Tuesday, May 15, 2012

booknotes: trans/love

Last week, my friend Minerva loaned me her copy of the recent anthology Trans/Love: Radical Sex, Love & Relationships Beyond the Gender Binary (Manic D Press, 2012) edited by Morty Diamond. I'd been looking to read a copy since it was reviewed favorably by TT Jax over at Lambda Literary. It's great when your friends' libraries so nicely complement your own reading habits!

I'll say right off the top that I read this volume from the perspective of someone who is a cisgendered woman and doesn't identify as genderqueer. A lot of the specifics of these pieces, then, speak to a particular type of pain of dislocation, rejection, and longing, that I will never experience in my bones. At the same time, I'd push back against anyone who thinks Trans/Love is a book written exclusively by and for folks whose bodies, minds, and hearts pull them "beyond the gender binary." While the raison d'etre of this volume is trans* experiences with "sex, love and relationships," I'd argue that the most powerful essays in this volume do what creative nonfiction and memoir do best: speak to the universal through the lens of the particular. Gender identity aside, we're all struggling to connect with one another, to form successful relationships (sexually-intimate and otherwise), to imagine that others will find our broken, misshapen, all-too-human bodies and selves loveable, fuckable, worthy of care and attention.

The contributions to Trans/Love run the gamut from raw pain to domestic contentment; from fierce pride to playful lust. In essays like "Cherry Picking" by Julia Serano and "Fifty Reasons I Love My Man" by Bryn Kelly we get tender portraits of loving relationships that at their core are about lovers who delight in one anothers' form and being. Kelly is by turns sweet and hilarious, cataloging the everyday compatibility that are so often the glue of our intimate partnerships:
We are both messy people and we're messy together. He's the best roommate I've ever had. I've always lived with other girls -- specifically with the kind of girl who, though we saw each other six times a day, would tend to leave annoying passive-aggressive notes on the fridge saying things like, "Could the person who drank my almond milk please replace it? It is a very important ingredient in my agave-gingko-buckwheat smoothie at 6am every day as I am currently on a 700-calorie-a-day diet which is dangerous is not done consistently and accurately." With him, it's like, "Oh, man, there's no more almond milk. Let's go get some more almond milk." (65).
 And while many pieces explore the pain of dissociation from one's physical self, there are some beautifully-rendered meditations on the way in which relational sex can bring us back to earth, back to ourselves, into humanity. It's obviously not the only thing capable of grounding us in the here-and-now, but can certainly facilitate embodiment and connection. In "ReSexing Trans," Kai Kohlsdorf argues that "the validation and the comfort we experience in sex ... allows us to experience our identities in the ways we want and need to. Without that, I know I would be lost" (108).

I found the anthology worked best in small doses, an essay at a time to be read and digested. In part because many of the contributions are intense and personal articulations of loss, longing, anger, pain, injustice. In "Fat, Trans, and Single," Joelle Ruby Ryan writes about the multiple ways other people refuse to acknowledge hir right to embodiment. In "Out of the Darkness," Jakob Hero describes the messy process of learning not to apologize for his body, the path away from self-loathing to self-respect, the journey to a place where he can recognize that other peoples' discomfort with his way of being in the world is their problem, not his. The harsh flipside of this self-treasuring is -- for any of us who refuse mainstream dictates -- of course that even when we acknowledge that other peoples' bigotry is their own burden to bear, so often it still hurts us, still impinges upon us, still makes it that much more difficult to find that person (or persons) who'll turn around to us in the kitchen and say, "let's go get some more almond milk," or fuck us until we know we are found.

Trans/Love is a welcome addition to the small but growing collection of genderqueer literature that encourages all of us to think about sex, gender, relationships, and humanity, in all its glorious particularity.

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