May is AAPI Heritage Month in the United States — a great time, just like the other 11 months of the year — to pick up some fantastic books by Asian and AAPI authors! We’re also careening toward Pride Month, which — again, like the rest of the year — is a great time to settle in with books by trans and nonbinary authors. So here’s a list of amazing books by trans and nonbinary Asian authors for every kind of nonfiction lover.
AAPI Heritage Month is specific to the United States, but this list includes books by both American and Canadian authors. I also want to mention that many book lists that come out during AAPI Heritage Month ignore the ‘PI’ part of the acronym. It is not my intention to contribute to this kind of erasure, but there is, unfortunately, a distinct lack in publishing when it comes to books by trans Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander authors. Though reading books by cis queer authors is not at all the same (and should never replace) reading books by trans authors, I still encourage folks to check out some of the incredible nonfiction and poetry that’s come out in recent years by queer Pacific Islanders, including No Country for Eight-Spot Butterflies by Julian Augon, Ask the Brindled by No’u Revilla, and Inside Me an Island by Lehua M. Taitano. I also highly recommend this beautiful essay about Native Hawaiian Māhū communities, which includes the voices of many trans Kānaka Maoli artists and activists.
How Far the Light Reaches by Sabrina Imbler
If I had a quarter for every time I’ve shouted about this book this year, I’d have a lot of quarters. In these luminous essays, Imbler draws surprising and creative connections between the creatures that inhabit the ocean and their own life as a queer, mixed-race person. They write about immortal jellyfish, whale falls, and the organisms that inhabit deep sea vents alongside queer dance parties, Riis Beach, and trans identity. Every essay is a banger. They will make you laugh and cry and think about nature, gender, queerness, and storytelling in a thousand new ways.
I Hope We Choose Love by Kai Cheng Thom
This is one of my favorite essay collections. Thom is such a thoughtful and generous writer. She’s not afraid to dig into thorny questions, and she does so in a way that makes you want to settle in and grapple with them, too. She writes about art and activism in queer and trans communities, the complexities of accountability and forgiveness, and the ways that we talk — and don’t talk — about violence, harm, and abuse. It’s a powerful, honest book, and one that I think anyone involved in movement work, or in relation with others (so, everyone) should read.
People Change by Vivek Shraya
Why are we so afraid of change? Why are we trained to believe that permanence is good? Why do we so equate endings with failure? Vivek Shraya delves into these questions with grace, humor, and dazzling clarity. She explores change through a variety of lenses — transition, celebrity comebacks, the end of a romantic relationship. She argues that change is a natural human state, that it’s the journey, not the destination, that makes us who we are. It’s one of the best 100 pages of nonfiction I’ve read in the last few years.
Fairest by Meredith Talusan
In this vulnerable memoir, Meredith Talusan writes about her childhood in the Philippines and immigration to the U.S., her years at Harvard and eventual transition, and her experience as a trans woman with albinism in the U.S. She shares so openly about the various identities she’s held throughout her life, and the different ways they’ve shaped her. It’s a complicated book that doesn’t adhere to a simple narrative, with thoughtful reflections on race, geography, gender, sexuality, education, and more.
In Sensorium by Tanaïs
In their work of nonfiction, author and perfumer Tanaïs uses scent as a jumping off point to explore so much: the history of South Asia, the legacies of imperialism and colonialism; beauty and creativity; violence and patriarchy; and the revolutionary lineages of storytelling and resistance that thrive across diasporas. It’s a beautiful, intimate blend of memoir and history — and it’s full of incredible descriptions of scents, scent memories, and perfumes.
The Year of Blue Water by Yanyi
This collection of poetry, which includes many prose poems, feels almost like a reading journal: it’s so direct and intimate. The poems center transition, Chinese American identity, immigration, mental health, and the many ways a person can process trauma — through art, creation, friendship, and therapy. The whole collection is a gorgeous portrait of a journey toward wholeness, and worth a read even if you’re not usually a poetry person.
Seasonal Velocities by Ryka Aoki
Many readers first encountered Ryka Aoki through her fantastic sci-fi/fantasy novel Light From Uncommon Stars. But it’s far from the first book she’s written! She is also a poet and an essayist. In this collection of essays, reflections, poems, meditations, and transcriptions of performances, speeches, and more, Aoki writes about trans womanhood, survival, queer community, injustice, and self-discovery.
More Than Organs by Kay Ulanday Barrett
This collection of poetry and nonfiction celebrates queer and trans beauty, but it also makes space for grief. This is my favorite kind of book, because it feels truest to the lives queer and trans people actually live: not one thing, but many. Barrett writes beautiful odes and elegies that center trans people of color, exploring loss, longing, transformation, history, the natural world, and so much more.
Care Work by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha
I didn’t plan it this way, but it turns out this list is full of books I consider must reads for all humans — here’s another one! This incredible work of nonfiction will make you rethink everything you thought you knew about disability justice. It’s a smart and bighearted book that centers the work, voices, and wisdom of disabled queer and trans people of color. Piepzna-Samarasinha is an incredible writer —funny, honest, direct, and practical — and this book is such a gift to everyone.
If you’re looking for more queer books to celebrate AAPI Heritage Month specifically, check out these 13 LGBTQ+ books by AAPI authors. If you’re looking for more fantastic Asian queer books generally, check out this list of contemporary fiction by Asian authors.