Today is Valentine’s Day. Whether you’re into the holiday or not, around here it’s all the excuse I need to show some non-binary authors a bit of love. If you’re unfamiliar with the Non-Binary Authors to Read series, it’s a sibling-series to Women to Read wherein I recommend an author along with a starting place for their work, simple as that. If you’re new to the series, you can catch up here. Now, on to the recommendations.
A.J. Odasso is a queer/intersex/neutrois author, poet, and poetry editor at Strange Horizons. My recommended starting place for her work is Feet of Clay from the anthology Hidden Youth, the follow-up anthology to Crossed Genres’ Long Hidden. Kleia is a young slave girl living in Byzantium, using clay figurines and sympathetic magic to try to make her ailing mistress well. Kleia’s master is also her father, and though he knows this, he doesn’t acknowledge her as a daughter. With his wife, Ireni, on her deathbed, he has his eye on Kleia as his next wife as she reminds him of her mother, a slave who died in childbirth. Elements of the story, particularly Kleia’s relationship with her father, call to mind the fairy tales Silver Hands and Donkey Skin. However all the relationships in the story are complicated. Ireni could never have children of her own, and thinks of Kleia as a daughter. The dynamic between mistress and slave, master and slave, and master and mistress results in a complex story of love, lust, and loyalty. The power imbalance between Ireni and Kleia means their relationship will always be tainted by their respective stations in life. This is true of almost all the characters in the story. For example, Laksa and Zakarias, two other servants in the household, treat Kleia like family, but Laksa also thinks of Ireni as a daughter. The story never shies away from the darker side of these relationships. Despite familial feelings, the knowledge that Kleia is property in the household is always in play. Odasso does an excellent job of showing people in the margins working together and protecting each other while also exploring their vulnerability. The characters are at the heart of this story, and the speculative elements add an extra layer of richness. Within a strong anthology, it was one of my favorite stories, and an excellent starting place for the author’s work.
I have bad genes. My mother’s mother had a round face and a body that bulged like a beehive, a victim of bad metabolism that spared my mother but resurfaced in me, her wayward daughter. Much as clinicians have tried to iron out the kinks in my DNA, each body they generate still goes soft and gelatinous within months. This is my fourth body since I turned twenty. Nothing sticks, not diets, not exercise. Only overhauls.
Agatha lives in a world where the rich can afford to move into new bodies whenever their old ones become aesthetically unpleasing. Her family – particularly her obnoxious cousin Aloysius – is pressuring her into a new body. He has connections at company that can set her up with a permanent solution, eliminating the need to constantly switch bodies, but since the company only grows a limited supply, Agatha has to be willing to illegally sell her current body. While consulting with the doctor, Agatha sees a picture of the woman who wants to buy her secondhand body. Maryam is beautiful and Agatha can’t understand why she would want to trade for a less than ideal body. She immediately becomes fascinated by her – attracted in a way that combines desire, with a desire to possess and subsume. Agatha initiates a relationship, even though donors and buyers aren’t supposed to meet; money can circumvent a lot of regulations. Like Odasso’s story, the relationship between Agatha and Maryam is complicated. There is an imbalance of power, wealth, social status, and Agatha has something Maryam desperately wants. Yang manages to make Agatha both an unlikable character, and sympathetic. There’s a lost quality to her; she genuinely doesn’t seem to know what she wants, and the societal and familial pressure she’s been under her whole life leads her to lash out at others in ugly ways. The story explores class, desire, beauty standards, and more, linking them all together to show the ways the world can make monsters of people and trap them at the same time. The story also explores the ethics of scientific and medical advances, and the divide been the haves and the have-nots when it comes to access. Overall, it’s an excellent story, and an excellent starting place for Yang’s work.
Since it’s Valentine’s Day, I’ll close out my recommendations with a bit of kink. Corey Alexander, who writes under the name Xan West, is a queer transgender erotica author. My recommended starting place for their writing is A Wolf’s Yearning, published on the author’s website as a Valentine’s gift to readers. While it’s more of a story snippet than a full tale, it’s still highly effective. Rocky is a sadist who also happens to be a werewolf, imagining taking hir new lover for the first time. As one might guess from the set up, the story involves pain play and dominance, and it is explicit. While the story itself might be brief, West/Alexander builds a lot into the character of Rocky, and the story is important for several reasons – it embraces kink unabashedly, and not only that, it embraces queer kink, non-binary kink, gender fluidity, and features a fat, middle-aged character of color enjoying sex. All too often in fiction of any genre, these identities are erased. In mainstream media especially, there is a narrow definition of what is considered attractive and thus what types of characters get to fully embrace their sexuality. Those characters are largely white, thin, young, and heteronormative. Everyone else is pushed to the margins. Fat characters, queer characters, and older characters are supposed to be sexless unless their sexuality is played for comedy, an outside gaze, or is strangely chaste, limited to hugs and the briefest of kisses. Pushing back against these norms, Rocky revels in hir sexuality and is unapologetic about it. West packs a lot into a short space, also exploring dominance, consent, and animal nature. Rocky doesn’t want to simply control Frankie; ze wants to possess her and mark her, the way a wolf does, for all others to see. The desire isn’t about claiming Frankie as exclusive property, but celebrating their relationship visibly and publicly, which circles back to the idea of pushing back against marginalized sexualities and identities being erased. It’s also a story of anticipation, of the act of wanting and desiring being fundamental to sex. There is a sense that both parties are entering new territory in this relationship; it will require trust, consent, and a willingness to give up a certain degree of control in order to obtain it. The story perfectly encapsulates the tipping point of setting off into the unknown, whether that’s embarking on a new relationship, or going on an adventure – anything and everything is possible. Yet gratification is delayed, leaving everything in the realm of imagination. Not only is this story an excellent starting place for the author’s work, it’s an excellent way to treat yourself to a bit of Valentine’s Day kink.
That’s it for this installment of Non-Binary Authors to Read. Spread the love and leave your own recommendations for non-binary authors to read in the comments.