“Eventually you can't help but figure out that, while gender is a construct, so is a traffic light, and if you ignore either of them, you get hit by cars. Which, also, are constructs.”
Nevada by Imogen Binnie
Nevada is the darkly comedic story of Maria Griffiths, a young trans woman living in New York City and trying to stay true to her punk values while working retail. When she finds out her girlfriend has lied to her, the world she thought she’d carefully built for herself begins to unravel, and Maria sets out on a journey that will most certainly change her forever. Find out more about Imogen Binnie and Nevada at http://topsidepress.com/nevada/.
First off, for those who are partaking in the Prism Community Book Club and haven't finished the book yet, SPOILERS AHEAD.
I haven’t been this deeply emotionally affected by a book since Please Don’t Kill the Freshman by Zoe Trope. When I read that book in high school, it changed my life. Here was this narrator who I saw myself in so much. I processed some of the stuff I read in that book for many years to come, and I still come back to it. It was like reading my own diary – so much teenage angst. With that, I related to Maria in Nevada just like I did in PDKF. It’s such an intense feeling to read a book and realize that an integral part of your identity is reflected in a character, to have her say things that make you feel euphoric, thoughtful, and just completely fucked up.
It’s remarkable. Now this isn’t to say that I identify with Maria completely. Far from it. I’m not trans. I’m a cis-bisexual female. I can’t identify with the emotional, physical, and mental stuff that is trans specific in the story. But living in Maria’s head, and when she said things about growing up through her punk phase, wow.
She just knew that she felt weird – but literally every teenager feels weird. Who doesn't feel weird? All the music she listened to was about feeling weird. All the books she read were about feeling weird. So when she was seventeen it didn't seem strange to hang out with, like, a kid who was really into racism and another, a future truck stop mechanic, in a tent, with a ton of flannel and a bottle of Everclear or a dozen hits of acid. In a cow pasture.
Nevada follows Maria, a queer trans woman in her late twenties living in Brooklyn with her cis-girlfriend. She works in a Manhattan bookstore, and the story follows her trying to deal with her life “…and shit.” Maria Griffiths is sick and tired of pretty much everything in her life. Her union job, her girlfriend Steph, and always thinking about being trans. Her new philosophy in life comes down to irresponsibility. But is that even possible?
The first time we meet Maria, our narrator, she’s being choked during sex by her girlfriend and fakes an orgasm. It’s not like she doesn’t seem to have a fulfilling life, but something is missing for Maria, and she doesn’t know what she wants. Maria takes us through how to navigate a world as a trans single woman, how to begin being physically present but mentally absent to everyone in your life, and how to come to terms with the young life of fighting against yourself to live a more open and fulfilling life.
Her distance from her girlfriend Steph leads Steph to lie about cheating just to get her to talk. She desires any sort of reaction from Maria, and when she gets none, their relationship “mutually” ends. Maria is cynical, punk rock, sarcastic, oblivious, and sometimes full of herself. She’s real. It’s not that she doesn’t care about things in her life, but she’s so used to dissociating from things that even after transitioning she can’t stop. Her breakup with Steph makes Maria think more about life, where she is, and where her life is heading. She takes us back to her life growing up and the bad decisions she’s made. But she’s not making bad decisions like that anymore because she’s just not making any decisions, and that’s the problem. She’s stuck in a life she created but doesn’t really like anymore. This is definitely the type of book where you’re living inside someone's mind. You follow Maria through this breath-taking adventure as she neurotically brings up some serious stuff in one breath and ends it with “…whatever.”
Then, with drugs, it’s like, she took them all, but always in such moderation that it wasn’t really dangerous. Even when she was throwing up or incoherent, it was in a controlled situation. She never went to jail, never had the police bring her home, never got caught breaking curfew or went to the hospital or anything
So here’s this fiery, punk-rock woman who reveals to the reader the full uproar of living as a trans woman. Not just the before and after, but all of the messy little details in-between that are nearly always overlooked. Nevada is a book that provides crucial trans narrative beyond the traditional. It tells Maria’s coming out story slowly in bits rather than all once, and it also drops a lot of gender and sexuality 101 in a way that both flows well with the narrative, but also answers a lot of questions that readers may have.
...nobody really wants to be a trans woman, i.e. nobody wakes up and goes whoa, maybe my life would be better if I transitioned, alienating most of my friends and my family, I wonder what'll happen at work, I'd love to spend all my money on hormones and surgeries, buying a new wardrobe that I don't even understand right now, probably become unlovable and then ending my short life in a bloody murder.
Nevada has sharp prose, and an intense writing style that makes the story so much more appreciated. The writing is talky and run-on, really conversational or whatever, kind of like this, and the dialogue isn’t clearly marked so you don’t know when you’re reading Maria’s inner or outer monologues so it just makes you, as a reader, so much more aware of what you just read because the fact is, fuck, you can for some reason put things into words effectively and make the reader understand them and make them want to know more, learn more, about the characters and their stories. The long run-on sentence is exactly how this book is written AND IT WORKS SO WELL. It’s so relatable. It’s specifically written, funny where I actually laughed out loud, and darkly hard-hitting to the reader, at least for me, that it made me feel welcomed into the story as if I was actually following Maria around.
This story is so complex. Maria lets us into her own world, and shows us that it’s not easy coming out, transitioning – Life doesn’t end after you come out, and your gender and sexuality don’t cease to exist to be relevant. In fact, Maria grapples with how to live a post-transition life and how to “exist like a three-dimensional person who cares about her body and her mind and her life and her friends and her lovers and is able to exist in a relationship with another person.” When she’s fired from her comfortable bookstore position and her relationship ends, she “sorta-borrows, sorta-steals” her ex-girlfriends car, buys a bunch of heroin, and sets off to ponder gender, hetero-normativity, and emotional repression from social conditioning.
There is this dumb thing where trans women feel like we all have to prove that we’re totally trans as fuck and there’s no doubt in our minds that we’re Really, Truly Trans. It comes from the fact that you have to prove that you’re trans to psychologists and doctors: the burden is entirely on your own shoulders to prove that you’re Really Trans in order to get any treatment at all. Meaning hormones. It is stupid and there are these hoops you have to jump through, boxes you need to check: I have only ever been attracted to men, I have never fetishized women’s clothes or done anything remotely kinky, I have never been sexual with the junk I was born with. Pretty much you have to prove that you’re totally normal and straight and not queer at all, so that if they let you transition you will be a normal het woman who doesn’t freak anybody out, and so we often, as individuals, internalize these things, and then we, as a community, often reinforce them. All of which is relevant specifically because you are supposed to have known you were trans since you were a tiny little baby.
Along the way she meets James, a boy working at the Star City, Nevada Wal-Mart somewhere near Reno and realizes that he's like she was at 20; bored, confused, trying to present as a man but failing, stuck in a relationship he kind of doesn't want to be in, and hiding it all under a thick haze of drugs.
As she helps James face admitting that he's maybe/possibly/probably trans, she also gets a chance to process through the history of her own life and realize the things that she's also been avoiding. Through her interactions with James, Maria tries to be that of a trans mentor and explains her experiences to an someone outside of her own world, but you can't quite figure out if she's talking to James or just talking. The ending took me by surprise that I closed the book and exclaimed how much I hated it to my partner. I had so much investment in this story, and the narrator. Though the ending was abrupt, intellectually I was satisfied. Emotionally, it didn't provide complete satisfaction. It left me feeling half fulfilled and half bereft. But if you think about how the story starts, an emotionless sex scene between Maria and Steph, and how the book ends, another emotional sexual encounter between James and Nicole, it mirrors the other. Maria may slip back into old ways, or James may make changes in his life to create his own fulfilling ending. It could go both ways, and maybe that’s why the book ended on such an equivocal note.
So my request to other cis-identify, non-trans gender folks: read this book! Not only is it amazing, but it’s thought-provoking, challenging, and I guarantee you’ve never read something like it (unless you read PDKF as a teenager) and you’ve never experiences characters like this.
Imogen Binnie writes a column for Maximum Rocknroll magazine as well as the zines The Fact That It's Funny Doesn't Make It A Joke and Stereotype Threat. Her novel Nevada won a 2013 MOTHA award and then lost at the Lambda Literary Awards. She lives near Keene, New Hampshire with her girlfriend and their jerk dog and, most recently, their tiny little kid.
Long Story Short by Patrick Lilja
It was a hot summer afternoon in July 2015. I was on the road in western Wisconsin returning to the Twin Cities after a weekend with friends and “it”, the truth, just abruptly popped into my head: the realization that I was bisexual.
Sounds incredibly simple, but it wasn’t. I had been wondering for a few years. I felt empty inside like something was missing and I didn’t know what. The idea that maybe I wasn’t straight was one of the things I wondered but for some reason it didn’t click, as if it was really that suppressed in my mind. I’m also autistic so perhaps the long battle with accepting that part of my life prevented me from realizing I was also bi. Who knows?
While I felt a sense of peace knowing that the empty space I was feeling had been filled, the next thing was that I was scared to tell anyone, even people I knew I could trust and be supportive of me because of the way this realization had come about, and the fact that everybody had known me as straight up until now.
I reached a rest area a couple hours later and I immediately tried to call one of my close friends to tell them I was “out”. They texted me back to say they were busy at a function but I could text them if it was important. So with my shaky hands I tried to write out a message that was probably better left for an actual phone call but I couldn’t wait any longer and I dumped it into a text somehow. My friend was supportive of me as I knew they would be in my head, but that little reassurance that I had support made me feel much more secure. I began to tell a few people here and there, only people who I knew would be supportive of me. I have yet to come out to anyone who I have doubts about how they would receive the news.
As I think about my adolescence I realize now that a lot of the same physical features that I found attractive about women, I also found attractive about the boys I grew up around. It continues to be something I’m trying to integrate into my life as I try to unwrap my repressed feelings about boys.
To those who support me, thank you. You are the best!
It's Not Always Black & White by Kara Tudor
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been attracted to men. I never questioned this. I remember my crushes in high school distinctly. One of them was a huge Insane Clown Posse fan, painted face and all. Another was into grunge and garage bands. Then there’s the one who had narcolepsy and would fall asleep in study hall. It was so cute. So many interesting fellas fell in-between. I have a handful of ex-boyfriends; the musicians, the married-but-separated-one who cheated on me with his wife, the one with schizophrenia that I spent Valentine’s Day with in the mental ward of the hospital. My long-term relationships have been with all guys, always guys. I even almost married the Southern one way back when.
Black and white.
When I moved to northern Wisconsin and (finally) started college at 24 years old, things started to slowly turn grey-er. I made queer friends, joined my first LGBTQ+ social club on the University of Wisconsin-Superior campus called The Alliance – a student organization for LGBTQ+ students and their allies. It was then that I began to see cis-women, lesbians, and androgynous folks differently. I started to notice how my eyes were drawn to slim hips, and how their jeans hugged their bodies. I noticed how their lips seemed more inviting than a cis-man’s. I concentrated on how the softness of feminine voices sounded. Honestly, it all happened so quickly... This change in what caught my eye. Still my mind, and my bed, focused on cis-men. All guys, always guys. I was but a mere Alliance member identifying as a straight-ally, new to the group. I was seeing a guy casually during this time, on and off, dates here and there – and I thought I was straight.
I never grew up really giving it a lot of thought. I do remember being extremely interested in Christina Aguilera’s “Dirrty” music video in 2002, and I knew why. She was a babe in it. I understood that, but I didn’t realize exactly why I kept watching it over and over and over again because I did the same thing to Josh Hartnett movies (Hellooo, Pearl Harbor).
I never made the connection. I didn’t realize then that I was attracted to both women and men. I didn’t know back then that bisexuality was even a thing I could identify with. I knew the label, but I didn’t have any friends in the queer community (that I knew of) and therefore never gave it more thought.
We met in 2012.
After joining The Alliance, I met Jewleah. Our small group of queer and allied students met once, maybe twice a month during the academic year. Jew was the Alliance President. So here comes this confident, smiley, charismatic person who takes charge of each Alliance meeting. They put on fun activities and start important conversations. They’re empathetic, and kind, and understanding to everyone they come in contact with. They’re patient with everyone who walks into their office in the Gender Equity Center. I was drawn to them the moment I met them.
They had a girlfriend; this shut-off person who couldn’t even muster up a respectful hello when I introduced myself to her one day in the center. I had come in to just be around Jew – I was doing that a lot more often during that time, just coming in to be there, to see them, though they never really caught on as to why. So I’m in there, and I see The Girlfriend is in there, and something inside of me explodes. This distinct feeling of jealousy, but not the ugly kind. The kind that tells you that you want to know everything about this girl because you want to know, for some reason, if anything about you is anything like them. Then maybe, just maybe, the President of The Alliance student organization might notice you.
But our 'conversation' faltered after my introductory hello. The Girlfriend brushed me aside. Jew and I talked, we laughed about things I don’t remember. The Girlfriend sat sullen and quiet in the chair across from us. It was the day that I knew something was different, though. I couldn’t get Jew out of my head. I went to class and heard their laugh and it would make me smile. I couldn’t concentrate on taking notes. I counted down the hours until I could go back into the center to see if they were working, and if they weren’t I’d leave feeling let down. I wanted to see them. I had such a strong desire to be around them again and again, and I thought I was going crazy. I felt crazy.
Jew was unlike anyone I had ever met before... Beautiful, insanely smart, ambitious, super funny. After a few months of Alliance meetings, something in me shifted. I had had a crush on a girl in the club, who rarely showed up, who reeked of arrogance. But she was this mysterious, androgynous, angsty lesbian. You know the one, the first lesbian a “straight” girl always gets a crush on (See: Ruby Rose, Katherine Moennig, Kristin Stewart).
But this girl turned out to be boring and superficial. There was nothing there, and I my mind kept coming back to Jewleah. Maybe it was because they had broken up with their girlfriend by then, maybe it was because we were in The Alliance so often together, maybe it was because our sense of sarcasm was so similar, maybe it was because they were everything a super-hot androgynous person looks like PLUS the awesome personality and sense of humor to go with it. Or maybe… maybe it just was.
There was something different about Jew. When I was around them, I was nervous with excitement. I questioned my sexuality even more. Jew was this charming, genderless person always in the cutest plaid pants and snow boots that seemed too big for their already big feet. When I found out they broke up with their girlfriend, I tried to find every excuse to be more around them. It felt wrong, trying to get someone’s attention when they were heartbroken. But I wanted to be there for them, comfort them, maybe smell their hair a little bit (they always smelled like coconut). I felt weird and I acted weird and I knew why, but couldn’t come right out and say it. Realizing you’re bisexual can be an odd experience, because it can be very easy to brush aside this new identity for a long time before realizing that you're capable of being in love with more than one gender. It's kind of scary, because society makes it so.
We got close over a semester. They asked for my number and I gave it to them. I would get excited every time they would text me. When they added me on Facebook, I stalked their whole page. I looked at every single photo – and they had hundreds upon hundreds in their albums going all the way back to high school, when in my high school days the internet was comprised of Myspace. I looked forward to sending them funny memes, we started inside jokes with each other, and suddenly thoughts of them filled every quiet moment of my day.
It wasn’t me who made anything happen. If it had been up to me, I would’ve been too shy to say or do anything. But one day after an Alliance meeting, Jew asked me if I’d like to come back to campus and study. I instantly said yes! I sped home, chain-smoked out of nervousness, changed into something casually cute that would show off my assets (aka butt), and sped back to campus to meet them in the library. This was going to be the first time we were going to hang out, alone, just the two of us.
That library. Oh, that library. It was the first place we ever started to hang out. At first, we would actually study. We would talk a bit here and there, do our homework, read our textbooks. I would steal glances at them, thinking about how adorable they were. I’d stare at their hands out of the corner of my eye and imagine having the confidence to just grab it and hold it, interlocking our fingers. I would feel light-headed every time they made eye contact with me. Oh, their big blue eyes. In those moments I didn’t think about them being a man or a woman or anything like that, it didn’t matter to me in those study rooms. They just gave me such strong butterflies, I couldn’t eat and I couldn’t sleep. They were all I thought about, every single day.
Eventually when the library would close, we’d extend our study dates to the student union for an extra hour. By that time we usually stopped studying and would watch YouTube videos, talk about science, or just get to know each other. I remember one time we bonded over Tegan & Sara, and watched a bunch of their music videos. I remember telling Jew how much I had a crush on Tegan, the first time I ever hinted to them that I was bisexual (something I was just recently officially admitting to myself).
I don’t really remember how long these study dates went on. The joy of that time, and the realization that I was falling in love with one of my newest friends, who was becoming one of my best friends, was overwhelming enough to kind of blur that time together in my memory today. Our study dates ended up being longer and much more social. We saw each other almost every single day. Once I realized how in love I was with them, I started to become unable to talk to them normally and was so timid around them and I didn't know why. How did I just suddenly change how I interacted with them?
When we would go to Alliance meetings I would purposely sit next to them. Our legs or feet or arms or hands would find ways to touch one another, gently… through the exchange of cards while cheating in Apples to Apples, to the subtle footsie-play under the table, to sitting so close the skin on our arms would brush. I never thought it meant anything to them, but my body felt electric inside every time it would happen. At the time I was this straight-appearing, realizing-bisexual, cat-loving-science-nerd-punk-rock girl who smoked cigarettes and swore too much. How would Jew ever be interested in me in that way? I was older, more-boring, and more-new at 'this.' Why would they want that?
I constantly replayed conversations we had, moments we shared, trying to see if they could at all possibly be into me the way I was into them. It used to be all guys, always guys… until suddenly it wasn’t. Suddenly, there was something else: Jewleah. Jew, who appeared in the darkness beneath my eyelids, in the stars of my dreams every single night. Pretty soon, the guy I was casually seeing had heard around campus about Jew and I hanging out so much, and when confronted about it I let him down gently (ie: “I think I like this girl. I’m gonna pursue that instead. K, byeee.”). Then it became Jew, always Jew.
One day between Thanksgiving and Christmas one of our mutual friends, Jen, decided to bake cookies for an event The Alliance was putting on. I was driving home after an Alliance meeting when I received a call. It was Jew, and they were asking if I wanted to come to Jen’s hall and help out. I said yes, and drove to the dorms and met up with them in the basement kitchen to start baking. This was when I first realized that maybe, just maybe Jew had a crush on me too. They would flirtatiously throw flour in the air towards me, bump me softly with their hip, and seemed to always stand a little too close for just being friends. At times they would come up and grab me, playfully, from behind. Though my heart was ecstatic at the idea, my brain told me that no, Jew was flirtatious with almost everyone. It’s just who they are. They’re cuddly and touchy-feely with people they’re close with. We were, of course, drinking wine that night so it came to a point that I was thinking it was just the wine, while we sat closely on a futon in our friend’s dorm, as everyone else around us got high, and we took funny pictures on my laptop.
Eventually we realized we had drank too much wine to drive home in the starting snowstorm, so we made a bed out of blankets on the hard floor together. I couldn’t sleep. I could feel them close to me, their breath giving me chills as I could feel the warmth on my neck. I could smell the coconut of their hair. Jew shushed, jokingly, at every sound out in the hallway. We giggled together at the sounds our friends made in their drunken sleep. I don’t remember how long we stayed awake, or what we talked about. The only thing I remember is the shushing, the giggles, and then Jew turning towards me and whispering, “Can I kiss you?” I was taken by surprise. I think I just nodded, I couldn’t even find words. And so they did. Tenderly they kissed me once. Twice. A few more times. I was so elated and surprised that I just snuggled into them to get it to stop. My heart pumped so hard in my chest. I didn’t know what to say, I didn’t know what to think. I couldn’t stop smiling, but I couldn’t bring myself to keep kissing them. My brain was full of a mix of emotions, mostly positive, but a little bit of an internal freak-out was occurring inside of me. I had wanted this for so long that my reaction was shocking. I don’t think I got a blink of sleep that night.
The next morning the world was covered in a beautiful, freshly laid snow. Everything sparkled. I felt like an entirely different person. I don’t even remember the rest of that day, but somehow it was decided that Jew’s tiny-beater-car would never make it back over the bridge to Duluth to go home, so they came home with me, where we hung out, listened to music, and fell asleep when night fell again. And after that our study dates would end with Jew coming over, us creating playlists through iTunes, and spending the night at my house.
Now Jew had been out and honest since high school, and they were patient with me. They never pressured me to put a label on my sexual identity, or our relationship. I wasn’t officially out yet at this time, though people were figuring it out. I didn’t quite know if I really was bisexual or simply a straight woman who had fallen in love with someone assigned female at birth. What was my label? Did there have to be a label? What was our label? Was I selfishly pushing Jew back in the closet because I couldn’t be open about our blooming relationship in public? I knew then that I had to tell my family and friends. I knew this wasn’t a phase. I knew I was in love with this person, and I never wanted to push them away, I want to hold their hand out in public, I wanted to scream it from the rooftops.
At this time, I was living with my brother and sister-in-law. One morning my brother asked me shortly after Jew had left, “Sooo your study partner spends the night now?” and he smirked. I didn’t have to “come out” to him. He just knew. He told my sister-in-law, and she was in disbelief. “No way!” she told him, amused. They were both so good with it, it was nothing new, as if nothing big had happened. But something big had happened. I fell in love, and then suddenly after that, Jew was just there, in our lives, forever.
We married in 2017.
Jewleah is the love of my life. When I met them, I fell for them fast and hard, without any indication that they were also falling for me at the same time (but thought I was just a straight ally in The Alliance). Even now, I don’t know how Jew gathered up the courage to ask to kiss me that night. But I do know that I am a cis-woman, who was, and still is, sexually attracted to men, and to women. I also know that I am very much attracted to, in love with, and happy with a non-binary, born female, trans person. How I got here was magical. It was fate. And now, because of Jew, I know that it is perfectly normal and okay to be who I am. No one should have to justify love. Love transcends all boundaries and all labels. It’s not defined by those we have slept with before, those we have dated before, or those who we have loved before we loved each other.
I came out at 18 years old. I had a guy best friend who I was super close to, and his mom. His mom saw me as, “The kid she had always wanted.” She took me shopping, out to eat, and had me over their house so often I felt at home with them. I saw his mom as a mom to me... Her name was Karen, and her son was Tyler.
I came out to Karen one random day after I asked her if she'd still talk to me if I was different than other kids my age. She said, "Of course I would! Why would you even ask that?" She saw me as sweet and kind, something I didn't see in myself, and something that my own mom didn't see until she did after years of knowing Karen.
I eventually came out to my mom and 2 sisters through Facebook messenger, and my mom was pretty upset I didn't go to her first. She didn't know that I didn't trust her to support me as me, so I assumed she'd leave. My sisters supported me and that was all I wanted…. was people who cared.
One day my sister and I were walking through the mall. I didn't have a binder yet and felt horrible in public, and I really had to pee! I told my sister this. She was 8 months pregnant and was struggling to walk. I wanted to find somewhere for her to sit so I could find a bathroom. She shocked me with what she said, though. She said "No, let's walk to the back of the mall. I know of a public family bathroom you can use because I know how much having to choose between the men's and women's room is hard for you.”
I thank my sister to this day, almost 3 years later. Even as pregnant and big as she was, she did that for me. I couldn't help but cry a bit as I went into the bathroom that day. My sister’s been a heaven sent from day 1, even if she doesn’t fully understand what I'm going through and what I feel. She now corrects family, and even strangers, who misgender me when I can't even do it yet. My sister’s probably my favorite person in the world, and especially through this… especially only being 18, 15 when I started transitioning. She’s been my rock through this all.
So thank you Adrianna.