Trans women in SFF: A view from the inside

I am the kind of person who learns about everything through books. Fiction has been the place where I have found a space to explore my own queer identities – which I am still exploring. There are stories I have read that have made me question my entire existence through their excellent representation. But not everyone is able to have that experience. Bina Fisher is a middle aged trans woman who has always loved fantasy –in her words: “Give me a dragon and a magic sword and I’m all in.” She is currently making a point of reading a book written by a trans woman author each month, and that’s what I spoke to her about.

While being trans is not her whole life – apart from having a good job, a spouse, friends and all the markings of a normal life, she has the cutest dog in the world – it does have a significant impact. She takes hormone medication, border crossings can be complex and there are places she cannot go because of it. It is part of who she is, and it sometimes makes things complicated. It’s definitely not the only thing that she wants to read about, but it’s something she wants to see discussed – and she wants to see her life represented in those worlds with dragons and magic that she enjoys reading about just like brooding guys get to see themselves in them. Although she has been reading books by diverse authors for a while, she realised that there was something missing from her reading diet – it had been years since she’d read anything written by a transgender woman. When she based her reading on recommendations from top blog sites and popular releases, these books just weren’t naturally showing up on her reading list.

So, she actively went looking for these stories. There really aren’t many books written by trans women right now, which means even reading one a month is a stretch – though this allows her to keep reading other things as well. There’s obviously Charlie Jane Anders. Then there’s a literary press called Topside, that used to publish trans authors, though they closed, and some of their authors wrote books that lean towards speculative fiction, such as Torrey Peters. One story that specifically stood out to her is “Mountain God” by Gwen Benaway. A fairly straightforward sword and sorcery story featuring a trans woman main character, but which isn’t about her being trans, it is simply part of the character’s life. For Bina, this was a very emotional experience, reading the genre she loves, with a story that felt like it was part of her life. Something she didn’t realise she was missing – and she wouldn’t have found if she hadn’t actively sat down and made an effort to seek those books out.

One thing she has noticed is that quite often, trans women authors don’t write queernorm worlds, which she appreciates. Queernorm is great – it can be very cosy and a great escape – however, we don’t live in a queernorm world ourselves. Being trans isn’t always safe. If Bina reads several books in a row where there is no discrimination against LGBT+ people, she feels just as much not represented as if there was no LGBT+ representation in the book to start with. She suspects that a queernorm world is too far removed from the typical experience of trans women for these authors to write about it in their work.

When thinking about the difficulties trans women authors face in the publishing industry, what stands out is that before even considering the biases inherent in the industry itself, one needs to be aware of the difficulties they face in daily life. Their unemployment rate is 2-3 times higher than that for the general population and rates of poverty and homelessness are far higher too. Writing and editing a novel takes time and effort, and a lack of stability in life, having to work long hours in low paying jobs to make ends meet, often doesn’t leave space for that. And then, those authors that do write stories face an industry that isn’t always welcoming. Statistically speaking, there should be far more books by trans women published than there are right now. So the best thing we as readers can do is make sure to read trans women, and make our support clear. Ask publishers about their plans for upcoming books when at cons and industry events, and review trans women authors where we can.

And of course, this would not be complete without some recommended reading.

The image shows the cover of April Daniels' novels 'Dreadnought'. Dreadnought show a feminine silhouetted in black standing on a black hillside. She is wearing a blue flowing cape that is blowing sideways to the left, and is looking towards a city skyline that is rendered in pastel pinks and greys. Above the city is a blue sky.Dreadnought by April Daniels is a cute superhero story that features a trans girl who goes through a very rapid gender transition thanks to magic.

Maiden, Mother, Crone is an anthology of fantasy stories all written by trans women authors – including the story by Gwen Benaway mentioned above. The image shows the cover of the edited collected 'Maiden, Mother, Crone" - edited by Gwen Benaway. There is a fnatastical winged dragon with a rider moving towards a woman on a balcony who has their arms open in greeting. They are soaring above the minuetes of a city.

The image shows the cover of Torrey Peter's novella 'Infect Your Friends and Loved Ones'. The cover is pale pink. The title and authors name are in the top third of the cover and are shaped into a sale sticker. The main image is that of a pigs head on a chopping black. It has 't4t' tattooed on its forehead.Infect Your Friends and Loved Ones is a novella by Torrey Peters. Peters is brilliant at writing about the complex relationships between trans women. If you are curious about how trans women act when cis people aren’t around, this is the book for you (though, be aware that this book is about a virus).

Margaret Killjoy writes great short fiction. Bina especially recommends “Into the Grey” which is a fairy-tale-esque story that features a trans woman killing violent men…

The image shows the cover of Ryka Aoki's novel 'Light From Uncommon Starts'. It is a blue black night sky, in the center of the cover against the sky a Koi carp swims as if underwater.And last but not least, she is very excited about the upcoming Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki. Alien courtships and mouthwatering descriptions of doughnuts – a must read in both our books.




This article was brought to you by Fabienne Schwizer in association with Promotions.

Fabienne Schwizer is an SFF nerd who reads too much for her own good and rambles about books in various outlets, most commonly her blog, Libri Draconis. She loves meeting fellow genre readers and can’t wait to go to cons again.

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