I have mixed feelings about short story collections. I love short stories, but I often find that whole collections fall short. It’s rare that I love every story in a collection, and so my overall experience of the book is often colored by the stories that didn’t work for me. I’ve been reading a lot of short story collections this year anyway, and while I have fallen in love with a few, I’ve also found myself dreaming of my own perfect short story anthology.
So I decided to make one. These ten stories appear in eight different short story collections. They’re all about queer and trans characters, but beyond that, they have little in common. Some are realistic and contemporary. Some are historical. Some are set in sci-fi dystopias, and some have magical or fabulist elements. I love all of them with my whole heart.
I know a lot of thought and work goes into making an anthology, so I chose these stories (and the order they appear in) carefully. They represent a wide range of queer experiences. Though each one is a perfect gem, a moment or character or idea brilliantly captured, together, they tell a bigger story about queer and trans lives. I recommend all of the books these stories appear in. But if you, like me, sometimes find yourself disappointed by short story collections, I also recommend seeking out these stories on their own — and maybe reading them one after another, like this.
The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw, “Snowfall”
There are many kinds of short stories, but many of them capture a moment of intense change or painful transformation. Sad and upsetting stories are easy to come by; happy ones less so. This brilliant story is about a queer Black couple, both from the South, living through a harsh winter in the north. It’s about partnership and family history and making hard choices. It’s full of movement and tension, but it’s also about the refuge of queer love. It’s joyful.
A Natural History of Transition by Callum Angus, “In Kind”
I had a hard time picking just one story from this amazing collection. This one is about a trans man who gives birth to a cocoon. As he goes through pregnancy, he reconnects with his mother, who has recently been diagnosed with cancer. Like all of the stories in this book, this one is playful and surprising, blending elements of magic with heart-wrenchingly real observations about the contemporary life. What I love most about it is the world it builds. It’s only 20 pages or so, and yet Nathan’s life is so richly drawn that it almost felt like reading a novel.
Transmutation by Alex DiFrancesco, “The Disappearance”
In assembling this dream anthology, I chose a range of stories: different lengths, genres, etc. This is a short one, only a few pages. Told from the perspective of a trans poet teaching at a university, it’s about a white, cishet poet who is disappearing, literally. At least, that’s what it’s about on the surface; it’s really about who gets to take up space and how doesn’t. I was riveted and deeply invested in the characters, and, at the same time, awed by the simplicity and subtly of it.
Homesick by Nino Cipri, “Before We Disperse Like Star Stuff”
This is another story that builds an incredible world. It’s a long one, told from three POVs, about three friends who have discovered an ancient, extinct species of intelligent weasels. If you’ve read Cipri, you know they have an affinity for the weird, and this story is delightfully weird. But it’s also a thoughtful character study, a story about complex friendships between very different people. It’s about how work and family and fame and ambition and conflicting world views change how we relate to each other.
Kink Edited by Garth Greenwell and R.O. Kwon (Story by Zeyn Joukhadar), “The Voyeurs”
Some stories, even if I love them, fade from my brain as soon as I finish them. This one will stay with me forever. It’s a quiet, domestic story about a trans couple who discover their cis neighbor is spying on them. Joukhadar’s writing is gorgeous and intimate. It’s not a long story, but he packs so much into it: their histories, the sacredness of their home, the particular way they love and relate to each other as queer trans people.
Afterparties by Anthony Veasna So, “Human Development” (8/3)
This is a book that you’re going to want to preorder, because every story in it is an absolute gem. I chose this one specifically because I love the way So interrogates different kinds of queerness. It’s about a twentysomething Cambodian American gay man living in the Bay Area, dating, falling in and out of love, and trying desperately to find home, a place where he can be his full self. There is so much going on here. It’s about gay culture, generational trauma, siblings, tech culture, racism. But it’s also tightly woven, masterfully plotted, and told in a singular, unforgettable voice.
We Had No Rules by Corinne Manning, “We Had No Rules”
In terms of style and pacing, this story often reads like an old-school literary story. But it’s infused with a queer sensibility that I found so relatable and familiar. It’s about a queer teenager who leaves home to live with her older sister in New York, and the coming-of-age revelations that follow. Manning’s dialogue is especially good.
A Safe Girl to Love by Casey Plett, “Not Bleak”
So much of queer fiction still revolves around cities (though, thankfully, this seems to be shifting a bit). This story is set in a small Midwestern town and an even smaller Mennonite community in Canada. It’s about a Carla, a trans woman who befriends Zeke, a younger trans girl who badly needs community. Their friendship is not simple, and it ends up changing a lot for both of them, including Carla’s relationship with her partner. Plett masterfully captures the particularities of small-town queer life, the good and the bad.
Love After The End Edited by Joshua Whitehead (Story by Adam Garnet Jones), “History of the New World”
This story comes from a collection of stories by queer Indigenous writers. It’s about a family trying to decide whether or not to leave earth on a shuttle that’s heading for a new planet. It’s beautifully told, exploring themes of climate change and queer family-making. It’s suspenseful and exciting and emotional and character-driven all at once — which is impressive, especially in a short story!
Kink Edited by Garth Grenwell and R.O. Kwon (Story by Carmen Maria Machado), “The Lost Performance of the High Priestess of the Temple of Horror”
I purposely chose to end my dream anthology with this story because it’s so unique; it’s hard to imagine what could possibly follow it. At first I did not like it at all. It’s set in Victorian-era France, and it’s dreamlike and strange (if you’ve read Her Body and Other Parties, you’ll know what I mean). It follows a young woman though a bizarre series of encounters and relationships. I won’t say any more, because Machado does something remarkable with it. It’s an example of just how powerful short fiction can be. The story twists and turns and shape-shifts, ending somewhere completely unexpected. I enjoy stories that unsettle and surprise me, and this one does that a hundred times over.