“In some ways, this book is a response to what so many professors of English language literature ask their students to consider at the start of each semester. Why literature? What does literature accomplish?”
The Collection: Short Fiction from the Transgender Vanguard is straightforward in what it is right in the title. It’s a collection of short stories featuring trans* characters. This in and of itself is rare, as transgendered or non-binary gender identified people are often left out of “queer” literature in favour of cisgendered lesbian or gay, or bi characters. It’s a huge void in queer literature I want to see filled much more than it is, but The Collection is such a surprisingly hefty read that it bridges the gap quite a bit. It’s almost 400 pages of stories featuring protagonists with one identifying feature in common: they’re all trans*-identifying (or non-binary, in a few cases).
“Literature” is exactly the word I would use to describe the quality of the content in this collection. Any genre you can think of makes its way into this collection one way or another; while most stories are realistic or contemporary, there are a few supernatural or superhero tales, all exquisitely written. There’s no shortage of representation from one gender identity to another, and several stories feature a multitude of transgendered or non-binary characters just being characters, much in the way other fiction has background characters that we would take for granted. With this collection it’s impossible to take them for granted, but they’re written and treated no differently from any other non-trans* fiction.
The stories aren’t without discomfort on a lot of levels. Many of them integrate the microagressions that transgendered and non-binary people face on a daily basis, but never in a way that feels cheap or fake. The realness of each portrayal is exactly what makes them uncomfortable, and I won’t deny that some stories have a cringe factor so high I had to put them down and take a breath before continuing (I’m looking at you, The Café). However, after that breath I couldn’t wait to pick this collection back up, and I didn’t want it to be over. What I really want is another few dozen in the same vein. Halfway through this I was already recommending The Collection to my trans* and genderqueer friends, and after finishing it I couldn’t help but recommend it again. This is an amazing collection with a lot of talent behind it and it belongs with any other collection featuring great literature.
[Also check out Danika’s review!]