Trans Literatures
College Literature
Friday, December 15, 2023

Co-edited by: Alex Brostoff (Kenyon College) & RL Goldberg (Princeton University, Prison Teaching Initiative)

"Realism does something," writes Kay Gabriel, which "may wildly exceed simply representing the world in an inventive way. If that's true, then who writes and what…they make possible to grasp are equally urgent questions" (Kay 2022). On its face, trans realism, as Gabriel describes it, offers a perch from which to look out over the varied topography of trans lives. Like many scholars before her, including Jay Prosser, for instance, Gabriel traces the lineage of trans realism back to histories of trans memoir and its mainstream appeal. Indeed, before the 2018 publication of Jordy Rosenberg's Confessions of the Fox and Andrea Lawlor's Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl, the mainstream publication of trans literature was cast largely in a subgenre about trans people: sympathetic accounts of trans people in transition, penned by non-trans authors. Casey Plett calls these "the Gender Novels—books about Gender with a capital G" (Plett 2020).

Such tales of trans literature recount the emergence of a small swath of medicalized memoirs from the midcentury, followed by an explosion of trans realism in the past two decades. This periodization is echoed in academic accounts of trans studies that situate the field as before and after Time magazine's 2014 pronouncement of a "transgender tipping point" (Steinmetz 2014), a headline that concocts a progress narrative in which we've moved past the one-dimensional story of a pre-tipping point, and have tipped into more polyvocal accounts of trans. Time's pronouncement featured the actress Laverne Cox for its cover image, but how does the representation of Cox as emblematic of Black trans experience occlude the overwhelming whiteness of whatever trans tipping point we've tipped into? That is, how does the figuration, and in some cases, allegorization of trans people of color correlate with the production, circulation, and reception of trans literatures? What does Time's periodization elide for broader histories of trans and divergent genealogies of trans literatures? In what ways does this periodization limit accounts of the literary production and publication of trans writers in the twentieth and twenty-first century? Articulated otherwise: trans realism does something; the Gender Novels do something; but what do trans literatures do? And for whom? Does trans literature, like queer theory, teach us nothing, as Lee Edelman (2023) has recently argued?

While trans cultural production, broadly conceived, has been spotlighted and surveyed in special issues of TSQ (2014) as well as Trap Door: Trans Cultural Production and the Politics of Visibility (2017), little attention has been afforded to literary aesthetics, specifically. GLQ's 2017 special issue: "Queers Read This": LGBTQ Literature Now poignantly and provocatively asks "how LGBTQ literary production has evolved in response to the dramatic transformations in queer life that have taken place since the early 1990s" (Fawaz and Smalls 2018). While Queers Read This pays heed to the fight for trans rights from within the realm of queer politics, the "T" in LGBTQ Literature has experienced an increasingly distinct trajectory. In a dual echo and departure from the question of what queers should read and how, this special issue takes stock of the sociopolitical conditions under which trans literary production takes place and circulates.

Paranoid readings bookend us. In mainstream culture wars, not only are queer and trans studies under threat alongside critical race theory and comparative ethnic studies, but so too are the humanities writ large. Boards of trustees increasingly become the arbiters of censored syllabi while neoliberalism capitalizes on the DEI-fication of humanities curricula. If one hallmark of queer theory hailing from the nineties was Eve Sedgwick's (2006) distinction between paranoid and reparative reading, then what we see underscored by this heuristic is a privileging of reading and interpretation: how else to understand the epistemology of the closet? But especially at this moment, as a blitz of anti-trans bills surface and resurface across the country, paranoid readings of trans texts seem insufficient (they are out to get us). At the same time, reparative readings don't exactly enable us to ask what happens when we get mired in the trap of visuality. Concerned with reading as a method, this special issue asks what aesthetic, political, and ethical imperatives circulate in and beyond trans literatures. This issue wagers that trans literatures do in fact allow us to grasp something—or, at the very least, they grasp us "at a moment," to echo Gabriel, "when all kinds of people are trying to peer in" (Kay 2022). Some peer, but others leer; against the backdrop of ever-increasing anti-LGBTQ legislation, across the country, school boards, counties, and states are removing queer and trans books from libraries and curricula.

This special issue thus asks: What place(s) do trans literatures occupy inside and outside of the academy? Alongside the formation and partial institutionalization of trans studies, how have trans literatures challenged the methods and tenets of the academic field? What genealogies and genres of trans literatures proliferate beyond realism and memoir? How is trans writing—from literary fiction to genre fiction, from poetry to memoir and beyond—differently racialized? How and in what ways do trans literatures converge and diverge with queer literatures? To build off of the questions initially raised by Ramzi Fawaz and Shanté Paradigm Smalls in "Queers Read This," how are trans literatures written, read, and taught? How do they challenge and recast trans literary histories? What kinds of stories, theories, and pedagogies do trans literatures produce? How do trans literatures challenge and recast sociality and criticality alike? And, most basically, what makes literature trans?

College Literature invites articles exploring trans literatures in ways that may include but are not limited to:

  • Trans genres
  • Trans literary aesthetics
  • Trans literary subjects / subjectivities
  • Trans in the first person
  • Trans literatures and trans of color critique
  • Trans literatures in a transnational context
  • Trans literatures in translation
  • Trans literatures in/and the prison industrial complex
  • Trans methods of reading
  • Trans literary pedagogies
  • Trans in the publishing industry
  • The process and prospects of trans literary canonization
  • Banned books
  • Anti-trans legislation and trans literatures
  • The place of trans literatures in trans studies
  • The place of trans literatures in literary studies and literary theory

Please submit a 500-word abstract (for essays between 8,000-10,000 words) and a CV to both rl goldberg at and Alex Brostoff at by December 15, 2023. When submitting, also copy College Literature ( Essay drafts will be due August 1, 2024, and sent out for anonymous peer review. This special issue is scheduled to be published in Summer 2025. Prospective authors should feel free to email general inquiries about the issue as well.

Edelman, Lee. 2023. Bad Education: Why Queer Theory Teaches Us Nothing. Durham: Duke University Press.

Fawaz, Ramzi and Shanté Paradigm Smalls. 2018. "Queers Read This! LGBTQ Literature Now." GLQ 24 (2-3): 169-87.

Gabriel, Kay. 2022. "Whose Trans Realism?" The Yale Review, November 14, 2022.

Plett, Casey. 2020. "Rise of the Gender Novel." The Walrus, April 10, 2020.

Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. 2006. Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity. Durham: Duke University Press.

Steinmetz, Katy. 2014. "The Transgender Tipping Point." Time, May 29, 2014.

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