Gift Guide Week: Casey Plett

Lambda-Literary-Award winner Casey Plett is our final Gift Guide recommender this week with five thoughtful must-read titles for everyone from queer kids of colour seeking gay and lesbian fiction to road-trip strangers you never forget.


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For all those young queer kids of colour who came in to the Strand Bookstore, asking “Where’s your gay and lesbian fiction section?:
Catherine Hernandez, Scarborough  (Arsenal Pulp Press)
Seven years ago, in a very formative time in my life, I worked at The Strand, this huge-ass bookstore in New York City (I say “huge-ass,” it is literally the second-largest bookstore in the United States!)The Strand’s policy was to shelve all fiction under “fiction” full-stop, save for anthologies, mysteries, sci-fi/fantasy, and horror. And several times, I had the experience of seeing young queer kids, always kids of colour, come into the store and, with an undeniable tenor of hope and excitement, ask me a variation of: “Where’s your gay and lesbian fiction section?”The response I had to give: “We don’t have one.”I wish I could find each of those kids and press into their hands Catherine Hernandez’s Scarborough, a beautiful, moving, and fast-paced ensemble novel about poor racialized families from Scarborough, Ontario. Many of the characters are queer, including one of the children, a feminine Filipino boy named Bing whose scene of singing Whitney Houston karaoke just made me fucking cry in such a healthy, nourishing way.
For my best friend from high school:
Gwen Benaway, Holy Wild  (Book*hug)
As a teenager, I was very tight with a girl I’m going to call Alice. There’s no way I can summarize Alice in such a short space but in brief: We bonded over our mutual silly-ass guy friends, we bonded over watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer, we were in the same theatre shows and snuck out for all-nighters and kept each other up over AIM long into the night. She was an Indigenous woman, she loved books and Frostees, she had trouble sleeping. She dealt with a lotta bullshit. And towards my spurting, frightening femininity (frightening to me, anyway) she was so very, very sweet. She was the first one to show me how to put on makeup—in my tiny cramped Southeast Portland apartment eleven years ago, where she’d just flung herself from our high school hometown to crash on our couch, Alice sat on my toilet and patiently showed me how to apply eyeshadow, mascara, and lipstick. I was 20, she was 19.A couple years later, Alice and I stopped talking. It had nothing to do with me being trans and everything to do with stupid dramatic people-in-their-early-twenties bullshit. Just recently, we’ve re-united.Some time ago I was lucky enough to read a draft of Holy Wild, Gwen Benaway’s beautiful, heartbreaking, and painful book of poetry on Indigeneity, trans-ness, femininity, and all their attendant interlocking pains, beauties, and complexities. I’m reminded of Alice when I re-read it now. Of everyone on this list, I’ll actually get to give her a copy.
For the girl I rode with on the Boston-to-New York Megabus in 2012 and never saw again:
Mallory Tater, This Will Be Good  (Book*hug)
Have you ever met someone for literally one evening and you never see them again and that’s like really okay? In March of 2012 I was living in New York City and took a bus up to Boston for a surgical consultation to chop up my Adam’s apple. It was a tough, turbulent time in my life, and that day was nice. Beautiful in fact—but SO long. I caught a 6:40am bus to Boston, did my consult, then wandered around in a hushed New England snowfall doing stupid things like eating clam chowder in a restaurant by the water. My bus back home was due to leave at 9pm, and then it was delayed two hours. Around ten I was exhausted, cranky, and hungry enough to leave my shit in a pile and run to the other side of the terminal room to get McDonald’s. When I came back there was a note on my bag.You’re beautiful and I hope you’re going to New York to make someone really happyThere was a girl sitting one seat over from my bag. She was short. She seemed younger than me at 24. I sat there for like fifteen minutes before I got up the nerve: “Did you write this note?”“Yes.”We talked right up until our bus finally came at midnight and then the whole four-hour ride back to New York. She had a boyfriend who she liked but lived far away from. He lived in Boston and she was from New York. She was broke and trying to figure out her life. She didn’t know where to end up because everywhere was so fucking expensive. I don’t remember what I told her about my life, though I remember talking about my own shit in equal measure. I just remember her as a strange, kind, kindred spirit out of the blue. We exchanged phone numbers when we got back and promptly never called each other. I’d like to think, hope, we both just knew we had a moment when we needed each other’s company and that was special enough.I met Mallory Tater at the Growing Room Festival earlier this year before reading her poetry collection, This Will Be Good. But unlike so many books written by people you’ve met, where your knowledge of them in real life tends, for better or worse, to crowd around how you read the text, that didn’t happen to me reading This Will Be Good. The young narrator’s gorgeous, unwavering voice feels to me like one of those girls I’ve met and instantly known then vanished, (there’ve been so many in my short stupid life). Someone I met long ago, like that girl on the Boston-to-New York Megabus. “muscle’s ache passes to new muscle. I taste salt/that coated my mother’s hair after an evening swim./I taste the starch of your sheets. You lift my chin, part/my thoughts. One: no screen on the window./two: not a fly in sight.”I still have your note in a box somewhere, mystery girl, though I lost your phone number years ago. I know there’s no chance you’ll see this, but somehow, if you do, I have a book for you. 
For every fucked up girl I’ve seen go home with a boy when it didn’t matter which boy:
Tamara Faith Berger, Little Cat  (Coach House Books)
I’m in the middle of Tamara Faith Berger’s latest Queen Solomon right now and I loved her last book Maidenhead, but God can I talk about the twin novellas from two decades ago that make up Little Cat and tell you about when I first read this book and how it exploded my brain? A friend pressed it into my hand five years ago not knowing that the night before had been another drunken hook-up with a man I barely knew, a guy I’d met on the street a few times and then let fuck me on a picnic table in the park behind my apartment building. It’s strange, I suppose, as that for all the plentiful writing I have consumed about queer sexuality, only two works of fiction have deeply spoken to my very intimate being about sex: One is Nevada by Imogen Binnie (a trans woman) and the other is Little Cat by Tamara Faith Berger, in most respects a straight book with straight sex and straight characters. But Lord, if it didn’t just root around in my soul and show me an ugly, pulsing, undeniable side of myself and how sex can be put into words in a way I had no idea I needed to read. Every time I’ve been out, seeing a girl start to hook up with a boy, seeing that girl go home, no matter how happy or joyous or bored or haunted she seemed to be, that girl could probably get something from reading Tamara Faith Berger’s Little Cat.(And lest you think this is a sad or desperate recommendation, dear reader, be assured: Everything about Berger’s writing is hot as fuck. And the short essay at the end from the latest 2012 edition on James Deen? Fucking *chef’s kiss*)
For the unknown trans woman I met a decade ago:
Kai Cheng Thom, a place called No Homeland  (Arsenal Pulp Press)
A decade ago, a friend I’ll call Lisa knew that I was having “gender issues.” This was the language I had at the time for what I now call “being a boring-ass transsexual.”Unlike me in 2008, Lisa knew an actual transsexual woman. This woman worked with Lisa.Also, she was her weed dealer.Lisa said to me one day, “You should meet her.”I went over with Lisa to this woman’s tiny studio apartment in inner Northeast Portland (it was probably barely-affordable then and probably costs $1,500/month now if it hasn’t been destroyed for condos). I think she had just started hormones. She wore a tight shirt and I was fascinated by her breasts because fuck she had just GROWN THEM like HERSELF she took PILLS AND GOT BOOBS like as an ADULT what the CRAP. Her apartment was a bunk bed, a desk with a computer, and weed plants in the closet.Lisa bought her pot and then it was obvious the woman and I were to Talk.And we tried. We really tried.She was only a few years older than me. By appearances she was white. She asked me about which surgeries I wanted. She asked me which surgeons I wanted. I told her I was getting laser for my face, she ran through a list of names of technicians (“Is it so-and-so? Is it so-and-so?” “No. No.”) I don’t know whether she liked boys or girls—even knowing what I know now of common signpost differences between straight and queer trans women, I have no guess. I know she was lonely, like me. Like me, she knew no one remotely like herself.I mostly remember us trying to have a conversation, us clearly wanting to find common ground with each other, and failing. I don’t remember where she was from, only that like most queers I met in Portland she wasn’t from there. I would go on next year to finally make actual friends, real friends, with a different trans woman, but that was the first time I was in another trans woman’s house. I will never forget what it was like to be in her apartment, understand her space, see her as a strange breathing woman who lay her head every night on the bed I sat on—and be so unable to communicate with her. I will never forget how desperately she wanted to communicate with me.I have no idea what this girl is doing ten years later. I never saw or spoke with this girl again. I have no idea if this girl’s alive. But I think this girl would like Kai Cheng Thom’s poetry collection A Place Called No Homeland, for all the ways it might apply to her life and all the ways it might not: a book about estrangement, loneliness, sex, fear of violence, experiencing violence, racism, Chinese diaspora, being a young scared queer kid, transmisogyny, survival.I want to be young like I was never allowed, like/I want to have never seen the scar on another girl’s wrists, like/I want to run a brush through my hair eighty-nine times every night/and sleep dreamless, like maybe/I want to write poems that are not about politics, like/maybe The Movement never held me in its arms, like/maybe I want to hold you in my arms, like/a woman holds another woman in her arms/softly/gently/sweeting/resting.  
My Wish List Item:
The Woo-Woo by Lindsay Wong (Arsenal Pulp Press)
* * *Thanks so much to Casey for these rad book picks! Missed our other #ALUgiftguide recommendations? Get them here.