Posts with subject matter about or referring to a broad area vaguely defined as SWANA (South-West Asia, North Africa, also referred to as Middle East), covering politics, art, history, culture, religion.
Wasn’t going to this year. Last year I got about 2 1/2 weeks in and sawn on top of burnout / chronic fatigue / wtf ijdgaf syndrome left me shattered and pretty upset. I broke fast with my lifelong comfort food of peanut butter on thick bread.
Wasn’t going to this year. Even the thought of it got me stressy anxious sad.
Wasn’t going to this year. Told Vass that, they know what’s been going on.
Wasn’t going to this year. Day before convo with Vass:
“don’t reckon i’m fasting this year. kinda sad about that.”
“Yeah makes total sense”
“feels stink not to tho“
“I know 😒”
“still gonna try and fast the first day tho. do it for my granny”
“Ι knew you would 🥰”
“me, transparent as a window”
Got me the best Medjool dates in Berlin and a bag of Za’atar. First day was a bit hairy but found a way. Second day felt better. Third day. Still doing it for my granny. No pressure, can bail at any time, doing it lovingly and with care.
Talking about me in yusra magazine the other day, and guess what turned up in my mailbox? The Special Edition came out in June last year and first attempt at sending a copy to me didn’t work out but second attempt did. Tight as fuck cover and it’s never not a thrill to see my writing in a language I cannot read. And to whoever chose the artwork for the facing page, thank you for honouring perfect boobs. When I said, “I mean, mostly I want boobs I feel their bounce of when I walk.” I meant exactly those. (And tentacles are also welcome but that’s for another life.)
And some I gave their own posts to ’cos they were utter bangers, and some I might even give their own posts, ’cos also bangers. So many books. I can only take one fiction and one non-fiction with me? Robyn Maynard and Leanne Betasamosake Simpson’s Rehearsals for Living, and Tamsyn Muir’s Nona the Ninth. And one book of poetry? Fatimah Asghar’s If They Come For Us.
It was last year already, late-January, when Vass asked me to write something for yusra Magazine. I vommed a bunch of words about utopia, was well thrilled to get published in Greek, and immediately forgot to blorg the actual words. And cos I have not done anything on here this month, and for some reason (also immediately forgotten) I was re-reading it the other day, here we go. Me, slightly less than two years distant, would rewrite, reframe some of this. Doing needlework on tapestry is always specific.
For the last half of my life, no matter when it cuts out, I don’t want to be the most radical person in the room. I’m not even that radical. I want my unremarkable radicality to grow around the people I aspire to be more like. I want radicality I can feel in my junk. I want radicality that screams like a redlining 767. Car, not jet. Terrifying. Not idling in a garage blipping the engine thinking this is the journey.
I want the fuck like they rule mediocre dreary pain out of our lives. I want us to have space and time without their conditions and smallness and noise.
I want fucking joy.
I want the possibilities for a liveable flourishing life which split and separated so long ago and run in distant parallels along the flanks of hills I can see but can’t cross over to, I want these to run together again, and all those possibilities no longer requiring I give up something in return for a life. Part of a life.
I mean, mostly I want boobs I feel their bounce of when I walk.
Being very clear on what utopia requires now.
World War on Eternal Terror I and II.
I have lost count of all the wars. I recite their names like poison in Shahadah. I bear witness there is no War but War.
I go back through time, unravelling colonialism, back through those wars and wars a whole century of small empires on the tip of Asia’s north-west peninsulas churning their own lands and peoples like they plough the globe. Back past the Berlin Conference, the Race for Africa, the Great Game, the Companies and royalty and politicians drawing straight lines across us, compacting us into the land with their pencil lead and rulers. Back past Marx and give him the finger, back past Kant and his civilised philosophy of racism, fucking debating us, turn around to look forward from there as the Middle Passage streams by making a triangle of the Atlantic, see the Age of Enlightenment watering graves in all the lands I’ve lived on.
Back until it’s the Renaissance. Whose renaissance? Why? Was it perspective or Constantinople or Reconquista? Back until the patron saint of Holy Roman Emperors was a Black man in the armour of nobility named Saint Mauritius.
That’s a thousand years.
I should know this all better. I have this unfathomable itch which says, if I could just make sense of this, I’d know why. Why all of this leads us to now to our graves and how we can unstitch this tapestry woven with so many bodies they are pulled like silk into threads covering walls in those castles, vast like fields and plains.
There will be no utopia as long as stolen land and water remains occupied.
There will be no utopia as long as there are borders. As long as there is money. As long as reparations remain unmade.
This is what it looks like from the other side: a thousand years forward. What was done to one planet has been done to this solar system.
There will be no utopia.
Utopia will be used against us. Utopia will find a way to remove us because we diminish its perfection. Remove. Erase. More than kill. Prevent our existence in the first place. Genocide is a historical process moving backwards and forwards in time as it resurfaces the geography upon which it takes place.
See this happening now.
See the round hole of the mouths of people saying, “Oh. I didn’t know.”
I’m trying hard to imagine utopia. I’m trying to imagine good shit. I know all about bad shit. I wake and sleep and eat with it, see it in my eyes, know it back and forward through history and add to it each day. Choose my colours for the threads I knot into that tapestry which I read right to left and left to right, all coming together and focussing on that absent, unseeable, unspeakable centre. Follow the story, follow the warp and weft in any direction and it ends with us in a ditch in a grave.
Which us? Who us? All of us. When it is done with us being trans, it comes for us being Muslim. Done with that, for crossing borders, speaking language wrong, walking wrong, learning wrong, eyes wrong colour, skin wrong colour, bones wrong shape, history and ancestors wrong. Comes for us for our desire. Comes for us when we get angry get pissed get stroppy fucking front for being told we’re wrong.
We are never right. There is no utopia on this tapestry in which we are not stitched out of existence.
I’ll try again. I’m trying to imagine utopia.
In a utopia, a real utopia, one where we all make it, I’d still want to hoon the fuck out of cars. I’m simple like that.
Okay but that’s kinda small, eh? Like, what else? Big moment here, be fucking epic or summing.
I need Lucifer to look me in my eyes and say, “So tell me, what is it you desire?” And besides being wrecked by you, Satan … shit bro, you’re asking a lot there.
Can I even imagine a utopia when I’m busy surviving? Do I even want an idea imagined by the patron saint of statesmen and politicians? I’m more patron saint of unmarried girls, spinsters, and knife sharpeners kinda chick.
I don’t want human rights. I am drowning choking on human rights. I want consequences for meanness and cruelty and hate. Not in the next life or on Yawm ad-Din. Now. Immediate. Terrible consequences. Consequences which topple cities and empires in earthquakes and floods. Ah, but those consequences rain down on us first.
I want my sisters and aunties and old ones and especially especially the young ones to have lives undiminished by that meanness and cruelty and hate. I want to see them whole. To know they will thrive long into the future. To not worry they live one eye always over their shoulder, just in case.
Back in time again. Long time back. We walked with Goddesses. We fucked for them. We warred for them. Made justice and beauty for them. Remember that.
Forget that. There is no going back. There is no utopia arriving to save us. There are no new ideas in Europe.
Indigenous Native Blak Māori Pasifika First Peoples have been fighting to survive since before Thomas More took ouτόπiā and eὐτοπία and wrote Utopia.
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.
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’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.