A Natural History of Transition

Are There Lesbians? No

What Happens?
A collection of short stories where people change like the seasons, like a butterfly metamorphosing, like the carcass of an animal fossilising.
CW: sexual abuse, transphobia

The Verdict:
This book was mostly a cover-buy (I say that but I didn’t even purchase it, that honour goes to my partner who got it before I could even express an interest) and it’s one that I don’t regret. The stories inside are as beautiful as the outside, each well-executed and emphasising the mutable nature of “civilised” humanity and the wilderness of nature. We are often told that these two things are mutually exclusive – man’s dominion over nature proves the rule of “unnatural” technology – yet Angus’ stories show that humans are the very canvas on which nature enacts her desires. There is nothing to truly differentiate flesh from stone, from shiny beetle carapace, from the worms of the earth to the stars of the heavens. We are all one and the same, and nothing is truly “unnatural” in the end.

I think there is a tendency among trans creators to really embrace the idea of transition as something both natural and unnatural, a willingness to live in the weird limbo that exists in-between nature and artifice. In A Natural History of Transition, Angus strips away the artifice to expose the strangeness of the nature underneath. There is no performance to the transitions that take place in these stories, they are merely the many different stages of Being, the many ways of interacting with the world and each other.

I thoroughly enjoyed all the stories in this collection, which is something I’ve been doing a lot more recently. I have written before about how I often find it difficult to maintain interest in a collection of stories, because it is simply so easy to put the book down after a bite-sized chunk of writing and then just… not pick it up again. I think it’s the nature of short stories that they get to be read in their entirety and at different times, but in the end they still create a whole. I think it is a mark of a good collection (by one author) that the stories can be read separately while still maintaining a sense of cohesion.  A Natural History of Transition manages to hold itself together perfectly, while still showcasing a wide variety of writing styles and content. The idea of a transition-as-nature is strongly emphasised in each story, resulting in a series of dialectical works examining the same idea from a variety of viewpoints, as if the crystalline vision of “nature” and “transition” have been held to the light and we get to enjoy the many facets and refractions of colour that are made as it twists and turns. Each story is able to exist in its entirety, but as part of a whole they become something more.

My favourite stories from this collection are “In Kind” – where Nathan goes through a queer pregnancy with the help of his estranged mother who is carrying her own small growth – “Rock Jenny” –  where Jenny transitions and de-transitions, grows and shrinks like a snake shedding its skin – “Winter of Men” – A sect of nuns in the freshly colonised America change their primary sex characteristics with the seasons (this is probably the one that appealed to my imagination the most and has me considering writing my own weird nun story) – “Archipelagos” –  Monty collects leaves and rocks and insects and finally goes on his own expedition on a secret ocean – and “The Swarm”, which I don’t know how to properly talk about without spoiling it, except to say that it’s about a sentient swarm of insects. Each of these stories is about more than one thing at once, in a winding complexity that I relish in stories both long and short. While I enjoyed the collection as a whole, and certainly didn’t dislike the stories I haven’t mentioned, I felt that these particular tales appealed to my emotions and generated more personal inspiration than the others.

A Natural History of Transition celebrates the joy and complexity of transition in a way that I haven’t really experienced before. In a world where such things are toted as “unnatural”, Angus reminds us that there is, in fact, nothing more natural than the unfolding of the self in order to become.

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