Reading: Imogen Binnie — Nevada

I fucking loved the shit out of this book. Hated the ending.

Let’s get the ending over with, otherwise it’s gonna hang around like a dead thing. It’s the ending you write when you don’t want to make an already heavy book a morality story, when you don’t want the reader to leave going, oh, it’s about this and means that, and here’s the resolution, and it’s poetic and all works out somehow. It’s a Greg Araki Totally Fucked Up, or Doom Generation, ’90s nihilism ending which Nevada didn’t need because it was already about something and had committed to saying that something. It’s the ending that happened because it needed to finish somewhere without going on to a third part, and with a second part that only half-worked and didn’t leave many other options.

Anyway, fuck the ending, this is one of my books of the year. I said to Dasniya last night, while hobbling on crutches, I have a book I want you to read. I say that a lot, or, you should read this book. This time I said, this one I want you to read, it’s not like the others, it’s important.

Who the fuck is Imogen Binnie? Why am I reading non-Skiffy fiction? And why am I swearing so much? Last question first: because I just read Nevada and it was like reading a story of me. Middle question: because it’s Imogen Binnie. First question:

So there’s this blog called keep your bridges burning that I’ve been reading for, I dunno, at least a couple of years, I have a feeling since early 2011, or maybe the writer had another blog before that and I jumped over from old to new. Anyway, of all the trans(*) inter queer feminist blogs I read (many) or have read (many many), this one is one of the best. I will always read whatever turns up in my feed from there. And every so often I’ll be reading something somewhere like PrettyQueer or Autostraddle somewhere else and there’ll be a piece that I’m like Whutthefuck? Who is writing this shit? (yeah, I actually do have conversations in my brain like that; it’s pretty adolescent up there. And, positive use of word, ‘shit’), or a comment or something and it turns out I’m back at those bridges again. And then there was this book, which I definitely read about on bridges at least early this year, and then forgot. Probably. And then I read about it somewhere else and thought hey that sounds kinda good and so obviously, cos I’m a bit slow it took me a while to work out the author is one in the same: Imogen Binnie.

I decided to add it to my most recent pile, not fitting in at all with the fantasy reading or the China stuff, closer with Julia Serrano, but really, no idea over here. And I started it and got through the first page or so of choking sex and thought yup, ok, I’ll deal with this one after some escapism.

To be honest, I wasn’t so enthused by that first page or two. I read a whole shitload of Gay and Lesbian Fiction in my teens and early-20s, almost all of it is utterly, utterly, horribly bland and mediocre and middle class white American dross of the ‘like I give a fuck?’ kind. I don’t, which is why I read skiffy. Reading pile depleted, I was up to Nevada and really, truly prepared to give it the best shot I could, after all, the blog, the author. I got through the first couple of pages and I was like, fuck! yeah! and read the shit out of it.

What else do I say? It was like reading part of me in my teens, the drugs, homelessness, euphoria and terror, the blankness when I was looking at myself, the anger also, the inability to even think coherently of my own identity, bound as that thinking was to some pretty odious language (substitute essentialist lesbian feminism in the second half of the book and it’s a good fit), the getting past that and finding still more blankness and inability, more anger, and the relief from that in books and riding my bike; being alone because I was and am best on my own.

I thought also a lot of people might not get anything from this, because it doesn’t speak to them subjectively. And I thought of me reading feminism in my teens, Daly and those other essentialist crypto-nazis, and that I’d not read bell hooks then because somehow I couldn’t see the relevance of a black American woman to my life in the Antipodes. Or perhaps even to feminism. Perhaps it takes discovering you yourself are not entirely white (and that the category ‘white’ is itself a racist construct, empirically without substance) to attain the subjectivity necessary to understand that reading someone like hooks is critical precisely because you can’t anticipate your own biases and prejudices. Equally possible is that I’m remembering my previous encounter with hooks entirely falsely. Supposing I am not then, reading Nevada should form a triumvirate with Julia Serrano’s Whipping Girl and Judith Butler’s Undoing Gender. And some bell hooks. Make that a quadrumvirate.

In the late ’90s there were these two books published, sort of semi-fictional autobiography written by a supposed HIV+ trans kid called JT LeRoy. I read those like I did Nevada, though with some distance; the world wasn’t the same, but it was still nice to read something that felt like parts of me and my life. Then it turned out JT was a middle-aged woman in NYC and we were all being bullshitted. A lot of pissed people, and a lot more scepticism since then when it comes to reading autobiographies or semi-fictional works. There’s the thing with bell hooks again. We need our own people; we need to say things for ourselves and not have white, male-identified, hetero- and/or cisnormative loudmouths shove their way in and take over. Like the way punk got taken over. Like the way gay, lesbian, queer got taken over. Lately I’ve been thinking the way the Voguing renaissance has been taken over by gay boys and cis women, and the trans women have been thoroughly pushed off the stage. Imogen Binnie is one of our people, and if you give a fuck at all about what it’s like to be a trans woman, you’ll read the shit out of this book also.

The reasons why I read sci-fi over all other forms of fiction have something to do with how it can help me regard myself and the world, given that there is a certain political and philosophical position underpinning the stuff I admire. Generally this is not the case for any other fiction, genre-based or otherwise, I think precisely because that underpinning is absent or secondary as a component in these other fiction forms. I read Nevada then, and find it something of a sci-fi work, because it embodies a political and philosophical position comparable to that of sci-fi (ok, let’s be clear here: I’m talking primarily about Banks, Miéville, and Stross); because I have to read it doing some heavy thinking. I also find it pretty confronting, and while I can’t bugger off like Maria with a stolen car and a sock full of smack, I am thinking, still thinking.

Reading: Paul A. Van Dyke — The Canton Trade: Life and Enterprise on the China Coast, 1700-1845

Continuing my return to reading China, as with my focus on women in the history of China, so too is there a strand which pays attention to the south, Lingnan, Guangdong, Canton.

So much of what is written on China is in fact only a small part thereof — Beijing as China, Shanghai as China, the eastern core. Other parts of the country are so distant as to be other countries, and despite the ongoing Han homogenisation programme, these other parts still retain their individual histories.

Paul A. Van Dyke’s The Canton Trade seemed like a good place to continue, after reading Julia Lovell’s The Opium War a few months ago, and now, more than half way through reading, I can say he hasn’t skimped on thoroughness.

Reading: Julia Lovell – The Opium War

Canton. The idea is romantic, and unavoidably one of Orientalism. Still, I lived there on and off for a few years, known now as Guangzhou. Whatever centre of the world Canton once inhabited, it has long been overshadowed in China by Beijing and Shanghai to the north, and that city of internationalism and projected fantasies to the south, Hong Kong. It is a city with a history though, and a very long one. I feel an affection to that place I called home, and hoard what I might find on its history, as however much it might be inside China, it has always been the outward-looking southern barbarian.

The Opium War. Drugs, piracy, smuggling, empires and colonialism in Canton from the 17th Century till the communist dictatorship. That’s enough, no?

drugs are bad m’kay

At a recent conference in Guangzhou the Ministry of Public Security, the same nebulous folks who brought you the guailo green card announced that August till December would be the season of the National Drugs Are Bad Especially In Clubs campaign. In trying to catch up with the 2 decades of abusing neurons with ecstasy at raves in the west, the Chinese club and bar scene has now over-compensated with ready-mixed combination pills of your favourite horse tranquiliser.

“New types of illegal drugs have been especially seen in entertainment places,” Yang Fengrui, director of the Anti-Drug Bureau of the ministry, said recently.

New drugs, such as ecstasy, Ketamine and “ice” (methamphetamine), have posed great challenges to China, together with traditional drugs like heroin, opium and marijuana.

Statistics from the ministry of show more than 1.05 million drug users were registered by law enforcement bodies by the end of 2003, while 214 counties each have registered more than 1,000 addicts.

Reefer Madness in China

Like every western country, the youth of China are getting turned on to the pleasure of getting wasted; dropping into K-Holes, hanging out with the silver DMT aliens, and rolling fat blunts like Cheech and Chong.

Al Jazeera reports that drug use in China is on the rise, and with it, all the jewels that follow illegal trade. While the visible face is the young, rich and beautiful club scene of the economically vibrant major cities, the underside is a growing opiate problem among the poor, uneducated and futureless urban and rural detritus of the economic boom.

The part of town I lived in, while reasonably affluent and home to many of the city’s artists, was also close to a much poorer suburb, and needle use was common. There was a prison at the end of the street, and one day a prison bus pulled out loaded with inmates, the barred windows open. at the rear of the bus i saw a man calmly as if rolling a cigarette drawing back a syringe before preparing for a hit.

While the problem will certainly get worse, and with it the coupled problem of HIV/AIDS, there is possibly a chance that pragmatism will win through. A shift in policy on how users and rehabilitation is managed is in the air, though whether the government will screw this up like they have HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, SARS and the rest remains to be seen.

For the government not to act will surely cause a continental crisis on the scale of the pandemic in Africa.