Reading: Akwaeke Emezi — Pet

I have a pile of Akwaeke Emezi waiting to be read. After reading Freshwater I knew I had to read everything of theirs. But. It’s tricky. I held off reading Freshwater for maybe a year. I started it and barely a page in recognised something in their writing that was, if not close to mine, then inhabiting the same space. Like I can get a plane in this world from Berlin to Nigeria, and the spirits moving in my writing could do the same. And, like I said a while ago, I’m drawn to them even when it’s scary, ’cos just reading of spirit worlds draws attention to me, wakes the spirit worlds I know. And like I also said, I love them and they could eat my heart and take my soul and I’d be like, “Scary but worth it.”

Which is maybe a complicated way of saying I need to be careful to not get influenced by someone else’s writing when I’m in heavy writing mode. Though it’s more than that.

Pet was tough to read. Funny how books marketed as Young Adult can fray me in a way serious literature simply can’t.

I was at a meet-up for trans women and femmes in Berlin the other day. Me trying to have real world time instead of online. I do love the online for friendships I’ve made with trans people (a surprising number of beautiful trans mascs) who aren’t in Berlin or Germany or Europe, but 2+ years of pandemic has utterly gutted physical connections. And it was very nice, that meet-up. Except I still felt at a distance. Some of those online trans femmes, Black, Indigenous, Roma, recently were talking about how white trans femmes — and there’s so many new ones who suddenly went ‘fuck it’ and started living their truths under the pandemic pressure — are shocked at experiencing discrimination for the first time. Which was one of the subjects talked about in the meet-up. Which I felt like I couldn’t speak truely on because for me transphobia, Islamophobia, racism, hating on migrants, all that, are inextricable. And no one was talking about disability, fat, neurodiverse discrimination either. It felt well abstract.

Which in part is maybe why I love Pet. The main character, Jam, is a young Black trans girl. She lives in a house with aunties and uncles and cousins all around and I kept seeing it as the house of the Māori woman and her family who took me in when living at home became impossible, and took me in when I needed somewhere to stay while the court case against the man who sexually abused me when I was a child was going on. And there were the bad similarities in the background also, those which are the story in Pet.

It reminded me where I came from, and where I felt most at home. It reminded me also how easily I’m gaslit to believe I don’t have a claim to … I dunno, being racialised I suppose, to my own history. As in, to most people I look white, primarily because my skin is pale, and my relationship to whatever parts of my heritage which aren’t white (in any or all the permutations of that slippery parasite) is tenuous as fuck, and aren’t I just claiming it to be special? To be cool? Because we all know how cool being not white is. And yet. I remember, because I have to keep reminding myself, of the very Muslim name I was given at birth. And the names of my grandmothers. And what that means.

So when I read Emezi, when I read Pet, I was reminded. It feels familiar. Different also, obviously, but familiar like I could get a plane there. Not the different I often feel reading white trans women’s and femmes’ fiction, which feels familiar because I know white culture from having lived in it in multiple countries, but always felt like something I never belonged to. Pet is also near-ish (our) future fiction, when all the things we’re fighting and losing our lives for as trans people, as Black and Indigenous people, has been made real. And yet, something of that was real already, decades ago in small-town Aotearoa.

Maybe lastly, it’s a real moment for trans writing lately. I can actually choose to only read trans authors and still not keep up. Five years ago even, that didn’t seem realistic. And, more importantly, I can choose only trans and queer authors who are also Black, Indigenous, Māori, Pasifika, Asian, Arab, immigrant. It’s fucking delectable.