July. I'm sat on a rooftop in Hammersmith telling a fellow poet about one of the most painful experiences of my life, not so much as therapy, but because a book I've been reading has finally given me a framework in which to think about that experience, and a lot of others too. That book is Casey Plett's A Safe Girl to Love, and what I am trying to impress on my fellow poet is that reading this book is a revelatory experience because it keeps punching me in some deeply personal places with how real it is, how much it chimes with my experiences as a trans woman in ways that nothing else I've read ever has. From the horrible thing that happens to Sophie in 'Other Women', through the much nicer thing that happens to Lisa in 'How Old Are You Anyway?' to the painfulness of getting make-up tips from your ex in 'How To Stay Friends', this is a book that feels like it was written for me. And for so many other trans women I know too: whenever I hear a friend's father talk to her on the phone in his Missouri drawl, I can't help but be reminded of the way Lizzy's dad speaks to her in 'Lizzy and Annie' - the accent may not be the same, the phrasing may be less crude, but the sense of a father accepting his daughter, at once one of the smallest and the biggest things there are, is there. And so many other things as well: the fact that women can be chasers too, the fear of going to parties, the poetry of drifting in a swimsuit and it not being a big deal...I can remember exactly where I was when I read each of these moments, because they took my breath away so much that I had to close the book (metaphorically speaking: I read this on a Kindle) and take a moment to compose myself.
I think the reason this book moved me so much was the fact that I am so used to seeing the trans experience presented through the lens of polemic, through journalism and blogging and activism, Hell, through my own writing - and that polemic is usually aimed at cis people. One way or another we always seem to be justifying ourselves to them: our right to use the right bathroom, our right to use words like cis, our right to simply fucking exist - and what is so goddam exhilarating about reading this book is it does none of that. This is not a book which aims to justify the ways of the trans to the cis. This is a book which says, quietly but firmly, fuck cis people: these are our stories. And it tells us those stories, it shares them with us, and we realise we're not alone.
I was alone pretty much everywhere I read these stories: because I spent a lot of time over the summer and autumn criss-crossing the country on various forms of public transport, I was usually surrounded by cis people in small metal boxes while reading them. But I didn't feel like the only one in the room when I read them, and that's what makes them so powerful.
So it was a huge honour to host both Plett and Imogen Binnie, author of the game-changing novel of trans experience Nevada, for the Newcastle leg of Topside's Never Mind the Hormones tour, and a pleasure to get together a group of local trans (and trans-allied) artists to read at said event. The rest of this post will, I'm going to be honest, just be unapologetic gushing about how fucking great that night was, interspersed with photos of people performing (all of these photos were taken by me, so apologies for the poor quality in advance).
After a brief intro from myself and Cat Fitzpatrick, Topside's Poetry Editor, the first to read was Mica Hind, one third of Newcastle's excellent storytelling oufit The Moss Troopers but also an excellent writer herself. Having Mica read at this event was really important to me because seeing her read at a local poetry event made me literally feel as if I wasn't the only one in that room:
|Natalie V Sharp|
After that, Cat got up again to introduce the Topside talent. I can't remember if Cat did her poem 'FUCKING AMY' at the start of the night or during this segment, but either way it was a brilliant exploration of the tensions of being a trans woman in a relationship with another trans woman. And so I am going to include a video of Cat reading said poem...
and I am also going to post a photo of Cat wearing the crown she wore for the Newcastle gig, because it is a most excellent crown:
|Cat Fitzpatrick (with crown)|