In some ways, Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars: A Dangerous Trans Girl’s Confabulous Memoir by Kai Cheng Thom is outside of my usual reading tendencies. It’s dream-like and surreal, whereas I veer towards the realistic. Poetry and letters are woven throughout; I’m mostly an orderly narrative kind of girl. It’s a memoir (of sorts), where I mostly love novels.

But so much of this book felt like I was re-visiting what I find myself most connected to in stories as well: a deeply flawed protagonist you can’t help but love, queerness as the norm, the feminine as powerful, lyrical prose, and an inventive, glorious (but often brutal) landscape.

And then there were the pieces I had no idea I loved in stories, but soon discovered as I read. I’m not generally one for action-packed fight scenes, but when the underdogs are a fierce band of warrior trans femmes who are depicted as mythical, powerful creatures…apparently I’m into it. 

And generally I like my romantic storylines along pretty standard arcs (I’m so vanilla, I know): girl meets girl (generally), flirty cuteness followed by TROUBLE, followed by MORE TROUBLE, followed by cuteness. That’s not how I always like it, but it’s what I bend towards for comfort, I guess. 

But in Fierce Femmes, our unnamed protagonist’s main source of romantic love is with her Ghost Friend, whose silent, invisible touches fulfill the protagonist’s sexual needs in ways she can’t allow herself to experience with flesh-and-blood humans yet. But this ‘romance’ plays throughout the story like a love affair with oneself, and becomes such a beautiful conduit to the protagonist’s growth. 

There is, however, a romance that both fits with and goes beyond my typical tendencies. One of my favourite chapters is a gorgeous scene wherein a drug-addicted femme named Rapunzelle is so hopped up on drugs but also broken by her own trauma and terror that she becomes a “whirlwind” of ferocious imagery—transforming violently across the dancefloor in a queer bar, one moment a “thicket of thorns,” the next a “curtain of smoke,” then a “wizened crone.” Her rescuer is another “fierce femme”—the kind and unwavering Kimaya—who holds Rapunzelle so firmly in her arms until Rapunzelle becomes herself again. Their love story is a girl meets girl scenario. And there is TROUBLE. But it’s also larger than life in so many ways—mythical and mesmerizing in ways I’m not used to. 

These descriptions probably make Thom’s book sound a bit outrageous, and maybe it is. Outrageous, imaginative, glorious. But the outrageousness is grounded by the care with which Thom holds her characters and the very real depictions of what it can be like for some trans women—especially trans women of colour—in a world where they are relegated to dangerous streets and lives and must band together just to survive. 

I read this book in a few hours, so riveted and enchanted was I with its beautiful prose, tender story, and fierce characters. If it doesn’t sound like your usual cup of tea, I urge you to check it out anyway. You’ll find what you love and what you didn’t even know you loved inside of it.

Tanya Boteju

Tanya Boteju

Tanya Boteju is an English teacher and writer living on unceded Coast Salish territories (Vancouver, BC). Her young adult novel, Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens, debuted in May with Simon & Schuster and her second book is slated for 2020. She is grateful for her extroverted wife who keeps her introverted tendencies in check and feeds her good food while she marks essays and writes books. Tanya hopes to continue contributing to the ever-growing, positive representation of diverse characters in literature. Feel free to find out more at tanyaboteju.com.