Okay, 4th draft on top of whatever I was calling assembling it before it was drafts, and 18 months to get it to this. But done in the sense it goes start to finish and got heaps of pages (which is what makes it a novel yah?) and when I finished this read-through which I’ve been on since late last week, it felt … something sparked in my guts, like this, yeah, I wrote a novel. Brought some big offering into the universe. Alhamdulillah.
All that talk with Vass about Veneno reminded me I had a photo or two from way back then.
Young teen transsexual meet old auntie trans femme. Thirty-ish years between these two photos. Sometimes I need reminding.
That me back then … she survived.
It’s been a while. I didn’t have any spare cash for a bit, then I had slightly too much (as far as the Finanzamt is concerned), and then I realised I’d decided not to blog for a few weeks (thanks pandemic and enragingly piss poor response by Berlin, Germany, Europe, and so very very many str8wyt men in all those places), and now see me trying to make an effort like showing up for the exam and everyone knows I didn’t do the work.
Yallah, a pile of books I’m reading (pretending to read) in the second half of 2020, to which I’ll add another pile because I dunno, not enough money to buy anything substantial but just enough to incur a hefty tax bill if I don’t spend it. Weird how poverty is emplaced through institutional, structural and legislative punishment.
All the poetry, and I do mean all the poetry is entirely because of Omar Sakr. Him and Sunny Singh (of the Jhalak Prize) on Twitter are responsible for a large chunk of my reading, whether directly or retweeting interesting people who turn out to be writers and poets.
So, Aria Aber’s Hard Damage, Ellen Van Neerven’s Throat, Sue Hyon Bae’s Truce Country, all poetry that moves me. It still feels odd to be reading poetry, though it’s been a year since Sakr’s The Lost Arabs and Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan’s Postcolonial Banter — just a year! Feels heaps longer. Yeah, poetry is hitting me right.
Also poetry, semi-poetry, poetry-ish, with a history in a festival, Rachel De-Lahay’s My White Best Friend: (And Other Letters Left Unsaid), mainly because I read anything with Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan in it.
Continuing the theme of books recommended by other authors, or cited in their bibliographies. Olivette Otele’s African Europeans: An Untold History, which I already blogged, but these six-monthly book dumps seem to deserve all the books. No idea where I heard about this, but either Twitter authors or one of the blogs I read. And from that, Geraldine Heng’s The Invention of Race in the European Middle Ages. Real-time internet archaeology as I write here, I likely read about both on In the Middle, the medieval studies blog, where, on Monday, Geraldine Heng responded to the hit-piece on her and this book.
Which reminded me of the double bind I periodically find myself in. The first time I personally experienced it was with JT LeRoy, who I read in the early-’00s and thought was a trans femme who I could relate to. Turned out JT only existed as a fiction of a white, cis woman, and she’s still making a profit and career off our lives. Funny how consequences slide off them like teflon. More recently it was Medieval PoC – who I used to contribute photographs of Black and Brown people in art when I was on my museum bender – and a deeply messy history going back years of her claiming Native, Roma, and other ancestry. And this year it’s been a regular feast of white cis women in academia and the arts getting sprung for building their careers on false claims of BIPoC ancestry. On the other side of the double bind, it’s white supremacy trying to flip medieval European history to its own agenda, and a ceaseless barrage of racism, misogyny, transphobia, and all the other shit against cis and trans BIPoC authors, academics, artists, very regularly from white, cis women in academia and the arts, like the 46-page (!!!) hit-piece Heng responds to.
I mean, I just wanna read books and have a good time and learn shit and be amazed and generally chill the fuck out with a bunch of words and instead it’s white people colouring up or white people doing hit jobs.
Last couple in the non-fiction pile, then. Peta Stephenson’s The Outsiders Within: Telling Australia’s Indigenous-Asian Story. The one she wrote before Islam Dreaming: Indigenous Muslims in Australia, which it turns out I may not have blogged either. That latter was a big one for me. And keeping on the Islam history thing, John M. Steele’s A Brief Introduction to Astronomy in the Middle East, recommended to me by Dr. Danielle Kira Adams of Lowell Observatory, and responsible for Two Deserts, One Sky — Arab Star Calendars (novel research things there).
Fiction, then. Science-fiction mostly. Becky Chambers, who I’ve been reading for the last few years and pretty content at the moment in reading another one from her, To Be Taught, If Fortunate. Another also from Charles Stross, Dead Lies Dreaming, though after fifteen years this might be the last I read from him, just not really doing it for me and the trans character is very written by a cis. Tamsyn Muir’s Gideon the Ninth, which I’ve already read, and the sequel Harrow the Ninth, which I’m currently reading / wading through it’s corpsey gore. Claire G. Coleman’s Terra Nullius, Indigetrans colonial invasion sci-fi but not really sci-fi. And speaking of trans, Juno Dawson’s Wonderland, which I kinda liked but wished the literary fixation on Alice in Wonderland stories didn’t exist (same like I wish dance fixation on ‘reimagining’ Swan Lake and the classics didn’t exist).
Lucky last. Fiction but more like Chingona autobiography ghost story, Myriam Gurba’s Mean. Recommended to me by Vass. Thanks babe, she’s fucking with me.
That’s a lot, eh. Piling up, getting partly read then left, words look smaller than they used to and I need glasses but that means organising shit like ophthalmologist appointments and shelling out cash and fuck it I can squint. Though I wonder if the reason why I’m not reading as much as I used to is ’cos words in book form’s blurry all the time.
And no blogging for six weeks? Longest ever? Like I gave up my life project? Thanks pandemic amping up transphobia and racism and Islamophobia and general shittier behaviour from the str8s.
The only thing I’m not enjoying about this book is its high expectations on my reading list. Twenty pages in and I’ve ordered four books mentioned in the notes.
Where did I hear about Olivette Otele’s African Europeans: An Untold History? No idea. Maybe someone on Twitter, or, more likely what I’d been reading circulates around this subject and one of the authors mentioned it.
Obviously very much here for her writing on Saint Mauritius, and shoutout to Dom zu Magdeburg St. Mauritius und Katharina and that statue of him. And for the bibliography, ’cos there’s been a heap of new stuff specifically on Germany / German-ish regional history that is totes my jam. Probably going to be one of my Books of the Year. If I was still doing that. And it’s making me miss my rando trips to small German cities to gawp at mediæval art something huge.
That’d be me, Francesca d’Ath, and my toes, yesterday while biking to rehearsals.
Pandemic and very delayed sensible government response allowing, I’m performing at Sophiensaele next week. A double bill of two solos, the other with Claudia Tomasi, and both started with Isabelle Schad way back in January.
I don’t know if we’ll even get to perform next week, carrying on like we will, and it feels dead weird to be art-ing while shit goes exponential in Neukölln, Berlin, Germany, Europe … In case we don’t or if we do, here’s me looking well tasty.
And for everyone who saw that poster around Berlin-Mitte, yes, that is me, yes that person is trans femme and serving deep trans femme energy, and yes, even a glance at a poster of me will turn your children trans.
Me back performing again.
I pretty much had made peace with moving on from dance and all in the last couple of years, enjoying training for myself and finding myself at a distance to those worlds. Then, late-last year, Isabelle said, “You’re doing a solo!”
We’ve been rehearsing irregular weeks since late-January, slowly building a work that finally got a formal-ish public outing on the weekend in Isabelle’s studio at Wiesenburg (masks and physical distancing and pandemic attentiveness obviously). First time performing in more than two years, and, after a decade living in Berlin, first time I’ve performed here — in a formal, dance scene context at least, not counting small, more private art-ing.
It’s been huge, a lot of work physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and a lot of responsibility in being seen. Being seen by both the audience, some of whom recognised parts of themselves in me, and understand what that means, and being seen by those who came before, aunties, mothers, old ones who visited, who I called on ’cos I needed their strength and support and approval, and I needed them to see me, us like this. And my babaanne, wandering around after just out of sight. I am grateful for them all, and for those who came up to me after, who were the ones I needed to fully see me, and who I needed to see also.
Another pause now, then — as always, pandemic allowing — at Sophiensaele in early-November.
There was a big gap this year when I had a little money for and no way of getting books. All that talk on social media of supporting artists during pandemic quarantine by buying their books hit up against furloughed supply chains.
Completely off topic here, I discovered yesterday I’d been using the entirely wrong word, furlong instead of furlough (and lifetime usage of either is in the single digits). And then I discovered furlong is 1/8th of a mile, so now I have Vin Diesel, or rather Dominic Toretto in my head going, “I live my life two furlongs at a time.”
Back to buying books. And no, e-books are not an option. I like paper, I like the feel and smell and aesthetics of books, I like how line lengths, page size, fonts, typography, layout, margins, the density of ink on paper, all that, I like how it creates a specific way of reading. So, no new books for some months and a rapidly dwindling pile of that variety which take months or years to read (Spivak, I’m looking at you.)
And then my favourite bookshop let me know books were available again and damn did I go hard. First, the Jhalak Prize announced its 2020 long and short lists and the winner, and I’m doing that thing again where I’ll end up throwing cash at about half the long list.
What is the Jhalak Prize (’cos clicking links scares me or something)? It was started in 2017 by Sunny Singh, Nikesh Shukla, and the sadly defunct Media Diversified and is an annual award for British and British resident writers of colour in any genre. And it’s consistently a banger. If I had the cash, I would without question by everything on the long list as soon as it’s announced.
And second, a bunch of weird old books I’ve been hitting my bookshop up for availability and prices for absolutely years turned up. A couple I’ve been asking about for five years. No, I cannot say no.
Some of these books have been sitting on my reading shelf since last year; some of them I finished months ago. I’m not doing that way too intense essay per book and annual Book(s) of The Year thing anymore, pumped the brakes on that. I still want to remind myself and celebrate a pile of authors who, all of whom did that indescribable magic a book can do. Some of these (’cos that’s my tendency) are hard, painful reads. Even these have beauty and joy and hope in them, and I reach for that. All these authors are my teachers and I’m grateful beyond words to have enough space in my life that I can read and appreciate and celebrate them.
I had Islam Dreaming on my list for a long time and suddenly it turned up. I didn't expect it to be so personally relevant, to read these pages and how simply and matter-of-fact this relationship was understood. It's something I've struggled to understand for myself for so long, and once again, it's Indigenous knowledge and life that helped. Different continents and I'm not Indigenous Australian, and trying to be careful here in not selectively appropriating a specific historical and geographic experience. I read these two pages over and over, recognising similarities to myself and my family's history in this.
One year ago, June 13th 2019, I went into an operating theatre in Marbella, Spain and came out half a day later. Or so. I still think I’m missing a few additional hours there. As I write this, one year ago I was there. This is the photo I took after having my face peeled off. A facial peel (thanks, Onyx for that accurate and true description. I laughed.). Tubes all over the place, and no idea how the getting through of those hours and following days in Spain and then back in Berlin in a heatwave would become months and now a year.
And it was a year before, also. A year of smashing 60–70 hour weeks, moving house in that, keeping up with training, just not thinking about it all, hardcore endurance and eyes on the finish line. Finish lines. Fourth attempt at making that cash. Going at it so hard this time ’cos I knew I could do it if I used all of myself up. Making that final 2,000€ payment which coincided with getting fired, not really caring ’cos I’d stacked up 22,000€ in 2/3 of a year and got to not give a shit about worrying how I’d make cash those next three months up to the flight to Spain. Just keeping eyes on being there on June 13th. Making that flight. Sitting in my hospital room playing the game of telling myself seriously, “You can always stop here. You don’t have to do this.” Me laughing, nah fuck nah, fucking bring the anaesthetic. I am fearless in these moments.
Hair grew back. Hair fell out. Hair grew back. Feeling came back. Swelling went down. Scar settled down. Face looked like me. Looked like who I’d have been if I hadn’t had to go the long, hard way ’round. Scar is still a bit lumpy and indented. Scalp and forehead still get tight every few days and need plenty of massaging. Hair is still growing back, me and my slow, delicate curly hair, all grey now ’cos I haven’t dyed it for a year. Most of the second half of last year just recovering from the previous year, trying to align myself. Most of this year dealing with the poverty of having that very necessary, non-optional pause. Wrote most of a novel in those months.
It was Ramadan that led to the job where I worked out almost immediately I could smash this fucker finally. It was Ramadan that finished a week before I flew to Spain. It was Ramadan that almost marks one year out, three weeks earlier now, sliding those couple of weeks away from the date. Still, it always felt to me like all this moved around that month of fasting, “It’s a big offering you’re making,” said Onyx. Not expecting anything in return for it, but still.
There are two questions we ask ourselves which come with being trans; both of them come from an immediately preceding question: “So what are you gonna do about it?” The first one is, “Hormones. Yes?” We might reply, “Nah,” or not be able to or allowed to reply, “Fuck yes!” but once we understand our selfhoods being framed in the context of ‘trans’ that’s our first question and answer and waypoint. The second is, “Surgery?” Being trans, living trans, especially in the last thirty years or so means having realistic conversations with ourselves and others about having major surgery. Surgeries. It’s part of the deal. We might never be able to afford it or be able to undergo such intensely physically demanding processes or even want it, but once we’re aware of who we are and what possibilities exist, we always come to this question. For cis people, normal life experience makes major surgery only something scary and grave, meaning illness or injury, or maybe ‘cosmetic’, ‘elective’, superficial and frivolous and spoken about in the way even cishet women depreciate femininity. For us, we have a very different relationship with the process. Scary, yeah, expensive and fucking huge commitment of time and energy and self before and after, yeah, but every time I’ve woken up from surgery for this, I’ve been smiling.
Life-changing and No Regerts.
There’s a heap of sadness and joy bound into all this. Sadness at how growing up I never had the family support to have had an easier time of it. And still don’t, and just accept it as something permanently missing. Sadness that even now I’m always dialled up ’cos cis people — especially white cis women — refuse to do the work, refuse to care and it’s like being back in the ’80s and ’90s with all that radical feminist and lesbian separatist absolute hate of us, wanting to literally erase us from the world entirely. Sadness every time I see a sister murdered, and far, far too often she’s Black and far, far too often her death is a literal execution, an erasing from existence.
Joy. ’Cos we are so fucking beautiful and we live in a universe cis people can’t even imagine. We are so close to gods and goddesses and deities and spirits, we walk hand-in-hand with them, with the land and water and sky of this Earth and always have and always will. I love all my sisters and brothers and siblings and niblings and aunties and uncles and elders and Muthas — especially Muthas, who saw me when I was a young, very fucked up child and who burn brighter in my life the older I get. And especially those who needed to do hormones and have surgery to live their truth. This is the hardest path, the most dangerous one, we all lost so much to go this way. Even the rare ones who had the love and support of their parents and family who put their selves and bodies and lives between the world and their children and fought. Even those ones lost so much.
Crossdresser, transvestite, transsexual, transgender, trans with or without the * or -, trans woman, trans feminine, tranny, t-girl, shemale, chick with a dick, sex change, shim, heshe, it. Not even a word, just laughter and “It’s a man!” and a fist in the mouth. Homelessness, poverty, fucked mental health. I’ve paid to survive this long, far more than that 22,000€ I’m a year out from and what it gave me.
Donate & protect Indigenous and Black trans femme futures ✊🏿✊🏿✊🏿
- Black Rainbow (Australia)
- Gender Minorities Aotearoa (Aotearoa / New Zealand)
- Black Trans Femmes in The Arts (US)
- Emergency Release Fund (US)
- @TheOkraProject (US)
- Homeless Black Trans women fund (US)
- Black Trans Lives Matter – UK Support
- Taking What We Need (Montreal, Canada)
- G.L.I.T.S. (US / Intl.)
- And so many others.
Cis people, queer or straight, I expect this of you: Do the work. Educate yourselves. Donate. Find community-based organisations in your city and country who explicitly, primarily support Black and Indigenous and Brown and Migrant trans femmes and commit to protecting our futures.
And if you think by my highlighting of trans femmes and trans women I’m forgetting about, ignoring, making invisible, erasing trans mascs and trans men, non-binary people and anyone else not totally cis? You’re not paying attention. And if you think as a cis person, queer or straight, this doesn’t affect you? Again, you’re not paying attention.
Step the fuck up.