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The Collection: Short Fiction from the Transgender Vanguard

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A dynamic composite of rising stars, The Collection represents the depth and range of tomorrow’s finest writers chronicling transgender narratives. 28 authors from North America converge in a single volume to showcase the future of trans literature and the next great movements in queer art.

364 pages, Hardcover

First published October 16, 2012

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Tom Léger

2 books27 followers

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5 stars
143 (38%)
4 stars
136 (36%)
3 stars
72 (19%)
2 stars
14 (3%)
1 star
10 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 57 reviews
Profile Image for TJ.
43 reviews113 followers
July 16, 2016
In all honesty and transparency, I'm giving this 3 stars instead of 2 or 1 solely because it is what it is and I'm glad that something of its kind does exist. But 3 stars is generous just considering the quality of the writing here. And of course quality will vary among stories in any anthology, but way too many of these stories are just bad bad irredeemably are-you-kidding-me who-would-publish-this-shit bad. Some were just plain poorly written, like -- sentence-level poorly written. Some just didn't have memorable characters. A few too many centered around trans dude protagonists who were being '''wronged''' in some way by their girlfriends. At least one was a shitty Kathy Acker rip-off. One story probably had the absolute most boring narrative arch possible, in which a kid who works at a coffee shop is misgendered by stock character after stock character until finally at the story's end one customer stands up for him and says -- climax! -- "His name is Sam." Which, you know, I'm not saying that being misgendered doesn't suck, just that "this sucks" does not also inherently extend into meaning "this sucky thing will make for a compelling story." There was another story in which the climactic moment is a dude mouthing off to his doctor about his use of the phrase "biologically male." Which again, shitty! But does not! an interesting! story make!

There was only one story that was really great in every way, Casey Plett's "Other Women." It was complex and full of characters that felt real and was funny but not hokey and at the same time managed to be one of the only stories to deal with sexual assault. Which is weird, because sexual assault and rape are actual real fucked up things that happen to trans people? And this anthology is full of stories about dudes who are bored with their service jobs and stories about goofy cartoonish trans superheroes and stories about dead/undead lovers or time travel that don't make literal OR metaphorical sense. But really, I'm okay with having wasted my time reading every awful story I did because at least I got Plett's story out of it! Maybe don't read this anthology and just buy her book instead. To be fair, there were a handful of other stories that I did enjoy, even if I wasn't floored by them. Notably, Susan Jane Bigelow, Red Durkin, and Imogen Binnie's stories. I wanted to like Ryka Aoki's story but it fell real flat for me at the end.

I know that good writing by trans authors exists in the this terrible world, so I'm chalking the failings of this anthology up to the editors. I'm going to guess that they didn't do great outreach for this project. Which is also evident in how little race or class is even mentioned in any of these stories. I do appreciate that they wanted to publish writers who are less established and have never published before but good grief I knooooooow there are unpublished writers out there who are writing good stories. I know it! My one hope is just that now that Topside Press is a little more established they could do a second collection that might attract better writing. And actually my one other hope is that a couple of trans women edit it because I am NOT here for Tom and Riley.
Profile Image for Red.
66 reviews59 followers
September 1, 2014
Obviously, a Roman Incident by Red Durkin (what a fox!) was my favorite story, but there is SO MUCH more between these beautiful covers!
Profile Image for Sally.
Author 128 books321 followers
September 25, 2012
Founded in 2011 as a specialty publisher focused on transgender narratives, Topside Press brings their first work to market with The Collection: Short fiction from the transgender vanguard edited by Tom Léger and Riley MacLeod.

Like most collections, this one is hit-or-miss, with some absolutely outstanding entries, as well as a few stories I admittedly skimmed through to the end. On the 'miss' side of the spine are a few bland, boring, slice-of-life stories that unfortunately tended to revolve around some sort of substance abuse. I realize the abuse is a coping mechanism, and that it's an authentic part of the life experience for some of those who live on the fringes of society, but I quickly lost patience with those stories, and was unable to generate the kind of sympathy needed to get involved with the narrative.

On the 'hit' side of the spine are those stories that have a true narrative arc, those that are genuine pieces of fiction, often charged with an undercurrent of imagination. "Black Holes" (RJ Edwards) is an interesting tale of genderqueer relationships and quantum physics - tilt your head and scoff all you like, but it works. "Tammy Faye" (A. Raymond Johnson) is a sweet fan-letter to a celebrity, thanking her not for something spiritual, but for inspiring a confidence in one's own fashion style. "The Queer Experiment" (Donna Ostrowsky) may have been a bit heavy-handed in its message about homophobia, but I quite liked the campy Victorian sci-fi element. "Masks of a Superhero" (Mikki Whitworth) is a subtle, understated story of an unusual superhero that almost sneaks up on you.

"Ramona’s Demons" (Susan Jane Bigelow) was easily my favourite story of the collection, an urban fantasy with a heart. Even if I saw a few of the twists coming, they way in which they were played out was wonderful, and I loved the message at the end about "unorthodox journeys" . . . delivered by a fire-elemental who was originally born a water-elemental. "Malediction And Pee Play" (Sherilyn Connelly) is definitely an odd story, but a solid runner-up for my personal favourite. It's a tale of sub-cultures, both gothic and fetish, involving acts of gender rebellion, fetish exploration, and satanic blasphemy. It certainly has the potential to rub some readers the wrong way, but it's the one tale that has me most curious about reading more from the author.

Like I said, it's an uneven collection, but that's likely to be the case when you have such a wide variety of authors tackling such a wide variety of genres. Fortunately, the stand-out pieces are well worth the price of admission, and you really have to admire Topside Press for what they've set out to accomplish.

As published on Bending the Bookshelf
Profile Image for Q.
142 reviews17 followers
July 23, 2013
The variety of themes, genres and styles in this collection is exciting; the inconsistent quality is discomfiting. The best stories aren't necessarily the ones by the most prolific and recognised writers. But I think it makes for an awkward anthology when some of the pieces seem patently better than others - and I mean that the characters are more developed, the writing is more engaging, the ideas are interrogated more deeply, there is a greater subtlety of emotion, it is more persuasive or more pleasurable, there is just more going on. Anyway. Some of the stories are very good.
Profile Image for Amber Dawn.
20 reviews63 followers
August 1, 2012
Twenty-eight emerging authors--each unique and surefooted in their narrative prowess--together make for an outstanding anthology. In particular, stories by Red Durkin, Carter Sickles, Casey Plett and Alice Doyle have remained on my mind since reading an early copy of THE COLLECTION.

My biggest thanks and appreciation for editors Riley MacLead and Tom Leger. I can't wait to watch this book garner accolades it deserves.
Profile Image for Jaylee.
Author 16 books77 followers
June 17, 2017
DNF. People I respect and admire adored this book, and I probably went into it expecting too much. There's a LOT of drug references, and the very first story comes from a weird place that I can't connect to at all. I skimmed through others and they all kind of do. This might be a great book for others, but it just wasn't for me.
Profile Image for Joey Diamond.
195 reviews16 followers
June 1, 2013
There are some great stories in here. I liked Imogen Binnie's story about fandom and brooklyn and histories a lot, and Casey Plett's "other women" was great. And I loved Red Durkin's piece. I mean OF COURSE.. it features an eating contest and name checks my idol Sonya Thomas. In fact there are a lot of celebrities in The Collection. Maybe someone can develop a literary theory about that. There's also quite a bit of fantasy fiction and even though I never read fantasy books I kinda loved those stories, a few of them just seemed so campy and perfect.

To be honest there were a lot of stories I hated as well. Maybe that's not surprising... some things were too familiar, and a few of the pieces were so expository, so memoir formula meets tumblr post that they made me cringe. Like dudes, you don't need to tell us everything you feel about being trans and everything that happened in your life. Sorry. I had to say it. but I love topside press and their work and I can't wait to read more. You should all buy and read this. You will love some stories I guarantee it.

And can I just say I am SO EXCITED TO READ RED DURKIN'S book please tell me it is coming soon??
Profile Image for Max.
98 reviews2 followers
July 31, 2014
Like any anthology, this one has its ups and downs. There are wonderful stories, such as RJ Edwards' standout "Black Holes," and some weaker entries, but the sheer fact that this collection exists is reason enough to buy and read it. The mainstream perception of trans literature (if there is such a thing) is pretty exclusively focused on coming-out stories and/or tragedy. Here instead are superhero stories, slices of life, romantic vignettes -- all of them with trans people at the center. Trans people are more than their gender histories, and this collection is a groundbreaking attempt to show them as such. If, as I hope, The Collection looks quaint and passé in ten or twenty years' time, it will have done its job.
Profile Image for Charlie.
11 reviews4 followers
August 8, 2013
as with all anthologies, some works were better than others. but all in all, i really enjoyed it! i laughed, i cried, i got turned on, i got turned on while crying....you know, the whole transgender experience.

i really loved its unapologetic presentation. like, here is our shit, like it or not, it doesn't matter because we didn't make it FOR YOU. i identified with a lot of the stories, even ones that weren't narratives i have identified with in the past. a must-have queer reader, published by a trans-owned and operated publisher? yes to that.
Profile Image for Everett Maroon.
Author 7 books64 followers
September 18, 2012
The stories in here are so varied as to break the stale concept of the "trans narrative." Thank Xena. The only improvement I can think of here (other than making my own story in the anthology better) is for there to be more anthologies like this one, so we can start laying down not only this snapshot of trans literature, but also our development as a writing community over time.
Profile Image for Stevie.
37 reviews
March 28, 2013
While the themes and issues dealt with are all really interesting, in terms of actual writing this collection is a bit of a mixed bag. Some of the stories are really great, but there were a few that I had to skip.
Profile Image for Clara.
21 reviews1 follower
December 18, 2013
It's a really diverse collection of short stories that seemingly have nothing in common other than the fact that they have a central character that is trans*

This collection shows how diverse trans* people really are. That being trans* doesn't define anyone, it's just a part of us.
Profile Image for Tobi.
Author 14 books55 followers
August 9, 2017
Massive collection that pushed forward the field of trans lit. Quality of stories ranges, some are pretty incredible, but with this many in the book they can't all be. Still, very much worth the read.
972 reviews1 follower
August 12, 2018
I found this a difficult book to read as a trans woman. But it was difficult, to some extent, because it is good: it forced me to confront some of my own uncomfortable emotions and memories, even though I often try to bury them and hide them from myself.
Profile Image for Frances.
127 reviews4 followers
July 19, 2020
I loved this book. Of course, there were some stories that moved me more than others, but I can tell you, there was no story in this collection that I disliked.

Certain ones stood out to me more than others. Carter Sickels' "Saving" nearly brought me to tears. The protagonist's struggle to reconcile his new life with his old is one that many will relate to. Dean's journey back to his hometown forces him to try to figure out how he fits in to a familiar world that has become more unfamiliar post-transition. As he's trying to adapt to a world in which his only close relative is dying, he must also navigate his failing relationship with Jillian, who accompanies him. I appreciated the inclusion of Jillian using Dean as a subject of a film she is making, too. As a lesbian of color, I've encountered two kinds of annoying oppression: micro and macroaggressions, and then tokenism, where people are friends with me in order to check a box or to show how trendy they are. You can see these two types of discrimination play out in this story. I love how at the end of the story, Dean gets some kind of validation, a sense of being seen, by his grandmother, who tells him, "You're a good boy." Though the grandmother is suffering from a degenerative disease (I don't remember if it's mentioned, but it's either Alzheimer's or dementia), she's the only one who sees him for who and what he is: a good person with integrity.

I loved the two superhero stories, Mikki Whitworth's "Masks of a Superhero," and Susan Jane Bigelow's "Ramona's Demons." Though unique, they had interesting similarities; both take a break from superhero-ing while they transition, and both suffer from the misconception that, since they've transitioned, they can't continue their, for lack of a better term, community service. In both, they take breaks while transitioning to pay attention to themselves. In "Masks," Annie realizes that she can still do good work as a female version of Captain Macho. In "Ramona's Demons," Ramona discovers that her transphobic father is the reason she lost her powers. Whether fighting bullshit outside or in, both protagonists end up resuming the work they love, but as their full selves. Reclaiming their passions, the parts of their lives that make up their identity past gender, is a powerful act of agency and touched me deeply.

The last story that really caught my eye was Elliott Deline's "Dean and Teddy," the story of two people in a trans support group trying to tell their experiences in the face of annoyingly toxic positivity from the other group members. I have seen this kind of emotional assimilation and believe it comes from our obsession, our insistence, on beginning-middle-end narratives. Life is much more complicated than that, especially when you are a minority that has to deal with shades of gray every day. Coming out or transitioning is not a one-and-done journey. Neither is life. I loved Dean and Teddy as characters because they insist on telling their truths, even though members of their own community want to insist on a black and white, before and after narrative.

Great book.
Profile Image for Ashinadash.
95 reviews2 followers
December 22, 2022
What a total mess. The Collection(another book I sort-of grew up with) has this grand foreword about how THESE are the NEW AND REAL UNTOLD STORIES and whatever, the TRUE TRANS EXPERIENCE NOT MISHANDLED BY CIS PEOPLE, and in this case, that means unrelenting transphobia and sadness. I mean, pretty much every single short in here is about trans suffering:

Saving is about how awful your man's girlfriend is and how sad he feels that this small town is probably super transphobic, To The New World is about how the stereotypical cis lesbian is abolutely horrible to trans people in general. The Cafe is about how the lead feels like a "misshapen man-woman creature"(damn, man), Other Women is about how badly going back to your family at christmas sucks when you are trans. Tammy Faye is about how GENDER IS A COSTUME, An Exquisite Vulnerability is about a sad trans dude in a het relationship who does the gay man thing and cruises for risky sex. Dean and Teddy is about how awful the in-person queer community is, Birthrights is the "I came home one day and *HE* was wearing WOMENS CLOTHES!" That's just a selection of the highlights, too.

Most of The Collection is pretty much akin to what I was writing in highschool. Entirely navel-gazey about being trans and really fucking sad/angry. It feels like Topside, its editors, said; the memoirs are too inspiring and shit. Let's gather a collection of pure pain and suffering, that'll show 'em. Imogen Binnie went on to much better things; Ryka Aoki wrote Light From Uncommon Stars.

There are only four shorts genuinely worth reading; Ramona's Demons, Runaways, Malediction and Pee Play(doubtless the best), and War With Waking Up. The only ones that come anywhere close to transcending the torture porn that the rest of the Collection is. You could add Greenhorn if you wanted to be nice, but god DAMN what a genuinely painful experience.
Profile Image for Roz.
418 reviews28 followers
July 28, 2021
Some are good, a few are unremarkable and a couple of them are excellent. I especially liked the stories by Casey Plett (a homecoming set in Winnipeg), Susan Jane Bigelow (a story about a trans demon Hunter), and R Drew’s The Cafe (where a trans person gets fed up with their shitty job).

The best stories here create their own world, draw you in and make you care about the protagonist from the get go. A couple of them are slow burners, rising to a fever pitch, but a couple of them kind of fall flat - at least compared with the best fiction here.

A lot has changed since this book was published nearly 10 years ago, and some of these people now use different names, others have won awards and one is getting her novel republished by FSG. But I think this book remains kind of important in how it kickstarted a trans lit movement, and how more than a few of these writers have risen to prominence. It’s out of print, like the rest of Topside’s stuff, but if you can find a copy it’s worth tracking down.
Profile Image for Robert.
204 reviews10 followers
March 14, 2022
I love short story anthologies for a couple reasons. For one, the pacing of a short story is different from longer-form writing. It is satisfying in a different way from full novels. The other main reason is that it's like a literary sample platter. And then I can go find other stories by the authors featured.

A number of the stories stood out to me:
-The Café by R. Drew
-Black Holes by RJ Edwards
-The Queer Experiment by Donna Ostrowsky
-Masks of a Superhero by Mikki Whitworth
-Runaways by Calvin Gimpelevich
-Winning the Tiger by Katherine Scott Nelson
-A Short History of My Genders by MJ Kaufman
-Ramona's Demons by Susan Jane Bigelow
-War With Waking Up by Cedar McCloud (under a different name).
Profile Image for Drew.
616 reviews27 followers
December 2, 2022
A good collection of short stories that cross a wide spectrum. My favorites were Casey Plett’s “Other Women” (duh, she is an amazing writer), Imogen Binnie’s “I Met A Girl Named Bat Who Met Jeffrey Palmer”, and R. Drew’s “The Cafe”. I also really enjoyed Carter Sickel’s “Saving”. Finally, two good stories were Ryka Aoki’s “To The New World” and Calvin Gimpelevich’s “Runaways”.
Profile Image for Erin.
47 reviews11 followers
February 16, 2017
A collection spanning multiple genres and authors centered around transgender characters.
If I had to pick a single favorite, it would be Donna Ostrowsky's The Queer Experiment, written in the a 1920s sci-fi style.
Profile Image for Kate M.
89 reviews
February 24, 2023
The usual hit-and-miss kind of anthology. The big standouts for me were:

Saving by Carter Sickels
Other Women by Casey Plett
A Roman Incident by Red Durkin
Runaways by Calvin Gimpelevich
Ramona's Demons by Susan Jane Bigelow
26 reviews1 follower
August 13, 2020
There were some gems in this collection, but there were a lot of poorly written stories too. At almost 400 pages, this book could have done with more editing and selectivity.
Profile Image for Madi.
103 reviews1 follower
April 4, 2021
By far one of the most enjoyable collections of short stories I’ve ever read. The transness of the entire affair only made me love each story more; and what a variety they came in!
Profile Image for Geoff.
965 reviews25 followers
October 29, 2012
So I thought I’d wrapped up with The Literary Others event after Annabel, but I realized I had time to sneak one more into the group! And what better to do than add one that someone else suggested. Tom, one of the editors, filled out my lovely comment form and offered me a review copy of The Collection: Short Fiction from the Transgender Vanguard and I figured why not add it to this month’s event. And it was at this point I realized I’d read at least one piece of work from Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Intersex, but hadn’t read one primarily for Trans and though it was a great addition! I did not receive any sort of compensation and below is my honest opinion.

As with most collections of short stories you have those you love and those you don’t. And with this collection I really felt it was hit or miss. Some were great and others were difficult to read, not as well written, or just too bizarre for me to truly appreciate. But with that being said the editors did say in their introduction

“We hope that these stories make your life better, either by showing you something new, or by showing you something familiar in a new way or from a new voice. Above all, we think [sic] that you find the stories that follow enjoyable, inspiring, and thought provoking.”

Click here to continue reading on my blog The Oddness of Moving Things.
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