Boss Up with Bevin Your dream life is at the end of your comfort zone

2013-03-14

Book Review: Nevada by Imogen Binnie

I was given a copy of the e-book of Nevada by Imogen Binnie to review by my friends at Topside Press. Imogen is one of those friends-in-law people I know to be awesome but don’t know personally, and I was excited to read her first novel.

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I seriously couldn’t put it down! Nevada was the first work of fiction I’ve read in a long time that made me want to keep reading more than go out, which is saying a lot for an extrovert party girl like me. Conversely, once I got toward the end of the book I couldn’t bear the thought of finishing it because I didn’t want it to end, I just wanted to keep hanging out with weirdo, angsty, heart-wrenching main character Maria.

Nevada begins with a sex scene that should be kinky and exciting but you can tell the main character, Maria, is bored out of her skull and can’t seem to find a way to tell her girlfriend. So she just fakes it. And so is most of Maria’s life, a series of her doing the same thing she’s done for five years, same bookstore job, same girlfriend, same apartment, and she’s faking it because she can’t stop the momentum and hasn’t stopped to figure out what she wants out of life.

We follow Maria, breathless as she bikes across the Williamsburg bridge, enduring some old-fashioned dyke drama, escaping her life through whiskey and monster movies. We participate as Maria makes some bad decisions, thinking it’s really going to change her life.

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Imogen Binnie

I thought Maria was entirely relatable, especially through her easy, colloquial language. “This rules” and strong opinions. Also, through her being stuck in a life she created but doesn’t really like anymore. I think no matter how amazing your life looks on the outside, folks can relate to feeling like they aren’t getting traction or going anywhere.

Maria ends up with nothing to lose, on a road trip in a sorta borrowed sorta stolen car. I can also relate to going on a road trip because everything in your life felt like it was all ending all of a sudden. Her real shifting point comes in Nevada, where through country music and a sense of “knowing,” meets a closeted trans woman working at Wal Mart.

Nevada is a book that, though it is way beyond coming out, provides essential trans narrative beyond the traditional. Maria’s been an out trans woman for years and has a palatable ennui that is relatable like the best 90s Liz Phair songs. One thing Imogen did that I thought was to the book’s great credit was tell Maria’s coming out story slowly, in pieces, rather than all up front. She also drops a lot of trans and queer 101 information in a way that both flows well with the narrative but also answers a lot of questions that readers might have. I mean, I know a lot of beauty rituals that folks who weren’t born female use because I’m in Femme community with trans femmes but probably not a lot of folks know about the boiling water before you shave trick.

When you’re a trans woman, patriarchal mandates about presentation get extra twisted up with narratives of disclosure, validity as a human being, violence, the possibility of ever being found attractive, and probably a bunch of other stuff you haven’t even identified yet. It makes it actually pretty complicated to leave the bathroom once you’re in it.

Totally relatable.

And you know what? Everyone who is trans does trans differently. Mainstream society, when it acknowledges trans experience at all, does not show more to the MTF trajectory than a traditional narrative of having the means to have surgery. A lot of folks don’t and therefore need to find ways to exist and thrive in the world that doesn’t depend on having cost-prohibitive procedures before you get to living an authentic life.

The end of the book took me by surprise. So much so that I immediately texted my friend/the publisher to make sure that he didn’t send me a bum e-book and I didn’t get all of the ending. But my investment in the book, the characters and the story was a testament to how great an author Imogen Binnie is. She’s incredible and I can’t wait to read her next book!!

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This is one of those books that you should really support the amazing, queer/trans lead publisher when you purchase. Topside Press offers not just a hardcover, ebook and paperback editions of Nevada, there are also limited edition support-the-author’s-book-tour covers and posters of the artwork from the cover! Check it all out here.

Imogen is on tour right now on the West Coast supporting the book! The NYC release is on April 2 at the QEJ offices at 147 W 24th St, 4th Floor at 7pm. East Coast tour dates will be announced soon. But don’t wait for the event to order your book, get it now! $17.95 makes a huge difference to indie publisher authors!

Also, if you’re like me and need to talk about this book (you should really just host a book club), join this group on Facebook!

2012-06-11

Femme Solidarity Workshop at the Philly Trans Health Conference

As you may know, I have two nieces (by heart, not by genetics) who live in Philadelphia and I pretty much jump at the opportunity to go visit. Ideally I see them every couple of months but that is with varying success. I saw an opening in my calendar and decided to re-learn how to take public transit to Philly with a shih tzu now that I am living a car-free lifestyle.

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Time for sniffing baby heads is important in the life of an Aunt.

As luck would have it, a pal was driving to Philly and offered me a ride, the babies were at a party until the evening time so I had an afternoon available and could go with my pal to the Philly Trans Health Conference.

I went to the conference once before, in the early aughts (maybe 2003 or 2004), when it was tiny at the William Way LGBT Community Center and my drag king troupe (including the parents of the aforementioned nieces who were still long from becoming parents) was asked to perform as the evening entertainment in the sweaty lobby of the Center. In my mind the conference always looks that tiny, even as I’ve heard about it for years and how it has gotten more noteworthy. Even up in NYC there is typically post-conference hubub about the ubiquitous, often problematic Femme workshop and top surgery show and tells.

The conference has gotten really huge, it’s at the Philadelphia Convention Center. It’s also free, which makes it an amazing resource for trans folks, allies and healthcare providers. As my pal’s car of eager Brooklynites got closer to Philly and we went through the available workshops in the Saturday afternoon line-up (easily 8-10 workshops in each slot) we got really pumped and made a plan.

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Macy basically insisted on riding in Hadley’s lap.

It was sort of awesome to drive around looking for parking, seeing people we knew through the windows of the lobby (let us never forget how small our communities are) and various costumed superheros from the Wizard Con happening upstairs from the PTHC. We rolled in and quickly abandoned plans for the first workshop block as there were so many folks to catch-up with along the vendor roll.

I was really excited to learn about the Hearts on a Wire collective. They provide community support inside and outside of prison to incarcerated gender variant folks. Here’s a report they did on prison experiences for trans and gender variant folks. Did you know that glitter isn’t allowed in prison? Did you know that inmates held in women’s facilities are allowed some make-up and crafts and that inmates in men’s facilities are not allowed those items? There is a petition to change that! Imagine how a little clickie clickie action YOU can do RIGHT NOW could change the experience of an incarcerated person! Go ahead and sign the petition, I’ll wait right here.

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I forgot my camera for the conference so here’s some extra baby pictures.

I saw a bunch of other people at the conference, including meeting many blog readers! Thanks for saying hello!

I was excited to make it to one of the Femme workshops! That’s right, “one” of! There was a whole track of Femme workshops, so it wasn’t limited to just one.

The workshop I went to was called “Femme Solidarity” and facilitated by Almah LaVonn Rice, Jac Stringer and Katie Spencer. The facilitators created a framework for the discussion with a lot of safer space ground rules and a few ideas for topics, but mainly it was a space they created for Femme identified folks at the conference to, at this late moment in the conference, to discuss their experience and what was on their minds as Femme folks in that space.* I liked that the facilitators created a “stack”, where workshop participants could raise their hand and be added to the “stack” of names to be called on and then not worry about keeping their hand in the air. The conversation ends up a little disjointed but it does seem to flow and then more folks have a chance to talk, rather than just the pushy folks.

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Etta Pearl is learning how to snarl like the baby Femme she is.

I live tweeted the workshop and got quotes as best as I could truncate while things popped around the room. Ultimately, I really enjoyed that the discussion centered around addressing misogyny in queer spaces and how that affects spaces like the PTHC where femininity can be drowned out by a “dudely” privileging of masculinity. I thought it was a good conversation to have and in a free-form workshop like the one we were in, even though it didn’t really address Femme solidarity directly.

Here are my tweets:

Jac has a great pronoun policy. If you know pronoun use it, if you don’t, don’t use them or use general “they.”

“How do we validate each person’s experience with femme and acknowledge our own.”

“How do we merge femme dyke space and femmme fag space and cross gender binaries?”

“It is the responsibility of people in the club space to find the gaps and reach out to other folks.”

“In the past femme workshops @ #pthc2012 have been the white cis partners of transmen that ignored/marginalized experience of transfemmes.”

“The femme workshops have shifted. More inclusive. Has to do with leadership of workshop.”

Femme ally says “Conference is feeling very “dudely.””

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“Queer community can reinforce the same exclusions within itself of the heterosexual world.” It happens at this conference.

“These conversations mean there is misogyny in these spaces. Misogyny is hatred of anything not men.”

“Definition of misogyny arguably defined as oppression and depression of folks who aren’t ideal man. Affects everyone.”

“One of the hardest things of being a femme is the stigma about submission & obedience.”

“I have the opposite experience. Folks I know see femme as aggressive.”

“A lot of people have an extreme connotation with misogyny. The word has a strange stigma. Everyday things are sexism.”

“Worth remembering that misogyny can happen to anyone and can come from anyone. About perception of things femaleness/feminine.”

“Interrogation about lookism in Femme. Commodifying ourselves is violent.”

“Femmes trying to be seen as really tough feels like it is reinforcing stereotype that femme is weak.”

“Femininity in society is so manipulative. Changing femmeness in diff spaces.”

“How can we take on misogyny in femme space and sep from femme identity?”

“No one size fits all gender narrative @ #pthc2012. If this is going to be a coalition it needs to recognize there is dissent.”

“A lot of transsexual women do support the binary gender but don’t necc support gender non conforming folks.”

“Confronting the not femme enough stigmatizing in femme communities online.”

(At some point in here I pulled out the Amber Hollibaugh book I am re-reading and quoted about unlearning her internalized misogyny in order to come out and make community with lesbians–interesting that this is a process that was going on in the 70s and here we are 40 years later dealing with misogyny still.)

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We took a trip to Giovanni’s Room, one of my favorite gay bookstores. Referenced a lot in Kate Bornstein’s memoir.

“Trauma spreads. It is important to do our self care & release it.”

“Socializing (talking & working through socially) is healing & can help us work through our oppressions.”

“Important to decenter femme identity from the stuff we deal with because of being femme. Femme is a beautiful thing to move toward.”

“Aspects of femininity are powerful they hate & fight what is powerful. To me femme is acknowledged power.” @damienluxe

“We want to hear what inclusion feels like to you. We have an opportunity to build that together.”

So those are the tweets! It was an interesting discussion I was glad we had. What it really did was get me totally pumped for the Femme Conference happening August 17-19 in Baltimore! This year for the Femme Conference I declined to submit a workshop or do a panel or do anything other than one performance slot. I figured I could focus on one thing instead of spreading myself thin like I have done previously. I want to just enjoy the conference.

The Femme Conference is only $80 (and there is a discount if you sign up with five other people) and there is a hotel deal for $99 a night for 4 occupancy (meaning $25 a night sharing a room with folks). I hope you are able to make it! I’ve been to the Femme Conference twice, in 2008 and 2010. Both times it was extremely worth it and the 2008 one completely changed my life in some pretty big ways.

If money is an issue and budgets are tight, there are scholarships (applications due June 20) AND a rideshare/housingshare forum on the Femme2012 website!

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The fact that Etta Pearl sought out that Miss Piggy doll when I suggested it above all the other possible Build-A-Bears was heartwarming. Especially because that doll is actually a puppet. I’ll be real, I LOVE stuffed animals and I LOVE accessories and my first Build-A-Bear experience was magical beyond belief.

*At this point the conference was winding down, even though I had just gotten there. In some ways it felt awesome to have fresh conference energy. I totally know the feeling of being fried at the end of an experience like that.

2011-09-28

Book Recommendation: Tango: My Childhood, Backwards and in High Heels

“I think the reason I trusted her was simply because I thought she was beautiful. I was too young and stupid to realize that being pretty did not make you anything more than pretty.”–Justin Vivian Bond, Tango: My Childhood, Backwards and in High Heels

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I have an addition to the Femme Book Club List! The ultra Femme-friendly title
Tango: My Childhood, Backwards and in High Heels
by Femme icon Justin Vivian Bond.

I love a book that easily fits into my purse. I often find Femme-friendly titles in form and content from the Feminist Press. V’s autobiography is short–136 pages. I read it in little spurts during 10 minute subway rides hither an yon and found it delightful, but fast readers could easily devour it in one sitting.*

V wrote the book with the intention of keeping it short. “I made the book brief and the language simple so that harried mothers and nervous children could read it in a hurry and pass it on.”

The story is great, highlights of a transgender childhood full of gender policing and sex shaming by adults really concerned about their children fitting in, homophobic lovers, finding outlets in music and close friendships with girls.

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Photo by Amos Mac. I found myself hearing V’s glamorous throaty voice cooing the words while I read them. I actually sometimes unconsciously use that voice when I’m trying to make a very dramatic and important point.

V also addresses mental illness in friends, which is something I think most teenagers experience but rarely talk about. It is really weird and scary when your friends disappear from school or are institutionalized for their mental illnesses, and there is such stigma and so many false stereotypes attached to it. As their friend all you want to do is love them and help them feel okay, and at that point adults seem fairly useless.

We see some awesome Femme moments and quotes. “[T]here is a big difference between acting like a woman and feeling like one.” [p. 125] (My shaky hand put a big star next to this on the subway when I read it.)

I think most folks who grew up as misfits will relate to Vivian’s developing a quick wit and ability to make people laugh in order for them not to target V.

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Snapshot of mine from the Feminist Press party in May. Nath-Ann, Justin Vivian Bond and I forget the name of the other cute companion in the DJ booth.

Vivian doesn’t scrimp on sexuality, we are privy to a lot of physical exploration, which I think is really important reading for folks planning to or hoping to parent teenagers. I think anyone who had the experience of growing up an outsider will enjoy this book and any and all parents should have this as required reading whether they are ready to admit their kid is a weirdo or not.**

So, buy this book from the Feminist Press website for only $10.17! Or from your local bookseller! Make them order lots of copies!

Also, while you’re reading the book listen to Justin Vivian Bond’s new release “Dendrophile.” It’s only $9.99 for an MP3 download. Two great tastes that taste great together!

*Slow readers represent!
**Sometimes I wonder if/when I become a parent what will happen if my kid is a normal.

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