Beyond the Binary: Transgender and Non-Binary Representation in Literature

Avid readers who engage in online communities such as BookTok know that these spaces are saturated with ‘queer’ recommendations which only exist to fulfil a social quota: Call Me by Your Name (vastly problematic) and Red, White and Royal Blue (yet another mlm romance) are only two examples. It’s beyond time to focus on a more diverse range of queer literature – especially that which represents the trans and non-binary communities. 

Personally, the perfect place to start is Kacen Callender’s YA sensation Felix Ever After. Cishet society often requires labels, which leave little room to move beneath the ‘out and proud’ exterior of many queer folks. Callender masterfully captures this struggle for identity, whilst still maintaining a light-hearted, positive narrative. Don’t be fooled by the love triangle or enemies to lovers trope, this remains complex and compelling – older readers are welcomed into a sense of high school nostalgia without the all-american cheese. The discussion of the ever-evolving nature of living on intersections of identity, and exploration of friendship, love and family should make this your first summer read.

If a whirlwind historical fantasy is more up your street, then allow me to introduce you to the world of She Who Became the Sun. Shelley Parker-Chan transforms the accession of Zhu Yuanzhang, who unified China and became the founding Emperor of the Ming Dynasty, into a genderqueer romance-filled adventure. The nuance of gender identity, presentation and societal roles are all explored within the pages of Parker-Chan’s brilliance, which has been described as “Mulan meets Song of Achilles” though I’d personally say that is a disservice to both the characters and writing of her work. They set a tone which keeps the novel tight in your grip and close to your heart, even after the final words are read. 

My own current obsession is Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe – a must-read for graphic novel lovers and newbies alike. An autobiographical comic, it centres around self-identity, yet, as written in the synopsis, “is more than a personal story: it is a useful and touching guide on gender identity for humans everywhere.” Representation, in whatever form it takes, is vital to queer folks everywhere, no matter their age. Unparalleled discoveries are made through trans and non-binary books, from seeing themselves in tales of misplaced teen crushes, to the comfort of knowing dysphoria is shared by a community, and that trauma isn’t written in every queer person’s fate.

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Libby Hargreaves

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May 2022
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