jia qing wilson-yang wanted Small Beauty to be a trans narrative that caught readers off guard: “A lot of the things that I’ve read about and by trans women have cities as such a huge focus. And I wanted to have some sort of reflection of us in other places,” she told us when she was in Montreal for an interview as well as the annual Self-Love Cabaret last month.
The novel begins in a larger city, but its main story centres around a small Ontario town near the Bruce Peninsula. It’s an area the author knows well: “I grew up outside of Hamilton and I spent a lot of time in the woods. All of my life really.” And while Small Beauty is not a memoir, it is an exploration of what her life might have looked like had she not gravitated towards urban centres like Toronto, where she now lives with her partner and several dogs and cats.
She also “wanted to have a book that wasn’t really about being trans or coming out, but where being a trans woman was still central to what was happening in the book.” wilson-yang acknowledges that many trans writers are doing this, but she still wanted to counter the prevalent tell-all transition stories.
Casey Plett, author of A Safe Girl To Love (Topside Press, 2014) critiqued this trope in The Walrus magazine last year: “Gender transition seems to fascinate just about everyone who hasn’t gone through it, so it makes sense that we get a lot of literary fiction on the subject.”
Instead, wilson-yang hopes the book “becomes yet another example in a growing list of stories about trans people that are varied.”
Prior to writing her first novel, wilson-yang’s writing was anthologized in Sheila Sampath’s Letters Lived and Elisha Lim’s 100 Crushes, among other books. She is also a prolific singer-songwriter and the author of two self-published children’s stories. She has been a community organizer for years, working with LGBTQ youth.
Small Beauty is about Mei, a mixed race trans woman, who lives in the city but finds out her close cousin has died and goes to live in his now empty house in a smaller town. She spends the winter there, connecting with her cousin’s history as well as her own, learning about her aunt’s long-term secret relationship, and reflecting on trans women in her life. She also brushes up against some local trans mysteries.
wilson-yang was determined to “write out and really look at different ways people talk about being part of a Chinese diaspora. And how that can intersect with being a trans person.” Small Beauty explores having ancestors nearby and the dead not not being too far away.
When asked about Small Beauty’s audience, wilson-yang responded decisively:
“I hope this is a book where other trans women see themselves reflected. I want it to reach those in small communities who haven’t thought about the trans people in their town. I’d like it to reach folks like my parents, and kids in school. I hope it goes everywhere.”
Find Small Beauty in local independent bookstores beginning May 2016, or pre-buy it online beginning next week. Get in touch with Metonymy Press for tour details, media requests, review copies, and presale or wholesale orders.