trans*

Readings: Man Alive by Thomas Page McBee

I started my vacation with a glass of wine, some Beatles’ songs (a break from Hamilton on never-ending loop), and a reread of Thomas Page McBee’s Man Alive. I was working on the book floor for two days before Christmas, and in that time, I sold this book to two people, one friend and one customer. If I could sell it to everyone who came in through the door, I would.

When I was just coming out, my friend told me to read McBee’s column in the Rumpus called ‘Self-Made Man’. McBee writes a lot about masculinity and what it means to be a man, something that has always been my interest in and out of the context of trans experience. I pay a lot of attention to how men behave and think and how they are made to behave and think.

DEUG7991Thoughts on masculinity aside, McBee is a powerful writer. His sentences are so vivid, it’s like he is writing directly on your eyeballs, or perhaps directly on your brain. I read Man Alive in one sitting, unable to move, unable to leave the couch. I am glad it’s fairly short, because my bladder would not have been able to last for more than 170 pages.

At the time (I read Man Alive early in 2014, before its publication), I was still not exactly sure what I wanted to do. I was not yet on T, and while I wanted to be on T, I also didn’t know if I would like the change. It wasn’t the idea of sticking myself with needles, or being on hormones for the rest of my life. I was just always a fan of status quo and did not like to change anything, even if said change was going to save my life.

I found the same kind of uncertainty in the pages of McBee’s book, and I found answers. There were trans memoirs that helped me realize I was trans. There were trans memoirs that helped me come out. And then there was Man Alive, which described precisely how I felt and finally placed me where I wanted to be in the space-time continuum that my clusterfuck of life had become at that point. McBee and I came from different backgrounds and had different families, and our reasons for postponing our transitions were different, but there was a similarity of thought and feeling somewhere in both our cores.

…and I knew there wouldn’t be a divine intervention, no right time, no sign that testosterone would make me a good man, no test to confirm that I would be happier, or more whole.

After I came out to my closest friends, I remember crying a few times when my heart was full of both pain and hope: the time when I saw myself in a mirror wearing a binder, and it looked so right; the time when I realized I had to leave my family and live as someone I had always been on the inside; and the time when I read Man Alive and knew I had made the right choice, even if it took me more than thirty years.

In the meantime, the twin man in the mirror was growing more solid while my current, softer face became more and more transparent. I knew which body was a ghost.

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Readings: They

It was stupidly busy here last week, what with a giant book fair, on the day of which I worked 15 and a half hours, an experience I’m not eager to repeat again any time soon.

Aftermath of said fair is still felt and being dealt with, so today is my only day till Thanksgiving that can be used for art-related pursuits. My goal is to write a bunch of stuff and then go to the Book Riot Read Harder book group. I’ve already had an altercation with a rogue can lid this morning and am now learning to live life temporarily left-handed, which did not prevent me from polishing one of the stories that got rejected in one place, but will be submitted to another, specifically to this. If you are a trans writer writing spec fiction, take a look, the deadline is December 1st.

Incidentally, Sigur Rós is excellent writing music.

But let’s move on to recent readings, specifically They by Sue Ellen Thompson. It wasn’t really on my radar until someone mentioned that the poet’s child was trans, and that a lot of poems in this book were about the poet dealing with her child’s identity.

I did not go into this hoping to like it or not, but the definite verdict is that I could not like it and in fact rather hated it. To me, the entire collection sounded like a long list of complaints by my own mother who denied and fought against my coming out for months (and in a sense, still does, but more passively). I hated the ‘daughter’-ing in the first part of the book, appalled and appalling turns of phrase like ‘what she’d become’. If I were to play a drinking game with this book, I would be drunk halfway through if I took a sip every time the word ‘daughter’ came up. Daughter. Daughter. DAUGHTER. It is an innocent and touching word, but I know how it can grate. How it can hurt.

The writing seemed whiny and pouty and self-absorbed. It gets increasingly hysterical as the collection goes on, the final part simply a litany of wrongs and ills:

uncertain what to call her

when speaking to my friends

(still with her business, really?).

The only time Thompson calls her child by the correct pronoun seems to be in the title (at some point it is mentioned that they/them are the preferred pronouns).

And finally, the problem I have with They is that Thompson, while describing her own reactions, is really telling her child’s story, making the collection feel offended and offensive, dismissive and erasing. It’s all bewilderment and bitterness at the fact that her child did not turn out the way she wished. I just hope that perhaps writing this collection was therapeutic, and she will finally be able to let go and let be.

 

And stylistically? Most of it reads like one poem, with the same rhythm, same turns of phrase, same same same.

After this disappointing poetry read, I am attempting to tackle my now ridiculously large ARC pile and see if there are any good things in there. How it has grown is beyond me, since I barely had a chance to look at galleys at work this week. Oh, and I finished Molly Crabapple’s memoir (once again, when?), so maybe I will write about that.

This blog post is actually a newsletter

No particular theme to this one, other than a list of links and thoughts about books.

First, personal brag: Here I am in Shelf Awareness Pro, which is the trade issue of Shelf Awareness, a great bookish newsletter for readers and booksellers. I had a lot of fun talking about books I’m reading as well as books I’ve faked reading.

My friend Hannah is on Episode 5 of Book Riot’s Get Booked podcast. She recommends a lot of good literature.

George by Alex Gino is an amazing book. I tweeted that I wished I had this book as a kid, but that’s coming from a 36 year-old transguy who has lived in Canada/US for most of his life now. My childhood was spent in a country that allegedly had no gay, queer, or trans people. It’s nigh impossible to envision a book about a trans kid existing in the USSR. And so I can’t really tell what my reaction would have been if I read it when I was a child. Was I aware of my gender woes then? I can’t really tell. I don’t have an easy narrative for my trans identity.

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Now I know why writers seem to write in front of windows.

I just started reading Molly Crabapple’s memoir called Drawing Blood, out in December. I’m still in the beginning, where she writes about her travels. At one point she mentions how she was ‘too shy’ to make friends, which led me to think about my own hopping around the world many years back. I’m wondering whether being extremely introverted and also socially phobic made my overseas experience more lackluster than it could have been. Crabapple also says that there were times when she was just a pure observer, walking around with her sketchbook. I did some drawing in Japan, I remember, possibly also as a way of being around people I was too scared to talk to. I also did a lot of drawings for my school kids because that was a good way to transcend the language barrier, not to mention win popular teacher points. Drawing makes me go into a kind of alternate reality, I think, where the socially phobic barriers don’t seem to matter because the real world becomes whatever you’re drawing and the page.

In any case, her writing about her own shyness gave me some comfort that I did not miss out on some crazy adventures because I was too introverted to do them. One can, in fact, have a great experience traveling and writing about without talking to every person on the planet. Pure observation is a valid way of relating to the world.

Reading my way out

I shared with him a healthy skepticism and a deep belief that we could somehow read our way out. – Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

Part of making this blog’s content broader means also opening it up to more personal matters. Matters like my trans-ness, my queerness, my depression, my struggle to make life more meaningful creativity-wise.

I am a trans man (if you need more info on trans people, you can start here). I am recreating my own body to fit what is in my mind. It’s a project. Sometimes I feel as if I’m sculpting a new David, chipping off marble bit by bit.

Gender dysphoria is a bitch. After being on T for 15 months now and being read (mostly) as male, it still comes out of nowhere and bites in the most unpredictable ways. The strangest things set it off. Arms, shoulders, shape of my hands, neck. Any body part is suspect.

It comes and goes, and right now it’s in the former part. I feel like I’m going nowhere, I’m angry at my facial hair, I’m angry at cis people. Even well-meaning ones. They have no idea. Books, being the general remedy for anything in my life, are what I turn to first for mental health needs.

Here’s where you expect me to give you a list of inspiring and uplifting trans memoirs. And perhaps reading these is a way to go, but mostly trans memoirs dig into my soul and make me cry. They helped me immensely in the early coming out period, and I still seek them out, but other people’s experiences with dysphoria are, oddly enough, not what I need right now.

karenmemoryWhat I need is good fantasy. This doesn’t happen often any more, since I somehow migrated to the hard sci-fi end of the pool in the past few years. Except this time I am going in the opposite direction, and so my current dealing-with-dysphoria pick is Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear. Incidentally, there is a trans character in this one, accepted as such with no fuss – bonus. So far it’s greatly entertaining. I thought I was done with steampunk, but wait, apparently not. I think it’s because the book is not about goggles and divers steam-powered gadgets (there is a licensed Mad Scientists guild, though). It’s most definitely about people first. Badass women, more specifically (I know it will surprise the Sad Puppies contingent that women are people. If you have no idea who Sad Puppies are, read this pretty good summary of the Hugos kerfuffle.).

My other pieces of dysphoria/depression battle armor are comics. Here are some great ones that are out in trade: The Wicked + The Divine by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie; Rat Queens by Kurtis Wiebe; Chew by John Layman and Rob Guillory (it appears I only read Image publications? Seems wrong somehow.).

A few other series I am reading in floppy/single issue form are:

arclight8house Arclight by Brandon Graham and Marian Churchland. I call it ‘the genderqueer Prophet‘. It has a distinct Graham feeling to it, and Churchland’s art is beautiful (read her Beast, it will blow you away). There is a goose. And if you’re in the DC area for SPX next month, Brandon Graham is going to be at Fantom Comics (my home away from bookstore) on Friday, September 18.

Descender by Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen. This remains one of the most beautiful series art-wise, mostly due to Nguyen’s use of watercolors. It’s a space opera with robots. It’s out in trade on September 9, so you can get your hands on issues 1-6 of this pretty thing at once.

Kaptara by Chip Zdarsky and Kagan McLeod. Oh Chip, your mind is a wacky place. A fabulous wacky place.

And now, The Shocking And Unforeseen Conclusion: looking at this list, what we discover is that at this time in my life I really need comics and books that fly in the face of everything Sad Puppies stand for. Books with awesome women, books with genderqueer/queer characters, books with not just white people. Isn’t it amazing that those kinds of books can also be both therapeutic and entertaining?

And if you still need some trans memoirs, here’s a couple:

Man Alive by Thomas Page Mcbee. He is a great writer. It will dig into your soul. It will make you cry.

Redefining Realness by Janet Mock. She is amazing and so is her book.

And finally, a non-book item for you: Transgender Dysphoria Blues by Against Me! It’s a little known fact that I was a punk kid in my previous life.

March reading tally: the snowed in edition

March was hectic. Part of it was the new job (old place, but new things to do), which included learning a bunch of stuff and also a giant project. Nevertheless, the brain proceeded with the directive ‘read all the books’. Here’s your March tally.

Books acquired (mostly borrowed, received, stolen from coworkers, you know, the usual):

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I was pretty impressed with God’s War, so now I can move on to Infidel. More bug-based tech for everyone.

I know what you’re thinking. You are thinking: ‘Is that really something called Reagan at Reykjavik in that pile?’ Um, yes it is. I like my Cold War histories, shush. The one below it is about MacArthur in Japan. I’m an old man, I like my military histories too.

Testo Junkie is an intense gender studies volume. The way I can describe is that it’s really very readable while being nigh-incomprehensible in places.

James A. Corey and Gene Wolfe are long overdue for a read.

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Once again, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking: ‘Is that seriously Gray’s Anatomy there?’ Yes, yes it is.

Also, look, Rapture is there too, for when I’m done with Infidel. And also the best book of essays on trans* issues I’ve ever read.

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I do not have words to describe how good this is.

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Three Scenarios in Which Hana Sasaki Grows a Tail by Kelly Luce is published by a tiny publisher called A Strange Object. My friend and I are quite excited about them. Unfortunately, I will have read all their output when I finish this collection. They seem to have good taste in short stories and I hope they publish more stuff (plus, their books are pretty).

There is also Charles Yu’s collection of short stories that I have never seen before and an Asimov’s under it.

While all this book pr0n is great, let’s see the actual Books Read list:

1. Karl Ove Knausgaard, My Struggle: Book 2 (I finally found someone at work who shares my obsession with Knausgaard, so now we can have conversations like ‘what about that scene where he goes to the grocery store to buy some milk? That was amazing!’ Seriously though, the man is a master when it comes to psychological insights.)

2. Robert Jackson Bennett, American Elsewhere

3. Adam Sternbergh, Shovel Ready

4. Knut Hamsun, Growth of the Soil (this was about to become Depressing Scandinavian Literature Month for a moment)

5. Joe Abercrombie, Half a King

6. Kameron Hurley, God’s War

7. S. Bear Bergman, The Nearest Exit May Be Behind You

8. C. J. Cherryh, Downbelow Station

9. Nicholas Grider, Misadventure (this is the other book published by A Strange Object)

10. Warren Ellis, Darick Robertson, Rodney Ramos, Transmetropolitan Vol 3: Year of the Bastard (reread)

11. Warren Ellis, Darick Robertson, Rodney Ramos, Transmetropolitan Vol 4: The New Scum (reread)

12. Brian Vaughan, Fiona Staples, Saga Vol. 1

13. Brian Vaughan, Fiona Staples, Saga Vol. 2

14. Robert Jackson Bennett, City of Stairs. Review of this will be forthcoming, errr, some time in the summer. The book is not out till September, and publishers frown upon extremely early reviewing. All I am going to say is that I am really tempted to use all caps now to describe how damn good this book was. I sat down and read to the point when I was sick of words.

So yeah, never got to that Reagan book.

Reading update: non-genre/non-fiction edition

I don’t read just genre. I suspect a lot of genre readers are the same (though I’m curious about reading habits, so comment away). I also work in a book store where the customer base is mostly the new general fiction/non-fiction crowd. This means I kinda need to know what I’m selling. I read the NYT Book Review and occasional frontlist* titles for this reason (well, aside from the fact that there is some good stuff in the mainstream too).

In any case, even my ‘new and popular’ reading is skewed. My latest new find was Strange Bodies, and let’s be honest, it’s genre.  That aside, here’s some stuff I’ve been reading that is either non-fiction or non-genre.

0315141051This books is heartbreaking and amazing. It examines the early years of the AIDS epidemic through the lives of two gay men. From the introduction: ‘The experience of the AIDS epidemic was in critical ways dissimilar for the white gay community and the black gay one, and that distinction is one of the major themes of this book.’ Hold Tight Gently, through its historical look at the epidemic, also aims to show why AIDS and AIDS activism should remain top priorities for the gay community.

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Ah, The Luminaries. Will I ever get through it? Stay tuned, we’ll find out.

Siege 13 is an interesting short story collection by a Hungarian writer Tamas Dobozy. Budapest at the end of WWII.

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I’m reading this book with a specific question in mind, the question being ‘should I send this to my mother?’

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Science! Brain! Psychopaths!

Other random things I’ve adopted over the past few days:

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Geoff Dyer is published in the neat ‘two-sided’ format. Mental Biology is once again about brain (there is a method to my reading madness), and The Word Exchange is, oddly enough, a novel about memes (read: probably genre).

On the more familiar genre front, I am making my speedy way through Kameron Hurley’s God’s War (so far so awesome) and eyeing a re-read of Sanderson’s Way of Kings, followed by Words of Radiance.

* from the freedictionary, Frontlist: a publisher’s sales list of newly or recently published books, esp. those of popular appeal.