Feature Interview with Author Chana Porter

Currently Reading: In Restless Dreams, by Wren Handman

On Being a Lit Agency Intern

I think I’m confident enough in my new position to announce publicly now that at the beginning of this year, I accepted an offer from Toronto-based literary agency The Rights Factory for a six-month contract as a literary intern and assistant. Although it means that I am suddenly very busy, and my TBR has grown three sizes this holiday season, I couldn’t be more overjoyed. It’s my first foray into working in the publishing business from starting out as a bookseller over two years ago… and it’s something that I’ve wanted and hoped for a lot.

I’m also completing doctoral studies in critical social work right now, but my role in that field has been in research for the past several years, and my main source of income (despite my bookshop job!) has been as a freelance researcher. My hope, as I slowly finish my PhD, is to put all the skills I’ve gathered over my years as a counsellor, researcher, bookseller, and blogger to cumulative use to help support authors (my actual heroes tbh) in their careers, and play my part in producing some really good books.

Over the next six months, I’ll make periodic updates about my internship, and everything that I’m learning. One of the resources that’s been incredibly helpful to me in my new role has been listening to as much of the Print Run Podcast as I can over the past few weeks. When I got asked to manage some of the TRF agents’ schedules for the upcoming London Book Fair? I was so glad that I’d listened to the Print Run episode that Laura and Erik did about their experiences there last year. I would have been so in the dark otherwise. Shoutout to them, for producing such great content for new professionals in the industry.

2020 Reading Challenge Update

I wrote in my 2019 year in review post that one of the reading challenges I’ll be doing this year is the FOLD Reading Challenge, hosted by the Festival of Literary Diversity. I’m thrilled to be on the planning committee for the festival this year, and to be contributing to this challenge! My picks will be featured on the FOLD blog in October, but I’ll be participating all year long. If you decide to participate, give me a shout, I’d love to follow your progress.

This month’s picks are from Audible, the sponsor of the challenge, and the theme is audiobooks by an Indigenous author. I think that this is a genius challenge, because although Indigenous literature is really having a good cultural moment right now, I don’t think that Indigenous lit is where most people’s instincts take them when they consider audiobooks, unless that is the primary way that they consume written media. From my experiences in the bookshop where I work, I think it’s a common misconception that Indigenous literature is necessarily heavy, political, and serious – and often, historical. Although I would contend that a lot of Indigenous literature is powerful, there are lots of Indigenous books that would just make the commute to work a little more pleasant (I know that’s when I consume most of my audiobooks).

If you’re looking for a super engaging Indigenous title to listen to, I would suggest…

  • the suspense-packed Moon of the Crusted Snow, by Waubgeshig Rice, a chilling post-apocalyptic speculative novel.
  • Louise Erdrich’s family-friendly middle grade alternative to Little House on the Prairie, The Birchbark House
  • the fever dream of an audio experience that is queer Indigenous throat singer Tanya Tagaq’s Split Tooth
  • Cherie Dimaline’s multiple award-winning YA sci fi novel, The Marrow Thieves

…which should all be available for free through the Libby app using your local library card, or you can support your local independent bookstore (or mine! Another Story, in Toronto) by purchasing them through Libro.fm.

The Seep, by Chana Porter

The cover of the book The Seep, by Chana Porter. Hands reach out from flowers and what appear to be bones on a black background.

I closed out my 2019 reading year with Chana Porter’s debut novel, The Seep, a gently unsettling dystopian speculative featuring a trans woman protagonist. The world is so ready for genre books featuring trans MCs, yall! I read this book a couple of weeks after losing one of my dogs to cancer, and I had been struggling with reading after such an emotional experience. This book was the perfect distraction, and strangely, the perfect balm for my grief and complicated emotions around loss in this disaster capitalist world.

The Seep is about the arrival of a benevolent alien presence on earth, who slowly becomes dominant through their desire to heal humanity. It is unique and precious, while managing to poetically move through several impactful themes, including things like identity, racism, cultural appropriation, art, transformation, rebirth, death, and the end of the world as we know it. I was rapt while reading it, and I was so honoured that author Chana Porter was willing to chat with me about her work. She was so sweet and generous to talk to, and I’m happy to be able to share some of our conversation here.

Feature Interview: Chana Porter on Writing Outside Your Identity, Mentorship, Gender, and Bears

A stylized photo of Chana Porter, looking upward, arm reaching up. Theatre curtains frame the image. The background is foliage with flowers.
Photo by Peter Bellamy for the Playwright Portrait Project.

Note: All of the photography featured throughout this post is curated from artists on Unsplash, and reflects the themes of Chana Porter’s novel The Seep.

emmy: The Seep totally bowled me over. I’m really grateful to have the opportunity to give it some extra exposure and tell people how much I loved it. I’d love to hear more about why you chose to write your main character, Trina, as you did. It’s obvious that all the aspects of her identity play key roles in the messages of the book. Still, it takes a lot of work, research, and care to write skillfully outside of your own experience, and I think that you achieved that. What was that like, and what were your reasons for making that choice?

Chana: When I began writing The Seep, it was an epic novel with shifting multiple points of view. Trina and her journey was a major aspect of the narrative, but she was one of 3 or so main characters. As I worked, it eventually became clear that Trina’s story was the most heartfelt and compelling. I shaved off the other plot lines and focused on her. (The UK edition of The Seep will have the boy from the Compound’s point of view included as a bonus short story, which is fun for me. I cut a lot of things that I loved!)

I wanted to write a butch trans woman character for a lot of thoughtful metaphorical reasons, which I will get into, but first and foremost, I wrote the kind of character I wanted to spend time with. She has a kind of swagger. She’s a bit of a brooder. She’s tender and passionate and a little gruff.

So Trina is a trans woman, and a butch woman. Her gender identity is distinct from her gender expression. Being a woman is not about wearing lipstick (no shade on lipstick, I like lipstick). That was the first thing I wanted to celebrate in the creation of her character. Secondly, gender identity is meaningful to Trina, and she is wary of the way people use The Seep to change their faces like they were changing outfits. I also liked the idea of people giving Trina guff for being so old-fashioned because she doesn’t want to modify her body. I wanted to show that she felt in alignment with her gender, in both expression and identification, and didn’t need to change anything. I also wanted to show that she didn’t want or need to “look cis” now that it was possible with the wave of a Seep wand.

A monarch butterfly partially emerged from a chrysalis.
Photo by Bankim Desai on Unsplash.

Trina is also Jewish and Native American.Years ago, N.K. Jemisin gave a lecture one summer at The Octavia Project, a free science fiction summer camp I helped create, where she described how when the European colonizers came to our shores, the diseases and violence that they brought to Indigenous peoples were the equivalent of an apocalypse. She cautioned our teens that when writing about apocalypse, don’t lose sight that many groups of people have experienced something similar already.

I think this is also true when writing about utopia, particularly because The Seep wishes to heal all wounds. We must witness and value past trauma. We also must acknowledge and celebrate what was here before, and is still here.

A feminine figure crouches in some foliage, face partially obscured by shadows.
Photo by Tiko Giorgadze on Unsplash

One of Trina’s surnames is Oneka, which is a Mohegan name. This aspect I crafted from research. The Mohegans are based in central southern Connecticut. In early drafts, it was made clear that Trina and Deeba used to live together in Brooklyn, so I first narrowed it down graphically. Then I located her ancestry there because tribal leadership for the Mohegan people is often passed through the maternal line, and they are known for their deep knowledge of herbal medicine, as well as hunting and fishing technologies. I liked the idea of Trina as an artist and healer, coming from a beautiful and specific tradition, which is very much alive today.

As for the Jewish aspect, my family is partially from Pale of Settlement. It used to be part of Russia, now it’s Lithuania, and the Jewish culture that thrived there is gone. It is a place that no longer exists. I was also interested in this– what happens when a place loses its memory? My character YD explores this idea further. But everyone is grappling with something that was meaningful to them which is now gone. Pina the Bear is no longer really a bear. There is a grief and loss there too.

A set of disembodied arms reaches out from behind some foliage, embracing it.
Photo by Will Cornfield on Unsplash

emmy: You mentioned working with Rachel Pollack as your thesis advisor. Was The Seep a product of your MFA and your work with Rachel? I’m curious what the conversations that you had with her were like, what that process was like for you. What advice might you give other authors who are involved in or seeking mentorship around writing inclusive and diverse work?

Chana: I went to Goddard College specifically to work with Rachel Pollack (great low-residency MFA program, highly recommend). I first learned about her in my study of tarot and Kabbalah, as she’s an expert in both. Then I stared reading her novels, and I knew I had to learn from her. Everyone, GO READ RACHEL POLLACK! A very different version of The Seep was my thesis. It was her metaphysical scholarship and fraught, spiritual science fiction that drew me to her, but of course the way she writes about gender is part of that draw. So it was fortuitous that Rachel is an older trans lesbian (a tryke, as she lovingly puts it), like Trina. But also, because my book takes place in the future, Trina’s character is more my peer in age than Rachel’s, and grew up in a different conversation about gender than Rachel did. I remember writing an early scene (that didn’t make it into the final book) where Trina and Deeba first meet and fall in love. Rachel wrote this comment in the margin, something like, Oh my, if only it could be like this. Rachel blazed the trail for us. We had a lot of rich conversations about identity. She also made me get more specific about anything spiritual, so it wouldn’t read like wishy-washy mumbo-gumbo.

A black and white image of a newborn baby, arms and fingers outstretched.
Photo by Alex Hockett on Unsplash

I am a queer person who is in community with a lot of trans and GNC people (I identify as a bisexual woman ray of light ☺️). And because of my own questions around gender and identity, I’ve been reading people like Kate Bornstein and Judith Butler (or trying to) from when I was a wee thing. Two of my dearest friends, who were also deep readers of early drafts of The Seep during the 7 years I was writing it, actually transitioned during that time period. I couldn’t have known that two of my closest friends and trusted readers would transition while I was writing this book. But also, it makes sense. Because part of why we found each other and loved each other was because we were all gender outlaws. It was a long conversation we were all having together, for many years.

emmy: I’d love to talk more about your own process with gender, if that’s something you’d be comfortable sharing a bit more about, both with me and with the blog. I know it’s a complex question! The ways that people choose to identify and the ways that people see their genders sometimes feel very different to me. Language and identity and the ways that they are co-constituted or not can get messy. There are lots of ways that people expand their gender conceptualization and gender expression that exist sort of outside of these labels that get thrown around all the time. If you wanted to talk a little bit about your thoughts on your own process with thinking about gender, I’d love to make space for that, and would be interested in hearing more.

A pale, slightly monochromatic feminine figure stands against a backdrop of very large foliage.
Photo by Tiko Giorgadze on Unsplash

Chana: Okay, I will try to distill down a major conversation of my life into a few short paragraphs! From when I was very little child I thought I was not a girl. I heard the word “hermaphrodite”, which we now call intersex, before I heard the word lesbian, and I thought that this was my big secret. I imagined that I was slowly turning into a boy, and that everyone would be very upset. Partially, I was drawn to the work of Rachel Pollack because she writes about the archetype of the golden hermaphrodite in world religions. I’m very compelled by an all encompassing gender, a totality of gender. That feels more whole to me– angelic, in fact. I have written several plays for theater that explore these ideas. Most people I am attracted to are gender outlaws in some form or fashion. I present as a woman, and I use she/her pronouns. I experimented with using ‘they’ in a few contexts and it did not bring me any comfort. When I feel too pinned down to one identity, I feel trapped. I have been a wife. I’m now a sort of step parent— my partner has two young children. One of them called me ChanaDad on a whim, and I LOVED it. I do not feel like a man– I am not a man. But I don’t want to be anyone’s mother. ChanaDad gives me a freedom that I like.

I like getting femmed up, in a dress and lipstick, and going out to dinner. This always feels like a kind of performance, a costume. And I enjoy it. But when those trappings become a uniform, I feel oppressed. Likewise, I dated a woman in college who would not let me shave my legs. I loved having hairy legs (I don’t have demure body hair), but one day I mentioned wanting to be smooth for a while again. She was livid. I didn’t have the words at the time, but I wanted to say something like, Hey, I stopped shaving because I don’t like being told how I need to look to be accepted. It’s not my problem if my body offends or confounds you. It’s my body. What could be more personal than that?

An image of a white person with red lipstick, snake eye contacts, and green scales airbrushed onto their cheek. Their hair is bright yellow and long, wrapped around their neck in a braid.
Photo by MAFFITI / Merily on Unsplash

I have never understood or identified with most things we are told women should want– but is this gender? Or is it patriarchy? I love the feminine, and I wish to enlarge and embrace it, rather than belittle or reject it. Did I identify with male characters more as a young reader because they were written to be witty, mysterious, and interesting? If I had Trina to read as a younger person, I think I would have fantasized about being this swaggering butch. Not being Jordan Catalano or Brandon Walsh, which I did instead. I actually think that there are as many gender identities as there are people. But I’m traveling through the world as a cis woman, and I want to own that identity, with its myriad privileges and traumas.

emmy: A final question. I just loved Pina. By far my favourite character in the book, and as someone who’s on the autism spectrum, I found the ways that Pina talks and the role that she plays so relatable and charming. I would love to hear more about her. Why did you make her a bear? What role did she play for you? Is her affect intentional, or was it just a creative choice? Whatever you feel like sharing about her, I’d love to hear about it.

An image of a bear looking upward beyond the camera.
Photo by Thomas Bonometti on Unsplash.

Chana: I’m so glad you loved Pina and that her speech spoke to you— she is also my favorite. I’m also a person who stutters, and for this reason the cadence of my speaking voice is particular. So I also relate to Pina, in this way.

I CANNOT wait for the audiobook to come out– I can’t wait to see what Shakina Nayfack (who is so brilliant) does with Pina (and YD)!

I created a bear character because of Rachel Pollack, that genius. In an early draft, I had a human character transform into an animal (a dolphin, actually). Rachel’s note was something like– why is this so human centric? What would happen if an animal, say a bear, was transformed by The Seep? I tried it a few ways– I wrote a version where Pina was a human with a bear consciousness, which was fun to write, and then I rewrote her as a bear because I visually enjoyed that more. She is actually a little bit like my grandmother– she wants to feed you, she’s no-nonsense, she is very sweet but sometimes sounds mean. She slams a plate down, and it means I love you.

The cover of Temporary Agency, by Rachel Pollack. Depicts people walking through the streets with giant heads wearing ornate helmets on posts in the middle of the roads.

I wanted to say thank you so much to Chana Porters for this rich and thoughtful interview, and also offer a couple of recommendations on her behalf at the end of this post. Unfortunately, Chana’s plays have yet to be published, but fans of The Seep should make Temporary Agency by Rachel Pollack the next book on their TBR!

PS, if you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving me a tip! It only takes a minute, and it allows me to keep creating content just like this, buying food for my dogs, and pursuing completion of my education in social work.

Badass Illegal Funtimes!

Currently Reading: The Seep, by Chana Porter.

News

Before I jump into this week’s post, I want to do a quick shoutout to Gemma Hickey, fellow non-binary Newfoundlander, whose new book just hit shelves in time for holiday shopping.

The cover of Almost Feral, by Gemma Hickey, which shows a tree-lined highway disappearing into the distance against a cloudy grey sky.
The cover of Almost Feral.

From Breakwater Books, Almost Feral chronicles Hickey’s literal and figurative journeys – across the island, on foot, but also to the realization that they are transgender. There are so few visible non-binary folks from my little island that this book has been on my radar for a while. I haven’t gotten my hands on it yet, but I suspect it would be a great read for the Eat, Pray, Love crowd.

For more book recommendations for your holiday shopping, feel free to check out the holiday gift list from Another Story, the bookshop where I work! I contributed to this list, curated by our staff every year. Simply click on the image below to view it, and if you choose to purchase a book on the list, please consider supporting your local indie, and/or dropping a tip in my ko-fi.

A collage of five cover images, and a caption that reads Another Story Bookshop 2019 Holiday Gift List. The covers are, In the Dream House, Frying Plantain, I Hope We Choose Love, Pet, and Nibi's Water Song.

Quick Personal Note

This has been a wild ride, but I have two personal notes to make this week. First, this is the ONE YEAR ANNIVERSARY POST for Books Beyond Binaries. This project has become so near and dear to me, and I never imagined that I would enjoy it this much. I wanted to say thank you to everyone who’s supported the blog, and me, and trans and non-binary literature this year. If you are reading this, you have no idea what it means to me to have your support.

Relatedly, I had to say goodbye to one of my beloved dogs this weekend. This post may be a little more scattered than usual. I appreciate your understanding!

Dinner Date, affectionately known as D. August 1 2008 – December 7 2019.

New from M. K. England: Spellhacker!

Two books laying in some festive foliage. Underneath, a hardback of The Disasters, a space helmet on a pink background. On top, an ARC of Spellhacker, a purple galaxy print cover with sparkly gold text.
Spellhacker and The Disasters, by M. K. England.

Readers may know queer author and librarian M. K. England from her queer YA space opera debut, The Disasters, which came out in 2018. I am thrilled that today’s post is part of the blog tour for England’s sophomore novel, Spellhacker! This new book is the story of a heist gone wrong in a futuristic world with magic, starring a girl named Diz who is basically a cactus secretly filled with marshmallow. Diz is joined by her non-binary childhood friend Remi (who she is definitely not dating), her fierce bestie Ania, and her dad-friend Jaesin.

For this post, I asked England to tell me a bit more about our heroine: Diz.

So, here’s the thing about Diz from SPELLHACKER: There’s the person she thinks she is, and the person she actually is. She is a champion self-liar. She’s a Hufflepuff who thinks she’s a Slytherin, a cactus secretly filled with marshmallow. It makes taking personality quizzes on behalf of Diz kind of challenging, because… am I taking this as the more self-aware Diz at the end of the book, as the angry, oblivious Diz at the beginning of the book, or as the author who knows her true heart? Take a look at the results and see what you think. 🙂

M. K. England

First off, let’s start with something basic… we asked Diz, What Dog Breed Are You?

Diz’s result in the What Dog Breed Are You quiz: Mutt!

Unfortunately, this wasn’t the most informative result. Being a mixed breed dog gives you all kinds of advantages in the evolutionary lottery, but there aren’t a lot of specific characteristics we can pin down from that: You’re a renegade, an artist, and you will not be confined to any sort of box. You have tons of real-life experience that makes you a great dinner-party guest with tons of stories. Plus, you are cute in that “je ne sais quoi” kind of way. Luckily, our collective Twitter feeds have been flooded with Which Three Disney Characters Are You? results!

Diz’s result in the Which Three Disney Characters Are You a Combo Of?

In this quiz, we learn SO MUCH MORE. Diz got some big personalities on this one – Megara, a young woman enslaved by Hades in Disney’s Hercules, Disgust, from Inside Out, and ice princess Elsa, from Frozen. Fierce and feminine, Diz definitely doesn’t want to be messed with: You’re sarcastic, opinionated, and fiercely independent. You blaze your own path and don’t let the rules of society dictate how you live your life. Although you boast about your tough exterior, you actually have a very sensitive heart and fall in love easily.

Diz’s result in the Which Type of Explorer Are You quiz: You’re a climber!

Next, we asked what kind of explorer Diz would be. Our lovable but formidable heroine aptly got “climber”: Brave like a rock climber, you’re a natural risk taker. Climbers scale rocks and mountainsides for fun. Like these daredevils, you never say no to a good challenge of any kind. Friends rely on you to take adventures to new heights!

Since England’s previous book was set in space, and Spellhacker is more of a fantasy, I had to ask Diz – did she feel more like an alien or an Earthling? Turns out, England’s new MC may have a little disaster in her yet…

Diz’s result in the Are You More of an Earthling or an Alien Quiz: Alien!

If you weren’t born among the stars, you certainly should live there now. Since you likely came to us from afar, you embody a vibrant spirit of curiosity, wonder, and exploration. Never relinquish your love of space, alien friend!

Last, but not least, it would be a total travesty to have a queer as heck book, and not ask of the MC, What Kind of Rainbow Are You?!

Your rainbow is intensely shaded green, red, and black.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

What is says about you: You are an intelligent person. You appreciate mystery. You may meet people who are afraid of you. You get bored easily and want friends who will keep up with you.

Find the colors of your rainbow at spacefem.com.

This one gets Diz spot on: You are an intelligent person. You appreciate mystery. You may meet people who are afraid of you. You get bored easily and want friends who will keep up with you.

…of course, it was too tempting to read all of Diz’s results, and not wonder what mine would be. Would I be able to keep up with this badass? Dear reader, definitely not. This pug polar explorer with a greyed out rainbow is firmly rooted to the earth. And my Disney characters? Predictable: Alice in Wonderland, Sully from Monsters Inc., and Peter Pan. Lighthearted, confusing, cozy adventures only, for me. I’m glad that I can at least live vicariously through Diz in Spellhackers!

England is hosting a HUGE pre-order campaign for this book, which officially launches on January 21, 2020, with HarperTeen. If there are fans of Marie Lu, Space Unicorn Blues, or Nicky Drayden on your holiday gift list or if you read and loved Alex Harrow’s Empire of Light earlier in 2019, you should definitely get in on this, and get all the rad Spellhacker swag – a bookmark, stickers, a signed bookplate, a postcard, and some additional digital goodies are all on the table for this one.

PS, if you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving me a tip! It only takes a minute, and it allows me to keep creating content just like this, buying food for my dogs, and pursuing completion of my education in social work.

A badge that reads Spellhacker Launch Crew member.

Guest Post by Lisa Bunker

Introduction…

I am super excited to be hosting a drop in post today from Lisa Bunker, author of two middle grade books featuring trans main characters. Bunker’s first book, Felix Yz, was released in 2017, and was a science fiction story about a child who had an alien inside of him, and who faced a dangerous Procedure to separate the two beings. Felix Yz is told as a series of journal entries written by the main character as he anticipated the Procedure.

The cover of Felix Yz, by Lisa Bunker.

This year, Bunker released her second middle grade novel, Zenobia July, which I reviewed back in April. As I told Bunker during our correspondence, this book wasn’t necessarily the book for me, however I am a huge supporter. There needs to be a diversity of voices in middle grade books, especially when it comes to books that represent trans, non-binary, and other LGBTQ characters. My shop carries the book, and I advocate for it with our school board and educator customers.

This gentle story about trans character Zen navigating life at a new school and solving a cyber mystery is a great path for readers who may not know a lot about trans issues, and perfect for young trans readers looking to see themselves reflected in literature.

The cover of Zenobia July, by Lisa Bunker.

The other reason I advocate for Bunker’s books is because of the author herself, and her strength as a role model for trans and other LGBTQIA2S+ readers. A trans woman herself, Bunker is not only a successful published author, and a pioneer of #OwnVoices trans literature for the middle grade bracket, but also an accomplished politician. Bunker is currently a Democratic state rep in New Hampshire. Following the election of Danica Roem in Virginia in 2017 that gave her a boost of confidence to run for office as a trans woman, Bunker used her decades of activist and community organizing experience to become one of New Hampshire’s first trans legislators.

For all of these reasons, I’m proud to host Bunker herself on my blog today, the only (to my knowledge) #OwnVoices author of trans middle grade books!

What The World Needs Now is Post-Binary Narrative

A guest post by Zenobia July author Lisa Bunker

No doubt binaries come in handy. We humans need to be able to sort and classify our worlds, in order to be safe and productive. But binaries can also easily get out of hand, and are susceptible to abuses. As a trans author of stories with lots of queer characters, I am on a mission to keep binaries under good management and to push back against the abuses. I’ve gathered my ideas about this mission under the new-minted genre descriptor Post-Binary Narrative. And, in order to make it manageable and memorable, I’ve come up with the following six quippy characteristics of this kind of writing.

Human Scale

How many times do plucky protagonists have to save the world (again) before we become completely numb? The whole Marvel Universe arc that just ended with “Avengers: Endgame” is a perfect example of scale overkill. I don’t know about you, but I left that movie feeling bludgeoned and empty. Could we please get back to stories driven by the struggles, choices, defeats, and victories of individual characters? I think such stories can actually have a bigger impact, because a reader who invests will be able to connect in a way that feels right-sized for once. In my new story, Zenobia July, someone hacks the school website, protagonist Zen deals with teasing at school while living in stealth, friendships form, and a family starts to come together. Those are the biggest plot elements, but they make just as engrossing a story as if Zen were single-handedly averting Armageddon (again).

No Evil

Note the capital E. I’ve gotten so tired of villains who are just purely, cartoonishly vile. Disney, much as I love many of the movies, is particularly egregious about this. Jafar, Scar…there’s no way to understand them as human (lion), and the good guys flatten out as well, because they are so completely Good in contrast to the Evil. I try to write gloriously imperfect humans coming into conflict with other gloriously imperfect humans, with everyone doing what they do for reasons that make sense to them, and I strive to write them all sympathetically. That’s not to say that Evil has never existed in the world, but plenty of other story-makers are making those stories. Too many. For deconstructing binaries, No Evil is the way to go.

Challenge “Normal”

Inevitably, in each binary we humans invent, one side weighs heavier than the other side, and then some less-than-ideal things start to happen. One is that generally the heavier side gets to decide what counts as “normal,” and that can lead to the lighter side getting defined as abnormal, freakish, less than, other. To counter this, Post-Binary Narrative includes the idea of challenging and even subverting this pattern. I have gotten reviews that complain that there are too many queer characters in my stories. In my first book, Felix Yz, I did it just for the lark, but in the new one it’s very much on purpose, as queer family of choice is a powerful force for good in Zen’s life. Within the bounds of both these stories, the nerdy geeky Rainbow Folk are the “normal” of the story, and the cis/het characters are the ones fluttering around the edges. This subversion jostles the comfortable in a fruitful way, and is definitely part of the playbook.

Fight Injustice

This is a distinct and more serious version of challenging “normal.” When the imbalance of power in various binaries gets entrenched in how our culture operates, we get outcomes like systemic racism and the glass ceiling. I mean, for crying out loud, when are we going to finally elect our first female President? Such interleaved injustices are challenging to name, describe, and dismantle, not least because those in power constantly offer counter-narratives that tell us that we’re wrong, that we’re imagining it, that we’re over-reacting, that they’re just kidding, that it’s our own damn fault anyway. Gaslighting is rampant around these ingrained power-imbalances, and we have to keep crafting narratives that push back against it. It’s crucial to the future well-being of our species as a whole.

Remember “We”

In these increasingly polarized and reactive times, I think it is essential that at least some of us keep trying to find ways to say “we” and “us” that actually mean all of us, not just other humans sharing our particular bubble. And, we need to do it while holding the “fight injustice” provision in our hearts at the same time. It’s like when #blacklivesmatter happened, and there was the immediate reactive response of #alllivesmatter. The Post-Binary Narrative response to that is, “Yes, true, in one sense, but that’s not what we’re talking about right now. We’re talking about a world where unarmed black teens get gunned down by police and then told it was their own fault. Of course all lives matter, but we have a problem, all of us together, that we still need to fix.

Practice Love

I’ve chosen the verb on purpose for its dual meanings: “practice” as in enacting something in the world, and “practice” as in continuously working at it because it’s hard to do. In particular, it can be hard to give some version of love back to someone who is pointing hate at you. Sometimes we can’t, and that’s OK too. But as much as possible, speaking for myself, I try to offer love back to everyone, all the time. Or, at least, refrain from hating back. Not much more to say about this – it’s pretty simple.

Human scale stories, with no Evil, that challenge accepted ideas of what constitutes “normal” and that fight injustice, while recognizing that we are all humans and that all humans are worthy to love and be loved. That’s Post-Binary Narrative. I respectfully submit that our poor over-burdened planet needs more of it.

Family-Friendly Gift Requests

Currently Reading: Soulstealers, by Jacqueline Rohrbach

Note: the links found on this page are affiliate links for Amazon.com, so if you use them to make purchases, you will be helping to support my work. If you are in Canada, please use this Amazon Canada Affiliate link, and then search for the book you’re seeking. You can also always leave a tip for me through ko-fi!

This is a slightly overdue recommendations post that I wrote much earlier this year, and I’m only just now getting around to posting. Before I get to it, I have just two little tidbits of news to share. One, I need to boost a newly-released book, by Alicia Elliott. I was honoured to have the chance to attend her Toronto release with my shop, and to have received an ARC of A Mind Spread Out on the Ground last year. I read it in one shot on a plane ride, and it’s a must-read, full stop. It’s available now.

I also wanted to share a list compiled by fellow genderqueer book blogger Corey Alexander, which is a look at books published early this year with trans and non-binary authors. It’s a fantastic list. You’ll see some of the books I’ve mentioned in this blog on it, but also a few others that I haven’t gotten to. Don’t miss out on Dragon Pearl, Squad, Once and Future, Disintegrate/Dissociate, or the Lost Coast. These are all high up on my TBR.

Prompt

Back in December, I had a friend post on Twitter that they were looking for some book recommendations for things that they could ask their somewhat conservative family for for the holidays, specifically titles that were available as Kindle eBooks. Although I didn’t get around to posting these back then, I’m hoping that this list will still be helpful to anyone who has a gift-receiving holiday coming up, since these are mostly 2018 releases.

Some of these books would also serve pretty well as a response to a question I often get in the bookshop: I have a conservative family member, and I’d like to give them something that they will read, but that will also offer them a progressive message, just a little under the radar.

Here’s what I knew:

  • Hadn’t read anything family-friendly in a while
  • Likes John Green and Harry Potter, but also adult books in similar veins
  • Likes Ivan Coyote and Andrea Gibson
  • Likes books about sexuality, gender, and feminist issues
  • Reads both fiction and non-fiction, adult and YA
  • Does not read thrillers or horror
  • Things that were off-limits included anything about kink, sex, or non-monogamy
  • Special interest in silly detective books, à la Brooklyn 99
  • These would probably be read in an ebook format

My Picks

I don’t do a lot of detective reading myself, but after reading a lot of 2018 wrap ups prior to giving these recommendations, I knew that as a silly detective rec, I was heading straight for Andrew Shaffer’s Hope Never Dies: An Obama Biden Mystery, a detective story featuring past president Barack Obama and vice president Joe Biden as MCs. This book is described as part noir thriller, part bromance, by the publicity copy.

Whenever someone mentions John Green in their past-loved titles, I go straight for a dramatic book about a romantic relationship… which, for me, almost always means LGBTQ+ romance. Tin Man, by Sarah Winman, which is a gay relationship story that comes highly recommended by my fellow Another Story staffers, but that’s not super obvious from the publicity copy, making it a perfect under the radar rec.

Bad Blood by John Carreyrou is a Book Riot dubbed Swiss Army recommendation of a sharp new release non-fiction that’s edgy in a way that might appeal to someone with some kink interests, but it’s not scary. Every time I think about this particular recommendation, it calls to mind Bill Gates’ super trippy holiday recommendations video from the end of 2018, and the syringe holiday light display! On the surface, this is a book about the tech industry, but underneath is about corporate corruption. It was featured on Book Riot’s Best of 2018 list, and is a non-violent true crime story. Another non-violent true crime that might appeal to someone who’s into over the top mystery like this reader is Kirk Wallace Johnson’s the Feather Thief, which I also added to this list.

Because this reader had mentioned Harry Potter, I also wanted to throw in some YA fantasy. Tomi Adeyemi’s debut Children of Blood and Bone is a story that draws on the author’s Nigerian roots, and has serious intersectional feminist appeal, but it’s still mainstream enough (particularly with its early movie adaptation) to be family-friendly.

Alexander Chee’s essay collection How to Write an Autobiographical Novel has a lot of sexuality writing tied up in it, also without it being blatant from the dust jacket. My shop hosted an event around this book and Darnell Moore’s No Ashes in the Fire, and I think that both books have poignant and important things to say about racialized experiences of queer life and history in North America.

Response

I was disappointed that the person who I offered these recommendations to didn’t receive any of them for the holidays! Their response to these picks was positive, and I was hoping to see them get to enjoy reading them. If you’d like to complete this experience for them (and for me!), you can visit the contact page of their website, and they’ll send you details of how you can send them one of my book picks! Remember to use one of my affiliate links in this post, if you choose to send them a gift – that way, both of us will feel your love!

If you enjoyed reading these recommendations, and would like some of your own, head on over to my contact page, and send me a message! I love giving recs and readers’ advisory, and have lots of experience from my work as a bookseller.

PS, if you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving me a tip! It only takes a minute, and it allows me to keep creating content just like this, buying food for my dogs, and pursuing completion of my education in social work.

The Harrowing!

Currently reading: Shame is an Ocean I Swim Across, by Mary Lambert

Note: the links found on this page are affiliate links for Amazon.com, so if you use them to make purchases, you will be helping to support my work. If you are in Canada, please use this Amazon Canada Affiliate link, and then search for the book you’re seeking. You can also always leave a tip for me through ko-fi!

I was going to include a news section in this post, but I decided to leave it out this time around. There isn’t anything that I’ve read that feels like it hasn’t been covered by other sources, and I’ve shared a lot of salt lately. That said, if you missed my last post about Book Riot’s new policy rollout and demolition of the Epic Insiders program, feel free to check it out.

In this post, I’ll spend my energy talking about BOOKS! Two are educational titles designed for learning about queer and trans identities. The third is a recently released YA sci fi debut from Alex Harrow, a genderqueer author, who describes their work as “queerness with a chance of explosions”. Join the Harrowing and check out Empire of Light, which came out on February 25th.

Educational Titles

You Be You

Cover of You Be You! by Jonathan Branfman and illustrated by Julie Benbassat.

I received an arc of You Be You, by Jonathan Branfman and Julie Benbassat from Edelweiss+. This title is aimed at children 7 to 11 years of age, and yall, this is a book I’ve been waiting for, for a LONG time. It has diverse, charming, age-appropriate illustrations, and addresses topics such as sex, gender, sexuality, family, discrimination, privilege, intersectionality, and allyship in an affirming way. I was excited. Unfortunately, this was also a let down for me.

While I was pleased to see that the book uses biologically accurate terminology, particularly for body parts, the LGBTQ lexicon in this book is outdated. For example, “gender” and “gender identity” are treated as separate concepts. “Orientation” is used with regards to sexuality, rather than “identity”. “Homophobia” and “transphobia” are used in cases where “hetero-” and “cis-normativity” would have been more appropriate. There is conflation of the concepts of discrimination and oppression. Lastly, there was also some ableism in the framing of disabilities as afflictions (“having deafness” versus “deaf”).

After doing some research, it is unclear to me whether the author and illustrator are themselves queer or trans. Branfman is an academic, and particularly if he is coming from outside of the LGBTQ+ community, some of the nuances of current lexicon may have been lost in translation when incorporating current sociological education materials into an age-appropriate format.

Terminology, isn’t the only significant flaw with this book. Throughout the sections on family, the book consistently refers to a monogamous norm. Because I am part of a polyamorous, blended family, I found this personally disappointing. In addition, there was noticeable asexual erasure throughout the chapter on love and attraction. Finally, this book was focused exclusively on the American context. Part of the reason why I review books is to know whether or not they are suitable for sale at the Canadian independent bookshop where I work, and unfortunately that lowers the appeal of this book for us as well.

In short, the concept of this book is great, and it is available for sale as of July, 2019 (this is unclear – I think an initial publication happened in 2017, and this reprint is potentially part of a larger translation project). I hope that the creators will be able to incorporate feedback before that time, because otherwise I fear this book will be come quickly outdated. This is a great example of publishing taking baby steps in the right direction, but also demonstrates to me that we still have a long way to go.

A Quick and Easy Guide to Queer and Trans Identities

A page from the Quick and Easy Guide to Queer and Trans Identities, in which a snail is pictured atop a flowering, spiral-shaped plant on a pink psychedelic background with stars and plant fronds. A speech balloon reads, "Try new things, take some changes. You might be surprised at what you discover and what feels right!"
From A Quick and Easy Guide to Queer and Trans Identities.

By contrast, I received a copy of A Quick and Easy Guide to Queer and Trans Identities by Mady G and J. R. Zuckerberg from NetGalley. I am in love with this book, and I want to give it to everyone I know. What’s great is that at $9.99 USD, it’s actually feasible for someone at a limited income to purchase!

This book is wicked trippy, and I’m into it. And I learned things. Legit. From a 101 book. It’s current, it’s inclusive, it explores more in depth concepts (eg, non-binary dysphoria, the first time I’ve ever seen this in a published text; warning signs of abuse in relationships; aftercare; alternate personas) alongside the more basic ones. Although it’s cutesy, it is also nuanced. Also? The protagonist is a snail. YUP.

This book is slightly more wordy than I want it to be, but it’s appropriate for any age, and it is affirming of the most marginalized of LGBTQ+ identities, including non-binary and ace. Unfortunately, an exploration of Two Spirit identity is notably absent. There is no discussion of sex or sexual acts, and the complex, fantastical illustrations provide charming balance to the text.

I only have a few critiques to offer about this delightful comic. First, it is strange that the first block of text inside the cover is from the parent of a QT person. I wasn’t sure what this introduction achieved, and it felt disingenuous to the purposes of the comic. Second, there was a slightly problematic focus on self-love. I don’t think it’s too much, but it did feel a little ableist to me as someone who struggles with dysphoria and depression. Finally, there was no overt affirmation of non-monogamous identities, but to the creator’s credit, there was no overt monogamous normativity either.

My favourite thing about this book, though, is that there are creative activity pages at the end! INCLUDING HOW TO MAKE A ZINE. I loved them, and I can’t wait to make a sproutsona with queer fam one day!

This title is available for pre-order now, and will release on April 23, 2019.

Empire of Light

The cover of Empire of Light, by Alex Harrow.

I submitted a request for an Empire of Light eARC through Alex Harrow’s website, because through the grapevine, I’d heard of this soon-to-be released YA SFF debut from an enby author that I’d never heard tell of before. I read the publicity copy for the book and thought, this sounds fun. Sure. Why not?

As anyone who follows my reading will know, I don’t usually do “fun”. But I try to, sometimes, especially when things are rough. (Which: yes.) Full disclosure, it took me a minute to get into this book… but I was really glad that I did. It’s a romp, for sure. Empire of Light is a fast-paced ride, and the comp to queer Firefly with magic is on point. The characters in this book never lift off the surface of the planet, but it’s certainly otherworldly. Plus, in Harrow’s novel, there’s also magic: the inexplicable Voyance, which gives those who possess it some amorphous mystical powers. Without the squickiness of Joss Whedon to consider, why bother resisting?

“Queer with a chance of explosions” is the perfect brand for Harrow’s work. CW for all kinds of violence and guns everywhere in this novel, as well as positive representation of assisted death that appears on the page. There is (very queer) sexual intimacy that appears on the page in this book as well, and I found the mentions of use of condoms and lubrication in these settings utterly refreshing. However, there are also so many necessary ingredients for queer representation that feels real, impactful, and resonant. Aside from the undeniably gay protagonist, there is also shame-free representation of kink, bisexuality, demisexuality, non-binary identity, trauma, and some kind of ambiguous non-monogamy, possibly with a side of sex work.

It’s possible that this was me misinterpreting aspects of the book, but there were moments in which the Voyance, and the sometimes unpredictable effects that it had on the characters in the book, felt like it could work as a stand-in for some of the health challenges that have impacted LGBTQ+ communities, for example, the AIDS crisis.

This is a complicated book, but somehow, Empire of Light manages to come off as a colloquial, action-packed adventure story. For this francophone, it was particularly heartwarming that Harrow used French-language names for some of the geographical locations used in the book, even though the rationale behind that remains unclear to me. The only criticisms I have of this book are that some of the side characters felt underdeveloped, there wasn’t obvious racial diversity among the characters, and I missed having feminine MCs, since most of the significant characters in this book are masculine.

Empire of Light is available now, and if you’re a fan of exciting SFF that doesn’t shy away from addressing profound themes, or if you’re just looking for a fantastic LGBTQ+ #OwnVoices book to chew through this winter, get in on the Harrowing.

PS, if you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving me a tip! It only takes a minute, and it allows me to keep creating content just like this, buying food for my dogs, and pursuing completion of my education in social work.