indigo
violet
black
cirrus and cumulus clouds stirring behind my eyes
cumulonimbus, alight with lightning,
crackling through the capillaries of the heart.
i am oh so full of rain
you could fall through me forever.
please,
dear scientist, mortuary explorer, search me thoroughly
tenderly catalogue all my wayward parts.
find somewhere in me
the forgotten moon, the faded stars.
re-member, reassemble, this tattered heaven, this
shattered
celestial thing

The poem “your white cisgender boyfriend can’t save you from the end of the world” tells us that trans girls are the best apocalyptic heroines:

when all the city lights go out in the wake of the apocalypse
it is you who will have to lead him to safety at night …
girl, you were born to live through the end of the world
and the end after that, and the end after that

There are so many moments of technical, poetic beauty combined with burning, raw honesty, like in “that trans woman” when Thom writes

that trans woman who is terrified to stop being brave and just live in the world
like a regular vulnerable human being for once

and when in “i guess you could say that i’m just tired of The Movement” she writes

let me just admit that i was only ever an activist to make people love me, like …
all i want is to turn my lungs into a glass instrument and let them sing glory
to my sisters, like

Well, I can’t think of a better description of what Kai Cheng Thom has done in this book except that: sing glory to her sisters.

[Triggers warnings for sexual assault and gendered and racialized violence]

Bonus! Did you enjoy this review or find it useful?  Consider supporting me on the Patreon for Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian that I launched last month! Patreon is a site where creators of all sorts of things can make some money via subscription payments from their readers/etc. It can be as little as a dollar a month! Help me continue to be able to devote time to this site and you can win stuff like queer books and postcards with personalized book recommendations! Click on the link for more details and to sign up. I’m currently at $61 a month, working towards my next goal of $75!

Posted in Asian, Canadian, femme, Poetry, Queer, Trans, Trans Feminine, Transgender | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

February Patreon Update: Meeting Goals and More Free Queer Books

Hello and happy March! This is the end of the second month since I first started a Patreon account for this blog and I am happy to report it is continuing to go swimmingly. (If you don’t know what on earth I’m talking about with this Patreon thing, have a look at the recap from the first month where I explain what it is and what the rewards are for signing up to support me doing this blog. Or, you can go directly to my Patreon page to see what it’s all about).

Most exciting is the fact that I’ve met my sustainability goal of $50 a month!! I’d had that as my ultimate aim since I figured to make the extra work of Patreon worth my time I’d need minimum that much. Well I’ve made it so that means this whole Patreon thing is here to stay, which even if you’re not a patron getting extra rewards is great news since that mean I’ll be keeping up the increased number of posts. Right now I’m at $58 a month, and have set a new goal of $75. If (when??) I get there, I’m going to do a big clean-up of my page called Queer Can Lit Links, which is in dire need of updating so that it can be the truly awesome Canadian and/or Indigenous LGBTQ2IA+ resource that it should be. I’m also planning to get my own domain name at the $75 level. Let’s see if I can make it!

I just did the draw for the second month’s winner of a free queer book and it’s a Vancouver person, which is exciting in that a) I get to hand deliver the book to them, and b) I don’t have to pay to mail it. Here are the book choices this month, so you can think about which one you would pick. Next month it could be you!

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I hope you all have been enjoying the extra content in February! Many, many people have read and shared Four Queer Black Canadian Women Writers You Should Be Reading for Black History Month, which to date has been viewed 2293 times! I am delighted that all of those rad authors are getting some more deserved spotlight. Also make sure you check out the first installment in my new monthly Interview with a Queer Reader series and my review of jia qing wilson-yang’s fucking beautiful debut novel.

And last but certainly not least, I want to individually thank all of the people who’ve signed up so far to be patrons. You lovely humans are: Danika, Leigh, Anna Marie, Kim, Jane, Jakelene, Emmet, Madeline, Heather, Rhiannon, Carla, Naz, Laurita, Kirsten, Ashleah, Jason, Jillian, Anton, Shelagh, Priscila, and Allison! I’ve heard from some of you already about this, but if any of you new (or old) folks are interested in being a part of the Interview with a Queer Reader series, send me an email at stepaniukcasey [at] gmail.com.

Posted in Patreon | Tagged | 2 Comments

“the big empty abandoned town hall their heart is echoing inside of”: A Review of Ivan Coyote’s TOMBOY SURVIVAL GUIDE

tomboy survival guide.jpgIn case you had the wild notion that it wouldn’t be: Ivan Coyote’s latest and unbelievably 11th book is just as great, and possibly greater, than everything they’ve done up until now. If you’ve never read an Ivan Coyote book before, Tomboy Survival Guide would be a great one to start with, as I think it really shows this celebrated writer and storyteller at the height of their powers. But if you’ve read every single book Coyote has written, and seen them multiple times doing live performances like recent collaborations with Vivek Shraya, you will definitely still enjoy this collection of personal short stories. Knowing what to expect with their books is kind of awesome actually: it’s like coming home. I know I always feel comforted and at home, especially as a queer person who has positive relationships with my biological family, a queer person from a rural place, and a queer person with working class roots. I know plenty of LGBTQ2IA+ folks have had bad and sometimes terrible experiences with both biological family and growing up in rural places, but for me the lack of both of those, and working class perspectives, in queer books makes me sad sometimes.

Like in all of their work in various forms, Coyote’s writing in Tomboy Survival Guide is full of their trademark generosity and care. Characters that you might remember from previous collections, like their aunt Cathy who rode horses and was tough as nails when she broke her leg tobogganing with the kids, show up, and you get to meet some new folks, like Barry the sweet straight guy from Coyote’s electrician program who asks for advice on how to help patch things up with his long-time wife who he hasn’t been intimate with in a long time.

Some of the stories are sweet and happy, even when the beginning suggests otherwise, like when Coyote performed at a school in the States and a ton of parents came who were planning to object to their “gay agenda”, and then a Mormon man approaches Coyote after to say how much he was moved by the anti-bullying talk. Some of the stories are funny, such as the one where Coyote recounts an overheard conversation between two kids where one schools his friend for saying the word “fag”; he tells his friend he can’t say that word anymore because he’s “pretty sure my mom is a fag.” Some of the stories are heartbreaking, like the one in which Coyote writes about being an eight-year-old kid choosing to pee outside at Brownies because the women in the women’s washroom at the community centre call you a young man and ask what you’re doing in there. Also, when Coyote answers a letter from someone wondering if they “always knew” and feeling stupid and heartbroken about taking so long to realize who they were. Their response got me right in the heart:

Mostly I think people just want to know they are not alone, that they are not the only one trying to swallow and breathe around the big empty abandoned town hall their heart is echoing inside of. Should I tell them the truth, I wonder? Do they really want to know I feel just as lost as they do, some days? Are two lost people any better off when they find each other?

(My answer to that last question would be a resounding yes).

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Ivan Coyote / Photo by Jourdan Tymkow

There’s also beautiful writing in this book, like in the above quotation. I’ve always admired Coyote’s easy, unassuming writing (and oral storytelling) style, and Tomboy Survival Guide is no different. But there are also a few downright striking poetic moments, like when they write:

I have never seen you angry. You say you don’t get angry much and I am starting to believe you. Even that night. You could have gotten mad but you didn’t. We both cried and pulled it all apart with only our softest words in the dawn. Started fresh the next morning. When I woke up after we slept for a while I looked at you and I knew. I could be safe here, I thought, and felt my chest ripped open with all the hope escaping me. You slept right through my epiphany and the word love nearly fell out of my mouth fifty times that day.

And then there’s downright laugh-out-loud moments, like when they write:

First off, any statement that begins with ‘no offense but …’ is the ass-crack-smelling handshake of all sentence structure. I mean, it seems friendly enough, but it always leaves you sniffing the air afterwards, and wondering.

One last fun thing: interspersed with the personal stories and anecdotes—some really short stories sometimes only a few sentences long, but still poignant AF—there are song lyrics with chords that you could actually play (!) and tomboy-esque retro-looking drawings and diagrams, like of pliers, different kinds of knots, the inner workings of a toaster, and an old-fashioned compass, among other cool stuff. Both those things were a really fun touch that shook up the usual structure of the book. Another thing is that this book, while not explicitly marketed to young adults, would be a really great choice for them.

Trigger warning for sexual assault in the story “I Believe You” (pages 45-53) and a scene with a short description of what seems like the lead-up to a homo/transphobic physical attack (it’s not, although it’s still scary) in “Journey, Man” (pages 81-86).

Bonus! Did you enjoy this review or find it useful?  Consider supporting me on the Patreon for Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian that I launched last month! Patreon is a site where creators of all sorts of things can make some money via subscription payments from their readers/etc. It can be as little as a dollar a month! Help me continue to be able to devote time to this site and you can win stuff like queer books and postcards with personalized book recommendations! Click on the link for more details and to sign up. I’m currently at $57 a month, working towards my next goal of $75!

Posted in Butch, Canadian, Ivan E. Coyote, Queer, Rural, Trans, Trans Masculine, Transgender, Young Adult | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

Interview with a Queer Reader: Natalie Cannon Talks KUSHIEL’S DART, Gay Sherlock and Watson, Ace Romance Novels, and More!

natalie-cannonNatalie Cannon is a person of many hats: writer, editor, and reader for three. She writes urban fantasy short stories for her MFA Fairleigh Dickinson University and her first short story is going to be published in Ink & Locket’s Warrior anthology! She also copyedits everything from YA novels to yard sale guidebooks. She said her “personal appetite for books is an endless bi space void.” She loves reading and thinking about storytelling and thinks of them as her own form of magic. You can find her on Twitter @NMCannon if any of these shenanigans interest you. She tweets a lot about diverse books, intersectional feminism, writing, and smashing the patriarchy. (Uh, who wouldn’t want to hear about that?)

Here’s a peek into Natalie’s queer reading habits, where she talks about finding queer subtext in the original Sherlock Holmes books, Jacqueline Carey’s epic fantasy trilogy featuring a pansexual protagonist, wondering if there are any good asexual romance novels, and more. You should probably pull up your Goodreads or whatever else you use to keep track of the books you want to read, cause Natalie’s about to give you some awesome recs.

What was the first LGBTQ2IA+ book(s) you remember reading? How did you end up reading it (i.e., were you searching for queer books or did you just happen across it?)

Haha, that’s a bit complicated. Growing up, I didn’t know queer identities existed, and my big introduction to the LGBTQ world was through BBC Sherlock. After watching the TV series, I was really excited about all things Holmesian and re-read Doyle’s work with an eye for queer subtext (hint: there’s a lot). I had read Doyle before, but not through that lens. However, whether Holmes and Watson are queer is debatable and unproveable, so I’m unsure if those count as queer stories.

kushiels_dartSo, just to make sure I really answer this question, the first book I ever picked up knowing what queerness was and actively seeking out queer lit was Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Dart. Basically, Phédre, a biracial, pansexual woman, becomes a courtesan spy and tears down entire regimes and regicide plots with her monk boyfriend. It’s excellent.

What is/are your favourite LGBTQ2IA+ books, and why?

OOO, this will be difficult. Hmmm….Since I mentioned Kushiel’s Dart, I have to recommend the whole series, Kushiel’s Legacy. This consists of two trilogies, and there’s another trilogy after that for those who don’t want to leave Carey’s world behind (I mean, why would you, it’s expertly crafted, beautiful, and devastatingly thrilling).

Second, I’d have to say If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo because it’s so, so fantastic. Trans girl Amanda decides to switch high schools after she transitions, hoping for a fresh start. But this is small town, Deep South, and Amanda struggles to keep her secrets and have a normal high school life. This is a brilliant read for those looking for a friendly introduction to what being trans is like and an affirmation for those who live it already.

shallow-gravesThird, Kali Wallace’s Shallow Graves. It’s effortlessly diverse, which means the author put in a lot of work. Breezy goes to a party and wakes up as a member of the undead. If that doesn’t raise enough questions, I don’t know what else will. I read this in October to scare myself, and it worked.

Last, a classic: Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. It just about squeezed all the blood out of my heart.

Which LGBTQ2IA+ book have you read that best reflects your experiences as an LGBTQ2IA+ person?

girl-friends-l0Ah, so this will reveal my true nerd, but the books that most reflect back my own experience, to the point of it being kind of creepy, is the Girl Friends manga series by Milk Morinaga. While I wasn’t into fashion or clothes during high school, the characters’ experience of awkwardly, confusingly, and desperately falling in love with their best friend is my story too.

Which LGBTQ2IA+ book do you wish you could read but can’t because it doesn’t exist yet?

I’m sure the instant I say something, someone will post a listicle with this exact thing. Recently though, I’ve been wondering if there’s any asexual romance novels. As in, romance novels that feature an asexual protagonist. That sounds like an oxymoron, but here me out: ace people not only being present, but being loved. Wild idea, I know, but maybe someone has published that somewhere.

One of the perks of being a writer is that I can write the stories I think are missing. If no one posts a listicle, I claim my own prompt.

How do you find LGBTQ2IA+ books? How easy or hard is it in your experience finding the ones that you want to read?

The Internet is a wonderful thing. Bookstores with good signage are also wonderful, but free wifi or a good data plan get me where I want more often than not. I read a lot of articles with book recommendations, and I keep track of the ones I want to read through GoodReads. GR also will suggest books based on my past reads, and the lists are stupendous. With the Internet, it’s easy to find titles and stories with LGBTQ themes and characters.

However, it’s another adventure to actually lay hands on the digital or physical copy of the books I want. I walk over to my local library 90% of the time and search those stacks until either I find what I’m looking for or something equally gay. Sometimes that is easy. Sometimes that is difficult. Inter-library loan is a lifesaver.

The other 10% of the time, I purchase the book. I try to do this through my local bookstores, but more often then not I have to go online.

Do you know other LGBTQ2IA+ readers or participate in any LGBTQ2IA+ reading communities (in person or on the Internet)? Why or why not?

I don’t have a strict community of LGBTQ readers, but more of an informal, freeform group of friends and family. My partner and I talk about books constantly. When friends or family are curious about queerness, they come to me, and I tell them to read such-and-such book to grow their understanding and empathy.

Online, I participate in Twitter’s lively writing community with #WeNeedDiverseBooks, #ownvoices, and #YAlit. Young Adult as a genre is experiencing a huge push towards diversity right now, and I find books, people, articles, and affirmation aplenty there. Plus this blog! It was on it for ten minutes and I came away with ten books I wanted to read!

Thank you for the lovely interview and happy reading, everybody!

Thank you Natalie for your lovely in-depth answers!

                                                                                                                                                                                               

Interview with a Queer Reader is a series where I talk to everyday LGBTQ2IA+ readers just like you about all the queer book things. If you’re interested in participating, send me an email at stepaniukcasey@gmail.com. You can do the interview via email, Skype, or in person if you’re in the Vancouver area. Happy queer reading!

Posted in Black, comics, Fantasy, Fiction, Interview with a Queer Reader, mystery, Trans, Trans Feminine | 9 Comments