Are There Lesbians? Yes
Having been persuaded by the beautiful Natasha to leave her dreary London life behind in favour of the glitz, glamour and drama of Chicago, Annabelle deals with much more than the expected drama, and makes a few friends, enemies and frenemies along the way.
This book is a classic. If you take anything away from this review, I want to make sure it’s that. With books like Detransition, Baby and TV shows like POSE, the stories of trans women have never been such a part of the cultural zeitgeist. Perhaps that’s why Tiny Pieces of Skull was only relatively recently published, despite it having been in circulation since it was first written in the late 80’s – there’s simply more of a market for trans stories by trans authors. Whether this is because there are more people coming out and wanting to delve into their history, or simply because it is generally thought of as being “more socially acceptable”, or maybe its just because the internet is putting us in touch with trans siblings all over the globe, so that there is a general awareness of how many of us there are. No matter what the reason, queer and trans representation is so much further along even than when I first started this blog, and it makes me happier than you can even imagine.
Tiny Pieces of Skull felt like a connection to trans roots, like a placing of “now” in comparison to “then” with an extra special dash of “not that much has really changed in the meantime”. I think it’s telling that in the note to the 2015 print edition, Roz Kaveney mentions the novel has been altered to make it clearer that the majority of the female characters are trans, and that only two episodes out of the whole novel had been altered enough worth mentioning. This is a story based on real life, after all, and real life is often more timeless than anything we can make up.
Tiny Pieces of Skull provides a window, not only into the whirlwind life of a couple of trans sex workers, but also into cross-cultural (I use this term loosely, as the book takes place in two western societies – British and American) ways of acting and seeing transness. So much of Annabelle’s perceived identity is wrapped up not only in her being a trans woman, but in her being a British trans woman – it is something other characters almost constantly comment upon, as she is instantly marked as an “outsider” because of her accent. I found this an interesting part of the novel – how the trans women from different countries and cultures would band together in their own groups in a way that reminded me more than a little of a prison movie. Despite all the bickering and outright violence the trans women displayed towards one another, there was still the sense of having to forcibly bond with one another for their protection, because at the end of the day, despite fickle johns who might put them up for a month or two, all the girls really had was each other. In that respect Tiny Pieces of Skull had the one thing that many narratives do – the subvert knowledge that as much as the outside world commits violence against trans women, trans women equally enact that same cycle of violence upon one another.