The Banal and the Profane: Imogen Binnie
Author: William Johnson
February 9, 2014
“When I was younger I read a lot of books about how to write–or more specifically How to Be A Writer–and they were so, so bad for me. I think they set me back like ten or fifteen years as a writer; I didn’t need to find my creativity, I just needed to quit romanticizing and write.”
“The Banal and the Profane” is a monthly Lambda Literary column in which we lift the veil on both the writerly life and the publishing industry. In each installment, we ask a different LGBT writer, or LGBT person of interest in the book industry, to guide us through a week in their lives.
This month’s “Banal and Profane” column comes to us from writer Imogen Binnie.
Imogen Binnie has published six issues of the zine The Fact That It’s Funny Doesn’t Make It A Joke and seven of Stereotype Threat: Trying to Frame Graduate School as a Radical/Queer /Punk Endeavor. Her work has appeared in Topside Press’ 2012 anthology The Collection: Short Fiction from the Transgender Vanguard, Aorta Magazine, PrettyQueer.com and elsewhere. She writes a monthly column for Maximum Rocknroll magazine and her debut novel Nevada was published by Topside Press in 2013.
Last week, I went thrifting with my friends Margo and Red. At a rural thrift store in a converted house, I found a stash of hardcover plays from 1965 and 1966 in really good condition: what I think is a first edition of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, some Harold Pinter, a couple Noel Cowards. I want to believe I’m going to sell them to the bookstore in town for cash, because I don’t have any, but if I’m being honest with myself I’ll probably trade them for credit. I doubt I’ll be able to let the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead go.
I also bought a blender. I had Red take it apart and examine it, because while she is famous for being a stand-up comic and activist, something you might not know about Red Durkin is that she is either a brilliant cook or a brilliant chef: whichever is more prestigious. She gave the blender a thumbs up. I found a plug and, as surreptitiously as you can with a very loud appliance, made sure it turned on. It did so I spent eight dollars on it. It is only for making kale smoothies. It has been feeling bad to live in my body and I think chlorophyll might help.
I make a kale smoothie.
I haven’t checked my email in two months because of anxiety but today is the day I do it. I need to apply for the Betty Berzon Emerging Writer Prize because it is a cash prize, so I need to look at my email to see whether its due date has passed; there are probably other things in my email I should know about.
I respond to as many emails as I can handle. I probably do some other stuff and then it’s evening. I collate zines in front of the television and make nachos with Jarlsberg because it is the only cheese in the fridge. I tweet about it. I am re-tweeted by the official Jarlsberg twitter account.
The Matrix is on while I’m putting zines together and during the commercials I keep accidentally catching pieces of this two-part episode of South Park that’s pretty good as a science-fiction satire of self-righteous atheism but which also is pretty good as a satire of the idea that trans women could be attractive; the recurring joke is that Richard Dawkins fucks a trans woman. It’s funny because it’s gross. Good one, Matt and Trey.
Dog wants to get a jump start on the day so around 7:30am she starts barking at nothing. I go downstairs, put on coffee and kale smoothies, then bring her upstairs and contain her with the only natural predator half-Australian Cattle Dog mutts have: an old baby gate. I read the Internet for an hour until my hate for the Internet overrides my attraction to it. I’m reading The Scene Book: A Primer for the Fiction Writer by Sandra Scofield. In a discussion of movies with scenes that are good for breaking apart to see their mechanics, she mentions The Crying Game and uses scare quotes to describe the “transgender ‘girlfriend.'”
I get coffee.
When I was younger I read a lot of books about how to write–or more specifically How to Be A Writer–and they were so, so bad for me. I think they set me back like ten or fifteen years as a writer; I didn’t need to find my creativity, I just needed to quit romanticizing and write. I’m still drawn to them, though. I’m in the middle of Patricia Highsmith’s book on writing, the Scofield book, and this anthology called On Writing Horror, edited by Mort Castle, which I borrowed from the (truly amazing) Eugene public library but never finished, back when my girlfriend Alex was doing her midwifery practicum there a year and a half ago. I blow through them like Alex reads knitting mysteries, except I can’t read as fast as her. I almost never retain anything from them though.
Today I kind of do though.
A couple days ago I finished the second draft of a novel I’m working on about a kid who fronts a Nirvana tribute band, is trans, and can’t bring himself to come out. With the second draft done, it’s at the point where I feel like I know what this story is and now I get to clarify the themes and depths instead of the sentences. Scofield triggers something in my brain that makes me want to clarify motives in the scene where Our Hero’s girlfriend tells him she’s in the process of missing her second period in a row. I work on this for a while, then Alex makes lunch. I read the first third of the most recent Aimee Bender collection in the bathtub, then Alex and I drive forty-five minutes to watch Pretty Little Liars with her dad and step-mom and sister. Usually Pretty Little Liars doesn’t do much for me but this episode has dental horror, which is cool. I still play Jetpack Joyride the whole time though.
Dog lets us sleep in, waiting til nine to start complaining that we’re wasting the day. I let her out and put on coffee, then go back upstairs to read the internet until I’m disgusted. Dog scratches at the door as soon as I get to the top of the stairs. Soon Alex brings us coffee and today she makes the kale smoothies. She makes ’em different than I do and says she likes hers better but that it might just be because she likes “to see how the sausages get made.” She’s really into Marilyn Robinson right now. She reads me a passage from Gilead about hiding coins in lard.
I give up on the Internet and read Hellblazer comics on my tablet computer thing. It’s getting late. We Do Science, which means I come into a teacup and then Alex uses midwife tools to look at gametes under a microscope. I’ve been off hormones for six months: modern parthenogenetic science aside, we’re lucky as two women to be able to make babies together without help. Being off hormones is the worst though. It’s the reason I’ve been in a bad mood since last June and it’s the reason I’ve had too much anxiety to check my email or even think about working on my thesis for two months. If the hormone profile in your body feels good to you, I don’t recommend fucking around with it unless you have a pretty good reason. Which I do! But that doesn’t make it easier to feel like my emotional body- my “Pain Body,” to use a term from an Eckhart Tolle book I haven’t read–has reverted to what it was when I was twenty-two, in the closet, emotionally numb and going through the motions of being a human being without any real investment. At least strangers are still gendering me correctly, though.
I listen to Judas Priest very loud and work on my Betty Berzon application essay. I don’t want to talk about myself. I write four paragraphs about Roland Barthes and delete them.
The main thing that’s scary about going off hormones so long is that it might not work. What if I spend the year I’ve allocated to this project a depressed hermit who can’t do anything except write novels and apply for prizes and in the end have nothing to show for it? Trans women’s reproductive health isn’t something that people who fund research care about enough to fund research on it; if you start hormones through a doctor, your doctor will probably tell you that hormones will make you infertile, but that’s not based on any research I’ve been able to find. (Doctors’ perspectives on giving trans women hormones trend closer to “if I give you these pills that make you grow boobs, will you go away?” than “let’s figure out how best to support your emotional and physical health.”) I mean, I know trans women who have produced viable gametes after being on hormones for years and then going off. I have an Internet friend who’s walked me through it; I’ve seen her kid on Skype. But there’s no certainty, nothing to reference beyond people and anecdotes. But I want to have hell of babies with my girlfriend! So we do science with my body since nobody in a laboratory or research hospital is going to do it for me.
Alex yells upstairs: the shapes of the gametes seem to be improving, but there’s still no motility.
Garbage and recycling have been piling up for weeks. I drive the garbage to the dump but am intimidated by the requirement that I sort the recycling. I realize in the car that I know where my amplifiers are but I don’t know where my electric guitar or bass are. Maybe Smoot has them? Later we go to a small queer potluck.
This piece is only supposed to be 1900 words. It’s only Wednesday but I’m already at 1500. Let’s see if I can sum up the next couple days tersely, like Chuck Palahniuk would do it.
I decide that today I don’t need a kale smoothie, then accomplish nothing all day.
I can’t look at this Nirvana novel on a computer screen any more. There are two printers in the house. The first claims to be printing and then fails to print; the second refuses to print on the principle that its ink has expired. I fail to convince it to print despite its concerns about freshness. Then I go into town and accomplish nothing there: the oil change place is too expensive, the bookstore I stop into doesn’t buy books, and when I go to the copy shop to staple together the zines I collated the other night with rubber bands–which have all dried up and snapped, rendering two or three hundred zines once again uncollated– they don’t even have an appropriate stapler.
Later on Alex and I make dinner and watch a reality show competition about tattoo artists.
It has become clear that the amount I accomplish in a day is now permanently and directly correlated to whether I have a kale smoothie in the morning.
I leave for Philly to pick up a dozen or so boxes that Alex shipped from Eugene to Liam’s house a month or two ago. I put too much yogurt in my kale smoothie and it is disgusting: uh oh. I pour it into the sink. Alex and I have a sweet goodbye and then in the car I listen to two Kathy Acker podcasts and a Deafheaven podcast. The first Kathy Acker podcast, predictably, is by feminist book enthusiasts who are also enthusiastic about the work of Michfest performer/apologist Kathleen Hanna; the second, though, turns out to be an hour-long interview with Acker herself from just after the publication of In Memorium to Identity. Rad. I rewind and listen to things she says multiple times, planning to sample them for experimental music I’ll never get around to making.
I hadn’t realized that In Memorium to Identity was her Faulkner project. Weird: I decided at the end of 2013 that 2014 would be the year I read Faulkner. I finished The Sound and the Fury a couple weeks ago and found an audio-book copy of Light in August for this trip. After the pod-casts I listen to the first quarter of it.
Modernism is cool because modernists don’t give a fuck if you know what they’re talking about. I think in the car about the line from modernist preoccupations with polarities to structuralist/poststructuralist interest in breaking down and flipping binary oppositions to modern queer theory where everybody’s supposed to be “Against All Binaries.”
I think I am failing to write like Chuck Palahniuk.
In New Jersey I stop to scam a couple hundred staples at a certain national copy shop franchise where they always let you borrow the long stapler without paying for anything and then stay the night at my mom’s house in New Jersey. We eat pizza and watch TV; I use her printer to print the current draft of the Nirvana novel. I Instagram the title page.
It is the first of the month and I forget to say Rabbit, rabbit when I wake up. There are no kale smoothies at my mom’s and I didn’t have one yesterday; bad omens are piling up. Maybe I will get a smoothie at the Satellite when I get to Philly.
In Philly the blender at the Satellite is broken. Elenore is there; she’s learning to tattoo. I edit this book I’ve printed out until Smoot shows up. She is hella pregnant. She does not have my guitars. We talk for a while then get her bike from her old house, then we go to dinner with her partner, Shy. Ali shows up. We talk about mandatory queer anti-binarism and Marxism, Donna Haraway and Yukio Mishima. Soon we leave for the first performance of my friend Annie Danger‘s surreal How To Cook A Frog, in which she portrays Julia Child. The show is ostensibly about cooking- there are tables with knives, bowls and vegetables, and we are all assigned a role like “prep cook” or “food distributor” or “gourmande”–but actually it is about government surveillance via social media. Halfway through the performance the titular frog is stolen from the stage, Julia Child runs outside and down the street with everyone’s phones, and we find ourselves in the midst of a psychodrama about liberation and vegan resistance. It’s great. By my count there are at least four trans women there, which is pretty good.
I stay at my brother Liam’s house and while he feeds me pizza and invites me to the pre-party for a rave some friends of his will be attending, I refuse to have fun for the rest of the night. I still don’t get enough sleep.
Liam and I get all the boxes from Fjord, the studio and show space he shares in Fishtown, then I head back to West Philly. The blender at the Satellite has been fixed. I get a kale smoothie and immediately the metaphysical clouds clear: Smoot shows up and, since she is in the process of moving in with Shy and they don’t need two, she gives me her copy of Samuel Delany’s book on writing. I head toward my dad’s house in New Jersey but stop at a thrift store in Trenton where the books aren’t exciting but I nearly buy an old baby blue and white lace long line bra. I have bras, though, but I don’t really have three dollars to spare. At my dad’s house the Super Bowl sucks but it doesn’t matter, I was going to play Jetpack Joyride the whole time even if it was good. Soon after I go to bed it starts snowing. I am unwilling to drive in these conditions. I live out the rest of my life in New Jersey.