Saturday, January 31, 2015

Leanne Simpson

Fragmentary in structure and written without the standard capital letter at the start of sentences, Islands of Decolonial Love (ARP, 2013) is what it proclaims to be in its title. Some of the pieces present as short stories, some present as poems. There is an audio component, which can be found at the publisher's website.

The pieces frequently make use of Indigenous words, which are translated in footnotes. The overall experience is one of entering the colonial space that is being deconstructed by storytelling, or maybe just call it the reality of Indigenous Canada.

"right off the bat," begins the story *buffalo on*, "let's just admit we're both from places that have been fucked up through no fault of our own in a thousand different ways for seven different generations and that takes a toll on how we treat each other. it just does."

Many of the pieces are as short as a couple of pages, some a bit longer, but not much. Love and the search of intimacy between people is a frequent concern. Though (obviously) written, many of the pieces are examples of oral storytelling, and include a diversity of voices presented on the page.

There is much complication here, much intensity, even in the relative simplicity of the pieces themselves. The focus is not just interpersonal, it is, as the quotation above suggests, the legacy of the past on the present and pressures on people to live well, thrive, and sustain communities and places.

Hooray, Leanne Simpson. Check out her other work!


Gender Failure

I'm giving this five out of five stars because I can't imagine how it could be different. It is pretty perfect in what it is and does.

Ivan E. Coyote and Rae Spoon alternate short chapters through the book, telling a range of stories about how they were born assigned female and then left that identity behind, or tried to.

The tried to part is, of course, dealing with other people, dealing with social expectations, getting caught in the gender binary, where you only have two options, M or F.

Both Coyote and Spoon tell about how they moved through many different options. They each call themselves gender failures. Spoon writes powerfully about how they (meaning Spoon, who has adopted this pronoun) has retired from gender. Each repeatedly tells stories about how they were misidentified, misrepresented, left to explain themselves over and over, often giving up and going with the socially expected flow, simply to board an airplane, or complete any number of ordinary activities. Make a living.

For the reader, this constant misrepresentation is exhausting and deeply saddening. One can hardly imagine having to perpetually live it.

This book began as a multimedia show that Coyote and Spoon toured. It includes song lyrics and photographs from that show. As a book it works fine. The stories of the two run parallel and sometimes cross. Their voices are distinct, and they also amplify each other. Coyote tells the story of having breast removal surgery, after two decades of binding them. Spoon writes of the evolution of her musical career.

Evolutions, shifts and changes is the key here. How each captures the unfolding of their lives underscores the unknowingness of selves. We are never one thing, singular, locked down forever. The book is the stories of two trans, but it also reveals universals, if we care to listen. How to be a self, how to connect that self to others, how to overcome and protect oneself from other people's bullshit. The building blocks of life. Great book.