Casey reviews Nevada by Imogen Binnie

Nevada

I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to get to reading Nevada by Imogen Binnie!  I finished it a few days before Christmas and am still feeling the impact of this powerful, thought-provoking novel.  Nevada follows the life of a queer trans woman named Maria.  She’s in her late twenties, she’s living in Brooklyn with her cis girlfriend, working in a bookstore in Manhattan, and trying to deal with life and her shit.  Of course, since I’m cisgender I can’t pretend to understand the emotional, physical, and mental stuff that’s trans specific in this novel, but I will say that I found that living in Maria’s head for a few days a challenging, heartbreaking, scary, breath-taking experience.

And this is definitely a novel where you feel like you’re living (trapped?) in someone else’s head for a while.  Maria is neurotic, there’s no doubt about that, and she’s cynical, and punk, and sarcastic, and (as Danika wrote in her review) post-post everything.  Hers is the kind of voice that brings up some seriously fucked-up shit in one breath and says ‘whatever’ in the next.  She uses the word fuck a lot.  It’s not that Maria doesn’t care.  It’s that she’s so used to dissociating as a survival mechanism that even after coming out and transitioning she can’t turn it off.  Her girlfriend actually lies to her about cheating on her because she so desperately wants a strong reaction, any reaction from Maria.  The descriptions of dissociation were uncomfortably close to home, for someone who’s dated someone who did this.  Imogen Binnie knows what she is talking about.

Nevada is so many things that are so refreshing to see in queer literature.  The obviously groundbreaking aspect of Binnie’s novel is that it’s a piece of fiction written by a trans woman, about trans women, with trans women as the intended audience.  I’m going to let writer Casey Plett explain a bit more about that:

And, duh, I love how it’s a novel specifically about trans women, for trans women, written by a trans woman (any of which has rarely existed let alone all three at once) and that it talks about shit that probably only trans women know about and in a totally real and unbullshit or snow-covered way (see above re: experience drinking whiskey and/or crying and/or dumbass giggling). I love how Imogen doesn’t give a fuck about her audience before she gives a fuck about trans women, we’re the primary audience and Jesus Christ that’s cathartic to have that as a reader. It’s a weird feeling to read shitloads of fiction all your life, and then read this book, and realize it’s the first book written specifically for someone like you to read it: “Gender may be a social construct, but so are cars, and if you ignore them, you still get hit.”

(via Progress Never Stops For Nostalgic Transsexuals)

Nevada is also a detailed, complex look at life after coming out.  Trans and/or queer people know life goes on after you come out, but far too often narratives (especially from cis or straight people) act as if it doesn’t or that it’s easy or that trans or queer people cease to be different from their cis or straight counterparts.  Life doesn’t end after you come out.  And your gender and sexuality don’t cease to be relevant.  In fact, what Maria is grappling with for the whole novel is “how to live a life post-transition” 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.”  It’s not an uplifting look at this process by any means.  In the article I linked above, Casey Plett has a lot of profound and brilliantly put thoughts on this from a trans woman reader’s perspective.  This book left me with a feeling that was kind of like: FUCK WHY IS LIFE SO FUCKED-UP AND HARD??

Moving on from that, here are two other things to love about Nevada: one: Maria’s best friend, an older trans woman whom she has nicknamed Piranha.  She’s unfailingly kind, but also bad-ass and doesn’t let Maria get away with shit and calls her out on stuff and is generally the kind of friend that everyone wants and needs.  I really loved her as a character and would have liked to see more of her in the novel.

Two: Did I mention that, despite the bleakness and the hopelessness and the fucked-upness, this novel is also hilarious?  It made me laugh out loud quite a few times.  Let me just give you some examples.

Maria is emailing a guy back and forth about buying drugs and she thinks: “they are basically instant messaging via email, like our ancestors did.”  She also thinks while riding her bike “Oh Williamsburg.  There was a point when you seemed like a scary, tough neighbourhood, but now it’s obvious that the graffiti on your walls gets put there by art students.”   After she gets fired: “And that’s that.  You could be melodramatic and say: just like that Maria Griffiths is homeless and unemployed in New York City.  The reality though is that she has a bunch of places to crash, so it would be appropriative to call herself homeless.”

If you haven’t read this book already, what are you waiting for?

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