People at all points on the gender spectrum have always existed. However, the past ten years have seen dramatically increased visibility of transgender people in the public eye. Politicians, actors, film directors, and athletes have come out as transgender. In response, we’ve seen an increase in the number and diversity of materials on and about transgender issues. Autobiography is an ever-popular category, notable for being one of the few genres in which transgender people’s voices are heard.
Notes on vocabulary
For the purposes of this list, transgender, often shortened to trans, is used as an umbrella term to refer to people who identify as a gender other than the one that was assigned to them at birth. This label can encompass a wide variety of gender identities, some of which are defined below.
“Transsexual” typically describes people who were assigned to one gender at birth and identify as another. This includes trans men, who were assigned female at birth but identify as men, and trans women, who were assigned male at birth but identify as women.
Nonbinary is another umbrella term to refer to genders that fall outside of the traditional male/female binary model. Narrower concepts include “agender,” used for people who do not identify with any gender, as well as people who identify as multiple genders, between genders, genderqueer, gender fluid, or as a third gender.
The process of changing gender is known as “transition.” Many people choose to transition socially by coming out to friends, colleagues, or family members; some, but not all, also transition medically through the use of hormone treatments and surgical intervention. A person does not need to transition in order to be transgender.
Narrowing the contenders
Though there are many more high-quality transgender books, videos, and websites than those listed here, this feature has prioritized newer works created by transgender people, especially those by people of color and/or nonbinary-identified authors. Nearly every category includes content by and about trans men, trans women, and nonbinary individuals. This list does not include materials by and about drag kings and queens, who may not consider themselves transgender.
The sections on fiction, comics, and videos are brief; the comics and video sections do not include webcomics or streaming video, though both of these formats contain significant amounts of trans content. Sf and fantasy are omitted as there are enough titles in those genres to populate an entire column. Topside Press deserves mention for being a trans-owned company that publishes works by transgender authors.
Topics growing in popularity include transgender history and nonbinary genders. In general, the only transgender-themed works that could benefit from weeding are—much as with gay, lesbian, and bisexual works—older or reactionary materials that support reparative therapy.
Starred () titles are essential for most collections.
Bornstein, Kate. My New Gender Workbook: A Step-by-Step Guide to Achieving World Peace Through Gender Anarchy and Sex Positivity. 2d ed. Routledge. 2013. 293p. illus. ISBN 9780415538657. pap. $42.95.
This book offers an interactive introduction to gender, using quizzes, drawings, and exercises to explore multiple gender identities. Bornstein’s lighthearted, irreverent, and occasionally provocative approach makes postmodern gender theory accessible. Unlike the 1998 edition, the 2013 text includes more discussion around sexuality and intersections among race, gender, and class. (Classic Returns, 5/7/13)
Meyerowitz, Joanne. How Sex Changed: A History of Transsexuality in the United States. Harvard Univ. 2004. 400p. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780674013797. pap. $28.50.
In this social, legal, and medical history of transsexuality in the 20th century, Meyerowitz uses Christine Jorgensen’s story (with its emphasis on gender confirmation surgery) as a linchpin to detail how scientists and the popular imagination began to make distinctions between sex and gender. The oldest book on this list, it no longer feels as contemporary as it did a decade ago, but it remains valuable. (LJ 9/1/02)
Stryker, Susan. Transgender History. Seal. (Studies). 2008. 208p. illus. bibliog. ISBN 9781580052245. pap. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9780786741366.
A great complement to Meyerowitz’s How Sex Changed (see above), this work offers a history of transgender people and their activism from the 1850s to the 21st century. Stryker begins with a very useful introduction to basic gender-related terms and concepts, including explanations of potentially offensive words. Essential for all libraries.
Teich, Nicholas M. Transgender 101: A Simple Guide to a Complex Issue. Columbia Univ. 2012. 160p. illus. bibliog. ISBN 9780231157131. pap. $20; ebk. ISBN 9780231504270.
In this straightforward and readable introduction, topics include the distinctions among gender identity and sexual orientation, coming out, and social and medical transition as well as history, transgender as a mental illness, and discrimination. Teich provides anecdotes from his personal and professional lives. Both educational and entertaining.
Trans Bodies, Trans Selves: A Resource for the Transgender Community. Oxford Univ. 2014. 672p. ed. Laura Erickson-Schroth. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780199325351. pap. $39.95.
This collaboratively written resource guide discusses virtually every aspect of transgender life, ranging from intersectionality and legal issues to health and art. Each chapter, written by transgender or genderqueer authors, incorporates anonymous quotations from respondents to surveys conducted by the editorial staff that demonstrate the diversity in transgender people’s experiences and perspectives. A substantial work for public and academic libraries.
Bond, Justin Vivian. Tango: My Childhood, Backwards and in High Heels. Feminist. 2011. 144p. ISBN 9781558617476. pap. $16.95.
Witty and poignant, this memoir discusses V’s queer and transgender childhood. A diagnosis of attention deficit disorder and the imprisonment of Bond’s first lover/childhood bully prompt V to reflect on life as a child who did not conform to archetypical gender or sexual roles. At times sexually and violently explicit, this is a quick but powerful read. (LJ 9/15/11)
Coyote, Ivan & Rae Spoon. Gender Failure. Arsenal Pulp. 2014. 252p. illus. ISBN 9781551525365. pap. $17.95; ebk. ISBN 9781551525372.
Based on the authors’ multimedia performance of the same name, this work compiles autobiographical essays, lyrics, and art about their struggles to live within the gender binary. Both assigned female at birth, Spoon and Coyote alternate chapters to discuss the paths that led them to use gender-neutral pronouns (namely, “they”) and to be “gender-retired.” Honest, engaging, and very personal.
Letters for My Sisters: Transitional Wisdom in Retrospect. Transgress. 2014. 146p. ed. by Andrea James & Deanne Thornton. ISBN 9781499342031. pap. $17.99.
This anthology asks transgender women to answer one question: If you had to write a letter to someone newly out, or to your own pretransition self, what would you say? The results are raw and honest, representing many different perspectives and stories to inspirational effect.
McBee, Thomas Page. Man Alive: A True Story of Violence, Forgiveness and Becoming a Man. City Lights. 2014. 172p. ISBN 9780872866249. pap. $15.95.
McBee uses the two most influential men in his life—his abusive father and a mugger who threatened to kill him—to create his personal definition of manhood as he transitions from female to male. Veering closer to creative nonfiction than autobiography, this book is moving, beautifully written, and definitely worth purchasing.
Mock, Janet. Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More. Atria. 2014. 288p. ISBN 9781476709123. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781476709147.
Activist and trans woman Mock describes her difficult childhood as a multiracial child in Hawaii who transitioned while still in her teens. Mock neatly explains basic transgender terms and concepts, making this title especially valuable and important. (LJ 2/15/14)
Wilkinson, Willy. Born on the Edge of Race and Gender: A Voice for Cultural Competency. Hapa Papa. 2015. 354p. ISBN 9780997012309. pap. $17.
Funny and insightful, this is part chapbook, part memoir, and part political call to action. Wilkinson’s experience in public health and cultural competency training shines through to create a highly readable discussion of gender, disability, and social justice. A welcome addition to any collection.
Fiction & Literature
Aoki, Ryka. Seasonal Velocities. Trans-Genre. 2012. 139p. ISBN 9780985110505. pap. $14.95.
This collection of poems, stories, speeches, and performance art is passionate and evocative. All of Aoki’s works have been stunning; an excellent introduction.
Binnie, Imogen. Nevada. Topside. 2013. 262p. ISBN 9780983242291. $29.95; ebk. ISBN 9781627290005.
Maria Griffiths, a punk trans woman living in Brooklyn, is struggling with her girlfriend and her job. After losing both, she takes a road trip to the West Coast and encounters a teenager questioning his own gender. Written in stream of consciousness style, this novel is wry, hilarious, and smart.
The Collection: Short Fiction from the Transgender Vanguard. Topside. 2012. 410p. ISBN 9780983242208. $32.95; ebk. ISBN 9780983242222.
Short stories from 28 trans authors, including Carter Sickels, Casey Plett, Alice Doyle, and Everett Maroon. Subjects covered include superheroes, celebrities, sex, and competitive eating. As with most anthologies, the quality is uneven, but there are several truly outstanding pieces.
Feinberg, Leslie. Stone Butch Blues. 20th anniversary author ed. Self-published. 2014. 366p. Free download at lesliefeinberg.net.
Originally published in 1993, this is the hugely influential story of Jess Goldberg, a butch, working-class lesbian living in Buffalo during the pre-Stonewall era. Jess decides to transition to male but is ambivalent about losing connection to the lesbian community. Before her 2014 death, Feinberg announced her intention to allow the print version of Stone Butch Blues to go permanently out of print while keeping the work available as a free PDF download.
Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics. Nightboat. 2013. 544p. ed. TC Tolbert & Trace Peterson. illus. ISBN 9781937658106. pap. $27.95.
Compiles poems and “poetic statements”—self-written descriptions of each poet’s influences and creative process—from more than 50 transgender and genderqueer contributors. Poets include Julian Talamantez Brolaski, Eli Clare, Eileen Myles, Trish Salah, and Kit Yan. Powerful and necessary.
Politics & Theory
binaohan, b. decolonizing trans/gender 101. biyuti. 2014. 152p. ISBN 9780993793516. pap. $10.
Written as a response to Nicholas Teich’s Transgender 101: A Simple Guide to a Complex Issue (see above) but stands well on its own. A critical interrogation of the pervasive whiteness underlying many mainstream transgender conversations. Not an easy read, but a vital one.
Serano, Julia. Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity. 2d ed. Seal. 2016. 424p. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781580056229. pap. $20.
An essential discussion of the connections among transphobia, sexism, and homophobia, this work popularized the term transmisogyny to refer to this lethal combination. While Serano’s discussions of her own experiences may not resonate with all transgender readers, her political analysis is dead on.
Spade, Dean. Normal Life: Administrative Violence, Critical Trans Politics, and the Limits of Law. 2d ed. Duke Univ. 2015. 240p. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780822360407. pap. $23.95.
Spade critiques the LGBT political movements that attempt to work within the system in order to secure equal rights, arguing that this approach assumes that the powers that be are neutral or benevolent. Spade advocates for grassroots activism. An accessible, solid introduction to radical transgender politics.
The Transgender Studies Reader. 2006. 768p. ISBN 9780415947091. pap. $59.95.
The Transgender Studies Reader 2. 2013. 694p. ISBN 9780415517737. pap. $64.95. ea. vol: Routledge. ed. by Susan Stryker & Stephen Whittle. illus. bibliog. index.
The first volume is a canonical collection of English-language essays in transgender studies, spanning from Krafft-Ebing to Jack Halberstam. The equally ambitious second volume complements the first, demonstrating emerging trends in the field. Savvy acquisitions librarians should have little difficulty finding them at more affordable prices.
Boecher, Morgan. What’s Normal Anyway? Omaha: Scout. 2015. 156p. illus. ISBN 9780989586849. pap. $19.95. whatsnormalanyway.net
Lighthearted semiautobiographical strips about transitioning from female to male. Delightfully subversive.
Edwards, Dylan. Transposes. Northwest. 2012. 128p. illus. ISBN 9780984594085. pap. $19.99.
Six true vignettes about the love lives of seven queer transgender men. This very sweet and sexually explicit work is a quick read that could stand to be longer.
Digital Transgender Archive; digitaltransgenderarchive.net
A hub for digital transgender collections from around the world. Partners include Cornell’s Human Sexuality Collection, the ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives, South Africa’s Gender DynamiX, the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives, and the Transgender Oral History Project. An invaluable resource.
National Center for Transgender Equality; transequality.org
A social justice advocacy group dedicated to ending violence against transgender people in the United States. Monitors legislation and offers guidance to name changes and ID updates in all states and territories.
Refuge Restrooms; refugerestrooms.org
This open source website is a very necessary directory of gender-neutral restrooms worldwide. All entries are added and reviewed by users.
The TransAdvocate; transadvocate.com
Grassroots-level news and observations featuring investigative journalism. Categories include opinion pieces, media commentary, advice, and fact-checking. n
Boy Meets Girl. color. 95 min. Wolfe Video. 2015. UPC 754703764218. $24.95.
This charming coming-of-age story is about Robby and Ricky, two best friends growing up in Kentucky. Ricky is a trans woman (played by trans actor Michelle Hendley) whose close relationship with a woman causes Robby to acknowledge his true feelings.
Kumu Hina. color. 77 min. Passion River. 2015. UPC 888295172226. $24.95.
A biography of Hina Wong-Kalu, a teacher who is maha, a Hawaiian term for someone who is third gender. The main characters are Hina, her husband, and Ho’onani, her female student who wants to lead the all-boy hula troupe. Powerful and moving.
Tangerine. color. 88 min. Magnolia Pictures. 2015. UPC 876964009041. $26.98; Blu-ray UPC 876964009058. $29.98.
On Christmas Eve, sex workers Sin-Dee and Alexandra go on a quest to find Sin-Dee’s boyfriend/pimp, who cheated on her while she was in jail. This funny, gritty, and very realistic film stars two trans women and was shot entirely on an iPhone 5s.
Trans. color. 93 min. Sex Smart Films. 2012. $24.95.
This documentary profiles people of all ages at various stages of transition, from a very young trans girl to two older women. A touching and unflinching look at what it means to be transgender in the United States.