GRACE NOTES - JUNE 2023

It’s Pride Month, and while the news has been discouraging of late, especially with the domino effect of state after state rolling back trans rights, there is still much to celebrate. A new openness and freedom of expression pushes against the forces of oppression. From the joyous defiance of a drag queen story hour to the heroism of Montana State Representative Zooey Zephyr, who bravely stood up to the powers that sought to silence her and her constituents, the LGBTQ+ community and its allies are pushing back against the patriarchy.

The attempts to ban books written by LGBTQ+ writers has led to a nationwide outcry and an uptick in publication of diverse books, resulting in a whack-a-mole situation for book banners. The list of recent releases is simply too long for this little blog, so I’ve narrowed this month’s focus to a fascinating, well-researched book on transgender history and a list of queer-themed science fiction and fantasy books. AND, big news - Mac's Backs now has a LGBTQ+ book club, which meets the last Monday of each month at 7 p.m. Our inaugural title is Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe, which tops every banned book list in the country. Enjoy!

Before We Were Trans: A New History of Gender by Kit Heyam is a thoughtful, readable examination of the role of trans people throughout history, stretching back to ancient Egypt. Heyam is a British university lecturer and trans activist based in Leeds. In their book, they explore trans history through deep dives into the lives of notable, yet unsung trans people.

They address in the introduction the tendency of anti-trans factions to deny the existence of trans people throughout history simply because their stories have been underreported. The inclination among these parties is to view the current proliferation of transitions as a “fad.” Heyam challenges the notion of using cisgender as the default when talking about gender identity, suggesting that we broaden our view.

Transgender history is colorful and complex, evidenced by Heyam’s examinations of historical figures such as the Egyptian pharaoh Hatshepsut and 17th-century West African king Njinga Mbane. Evidence points to these monarchs as being transgender, suggesting that this was not historically a bar to power in these cultures.

Heyam explores the role of art, theatre, and fashion in the lives of transgender people, with a look at their role in Renaissance Europe. The stage was an important avenue of expression for trans performers. They use Ann Lister, the 19th-century British iconoclast whose life was fictionalized in the series “Gentleman Jack,” as an example of the perceived audacity of “cross-dressing.”

Heyam addresses the complicated overlap of trans and intersex identities with the delicacy of a surgeon. While each group seeks the same recognition and the same rights, the core of their identities comes into question when lumped together. Heyam cites examples from the colonial United States to World War II to bring into focus the intrusive curiosity that cis people have always had about trans and intersex folks’ genitals, a curiosity that has only burgeoned in recent years.

Heyam draws parallels between the Native American two-spirit identity and the Indian hijra. Both of these groups enjoy some esteem in their native cultures, but have been historically persecuted by the white patriarchy. Two-spirits were imprisoned, enslaved, and tortured by Spanish settlers and hijra, gender-fluid sex workers, were oppressed by the British Raj.

While Heyam has the historian’s diligence for research and documentation, they make no apologies for departing from academic objectivity. In their words, “…emotional connection to those past people is not just tolerable, it’s necessary, because it’s what leads us to care enough to take the time to know people in other times and cultures on their own gendered terms.”

Before We Were Trans is an important, nuanced account that should be on the shelf of anyone who cares about social justice and human rights.

 

So much great sci-fi has been released in the last few years by LGBTQ+ authors! Read on for a list of recommendations - 

Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki

A warm, joyous interstellar adventure with themes of love, violins, and donuts.

Flux by Jinwoo Chong

Time travel meets techno-thriller in this tense, twisty adventure.

The Cleveland Heights LGBTQ Sci-Fi and Fantasy Role Playing Club by Doug Henderson

The title says it all. There is so much going on in this riotous romp that you don’t need to live in Cleveland Heights to find something to enjoy.

Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James

Bloody, bawdy, and literate, Book One in James’ Dark Star Trilogy is a sweeping adventure set in an alternate Africa.

In the Lives of Puppets by TJ Klune

Inspired by Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio, this is the story of a patched-together family off on a quest through an inhospitable landscape to rescue a friend.

The Memory Librarian, and Other Stories from Dirty Computer by Janelle Monae

Monae collaborates with a team of great writers in this collection of Afrofuturist stories inspired by her album Dirty Computer.

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

Book one in Muir’s Locked Tomb series is an epic space opera with lesbian necromancers, gothic palaces, and tons of swordplay.

Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon

Vern flees to the woods to give birth to her twins outside the influence of her strict religious community, then discovers more danger than she bargained for.

The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo

Set in Jazz Age America, this work of magical realism starring a Vietnamese adoptee turns Gatsby on its head.

 

Coming in July -

Café Unfiltered by Jean-Philippe Blondel, translated by Alison Anderson

In a provincial French cafe late in the current pandemic, customers cautiously resume socializing. A young artist sketches by the window, a mother and son exchange angry words, two men who haven’t seen each other in years have an awkward reunion. Meanwhile, the café’s aging owner is looking to move on and turn what has become a local institution over to her young protégé. Their personal histories intertwine over the space of a day, and we are invited into each character’s inner life. Warm, sweet, and sad, Café Unfiltered quietly lays bare the hopes and regrets of human existence. If Suzanne Vega’s “Tom’s Diner” had been fleshed out into a novel, this would be it.

 

Crook Manifesto by Colson Whitehead

This second installment in Whitehead’s Harlem trilogy brings our anti-heroes into the ‘70s, with all of that decade’s spangled latex glory. Furniture store owner Ray Carney is still trying to pry himself away from his underworld dealings, to little avail. Pepper, his partner in crime, is still pursuing frontier justice with almost gleeful violence, and Carney’s long-suffering wife Elizabeth is getting neck strain trying to look the other way. Told in the same triptych format as Harlem Shuffle, the stories take us from 1971 to 1976. The Jackson Five, the Black Panthers, Blaxploitation cinema, and the Bicentennial all provide the backdrop for these snappy, often hilarious tales of criminal hijinks, woven in with sly commentary on the racial dynamics of the decade. Whitehead has a keen eye and ear for the look, language, and zeitgeist of the decade, painting each scene with the sharp color of a black light poster.

 

Poetry for June!

 

“Gas Station” by Young Nudy

why can’t the lyrics be about a trans woman? - a

trans woman who has a thing for diamonds &

men who wear them? - a trans woman who might

tweet a selfie with the caption “#hotgirlsummer”?

- who sticks herself with a two-inch needle once

a week? - who isn’t interested in bottom surgery?

- who has been a sex worker or a bartender? -

who has been unemployed & homeless? - who

has slept in a parked car with no heat in the dead

of december? - who once worked retail but was

fired because of baseless customer complaints? -

who used to have a sugar daddy almost three

times her age? - who grew up yearning for the

touch of a man & feeling terrified by the want? -

who loves smoking weed but also depends on it?

- who worries about dying before the age of 30?

- why can’t the lyrics be about a woman rejected

by most? - why can’t the lyrics be about a woman

rising like a phoenix from the glowing flames that

try to engulf her?

                            ~ Marzi Margo (from Emoji Revival)

 

The following poetry selections are in memory of my dog, Rimbaud, who left us on May 3rd after six years of love and joy. He was a gentle giant - intelligent, loyal, funny, handsome, and the best friend any human could have. The first time I met him, he tilted his head and looked at me with an expression that said, “Love me,” and I said “OK.” His name when we adopted him was Rambo, but we felt that didn’t suit this animal who had the soul of a poet, so we tweaked it a bit and called him Rimbaud. We miss you, buddy…

 

Portraits

Dorothy:

I didn’t like her very well

Then one day I heard she said

“My kids eat off the floor all the time”

Now I love her

 

Theresa:

I never liked her much

Till the day, when I was down

And out in the hospital,

She brought two big tomatoes

“For you to hold and smooth

They’re so healthy looking”

 

Dinah:

I didn’t think I was going to like her

But the first thing she said

About my friend, my dog, was

Not “How long have you had her?”

But “How long have you been together?”

                       ~ Clara Pfister

 

Sensation

Through blue summer nights I will pass among paths,

Pricked by wheat, trampling short grass:

Dreaming, I will feel coolness underfoot,

Will let breezes cool my bare head.

 

Not a word, not a thought:

Boundless love will surge through my soul,

And I will wander far away, a vagabond

In Nature—as happily as with a woman.

                        ~ Arthur Rimbaud

 

For further reading - 

Click here to read Amelia Possanza's thoughts on the power of unearthing queer history.

Click here for a reading list of queer black poets of the Harlem Renaissance.

Click here to read about the importance of sci-fi as a refuge for queer teens.

 

 

Books: 
Before We Were Trans: A New History of Gender By Dr. Kit Heyam, Ph.D Cover Image
$30.00
ISBN: 9781541603080
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Seal Press - September 13th, 2022

Light From Uncommon Stars By Ryka Aoki Cover Image
$18.99
ISBN: 9781250789082
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Tor Books - July 26th, 2022

Flux By Jinwoo Chong Cover Image
$28.99
ISBN: 9781685890346
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Melville House - March 21st, 2023

The Cleveland Heights LGBTQ Sci-Fi and Fantasy Role Playing Club By Doug Henderson Cover Image
$16.00
Email or call for price.
ISBN: 9781609387563
Published: University Of Iowa Press - April 15th, 2021

Black Leopard, Red Wolf (The Dark Star Trilogy #1) By Marlon James Cover Image
$18.00
ISBN: 9780735220188
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Riverhead Books - February 4th, 2020

In the Lives of Puppets By TJ Klune Cover Image
$28.99
ISBN: 9781250217448
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Tor Books - April 25th, 2023

The Memory Librarian: And Other Stories of Dirty Computer By Janelle Monáe Cover Image
$18.99
ISBN: 9780063070882
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Harper Voyager - January 31st, 2023

Gideon the Ninth (The Locked Tomb Series #1) By Tamsyn Muir Cover Image
$18.99
ISBN: 9781250313188
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Tordotcom - July 14th, 2020

Sorrowland: A Novel By Rivers Solomon Cover Image
$18.00
ISBN: 9781250849267
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Picador - May 3rd, 2022

The Chosen and the Beautiful By Nghi Vo Cover Image
By Nghi Vo
$17.99
ISBN: 9781250820129
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Tordotcom - March 29th, 2022

Café Unfiltered By Jean-Philippe Blondel, Alison Anderson (Translator) Cover Image
$17.95
ISBN: 9781954404205
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: New Vessel Press - July 11th, 2023

Crook Manifesto: A Novel By Colson Whitehead Cover Image
$29.00
ISBN: 9780385545150
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Doubleday - July 18th, 2023

Emoji Revival By Marzi Margo Cover Image
$11.49
ISBN: 9780998601274
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Be about It Press - May 15th, 2022

Arthur Rimbaud: Complete Works By Arthur Rimbaud Cover Image
$18.99
ISBN: 9780061561771
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Harper Perennial Modern Classics - July 1st, 2008

Gender Queer: A Memoir By Maia Kobabe Cover Image
$24.99
ISBN: 9781549304002
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Oni Press - May 28th, 2019