A few weeks ago I was asked to read and review the long awaited compilation of transgender themed short stories by Topside Press titled The Collection. OK, that isn’t quite accurate. I heard they were looking for reviewers and jumped up and down yelling, “pick me! pick me!” until they finally sent me a review copy in the mail. I’ll be totally honest here as well. Aside from the subject theme, much of my interest was rooted in the fact that I submitted a number of stories for consideration, all of which were rejected in the compilation process. Don’t get all snitty for me, they were right to do so. Yes, I was a trans woman, but none of my offerings had a trans theme as all were written back when I was still writing all male like.
After reading the choices that were included I was forced to wonder if I would have made the cut anyway. As with any collection, some were better than others, and a few were downright outstanding. Overall The Collection is a symphony of many disparate transgender voices that manages to come together with poignant harmony. Each story truly deserves its own review, but in the interest of brevity, I’ll talk about general impressions.
I loved the mix that was selected for inclusion. I’ve noticed that an awful lot of trans literature tends to be a bit, well, dreary. This is reasonable since the trans experience in life often tips heavily toward the negative. There were a number of inclusions that had a very dark and pessimistic feel to them, but all were refreshingly bereft of the whininess I detest. Instead, many of these packed an emotional punch that only a well told story can. It’s not easy to attain emotional identification with characters in the short story format, but this was achieved multiple times, and often with characters the reader has almost nothing in common with.
I was also very pleased by the lighter offerings included. Aside from appealing to my own personal bent, they counterbalanced the heavier. A few even resembled superhero and ‘Buffy’ style fan fiction, though of a higher quality grade than often encountered in the sites dedicated to such.
As the content, the mix of authors and themes was inclusive to most of the trans community. Most. Equal space was allotted to trans women and trans men, with a few gender-queer offerings included as well. There was a notable absence of cross-dressers at least in terms of protagonists, but my understanding was that the focus was always intended to be transsexuals and GQs. I did, however, notice that for the most part, character representation was limited to those under 30. Some could conceivably be older as age wasn’t mentioned, but the work in general could be described as Millennial. This by no means turned me off, but I will admit that it will be harder for the over 40 crowd to see their own lives and experiences reflected.
My only other impression that isn’t absolutely glowing is the potential lack of accessibility to cisgender readers. While anyone trans will be pulled right into this and find it hard to put down, I’m not so sure someone cisgender will have the same experience. There is a good possibility that the contents may prove to be too alien and hard to relate to. I could be wrong; after all, what do I know of cisgender thinking? While this will surely be a huge hit in a ‘for us by us’ kind of way, a barrier may exist that prevents this from being propelled into the mainstream. I am hoping to get some allies to read this and give impressions, so expect a follow up.
My final verdict: if you are transgendered, you should definitely read this. You will identify with it and you will enjoy it. Lord knows if you are here on my site swallowing down my ramblings, this is going to be a big spoon full of sugar. If you are cisgender and looking to expand your horizons, this is an excellent read and a window into minds you probably don’t quite understand, but we love you for trying.
Finally, on a more personal note, I think supporting the work being done by Topside Press is important. It’s not always easy for us to get our voices heard, and the idea of a publication company devoted to transgender literature is both refreshing and an absolute necessity. Each time we are heard and perhaps understood by the world at large, it chips away at transphobia and other negatives we continuously deal with. Helping them helps us, plain and simple, and trust me, you get a bang for your buck here.
Edited by Tom Leger and Riley Macleod
Topside Press - $32.95 hardcover, and 19.95 paperback