Definitely felt something between my legs at the lines Whole cities of beautiful women, boundless tits, fucking sacks of animal. Beautiful women. Boundless tits. And fucking sacks of animal like some Oglaf sluuuuut. This poem, Playroom, and To Prevent Hypothermia. Is Fatimah Asghar my current fave poet? Am I a capricious slut? That's a yes.
Another in the small pile of books out of Aotearoa I’m getting all up in my memories about reading. I haven’t thought about Witi Ihimaera for decades. Same with Peter Wells. Old names in an anthology of mostly young Millennial and Gen Y poets and writers. Some of the other old names I can’t read past knowing they were rad-fem-les-sep transphobes back in the day. Cool if they’ve grown from that, but irrelevant to me; they did the damage then and I don’t need to read them now.
Dasniya said, on Thursday when their nohinohi little one was all big eyes and focus as I sung old Māori songs I seem to have remembered for them, she was seeing a show as Sophinesaele by Pelenakeke Brown and I said that name sounds familiar, reckon I’ve just been reading them. And I had. Her writing, A Travelling Practice, one of the couple of non-fiction pieces, and one of the couple that really stuck with me out of all the writers. The other was Jessica Niurangi Mary Maclean’s Kāore e wehi tōku kiri ki te taraongaonga; my skin does not fear the nettle, not the least for reminding me te Reo Māori is grammared but gender neutral, ia, tāna, tōna … like all the best languages. I photographed Pelenakeke’s piece and sent it to Dasniya before she saw her performance.
I should have marked all the writers I really liked. Forgot to do that with my usual oh I’ll remember of course I won’t and now I spose I could go back through. Almost finished my most recent stack of books and the upcoming pile is heavy on Māori Pasifika and I’m very fucking happy about that.
Me, a little under two-thirds of the way through, having just worked out the significance of the two main character’s names: aaaahahaha I’ve worked out what’s going on!!!
Me, a couple of pages later: aaaaaaa I did not see that coming!!! Now I know what’s going on!!!
Me, a few chapters after that: aaaaaaa omg he did not!!! This is depraved!!!
Which is where I’m up to in Alastair Reynolds’s Eversion and I’m not sure I can handle another ghastly Space Horror twist. And to think I started reading it and put it down because I thought it was going to be one of his boring novels. I should know better after his Revenger series. Will it stick the landing? No idea, but it’s been a very enjoyable distraction so far.
I joked I reckon I’ll know some people in this book. Turns out wasn’t a joke. Turns out it was much more personal than I expected, even when under that joke I knew I bought this book to remember history. My history. History around me. History I should know.
Long time ago, young me worked end-of-week nights in the needle exchange in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland, binning returns and handing out fresh packs. Which led to me being nights at the NZ Prostitutes Collective drop-in centre, because being a young transsexual, the only work available was sex work. Or selling drugs or doing robbery, more or less in that order. I never did proper street sex work on Karangahape Road, but did occasionally crack it opportunistically, sometimes just so I’d have a bed for the night. All the transsexual women who worked the street passed through the drop-in centre of an evening, Māori, Pasifika, and the one of two Pākehā. Later, they’d be up the Ponsonby Road end, and when I lived in the old brothel, above the sex shop looking down Howe St, I’d see them on the corner.
My Body, my business: New Zealand sex workers in an era of change reminded me of a lot of history I’d forgotten, and connected things, filling in blanks, explaining details. Like the probable identity of the old Greek man who owned the house in Pirie St I lived in when I was (once again) homeless, the upstairs apartment home since the ’70s to various Māori trans sex workers. Or the doctor at Three Lamps in Ponsonby who used to prescribe hormones to all the transsexuals, also known since the ’70s. I don’t think I ever saw him, but pretty sure it was a woman Doctor in the same practice.
And just the general truth of it all, how it was in the ’80s and ’90s — even though most of the oral histories were slightly before my time. It was all so familiar, reminding me how deep I was in that life, how they were the ones who guided and saved me. And how it was so easy to have that all taken away.
I wonder how my life would look, would have looked, if I hadn’t been through conversion therapy. Would I have started dancing (probably, I was incredibly naïve about what trans girls and women could and couldn’t do)? Would I have moved to Melbourne? Maybe, though staying in Sydney is perhaps more likely. Gone to VCA? Realistically I wouldn’t have made it through the auditions, because being trans and a dancer has only been a possibility for the last decade or so. Even my — in current language — non-binary self bashed up hard against the rigid and strict cisheteronormativity of dance back then.
This is a reminder. Where I came from, what I lived through, who were my contemporaries, family, whānau, who I owe an obligation to.
I love Omar Sakr, and Son of Sin is a beautiful novel but this was not an easy read. It was also an expensive read because getting ‘niche’ books from Straya or Kiwiland up to Europe is an exercise random fees and expenses. Fuck this book made me sad sometimes, like sad for the whole world, for all of us who survived through violence and emotional distance, abandonment and loneliness, and conditional, manipulative love. Yeah Omar habibi you are a gift to the world.
So much lethal good shit coming out of Aotearoa. So horrifically expensive to get my grubby mitts on it in Germland. Saw Coco Solid on Twit when she was fundraising to set up Wheke Fortress community space and gallery in Onehunga. Then I listened to her album Cokes, ’cos she’s nothing if not doing all the arts. Saw the cover for How To Loiter In A Turf War and didn’t even ask the price (it was 22€ fuck).
Big old memories of Tāmaki Makaurau catching the Mt Eden bus on Symonds St or Ponsonby bus on K Rd. Ponsonby was still Pasifika and Māori back then, getting gentrified for real but not like now. Fave fiction book of the year so far (non-sci-fi that is, cos that’s other stuff). Loved this heaps.
Fave sci-fi / fantasy / demonic space opera book of the year? Very yes.
I don’t have the energy to write all about it (cheers chronic ijdgaf fatigue), but if I did I’d go on about how much I loved the main characters, all the food, the meticulous discipline of being a professional musician, love, kindness, moral ambiguity, queerness, transness, west coast migrant Asian-American culture. Pretty much everything I want to read.
Definitely had a big cry reading Samra Habib's We Have Always Been Here when she visited the queer Toronto Unity Mosque. Ramadan's been hard this year, only fasting half-days, then having to stop a week ago when I was having a particularly rough time. Today's the last day, Eid al-Fitr begins at sunset, more than anything I wish I was preparing to share Iftar and celebrate with trans and queer Muslims.
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.
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.”