Review: ‘A Trans Man Walks Into a Gay Bar’ by Harry Nicholas

a trans man walks into a gay bar

A Trans Man Walks Into a Gay Bar follows Harry, a trans gay man, as he revisits the various stages of his life, from being perceived as a girl to embodying other manifestations of a labeled, binary world.

To make sense of it all — and himself — he calls on both the cool detachment of the past and the heat of his present physicality, allowing the two to recodify a social system that has long outlived the constraints of finite thinking.


First things first: those expecting a salacious read will be disappointed. Harry doesn’t fetishize the trans body, nor does he romanticize the fullness of the cisgender male physique. Above all, he celebrates the interconnectedness — and incongruity— of gender, doing so in a way that frees the reader by extension.

Navigating gay spaces, which is arguably the narrative’s main focus, also calls for the traversing of a social system that has not been designed — or modified—to fit an entire segment of the population. It’s a bitter pill to swallow, as is the vitriol spewed by those, who perceive inclusion and acceptance as a threat to their own effortless comfort. 

And so, as much as we’re awed by the trans body and its unshackled existence, we are also enthralled by its desires and dislocation within a binary system; its many grapples and marvels. Estrangement breeds separation from oneself, and self-acceptance drains one of a certain fixedness.

In working towards it, Harry sews his own experiences into the fabric of the collective history of trans people, never suggesting that one man’s story can outweigh such an amalgamation of voices.

Consequently, instead of looking at social nuances through the lens of his own aches, he acts more like a compass, steering the reader toward literature, psychology, social mechanisms, and the words erased by a history of mistrust and ignorance.


Thanks to his keen eye, Harry is able to guide us to the junction of the present and the past, literature and activism, sex and love, as well as pride and dread. From there, we explore the subtleties of desirability more so than actual desire. We learn that sexual hunger can, in fact, stem more from an absence of self than its physical cravings.

That’s not to say that eroticism doesn’t play a vital role in the life presented to us. But instead of pleasure, we focus more on gratification. And rather than the idolization of another, we examine what it means to be truly wanted and enjoyed, particularly as a trans man. From donning a jockstrap for the first time to pushing a stranger’s sperm out of his body, Harry unpacks himself wholly.

And though he unveils many hardships along the way, he addresses them with enough humor to enhance — never overpower — the heartfelt wisdom of his work. As all roads lead us to a joyous ending, so do they bisect where lust lingers. 

From hydro-eroticism and the proliferation of “molly houses” to the verifiable examples of transness that have failed to be recognized as such by a history devoid of specificity, his examination is always a profound one.


It’s no surprise that Harry’s fascination with the various facets of the trans experience—as communal as can be —proves infectious. And the examples he draws on, from the diaries of Lou Sullivan to the present-day headlines, add meat to the bones of one man’s introspections. 

Wonderfully, A Trans Man Walks Into a Gay Bar is as much about gayness and transness as it is about the intersectionality of both, as well as the community that harbors all—at least in principle.

In the end, Harry achieves the goal made essential by his resolve, as well as the spectacle of present-day politics. Namely, he establishes the continuity of a narrative that has been historically suppressed, and which will live on in the minds of each and every reader fortunate enough to come into its presence.

A Trans Man Walks Into a Gay Bar will be published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers on May 18, 2023.


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