Non-Binary AUTHORS and their Protagonists

More books to look up by non-binary authors or featuring ungendered narrators.

AMROU AL-KADHIUnicorn: Memoir of a Muslim Drag Queen, details disastrous coming out stories, being inspired by the fluidity of marine aquatic life when exploring their nonbinary gender, discovering the transformative power of drag, and much more. Amrou Al-Kadhi is a British-Iraqi Muslim drag queen.

Ryka Aoki, Why Dust Shall Never Settle Upon This Soul. This is the first collection of poetry published by trans and Japanese American poet Ryka Aoki. The poems contained here are certainly working intentionally with her heritage and identity, but she has also been careful to make sure that her works appeal to a broader audience, as well.

Iain M. Banks. The Culture (series). A fascinating collection of books that consider anarchism, post-scarcity, and gender, among many other things. In particular, gendered language in the Culture series is linked to the relative entrenchment of patriarchal structures within a given community.

Djuna Barnes. Nightwood. Although not as transparently non-gendered as some of the other novels on this list, I would argue that Barnes’ Nightwood aggressively complicates gender representation, often through modernist experimentation, thereby changing what was possible concerning gender in the novel.

ALYSSA BRUGMAN, ALEX AS WELL. Another novel featuring an intersex protagonist, this story focuses on AMAB Alex, who decides to start presenting feminine, which presents logistical complications when she enrolls in a new school. This brings up issues many trans/gender-nonconforming youth face as they simply try to exist in society. The importance placed on gender markers when it comes to birth certificates, licenses, etc. becomes a fight for rights that others take for granted. It also deals with Alex’s parents, who do not support her decision to present female, and the tension this brings into the family.

Amy Rose Capetta, The Brilliant Death. While the book does investigate issues of gender presentation and identity through Teo’s gendered disguise, it’s her gender fluid traveling companion Cielo who is the non-binary trans character. Cielo is a fascinating character, and a strega (magic wielder) like Teo. Cielo and Teo fall in love on their journey, but will their love survive the sinister secrets of their country that they discover?

Katrina Marie Carrasco, The Best Bad Things. “A period novel about a female detective who goes undercover (occasionally as a man), to infiltrate a smuggling ring, and navigates shifting allegiances once on the inside.”

Sarah Caudwell, Thus Was Adonis Murdered, is the first title in a four-book series about detective Hilary Tamar. Nowhere in any of the books is Tamar’s gender revealed, leaving readers to envision the protagonist however they like. Some view the detective as male and others as female, but everyone agrees these clever, humorous titles are worth the read.

Nino Cipri, Homesick: Stories. These surreal and often haunting tales explore human nature, inclusive of neurodiverse, queer, transgender and nonbinary selves.

Michael Cart, Editor, HOW BEAUTIFUL THE ORDINARY: TWELVE STORIES OF IDENTITY. This anthology features stories by some incredible writers like David Levithan, Jennifer Finny Boylan, Emma Donoghue, Francesca Lia Block, and Gregory Maguire, all of which explore elements of queerness and gender identity.

Akwaeke Emezi, Freshwater, is an Igbo and Tamil nonbinary trans writer. Their debut novel  tells of a protagonist occupied by ogbanje spirits. In startling beautiful prose, the novel explores and breaks down many false binaries including body/spirit, male/female, sane/insane, religious/non-religious.

Matt Doyle, “Dear Sis. Science Fiction. In Roar Volume 9: Resist anthology, short story, genderfluid character.

Eugenides, Middlesex addresses immigration, culture, and family, but primarily explores Cal’s discovery of their gender identity and their coming of age. Cal (or Callie) is raised as female but later assumes a male identity and presentation, and also has sexual encounters with multiple genders.

Claire Rudy Foster, Shine of the Ever: Short Stories. A literary mixtape of queer and trans voices out of 1990s Portland.

Alex Gino, George, not only does it center of the story of a child dealing with gender identity, but it is written for children as well, with the intention of helping them to understand gender presentation at a young age. The story’s protagonist is AMAB and struggles with being seen as her true self, Melissa. This book was definitely a spark for a wave of books geared towards young readers, and helps young people struggling with gender to feel seen and valid.

M-E GIRARD, GIRL MANS UP. Pen has always presented more masculine but faces more criticism as she grows older, both from her parents and from peers. The novel explores gender expectations and performance, and the emotional toll these expectations can take on someone who doesn’t fit in a specific box. It’s a story about not compromising oneself, and about knowing who you are even when others want you to be otherwise.

Invasions

Calvin Gimpelevich, Invasions. “The fifteen stories in this debut fiction collection from author Calvin Gimpelevich move in the borderlands between realism and surrealism, investigating gender, class, relationships, and the powers we still hold within spaces of powerlessness.”

I.W. GREGORIO, NONE OF THE ABOVE. Homecoming queen Kristin discovers she has androgen insensitivity syndrome, an intersex condition, after a painful attempt at having sex.  Of course, Krissy’s social life changes significantly once her condition becomes known, something familiar to lots of queer/gender-nonconforming kids, but this allows her to make new friends and discover who she really is. It is a hopeful story that is an exploration of gender and the body, and the important distinction that sex and gender presentation are two very different concepts that don’t always correlate the way society expects them to.

Fu Kim, For Today I am a Boy. “Peter, the only boy among four siblings born to Chinese immigrants, is convinced he is a girl and must fight the confines of a small town as well as the expectations of his parents to forge his own path into adulthood.”

Tadzio Koelb, Trenton Makes. Hardbitten factory worker Abe Kunstler has always been known as a man’s man, ever since she killed her abusive husband and stepped into his shoes. 

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Gene Kemp, The Turbulant Term of Tyke Tyler. This fun children’s book features the rambunctious Tyke Tiler, a friendly 12-year-old whose gender remains a mystery until the end of the novel. The reveal of Tyke’s gender — or perhaps sex — forces readers to reconsider their assumptions about children’s activities and proscribed gender attributes.

Laura Lam. Pantomime. Shadowplay. Lam’s debut novel, Pantomime, published in 2013. It is a young adult novel telling the story of an intersex character, Micah Grey, who has run away from home to become a circus aerialist. YA, fantasy, intersex and Bi MC, circus, steampunk, struggle w/ dual identity.

ANNA-MARIE MCLEMORE, WHEN THE MOON WAS OURS. With McLemore’s trademark lush and fantastical prose, this novel explores gender with magical realism and carefully researched cultural markers. One of the main characters, Sam, is trans, and struggles with the expectations that he will assume a feminine identity once he comes of age, after being raised as a boy as part of bacha posh, a Pakinstani & Afghan practice in which families without a son will raise the eldest daughter as masculine until they are of marrying age. 

China Miéville, Embassytown. Firmly in the mode of The Left Hand of Darkness,  Embassytown continues its author’s exploration of the relation between gender and power. Narrated by the ungendered Avice, this novel looks at a society that seems to have transcended patriarchy.

Alex Myers, Continental Divide. Harvard graduate Ron Bancroft heads out west to work at a dude ranch in order to cement his newly emerging manhood.

Kiran Oliver, Daybreak RisingThe explicitly non-binary character isn’t the main but is still a big part and most of the main characters are queer one way or another.

John Scalzi, Lock In, set 25 years after Haden’s syndrome — a disease that permanently and completely paralyzes one percent of those who contract it — spreads across the globe, and follows FBI Agent Chris Shane, sent to investigate a murder at the Watergate Hotel. Shane is a Haden’s patient whose gender is kept secret throughout the novel, which — like several others on this list — is written in the first person.

Vivek Shraya, She of the Mountains. Multimedia artist Shrayas playful debut novel mixes the story of a young, gay Indian-Canadian man in Edmonton with Hindu mythology.

Jaye Simpson, It Was Never Going to Be Okay is a collection of poetry and prose exploring the intimacies of understanding intergenerational trauma, Indigeneity and queerness, while addressing urban Indigenous diaspora and breaking down the limitations of sexual understanding as a trans woman.

Danez Smith, Homie. The poems collected here thematically encircle the search for friendship and intimacy in a racialized and gendered world, where those things always seem so incredibly difficult to achieve for those who experience life at the intersections of various systems of oppression. Specifically inspired by Smith’s loss of a close friend, there is a lot of anger and loss captured in this writing.

Rae Spoon, First Spring Grass Fire. Penned by non-binary writer and musician Rae Spoon, it follows a similarly non-binary kid growing up in the 1980s and 90s in Calgary. The narrative is told in short stories as the protagonist Rae deals with issues like their dad’s schizophrenia and abuse, attending Pentecostal Billy Graham rallies, finding solace in making music, a budding crush on a girl, and more.

Xemiyulu Manibusan Tapepechul (Nawat), My Woman Card Is anti-Native & Other Two-Spirit Truths. This is a beautiful collection of poetry in a variety of forms (haiku, sonnet, and free-verse) from Xemiyulu Manibusan Tapepechul, a Two-Spirit, trans womxn Siwayul artist and activist from Kuskatan (El Salvador). 

Sarah Waters, Tipping the Velvet. The protagonist, Nan, performs drag with her lover, and even creates a masculine self off stage. It’s a commentary on gender, performance, characteristics, and society.

Patrick White,The Twyborn Affair. The Nobel winner Patrick White here tells the story of one soul that inhabits three different bodies — one male, the other two female — in the years before and after World War I.

Jia Qing Wilson-Yang, Small Beauty. In this acute and moving novel, the death of her cousin sends Mei into an interrogation of her own warring identities and heritage as a mixed-race trans person of Chinese descent.

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Kathleen Winter, Annabel. Winter’s award-winning 2010 novel about an intersex child (called both “Wayne” and “Annabel”) is a widely praised representation of the interiority of a gender-fluid youth.

Virginia Woolf, Orlando. One of the classics of queer literature, Virginia Woolf’s Orlando stands singular amongst its peers as a novel centering on gender and identity. For Woolf, for whom gender was a constriction both in terms of her career and her romantic life, Orlando seems an exploration of a world in which the binary is infinitely more flexible, a future in which gender boundaries are broken. With a protagonist who changes sex mid-novel and explores relationships with partners of both genders, and even includes a singular they pronoun, Orlando is one of the most important novels we have about gender.

Dov Zeller, The Right Thing to Do At the Time. Imagine all the wit and confusion of Pride and Prejudice transported to New York, through a Jewish genderqueer lens. 

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With thanks to so many resources for these lists. I compile what I can from all over the net.

https://shelftalkblog.wordpress.com/2020/01/21/fresh-transgender-and-non-binary-fiction/ ,

https://seattle.bibliocommons.com/item/show/3390856030,

https://seattle.bibliocommons.com/list/share/161391651_ppl_cityofreaders/1564185349_a_book_by_a_trans_or_nonbinary_author

MORE!

Barnes, Djuna, and T. S. Eliot. Nightwood. New Directions, New York, 1961.

Bechdel, Alison. Are You My Mother? : A Comic Drama. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston, 2012.

—. Fun Home : A Family Tragicomic. Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 2006.

Bombardier, Cooper L. The Fevered Road, Portland State University, [Portland, Or.]. WorldCat.orghttps://vcfalibrary.on.worldcat.org/oclc/1022284352, doi:10.15760/etd.2017.

—. Thriftstore Troubadour. Published by High-Octane/Town Pump Press, Santa Fe, NM, 2003. WorldCat.orghttps://vcfalibrary.on.worldcat.org/oclc/957989557.

Bunker, Lisa. Zenobia July. Viking, New York, 2019. WorldCat.orghttps://vcfalibrary.on.worldcat.org/oclc/1050280488.

Charles, Jos 1. Feeld. Milkweed Editions, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 2019. WorldCat.orghttps://vcfalibrary.on.worldcat.org/oclc/1104092752.

Chee, Alexander. How to Write . 

Chow, Yiu F., Yiu F. Chow, and International Poetry Nights in Hong Kong (2017 : Hong Kong, China). Androgyny. Project Muse; Chinese University Press, Baltimore, Maryland; Hong Kong [China], 2017. WorldCat.orghttps://vcfalibrary.on.worldcat.org/oclc/1030041197.

Corfman, S. B. Luxury, Blue Lace. Autumn House Press, Pittsburgh, PA, 2019. WorldCat.orghttps://vcfalibrary.on.worldcat.org/oclc/1076804420.

Coyote, Ivan. One in Every Crowd : Stories. Arsenal Pulp Press, Vancouver, BC, 2012. WorldCat.orghttps://vcfalibrary.on.worldcat.org/oclc/776776139.

—. The Slow Fix. Arsenal Pulp Press, New York, 2009. WorldCat.orghttps://vcfalibrary.on.worldcat.org/oclc/609854006.

Das, Indra. The Devourers. Del Rey, New York, 2017. WorldCat.orghttps://vcfalibrary.on.worldcat.org/oclc/957022299.

Eugenides, Jeffrey. Middlesex. Farrar, Straus, Giroux, New York, 2002.

Gay, Roxane. An Untamed State. Black Cat, New York, NY, 2014.

Gore, Ariel. We were Witches : A Novel. Feminist Press, New York City, 2017.

Kureishi, Hanif. Something to Tell You : A Novel. Scribner, New York, 2008.

LAWLOR, ANDREA. Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl. PICADOR, [S.l.], 2020. WorldCat.orghttps://vcfalibrary.on.worldcat.org/oclc/1085593720.

Le Guin, Ursula (., and Miéville, China (1972- . . . ). The Left Hand of Darkness. Gollancz, London, 2017. WorldCat.orghttps://vcfalibrary.on.worldcat.org/oclc/1061151359.

Léger, Tom, and Riley MacLeod. The Collection. Topside Press, New York, 2012. WorldCat.orghttps://vcfalibrary.on.worldcat.org/oclc/815645420.

Machado, Carmen M., and Carmen M. Machado. Her Body and Other Parties : Stories. Graywolf Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 2017.

Marzano-Lesnevich, Alexandria. The Fact of a Body : A Murder and a Memoir. Flatiron Books, [Place of publication not identified], 2018. WorldCat.orghttps://vcfalibrary.on.worldcat.org/oclc/1230346131.

Mehta, Rahul. Quarantine : Stories. HarperCollins e-Books, [Place of publication not identified], 2014. WorldCat.orghttps://vcfalibrary.on.worldcat.org/oclc/877900391.

Muir, Tamsyn,. Harrow the Ninth. the Locked Tomb (2). Tom Doherty Associates, New York, NY, 2020. WorldCat.orghttps://vcfalibrary.on.worldcat.org/oclc/1198791261.

Myles, Eileen. Chelsea Girls. Black Sparrow Press, Santa Rosa, CA, 1994.

Myles, Eileen. For Now. Yale University Press, New Haven, 2020. WorldCat.orghttps://vcfalibrary.on.worldcat.org/oclc/1193575410.

—. I must be Living Twice : New & Selected Poems, 1975-2014. Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, New York, NY, 2015.

Newitz, Annalee 1. Four Lost Cities : A Secret History of the Urban Age. W. W. Norton & Company, New York, NY, 2021. WorldCat.orghttps://vcfalibrary.on.worldcat.org/oclc/1120095088.

Russo, Meredith. Birthday. Flatiron Books, New York, 2020. WorldCat.orghttps://vcfalibrary.on.worldcat.org/oclc/1182000104.

Solomon, Rivers. An Unkindness of Ghosts. AKASHIC BOOKS, 2020. WorldCat.orghttps://vcfalibrary.on.worldcat.org/oclc/1164337413.

Tea, Michelle. How to Grow Up : A Memoir. Plume, New York, 2015.

Vuong, Ocean 1. On Earth we’Re Briefly Gorgeous : A Novel. Penguin Press, New York, 2019. WorldCat.orghttps://vcfalibrary.on.worldcat.org/oclc/1052450975.

Winterson, Jeanette 1. Frankissstein : A Love Story. Vintage Canada, Toronto, 2020. WorldCat.orghttps://vcfalibrary.on.worldcat.org/oclc/1101616536.

Winterson, Jeanette. Gut Symmetries. A.A. Knopf, New York, 1997.

—. Oranges are Not the Only Fruit. Atlantic Monthly Press, New York, N.Y., 1987.

—. The Passion. Atlantic Monthly Press, New York, 1988.

—. Sexing the Cherry. Atlantic Monthly Press, New York, 1990.

—. Why be Happy when You could be Normal? Grove Press, New York, 2011.

—. Written on the Body. Vintage Books, New York, 1994.

Woolf, Virginia. Monday Or Tuesday and Other Short Stories. Floating Press, [Auckland, N.Z.], 2010.

—. Orlando; a Biography. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, New York, 1973.

YANAGIHARA, HANYA. Little Life. PICADOR, [S.l.], 2020. WorldCat.orghttps://vcfalibrary.on.worldcat.org/oclc/1158489375.

Published by Sarah Leamy

Sarah Leamy, MFA, is an award-winning author of both travel books and novels as well as a photographer, presenter, and a bit of a wanderer. She has lived in England, Germany, Spain, Guatemala and the Southwest of the US. She is the founder and editor of Wanderlust, a travel journal publishing international travel writing, photos and trip reports. Find out more at www.sarahleamy.com

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