I kept my expectations in check when I picked up Transcendent 2: The Year’s Best Transgender Speculative Fiction, edited by Bogi Takacs. How much high-quality transgender speculative fiction would even have been published over the course of the year, I wondered. As it turned out, there’s quite a lot.
Before I speak to more specifics, though, I want to point out how broad and inclusive the spectrum of gender identities in these stories were. While I’m quite interested in fiction about what you might call “traditional” transgendered people, who each identify as just one discrete gender (which doesn’t match their birth sexes), being nonbinary, I’m keenly interested in stories about characters who are not strictly male or female, whether trans or not. To my surprise and great pleasure, Transcendent 2 offered a real wealth of stories like that.
Because so many of these stories are written by non-cisgender people, the trans and nonbinary characters in them are not used as gimmicks or tokens: by and large, they’re complicated, diverse people whose genders are not the most important or most striking thing about them. To go from reading about almost no trans/enby characters straight to full-fledged ones, without having to go through an intermediary stage of diversity for diversity’s sake, is a privilege.
While my enthusiasm for the individual stories was mixed, there was no lack of good writing, and I imagine another reader might well pick other favorites. A few of mine included
- A. Merc Rustad’s “This Is Not a Wardrobe Door,” about childhood friends in other worlds
- “Three Points Masculine,” in which An Owomoyela opens up some of the complex issue of a trans person’s own response to other kinds of trans people
- Keffy Kehrli’s queerly and engagingly imaginative “The Road, and the Valley, and the Beasts”
- Toby MacNutt’s “The Way You Say Goodnight,” with its half-metaphoric delving into individual burdens, disabilities, identities, and hidden strengths, and
- “Her Sacred Spirit Soars,” S. Qiouyi Lu’s beautifully evolving story of transference of spirit, oneness, loneliness, and layered identity. While this felt like the least trans stories in the anthology to me, it had one of the most unusual approaches to the idea. For fans of literary rule-breaking, it also is one of those rare pieces of fiction that uses the second person well.
Some other stories caught my imagination less, but the variety and the consistently high quality of the writing prevented any from being stories I skipped, which in such a varied anthology is a real accomplishment for me as a reader. I generally stop reading books or stories the moment I decide they aren’t likely to have anything I really want to offer, and that didn’t happen once in this book. Take a look, and see for yourself.