Signal Horizon

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{Book Review} Bound in Flesh: An Anthology of Trans Body Horror edited by Lor Gislason

We live in a time of increasing repression, especially of trans and queer bodies. Here in America, state after state, from Florida to Iowa to Texas, are attempting full bans on gender-affirming care for not only children or adults. At the time of writing, a federal move to ban gender-affirming care for children has passed the House. None of this is isolated to the United States either. Uganda recently banned even identifying as queer or trans. Truly, if I detailed every specific instance around the world that makes up this wave of bigotry, I would need to create the longest series of articles this website has ever seen.

So instead, I want to talk about a little gem in the literary world, gleaming amidst all this wreckage. Bound in Flesh: An Anthology of Trans Body Horror, published by Ghoulish Books and edited by Lor Gislason, offers an interesting theme for an anthology. The premise combines one of my favorite sub-genres, body horror, with the trans and gender nonconforming experience. Much like a previous book in the same vein, Your Body Is Not Your Body, all of the book’s authors are trans or non-binary. It’s a refreshing move, especially considering the zeitgeist.

Just as important, however, are the stories’ themes. In any body horror book, story, or film, the storyteller should explore not just the malleability of flesh but serious questions of agency, power, and otherness. In many ways, the trans experience provides fertile ground for engaging stories in the genre.

Bound in Flesh offers several excellent examples of this truth. Some stories, like “Coming Out” by Derek Des Anges and “Mama Is A Butcher” by Winter Holmes, don’t feature explicitly trans protagonists or characters. Instead, the authors provide a visceral, grotesque metaphor to speak greater truths. “Coming Out,” in particular, uses some intense fungal horror to comment not only on bodily autonomy but on disability and the prison industrial complex. Both of these aspects happen to be integral to several trans-specific experiences. Holmes’ darkly beautiful story commits to a risky dance in combining all these factors, but it largely succeeds.

Other stories in the anthology feature “out” characters in typical genre settings. “The Haunting of Aiden Finch” by Theo Hendrie, for example, is a found-footage story. The poor lost soul in the title, Aiden Finch, is a trans man on testosterone who finds himself haunted by a vicious cryptid. As a plot, “The Haunting of Aiden Finch” feels standard. Genre fans will likely predict its outcome and twists. However, Hendrie handles the familiar well, creating an energetic and creepy little story.

In a similar vein, Hailey Piper’s “In The Garden of Horn, The Naked Magic Thrives” features a queer couple at its center. The protagonist, Reza, discovers an ancient idol of a very phallic god. The horror that ensues manages to be dark, hilarious, and creepy, yet hopeful all at once. You have to be a master of your craft to handle so many mood changes. Piper’s selection also earns the honor of the most penises in a story EVER. Doesn’t that deserve a real award?

Like any anthology, of course, Bound in Flesh will have selections that won’t work for everyone. I know there were a few that definitely didn’t work for me, at least. However, this is still a solid short story anthology that privileges some voices we need to be hearing from right now. This is some body horror at its best: stark, raving, and in your face. If you love the genre, I suggest preordering Bound In Flesh as soon as you can. Let all these ghoulish tales get under your skin.