There have been few books as highly anticipated – and as desperately needed – as Shon Faye’s The Transgender Issue was last year. In her first book, the writer, presenter, journalist and former editor-at-large for Dazed confronts and reframes the notion of trans people being an ‘issue’ at all, unpacking the current discourse to better show what it’s like to be trans in a transphobic world.
Using her signature wit but presented acutely, and backed by thorough, wide-ranging research and thoughtful analysis, Faye’s book argues compellingly how justice and solidarity between the trans community and all marginalised people will lead to a better society for all.
With the book now available in paperback, we asked Faye to take on our 21 Questions about life and literature. Here, she discusses the influence of Toni Morrison, her Pavlovian response to ABBA, and downing shots with one of poetry’s greatest minds.
Toni Morrison is the largest source of inspiration for me and, I’d argue, for anyone who writes from a marginal or minority position in the mainstream. She once said “I stood at the border. Stood at the edge and claimed it as central and let the rest of the world move over to where I was.” To me that is such an admirable manifesto for a writer.
The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula K. Le Guin. It is a novel about a girl taken as a baby to become a priestess of dark unnamed gods; as an adolescent, her name, personhood and womanhood are ritually stripped from her in service of her invisible masters. The novel tracks her gradual crisis of faith and the development of her autonomy as she takes her selfhood and identity back. I guess I related to it a lot for obvious reasons!
Wuthering Heights. I think I found Heathcliff sexy as a teen, but I have fortunately learned to stay away from narcissistic men since, haha.
Moby-Dick, lol. It’s by no means a favourite, but I read the whole thing when I was 17 and it was the only text I discussed in my interview to study English literature at university – it’s probably the reason I got accepted! I couldn’t face reading it ever again, though.
Nothing hugely strange, but I was a theatre usher during an eight-week run of Mamma Mia! To this day I can’t hear ABBA’s ‘Voulez-Vous’ without thinking, “Time to box up the ice creams for interval”.
You know I’m not sure I’ve ever had advice in that sense. I have many friends who are writers, but I tend not to discuss my writing or the writing process with other people. I often think it’s quite dull chat!
Mrs Dalloway. I became obsessed with Woolf during a very gloomy time in my late adolescence, and The Hours is also one of my favourite films, so it often leads me back to Woolf’s own novel on which that film’s narrative is based.
I’ve recently had a real drought in reading novels and fiction because my own writing has demanded I focus on reading history, theory and political writing. I am very much looking forward to finally reading Acts of Desperation by Megan Nolan, as her essays and criticism have often felt very rooted in reflections and desires I share with her.
I think I would always still write in some capacity. I used to do live cabaret and stand-up comedy on London’s queer scene, and that still involved a lot of writing.
Singing along to Cabaret by Liza Minnelli in one of my friends’ living rooms at 2 am.
I am a complete nerd about the history of the liturgy of the Catholic Church. I know my Tridentine from my Novus Ordo.
I’d love to be one of those chic writers who retreats to the country home of a friend to write for four weeks without distraction, but I need richer friends.
I went to an author talk with J.K. Rowling and had a prepared question about Dumbledore and Grindelwald’s sex life. Embarrassing I went at all, really.
I can’t cook – at all – so I never have people over for dinner. It would be fun to take Emily Dickinson out for shots, though.
Invisibility. It’s the greatest superpower you can have as a trans person.
Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters.
No! The bath is for Diptyque candles and listening to Enya.
Coffee. Stimulants that don’t ultimately destroy your mental health are to be treasured.
Exhaustion with the banal cruelty now so prominent in public life.
The Transgender Issue is out now.
Author photograph at top: Stuart Simpson/Penguin
Image design: Alicia Fernandes/Penguin
ABBA photograph: Getty
The broadcaster, campaigner and author of The Transgender Issue speaks to the Penguin Podcast about the challenges of writing about marginalisation.
The author of genre-bending novel Sorrowland on Donna Tartt, reclaiming nature, and the formative ‘sexy horror’ of Anne Rice’s vampire novels.