I am so excited today to welcome to the site Austin Chant, whose books probably get the biggest rec workout in the entirety of the LGBTQReads Tumblr. (That’s what happens when I get asked for trans m/m every day!) His newest release, Peter Darling, is all of two weeks old, and he’s here to share about it, tell us what comes next, and discuss trans lit rep in general!
We have to start with Peter Darling, and as much as I hate asking authors about their inspiration, I have to have to know how the idea of a trans Peter Pan assigned Wendy Darling at birth came to you, and what the process of writing that story was like. (And do you have any plans to retell any other works in the future?)
I wanted to write enemies-to-lovers, and I was really intrigued by the idea of an antagonistic-but-loving relationship between Hook and a grown-up Pan—but obviously at least one of them had to be trans, because that’s how I roll.
So I settled on trans Pan, and I wanted him to have come from a real place rather than being a mythical creature; I’m most interested in trans characters who feel like they live in the same world I do. I’ve always really liked Wendy Darling: the storyteller, the one who longs for family and responsibility but also falls in love with adventure and danger. Traditionally, Wendy balances Pan in an interesting but deeply gender-essentialist way. Having Peter be an amalgamation of them both, rather than having Wendy be Pan’s external conscience and foil, gave Peter a lot to wrestle with and intrigued me more than writing them as separate people.
Since Wendy is a storyteller, it made sense to me for Pan to be a character who Peter invented, who allowed him to take on a different name and identity. Pan is Peter’s fantasy self—a free, badass, cocky little bastard who only has happy thoughts. What made Peter interesting to me was the tension between his two worlds: the violent, toxic catharsis of Neverland versus the extreme repression of living as someone perceived as a woman and as a trans person in the early 1900s. His real personality is somewhere in between, but it’s complicated by the baggage from both sides.
At the time I started writing, I was frustrated with what I saw as a lack of empathy for trans folks newly coming into their identities, especially those who were struggling and not expressing themselves perfectly. I wanted to write a trans character who was in an incredibly difficult stage of coming out—letting go of abusive relationships—and was, as a result, kind of a human disaster. A big part of grounding his pain was making him someone who valued his family as much as the character of Wendy Darling traditionally does, but who was torn between that and his loyalty to himself. I wanted him to lash out and fuck up as Pan would, rather than being a martyr. We all deserve happy endings, and we ought to be allowed to struggle and make mistakes, especially when we’re dealing with intense pain and distress. Ultimately, it was really, really fun (and sometimes exhausting) to write a trans character with that much complexity and rage.
Someday I’m going to figure out a way to write a retelling of The Picture of Dorian Gray. There’s a lot of opportunity for queer rage there, too.
I am a totally-not-secret Coffee Boy fangirl, and like other readers, I definitely wanted more! What made you stop it at novella length, and is there any chance we’ll be seeing an extended version and/or more of the characters?
Well, the original version was published in an anthology and had a word count limit (which I still totally went over, oops). I probably won’t expand what’s published now, but I do have tentative plans for a sequel. It would be set significantly after Coffee Boy and be plottier, with more political drama, and look at Kieran and Seth’s relationship after they’ve been together a few years. I like the idea of them growing into a deadly, snarky power couple and fueling each other’s ambitions, and I think it would be fun to see especially Kieran come into his own.
Both Coffee Boyand Peter Darling are m/m Romances with trans main characters, which is probably the #1 thing I get asked to recommend on Tumblr. Do you have any particular favorites to recommend? And is there an aspect to your writing of adding to canon that which we barely see on shelves, or is that just a nice bonus?
My personal favorites are The Burnt Toast B&B by Heidi Belleau and Rachel Haimowitz and A Matter of Disagreement by E.E. Ottoman. There really aren’t a lot! As a trans guy who’s primarily attracted to men, I don’t usually see myself, so writing trans m/m is definitely a selfish thing. 😛 But I also want both cis and trans readers to see queer trans folks in loving relationships. Too often I feel there’s a preference for trans characters who are straight and gender-conforming and those characters just don’t reflect my experiences or the full glorious spectrum of my community. Also, trans guys can be queer as hell and it doesn’t undermine who we are. I don’t think that’s acknowledged often enough.
If I recall correctly, you said something about writing trans f/f…? Aaaand I see it there on your #authorlifemonth To Write list, so don’t even think of hiding it! What can you share about what you’re working on?
Hmm, I don’t want to share too much yet (because I’m still working on it!) but the tentative working title is In Starlight. It’s about Hazel, a young trans woman musician who gets tossed into the spotlight very suddenly and winds up meeting her childhood idol, a retired champion figure skater named Miranda, under not-so-ideal circumstances. It’s coming out from Riptide Publishing as part of an F/F series with some really awesome contributors, and I’m super excited to be a part of it.
What’s something you’ve seen in LGBTQIAP+ lit that’s really stuck with you, for better or for worse?
The consensus seems to be that us queers are kind of magical and I’m on board with that. I try to live my life as if that’s true.
What’s the first trans rep you ever recall encountering in media? What about the first good trans rep, since I suspect they were not one and the same?
The thing about being a trans man is that when I was growing up, almost all the (very toxic) mainstream representation of trans folks was of trans women, and I a) didn’t realize it related to me and b) didn’t necessarily recognize it as trans because mainstream media didn’t acknowledge that trans folks were a community with a shared identity. My perspective was definitely a privilege in that it kept me from internalizing a lot of the terrible messages that were being broadcast about trans women, though it also left me without any models for who I was. I think the first time I became truly aware of trans people was in fandom, not in mainstream media. The first genuinely good representation I encountered was in queer romance when I started reading EE Ottoman’s work.
While #ownvoices trans lit is growing, it still spent years being dominated by cis authors. What are some clues you’ve seen that the authors writing have not lived the trans experience?
A lot of times it’s the conflicts and the joys. Authors who are imagining what it’s like to be trans tend not to have a great sense of the more nuanced and subtle ways that trans folks experience the world, and when they write transphobia, it generally takes the form of big, explosive incidents—assault, blackmail, etc. Those things do happen in real life, but there are also a million other ways that trans folks encounter a world that isn’t built for us. Gender essentialism is everywhere, and much of it isn’t obvious until you’re trying to navigate society as a trans person.
Trans characters written by cis authors can also fall into the trap of having few defining traits outside of being trans; their central character conflict is that they are trans and the world sucks. That doesn’t make for interesting character growth, and it results in some incredibly repetitive stories. The trans folks I know in real life are a hugely varied group of people who experience transness (and transphobia) in a variety of ways because they move in different circles, have different dreams and ambitions, and have other intersecting identities. A trans farmer is going to have a different set of obstacles and triumphs than a trans marine biologist or a trans schoolteacher, but all that gets flattened when you view transness as a singular experience that creates the same internal and external conflicts every time.
Finally, I’m not sure I’ve ever read a cis-authored description of gender dysphoria (or gender euphoria) that rang quite true. That’s one of the big reasons I’m a proponent of leaving “trans revelation” stories to trans authors; knowing your gender as a trans person is a heavily personal and individual thing, and it’s virtually impossible to write well with only a surface-level understanding of that experience.
I don’t mean to rag on cis authors, though. I fully believe that cis authors are capable of writing wonderful trans characters… so long as they’re capable of writing us like people. Unfortunately, as we’ve seen, that’s not always the case.
Going back to #authorlifemonth for a sec, I see you have a dream of opening a Queer Romance bookstore. A) Hell Yes, and B) What books would you say would be absolute musts for your shelves?
I’m going to let out my fanboy self here and say that my #1 necessity is KJ Charles‘s entire backlist. But honestly, I’d want to get my hands on almost anything in print. I love ebooks, but there’s still something really special about print books, and it makes me sad that more LGBT fiction doesn’t get produced that way. I like a book I can hug and/or throw. I can’t think of anything lovelier than being surrounded by bookshelves full of queer romance.
What do you wish you got asked more often, and what’s the answer?
Oh, gosh. Who’s the best Captain Hook? The only acceptable answer is Jason Isaacs.
Austin Chant is a bitter millennial and decent chef who grew up along the Puget Sound, ensuring that cold, rainy beaches will forever be part of his #aesthetic. Nowadays, he goes to college in Seattle and lives a double life as a game designer and a queer, trans romance novelist. Austin co-hosts The Hopeless Romantic, a podcast dedicated to LGBTQIA+ love stories and the art of writing romance. He aspires to fill his books with trans characters who get all the love they deserve. His works include Peter Darling, Coffee Boy, and Caroline’s Heart (in the Magic & Mayhem anthology).
The great outdoors isn’t so great for Sydney It-Girl Lien Hong. It’s too dark, too quiet, and there are spiders in the toilet of the cabin she is sharing with friends on the way to a New South Wales music festival. To make matters worse, she’s been separated from her companions and taken a bad fall. With a storm approaching, her rescue comes in the form of a striking wilderness ranger named Claudia Sokolov, whose isolated cabin, soulful voice and collection of guitars bely a complicated history. While they wait out the weather, the women find an undeniable connection—one that puts them both on new trajectories that last long after the storm has cleared.
Tommy and Ozzie have been best friends since second grade, and boyfriends since eighth. They spent countless days dreaming of escaping their small town—and then Tommy vanished.
More accurately, he ceased to exist, erased from the minds and memories of everyone who knew him. Everyone except Ozzie.
Ozzie doesn’t know how to navigate life without Tommy, and soon suspects that something else is going on: that the universe is shrinking.
When Ozzie is paired up with new student Calvin on a physics project, he begins to wonder if Calvin could somehow be involved. But the more time they spend together, the harder it is for him to deny the feelings developing between them, even if he still loves Tommy.
But Ozzie knows there isn’t much time left to find Tommy–that once the door closes, it can’t be opened again. And he’s determined to keep it open as long as possible.
Somewhere on the outer rim of the universe, a mass of decaying world-ships known as the Legion is traveling in the seams between the stars. For generations, a war for control of the Legion has been waged, with no clear resolution. As worlds continue to die, a desperate plan is put into motion.
Zan wakes with no memory, prisoner of a people who say they are her family. She is told she is their salvation – the only person capable of boarding the Mokshi, a world-ship with the power to leave the Legion. But Zan’s new family is not the only one desperate to gain control of the prized ship. Zan finds that she must choose sides in a genocidal campaign that will take her from the edges of the Legion’s gravity well to the very belly of the world.
Zan will soon learn that she carries the seeds of the Legion’s destruction – and its possible salvation. But can she and her ragtag band of followers survive the horrors of the Legion and its people long enough to deliver it?
In the tradition of The Fall of Hyperion and Dune, The Stars are Legion is an epic and thrilling tale about tragic love, revenge, and war as imagined by one of the genre’s most celebrated new writers.
Hard Wired, by Megan Erickson and Santino Hassell (13th)
My FallenCon agenda is simple: sit on a couple of panels and let people meet the real me. Jesse Garvy—mod of a famous Twitch channel and, if I ever come out of my shell, future vlogger. I definitely didn’t plan to sleep with a moody tattooed fan-artist, but he’s gorgeous and can’t keep his hands off me. There’s a first time for everything, and my first time with a guy turns out to be the hottest experience of my life.
But the next day, I find out my moody fan-artist is Ian Larsen AKA Cherry—someone I’ve known online for years. And he’d known exactly who I was while shoving me up against that wall. Before I figure out whether to be pissed or flattered, the con ends.
Now we’re back online, and he’s acting like nothing happened. But despite the distance between us, and the way he clings to the safety of his online persona, we made a real connection that night. I don’t plan to let him forget.
“You go through life thinking there’s so much you need. . . . Until you leave with only your phone, your wallet, and a picture of your mother.”
Marin hasn’t spoken to anyone from her old life since the day she left everything behind. No one knows the truth about those final weeks. Not even her best friend Mabel. But even thousands of miles away from the California coast, at college in New York, Marin still feels the pull of the life and tragedy she’s tried to outrun. Now, months later, alone in an emptied dorm for winter break, Marin waits. Mabel is coming to visit and Marin will be forced to face everything that’s been left unsaid and finally confront the loneliness that has made a home in her heart.
On the isolated desert island of Shiara, dying young is inevitable. The clan comes before self, and protecting her home means Khya is a warrior above all else.
But when following the clan and obeying their leaders could cost her brother his life, Khya’s home becomes a deadly trap. The only person who can help is Tessen, her lifelong rival and the boy who challenges her at every turn. The council she hoped to join has betrayed her, and their secrets, hundreds of years deep, reach around a world she’s never seen.
To save her brother’s life and her island home, her only choice is to trust Tessen, turn against her clan, and go on the run—a betrayal and a death sentence.
Ten years ago, Peter Pan left Neverland to grow up, leaving behind his adolescent dreams of boyhood and resigning himself to life as Wendy Darling. Growing up, however, has only made him realize how inescapable his identity as a man is.
But when he returns to Neverland, everything has changed: the Lost Boys have become men, and the war games they once played are now real and deadly. Even more shocking is the attraction Peter never knew he could feel for his old rival, Captain Hook—and the realization that he no longer knows which of them is the real villain.
Zane Jaffe has almost lost track of what conception cycle she’s in. (That’s a lie: this is cycle thirteen.) She’s fake-dating her pal Mildred to get her best friend off her back, but judging by how hot it was when they accidentally kissed, her feelings might be somewhat less platonic than she’d thought.
And she’s decided that healing the fractured local queer community can only be accomplished through a party. Or maybe it’s actually a wake. Whatever it is, it’ll take place at Club Fred’s, and there will be alcohol.
Trying to conceive is an unholy rollercoaster of emotions, and Mildred won’t let them kiss again until Zane figures out how she feels. Between the wake (exhausting as hell, and that’s just the fun stuff), the constant up-down cycle of trying to get pregnant, and saving the world in the meantime, Zane has no idea. Fall in love with Mildred isn’t on her list, but maybe it’s time to let go of that rigid future she’s been working toward, and instead embrace the accidents that can lead to something better.
Don’t worry; be happy.
Keep calm and carry on.
Maeve has heard it all before. She’s been struggling with severe anxiety for a long time, and as much as she wishes it was something she could just talk herself out of, it’s not. She constantly imagines the worst, composes obituaries in her head, and is always ready for things to fall apart. To add to her troubles, her mom—the only one who really gets what Maeve goes through—is leaving for six months, so Maeve will be sent to live with her dad in Vancouver.
Vancouver brings a slew of new worries, but Maeve finds brief moments of calm (as well as even more worries) with Salix, a local girl who doesn’t seem to worry about anything. Between her dad’s wavering sobriety, her very pregnant stepmom insisting on a home birth, and her bumbling courtship with Salix, this summer brings more catastrophes than even Maeve could have foreseen. Will she be able to navigate through all the chaos to be there for the people she loves?
Fin and Betty’s close friendship survived Fin’s ninth-grade move from their coastal Maine town to Manhattan. Calls, letters, and summer visits continued to bind them together, and in the fall of their senior year, they both applied to NYU, planning to reunite for good as roommates.
Then Betty disappears. Her ex-boyfriend Calder admits to drowning her, but his confession is thrown out, and soon the entire town believes he was coerced and Betty has simply run away. Fin knows the truth, and she returns to Williston for one final summer, determined to get justice for her friend, even if it means putting her loved ones—and herself—at risk.
But Williston is a town full of secrets, where a delicate framework holds everything together, and Fin is not the only one with an agenda. How much is she willing to damage to get her revenge and learn the truth about Betty’s disappearance, which is more complicated than she ever imagined—and infinitely more devastating?
Peter Darling (February 15) Author: Austin Chant Genre/Category: Romance Rainbow details: Queer Trans guy MC Why put it on your radar? PETER PAN WAS ASSIGNED WENDY DARLING AT BIRTH AND NOW HE’S AN ADULT TRANS GUY WHO’S INTO CAPTAIN HOOK. THEY DO NOT MAKE CAPS LOCK BIG ENOUGH FOR THE EXCELLENCE OF THAT PREMISE.
Noteworthy (May 2) Author: Riley Redgate Genre/Category: Contemporary YA Rainbow details: Bi MC Why put it on your radar? Because Riley Redgate already brought the awesome in 2016 with Seven Ways We Lie, which had pan and ace MCs, and she’s back with a bi MC of color who crossdresses for personal gain with care never to invalidate transness.
Cottonmouths (June 6) Author: Kelly J. Ford Genre/Category: Adult Contemporary Rainbow details: Lesbian MC Why put it on your radar? Queer girl living in a small town in the Ozarks? Childhood crush returns…and has a meth lab? Comparisons to Daniel Woodrell and Sarah Waters? Take your pick!
Ramona Blue (May 9) Author: Julie Murphy Genre/Category: Contemporary YA Rainbow details: Lesbian MC Why put it on your radar? Because while we often get books with MCs who ID as straight and find they have an exception to the rule that starts them questioning, only to maintain a hetero identity, we almost never see the opposite with a character who questions but maintains a queer identity.
Island of Exiles (February 7) Author:Erica Cameron Genre/Category:YA Fantasy Rainbow details:Bi MC Why put it on your radar? Since we revealed the cover, Erica can answer that for you here!