Throughout the month of July, we want to highlight and invite discussion about transgender literature and representation in media. We’ve invited some absolutely incredible authors to the site to discuss trans topics that mean the most to them, and today we’re thrilled to have Corey Alexander joining us!
A Baker’s Dozen of Stories Centering Non-Binary Characters
By Corey Alexander
I came out as a non-binary trans person over 20 years ago. The mid 90s were a time when finding stories about non-binary characters was extremely rare. Part of being non-binary in a society that is deeply binarily gendered is that often the world tells you that you aren’t real. That you don’t exist. That at best they might humor you in your imaginary gender, but they know the truth. Having people like me in a book, seemed like proof that I could eventually have a future where people in my life would understand, see, and respect back my gender. Books with non-binary characters were nourishment that I desperately needed, was starving for. In 2017, I wouldn’t say we have abundance, but there is much more nourishment out there.
I’ve got a baker’s dozen for you, of stories centering non-binary people, including a range of fiction and creative non-fiction, from flash fiction to novel-length works. Stories that mean a lot to me, that were resonant for me at different times in my life, and are resonant for me now. I’ve grouped them by theme and noted publication year. My hope is that you will find stories that are meaningful to you. The majority of these were written by non-binary authors, with a few exceptions.
Non-binary centered stories
These are stories that feel non-binary to their very core, like they are not bringing a cis lens or framework to the story, are written especially for non-binary readers, centering us.
A Portrait of the Desert in Personages of Power by Rose Lemberg (2017) (Free: Part 1. Part 2. Audio.) This is a high fantasy novella told from the point of view of the Old Royal, the bigender ruler of a desert city who runs a festival where people declare their genders and are helped to magically transition. It’s deeply enby centered. Most of the significant characters are enby. It offers a universe where non-binary gender is not only accepted but celebrated, and non-binary characters are in positions of power. It’s also a story that centers supermages, is deeply kinky, and very much about consent and sadism. I adore this book with all my heart and feel intensely seen and held by it.
TW: BDSM (edge play, pain play), trauma history, magical battle
A Boy Called Cin by Cecil Wilde (2015) is a romance novel told from the point of view of Tom, a genderqueer billionaire who has been mostly closeted about being genderqueer, and who falls hard for a younger trans man student who is the first person to celebrate and honor his gender. It feels deeply trans and non-binary centered, which I discuss at length in this essay. I fell hard for Cin right along with Tom, loved his grumpiness, his certainty about the importance of boundaries & consent, and the way he really saw Tom. I especially loved the way sex was negotiated and portrayed in the story.
TW: misgendering, sex
There is something about reading fairy tales centering non-binary characters that heals childhood wounds for me, is nourishing in a way that no other story can be.
“The Rivers Children” by Shweta Narayan (2011) (Free. In Alphabet of Embers.) This is a gorgeously written fairy tale with all genderfluid characters. It’s about a genderfluid prince falling for and marrying a genderfluid river, and their genderfluid children. I read it to my genderqueer ex when she was in the hospital, and it was the perfect comforting story at a scary time.
“The Virtues of Magpies” by Yoon Ha Lee (2015) (Free. In The Fox’s Tower and Other Tales.) This is a flash fiction fairy tale about loyalty, tricksters, being misunderstood, and being who you are, centering an un-named non-binary youth. It’s beautifully written, funny and it warms my heart.
These are the first books I read that had enby characters. They are definitely products of their time in terms of language about gender. They are dear to my heart, some of my first glimpses in a mirror.
Stone Butch Blues (free PDF of 20th anniversary edition) by Leslie Feinberg (1993) is a semi-autobiographical novel that traces the life of a working class stone butch who medically transitioned partly to survive economic difficulties, and then went off hormones and lived as a non-binary trans person. This is a book about a long and winding gender journey. Jess falls in love, struggles with isolation and stoneness, and has a trauma recovery arc that culminates in hope and connection.
TW: child abuse, sexual assault, police violence, bashing, trauma, misgendering, sex
S/he by Minnie Bruce Pratt (1995) is a book of short memoirish linked vignettes about a femme and her experience of gender, the last half of which are about her relationship with a non-binary trans butch. Gorgeous precise writing that rides the line between memoir and poetry and packs a punch in a very small space. In a lot of ways, this book feels like it’s doing call and response with Stone Butch Blues.
TW: misogyny, bashing, murder, misgendering, sex
Imago by Octavia Butler (1989) is the third novel in a trilogy imagining an alien colonization of Earth that includes aliens procreating with humans in a five part sexual and romantic partnership including an Oankali third gender ooloi partner. Imago is told from the point of view of the first ooloi child of this kind of partnership, Jodahs. Jodahs lives in exile for most of the book, feels very much alone, and goes through an intense depression, before finding a reason to have hope and reconnect with others. Jodahs is very fluid in its gender, in a way that’s quite responsive to people and context. I identified quite strongly with Jodahs. It’s a very intense read that evokes so many feelings every time I reread (about once a year).
TW: colonization, sexual assault, physical violence, depression, suicidality, ableism, sex
These are stories about non-binary folks claiming and reaching for desire that honors them in the fullness of themselves.
“Seen” by Kris Ripper (2016) is a kinky erotica short story centering Adrian, a genderqueer bottom, in the aftermath of a scene where ze got misgendered, finding a new play partner who will see and honor zir gender. It reminds me of Patrick Califia’s erotica in how it describes SM, places kink in the context of queer community, and illuminates character.
TW: pain play, misgendering
“Virgins in Time” by Neve Be (2015) is a creative non-fiction piece about reclaiming youth and sexuality as a disabled non-binary queer person of color through doing roleplay about being teenage virgins. It is gorgeously written, kicks my ass, and blows me away.
TW: roleplay, sex, references ableism, racism, violence, eating disorders, trauma
Holding the hard stuff
These are stories centering non-binary characters grappling with depression and grief, ones that hold those realities beautifully.
“How to Become a Robot in 12 Easy Steps” by A. Merc Rustad (2015) (Free text and audio. In So You Want to Be a Robot.) This is a short story in experimental form centering an autistic non-binary asexual person named Tesla who is both in love with a robot and deeply identifies as a robot. It contains intense and beautiful depiction of depression, robot rescue adventure, sweet romance with a robot, and queer chosen family.
TW: depression, suicidality
“A Complex Filament of Light” by S. Qiouyi Lu (2017) (Free: Text. Audio.) This is a gorgeous, evocative and gentle short story centering a non-binary character who is depressed and mourning the death of a relative. It has a lovely and healing cathartic arc, and is one of the best examples of incidental non-binary rep I have ever read.
TW: depression, suicidality
These are stories centering enbies having adventures, of wide and sweeping scale.
Mask of Shadows by Linsey Miller (2017) is a YA fantasy novel centering the genderfluid lone survivor of genocide bent on taking revenge for the destruction of their people by becoming the trusted assassin to the queen. I appreciated the way Sal’s genderfluidity is presented in an incidental way. There is a romance arc, but the central action is focused on winning the trials to become the assassin (which are a bit like The Hunger Games).
TW: murder, genocide, trauma, misgendering
“The Need for Overwhelming Sensation” by Bogi Takács (2015) (Free: Text. Story Notes) This is a space opera story centering a non-binary main character Iryu (who I read as autistic) whose dominant is also enby. It contains intrigue, battles, and cheerful BDSM including using pain play to power a spaceship, and a lovely D/s dynamic.
TW: ant-kink antagonist, misgendering, physical violence, BDSM (pain play, D/s)
Corey Alexander is an Oakland-based autistic queer fat Jewish genderqueer writer, educator and community activist with multiple disabilities who spends a lot of time recommending books on Twitter and writes under the nom de plume Xan West. Their collection Show Yourself To Me: Queer Kink Erotica, was published in 2015 by Go Deeper Press. Corey creates book recommendation lists and blogs about trans representation in literature, kink, fat politics, queerness, disability, and writing at xanwest.wordpress.com.