I read 99 books last year. These are the ones that stood out.

According to Goodreads, I read 99 books last year, a number I’m surprised by myself – I guess I do read a lot! Not all of these titles were worth my time of course (and sadly, I’m still somewhat of a completist), but some of them affected me deeply. It wasn’t that I necessarily thought they were perfect – in fact, a lot of them have significant flaws – but they are the books I still thought about for quite some time after I’d finished reading them. 

We are very lucky to live in a time when publishing is finally seeing a more diverse slate of stories and authors published. Free little libraries/book exchanges, public libraries, e-books and phones allow us to read anywhere anytime, even if we don’t always have the means to pay an author for their work. Ideally, that’s what we should do of course, so I’ve linked all the titles to their authors’ or publisher’s website in case you’d like to purchase them.

Zoë Playdon, The Hidden Case of Ewan Forbes And the Unwritten History of the Trans Experience

This is in many ways an important book, recovering a large slice of 20th century trans history of the UK and giving a lot of context to the roots of the UK’s particularly vile brand of transphobic discrimination. As someone who studies history, I wasn’t always thrilled to see how Playdon presents and summarizes historical facts, although I recognize the book isn’t meant to be as rigorous as an academic text. She also tends to over-explain a lot of trans terminology and historical context, though of course many readers won’t have the same knowledge of the topic as I do. Still, it’s written very engagingly and will leave you with a wealth of information on recent trans history.

Didier Eribon, Returning to Reims

I happened to read this book because it’s mentioned in Édouard Louis’ The End of Eddy, which I didn’t particularly like, but it made me curious about the title that inspired Louis. Eribon’s self-investigation of his French working-class roots and his own social climb into bourgeois Parisian circles via studying philosophy is a very moving tale of class shame that I recognized myself in a lot (although my background is quite different from his). Eribon rightfully asks why queer people cite their queerness as the reason they feel alienated from their (often homophobic) rural familial roots, when the move to a city and to different class circles probably plays just as much of a role in it. The book’s perspective is necessarily somewhat limited and doesn’t go as deep into class conflict and the political consequences of it as it could, but the emotional affect of it is very powerful.

David de Jong, Nazi Billionaires: The Dark History of Germany’s Wealthiest Dynasties

As a German, reading this book constantly infuriated me. De Jong’s meticulously researched tale of how the biggest German industrialist families (think Dr. Oetker, Porsche/Volkswagen, BMW etc) propped up and vastly benefited from Hitler and the Nazi regime – and especially how they got off scot-free after the end of the war – shows that capitalism and fascism will thrive off off each other, presenting a stark warning for the danger to our current crumbling democratic societies. The book thankfully has also been translated into German, which is really important as  Germans should especially consider this required reading.

Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall

This is likely the most surprising entry for me, as I never thought I would care for or enjoy this book. I cannot speak for its historical accuracy, as this is not the period I work on at all, but the weaving of so many everyday details and nuances into the well-trodden story of Henry VIII severing England from the Catholic Church in order to marry Anne Boleyn brought this world to life in a way that’s nothing short of brilliant. Told through the eyes of Thomas Cromwell, a kind of Tudor rags-to-riches protagonist, this historical novel certainly feels deserving of all the praise and prizes it received, and definitely a very well-done example of how history can be (re)told.

Justin Ling, Missing from the Village: The Story of Serial Killer Bruce McArthur, the Search for Justice, and the System That Failed Toronto’s Queer Community

Just yesterday I was discussing with some friends that part of being on gay apps is the implicit danger of meeting a total stranger and often taking precautionary measures to check in on each other. Justin Ling, who reported on the series of gay men murdered in Toronto’s gay village after meeting their killer online, and the mind-boggling (but not surprising) failure of the police to find the killer as well as long denial of the existence of such a serial killer, heartbreakingly conveys the fear and trauma of the surviving family members and friends, while taking a strong stance for police reform (the apologetic “not all cops are bad” way this is presented is one of my few criticisms of the book). It’s a title I constantly considered abandoning while reading because it felt so traumatizing and yet I think Ling does a really good job of not sliding into voyeuristic exploitation.

Andrea Lawlor, Paul Takes The Form of a Mortal Girl

The ultimate queer 90’s throwback as experienced through the person of a mysteriously gender-shape-shifting protagonist, this one manages to be a fun, breezy read while asking some pretty existential questions about sex and gender. When we discussed it in one of the book clubs I sometimes attend, it was not an uncontroversial title – with valid questions as to how an author with a different gender identity handled the transfeminine-leaning character and especially the book’s partial setting of the infamous Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival – but there was also agreement that it manages to get a lot of things right.

Isaac Fellman, Dead Collections

A tender, often funny and bittersweet story about the emotional toll of caring for others’ legacy and the hope of new love, Fellman’s protagonist is a trans vampire archivist trying to figure out how to continue existing in a world that’s more hostile to his transness than to his vampirism (and of course one is a metaphor for the other). As I venture more and more into archival work as part of my degree, I have such respect and admiration for the people working in archives, preserving the lives of others, but you don’t need to love archives (or vampires) to enjoy this novel!

Gretchen Felker-Martin, Manhunt

I’ve described the plot of this novel to several friends, all of whom have reacted with incredulous stares, usually followed by the desire to immediately want to read it. Felker-Martin uses the genre of horror/dystopia in an incredibly clever way to examine the real-world deadly violence trans people are subjected to, a violence that likely will only increase with the all-out coordinated anti-trans backlash Western countries are currently experiencing. Masterfully plotted, with a wide array of (anti)heroines (and one hero), the book is a grueling (but worthwhile!) assault on the senses, and especially in the latter half almost impossible to put down.

Hugh Ryan, When Brooklyn Was Queer

This is how modern historiography should look like! Hugh Ryan re-focuses queer history away from the ubiquitous Manhattan and onto Brooklyn, uncovering a rich heritage of sexual and gender difference, also showing that previous gay historians have been somewhat ignorant (or uninterested) in the historical evidence of queer and gender-diverse populations which aren’t white middle-class cis men.

Jasmine Sealy, The Island of Forgetting

Admittedly, I’m biased about this one – the author happens to be a friend of mine. But the freaking Times chose it as a book of the month, so I can’t be all wrong. A beautiful, harrowing family saga situated on Barbados (and Toronto), this novel unravels complex family dynamics against the backdrop of Barbados, which visitors often reduce to a tourist destination without considering the impact the industry has on the island.


A Year of Trans Reads

2021 has meant spending a lot of time at home, whether it was social distancing, pitch blackness outside at 4pm, or hiding from 40+ degrees. For me, some of that time was spent reading, and upon looking through my Goodreads list of books, I realized that this year especially I read lots of books by trans authors.

Little Blue Encyclopedia (for Vivian) by Hazel Jean Plante

This was probably the most exciting discovery this year! A beautiful story about two trans women and a fictional TV show that connects them, gorgeously written. This one certainly didn’t get enough attention and I hope people will get their hands on a copy if they can.

Pass With Care: Memoirs by Cooper Lee Bombardier

I’m a big fan of Cooper, who’s just a lovely human being and generous writing teacher. His essay-style memoir takes us from the trans cultures of San Francisco in the 90’s on a blazing, often painful journey through growing into the person you always wanted to be, but didn’t always know how to find.

Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg

It took me a long time to pick up this classic, because the story around it is that it’s a harrowing read – which is true, but it’s also one of beauty and of a history that gets easily forgotten. It is also probably the best book I’ve ever read about labor and why unions are so important in protecting workers.

Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters

If you heard about one “trans novel” in 2021, it was probably this one, as it got a lot of publicity and was a bestseller. I’m here to tell you that the hype is real. Clearly written for a trans audience, yet describing an experience that feels very universal, this book (hopefully) will keep changing a lot of cis people’s minds about what trans women’s lives are like.

We Want It All: An Anthology of Radical Trans Poetics edited by Andrea Abi-Karam and Kay Gabriel

If you prefer your poetry to be like a chain of daisies, this book is not for you. If, however, you prefer your poetry like a chainsaw ripping through walls of societal bullsh*t, you should read this one. Collecting a vast array of established as well as new poets (from Canada and US) who take their politics as serious as their poetics, this one is going to be one for the ages.

She of the Mountains by Vivek Shraya

I read this one for a gay book club I was part of. Having read Shraya’s later fiction, I was thoroughly swept away by one of her first publications, a tender story full of longing, combining mythology with romance and self-discovery.

Future Feeling by Joss Lake

If Torrey Peters was the go-to for white trans women, Joss Lake’s book was the one for trans masculine people this year. In what feels like a loving spoof both of trans male cultures as well as what our world will look like in ten years, the goal is the journey in this sometimes meandering, but always fun plot.

Summer Fun by Jeanne Thornton

“What if Brian Wilson had been a trans woman?” Who would have thought there was a book in this strange sounding premise. Part homage to bands like The Beach Boys and their music’s continued reach to people today, part imagining of gender feelings in a time where that often seemed impossible, this surprised me constantly with its depth of emotion, making me grieve alongside the protagonists.

Honorable Mentions:

Growing Up Trans edited by Lindsay Herriot and Kate Fry, Trans America by Barry Reay, Stonewall by Martin Duberman

Okay, the first one is cheating, as I have a chapter in it, but it’s still the only book by and about trans youth available and a great resource. The other two are written by cis scholars, and will have language in it already considered outdated, but both really do a good job of breaking down trans history and the complicated relationships trans people have with cis society.


I pulled out my phone and typed, “Docker’s is a goner.” After a slight moment of hesitation, I hit send. J. texted back almost immediately. “Yeah I saw.”

I’d just walked past the old grub hub on Fraser and 45th, and realized the place was all boarded up – thick wood slats covering the bottom-to-top glass windows. Many spots in the city fared a similar fate during the pandemic, and yet, finding out about Dockers’ demise hit me differently. Memories started to flood into my brain as I continued walking on Fraser, past the library and the bus stop, on my way to the thrift store to scrounge for some books and records I could get for cheap and then resell later.

Three years before, I’d lived close by this neighborhood, the stretch of Fraser between 49th up to 41st being my go-to for shopping, laundry (we didn’t have laundry at our place, an endless nuisance that I wouldn’t put up with again today), and most importantly, food. There were several classic places along this part of Fraser – the Jewish bakery, providing 24/7 refill of coffee drinks and donuts; the Indian sweet shop, which also had the biggest, cheapest and best veg samosas in town, several Chinese places – but most importantly, Docker’s: the all-day breakfast, old timey family diner.

I’d spent lots of time here with my former roommates, as we drank the thin, bland coffee from small white mugs, stuffed ourselves with syrupy pancakes, crispy bacon, greasy eggs, and butter-dripping toast. Docker’s wasn’t exactly cheap, but it wasn’t too expensive either – you would always be more than full after a meal, jittery from all the free caffeine refills as well as riding that sugar high that would counterbalance the tired stuffiness of all the carbs and fat. Considering how little money we all had during that time, we probably went there more than we could afford, really. But we lived in a big place with many people, and rent was cheap, so it didn’t break the bank, either.

There was always the same waitress working the diner, no matter what time of day it was: an elderly, thin white woman, friendly in an authentic, yet reserved way. She always looked the same, almost as if she came to life the moment you walked in, and became a memory of yours the moment you walked out the door, only to reemerge once you came back. I don’t think I ever knew her name, although the closest I can conjure up is Agnes, like the donut place waitress from The Umbrella Academy. Not that the Docker’s staff ever wore uniforms – that would have been out of line with the decidedly family-owned, working-class atmosphere.

But it wasn’t really the food, or the staff, or location that made Docker’s a fixed point in my memory. It was the people I went with, one person in particular: my then- roommate, former best friend J. When I close my eyes and think of Dockers, it’s them that I see sitting across from me in the sticky red vinyl booth, it’s their voice I hear as we passionately discussed movies and argued about politics and rolled our eyes about the fact that our community fridge at home never had any room so there was no point in taking home leftovers. After I moved out of the neighborhood, we never went back, and our relationship gradually faded away. But Docker’s was our place, and maybe Docker’s being gone hit exactly like that because it irrevocably meant that the past was past, never to be retrieved again.

It wasn’t particularly surprising that Docker’s had been killed off by the pandemic – it just sped up the process, I think. I couldn’t remember there ever being more than a few people sitting in there, not even on the weekend. Docker’s always seemed like the last remnant of a different time, something that didn’t really exist anymore, disappearing as soon as the staff would retire. I doubt they ever made the transition to any of the ordering apps – that would have overwhelmed the slow-but-steady pace they operated under. Most likely they’d get replaced by a fancy new building with a specialty coffee shop (which will certainly be heralded by the hipsters currently suffering with their only choices between 49th and 33rd Aves), and the people frequenting Docker’s will be priced out of the slowly gentrifying neighborhood. In a few years, nobody will remember this place, which was an anachronism in its time already, harkening back to seemingly better days.

What a strange girl you are

This memory snippet was inspired by a Zoom writing workshop author and creative writing teacher Michael V. Smith gave. I highly recommend checking out Michael’s work, specifically his memoir My Body Is Yours.

I own a framed stitching my ex-partner made for me that I’ve kept on me since I received it about five years ago. The stitching is a quote from the Patricia Highsmith 1960s novel The Price of Salt, which was made into a movie named Carol by Todd Haynes, starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. The quote says, “What a strange girl you are” “Why?” “Flung out of space”. It is featured in a poignant scene in which the characters – a married upper-class housewife and a much younger working-class shop girl – essentially clock each other’s queerness. The stitching has been created for me by my ex, so if I ever gave it away or if it would outlive me, it would most likely end up with someone who doesn’t fully understand its significance. Its meaning would be lost, as the stitching embodies a memory only two people in this world can understand.

The stitching is covered by a glass pane on the front and a piece of cardboard on the back, held in place by a simple black frame. The quote, done in purple and yellow stitches, spells longing and queer love like few things in my life ever have. If you read the quote from the book/movie Carol, a lesbian love story, without context, it’s just a quote, meant to be a decorative item to be placed on the wall to make a home look nicer.

It is Valentine’s Day today, a rare snow day in Vancouver. As I write this, looking out the window centers me firmly in the now, but the framed stitching and the person that gave it to me are rooted in the past.

I feel the distance to the past, and maybe the final point of closure for that relationship.

I feel I’ve let go: although I still care, it’s fondness now rather than love.

I feel ready to leave this place and all that it held for me: an appreciation for what was, but also an urge to move into the future.

My ex gave this stitching to me at the end of our relationship. We first met on Valentine’s Day 2016, and our second date was seeing the movie Carol together, a movie I’d already seen twice before that, which I wanted them to see, wanted to see their reaction to, as the age difference in Carol was to some extent mirrored in our relationship. The unapologetic queerness of the story as it was portrayed in the movie at the time was hailed as revolutionary in lesbian visibility in film, and being visibly queer with my partner felt like an extension of that.

At the time that we were together, I identified as a lesbian and was perceived by the world as female. My ex was the first person I told that I felt uncertainty and sadness about that perception, that touching the topic of my assumed gender was like trying to touch a black hole, too painful to attempt. Our relationship was short and intense, not meant to last, but very meaningful in that it showed me the kind of relationship I wanted, the kind of relationship I’ve been chasing ever since.

My life right now is very in limbo, not just because of the pandemic, but because many things are coming to an end or will significantly change, including where and how I’ll live soon. Five years ago, I had just arrived back in Vancouver to start a creative writing program I was extremely excited about. I felt hopeful, optimistic, and highly creative (even if it was forced by school assignments). When I fell in love, it felt like the right time. It felt like a new beginning. I’m older now, maybe more pessimistic or disillusioned, much less creatively working, though more intentional about it now. In many ways, now feels like an ending, albeit one with new beginnings. If anything, the stitching reminds me that time is a strange creature, always keeping us in its grips, though that grip will loosen over time, and sometimes we’re lucky enough to have that grip turned into a hug.

COVID Reads (aka 2020 books I’ll remember after the pandemic)

Real Life, by Brandon Taylor

The novel that reminds you why fiction makes you feel all the feelings, makes you feel seen, makes you better for having read it.

Bullshit Jobs: A Theory, by David Graeber

One of those books that confirms everything you’ve been secretly thinking for years, and that validation trumps the depression you feel about having been right all along.

Sons and Lovers, by D.H. Lawrence

The nice surprise you get when you reluctantly pick up a “classic” and realizing that there’s a reason it’s called that.

My Body Is Yours: A Memoir, by Michael V. Smith

You struggle with it the whole time you’re reading the book, in disbelief and frustration at the choices the narrator is making, but every time you’re ready to put it down, he surprises you with a turn towards some unexpected that renews your empathy with him.

Kings, Queens, And In-Betweens, by Tanya Boteju

The equivalent of a sunny afternoon in the park, eating ice cream with rainbow sprinkles and feeling the warmth of the sun filling you up with a sweet and tender bliss inside.

And The Band Played On, by Randy Shilts

A book that is like a sprawling novel, that feels like fiction because 30 years after it is still unbelievable how people died in the midst of a modern, affluent society and no one cared, a book that makes you clear eyed about who is considered expendable in a pandemic and who isn’t. Can we have that AIDS vaccine now?

Gender Outlaw, by Kate Bornstein

You’re blessed to learn from your ancestors, and you learn better through love and openness and humor.

Coming Up For Air, by George Orwell

A book like nostalgia personified, about how things change so much in the course of our lives, and how we can never get back to how they were when we were young.

The Shock Doctrine, by Naomi Klein

Economics are made to sound hard and difficult so people don’t understand how truly screwed things are. This book is the opposite of that, and quite possibly the best book about capitalism ever written.

The Skin We’re In, by Desmond Cole

Devastating, and yet hopeful. Things are bad in Canada, but if people stand together against injustice, justice might still prevail.

(These last two I read before the pandemic started in Canada, but I’m including them anyway because I liked them a lot and also because that rounds it out to a book each month.)

In Dubious Battle, by John Steinbeck

Has there ever been a novel that’s so unabashedly pro-labor? But also shown in an utterly heartbreaking way why it’s the infighting that makes or breaks a movement?

Force of Circumstance, by Simone de Beauvoir

No one does memoir writing like SdB, conversational, intriguing, revealing a lot and also very little sometimes.


Ten years ago, I was a mess. An awkward, shy person with low self-esteem. I was still a virgin, had never been in a relationship with anybody, was struggling with my still mostly secret queerness and hated having to look into the mirror, let alone have my photograph taken. I don’t think I have any pictures of me from that time, and if I did, I would destroy them. Like many people, I’ve come a long way since, but I don’t need to be reminded of the pain of that time, the self-loathing and depression I carried around with me then. Some of it was growing pains, and some of it was not understanding I was trans. I have compassion for the person I was then, but I don’t mind at all if they stay a ghost in my memory, never to be released into daylight.

All the queer books I read in 2018

Going through my Goodreads challenge (yes, I managed to read more than the  books I’d aimed for, thanks to reading a lot of comics), I was happily surprised to see how many queer titles I actually read last year (30+!). I’ve been wanting to do more books-related posts, so here is my list for 2018.

Carol, or The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith

The only re-read of this year! I read “Carol” back in 2015, right before the movie came out. I was obsessed with the film and saw it four times in theatres, but only re-watched it in December 2018. Seeing it with a distance gave me some clarity on the flaws of the story (though I still love it for its gorgeous visuals and the fact that there is a major studio film that depicts a happy lesbian couple), so I was curious to re-read the book. The writing definitely holds up, and the expanded background with more supporting characters gives it more depth, though it clearly is a text of its time. Still, if you’ve never read it, I highly recommend it.

The White Book by Jean Cocteau

A brief, frank text on male homosexuality that has some beautiful writing in it. Cocteau never fully acknowledged authorship of this book, which shows the homophobia of its time. A classic, but like all classics more relevant for its historical impact than its actual writing.

Bent by Martin Sherman

This was a super successful play back in the 80s, with Richard Gere starring. It’s rather inaccurate historically, though, and not really that boundary-pushing as it was probably perceived back then. I only finished it because it was so short.

My Queer War by James Lord

I skipped parts of this. The style is overly metaphorical, which took me a while to get used to. It’s an interesting insight into the life of a closeted GI, but for long stretches nothing much happens besides the drudgery of daily life in the military. Only when Lord goes to Europe to be in the actual war, does it get interesting. In a weird segueway, he actually befriended Picasso and hung out with him a couple of times!

Gay Lives by Robert Aldrich

Like all encyclopedias, this one bombards you with information although Aldrich selects like fifty (?) gay people over the course of human history. Lots of interesting tidbits though, and not as eurocentric as it seems.

I’m Afraid of Men by Vivek Shraya

Great book-length essay by Vivek Shraya, who is one of my favorite trans artists. I wish it had been longer.

How to Write an Autobiographical Novel by Alexander Chee

Some really cool, well-written essays. For some reason, the one where he shared an apartment building with Chloe Sevigny stuck in my head. Make of that what you will!

Amateur by Thomas Page McBee

Deservedly winning all the awards this year. I love McBee’s take on masculinity. Check it out if you haven’t.

Gay Voices From East Germany by Jürgen Lemke

Fascinating insight into the lives of gay men living in the former East German state. If you’re interested in German gay history, you should read this.

Transgender History by Susan Stryker

I found this to be a bit academically dense to be a truly great trans history book (especially compared to Feinberg), but definitely learned lots of interesting details from it.

Nerve Endings: The New Trans Erotic

As erotica collections go, some of the stories were great, some not so great. And unfortunately, not a lot of trans male representation.

Queer and Trans Artists of Color by Nia King

If you’re interested in queer/trans art, you need to check out Nia King. The book is a collection of interviews from her “We Want The Airwaves” podcast (highly recommend).

Evening Crowd at Kimser’s by Ricardo Brown

A really gorgeous short memoir about life as gay man in 50’s midwest America. Brings you back into the time of secret gay bars and small, tight-knit communities that has become almost unimaginable today.

Homintern by Gregory Woods

Basically a 20th century gay history. Tends to be encyclopedic at times, and very gay and eurocentric, but I found the style enjoyable to read over all. Focuses heavily on gay authors/artists, so maybe that’s why.

Don’t Call Us Dead by Danez Smith

One of those accidental library finds. I want to read more queer poetry.

Queer: A Graphic History by Meg-John Barker et al.

The graphic novel is actually a great medium to explain theoretical concepts. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such an accessible, easy to understand book about queer theory.

This Wound Is A World by Billy-Ray Belcourt

I want to read more indigenous queer poetry.

Hider/Seeker by Jen Currin

One of my favorite moments this year was meeting Jen Currin at a friend’s barbecue and chatting with her about writing without really knowing who she was (I would have frozen otherwise). I checked out her latest collection of stories afterwards and was absolutely blown away. I thought about emailing her, telling her how much I loved it, but chickened out. Hopefully I’ll run into her again sometime.

The Gay Detective by Lou Rand

A pretty hilarious book, open about its gayness even by today’s standards and the perfect beach read.

The House of Impossible Beauties by Joseph Cassara

Gorgeously written, though I ultimately felt a little let down by the story. But still very impressive for a first novel.

Trans/Love by Morty Diamond (ed.)

I remember liking it, but not really much about the individual stories. Sorry…

America Vol. 1 & 2 by Gabby Rivera

The future of comics. If you love your feminism to be intersectional, this is for you (and if you don’t, why are you reading this?)

Bad Boy by Elliot Wake

A light read that nonetheless fills a gap when it comes to trans books. This noir-ish thriller told by a trans man was very inspiring to me in what trans fiction and trans authorship can look like.

The Passion of Michel Foucault by James Miller

Hard to get through in parts, but interesting in that it extensively deals with Foucault’s homosexuality and how that influenced his writing. Must read if you’re a Foucaultian.

Transgender Warriors by Leslie Feinberg

Loved this take on trans history. Feinberg is an awesome story-teller.

Sodom Road Exit by Amber Dawn

I love everything Amber Dawn writes, which makes it hard for me to interact with her in person, because I’m always an awkward fanboy. You should read this, and everything she writes, though. For real.

Finistère by Fritz Peters

Old gay “classic” (tragic ending included). Supposedly a hit with many gay men, which is a bit sad considering how many better gay books are out there. It’s written decently, though.

Mr Norris Changes Trains by Christopher Isherwood

Sorta gay. I’m working my way down Isherwood’s novels, and this is very well done catching the characters of Weimar Germany right before the Nazis took over.

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

Also sorta gay. Very tragic and all. Engaging read though if you can stomach the whole British upper class thing.

Sex and the Weimar Republic by Laurie Marhoefer

More of an academic read, though very interesting. Also talks about the fight for abortion rights in Weimar as well as the fight for abolishing §175.

Tangled Sheets by Michael Thomas Ford

Gay erotica. It gets repetitive after a while, but overall, I found it, er, enjoyable.

World Within World by Stephen Spender

Spender’s autobiography. Interesting only if you’re into the whole Auden-Isherwood-Spender clique (which obviously I am). If you’re more into gay life in Weimar Germany, i recommend Spender’s novel “The Temple” instead.



A year of not writing, and then some

The last time I wrote a blog post was on January 2, when I posted a sincere, but cheesy attempt at a poem. I had just moved into the suburbs, away from concrete and noise, and was enchanted by the quietness and abundance of nature out here. I was also coming out of the stupor of a 48 hour flu that had literally nailed me to the floor over New Year’s eve, unable to even get up for a toast at midnight. With the renewed energy of overcome sickness, I promised myself then that I would write more than the occasional blog post. Fast forward to end of December, and it feels like 2018 turned out to be the year that I almost gave up writing for good.

In 2017, after finishing the creative writing program that turned my scribbling into something I actually took serious, my writing attempts gradually decreased to sometimes writing for my blog, usually when I felt enraged at a sociopolitical issue. Occasionally I also rewrote some old stories to submit them to a magazine, but no matter how much I fine-tuned these early attempts, they kept getting rejected.

Meanwhile, my friends from the writing program found successes with MFA programs and first publications and I felt like I was falling behind, slowly turning into someone who wasn’t going to make it, who didn’t have it in themselves to be a writer. I wondered if the volunteering and activism I had started doing was maybe more important than the writing, more worthy and useful to a world seemingly hellbent on needing to be rescued from slowly imploding.

I’m not sure what exactly it was that turned things around for me. I remember a conversation with my best friend this fall where I expressed a desire to return to writing. I had a story in my head that I’d carried around for more than two years; an ambitious novel that would allow me to work through parts of my family’s second world war history. I had always felt like I needed to be more accomplished as an author to write this story, to have done endless research and fact checking before I could start.

For some reason, I decided to throw all those doubts into the wind and just try to write. Nanowrimo (aka National Novel Writing Month) proved a useful vehicle to start writing again every day and to hold myself accountable. And while I didn’t even attempt to get to the word counts expected in that contest, I suddenly felt unblocked, freed from the shackles of my own arguments of why I couldn’t write. Time, place and energy became unimportant as long as I met my own moderate word count each day.

I posted my word count on my Facebook feed, just as another way to be accountable to myself, but the feedback I got was surprising. People I hadn’t spoken to in years commented on my posts, expressing encouragement for my writing. I felt more seen as a writer than I had since I graduated.

Nanowrimo was only one month, but my work continued nonetheless. I still write regularly, though not every day. I have no clear idea of when I’ll finish the first draft, much less if I can ever fulfill the high standards I have for this book. It might remain in a drawer, with most of my other writing. The process of writing has emerged for me as that which counts. I write for myself now, foremost, not for others. Being a writer means to have a writing practice, not necessarily an audience. If my year of not writing has taught me only that, I’ll gladly take it.

Katherine Hepburn Wasn’t Trans

But she wasn’t entirely cis, either.

One of my many popcultural obsessions is the so-called Silver Age of Hollywood – the time between the invention of the “talkies” until roughly 1969, when the traditional studio system that bound actors to a certain studio ended – a time when performers like Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor were the biggest stars worldwide.

An aspect that always fascinated me about Hollywood is how tightly controlled the images of actors are, something that continues to this day. Stars now have personal assistants and lawyers and PR agents taking care of their official biography, but in Old Hollywood the studios did that work. It was definitely easier to have a private life in those days, without the internet and paparazzi following one’s every move. Many stars were able to discreetly live their lives as they liked, as long as they toed the PR line administered by their studio.

A while ago I read William Mann’s biography of Katherine Hepburn. Mann was featured in a documentary about Scotty Bowers I’d seen.  I’d previously read the book from Bowers that the doc is based on. Together, these accounts form a fascinating counterpoint to the still prevailing myth of a mostly straight, cis Hollywood.

A number of big stars from the Silver Age were bi or gay, but to this day are assumed straight by the general public. While actors like Rock Hudson and Montgomery Clift were outed after their death, even bigger names remained closeted until today. Hepburn was one of them, allegedly having hookups and relationships with many women and repeatedly self-describing as living in a fluid gender role.

Scotty Bowers describes in his book and in the documentary how he enabled young, attractive, poor people (himself as well) to make some money and more by introducing them to rich bi and gay people working in the film industry, both in front of and behind the camera. Scotty’s decades-long success doing this came from his discretion – everyone knew he was reliable and wouldn’t talk. A lot of criticism he has faced since revealing his friends and clients is that he is outing them without their consent, since they are dead. However, I feel a lot of that comes from homophobic attitudes. As Scotty himself said to a complainer at a book signing: “What’s wrong with being gay?”

In a similar vein, lots of fans of those stars are simply refusing to believe that their favorite actor could have been gay or bi. Spencer Tracy? Katharine Hepburn? Cary Grant? No way. But I think what might be hard to understand and believe isn’t that these people weren’t straight. It’s the carefully orchestrated lifelong PR campaigns that sold them to the public as straight.

Scotty Bowers has shared his stories because the people he named are long dead. But the practice of performing straight for the public continues. There are a number of big names “bearding” (that means you’re in a fake relationship with someone to appear straight). Some of them have come out, like Ellen Page or Kristen Stewart. Some of them continue to hide. I’m not advocating for them to be forcibly outed. I’m simply pointing out that due to continued homophobia/transphobia, they are forced to hide who they are. The only reason someone like Jodie Foster came out is because she had achieved a career level that was hard to top and wanted to marry her girlfriend without it being a huge event. And younger actors who came out are have paid a price by playing “gay roles” only or not being offered big budget movies. It is certainly getting better, but as long as heteronormativity is enforced not just onscreen but also offscreen in the public perception of celebrities, accounts like Mann’s biography and Bowers’ stories are an important preservation of LGBT history.

The First New Year

Change is the only constant

and you learn so much from your losses.

The end of the road is the beginning

and at the top of the hill, you’ll find home.

Lions start rising from mist

and between trees and ocean you’ll wake

after walking and walking through fevered dreams,

you are reborn in fire,

love and loss and love again,

change is ever the only constant.