Victoria Villaseñor, who edited the stories in the forthcoming fiction anthology In Our Words (Bold Strokes, June), emphasizes the importance of amplifying not just LGBTQ or BIPOC voices but also the voices of those who straddle both worlds. “Marginalized communities often go unheard, and their rich and varied stories are left unknown beyond community borders,” Villaseñor says. “LGBTQ people within these marginalized groups are often silenced to even greater degrees.”

PW spoke with Villaseñor, as well as the authors of new fiction and nonfiction titles, about bringing a wide range of queer experiences to the fore.

Reclaiming and retelling

When putting together the anthology, Villaseñor and romance novelist Anne Shade, who selected the pieces for inclusion, sought to highlight writing that “sounded immersed in a culture,” Villaseñor says. In “Granddaughter of the Dragon,” for instance, Latina author Brey Willows writes about the mythological Catalan figure of the aloja, a benevolent woman who can turn into a blackbird. Briana Lawrence, a Black writer, muses on the ways love is cooked into family dishes and solidifies identity—specifically in a mother’s sweet potato pie and fried chicken—in “Sweet Potato.” The works in the collection, Villaseñor says, bring strong emotion and authenticity to BIPOC trans and queer experiences. “Most important,” she adds, “they allow us to visit each other for a moment, a reminder that we have so much to share and aren’t alone.” The stories cover a range of genres, including light fantasy, romance, and late coming out.

Fantasy author Nghi Vo earned acclaim, including two starred PW reviews, for the 2020 novellas The Empress of Salt and Fortune and When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain, both set in a realm inspired by Imperial China. Her debut novel, The Chosen and the Beautiful (Tordotcom, June), is a retelling of The Great Gatsby, among the first since the novel entered the public domain this year. “The plot unravels tantalizingly slowly,” PW’s starred review said, and the author’s “immersive prose never ceases to captivate.”

In Vo’s version of the Gatsby tale, Prohibition extends to demon blood, and Jordan Baker, now the center of the narrative, is an enchantress, a Vietnamese adoptee, and queer. The book further makes explicit the novel’s queer subtext by bringing the speculated-upon bisexuality of Nick Carraway to fruition. “From the beginning, Jordan was a character that I noticed, possibly because Nick is noticing her,” Vo says. “I’ve spoken with a lot of queer people, and we all seem focused on Jordan—we’re not focused on the Nick and Gatsby relationship.”

Aside from having an androgynous name, Jordan does things atypical for a woman in the 1920s, such as golfing alongside men. “So Jordan is already a little weird, already an outsider,” Vo says. “I wanted to take that, and use lenses through which I see the world, as a queer Vietnamese woman myself.”

A common language

Da’Shaun L. Harrison, a self-described fat Black trans journalist and community organizer, wants to change the stories told about people who share their intersecting identities. Their debut, Belly of the Beast (North Atlantic, Aug.), examines the abuses that fat Black people experience. “There was so much missing for me in what’s been explored of fat studies and Black studies, which mainly centers cisgender women,” Harrison says.

The book also contends with the way police murders and violence affect fat Black people in particular, and how anti-fatness informs this violence, examining, for instance, what Eric Garner’s size had to do with the way he was killed—and the false narrative that he died because he was obese, not because he was put in an illegal choke hold. Harrison does more than critique the system, however; they outline “what can be changed right now and how you can shift things not only for yourself, but also how you can be better to the people around you.” They offer advice for parents of Black kids in general, and of fat Black kids specifically, and advocate for centering fat Black people in prison abolition work.

Harrison hopes to make fat studies and Black studies more accessible to a broader readership, layering their book with cultural anecdotes that translate theory into everyday references. “I want my mom, who has no idea what fat studies is and who has no idea what Black studies is, to be able to read it and understand it,” they explain, “just as much as I want a Black studies grad student to be able to read it and understand it.”

Alice Sparkly Kat, by contrast, takes a subject people may think they’re familiar with—astrology—and shows the ways it intersects with various identities and experiences. In Postcolonial Astrology (North Atlantic, May), the author, who was born in Zhengzhou, China, helps readers understand the field as a magical, political, and intersectional language with a rich history that extends beyond Western ideologies. Like queer theory, they say, astrology is about “creating a usable language for people to understand themselves.”

In the book, Sparkly Kat ranges over a variety of subjects: Mars and masculinity, what the moon and money have to do with each other, and what they call the planet Venus’s “gender evolution.” In doing so, they mirror other modern astrologers such as Chani Nicholas, who brought her message of radical self-acceptance to 2020’s You Were Born for This (72,000 print copies sold, per NPD BookScan). Sparkly Kat goes further in this book, encouraging conversations about white supremacy, immigration, and complex identity struggles through a planetary lens.

Cathartic redemption

Paula Stone Williams was a 61-year-old evangelical Christian pastor when she came out as transgender to her children in 2012. The following year, she came out publicly.

When Williams chose to live openly as a woman, her wife separated from her and she was ousted from her church, but she never lost her faith. In As a Woman (Atria, June), she delves into a subject atypical among trans memoirs: why she remains active in her religious community, and how she redefined her spirituality. “The evangelical community has been spectacularly unsupportive of transgender people,” she says. “So I know it’s imperative to do whatever I can to change
the narrative.”

In her book, Williams describes how her mother found her in her grandmother’s clothing, her experiences at Bible college, and how things unfolded when her wife left her. “Writing my memoir was a raw experience, but it was ultimately cathartic and redemptive,” says Williams, who today is a co-pastor at Left Hand Church, an inclusive, nondenominational church in Longmont, Colo. While her story contains sorrow, its focus is on trans joy, and finding hope when your greatest source of comfort forsakes you. “If my story can provide a tiny bit of light for someone else to realize the call toward authenticity is sacred, and holy, and for the greater good,” she says, “it will have been worth it.”

Another memoir arriving this season, Brian Broome’s Punch Me up to the Gods (HMH, May), has its roots not in faith but in verse. In a series of autobiographical essays, the debut author depicts growing up gay and Black in Ohio in the late 1970s and early ’80s, titling each chapter with lines from Gwendolyn Brooks’s 1959 poem “We Real Cool.” Broome sees the poem as “a mini-treatise on Black masculinity,” he says. “It’s like it laid itself out for me and asked me to apply the stories I was writing to each line.”

Punch Me up to the Gods details the racialized queerphobia Broome experienced and the physical and emotional abuse he suffered, including from his father. “For some, my father might come off as the villain of this book,” he says. “But he was a victim of intergenerational racist trauma himself, and so was his father, and his father, all the way back to when enslaved Africans were brought here. In my parents, I saw the influences of slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, civil rights, and so on. My children will see those effects in me.”

The author’s compassion for those who came before him means “there are no easy victims or villains in Broome’s painful, urgent telling,” PW’s starred review said. “His testimony rings out as a searing critique of soul-crushing systems and stereotypes.”

For Broome, the story is not centered on suffering. “Trauma is not the only thing intergenerational in my family,” he says. “So is stubbornness, humor, resilience, and a killer sweet potato pie recipe. One could say this is a memoir about pain, but that would only be getting it half right.” Given that the book is about his coming-of-age years, he adds, “the pain is real, but so is the humor. And there’s love, especially self-love. It’s not all sadness. This is not a trauma narrative.”

As with those of other queer and trans authors, Broome’s story is not one of surviving despite his identity but of thriving because of who he is.

Elly Belle is a nonbinary writer in Brooklyn.

Below, more on LGBTQ books.

Drawn This Way: LGBTQ Books 2021
New graphic novels showcase the spectrum of sexuallty, the complexity of queerness, and the history of trans joy and resistance.