Last night, after completing some of my work for the day, I decided I’d either write a bit more or read something. Both of these activities (outside of blogging qualifying as some form of “writing”) have been much more scarce in my recent experience than I’d prefer, and may well continue to do so for the next few months, unfortunately (though I am attempting to schedule weekends in such a way as to have as much of them as possible in preference to almost anything and everything else). The book I chose to read ended up being short enough that I, slow reader that I am, was able to finish it in pretty much one sitting of about two hours. The book is Tango: My Childhood, Backwards and in High Heels by Justin Vivian Bond, which is available here.
In very brief: it’s worth every penny, and many more.
In more detail, however–for this is ME we’re talking about here (!?!)–this book won the 24th Annual Lambda Literary Award for Transgender Nonfiction in 2012, and it certainly deserved that as well. You may know Justin Vivian Bond from the John Cameron Mitchell (of Hedwig and the Angry Inch fame) film Shortbus, where v played, more or less, vemself. (To learn more about Justin’s preferred pronoun and gender identity, see v’s bio on v’s website, and check out v’s blog, too!) A few years ago, in 2009, v was in Seattle to do a show called “The Rites of Spring: More Songs for the Neo-Pagan Revolution,” and I desperately wanted to go, but was also rather destitute at the time, and thus couldn’t…I’m very sorry I missed it, but here’s a song from that event.
But, back to the book!
My only complaint about the book is that I would have loved for it to have been longer. It’s four chapters (of which two are very short), a preface, and acknowledgements, and it covers JVB’s childhood, beginning with some more recent matters, and in particular focuses upon v’s emotional/sexual relationship with a gay homophobe during their tween and teen years. The story itself is fascinating, and entertainingly related; but, it’s all the more important and interesting because of v’s developing sense of sexuality (which, if I’m not mistaken, is and was ultimately bisexual) and gender identity. The latter I found especially interesting, because we have certain similarities in that regard. While Justin Vivian ultimately identifies as trans–but as neither male/man nor female/woman, and certainly not as mtf (though, of course, there’s nothing wrong with being mtf, and JVB makes that clear, as do I!)–I’ve instead arrived at a place where I feel I’m neither one nor the other nor both, and thus am metagender. I prefer Old Spivak pronouns, whereas v innovated “v” as a pronoun; and in order to get around the “Mr./Mrs./etc.” difficulty, I went and got a Ph.D. so that I’m “Dr.,” whereas v has innovated “Mx.,” which is quite lovely in so many ways! I suspect we’d have some very interesting discussions around these issues…our journeys have not been entirely similar, and yet there are several parallel tracks, and each lead to our own particular “final destinations” (in a manner of speaking) for gender identity and decisions about these other matters.
One part of the book that I found especially intriguing was something that I myself wondered about at various points, especially over the last 10 years:
People say that there is an unusually high percentage of queer people with ADD. My theory is that because we know from a very early age that we are different, and because we never really know who the enemy is or who might turn on us at any minute, we become hypervigilant about everything that is going on around us. Perhaps attention deficity disorder is a misnomer; maybe it should be called hyper-attention awareness. It’s not that we can’t pay attention to anything specific, it’s that we are trying very hard to pay attention to everything in general as a self-defense mechanism.
I think v’s entirely correct about that. Given that I was very intelligent throughout school, I was never sent for psychiatric diagnosis at any point, but I suspect that–based on what I know of ADD and some individuals who have it–that I might have a mild case of it. It’s still difficult for me to get through a chapter of a book without putting it down and looking up something else that it reminds me of. Doing a Ph.D. (and all which lead up to that) certainly helped me to hone my discipline around such things, but it’s still there in the background. I can’t have music playing when I’m trying to read, for example, and it’s almost impossible for me to read in public places where there is noise, music, or conversation of any kind. (And, meditation?–Forget about it!…but, you already know all that…) So, this matter certainly also resonated with me.
Justin Vivian mentions at a certain point, during v’s early teen years, that v became a “Jesus freak” and wore big gaudy crosses all the time. I, too, went through such a phase–though very briefly, and not with the proselytizing or the accessories–but, v’s spiritual journey isn’t really discussed much beyond that, and the eventual abandonment of it. The acknowledgements end with “Blessed be,” and given the subtitle of “The Rites of Spring” show that I already mentioned, I’d guess that v ended up pagan (or possibly, even more specifically, Wiccan); and, in the write-up for “The Afternoon of a Faun” fragrance that Justin Vivian helped to create, Cybele, the galli, and Radical Faeries are all mentioned. Hmm…I wish there had been more in the book, and in JVB’s bio on v’s website, about this…but, meanwhile, all signs point to…!
While my account above has several “I wish there had been…” statements, I want to make clear that this book was wonderful and enjoyable; my own tastes and interests were not fully satisfied by it despite that enjoyment, but v didn’t write the book for me and to satisfy my needs, so that’s not really an issue!
For the inspiration I was looking for at that moment last night, and for some of the work I’ll be embarking upon very soon, though, this was a gods-and-goddesses-send, for which I’m profoundly thankful and happy. Thank you, Justin Vivian Bond, for being the awesome individual you are!
And, everyone else: go buy the book!