Writing by Daniel Delfs.
A Natural History of Transition is an excellent collection of short stories by Portland-based trans author, Callum Angus, published in early 2021. The stories follow the contours of human/non-human existence, our relationships to our bodies, the bodies of those around us, and the shift of these dynamics, all while the shadow of ecological destruction looms throughout. Trans, nonbinary, and other queer characters make up the complex roster of individuals explored, with queer identities taking center stage, portrayed as inherently natural, inexplicable, and continuous processes. Their stories form the products of an equally fluid and precarious environment, of which humans are only one moving part. My personal favorites of the collection are ‘ROCK JENNY’ (pp.17-28), MIGRATION (pp.29-34), ‘THE SWARM’ (pp.105-108), and the titular story, ‘A NATURAL HISTORY OF TRANSITION’ (pp.109-150). These range from an emotional epic of a trans character becoming the moon (‘ROCK JENNY), to a three page Kafka-esque image of an individual represented through a swarm of ravenous, buzzing insects growing up, expanding to navigate the human experiences of strained (human) parental relationships and sexual trauma (‘SWARM’). Even though the main characters of each story are often shown as outsiders to their various communities, their relationships to other humans remain equally as important as the fantastical, reality-defying changes they might be undergoing. ‘MIGRATION’ carries the sentiment which I believe is central to the collection:
‘Good riddance to the delicate snowberry, to black-footed ferrets, to salamanders that can’t deal with rising water. I want nothing incapable of change. [...] I want the pine false webworms - I want plants that can withstand a flood, insects that don’t apologize for taking up space, things that shouldn’t thrive but do because conditions are finally ripe’ (p.34).
Change is not shown as beautiful or painless by Angus. It is represented as harrowing, inhuman, sharp and often disgusting. Yet Angus also questions the extent to which the negative feelings we might project on the dark image of change he conjures are the product of a flawed society, not willing to accept its metamorphosis. This eight-story anthology embraces human-made ecological destruction as an inescapable reality that requires collective change, and positions queerness at the forefront of human adaptability. I would highly recommend it to anyone to whom this delightful, transgressive mix of horror and hope sounds appealing, and can only hope I’ve been able to express how much I enjoyed it myself.