Is there a single story in the collection that holds a disproportionate amount of your work and care?
Emily Zhou: I like that short stories can be sort of anything. They don’t have to necessarily have a large cast or a plot that resolves anything definite. It can just be a character study or a small scenario or something that’s more fleshed-out. It’s a very flexible form. The book sort of happened to come together by accident as I was practicing writing short stories on the internet after I graduated from college, and then LittlePuss Press got started and a bunch of people sort of nudged me, like, hey, you should submit what you have so far as a partial manuscript. I think the short story form is the one that was most available to me at the time, but yeah, in retrospect, I like the flexibility of a short story quite a bit. I think it’s a form that I’m going to be sticking with.
“Looking at posts on the internet, you can almost feel normal, like you’re a member of some chorus, no matter what’s going on with you,” one of Zhou’s protagonists opines, and Girlfriends itself is no less adept at making you feel part of something just by reading it. Zhou refuses to compromise on cultural specificity for the ease of an assumed cis reader, yet she manages to make Girlfriends feel like a strange, beautiful, chaotically decorated home for all those who crack its pages.
Every season, there seems to be (at least) one book that all the cool queer and trans girls in my Los Angeles bubble are carrying everywhere, from El Prado to Erewhon. This fall, that lucky title is Emily Zhou’s debut short story collection Girlfriends, which tells seven distinct stories about contemporary trans life “from from the Upper Midwest to New York City.”
This week Vogue caught up with Zhou to talk about finding flexibility in short stories, seeking inspiration from the likes of Mary McCarthy and Torrey Peters, and what she wants to see more of from queer and trans fiction in 2024.
Vogue: What drew you toward short stories as a format?