Review: “Death You Deserve” by Ryley Knowles

Sex for trans people can be like a horror film–something that Ryley Knowles addresses in “Death You Deserve” in the anthology, Transcendent 3 edited by Bogi Takács. In this work of psychological horror, Knowles (they/them) writes about Addy, a transgender woman who struggles with paranoia brought on by her studies of horror as a genre. Don’t worry about the terrible trope of the trans person dying in the end, because with the help of Addy’s witch girlfriend, Eve (who is also trans!), she can survive to the ending credits of what she perceives is the horror movie of her life. Using the cliches of the horror genre, Knowles tackles the vulnerability and trauma involved in sex for trans-identifying people.

Addy’s fixation on horror sets up a distinction between transness/gender dysphoria and other mental health issues. While her paranoia of being killed like a victim in a horror film is not rational, her fear of a group of young men laughing together and shouting slurs at one another is very rational. The same is true for her anxieties surrounding sex: she is afraid of it both because of the trope that two people having sex in a horror film will likely die, and also because of her own discomforts with her mid-transition body. The first, irrational, the second, rational.

Knowles also approaches how relationships with other trans people can dramatically improve a person’s mental state. In this case, her relationship with Eve is the other transgender connection that Addy relies on. Not only does Eve’s witch background aide Addy in her irrational fears about what is safe or not safe in a horror-film world, Eve’s consistent acceptance of Addy as an individual allows her to overcome her rational ones. Knowles shows that beneficial relationship by references to a transmisogynist ex-therapist, repetition of “you’re fine by me”, and patient requests for consent. This goes back to some of what I said in my post about Writing Transgender Characters: Starting Questions, which was why “Death You Deserve” struck me so much.

As for my recommendation, yes: I do think you should read it. It’s a great look into some of the difficult parts of being transgender that aren’t talked about much. It’s also just incredibly fun to read while keeping the reader on edge–a nice balance between reality and psychological horror. It does approach heavy topics, though, so I encourage you to check out the content warnings below before deciding. Of course, you can also go ahead and purchase Transcendent 3 and read some of the other phenomenal short stories in the collection. You’ll certainly find at least one piece that you’ll like.

“Death You Deserve” by Ryley Knowles from Transcendent 3 by Bogi Takács

Publisher: Lethe Press (2018)

Paperback: Around $17

Number of Pages: 21-30 of 249

ISBN: 1590217063

Content Warnings: Mental health issues, paranoia, casual drug use, fear of hate crimes, consensual sex, transmisogyny & internalized transphobia. No trans person dies, but one fears she will.

Note: This is the first of a series of posts examining some of the many short stories in Transcendent 3, edited by Bogi Takács. There are nineteen short stories from 2017 in total, so I cannot review them all before the fourth volume is released in Summer of 2019 [Edit: You can pre-order it here!], especially when I will also be reviewing some other transgender works and writing on other topics in between. In light of that, I’ve decided to just pick out a few that stand out to me. I encourage you to get the anthology, because Takàcs is also incredibly up-to-date on all things trans lit, so it’s a great starting place both for short stories and longer-form writing.

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