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A national bestseller in Canada, hailed by The New York Times as an “intimate expression of self-acceptance and forgiveness, tenderly written to fellow trans women and others.”

“Required reading.”—Glennon Doyle, #1 bestselling author of Untamed


A THEM AND AUTOSTRADDLE BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR


What happens when we imagine loving the people—and the parts of ourselves—that we do not believe are worthy of love?

Kai Cheng Thom grew up a Chinese Canadian transgender girl in a hostile world. As an activist, psychotherapist, conflict mediator, and spiritual healer, she’s always pursued the same deeply personal mission: to embrace the revolutionary belief that every human being, no matter how hateful or horrible, is intrinsically sacred.

But then Kai Cheng found herself in a crisis of faith, overwhelmed by the viciousness with which people treated one another, and barely clinging to the values and ideals she’d built her life around: justice, hope, love, and healing. Rather than succumb to despair and cynicism, she gathered all her rage and grief and took one last leap of faith: she wrote. Whether prayers or spells or poems—and whether there’s a difference—she wrote to affirm the outcasts and runaways she calls her kin. She wrote to flawed but nonetheless lovable men, to people with good intentions who harm their own, to racists and transphobes seemingly beyond saving. What emerged was a blueprint for falling back in love with being human.
to the ones whose bodies shall shake the heavens

after Sandy Stone

dear trans women: the only way to live as a being cast as irrevocably monstrous is to embrace a monster’s power. the power to inspire awe, horror, unbidden desire. a monster is a creature made of the truth no one else dares to speak. a monster is a being beyond fear. dear trans women: when they come bearing torches, remember that you are a being born of flame. and every moment you love yourself is a moment they can never take from you. dear trans women: we are the original witches. the reincarnations of the ones they burned. lesser outcasts will turn against you to save themselves; forgive them, for they know not what they do. never forget that a lineage of monstresses stands behind you, and stands proud. dear trans women: blessed are the hideous. blessed are the horrifying. blessed are the cursed. blessed are the unforgiven, the forgotten, the ones-­who-­must-­not-­be-­loved. blessed are the mad, for our bodies shall shake the heavens.

Without looking at a dictionary, define the word monster.


to a lost sister

i stopped writing poems for a year after it happened. i didn’t believe in them anymore because they didn’t save your life. i’m not a praying woman, but poetry has always been my hotline to the universe. i guess that somewhere deep inside, i hoped that if i said something elegantly enough, it would come true. that if i spoke the language of beauty, maybe God would finally start listening. are you there, God? it’s me, f***ed-­up transsexual with a savior complex. i’d like you to turn back time. if i could just go back once, i’m sure i could change the past for the better. did you know that the word abracadabra comes from a Hebrew phrase meaning “through speaking, i create”? i bet you do. my magic was never strong enough to manifest the miracles i wanted: to turn back time. to undo harm. to make the unspeakable things safe to say. to catch a spirit as it flies out of this world and weave it back into the body it left behind. what’s the use of writing poems if they can’t even do that? i wish i could talk to you. i’ve been wanting to tell you that complex PTSD and a crisis of faith have so much in common. they’re both about losing trust in the world in the wake of unbearable loss. grief tears us away from our faith, but it’s grief that brings us back as well. because in our deepest grief we have nowhere else to go. the Buddhist part of me knows that in the paradox, enlightenment is born. when you fell through a crack in the world and disappeared, i started meditating again. i lit candles every night. i tied a red rope around my waist before sleeping—­anything to give my grief somewhere to go. for a year after it happened, i dreamed about getting lost in mazes and screaming without a voice, knowing that no one was coming to save me. but the Christian part of me knew that the secret of grace is choosing to believe. the secret of resilience is the art of surrender. i wish you were here. i’d tell you all the things i’ve learned about hope, and forgiveness, and holding on while letting go. our world keeps breaking, over and over again. i have no choice but to believe that a new one is being born.

Write a prayer of hope on a piece of paper and leave it somewhere for someone else to find.


to the ones who didn’t cry

when i first heard that the gunman had walked into three massage parlors in Atlanta and shot eight people dead, six of whom were Asian women, i did not cry. i went to bed and slept without dreaming, an instrument with its strings cut. it wasn’t until the morning after, as i watched the news, as i heard the white police officer say that the shooter was “fed up,” that he’d had “a really bad day,” that i felt my body break open and the words came pouring out like a rainstorm. like lava, like fire pouring out from deep within. tell me about the pain of a body that knows its life means nothing. i am learning more and more about what that means. i know i’m not alone in the least. i want to hear the stories of gun violence, police brutality, and racism. i want to know the truth even as it rips me apart like a land mine. for weeks after the shooting, whenever i tried to talk about it, i found myself weeping instead. i think the truth was choking me as it tried to find a way out of my throat. i want to tell you about the white man who used to pay me for massages. i want to tell you how he said he had a sex addiction, how he became obsessed with me, how i couldn’t tell anyone because they’d say it was my fault for choosing the job i did. when i saw the Asian advocacy groups talking about how it was wrong to assume that the victims of the shooting were sex workers, that it was insulting and degrading to Asian women, my body started screaming: why is my existence degrading to you? what do i remind you of? the news says we never got a confirmation about the kind of work those women did, and i think, why would you tell the truth when you know what people might do with it? Asian sisters and siblings, you can hate the plot of Miss Saigon without hating Miss Saigon. your body is not an invitation for violence. do you know, neither is mine. no body deserves to be silenced by bullets. no body deserves to be disposed of in the name of someone else’s shame. a body is skin wrapped around stories, is tissue filled with veins that the truth runs through, is a box of bones with a voice inside. i don’t want to be a volcano. i want to be a garden full of flowers bursting open toward life, all of them singing, i’m here. i mean something. i want to live.

Imagine a world in which all sex workers are considered sacred and holy, deserving of workers’ rights, health benefits, and compensation of their choosing. Draw or paint a picture of your vision. This might be a scene or person, or more abstract: a reflection of a feeling or energy.
“[An] intimate expression of self-acceptance and forgiveness, tenderly written to fellow trans women and others.”The New York Times

“This is a book, a really beautiful one, about holding onto your ideals through a crisis of faith.”—Bustle

“[An] incredibly moving collection of love letters to lost souls . . . [Kai Cheng Thom’s] effort to get back to the place of love she alludes to in the title results in a breathtaking book of formally diverse pieces—letters, prayers, spells, poems—that channel her grief and rage. It’s impossible not to be inspired by her simultaneous generosity and fierceness, as well as the sheer beauty of her words. This is another book on this list that has already achieved queer classic status.”Autostraddle, (Best Queer Books of 2023)

“Transformative . . . all of [the letters] balance holding space for the reality of harm while seeking to find love. They are interspersed with reflection and questions, which help guide the reader to think and feel more deeply. It’s a tiny book but a profoundly impactful one.”—Sarah Neilson for Them, Our Favorite LGBTQ+ Books of 2023

“Exactly the life-affirming, healing read we all need in 2023.”—Susie Dumond for Book Riot

“Required reading for the untamed soul . . . In these tender and revolutionary poems and prompts, Kai Cheng Thom promises that there is no part of ourselves beyond saving. The collection reminded me how to love others and myself.”—Glennon Doyle, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Untamed

“[This is] a gentle and radical book that’s ultimately loving and inclusive of all the nuances and contradictions of the world. At a time when it can be hard to love humanity, this book offers compassion for where we are and dreams for where we could be.”—Shondaland

“Thom is perhaps the most interesting and most loving interventionist in queer cultural spaces . . . As always, Thom brings a signature lyricism to her poems and reflections, one that always feels more like a spell of attraction than a lapidary effort.”—Xtra

“Deeply intimate.”—Diva

“It’s difficult to define this book as a collection of letters, essays, or prose poems. Ultimately, they’re the voice of a speaker searching for comfort, sending words into the cosmos to say, I am not alone, and hearing the echo when a reader realizes, neither am I.”—Counter Arts

“Kai Cheng Thom embodies revolutionary love. She shows us how to love others bravely, even those hostile to us, as a way to heal our own tender hearts. Her poems are vivid love letters, confrontations, invitations. This tiny collection contains all the wounds and caresses in the world.”—Valarie Kaur, author of See No Stranger

“Kai Cheng Thom’s new collection is a tender incantation against the failures of hope. In these letters, Thom reaches toward lost souls of all kinds: outlaws, movement martyrs, fellow trans femmes of color, and ‘the ones this world was never made for,’ to whom she sends poems that read like prayers, rituals to lay down our collective hurts. I am grateful for these spells and balms, for the worlds of generosity this book dares into being.”—Franny Choi, author of The World Keeps Ending, and the World Goes On

“Heartrending . . . Thom’s unvarnished honesty and earnestness immediately draws readers in. . . . This fierce and tender volume leaves a mark.”Publishers Weekly, starred review
© Rachel Woroner
KAI CHENG THOM is a writer, performance artist, and community healer. She is the author of the novel Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars, which was chosen by Emma Watson for her online feminist book club and shortlisted for the Lambda Literary Award. Her poetry collection a place called No Homeland was an American Library Association Stonewall Honor Book, and her essay collection, I Hope We Choose Love, received a Publishing Triangle Award. She writes the advice column “Ask Kai: Advice for the Apocalypse” for Xtra. View titles by Kai Cheng Thom

About

A national bestseller in Canada, hailed by The New York Times as an “intimate expression of self-acceptance and forgiveness, tenderly written to fellow trans women and others.”

“Required reading.”—Glennon Doyle, #1 bestselling author of Untamed


A THEM AND AUTOSTRADDLE BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR


What happens when we imagine loving the people—and the parts of ourselves—that we do not believe are worthy of love?

Kai Cheng Thom grew up a Chinese Canadian transgender girl in a hostile world. As an activist, psychotherapist, conflict mediator, and spiritual healer, she’s always pursued the same deeply personal mission: to embrace the revolutionary belief that every human being, no matter how hateful or horrible, is intrinsically sacred.

But then Kai Cheng found herself in a crisis of faith, overwhelmed by the viciousness with which people treated one another, and barely clinging to the values and ideals she’d built her life around: justice, hope, love, and healing. Rather than succumb to despair and cynicism, she gathered all her rage and grief and took one last leap of faith: she wrote. Whether prayers or spells or poems—and whether there’s a difference—she wrote to affirm the outcasts and runaways she calls her kin. She wrote to flawed but nonetheless lovable men, to people with good intentions who harm their own, to racists and transphobes seemingly beyond saving. What emerged was a blueprint for falling back in love with being human.

Excerpt

to the ones whose bodies shall shake the heavens

after Sandy Stone

dear trans women: the only way to live as a being cast as irrevocably monstrous is to embrace a monster’s power. the power to inspire awe, horror, unbidden desire. a monster is a creature made of the truth no one else dares to speak. a monster is a being beyond fear. dear trans women: when they come bearing torches, remember that you are a being born of flame. and every moment you love yourself is a moment they can never take from you. dear trans women: we are the original witches. the reincarnations of the ones they burned. lesser outcasts will turn against you to save themselves; forgive them, for they know not what they do. never forget that a lineage of monstresses stands behind you, and stands proud. dear trans women: blessed are the hideous. blessed are the horrifying. blessed are the cursed. blessed are the unforgiven, the forgotten, the ones-­who-­must-­not-­be-­loved. blessed are the mad, for our bodies shall shake the heavens.

Without looking at a dictionary, define the word monster.


to a lost sister

i stopped writing poems for a year after it happened. i didn’t believe in them anymore because they didn’t save your life. i’m not a praying woman, but poetry has always been my hotline to the universe. i guess that somewhere deep inside, i hoped that if i said something elegantly enough, it would come true. that if i spoke the language of beauty, maybe God would finally start listening. are you there, God? it’s me, f***ed-­up transsexual with a savior complex. i’d like you to turn back time. if i could just go back once, i’m sure i could change the past for the better. did you know that the word abracadabra comes from a Hebrew phrase meaning “through speaking, i create”? i bet you do. my magic was never strong enough to manifest the miracles i wanted: to turn back time. to undo harm. to make the unspeakable things safe to say. to catch a spirit as it flies out of this world and weave it back into the body it left behind. what’s the use of writing poems if they can’t even do that? i wish i could talk to you. i’ve been wanting to tell you that complex PTSD and a crisis of faith have so much in common. they’re both about losing trust in the world in the wake of unbearable loss. grief tears us away from our faith, but it’s grief that brings us back as well. because in our deepest grief we have nowhere else to go. the Buddhist part of me knows that in the paradox, enlightenment is born. when you fell through a crack in the world and disappeared, i started meditating again. i lit candles every night. i tied a red rope around my waist before sleeping—­anything to give my grief somewhere to go. for a year after it happened, i dreamed about getting lost in mazes and screaming without a voice, knowing that no one was coming to save me. but the Christian part of me knew that the secret of grace is choosing to believe. the secret of resilience is the art of surrender. i wish you were here. i’d tell you all the things i’ve learned about hope, and forgiveness, and holding on while letting go. our world keeps breaking, over and over again. i have no choice but to believe that a new one is being born.

Write a prayer of hope on a piece of paper and leave it somewhere for someone else to find.


to the ones who didn’t cry

when i first heard that the gunman had walked into three massage parlors in Atlanta and shot eight people dead, six of whom were Asian women, i did not cry. i went to bed and slept without dreaming, an instrument with its strings cut. it wasn’t until the morning after, as i watched the news, as i heard the white police officer say that the shooter was “fed up,” that he’d had “a really bad day,” that i felt my body break open and the words came pouring out like a rainstorm. like lava, like fire pouring out from deep within. tell me about the pain of a body that knows its life means nothing. i am learning more and more about what that means. i know i’m not alone in the least. i want to hear the stories of gun violence, police brutality, and racism. i want to know the truth even as it rips me apart like a land mine. for weeks after the shooting, whenever i tried to talk about it, i found myself weeping instead. i think the truth was choking me as it tried to find a way out of my throat. i want to tell you about the white man who used to pay me for massages. i want to tell you how he said he had a sex addiction, how he became obsessed with me, how i couldn’t tell anyone because they’d say it was my fault for choosing the job i did. when i saw the Asian advocacy groups talking about how it was wrong to assume that the victims of the shooting were sex workers, that it was insulting and degrading to Asian women, my body started screaming: why is my existence degrading to you? what do i remind you of? the news says we never got a confirmation about the kind of work those women did, and i think, why would you tell the truth when you know what people might do with it? Asian sisters and siblings, you can hate the plot of Miss Saigon without hating Miss Saigon. your body is not an invitation for violence. do you know, neither is mine. no body deserves to be silenced by bullets. no body deserves to be disposed of in the name of someone else’s shame. a body is skin wrapped around stories, is tissue filled with veins that the truth runs through, is a box of bones with a voice inside. i don’t want to be a volcano. i want to be a garden full of flowers bursting open toward life, all of them singing, i’m here. i mean something. i want to live.

Imagine a world in which all sex workers are considered sacred and holy, deserving of workers’ rights, health benefits, and compensation of their choosing. Draw or paint a picture of your vision. This might be a scene or person, or more abstract: a reflection of a feeling or energy.

Praise

“[An] intimate expression of self-acceptance and forgiveness, tenderly written to fellow trans women and others.”The New York Times

“This is a book, a really beautiful one, about holding onto your ideals through a crisis of faith.”—Bustle

“[An] incredibly moving collection of love letters to lost souls . . . [Kai Cheng Thom’s] effort to get back to the place of love she alludes to in the title results in a breathtaking book of formally diverse pieces—letters, prayers, spells, poems—that channel her grief and rage. It’s impossible not to be inspired by her simultaneous generosity and fierceness, as well as the sheer beauty of her words. This is another book on this list that has already achieved queer classic status.”Autostraddle, (Best Queer Books of 2023)

“Transformative . . . all of [the letters] balance holding space for the reality of harm while seeking to find love. They are interspersed with reflection and questions, which help guide the reader to think and feel more deeply. It’s a tiny book but a profoundly impactful one.”—Sarah Neilson for Them, Our Favorite LGBTQ+ Books of 2023

“Exactly the life-affirming, healing read we all need in 2023.”—Susie Dumond for Book Riot

“Required reading for the untamed soul . . . In these tender and revolutionary poems and prompts, Kai Cheng Thom promises that there is no part of ourselves beyond saving. The collection reminded me how to love others and myself.”—Glennon Doyle, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Untamed

“[This is] a gentle and radical book that’s ultimately loving and inclusive of all the nuances and contradictions of the world. At a time when it can be hard to love humanity, this book offers compassion for where we are and dreams for where we could be.”—Shondaland

“Thom is perhaps the most interesting and most loving interventionist in queer cultural spaces . . . As always, Thom brings a signature lyricism to her poems and reflections, one that always feels more like a spell of attraction than a lapidary effort.”—Xtra

“Deeply intimate.”—Diva

“It’s difficult to define this book as a collection of letters, essays, or prose poems. Ultimately, they’re the voice of a speaker searching for comfort, sending words into the cosmos to say, I am not alone, and hearing the echo when a reader realizes, neither am I.”—Counter Arts

“Kai Cheng Thom embodies revolutionary love. She shows us how to love others bravely, even those hostile to us, as a way to heal our own tender hearts. Her poems are vivid love letters, confrontations, invitations. This tiny collection contains all the wounds and caresses in the world.”—Valarie Kaur, author of See No Stranger

“Kai Cheng Thom’s new collection is a tender incantation against the failures of hope. In these letters, Thom reaches toward lost souls of all kinds: outlaws, movement martyrs, fellow trans femmes of color, and ‘the ones this world was never made for,’ to whom she sends poems that read like prayers, rituals to lay down our collective hurts. I am grateful for these spells and balms, for the worlds of generosity this book dares into being.”—Franny Choi, author of The World Keeps Ending, and the World Goes On

“Heartrending . . . Thom’s unvarnished honesty and earnestness immediately draws readers in. . . . This fierce and tender volume leaves a mark.”Publishers Weekly, starred review

Author

© Rachel Woroner
KAI CHENG THOM is a writer, performance artist, and community healer. She is the author of the novel Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars, which was chosen by Emma Watson for her online feminist book club and shortlisted for the Lambda Literary Award. Her poetry collection a place called No Homeland was an American Library Association Stonewall Honor Book, and her essay collection, I Hope We Choose Love, received a Publishing Triangle Award. She writes the advice column “Ask Kai: Advice for the Apocalypse” for Xtra. View titles by Kai Cheng Thom