I’ve been feeling enthusiastic again about writing about books I’m reading. It became a chore rather than something I did for pleasure and fun a few years ago. But it feels like it’s a special time for the kind of writers I care about: trans and queer, Indigenous, Black, Brown, migrant … I want to say us who are not white and straight, but defining via a negative is apparently not how we do it even if it’s felt for a while like ‘straight, white, cis’ is a genre and a small one at that. Like how there’s serious literature and then manky sci-fi and all the weirdos doing unserious, b-grade, cult, trash ‘genre’.
And I’ve been feeling more enthusiastic about reading. I was stuck for a while, reading but not feeling the thrill of it, not getting lost with an author and their words. Part of that has been pandemic-attenuated focus; a long, dragging-on burnout (chronic fatigue, fuck knows what), and just heaps of stress, anxiety, the sads caused by way too much bullshit. Bullshit as in what gets called discrimination, transphobia, Islamophobia, anti-immigrant hate, and full-blown settler colonialism white supremacy which is very comfortable with doing genocide on us while white neoliberal centrists ‘both sides’ the fuck out of it all.
One of the reasons I stopped writing about reading was that I got too tied up in wanting to say everything and be intelligible, coherent, and all, like a good reviewer. I’m not that. I’m quite a bit of a bogan who uses fuck like nice people use commas. I’m looking at all these books and trying to remember them; it’s been a whole season since I read some.
Some I straight up didn’t like, or I did right up till they disappointed me. Cis women and queers (and some trans women) seem to love some 2nd Wave feminists and are all fingers in their ears when the copious evidence of their faves being TERFs and SWERFs is pointed out. So I was loving Kamilah Aisha Moon’s She Has a Name right up till she gave a whole page to Adrienne Rich. I don’t think it’s too much to say I can’t move beyond that knowing those same 2nd Wavers are still alive and as committed as ever to erasing trans people — especially and with particular violence trans girls, women, and femmes — from existence.
Randa Abdel-Fattah’s Coming of Age in the War on Terror reminded me of sitting in my flat in Charnwood Rd, East St. Kilda, having stayed up late for some reason, maybe to come down from doing an evening call centre shift and watching those planes missile into the World Trade Centre towers. And dreading knowing it was going to be Muslims who were blamed, and that gut-churn when the American news reporters started saying that so quickly. It felt like barely seven minutes had passed and no way they could have really known either way, but once that word had been uttered for the first time, with Bush as fraudulent President, with the last decade of Al-Qaeda, it was so clear what was coming. And I was a few years off then from finding out I myself was the child of a Muslim and grandchild of a Hijabi. Twenty War on Terror years later and it’s global open season on Muslim genocide, the Taliban is back in power in Afghanistan doing the same genocide on any Muslims not the right type. I just have this profound sadness.
Also in so-called Australia: Claire G. Coleman’s Lies, Damned Lies: A personal exploration of the impact of colonisation. I will always read her. That’s all. Except to say, if you’re a white person living on colonised Indigenous land, and you haven’t read her, it’s your job to. And everyone else should too.
Shon Faye’s The Transgender Issue: An Argument for Justice is specifically about trans people in Britain, and me spending way too much of decades of my life on this stuff, I think I’m not the intended reader. That audience would be you cis people who seriously need to educate yourselves. My main criticism is it struggles when talking about trans women who aren’t white. I often wonder about how whiteness recreates hierarchies of representation, visibility, inclusion and exclusion in trans women’s and femmes’ writing (and culture, community, and all). I see a lot of writing, fiction and non-fiction, and white trans women are the majority. I don’t think it’s enough to say, “I’m aware I’m white and …” as though that’s enough of a response in the structural, systemic, institutional racism in publishing — especially when writing about transphobia. And yes, trans women are an incredibly small segment of writers, and often just doing whatever to survive. So I read this with a constant internal reminder that yes, some of this is about me, but there’s a lot that’s missing.
Completely opposite, Akwake Emezi’s Pet. I’m saving for a separate post. They can write about trans femmes and women and girls any fucking time they want. I love them and they could eat my heart and take my soul and I’d be like, “Scary but worth it.”
Same dates as last year, a kilo of Medjool dates from Al-Jiftlik, Palestine in a big bag from Sunnah Shop in Tellstr.
I’ve had burnout or chronic fatigue or fuck knows what since August last year. The last couple of weeks my energy and physical feeling has actually been ok. Not “let’s smash an hour on the trainer” ok, just not feeling fully cratered. Ramadan and fasting has been up in my emotions for several weeks now. I knew back then it’d be highly unlikely I’d be able to fast from dawn till sunset, around 15 hours at the moment. I knew also not fasting, not participating, not enjoying the obligations of the month would fuck with my already fucked head, even though not fasting when it’s not possible is also an obligation to be celebrated.
Saturday was the first day. Saturday is the ideal day of the week for me because I’ve shaped my life since August to have no commitments on that day. The deal has always been, “Just do one day, just do as much as you can, just do it for your granny.” As much as I can is half a day, about 9 hours. The deal is, if I start feeling shittier, I stop. If I need a break, I stop. If I feel I can do more, cool, but no pressure. Gonna make that Iftar smoothie tonight.
Some I didn’t finish, some I didn’t start, some I’m reading by proximity until I get on to turning pages, some keep getting started and left when something I want to read immediately comes along, some just take me forever to finish.
Semi-alphabetically and fiction first (and I’m very out of practice with writing about what I’m reading):
Ben Aaronovitch is the not-TERF white dude writing actually good magical fantasy set in London. Yah, the main character is a cop and my current rule is “don’t engage with new stories if they humanise the piggos,” but I’ve been reading the series since 2017 when Gala slipped me one. What Abigail Did Last Summer is more Young Adult or whatever it gets called but my reading level is, “This. This I can read.’ I have the upcoming one on order, and that’s how I am with Ben.
More sci-fi with Charlie Jane Anders, and Victories Greater the Death is her best ever? I think so. Not enjoying waiting for the sequel though. Am enjoying the thought of it turned into a live-action series (movie?) with Wakanda’s own Michael B. Jordan.
I have been thinking about how many white trans femme or trans women authors and writers are about at the moment, how much media attention they’re getting (good attention, especially in traditional media; not talking TERF attention here), and how on Twitter (’cos that’s where the writers congregate) there’s a heap of interaction and interlinking between white trans women. And I’m wondering where all the Indigenous, Black, Blak, Brown trans femme and trans women authors and writers are and why the ones I do know, Claire G. Coleman for example, don’t seem to be interacting or being spoken about in the same sentence much. I mean I think I know why, eh.
Akwaeke Emezi and Zeyn Joukhadar (both trans but not trans femme or trans woman) I somehow place in the same space as Claire. All three have had media attention, but I’m trying to be specific on the dissonance I notice. I see white trans femmes being grouped together, and interacting on Twit and other online media — and likely the algorithms amplifying this, and feel like all the others are somehow isolated or separate. Which is one part of it. The other part is these three write about and live in spirit worlds. I feel that’s very familiar to me, and part of why they appear to me solid, multi-dimensional, in full colour. Part of why 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.
I read Charlie Jane Anders because she’s writing sci-fi and I’ve read her for years since the early days of io9. There were a number of other very high-profile novels published by white trans femmes and trans women last year, which I have no desire to read. I don’t care for the stories being told (and in one case think the story is well dodgy), and don’t feel much affinity at all with the authors. And I’m actually concerned (though not surprised) that whiteness is playing a substantial factor in trans femmes and trans women having any kind of success as writers and authors.
That’s a whole fucking convo there, so I’ll move on.
Becky Chambers I have a relationship to I don’t understand. I don’t think I’m a huge fan, but there’s something about her novels I really enjoy reading. I don’t think too hard beyond that and I keep buying them.
Genevieve Cogman though. I did get a kick out of her Invisible Library series, but The Dark Archive is where I’m stepping off. It was the ending, where the previous Big Bad turned out to be a diminutive bad who might actually be on the good side (I dunno, it was months ago now), and the true(?) Big Bad was revealed. Bait and switch is not a narrative device I enjoy unless there’s a huge amount of prior work to make me care, and six novels in feels way too late for such a plot twist.
Alastair Reynolds’ Inhibitor Phase wrapped up that massive universe (for the moment). He’s one of the two or three white cis dudes writing sci-fi I’ll read. It’s mainly because his space opera is so fucking epic. This one has a heap of his delicious weirdness he let loose in the Revenger trilogy, and being Reynolds, of course any celebration is swept away by the whole galaxy getting shafted a few hundred years after the end of this story.
Zeyn Joukhadar. If I was in my old days where I’d write a post per book and spew out hundreds of words, Zeyn would get extra. The Thirty Days of Night and The Map of Salt and Stars are my favourites of the year — and would be Books of the Year if I still did that — for personal reasons as well as he simply writes beautiful stories. And he’s queer and trans and Muslim and Arab, so duh highly unlikely I wouldn’t rate him.
Sliding from fiction to non-fiction, Massoud Hayoun’s When We Were Arabs covers some of the same ground as Zeyn Joukhadar, and reminded me of my father’s family, as well as a couple of moments which caused me to look very side eye at them and what ‘Turkish’ really means. Which is another stitch in the long, slow unravelling of family from that single sentence uttered over a decade ago, “That’s why your grandmother couldn’t stay, because the kitchen was not halal.”
Leanne Betasamosake Simpson’s As We Have Always Done comes from near the land I was born on and is probably the single most important book I read last year or last several years. Unlike a lot of the heavy politics I read, in books, in articles, on social networks, Simpson also describes ways out of the shithole mess colonialism and white supremacy have caused. I raved to everyone (pandemic everyone, that’s about 5 people) about this book more than once. That kind of book.
Audra Simpson’s Mohawk Interruptus, slightly further east from the other Simpson, I’m still reading. It’s one that got — haw haw — interrupted by other books. It’s one that I need to have the right attention for. Reading this together with the other Simpson is good, strong words.
Geraldine Heng’s The Invention of Race in the European Middle Ages is another I’ve raved to everyone about. And I was reading it in 2020, slow reader, me. I’m including it here again because … because it’s probably my non-fiction Book of the Year, over As We Have Always Done, which is a tough call. Settlers and Europeans need to know the history which led to colonialism, white supremacy, invasion, genocide, ongoing occupation of stolen land (as well as cisgender heteronormative supremacy as both a tool of those above systems and actions, and conversely a separate system and action which used those above as tools, a kind of reciprocal system of shit, but that’s not so much a topic for this book). They need to know the long, deep roots of these systems which go back most of the last two thousand years — not as ‘proto-racism’ or ‘not really racism, more like xenophobia’ or whatever, but as actual, recognisable, functioning racism. Racism at encompassing and conscious institutional, political, religious, community levels, and at individual levels. Knowing better how this emerged and evolved in the European Middle Ages makes it possible to understand more clearly Renaissance, Enlightenment, Industrial, and 20th / 21st century colonialism and racism. And that in turn makes it possible for non-Indigenous people to read Simpson and understand deeply what she’s saying and what’s required.
A bit of astronomy and space science now. And racism. Shit’s inescapable like that.
Ray and Cilla Norris’ Emu Dreaming: An Introduction to Australian Aboriginal Astronomy is really an intro, more of a pamphlet I was reading to educate myself on Indigenous astronomy which turns up a lot in my novels. And you’d be surprised at how much has been written on the subject. And by ‘surprised’ I mean not at all, and by ‘much’ I mean really fuck all, and the stuff that has is either paywalled academic papers or insanely expensive academic books.
Ronald Greeley’s Introduction to Planetary Geomorphology turned out also to be very Intro and missing all the fun of the 2015 New Horizons Pluto flyby. I love me all things space science though, so I keep buying these books.
Chanda Prescod Weinstein’s The Disordered Cosmos: A Journey into Dark Matter, Spacetime, & Dreams Deferred, is the one speaking about racism. Growing up Black and Jewish in East LA, going to Harvard, being queer and agender, these oppressions and marginalisations are inextricable. In my early-teens, I wanted to be an astronomer. Being a young, queer multiethnic trans femme back then — and so many of those words, their meanings, and how they were lived were not available back then — meant I failed out and dropped out of school way before that desire had a chance to bloom. Still love the stars though; still sad fuckall has changed in all the decades since.
I’m grouping these together: Tiffany M. Florvil’s Mobilizing Black Germany, Priyamvada Gopal’s Insurgent Empire, Johny Pitts’s Afropean, Asim Qureshi’s (ed.) I Refuse To Condemn. I haven’t finished any of these and at least one I’m unlikely to finish. They’re all important books. I really want to be enthusiastic about reading them. I’m just struggling with reading heavy shit (and there’s no way this stuff is not heavy) after two years of a fucking appallingly politicised and mismanaged pandemic response.
I’d almost put Adonia Lugo’s Bicycle / Race in with those. Maybe because I’ve been involved with racism and transphobia in professional / competitive cycling, as well a being very opinionated about bikes, walking, and public transport as the primary method of getting around in cities, and the need to massively reduce if not outright ban private cars and vehicles (yeah, I’m a devout hoon who loves the smell of hot engines and the sound of a redlining engine and I said that), I read this with hope and a bit of joy. I would absolutely do lazy laps of a city with Adonia.
And then there’s a few others I’m not going to mention, but the covers are below. All kinds of feelings and thoughts about all of them. This is already 2000 words and I needed to stop long before now.
bell hooks has been around since my early- / mid-teens first contact with feminism. I didn't pay much attention to her at first, not seeing how she was relevant. That's the smallness and limits of my upbringing showing there. A while later, in the noise of Paris is Burning touring the world's film festivals while the stars struggled to make rent, hooks had opinions on Venus Extravaganza that were disappointingly and unsurprisingly 2nd Wave. There was a long gap before I read her again, though she was always around. In 2013, a few months after I re-read Feminist Theory: from margin to center she hung out with Janet Mock and read her autobiography; in 2014 she had a dialogue with Laverne Cox at The New School. I felt she was someone from that generation who'd put it together a little better, and if Janet and Laverne and all the other Black trans femmes could be in the same room as her and share their love for her, I could move on from her remarks 20 years previously. We all gotta be allowed to grow a little. (But that doesn't give her a pass to come for Beyoncé.)
bell hooks passed over to Ancestor space earlier today.
The first thing I thought of was her writing on domestic work in Feminist Theory. I've quoted her (and often Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak on the same subject at the same time) to probably everyone I know if we ever had a conversation about housework. The quote continues after this, and like a lot of her writing I thought it became dogmatic and made some improbable conjectures. But that's bell hooks. She was this brilliant, Black feminist theorist who understood why housework was so important, who was loved by Janet and Laverne and Raquel Wells and so many Black trans femmes and mascs, and in turn worked to earn their respect and love, and whose opinions over the years, from Paris is Burning to Beyoncé were occasionally of a different era and different feminism and occasionally shite.
I love doing housework, cooking and cleaning, and while I'm on my knees mopping the floor feeling like it's not at all demeaning or degrading or drudgery, I'm thinking, "Yeah, doing aesthetics here, care for self and the world, it's beauty and it's got value," and bell hooks is nodding going, "Yes, child, affirmation of your identity coming through strong."
Went for a walk yesterday afternoon, ended up at Tempelhofer Feld, ’cos of course, and got my insides blown clean by the incoming storm and listening to Kemistry & Storm’s 1996 Brighton Metalheadz set. Got soaked on the way home and bought a loaf of caraway bread which is the closest thing to Glick’s bagels in Balaclava I’ve had in a long time. Love me some proper weather.
’Cos I’m mad slow these days when it comes to blogging, this is from September 29th at the south-west end of the perimeter road where it joins onto the square-paved area I think was used for parking planes. I needed a sitdown (thx chronic fatigue or whatever’s been non-consensually buttfucking me for the last two months) and “Ooo! isn’t the sky big as!” Photo obviously doesn’t do it justice but, too big to see all at once, and, so big I feel like I’m falling up into it, is the kind of massiveness which is usually reserved for deserts and the outback.
And separately, yeah, I do have other things I would blog about besides endless photos out at Tempelhofer Feld, but I’m tired and quite a bit can’t be fucked.
It’s autumn and that means cyclocross! Bashing around Belgian farmland in the rain and mud and sand and snow in generally shite, “Why the fuck would you?” conditions.
Paris fucking Roubaix!
In autumn! Thanks, incredibly poorly managed and politicised pandemic response and incredibly selfish wankers.
Outside of cyclocross, it’s probably my favourite race? First equal with Strade Bianche Rosa, especially when it’s raining. Anything cobbles and / or hosed with mud is my safe space.
And this year, for the first time in the 118 races since 1896 when it was first run, there’s a women’s race! Fucking progress right there, eh! And it was raining buckets and blowing a gale and those 29km of cobbles were muddy and grotty and slippery and terrifying and the riders hurled themselves over them, crashed, got up, did it again. Best 3 hours on a Saturday arvo in a looooong time.
Yaaah, but. The ASO, who organised this, have had an equally long time to pull their white dude fingers out and make it happen. They didn’t. They run the biggest stage races in the world including Tour de France, Vuelta a España, as well as a heap of those hardcore one day races like Liège–Bastogne–Liège and La Flèche Wallonne. Their equivalent women’s races to those big tours are 1-day patronising yawns.
Could they come up with the same 91,000€ prize money for women’s winner as the men’s? How about 7,005€? What about smashing the 5-star cobbles of Trouée d’Arenberg? The women started just next door in Denian. Also nah. Superficially the ASO had valid reasons. Normally the men have done 100km of riding and a bunch of cobbles before barrelling at 60+km/h into the trench, which ‘sorts the peloton out a bit’. Obviously modifying the women’s course so they had some cobbles first was beyond everyone’s capabilities.
And then there’s the M-word. Paris-Roubaix is a Monument. That means it’s one of the five, 250+km 1-day races. It’s also one of the four Cobbled Classics, which are similar lengths plus, obviously, cobbles. The women’s Paris-Roubaix was a quick 115.6km, done and dusted (or jet-washed if you’re Sarah Roy) in 3 hours. None of that 6 hours in the saddle stuff for whatever the ASO thinks women riders are. It’s like back when teh menz thought that if women ran a marathon their uteruses would fall out or something.
And finally (not really but I wanna watch Legends of Tomorrow), there’s the live coverage. Or absence of the first 60km or so. Which is pretty typical. The EWS Enduro World Series this year reliably missed getting the women’s runs because “something something crew hadn’t set up something,” and that’s the top-level competition. There are more men’s races and more actual racing time shown with live or delayed coverage. The stories men tell about men racing are nuanced and full of drama and emotion and narrative arcs and character growth and are accompanied with equally dramatic images and video. Men simply care more about other men. And yes, those men, they are white.
Yah anyway, here’s Sarah Roy shredding on those cobbles.
From my Sunday wander, where I also saw the DVOR, a Kestrel or Hawk or something, which I’ve seen and heard a couple of times before, and this time followed me to my usual southern hangout area. Also might have found a spot where they did a murder, all feathers and bones in a little pile. And found the sheep! In the bird sanctuary. The birds are well stealthy hiding in the grass.