By the end of the course, students will enjoy, evaluate, and practice the craft of writing queer narratives within a variety of genres. This course is open to queer writers/poets and our allies, in short, anyone who would like to immerse themselves in creating authentic queer characters.
There’s a growing openness to other gender roles and identities for example but how do you write about such characters? There’s so much more to it than simply changing pronouns. This is important work, to make space and the stories of those of us on the edges.
Writers and Poets we’ll look at include:
Gloria Anzaldua, Richard Blanco, Jericho Brown, Ivan Coyote, Cooper Lee Bombardier, Donika Kelly, David Levithan, Carmen Maria Machado, Corrinne Manning, Eileen Myles, Ruben Quesada, Hasanthika Sirisena, Jeanette Winterson, Lidia Yuknavitch, and others.
With a conversation about queer culture as well as writing craft, we’ll dive into generative work from gender-queer perspectives. After talking about social expectations, roles, emotional reactions, physicality, mainstream media and yes, pronouns, we’ll free write together. We’ll all bring in and share prompts from videos, headlines, photos, music, poems, short stories, and flash fiction. With a freedom of experimentation, economy, wit, your work will offer a sense of place, mood, scene and atmosphere in under three pages. These pieces are often less narrative and more evocative. They give us, the readers, a slice or quality of life, a moment of discovery, or a flash of illumination. They are complete and when you finish, the last line stains and lingers.
Writers will leave with a good sense of characterision and at least 3-5 new short works created over the six weeks of conversation and practice.
Generate fresh queer stories.
Create non-conforming gender characters.
Focus on the craft of writing beyond the coming out/transition focus.
First few weeks, we will focus on character building questionaire to build out authentic gender-queer/ queer narrators
Revise characters with a queering touch, how can we say it without saying it?
Write short stories with each of our new protagonists
Evaluate gender markers including point of view, setting, concerns, attributes, languages, and character
Co-create a reading list of contemporary, published queer narratives across a range of genres
Engage in Conversations about writing from within a queer persective
Consider terms and the changing social landscape re gender/queer identities
Create stories that move beyond coming out/transitioning.
Role of Validation, bullying, presentation, representation, publication
Expectations: Students show up for each other as they read their work aloud and get feedback from each other, collaborative and positive
Revision Process: Using the premise that each writer asks questions of cohort before reading own work and we help them reach those goals with suggestions and opportunities to develop
Over 6 weeks = three new short stories (300 to 1500 words) and/or write new material as a basis for longer work.
Running for 6 consecutive weeks, this workshop-style course is for students interested in generating new work, or developing and revising their current projects while getting feedback from instructors and fellow students. For Queers and our allies. Love us or leave us.
BIO: Sarah (sleam) Leamy is a doctoral researcher at the University of Birmingham (UK) with a focus on Androgynous Narratives and the representation of gender ambiguity in contemporary western literature. She is the author of When No One’s Looking (Eloquent Press), Lucky Shot (SBG), Lucky Find (Blue Mesa Books) and Van Life. Other work is (or soon to be) in Los Angeles Review, Finishing Line Press, Hunger Mountain, Santa Fe Project Quarterly, Devil’s Party Press, Dune Review, and Best Emerging Poets of NM amongst others. She has just finished working on a new hybrid memoir, Stay, with Lidia Yuknavitch. Finishing Line Press is publishing a gender-queer chapbook, Hidden, in Spring 2021. G’Dog, short stories collection, is under contract for publishing in 2022. Sarah presents at various colleges and conferences on writing from a gender-queer perspective. She is passionate about sharing the importance, craft, validation and conversation about representing outsider experiences through storytelling.
More books to look up by non-binary authors or featuring ungendered narrators.
AMROU AL-KADHI, Unicorn: 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.
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.
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.
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 Rising. The 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.
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.
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.org, https://vcfalibrary.on.worldcat.org/oclc/1030041197.
An ongoing list of the work I’m discovering and reading in order to better understand how both the binary of gender and non-conforming genders are represented in contemporary literature. My focus has been on the West but would love to add more global authors and poets.
Bibliography: Creative Works
Barnes, Djuna, and T. S. Eliot. Nightwood. New Directions, New York, 1961.
Beach, Jensen. Swallowed by the Cold : Stories. Graywolf Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 2016.
Bombardier, Cooper L. Pass with Care : Memoirs. Dottir Press, New York, NY, 2020.
Butler, Robert O. A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain : Stories. H. Holt, New York, 1992.
Carver, Raymond. Where I’m Calling from : New and Selected Stories. Atlantic Monthly Press, New York, 1988.
Coyote, Ivan. One in Every Crowd : Stories. Arsenal Pulp Press, Vancouver, BC, 2012.
—. Tomboy Survival Guide. Arsenal Pulp Press, Vancouver, British Columbia, 2018.
Coyote, Ivan, and Zena Sharman. Persistence: All Ways Butch and Femme. Arsenal Pulp Press, Vancouver, 2012.
Levithan, David. Every Day. Random House Teen, New York. 2012.
Driskill, Qwo-Li. Asegi Stories; Cherokee Queer and Two-Spirit Memory. University of Arizona Press, 2016.
Eugenides, Jeffrey. Middlesex. Farrar, Straus, Giroux, New York, 2002.
Gay, Roxane. An Untamed State. Black Cat, New York, NY, 2014.
Girard, M.E. Girl Mans Up. HarperTeen, New York, 2016.
Kincaid, Jamaica. Annie John. Farrar, Straus, Giroux, New York, 1985.
Léger, Tom, and Riley MacLeod. The Collection. Topside Press, New York, 2012.
MacCarthy, Cormac. No Country for Old Men. Vintage Books, New York, 2005.
Machado, Carmen M.. Her Body and Other Parties : Stories. Graywolf Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 2017a.
Manning, Corinne. We had no Rules : Stories. Arsenal Pulp Press, Vancouver, 2020a.
Myles, Eileen. For Now. Yale University Press, New Haven, 2020.
—. I must be Living Twice : New & Selected Poems, 1975-2014. Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, New York, NY, 2015.
Nelson, Maggie. The Argonauts. Graywolf Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 2015.
Olson, Alix. Word Warriors : 35 Women Leaders in the Spoken Word Revolution. Seal Press, Emeryville, CA, 2007.
Saunders, George 1. In Persuasion Nation : Stories. Riverhead Books, New York, 2007.
Saunders, George 1., and Chelsea Cardinal. Fox 8 : A Story. Random House, New York, 2018.
Sindu, S. J. Marriage of a Thousand Lies. Soho Press, New York, 2018.
Smith, Ali 1. Artful. Penguin Books, [New York], 2014.
Taylor, Sara. The Lauras : A Novel. Hogarth, London ;, 2017.
Tea, Michelle. Sister Spit : Writing, Rants and Reminiscence from the Road. City Lights, San Francisco, CA, 2012.
Tea, Michelle. How to Grow Up : A Memoir. Plume, New York, 2015.
Winterson, Jeanette. Why be Happy when You could be Normal? Grove Press, New York, 2011.
—. Written on the Body. Vintage Books, New York, 1994.
Coyote, Ivan. One in Every Crowd : Stories.Perfect example of essays. Coyote is one to really dive into, mostly he writes essays as stories. His earlier work is online, performances etc and what I like is how that early body of work is simply being and not explaining.
Bombardier, Cooper Lee. Pass with Care.Great book on process of coming into self as creative and trans. A keeper. (I have a copy.) Come back to for a deep dive. Worth looking at his earlier work to see if that also explained his relationship to gender or was more the stories/poems of the life itself.
Leger, Tom. The Collection. Short fiction from Transgender authors. The first story by Imogen Binnie struck me, liked it. Most of the others didn’t resonate. I’ll have another look this weekend to note which ones would be good to address in the project. Sent back to VCFA library. I doubt I’ll refer to it. Although, Imogen has since published a novel called Nevada. I might reach out to her.
Coyote, Ivan and Sherman, Zena. Persistence. Great book, loved it, mostly on the queer side but to be honest most of us genderqueers are exactly that! A keeper. Good quotes to use here.
Myles, Eileen. For Now. Long drawn out sentences, stream of consciousness, playing with form, grammar, claining her thoughts on writing, process, connection. Beautiful book. Great for quotes on creative process and life in 2020.
Sindu SJ: A Marriage of a Thousand Lies. Remember to come back to this. Tomboy Sri-lankan narrator, mixing between traditions, family, love for another Sri-Lankan woman, fake marriage, appearances, choices.
Manning, Corinne: We had no rules: stories (May 2020)Yes. See notes. Professor M is the one story that fits the best.
Sara Taylor. The Lauras. Yes. See notes. Great fit.
Coyote, Ivan. Tomboy Survival Guide. Yes. Stories and memoirs.
“In Gender Trouble, Judith Butler asked, “[i]s the breakdown of gender binaries … so monstrous, so frightening, that it must be held to be definitionally impossible and heuristically precluded from any effort to think gender?” (Butler, p. 1999, p.viii). Using this question as a starting point, I look at the way that gender is understood and challenged in contemporary fiction. Specifically, I examine novels and short stories that focus on finding one’s place in gender, and the way such narratives write gendered experiences outside of the traditional male/female binary. In the first chapter, I look at females that live as males, exploring various ways of ‘doing’ gender, both on-stage and off, and the creation of cohesive gender identities. Chapter two looks at the way that sex and gender are medicalised. I argue that the male/female binary is protected by both the media and the medical establishment. This expands into a discussion of the way doctors attempt to preserve this binary in the face of increasing challenges to its very viability. In chapter three, I consider novels that focus on a male-to-female transition, as well as what is at stake in writing gender. Finally, I look at the emergence of ‘genderless’ characters, both in terms of the viability of the term ‘genderless’, and the difficulties in finding a suitable language with which to understand and quantify gendered experience.”
Dana-Tabet, Adrianne. “Gender Reversals and Gender Cultures: Anthropological and Historical Perspectives.” American Ethnologist, vol. 26, no. 2, 1999, pp. 492–493 (Book Review)
Eberstadt, Mary. “The Lure of Androgyny: Gender Fluidity and Ambiguity are being Driven in Part by the Collapse of Family and Community.”, vol. 148, no. 3, 2019, pp. 28+.
Farwell, Marilyn R. “Virginia Woolf and Androgyny.” Contemporary Literature, vol. 16, no. 4, 1975a, pp. 433-451.
Hargreaves, Tracy. Androgyny in Modern Literature. Palgrave Macmillan, Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire ;, 2005a.
Hargreaves, Tracy. Virginia Woolf and twentieth century narratives of androgyny (QMC. 1995. Thesis)
Hughes, Jennifer, Abigail A. Camden, and Tenzin Yangchen Agnes Scott College Rethinking and Updating Demographic Questions: Guidance to Improve Descriptions of Research Samples. 2016. THE INTERNATIONAL HONOR SOCIETY IN PSYCHOLOGY
Heilbrun, Carolyn G. Toward a Recognition of Androgyny. Replica Books, Bridgewater, N.J., 1998.
JARRAWAY, DAVID R. “”Creatures of the Rainbow”: Wallace Stevens, Mark Doty, and the Poetics of Androgyny.” Mosaic: An Interdisciplinary Critical Journal, vol. 30, no. 3, 1997, pp. 169-183.
Krishnaraj, Maithreyi. “Androgyny: An Alternative to Gender Polarity?” Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 31, no. 16, 1996a, pp. WS9-WS14.
MacLeod, Alison Jean. Handsome Girls, Hellcats and Tomboys : A Study of the Female Androgyne in Literature. University of Lancaster, 1996.
Muehlenhard, C.L., Peterson, Z.D. Distinguishing Between Sex and Gender: History, Current Conceptualizations, and Implications. Sex Roles64, 791–803 (2011)
Melita, Maureen M, and Muareen M Melita. “Gender Identity and Androgyny in Ludovico Ariosto’s ‘Orlando Furioso’ and Virginia Woolf’s ‘Orlando: A Biography.’” Romance Notes, vol. 53, no. 2, 2013, pp. 123–133.
MONTASHERY, Iraj. Virginia Woolf and the Exploration of the Third Gender. International Journal of Comparative Literature and Translation Studies, [S.l.], v. 1, n. 1, p. 1-10, apr. 2013
Ramet, Sabrina Petra. Gender Reversals and Gender Cultures: Anthropological and Historical Perspectives.
Sex is biological. Gender is cultural. How do we reflect the difference between the two in our writing? Is it possible or are we so trained to classify each other by gender? I present the idea that unless we know how we are using gendered language unconsciously, we can’t write authentically gender non-conforming narratives.
MY OWN WORK challenges gender expectations. The first question that comes up is who is the narrator? What gender are they? Lucky, in Lucky Shot, and Joey in When No-one’s Looking, are both ungendered narrators, searching for answers as they travel across the States and beyond. Each is running from a troubled past and into new relationships as they struggle to claim a place in the world. Find a sense of belonging. Kirkus Reviews assumed that the protagonists were male: The novels don’t say either way. However, the editors, publishers and professional reviewers had a hard time accepting these perspectives as valid. Androgynous, agender, queer, all of the above, I’m simply being myself, and it comes out in my clothes, relationships, in my lifestyle and yes, in my stories. I write from this outsider perspective as do my characters–what was unconscious is now carefully considered and questioned and I play with ambiguity.
Why do we classify by gender roles? In life and literature?
What do we need as readers to connect with the humanity of the protagonist?
What are our own hidden biases?
Is an ungendered narrative more inclusive? Does it take the reader out of the story or engage them more?
Who has done it successfully? How? How do we write a gender neutral story?
An Overview of the craft techniques include:
Terms: an overview.
Forms and genres: novels/ shorts/ poetry/ memoirs: examples.
POV: 1st, 2nd, and 3rd.
Possessives/ pronouns: use/ absence.
Names: as clues and expectations.
Think of the reactions of other characters: natural acceptance of friends or discomfort of strangers?
Authors name, sex, and gender: default filters of our reading their work.
Assumptions/ biases re. skills, clothes, emotions as found within the spectrum of masculine and feminine.
Language of the body: describing physicality without gender labels/ expectations.
The presentation is built from a MFA critical thesis as well as examples from recently published poetry, short stories, and essays within the West. There will be short writing exercises to put into practice a few concepts.