A few weeks ago I started hearing positive reviews of a soft and low angst holiday series written by a non-binary author centering trans and non-binary characters. Eli Wray’s A Very Enby Christmas series came highly recommended and lived up to every positive word said about it.
All three installments are packed with kindness. Sugar & Spice was kind of like “The Gift of the Magi”, except instead of sacrificing what they most hold dear to get the perfect material gift for the other, Mason and Natalie offer thoughtfulness and effort to prove they see and appreciate each other. Like Mason, food is my language of love. They are trying to bake gluten free cookies for their classmate Natalie as a way of wooing her. She arrives as the most recent unsuccessful attempt is coming out of the oven. Seeing Mason’s distress, Natalie offers to help them bake cookies the next day, not realizing that she is the intended recipient. For a very short story, it is packed with pining, emotional revelations, and beauty.
“Being seen,” she said.
“It’s intense, sometimes.”
“Mm-hm.” She nodded.
“But like…. the stars don’t have any preconceived notions. There’s no guidelines I have to meet. My gender isn’t lacking. I’m just… me. I don’t even have to be cool, or attractive, or alright, even. I don’t have to like all of me,” they whispered. “I just have to be myself.”
In The First Noel, Devon and Markus are a newly together and still exploring a commitment. Markus is excited about spending Christmas together, but Devon is anxious. Devon sees Christmas as a test he might fail, costing him his relationship with Markus. As Markus continues to make room for Devon to share their joy, Devon is able to let go of his anxiety and find the fun. Markus tries to explain to Devon what they see when they look at Christmas merchandise:
“What I see is… one person, who loves another person very much, is going to find a gift that expresses that love, in physical form. But even that’s not enough, to express all this love, so they’ll find paper and ribbon to use to make the gift match the beauty of the love even more.” Devon smiled at him. Markus gave a tiny shrug. “It’s idealistic, I know, but I can’t help it. You have to leave as much room as possible for love. And beauty.”
The care that they take with each other was intensely sweet. Devon’s anxiety about failing Christmas was so familiar to me, but so too was Markus’ willingness for Devon to experience the holiday in his own way.
In Secret Santa, Sage asks her partner, Dove, to find a third person, a stranger to her, with whom to have a sexual encounter. The stranger Dove finds is Isaac, a trans man who is not, in fact, a stranger to Sage. With the new dynamic, new negotiations are required. Isaac is worried about meeting their needs, while Sage and Dove want him to let go of expectations and be himself.
Wray is writing subversive romance on a number of levels. Bodies and identities are allowed to be defined by the people who inhabit them and room is given for fluidity. In the sex scenes, the characters give and receive pleasure with their bodies while also not being defined by their bodies. The joy of being able to define themselves is mixed with the exhaustion of having to create themselves with no pattern. A pivotal moment in each book is when a character, or characters realize they are in a safe place: Mason and Natalie realize their attraction is mutual, Devon realizes he can’t fail Christmas, and Isaac accepts his desire is more important than his function. In being seen and accepted, they lay down a burden and give themselves over to love and joy.
I cannot recommend this series enough. It’s short, fluffy, and shows me a world where people don’t have to be anyone other than who they are to be seen, desired, and valued.