Transcendent 2 is Full of Top-Flight Transgender and Nonbinary Fantasy and SF

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.

How Do Bi-Gender People Experience Their Genders?

I’m conducting a survey of bi-gender people to help learn about and spread the word about what it means to be bi-gender. If you haven’t read about it elsewhere on this site, “bi-gender” (also written “bigender”) means having two genders, often but not always male or female, and experiencing them at the same time or at different times.

In other words, some bi-gender people experience their gender as a combination of two, others experience them separately, and still others sometimes do one and sometimes the other. That’s the topic of one of the questions in the survey.

gender identity experience among bi-gender people

For anyone who has read my book, you’ll know that I’m in that small green section, people who pretty much go back and forth between two genders without really ever finding themselves in the middle. As it turns out, that’s unusual among my survey sample: most people sometimes or always experience both genders at the same time.

The one response under “other” was from someone who wasn’t sure if the question meant to ask about gender identity or gender expression. My intention was closer to gender identity, though I meant gender identity in terms of how it feels at different times rather than in terms of how we define ourselves overall. Of course, I can’t say whether other respondents got this intention from the way I phrased the question.

There are other terms that can encompass the idea of being two genders at once: “genderqueer,” sometimes “genderfluid,” and just plain “nonbinary,” for example, could all potenitally cover it. Yet I don’t think it makes sense to try to insist that the term “bi-gender” not include people who might also be described in other ways, even if it were possible to make that change. First, “bi-gender” emphasizes the duality of our genders, which for some of us is a central point. Second, while for some of us, our gender experience may be consistent over many years, for others the experience of being bi-gender can change over time: gender proportions can shift, and the way we experience our genders can change as well. Not expecting the term “bi-gender” to give a specific account of exactly how we feel and present our genders leaves latitude for a range of gender experiences. There’s no point getting out of the gender binary box only to be trapped in another box of expectations.

My sample size is still small, although it’s growing. As of this writing, there are 18 respondents, which seems small unless you consider how difficult to find we bi-gender people currently are! I’ll post more results from the survey in posts going forward.

Nonbinary untruths debunked on Teen Vogue

Having been assigned male at birth, and having taken several decades to come around to getting my gender identity correct, there was never a point at which I read Teen Vogue–well, until today, when I was pointed to this useful article, “4 Things You Should Stop Saying to Nonbinary People.”

This is actually worth reading whether you’re learning about nonbinary people or are nonbinary (or “enby,” a word I learned very recently and love) yourself, even if only for the affirmation. This clear and useful little article gets to the heart of these problematic statements:

  • “Singular ‘they’ is grammatically incorrect.”
  • “There are only two genders.”
  • “So are you a boy or a girl?”
  • “Being nonbinary is a mental illness.”

Neither Male nor Female, Just Like It Says on My Driver’s License

In June of 2016, an Oregon judge ruled that Jamie Shupe, a 52-year-old Army veteran, could legally change their gender to “nonbinary” in the eyes of that state. This seems to have been the first time in the U.S. that a person gained legal status as neither male nor female, which is a little astonishing, considering we’ve always been here–though I admit, for a long time nobody considered our gender identities might be legitimate (least of all, oftentimes, nonbinary people ourselves).

Since then, the motor vehicle departments of Oregon, the District of Columbia, and California have all added a nonbinary option, X, on driver’s licenses, and Ontario, Washington state, and Vermont are now considering doing the same.

oregon driver's license with x gender

One thing that surprises me in all this is that for the most part, this welcome change isn’t based on new laws. California passed a bill to recognize a third gender option, but everywhere else I mentioned, it’s the department of motor vehicles getting things done. Apparently, there being no law that driver’s licenses have to say “male” or “female,” adding a third option isn’t a legal issue: it’s just administrative.

Even as a person who’s only partly out, I would love to see this option available in my state. The idea of having a license that doesn’t require me to say I’m something I’m not (or at least something I’m not a large proportion of the time) is hugely appealing, and I imagine preparing for my new photo by making my face look as androgynous as possible, hopefully leaving anyone who ends up needing to check my ID with no need to be confused or figure anything out.

androgynous face

But then, the bigger issue for me is the name. Even if I can get ID that is more or less accurate in terms of gender and that never presents a jarring contrast between my presentation in life and my presentation in my photo, I still need to be able to refer to myself somehow. Yet it’s already possible to get a legal name change, so all the tools are there.

What about you? Does anyone else out there have or want a non-binary designation on your license or passport?