Tag Archives: Trans

[Blog Tour] Interview with Aiden Thomas

I’m super excited to host this interview with Aiden Thomas on their debut, Cemetery Boys, for the blog tour arranged by Hear Our Voices Book Tours. You can find more info about the book in my review.

Q: Writing #OwnVoices stories can be fraught for marginalized writers because it often feels like baring our soul to the world. What was it like to write a character who was like you?

A: It was actually incredibly stressful! The “baring my soul” part was actually a lot less scary than the intense fear I had of saying/writing the wrong thing and hurting a reader who shares marginalizations with me/Yadriel. For me, being an #OwnVoices author meant I was hyper of the sense of responsibility that came with it. Even though me and Yads share a lot of the same marginalizations, I know that everybody has their own internalized stuff to work through, which is why I got Authenticity Readers who could catch anything that accidentally made it onto the page.

It also meant being under a lot of pressure to get the representation right! Being one of very few books containing a trans main character (not to mention queer and Latinx) meant “Cemetery Boys” could be one of the first books someone has ever read with that representation. I didn’t want to mess it up! But at the same time, a lot of pride went into it, too. I’m very aware that I’m in a special position to even be able to tell this story, and I really take that as a serious responsibility. I’m so thankful for the support I’ve gotten from the community. Every time a reader reaches out to tell me they related to Yadriel, or that this is the first time they really saw themselves in media, it really makes my heart so full!

Q: Although marginalized communities are often treated as monoliths, the reality is that we are diverse, and mainstream media is only just scratching the surface of representing our experiences. With that in mind, what kinds of trans Latinx YA stories do you want to see in the future?

A: Honestly I want lots of stories across all genres! I want trans Latinx horror, thriller, high fantasy, contemporary romcoms — all of it! In order for us to push back against the idea of a “monolith,” we need diversity of representation across genres. We also need different types of trans characters — binary trans, nonbinary, agender, etc. — and different Latinx cultures as well. We, ourselves, are so diverse, I really want those differences and what makes us unique to be shared and celebrated!

Q: If Yadriel had a Twitter account, what would he use as his Twitter handle and what would his bio say?

A: I feel like Twitter would definitely be Yadriel’s social media of choice! He’d just be on Twitter to vent and talk into the void and get irritated when one of his tweets went viral. His bio would be short and sweet, probably just “Gay and Tired™.” For his handle, Yadriel would probably want to do something simple like just using his name, which Maritza would refuse to let him do, so she’d take over and make one for him that’d be like, “@pendejobrujo” and then he’d be stuck with it.

Q: If you could choose a song to represent Yadriel and Julian, what song would it be?

A: I make playlists on YouTube for all my books and characters so this is easy! When “Cemetery Boys” was still just a vague idea in my brain, I heard “Eastside” by Benny Blanco, featuring Halsey and Khalid while I was driving around one night. I fell madly in love with it and it ended up being the inspiration for like three whole chapters of the book!

Q: If Yadriel and Julian had animal alter egos, what animals would they be, respectively?

A: Yadriel would definitely be a black cat because he keeps to himself, is picky about who he gets close to and can be really stubborn. He’s also pretty quiet and just wants to curl up and be cozy with the people he cares about.

Meanwhile, Julian would be a husky because he’s so hyperactive, demands attention from the people he loves and never shuts up.

Q: Last but not least, please recommend a few books by queer authors of color that you love!

A: Oh gosh, there’s so many! But a few of my favorites are:


Aiden Thomas is a YA author with an MFA in Creative Writing. Originally from Oakland, California, they now make their home in Portland, OR. As a queer, trans, latinx, Aiden advocates strongly for diverse representation in all media. Aiden’s special talents include: quoting The Office, Harry Potter trivia, Jenga, finishing sentences with “is my FAVORITE”, and killing spiders. Aiden is notorious for not being able to guess the endings of books and movies, and organizes their bookshelves by color.

[Blog Tour] Review for Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas

Hello again, September 1st is a day of so many incredible book releases, not least of which is Cemetery Boys, and I’m thrilled to be reviewing this book for the blog tour hosted by Hear Our Voices.

Title: Cemetery Boys
Author: Aiden Thomas
Publisher: Swoon Reads
Release Date: September 1, 2020
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

Synopsis:

Yadriel has summoned a ghost, and now he can’t get rid of him.

When his traditional Latinx family has problems accepting his gender, Yadriel becomes determined to prove himself a real brujo. With the help of his cousin and best friend Maritza, he performs the ritual himself, and then sets out to find the ghost of his murdered cousin and set it free.

However, the ghost he summons is actually Julian Diaz, the school’s resident bad boy, and Julian is not about to go quietly into death. He’s determined to find out what happened and tie up some loose ends before he leaves. Left with no choice, Yadriel agrees to help Julian, so that they can both get what they want. But the longer Yadriel spends with Julian, the less he wants to let him leave.

Review:

The moment I finished Cemetery Boys, I was ready to join the Yadriel Defense Squad. Yadriel is such a lovable character, and I was sucked into his story from the beginning. From his stubbornness to his insecurities, to his yearning for validation and desperation to prove himself, I saw a piece of myself in Yadriel’s character.

I also really loved the supporting cast. Yadriel’s cousin Maritza is a badass and a rebel who doesn’t take shit from anyone. She keeps it real with Yadriel and is his staunchest ally, and I couldn’t imagine a better friend to have by my side. Julian, the ghostly love interest, is also endearing in his own way. He reminds me of a puppy, eager and energetic and a little bit clumsy, loyal and without pretense. In particular, his penchant for getting idioms wrong had me laughing and shaking my head. His dynamic with Yadriel is engaging because of their drastically different personalities.

Yadriel’s big Latinx family, dead and alive, is a constant presence in and core aspect of his story. They span a range of personalities and add texture and nuance to the Latinx representation in the book. Their teasing and doting, their celebratory gatherings and more somber heart-to-hearts, all of these facets enrich the narrative. Notably, some are more accepting of Yadriel’s transness than others, and Yadriel has to navigate the complex tensions of familial love, which is idealized as unconditional but less straightforward in reality.

One of the things I appreciated about Cemetery Boys is the way Yadriel’s gender is inextricably tied to his culture. Going beyond the personal, his gender is linked with the role he plays as brujo. He is part of something greater than himself, a line of traditions that connect him to his ancestors and the gods, especially the Lady of Death, their patron goddess, who endows the brujx with their supernatural gifts.

Cemetery Boys is so many things at once: a cute romance, a heartening coming-of-age story, and a magical murder mystery. It balances the serious with the humorous, the dark with the hopeful. Every character has depth and their own personal journeys and conflicts, internal or external, some linked to salient contemporary issues affecting communities of color. Notably, there is a secondary character, Flaca, who is a trans Latina whose determination to be out and proud at school helps Yadriel in his own transition.

In short, I cannot recommend Cemetery Boys enough, and I hope you fall in love with Yadriel as much as I did. For more about this book and the author, check out my interview with Aiden Thomas.


Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iBooks | The Book Depository | IndieBound | Google

About the Author:

Aiden Thomas is a YA author with an MFA in Creative Writing. Originally from Oakland, California, they now make their home in Portland, OR. As a queer, trans, latinx, Aiden advocates strongly for diverse representation in all media. Aiden’s special talents include: quoting The Office, Harry Potter trivia, Jenga, finishing sentences with “is my FAVORITE”, and killing spiders. Aiden is notorious for not being able to guess the endings of books and movies, and organizes their bookshelves by color.

Transathon TBR

I’m a bit late to the party, but this month I’m participating in a reading challenge called Transathon, which spotlights trans authors and books. Here are the prompts and my choices for each.

Transathon 2020

  • A book written by a trans woman: Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars: A Dangerous Trans Girl’s Confabulous Memoir by Kai Cheng Thom
  • A book written by a nonbinary person: King and the Dragonflies by Kacen Callender – MG, Contemporary, Gay Black Boy MC
  • A book written by a trans man: Stay Gold by Tobly McSmith – YA, Contemporary, Trans Boy MC
  • A book with a trans MC: Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas – YA, Fantasy, Gay Latinx Trans Boy MC
  • A nonfiction trans book: Redefining Realness by Janet Mock
  • A book with a nonbinary MC: No More Heroes by Michelle Kan – YA/NA, Urban Fantasy, Asexual/Gray-Aromantic Genderfluid Cantonese Chinese MC (plus other queer, disabled, POC characters)
  • A book with multiple trans characters: An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon – Adult, Science Fiction, Black Nonbinary MC
  • A book with the word trans in the title: Queer & Trans Artists of Color Volume Three, interviews by Nia King, edited by Maliha Ahmed
  • A graphic novel with a trans main character: Mooncakes by Wendy Xu – YA, Fantasy, Queer Chinese American MCs (one cis, one trans & nonbinary)

(Note: All of the authors above are trans except Wendy Xu.)

Review for Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender

I’ve been looking forward to reading Felix Ever After for a long time, and I’m super excited to be reviewing it!

Felix Ever After

Synopsis:

Felix Love has never been in love—and, yes, he’s painfully aware of the irony. He desperately wants to know what it’s like and why it seems so easy for everyone but him to find someone. What’s worse is that, even though he is proud of his identity, Felix also secretly fears that he’s one marginalization too many—Black, queer, and transgender—to ever get his own happily-ever-after.

When an anonymous student begins sending him transphobic messages—after publicly posting Felix’s deadname alongside images of him before he transitioned—Felix comes up with a plan for revenge. What he didn’t count on: his catfish scenario landing him in a quasi–love triangle….

But as he navigates his complicated feelings, Felix begins a journey of questioning and self-discovery that helps redefine his most important relationship: how he feels about himself.

Felix Ever After is an honest and layered story about identity, falling in love, and recognizing the love you deserve.

My Review:

I’m so emotional right now that it’s hard to articulate my feelings about this book, which is my official favorite of 2020. If it weren’t my duty to write a review with words, I’d just be dumping memes of Kermit emitting hearts everywhere.

I have to say that it’s the first book I’ve read where I’ve felt so seen and represented as a queer, trans, and nonbinary POC. I’ve talked about this before on Twitter, but there’s a huge disconnect for me when I read about white queer characters because race and racism are inextricably intertwined with my experiences of queerness.

In this book, Felix grapples with the feeling that he is “too many” marginalizations because he is Black and trans and queer. He doesn’t feel like he is deserving of love because of the way society has taught us to value cis-ness and whiteness. This struggle is so profoundly relatable to me as a queer Asian person. Even before I realized I was trans, I already had an intuitive understanding that I was less desirable because I was Asian and gender-nonconforming, and after figuring out my nonbinary gender and coming out, I still have insecurities surrounding this.

As a whole, Felix Ever After is full of so many important and salient conversations about race and queerness. I don’t highlight/underline/write in my physical books, but I definitely felt the urge to do so multiple times when I landed upon passages that resonated or spoke truth to power regarding an issue. One such passage lays bare the ways cis gay white men weaponize their privilege against other queer people with less power. Another passage takes on the question of whether labels are necessary or restrictive and whether gender abolition is the end goal of trans liberation. Another issue addressed in the book is how cis women harm trans people, especially trans men and trans masculine people, by accusing us of betraying women and being misogynists in “choosing” a gender that’s not our birth-assigned gender. These are real things that happen, and seeing them explored and interrogated on the page was so validating.

Felix as a character is so lovable, and it was impossible not to see myself in him. His fear of displaying vulnerability and taking risks for love spoke to me on the deepest level. He’s flawed and real. He makes unfair judgments and assumptions, lashes out in anger, and says things that hurt others to protect himself. He also yearns to connect with others, expresses himself through art, and takes responsibility for his actions and growth. His desire to prove himself as an artist and to colleges kind of felt like a personal attack because it held up a mirror to my inner psyche.

This book does an incredible job of balancing the real pain and difficulties of being a queer and trans Black person with hope and empowerment. Watching Felix grow into himself as a demiboy, discover love and intimacy, and receive validation from the people he cares about was immensely cathartic. As the title promises, he gets his happy ever after.

Content Warnings: racism, queer antagonism (deadnaming, misgendering, outing), drugs/alcohol


Links:

Review for The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

The Prince and the Dressmaker

Summary: Frances has many ideas for making fabulous dresses but no outlet to express her creativity. Through a stroke of good luck, she secures a job as a secret seamstress to Prince Sebastian. The prince wears the dresses Frances designs while going by the name of Lady Crystallia and quickly becomes a fashion icon in Paris, garnering recognition for Frances’ designs. Over time, the two become good friends and develop romantic feelings for one another. However, their happiness is threatened when they are pulled in different directions, Frances by her ambitions to work in a position where her name is known to the public, and Sebastian by their filial duty to marry as the royal heir.

Review:

When I first heard about the idea for this graphic novel and saw preliminary design sketches on Tumblr a few years ago, I was so impatient for it to be released. Now I’ve finally read it! If you saw my Goodreads review, it was basically me crying about my love for this book. Initial impressions aside, I have conflicting feelings about the book that I’ll elaborate on below.

The Good/Great:

The plot made for a great coming-of-age story, with the characters’ desires and growth at the forefront. I’ll admit I’m biased in being drawn to and loving the story because Sebastian is trans (there weren’t specific labels mentioned in the book, but genderqueer and trans femme seem to fit the best from what I gathered) and there are so few trans characters in YA. Watching Sebastian transition and become comfortable presenting as a girl was super heartwarming for me as a trans and genderqueer person. Frances’ arc in developing her creative/artistic talent was likewise relatable to me as someone who writes and draws and wants to be a published author. Jen Wang’s art style is a combination of cute and elegant and really makes the whole experience a visual treat.

The Not-So-Good:

It partially follows the template of a typical trans acceptance narrative. While Frances and Sebastian’s manservant have no problem accepting and respecting Sebastian’s gender from the beginning, the same can’t be said for other characters. Sebastian being closeted and fearful of rejection and disgust from their parents as well as the public drives the primary conflict in the story. This isn’t automatically bad, but it’s part of a broader trend of cis authors putting trans characters through some rough situations that aren’t always handled very well in execution.

TW: outing of a trans character

There is a scene where Sebastian is publicly outed by another character who pulls off their wig while they are presenting as a girl, which results in a confrontation involving the king and queen that is pretty emotionally devastating. My issue with this scene is that forcibly outing characters, especially as a humiliating spectacle, is really overused for dramatic effect by cis authors, who may not realize how hurtful the experience can be for trans readers. It happens so much that I am desperate for more stories where trans characters are able to come out on their own terms.

Conclusion: While the the characters are endearing, the art is lovely, the ending is a happy one all around, and the overall message is hopeful for trans/non-binary people, trans/non-binary readers who choose to pick this up should take care while reading in the second half since the outing/confrontation scene is potentially triggering.

Review for If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

if-i-was-your-girl

Note: I read this book as part of the #DiversityDecBingo reading challenge. You can find out more about it here.

Note 2: I read the Kindle ebook version of the book.

My Summary: Amanda Harding has begun a new life in hopes of escaping a painful past. All she wants to do is fit in and experience a normal teenage life. At first, it seems like she may succeed: she’s made friends with popular girls and drawn the attention of a cute football player named Grant. However, the fear of being outed as trans lingers, and there’s no telling what will happen if that fact is revealed.

Review:

I have mixed feelings about this book. One the narrative level, I enjoyed it. There was good characterization, conflict, resolution, emotional arc, etc. It was a nice step toward getting trans narratives into mainstream publishing. I’ll go into detail about this first and then get to the more critical part.

While the primary narrative of the book takes place after Amanda has transitioned, interspersed throughout are chapters recounting past experiences before and during transition. The difficulty of the transitioning process isn’t glossed over. There is bullying, misunderstanding from family, the policing of gender from all sides, difficult conversations, rejection from family and community (especially religious community), depression, anxiety, despair, self-blame, internalized transphobia, etc. Because the author is a trans woman herself, she is able to depict with nuance and realism the detailed physical and emotional experience of Amanda’s transition.

On the more positive side, Amanda’s life isn’t all doom and gloom, the story of the tragic trans person. She’s not sentenced to a life of isolation and constant struggle. Though it takes time to get there, her parents come to accept and love her unconditionally. She finds friends, allies, other LGBTQ people, and even a boyfriend. She also has a mentor and role model from her trans support group, which such an important thing to show in trans narratives. She recognizes and finds beauty in other trans people who don’t share her experience.

Another thing that I liked is that the story addressed the homophobia, transphobia, and misogyny tied to toxic masculinity in mainstream American culture (especially sports culture), the attitudes that lead to violence against trans girls/women in particular. It also draws attention to the general misogyny that girls and women face in being constantly scrutinized and objectified by the patriarchal male gaze.

The narrative is also very explicit about undermining stereotypes and assumptions about gender and sexuality, such as “you don’t have to be a boy to like girls,” and a girl being masculine doesn’t necessarily mean she’s attracted to girls. It calls out shitty representation in media. Amanda has a conversation where she lays out the rules for what’s off-limits to ask trans people (the most basic ones: their genitals, when/whether they’ve had surgery and what it’s like, and their birth names).

Something else I appreciated was the ongoing commentary on the ways in which trans people’s struggles are part of a more universal human struggle. Transphobia is real, and violence specifically against trans people is very real, but the struggle to be true to oneself in the face of societal expectations of conformity to some norm is something basically everyone deals with at some point. It’s a humanizing thing to acknowledge, and builds the foundation for empathy between people with different experiences and identities.

The ending may feel incomplete to some, but for me it’s realistic. Being trans in a transphobic society means that we are constantly having to confront bias and educate people and have difficult conversations. It’s an ongoing process. Sometimes the more important thing isn’t whether others accept and love us, it’s whether we accept and love and make peace with ourselves, because heaven knows that it is something that so many trans people struggle with.

Now, for the criticism.

There was one part where a character proposes a theory that homophobes are just closeted gay people hating on other gay people out of insecurity and inability to accept their own secret gayness. While it’s true that internalized homophobia is a real phenomenon, this generalization is really harmful because it pins the blame of homophobia back onto the very people it victimizes. Ultimately, homophobia doesn’t benefit gay people. It benefits straight people by normalizing straightness and keeping them in a position of power and privilege. The majority of homophobic violence is perpetrated by people who aren’t secretly gay, and straight people have to hold themselves accountable for their complicity. The “homophobes are just closeted gay people” theory absolves straight people of any responsibility to fight homophobia.

From a big picture perspective, this book left a lot to be desired because it represents the experience of a straight, white, cis-passing, thin, conventionally attractive, middle-class, and able-bodied trans person. To her credit, the author does acknowledge this fact in her author’s note, and that she smoothed the path for Amanda in ways that don’t reflect reality. The percent of the trans population who shares Amanda’s identities and positionality is tiny. A large part of the reason this book was able to get published was because it features a trans person who is the most acceptable and privileged among trans people.

So my criticism isn’t necessarily against the author individually as it is against the industry that favors this kind of narrative for the spotlight. Trans people want so much more. We want to see stories that show the struggles of those of us who are non-binary/genderqueer/genderfluid/genderfucks, those of us who are non-cis-passing, those who don’t want to “pass,” those of us who are too poor to access hormones and surgery, those of us with health conditions that make medical transition difficult or impossible, those of us who are fine with our bodies and our gender expressions as they are but not with the way people label us with their assumptions based on them, those of us who are fat, those of us who are disabled, those of us who struggle with intersecting oppressions of racism/transphobia/homophobia/ableism/etc.

And we want to see more than just our struggles with being trans. We want to see our triumphs, our adventures, our conflicts over non-gender-related shit, our loving relationships or happy single lives, our sci-fi thrillers and space operas, our epic fantasy quests and paranormal romances, our happily-ever-afters.

Recommendation: I’ll be honest and say that this book didn’t feel super validating for me personally because there are many ways in which my experiences differ from Amanda’s. That’s not to say that other trans people won’t find it validating or that this is not a good book or an important one. I’d still recommend it to cis people as a way to get your toes wet in the vast ocean of trans experiences. And then, after that, look for other narratives that expand your view of what it means to be trans.

P.S. I’m so relieved that they used an actual trans girl for the cover model because there’s enough erasure to go around with Hollywood casting cis people to play trans characters left and right.