I don’t know how to explain my feelings about this book. I wanted to love it, but I couldn’t get past how problematic it was? I wanted to hate it, but I couldn’t help but like certain things about it?
The short summary is: I felt this book was very problematic in its representation and treatment of trans people.
I bought this audiobook because I saw it was narrated by my favorite narrator and because I vaguely skimmed the description and saw something about shape-shifting and someone who was both male and female and vampires, which sounded just like my kind of book. Even if it wasn’t about shape-shifting genderfluid vampires (that sounds like an amazing book, someone please write that), anything with the supernatural and good LGBT+ rep narrated by Michael Ferraiuolo would have been a win.
If only I had fully read the description or some reviews…
Warning: Some of the things in this review could be upsetting to trans people.
Let me start by telling you what this book is about. The main character is half-human/half-supernatural. He kills demons, and at this point, his whole life revolves around protecting the woman he is falling in love with from her maker who is out to get her. And this woman happens to be a trans woman, turned into a vampire before she could get bottom surgery.
In case that premise isn’t already problematic enough, here’s more:
– The book description refers to RayLee as “the trans” (yes, a noun) or “the trannie,” depending on which version you read, and also calls her “a travesty” because of her body. She was also described as having a “freak show mind and body.”
– Travis said he was “becoming a f*g” at one point, although I’m not sure if that was because he had sex with a trans woman or because he almost had sex with a man earlier. But, at another point, I think he said something about questioning his sexuality because of his feelings for RayLee. It doesn’t change your sexual orientation to be attracted to a trans person. A trans woman is a woman, etc.
– It seemed like Travis thought of Ray and RayLee as separate people. At one point he said something like, “RayLee was jealous; Ray was curious.” Even RayLee herself seemed to act like separate people sometimes. The name and pronouns used were also constantly changing (she/her and he/him, RayLee and Ray). Trans men and women aren’t putting on personas. They don’t have multiple personalities, one for each gender. They don’t have multiple genders, period (unless they’re trans AND genderfluid/bigender/etc.).
What took my anger to a whole other level was that Ray and RayLee were trapped in a body that was neither one nor the other. Ray went from becoming a woman to being suspended between two states of being, susceptible to the emotional swings and testosterone-fueled needs of both sexes. If anything, being vampire had exaggerated that freakish mismatch in his personality.
– Because we never got RayLee’s POV, and because she hardly got any page time at all, this read kinda like a “woe is me, I’m a straight guy in love with a trans woman who has a penis” story. I say “kinda” because, although Travis had a bit of unnecessary confusion over his sexuality, he didn’t actually seem to care that RayLee was trans and didn’t have bottom surgery. At least, not anymore, though maybe he did at one point. His feelings and inner turmoil were confusing. But my point is, everything about RayLee was filtered through Travis’s POV and essentially about how it impacted him. Attraction can be a complex, confusing thing, but “poor straight guy” is not a good look when the story revolves around a trans character dealing with dysphoria and getting no POV page time.
– There was so much focus on the fact that RayLee had a penis, and how that made her not-quite-a-woman. Plenty of trans people don’t get surgery. Even in the past when there was no surgery available, trans people existed. It can certainly cause dysphoria for trans people, but its hurtful to not treat trans characters (and people) as the gender they are just because of their body.
– The author has this book listed under her “M/M Collection” on its Amazon page.
I’m not trying to speak for trans people or police their experiences. (If I have overstepped or said anything hurtful/incorrect, please do correct me.) Gender can be confusing, there are probably trans people who use multiple pronouns, who still use their deadname, etc. I’m not a trans man or woman, but I’ve got my own gender stuff going on, so I get it that gender is not a one-size-fits-all experience. I’m also not trying to police what kinds of stories authors can write. But these are all things that need to be handled with care if they’re going to be in a story, and this wasn’t it.
Even if the fact that this was written in 2011 were an excuse for any of this, this wasn’t published in audio until late 2017. Before recording audio would’ve been the perfect time to update the book. The way I see it, if you can remove the harmful things without it really impacting the story, then that probably means you should. Had this been about a trans woman who was actually treated as a woman by the author, or about a genderfluid/nonbinary/genderqueer character, it could’ve been great.
I had some non-problematic issues too. The book was confusing. I was so lost about so many things—the plot, the politics, the relationships. Plus, it ended on a rather unhappy note with a lot unresolved, and I read that the author isn’t planning to continue the series.
But never let it be said that I’m not honest or fair. The writing was great, and the POV character had a really strong, well-written voice. The audio narration was great. There was some emotion. There was a plot about vampires and demons. But all those things only made it all the more disappointing that the book had the issues it had.
I never tell people not to read a book, but, if you are going to read this, please, PLEASE do so with the understanding that you should only use whatever pronouns and names people ask you to, trans is an adjective (not a noun), trans women are women, trans men are men, and genitals do not determine a person’s gender.
I can't, in good conscience, recommend this. If you want to check out a book I do recommend with similar ideas (a genderfluid shapeshifting character stuck in their male form, a straight boyfriend, exploration of gender and sexuality), here's my review for Static by L.A. Witt.