Saturday, May 28, 2011

Nina Here Nor There: Whose Narrative Is It?

Nick Krieger's new transition autobiography "Nina Here Nor There" joins the bookcase of similar such stories albeit with a slight twist—his is clearly a genderqueer transition. It joins people like Kate Bornstein, s. bear bergman and, perhaps Leslie Feinberg snuggling in the GQ corner of the "transgender umbrella" and markedly away from the "born/trapped in the wrong bod... I've always really been a man/woman" nether regions. It has the curious subtitle of "My Journey Beyond Gender" —odd in this case because gender (along with endless ruminations about top surgery) dominates the subject matter of the book.

Demographics delight
In many regards, the book is clearly aimed at a youthful "San Francisco/wannabe living in the Mission district/bicycling/Post-Modern/post-gender capital Q queer" readership (and their respective partners) weaned on the reading lists of college Gender Studies departments. And there's nothing wrong with that. Like Krieger, there are a lot of FAAB (female assigned at birth) younger people (yes, many are also college-educated, middle class and white) who are thinking long and hard about who they are and who they aren't. "Nina Here Nor There" will be the perfect book for them: whimsical, hip, replete with hot gurls and sensitive boys, fun boho housemates and ultimately, kind of gentle and not too 'gut wrenching' unlike most other trans narratives. Oh yes, and page after page about what it means to loathe your body and be a gurl/boi but definitely not a man.

Nina but biking towards
Nick Krieger

Curve magazine presents...

Krieger himself (I'm using 'him' because that's the pronoun he currently uses) is a travel writer and that background shows itself well in his memoir. Krieger has a fun, breezy, anecdotal writing style that's a joy to read and he makes his voyage of discovery about his gender read much the same as if he were writing about adventures hitching around Udmurtia or discussing cheap eats in Thailand. He never gets stuck in some of the didactic discussions of terminology/spirituality or re-hashed gender arguments which bog down some other genderqueer/trans titles. Nor does he make frequent stops on the "I was tortured and reviled" local which seems to dominate so many transgender autobiographies. Thank you Nick... we've all been there and done that.

Krieger's Complaint
Basically, Nick (who's officially Nina throughout most of the book) is a slightly older baby-dyke academic, jewish-socially-nebbishy jockette with an overbearing New York mom and passive-aggressive but loving dad and replete with liberal artsy Jewish prince younger bro. It's totally like a Philip Roth novel only dykier. Because it's set in queerer-than-thou San Francisco, instead of burnt out ivy league college professors, depressed shiksas and horny attractive doctoral students, there are L-Word clone a-list lesbians, curvy hawtties who might have a boyfriend (but we all know from the get-go will be banging our hero), lots of mentions of snowboarding, yoga, urban bicycling and, of course, a whole crew of baby stone butches, bois, possible boys, and trans guys. You get the picture, and are either salivating or rolling your eyes depending on your preferences.

No boobz for noobz
A huge chunk of the book resolves around breast issues: Nina hating her breasts, Nina's tight sports bras, comparing boobies with others, Nina finding out about binders, trying on binders, going out in binders, being physically intimate with someone while wearing binders, talking about Dr. Michael Brownstein (SF's famed 'top' surgeon), meeting Dr. Brownstein, friends getting top surgery, Nick getting top surgery and, finally, Nick getting it on post-top-surgery. If you're not happy with having female breasts, this is your New Testament. According to Krieger's blog, post surgery he eventually went on T (which he eschews in the book) but curiously doesn't even cover any of those experiences. Is this what's known as a teaser for a sequel?

The millionaire founder of Dr. Brownstein's
Chest Reconstruction Factory

Boys Town
In terms of gender/identity, I sometimes found the book slightly coy and, well, 'gender light.' All the vaguely male-ish ID'd people are "boys" despite being almost 30 or older. I admit to having a real personal problem with trans adults referring to themselves as "girls" or "boys." Despite being gender theorists and, on varying levels, feminists, Krieger doesn't seem to have any problems with identifying a supposedly mature transmasculine person as a "boy" when I suspect he would have cringed at hearing cis adult males talk about "boy's night out" or "boys will be boys." Although Krieger eventually goes on a trans reading rampage and educates himself, he admits that he and the other bois in his life didn't even know who Christine Jorgensen was (which I've always suspected about many young trans guys... they're not terribly connected to the larger trans community and certainly not trans women)?! While I'm grateful "Nina Here Nor There" didn't contain rehashed explanations of "gender is really a social construct" neither does Krieger explain why being called "him" (which, despite the book's denials, he currently goes by) is better than being called "her," or what those terms really mean/don't mean to him. Ultimately, so much of the book centers around his breasts and, well, yes, body issues that even though it goes out of its way to avoid the "born in the wrong body narrative"... well, that's the very detour it ultimately takes. Nor does he really delve into why his gender identity is genderqueer yet he is still clearly vested in presenting as some form of male?

A recent pic of Shaun White clone
and writer Nick Krieger

Queerer than... well, everyone

There are many cringingly funny and ironic episodes in the book which wryly comment on some of the wannabe hipness overdrive of the scenes in which he hangs. Foremost are the depictions of boi/trans dude bonding with several others in various stages of body mod/transition. Yes, they even go out together for chicken wings at "Hooters" (which isn't easy in SF, since it's smack dab in the middle of the town's grossest tourist area and the last place most hip queers would be seen). The book is at its best when describing Nina's alienation from the 'a-list lesbians' and their pool parties, assumptions and softball games. Okay, like a lot of autobiographies, Krieger makes himself sound a wee bit too naive and clueless in the first half of the book but there will be many readers who are asking themselves many of the same questions who are sure to connect with his alienation.

Admission of Guilt
In reviewing the book, I admit it's difficult for me to totally disconnect from my own transition (which was/is, yes, in many ways mostly 'binary' and not queer ID'd) and to compare my own experiences with those of Nick's. And altogether unfairly, it was hard for me to not think "Wow, he had it sooo easy. This is like 1/10th of what I went through (and I went through less than many others)...this is worth writing yet another book?" And, of course, the answer is, it totally is. It's the right book for the intended audience of Autostraddle readers, budding trans guys (who might/might not agree with some of Nick's conclusions), genderqueers, bois of all stripes, Gender Studies classes (who tend to be far more comfortable with books like this than books by self-ID'd transsexuals), butches who are 'wondering' and, big time, cis-women femmes who love trans men and transmasculine peeps.

NY Times Best Selling Author
nearly the last Oprah guest
and Sonny & Cher Spawn

Naz not Chaz

It's also hard to not compare this book with the "big time" trans masculine autobiography by Chaz Bono (of which Krieger has written some public critiques in his blog). Yes, Chaz does very much fit in the "born in the wrong body" narrative. Chaz is also from what's seen as an 'old school' perspective (although he and Krieger are really only about 10 years apart): old school dyke, with an old school Italian dad teaching him about non-queer manhood, 'men are from Mars... women are from Venus' and his ID as 'man first/transgender second.' One could say it's a generational thing, but I prefer to describe it as two contemporary people who are approaching slightly overlapping issues from two very different places. It would be interesting to meet both Chaz and Nick (the anti-Chaz?) 20 years down the line and see where they both are with their respective identities. Anywho, their books are just in time for your summer e-reading and it's great there are two very distinctive autobiographies about distinctly differing parts of trans masculine spectrum out concurrently. Choice is good.

Nick has a series of book readings coming up:

June 1, 7:30pm: Bookshop Santa Cruz (Santa Cruz, CA)
June 4, 6 - 8pm
: Philadelphia Trans Health Conference Book Expo (Philadelphia, PA)
June 7, 7pm
: Bluestockings (New York, NY)
June 14, 7pm
: Eureka Valley Library/Harvey Milk Branch (San Francisco, CA)
June 18, 6pm
: Laurel Bookstore (Oakland, CA)