Or, To Regard
Today was an interesting day. I went on Twitter (people who follow me on Twitter know that I'm really trying to avoid that place but—) and Lauren Hough had had her Lambda Literary Award nomination withdrawn so she was upset, she was feeling a way. Some of you may remember Lauren Hough came after Goodreads reviewers on Twitter because they did not like her book. Some background to this story: a friend of hers wrote a book whose premise was “What if there were no people with the Y chromosome?” which lots of people called out for being transphobic. Hough defended her friend on Twitter, the Lammys said we’re not down with whatever this is and snatched back the nomination, hijinks ensued.
So of course like a lot of queer TERFs, she fell back on the usual defence - I'm queer, I'm a woman blah blah blah. It feels like we have variations of the same conversation all the time. JK, obviously is the biggest example, in Africa that will be Chimamanda with that letter last year. It's really wild to consider some of the conversations people insist on having and the ideas that animate those conversations.
Part of the reason this really jumped out to me is because last week someone sent me a really interesting interview with trans writer Paul B. Preciado in which Preciado says there is something about naming transness, our relationship with transness as an idea, and so on and so forth that means that we navigate it in a certain sort of way. And by we, I mean people who are outside the gender binary, but also people who think of themselves as conforming to the gender binary. So Preciado talks about those taxonomic ideas, those ideas around culture, language, and how we figure into our imagination or imaginaries. And for me, as always, how we can go beyond those binaries. I feel like there’s a certain stunting of the imagination that comes with conversations about gender, especially, a certain creative laziness that comes with an obsession with gender essentialism, which is to say, an obsession with genitals and chromosomes, because intersex people also do not fit neatly into these ideas.
That's one of those times when something I’m reading in one space really comes to bear on another conversation because my TL sort of broke down along the lines of should the Lammy nomination have been withdrawn? Some thought it's so unfair, the Lammies are being weak willed, they're being cowards, etc and there was a group that applauded the Lammies for taking a stance that acknowledges the humanity of Trans* folk. So, let's see how that goes.
Along these lines of who gets to tell which story when, how and so on — I read a very interesting essay last week that mentioned two Kenyan writers, Ray Mwihaki and Clifton Gachagua, which chiefly centred on the writing of SFF out of Sri Lanka. It delves into the ways white (colonial) figures have dominated the Anglo SFF imagination, which is to say the American especially but also British SFF imagination.
I don't read that much SFF as anyone who I'm connected with on Goodreads can tell you, so some of these ideas and authors were new to me. But the idea at the kernel of it remains sound, which is which people get to write a place. And that's a podcast episode I'd like to make one day; to make and remake because this is something that really animates me - who gets to see what a place is. Who gets to say what a place is, who gets to tell you what the place is like, who gets to situate that place in the fantastical. For me, this is especially because, for instance, I always think about how because of the nature of Nigerian publishing and how so many Nigerians have been published in Nigeria and in other parts of the world, there is a certain group of readers who don't seem to realise that what they think of African writing is Nigerian writing.
And so it colours their notion of this place. And of course, Nigerian writing is not what the writer of that essay is talking about; they are not equivalent is what I'm saying. But the fact that when there is a dominant voice or a voice that is being given the most attention, it transforms what is being discussed, it transmits something. When I read it, because it came to me via Neelika Jayawardane’s thread, I thought to myself, “This is something to keep going back to, because it does so much work”. It really speaks to what it's like, as always, to read from the global south, to read as a person who is not centred in global publishing. I say this all the time - sometimes it's hard to remember that most of the world isn’t white, most of the world isn’t North America or the UK. A lot of the world actually does not speak English as a first language.
[Aside: someone recently said that English is my native language and I really had to hold back the urge to say no, my native language is Kikuyu]
My point is that there is something about this gaze and how it influences not just production, but also reception. When people read work that's coming from a certain sort of place - because their ears and their eyes have been trained to the sound of certain ideas, certain words and so on - it's hard to wrap their minds around something different. And it shows up in the feedback one gets, in the rejections or acceptances one receives.
Today I read something by an African writer who speaks an African language I understand where they engage in a lot of glossing. And as I read, I asked myself:
Is this something they're doing because they want to do it?
Is this something that was demanded of them by their editor?
Is this something that they don't even think about anymore because it's become standard procedure for them?
And if so what does it mean to be writing in a way that alienates the people about whom you're writing, the people from whom the language one is writing in or partly writing in comes from? And again, English is my “native language” so I imagine that feeling is even stronger for people for whom it's their second or third or fourth language. What is it like to encounter you, your world, your place, your people, your country, your region, and so on in a way that feels alien?
This weekend, I went swimming with the homies. It was T for tough as they say. And it was one of those days when I was happy that turnout was low. Not because I don't like the homies but because on some level I didn't have it in me to be on. It's wild saying that because obviously I've spoken about non-consent on this very newsletter but there's also something about starting something and continuing to show up for it. Even as evidenced by this newsletter. I think it's important to acknowledge that sometimes it's hard and sometimes all one can do is sit by the pool and float when one gets in and swim 2 widths and that's it and almost forget how to speak about books and not be able to take part in the tour stop of our book one has really been enjoying but somehow they've been struggling to read.
Last week I finished Red Lip Theology: For Church Girls Who've Considered Tithing to the Beauty Supply Store When Sunday Morning Isn't Enough by Candice Marie Benbow (Narrated by Karen Chilton & Candice Marie Benbow) which is really really good and was endorsed by a reader I respect. It was a good look at what Christianity can look like and what possibilities exist outside of the ideas a lot of Black people - especially Black people who have been brought up as women - have about religion. It speaks really well to the book I am currently reading - The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers - and that's all I'm going to say about that book because otherwise I'll be revealing my ranking before time, which I'm trying not to do.
This week I intend to finish The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois and When We Were Birds by Ayanna Lloyd Banwo. I don't have very much left of the latter so I should be done soon and I'll post my review on my blog, but I’ll also do a little thread as is my wont. I'm currently listening to How to Avoid Falling in Love with a Jerk: The Foolproof Way to Follow Your Heart Without Losing Your Mind by John Van Epp (Narrated by Alexander Cendese), which came recommended by a friend of mine. It has Christian vibes but it also makes some interesting points and it's older than Logan Ury’s book so, of course, it reflects something of its time. For instance, Ury works for Hinge so she also brings in the talk of how to navigate dating apps which this book wouldn't have had. Today Black Love Matters: Real Talk on Romance, Being Seen, and Happily Ever Afters by Jessica P. Pryde (Ed) (Narrated by Jessica P. Pryde, Gina Daniels, Julienne Irons, Angel Pean, André Santana & Tashi Thomas) was delivered and I started listening to it because it was one of those days when one needed some balm.
I must say I can't wait for next week but one when I will be able to share links for all the BookTube Prize books I'll have finished judging and hopefully the results will be out because I've been so consumed by these books, I've had so many thoughts, such interesting conversations, and I can't wait to share them with you. Last week I said I was going to have a conversation with MJ about We, the Survivors by Tash Aw. We did not have it because of hitilafu za mitambo but hopefully it can be had this week and we can share it with you soon.
I hope you have a great week and a lovely time reading. Talk to you soon!