YA Books About Transgender Characters
There haven’t been a lot of young adult books published about transgender characters. This list is not meant to be a “best of” list — it is simply a list of the titles that we are aware of, and we are sure there are more we aren’t aware of. This list is limited to titles published specifically for a young adult audience, which means titles published for adults that teens might still enjoy aren’t included.
- I am J by Cris Beam (Little, Brown)
- One in Every Crowd by Ivan E. Coyote (Arsenal Pulp)
- Beautiful Music for Ugly Children by Kirstin Cronn-Mills (Flux)
- Happy Families by Tanita S. Davis (Knopf)
- f2m: the boy within by Hazel Edwards and Ryan Kennedy (Ford Street Publishing, Australia)
- Being Emily by Rachel Gold (Bella Books)
- Jumpstart the World by Catherine Ryan Hyde (Knopf)
- Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher (Delacorte)
- Luna by Julie Anne Peters (Little, Brown)
- Parrotfish by Ellen Wittlinger (Simon & Schuster)
Do you have a favorite YA book about a transgender character? Please tell us why you loved it!
I want to give special shout-outs to Luna and Parrotfish, two of my favorite YA novels.
I’d also add that Every Day by David Levithan is, in a way, a really good book about a non-binary character. Part of what makes A and Rhiannon’s love story so unique and compelling is that it exists outside of binary constructions of gender and sex identity.
You guys really need to read Every Day by David Levithan. This is required reading this summer.
I wrote a guest blog for Gay YA, which posted today:
I’m not a young adult librarian, but I’m a longtime reader of young adult fiction, particularly stories that feature lesbian characters. As a reader, I can confirm that we’ve come a long way since the days of having to (as recently described by Mary at Queer Books Please) scour mainstream books for some hint of queer content. My coming of age and coming out was largely done in pre-internet days, when often the best you could do was manufacture your own subtext. Although it’s still inconsistent and problematic, YA fiction is increasingly diverse. According to the book Serving Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning Teens, five to six percent of American teens identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual, and eighty percent of teens know someone who does. For questioning teens, the public library should be a safe space in which they can to find stories and resources to help them articulate their identities.
Unfortunately, librarians have not always made it easy to find information. Censorship–in the form of simply not purchasing materials that might be considered “controversial”–has always been a problem. People often take it upon themselves to challenge books with any queer content in the name of protecting “the children,” which can bring negative publicity to a library. In addition, catalogers have the option to make items more or less discoverable in a library catalog, depending on the subject headings they choose to add to an item’s record. For teens, who are among the least likely to approach a librarian, being able to find books for themselves is extremely important. Items having to do with sex and sexuality are often among those that are used (not to mention stolen) anonymously at the library–read clandestinely and not necessarily checked out.
I don’t mean to sound as if the situation is dire and there are no LGBTQ resources to be found in most libraries. However, I do believe that there is more that librarians AND library patrons can do to improve the quantity and visibility of these materials in library collections.
Use your local library!
Request materials. Let your librarians know–through purchase requests, in-person recommendations, or even through the items that you are getting via interlibrary loan–that there is a demand for these materials.
Donate your old, unwanted, and duplicate copies of LGBTQ fiction and other materials.
Give someone a gift by donating a book to the library in their name. A friend of mine donated a copy of Leah Petersen’s book Fighting Gravity to my library to thank me for something I had helped her with. You can support both the library and worthy authors this way.
Participate in library events, such as the summer reading program.
Support your library if and when it becomes involved in a public book challenge. Write an editorial to your local newspaper, if you have to!
Order those materials! There are plenty of well-reviewed, award-winning books that you can purchase for the library. Purchase items to meet a variety of needs and interests, even if you haven’t seen any evidence of them. These teens may not speak up, but they exist in your community, and the materials should be there when they look for them.
Create displays that showcase the items in your collection, making it clear that the library is a safe and welcoming space for LGBTQ teens. Actively solicit suggestions for purchases of new materials.
Read some of these books! If you don’t have the time to read, check out reviews here at Gay YA or at other sites like I’m Here. I’m Queer. What the Hell do I Read?, Queer YA, and Rainbow Books. Be prepared to offer recommendations.
Have your policies and your Request for Reconsideration form ready to meet any challenges. Train your staff on how to respond to complaints. Preparation and justification is the best defense in a challenge situation.
Public librarians have a professional responsibility to make these materials available to everyone, not just the at-risk teens who need them the most. Community members with an interest in having these materials available to teens have a responsibility to let the library know that they’re wanted and needed in the library. Together we can make it happen!
Duke University Press is set to begin publishing a transgender studies journal in 2014. TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly will be “the first nonmedical journal dedicated to transgender studies.”
The GLBT Community Center of Baltimore has published Gay Life for 34 years and now it’s going digital!
In early 2012, artist and activist Denise R. Duarte and The GLCCB’s Gary Wolnitzek accessed the randomly stacked and unboxed array of back issues taking over the unfinished portion of the…
A little over a year ago, I read this book that was so awful, it turned me off of reading for a couple months. The book was called Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher and I had been looking forward to reading it for several months.
I have an ongoing project…
Two very important reviews of two really horrible books that have been lauded by ALA.
I think we’ve reached an important set of questions: who is on that committee? Who should be?
Though I’m a bit late on this, found Lo’s breakdown to be really interesting and useful!
The post to read
eve sedgwick “queer and now”
Today at the reference desk I helped a patron & her home-schooled daughter who were looking for resources for transgendered teens and their families. My library system is fairly large and cosmopolitan, but even so, we didn’t have a very large selection of materials on the subject. As I looked for titles to add to our collection, I came across a few great booklists for LGTBQ young adult fiction and nonfiction.
- ALA’s Stonewall Book Award List
- Goodreads: Booklist for Trans Youth
- Multnomah County Library: Books for GLBTQ Teens
There are many more great subject lists out there, but these sites gave me a good starting place to add to our library’s collection.
I want to make sure teens looking for support & information about being transgendered will be able to find books about kids like them at our public library. And I want them to know that they’re not alone.
Great resource! Thanks for sharing. And for those of you in the Chicagoland area, the Oak Park library has the wonderful Transgender Resource Collection. Dig.
Because this is a general question, the list that follows is also fairly general, but I hope at least some of it will work for you. It’s also quite long, so stick with me.
Before I get started, I want to preface this with a couple of points:
- If you need more specific resources or have more questions, my askbox is always open. I currently have anon enabled, though that’s not always the case.
- I am not trans*. There are multiple trans* people in my life, but I am not a trans* person myself.
- I’ve tried hard, especially in the student resources, to focus on issues of identity and socialization while avoiding explicit sexual content (anything beyond what’s standard for school-appropriate YA materials, basically), but be aware that trans* people are almost always sexualized just for existing, so you might encounter resistance on that factor alone. I encourage you to push back, if you have any power to do so.
- I use the word “trans*” to include all people who are not cisgender—that is, all people whose sex/gender assigned at birth does not match the sex/gender that reflects their sense of self. “Trans*” includes people who may or may not ever choose to alter their bodies to match that sex. It includes people who do not claim a gender at all. It does not inherently include or imply homosexuality. If this first point is confusing to you, some of the teacher resources below should help you brush up, and you should absolutely do so before you attempt to integrate this stuff into your curriculum. Nobody expects you to be perfect, but I hope you will do the best you can, which means continuously educating yourself even if you think you’ve already got a handle on it.
- I’ve done some serious work to look at reviews and criticism of anything I’ve included here, but it’s entirely possible I’ve missed something either in my reading of the material itself or in my evaluation of resources. On that note, if you see something I’ve messed up, PLEASE tell me, because I don’t want to have a resource list that’s going to make things worse for the students who need their education environment to be more accepting.
- It’s a good idea for anyone who uses these resources to be aware of the fact that something may very well come up later and you will need to respond appropriately.
- Trans* people are not monolithic, and the conversations by and about trans* people have moved rapidly over the period of time that the discussion has been public and publishable. Older texts, while potentially revolutionary for their time (or even for the present) might contain words that are no longer considered acceptable. Newer texts may contain the same words, and they might be reclaimed or they might just be used by people who disagree on the usefulness of new terms or the offensiveness of old terms. In the same way it’s not a good idea to treat any work by authors of color as definitive representations of PoC or any work by a woman as a definitive representation of women, please don’t treat any single work or organization as the definitive resource on trans* issues.
“We walk down the streets of San Francisco past the rainbow saturated businesses with that flag that supposedly represents us flying high. We are on our way to see a trick, our friends on their way to pick up hormones, on their way to stay at a “trans and lgbtq youth friendly” shelter. We are told that here, things are different and in our bones we certainly know that they can be- but only if you have money.
Soap shops with rainbows, bars with “gay” themed drinks, clothes shops with “local” queer designed 70 dollars tee shirts.
Upper class “lgbt” culture. There are billboards with drinks alluding to the type of sex we might have, there is so much industry surrounding “being queer” it’s hard to keep up with what market has been penetrated last.
Apparently, this is mecca. How empty it is.
Capitalization of queer culture is in the wake of the anxieties of rich queers to assimilate into straight, bourgeois society. The only celebrated culture of queer then, is that of the capitalist queer.
Once a position goes to market and is adapted as a marketable social phenomenon , it automatically loses all of its teeth and is no longer a threat.
This is what happens when rich queers continue to assimilate- believing that if they too can marry, have a business and express romance in public that then they will be “free” of the subjugation of straight society- by becoming just like them.
Assimilation is queers and all other members of the not-straight society- attempting to emulate heteronormative relationship structures which are vital to the reproduction of capitalist society. Assimilation is death as all of capital is a total dispossession of all that harbors something like living.
As we find refuge in our small networks of solidarity it is in spite of the agonizing alienation we feel on a daily basis in this society. The extent of our existent within this world as queers has nothing to do with the marketability of our lifestyles and sex lives but is due to our exploitation. We hear of another friend beat up, murdered, things we hear from our queer community that reaches our ears through the grape vine that consists of panic and crawling skin.
We are constantly forced to submit to the whims of whoever
we can get resources from- whether it be a sugar daddy, non-profits, the bourgeoisie who open their hearts to us for a moment- we have learned how to hold our tongues, we have examined the ways that we are spoken to like insolent fuck ups by older, richer queers who, even with their stares seem to be saying “ Don’t you know things get better- so get with the fucking program kid.”
There are campaigns totally devoted to saving us- well-meaning college queers helping “homeless queer youth” get back on the right path. There is so much sympathy, pity and disdainful romanticization to go around it has become a market. This is our exposure- as the problems of the queer community or as the privately exploited. Beyond that we are petty annoyances or otherwise invisible. Aren’t we happy that we have so much exposure now?
Capitalist queers don’t see that in life under capital things cannot be better for some of us and never will be. Clearly there is a divide between the queers who have and the queers who have not.
To us they are not even queer- they too are our enemies.
What we are calling for is the total destruction of straight culture- the culture of capital and all the bourgeoisie queers who lap it up so pathetically.
We don’t want the dancing, the fucking, the partying to stop- lord knows we love a good dance party- but we want the dancing and partying and fucking and loving and bonding to be a top the grave of straight society, of the society that silences us.
What is destructive to straight society- we know can never be commodified and purged of rebellion. So we maintain our stance- as fierce fags, queers, dykes and trans girls and bois and gender queers and all the combination and in be tweens and those that negate it all at the same time.
We bid our time, striking here and there and fantasize of a world where all of the exploited of the world can come together and attack. We want to find you, comrade, if this too is what you want.
For the total destruction of Capital,
bad bitches who will fuck your shit up.”
Kate Bornstein’s latest book, A Queer and Pleasant Danger, is out today.
I met Kate in… 2008?, when she spoke at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, where I went for undergrad. She’s one of the most incredible people I’ve ever encountered. I hope you’ll let her inspire you, too.
This is her blog, by the way: