image: Lambda Literary
Being a non-binary author, I wanted to make a list of other Canadian/Turtle Island non-binary authors to help you celebrate their work, but I realized I don’t always know who in my writing community identifies as non-binary, particularly as identities shift. So instead, I considered authors I know who’ve written about FTM transitioning/not transitioning (as in my novel Weekend, where a character uses they/them/their pronouns but hasn’t completed their psychological shifting). I also thought about ways other than gender that people transition. Here are a few of our many brilliant Canadian queer authors you’ll love to explore. All but one of these people have more than one title, so if you dive into their work, you’ll be able to read back into their older books with an eye to their authorial evolvement–how did they transit from early to mid-career to (in some cases) older writers, and what changes in society did their work note or represent over those years?
This is not an exhaustive list. Today I wanted to bring a spotlight to a few whose personhood and writing have been important to me as I tried to find my bumble-footed way through life:
Ali Blythe: Blythe is the author of Twoism, the edgy poetry collection that set minds and hearts afire. Of Twoism, Read his new book, Hymnswitch, of which Goose Lane pubs says: “…in Hymnswitch, Blythe takes up the themes of identity and the body once again, this time casting an eye backwards and forwards, visiting places of recovery and wrestling with the transition into one’s own skin. Readers will find themselves holding their breath at the risk and beauty and difficulty of the balance Blythe strikes in the midst of ineffable complexity.”
Lydia Kwa: Lydia Kwa is the Singaporean-born author of fiction and poetry I’ve enjoyed all my writing life, including Sinuous, Linguistic Tantrums, Pulse, The Walking Boy, This Place Called Absence, and The Colour of Heroines. The transitions Kwa writes about are often complicated and psychological, and not necessarily about gender.
Of Oracle Bone, Larissa Lai says: “A beautiful and moving dream of old Chang’an, deliciously and fully conceived. Lydia Kwa’s Oracle Bone is at once a fantasy and a memory, recalling the fertile meeting of Daoism and Buddhism in old China with subtle yet potent implications for our present relations with the Earth and everything that lives upon it. This reader finds particular delight in the ways Kwa has breathed life into a fox spirit, a Daoist nun, a corrupt yet compelling empress, and an orphan girl who wants to avenge the unjust killing of her parents. Wide-awake to Chinese imperial history, traditional storytelling, kung-fu movies, and TCM, this novel is a must-read from a brilliant contemporary novelist.” ―Larissa Lai, author of When Fox is a Thousand and Salt Fish Girl
Betsy Warland: Betsy Warland is the author of a dozen cross-genre books, including Oscar of Between: A Memoir of Identity and Ideas, Breathing the Page: Reading the Act of Writing, Only This Blue: A Long Poem with Essay, Bloodroot: Tracing the Untelling of Motherloss, What Holds Us Here, Two Women in a Birth, The Bat Had Blue Eyes, Proper Deafinitions: Collected Theorograms, Double Negative, serpent (w)rite: (a reader’s gloss), open is broken, and A Gathering Instinct. Betsy has always been at the forefront of interrogating identity.
“Vibrant and pulsating with life, Oscar of Between, like Warland’s other works, demonstrates Warland’s multiple engagements with crucial—and contemporary—literary, political, and aesthetic questions.” –Jule R Enzer, writing for Lambda Literary Review
Alec Butler: Alec Butler is another of Turtle Island’s longtime authors. Two-spirited, he is a Métis of Mi’kmaq heritage and also writes plays and films. His books are Radical Perversions: Two Dyke Plays and the extraordinary, must-read Rough Paradise.
“He was a nominee for the Governor General’s Award for English drama in 1990 for his play Black Friday. He has also worked on artistic projects with The 519 Church St. Community Centre as their first artist-in-residence. He was named one of Toronto’s Vital People by the Toronto Community Foundation in 2006.
- Cradle Pin
- Radical Perversions: 2 Dyke Plays (1990)
- Black Friday (1990)
- Claposis (1990)
- Hardcore Memories (1993)
- Medusa Rising (1996)
- Trans Cab (2005)
- Radical Perversions: two Dyke Plays by Audrey Butler published by Women’s Press, 1991
- Novella called Rough Paradise published May 31, 2014 by Quattro Books” -Wikipedia
Alex Leslie: Alex Leslie is the author of 3 titles. Their second collection of short fiction after the extraordinary People Who Disappear is We All Need to Eat, about to drop from Book*hug. Leslie also authored the poetry collection The things I heard about you.
“Many of Leslie’s stories centre on gay relationships and often focus on the difficulty of being “out” in a small community. The narrator of “The Coast Is a Road” accompanies her journalist lover as she “roams the coast like an indigenous seabird” in search of stories. The journalist’s purposeful wanderlust is set in contrast to the narrator’s dependent lassitude. The story is the most lyrical of the bunch, awash in lovely descriptions like, “Whale backs sink dark ink into polished water” or, “The snowy road balanced against the side of the dark mountain, the ultrasound image of a bone inside an arm.” -Quill and Quire on People Who Disappear
Ivan Coyote: The popular performer/author Ivan Coyote, too, has a number of books across genres and has edited anthologies: Tomboy Survival Guide, Gender Failure, One in Every Crowd, Missed Her, The Slow Fix, Bow Grip: A Novel, Loose End, One Man’s Trash: Stories, Close to Spider Man, Boys Like Her: Transfictions, and Goodbye Gender.
Shortlisted for the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust of Canada Prize for Nonfiction; Longlisted for the BC National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction; Stonewall Book Award Honor Book winner; Longlisted for Canada Reads
“Ivan Coyote is a celebrated storyteller and the author of ten previous books, including Gender Failure (with Rae Spoon) and One in Every Crowd, a collection for LGBT youth. Tomboy Survival Guide is a funny and moving memoir told in stories, about how they learned to embrace their tomboy past while carving out a space for those of us who don’t fit neatly into boxes or identities or labels.
Ivan writes about their years as a young butch, dealing with new infatuations and old baggage, and life as a gender-box-defying adult, in which they offer advice to young people while seeking guidance from others. (And for tomboys in training, there are even directions on building your very own unicorn trap.)
Tomboy Survival Guide warmly recounts Ivan’s past as a diffident yet free-spirited tomboy, and maps their journey through treacherous gender landscapes and a maze of labels that don’t quite stick, to a place of self-acceptance and an authentic and personal strength.” –Arsenal Pulp Press
Tom Cho: Tom Cho is a recent transplant from Australia I hope Canada is lucky enough to keep.
“First published to acclaim in Australia, Look Who’s Morphing by Asian-Australian writer Tom Cho is a funny, fantastical, often outlandish collection of stories firmly grounded in pop culture. The book’s central character undergoes a series of startling transformations, shape-shifting through figures drawn from film, television, music, books, porn flicks, and comics. Often accompanied by family members, this narrator becomes Godzilla, Suzi Quatro, Whitney Houston’s bodyguard, a Muppet, a gay leatherman, a nun who becomes a governess to the von Trapp children, and, in the book’s lavish climax, a 100-foot-tall guitar-wielding rock star performing for an adoring troupe of fans in Tokyo.
Throughout these stories, there is a pervasive questioning of the nature of identity―cultural, racial, sexual, gender, and what lies beyond. Look Who’s Morphing is a stylish, highly entertaining literary debut in which nothing, including one’s self, can be taken for granted.” –Arsenal Pulp Press
“Cho’s deliciously astute observations regarding the mutability of identity make for the perfect juicy center in the box of candy-colored bonbons that is Look Who’s Morphing.” —Lambda Literary