|Author||Kai Cheng Thom|
|15 November 2016|
Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars: A Dangerous Trans Girl's Confabulous Memoir is a 2016 Canadian book by Kai Cheng Thom. A surrealist novel, it follows an unnamed transgender woman protagonist who leaves home at a young age to live on the Street of Miracles—where various sex work takes place—with other "femmes" (trans women). After one of them is killed, others form a gang and begin to attack men on the street.
Thom aimed not to write a traditional transgender memoir targeted at explaining transgender issues to cisgender people, but to write the book that would have helped her as a transgender teenager. Characters are based on people from her life, as are plot points, but they are exaggerated and made surrealist. Two metaphors, those of killer bees living inside her and a Ghost Friend which can make her orgasm, represent after-effects of traumatic abuse.
The novel garnered critical praise and was a finalist for Transgender Fiction at the 29th Lambda Literary Awards. It experienced a resurgence of attention when Emma Watson chose it for her feminist book club, Our Shared Shelf, in 2019.
Kai Cheng Thom is a writer and poet. She came out as a transgender woman as a teenager. Fierce Femmes was her first published book and first long-form piece of fiction; she did not initially intend for it to be read by others, and aimed to write the book she would have most appreciated reading as a teenager.Thom began the novel shortly after a New York publisher rejected a book of her poetry, and wrote a chapter per day for ten days. After her publisher Metonymy asked if she was working on anything, Thom finished the book by writing late at night.
The author was inspired by Audre Lorde's biomythographies—books which mythologise the author's life. Thom stated that the "emotions and sensations" of the book "are all true", though the writing is surrealist.Some of the plot and most of the characters are based on Thom's life, but "heightened, surrealized and embroidered upon". She said that the "sort of real-life hero's journey" involved in transitioning suited "heightened narratives". The title is about how people "have to lie or use fiction in order to express the truth" about themselves, and was inspired by Blanche DuBois's line "Never inside, I didn't lie in my heart" in A Streetcar Named Desire . She said that it was not just for transgender women, but "any young person who longs for danger" or "to break out of the story they're stuck in".
According to Thom, Fierce Femmes was a response to the trope of transgender memoirs serving to "educate cis people about the reality of trans life". Instead of the "stereotypically tragic portrayal of trans women characters", the characters "dare to fight back, even when it takes them down some morally questionable paths", as this matched the people Thom knew in real life.As she had experienced a lot of street harassment, including physical violence, she wrote about "what it means to be afraid" and aimed to explore a subversion where transgender women become violent rather than victims. However, the book also follows the negative consequences of perpetrating violence. Two extended metaphors in the work—Ghost Friend and the killer bees—represent the "beautiful" and painful sides of trauma, according to Thom. Ghost Friend "allows her to connect with herself in particular ways", but prevents her from other kinds of intimacy, while the killer bees make her punish herself. Thom experienced physical and verbal abuse as a child, and said that she could infer that she was sexually abused from "the way the story is told to [her]".
In her writing, Thom wanted to present a hopeful perspective without erasing the difficulties transgender women face. As the protagonist is "constantly trying to escape a story that is told about her and not authored by her", Thom chose an ending to avert "every possible sanitized or restrictive ending", including a fairytale ending, happy ending or tragedy.It shows a situation in which the protagonist has "everything [they] wanted from a fairy-tale ending, and it still wasn't enough".
Born to Chinese parents who emigrated to Gloom, the unnamed trans girl protagonist has had a cluster of killer bees inside her since she was aged six and they swarmed into her body. Since eleventh grade, she has experienced sexual pleasure via Ghost Friend, an ungendered being which brings her to orgasm when she consents. On the day that a clan of dead mermaids wash up on the beach, the protagonist flees to the City of Smoke and Lights, leaving her younger sister Charity behind. Throughout the book, she sends letters to Charity, who begins misbehaving in her absence. She also writes chapters of "song of the pocket knife" in her notebook, detailing her self-harm as it subsides and reoccurs depending on her life situation.
Following the bus journey to the City of Smoke and Lights, the protagonist attacks a man who assaults her in public with kung fu. She meets Kimaya, who takes her to Street of Miracles: there, trans women—or, "femmes"—engage in sex work for survival. Kimaya helps her find a barebones apartment to rent and introduces her to Dr. Crocodile, who gives her medication to grow breasts in exchange for sexual activity. She meets Rapunzelle, Kimaya's girlfriend. Rapunzelle was addicted to the drug Lost after suffering abuse by her father, until one night she started to shapeshift; Kimaya held onto her and she became herself again.
After Soraya becomes the latest femme to be murdered, Valaria the Goddess of War calls upon the women to form the Lipstick Lacerators. Though Kimaya and others object, the protagonist joins the gang as they attack the men on the Street of Miracles, with the exception of those who are sex workers, homeless or treat femmes well. They are the subject of headlines, and Ivana's injury at the hands of men who fight back sparks argument between Valaria and her ex-lover Lucretia. The Lipstick Lacerators are invited to a university, where the protagonist gives her number to a trans boy in the library. One night, they flee after their latest target turns out to be an undercover cop. As one police officer is about to shoot Lucretia, the protagonist kills him. No femme dies at the hands of police, despite the injuries, but Valaria must leave the city as the police are searching for her. This leaves the protagonist as leader.
She has a sexual nightmare about the cop she killed and begins self-harming again. Alzena the Witch tells her that she can only stop hurting others when she stops hurting herself. Kimaya arranges a night for femmes at the Cabaret Rouge so that they can perform just for themselves, not for men. After overhearing an argument between Kimaya and her now-ex Rapunzelle about the Lipstick Lacerators and her, the protagonist asks Alzena how to catch a swarm of bees and is told, "with sweetness". She spends a day baking a cake and the bees swarm out of her body. The boy from the library—Josh—calls her and they arrange a date. Kimaya is excited as Josh is known for his writing and community work about trans issues. In a cemetery, Josh kisses the protagonist, but she begins crying and recoils. Ghost Friend comforts her and she leaves Ghost Friend behind as she chooses to have sex with Josh. Six weeks later, she has moved into Josh's lavish apartment, but suddenly realises it is not where she belongs. She smashes his television, runs away and entrusts her pocket knife to Charity.
The book was published on 15 November 2016 by the independent publisher Metonymy Press in Montreal, Canada. 's bestselling fiction list on 28 January 2017; it had reached its third printing by April 2017. In 2019, Zubaan Books published it in South Asia. The same year, Emma Watson chose the novel for her feminist book club Our Shared Shelf. Metonymy ordered a reprint of three times the number of copies that had been published to that point, and arranged a U.K. distributor. Metonymy averaged print orders of between 500 and 1,000 per book, but by 2019, Fierce Femmes had 10,000 copies printed.Samantha Garritano designed the original cover art. Metonymy Press's Ashley Fortier said that there was an expectation for transgender writers to "write all about gender" and the difficulty of being gender non-conforming, but that the book gives "a different narrative" on the author's "own terms". It was the bestseller in 2016 for the independent Canadian LGBT Glad Day Bookshop and ninth in the National Post
In 2017, the book was one of three finalists in the Transgender Fiction category of the 29th Lambda Literary Awards.When awarding Thom the 2017 Dayne Ogilvie Prize, the jurors said on behalf of the Writers' Trust of Canada that it was "a delicious and fabulist refashioning of a trans memoir as fiction". Emma Watson praised the book for conveying "the sense of creativity and invention that comes from becoming your own woman – an artist of your own identity".
Luna Merbruja of Autostraddle reviewed the novel as a "captivating tale of betrayal, murder, mysticism, legend and compassion". She wrote that it is "satirical commentary on the roots of trans literature as based in memoir". Merbruja found the characters "painfully realistic" and approved that the reader can "identify with more than one character who's canonically and unapologetically a trans woman". ... straining and terrifying", but "markers of being alive".Spencer Quong found that the book's "unremitting representation of anxiety" kept him thinking about it a year on from his first reading. He praised that the poetry, quoting a "song of the pocket knife" extract as "perfectly articulat[ing] the feeling of overextending oneself". Quong found it overall "thrilling, fabulous" and "inventive", summarising that "anxiety and shame are
Jacob Wren of the Montreal Review of Books praised that the novel reinvents trans memoir tropes "in fabulist Technicolor". Wren found that one of the "greatest strengths" was its "mile-a-minute engagement" with its trans women target audience, and also praised that it was unexpected throughout. He lauded the characterisation, finding "epigrammatic precision" in the complexity and motivations of characters and "emotional intensity" conveyed by short passages. Wren also enjoyed that the protagonist "rarely lies to herself", creating a "tension between fantasy and self-awareness".
Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha of Bitch said that the book is "full of poetic voice" and that many trans women of colour "will see their own stories reflected within". Describing it as about "the gritty struggle of making transformative justice real", she found it good that "trans femmes actually get to heal". She highlighted as particularly strong topics the origin of Kimaya and Rapunzelle's relationship, the metaphors of killer bees and Ghost Friend, the way in which femmes have a night to perform "just for each other" following police suppression, and the ending.
Stone Butch Blues is a historical fiction novel written by Leslie Feinberg about life as a butch lesbian in 1970s America. While fictional, the work also takes inspiration from Feinberg's own life, and ze describes it as zir "call to action." It is frequently discussed as a difficult yet essential work for LGBT communities, as it "never shies away from portraying the anti-Semitism, classism, homophobia, anti-butch animus, and trans-phobia that protagonist Jess Goldberg faced on a daily basis—but it also shows the healing power of love and political activism."
Charlie Jane Anders is an American writer and commentator. She has written several novels, published magazines and websites, and hosted podcasts. In 2005, she received the Lambda Literary Award for work in the transgender category, and in 2009, the Emperor Norton Award. Her 2011 novelette Six Months, Three Days won the 2012 Hugo and was a finalist for the Nebula and Theodore Sturgeon Awards. Her 2016 novel All the Birds in the Sky was listed No. 5 on Time magazine's "Top 10 Novels" of 2016, won the 2017 Nebula Award for Best Novel, the 2017 Crawford Award, and the 2017 Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel; it was also a finalist for the 2017 Hugo Award for Best Novel.
Joan Nestle is a Lambda Award winning writer and editor and a founder of the Lesbian Herstory Archives, which holds, among other things, everything she has ever written. She is openly lesbian and sees her work of archiving history as critical to her identity as "a woman, as a lesbian, and as a Jew".
Julia Michelle Serano is an American writer, musician, spoken-word performer, trans–bi activist, and biologist. She is known for her transfeminist books Whipping Girl (2007), Excluded (2013), and Outspoken (2016). She is also a prolific public speaker who has given many talks at universities and conferences, and her writing is frequently featured in queer, feminist, and popular culture magazines.
Trish Salah is an Arab Canadian writer, activist, cultural critic, and university professor. Her first volume of poetry, Wanting in Arabic, was published in 2002 by TSAR Publications and reissued in a new edition in 2013. Her second book, Lyric Sexology Vol. 1 was released by Roof Books in 2014. A new Canadian edition was released by Metonymy Press in 2017.
Amber Dawn is a Canadian writer, who won the 2012 Dayne Ogilvie Prize, presented by the Writers' Trust of Canada to an emerging lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender writer.
Janet Mock is an American writer, television host, director, producer and transgender rights activist. Her debut book, the memoir Redefining Realness, became a New York Times bestseller. She is a contributing editor for Marie Claire and a former staff editor of People magazine's website.
Joy Ladin is an American poet and the David and Ruth Gottesman Chair in English at Stern College for Women at Yeshiva University. She is the first openly transgender professor at an Orthodox Jewish institution.
Eli Erlick is an American activist, writer, and director of the organization Trans Student Educational Resources.
The portrayals of transgender people in the media reflect societal attitudes about transgender identity, and have varied and evolved with public perception and understanding. Media representation, culture industry, and social marginalization all hint at popular culture standards and the applicability and significance to mass culture, even though media depictions represent only a minuscule spectrum of the transgender group, which essentially conveys that those that are shown are the only interpretations and ideas society has of them. However, in 2014, the United States reached a "transgender tipping point", according to Time. At this time, the media visibility of transgender people reached a level higher than seen before. Since then, the number of transgender portrayals across TV platforms has stayed elevated. Research has found that viewing multiple transgender TV characters and stories improves viewers' attitudes toward transgender people and related policies.
Casey Plett is a Canadian writer.
Nevada: A Novel is the debut novel from author Imogen Binnie, released by Topside Press in 2013. Nevada follows the adventures of transgender New York punk woman Maria Griffiths.
George is a children's novel about a young transgender girl written by American author Alex Gino. The novel tells the story of Melissa, a fourth-grade girl who is struggling to be herself to the rest of the world. The rest of the world sees Melissa as George, a boy. Melissa uses the class play, Charlotte's Web, to show her mom that she is a girl by switching roles with her best friend, and playing the part of Charlotte. Scholastic first published the novel on August 25, 2015 and George has had a mixed reaction due to its LGBT+ content.
The Publishing Triangle Award for Trans and Gender-Variant Literature is an annual literary award, presented by Publishing Triangle to honour works of literature on transgender themes. The award may be presented for work in any genre of literature; to be eligible, a work of poetry or fiction must be written by a transgender or gender variant author, while a work of non-fiction may be written or cowritten by a cisgender writer as long as it addresses transgender themes.
Kai Cheng Thom is a Canadian writer and social worker. She has published four books, including the novel Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars: A Dangerous Trans Girl's Confabulous Memoir (2016), the poetry collection a place called No Homeland (2017), a children's book, From the Stars in The Sky to the Fish in the Sea (2017), and I Hope We Choose Love: A Trans Girl's Notes from the End of the World (2019), a book of essays centered on transformative justice.
Cris Beam is an American writer. She is the author of nonfiction books on transgender teenagers, the U.S. foster system, and empathy, as well as a young adult novel and a short memoir.
Meredith Russo is an American young adult author from Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Gwen Benaway is Canadian poet and activist. She is a PhD candidate in the Women & Gender Studies Institute at the Faculty of Arts & Science at the University of Toronto. Benaway has also written non-fiction for The Globe and Mail and Maclean's.
Transgender literature is a collective term used to designate the literary production that addresses, has been written by or portrays people of diverse gender identity. Representations in literature of people that transition their gender have existed for millennia, with the earliest instance probably being the book Metamorphoses, by the Roman poet Ovid. In the twentieth century its notable the novel Orlando (1928), by Virginia Woolf, considered one of the first transgender novels in English and whose plot follows a bisexual poet that changes gender from male to female and lives for hundreds of years.