With my PhD in English Literature at Edinburgh University about to begin, I will be reading lots of stuff this year. Do not expect weekly reviews, I do not read quickly. But I will share with you anything interesting I do read, whether it’s a novel that’s in vogue, or something from my course that I think is worth knowing that broadened my horizon. I’ll be reading a lot of things about transgender discourse, but hopefully, a lot of things which aren’t, as well.
Trauma Queen: a memoir by Lovemme Corazon
There are times when it's right to judge a book by its cover. Trauma Queen (2013), the memoir of then-19-year old trans woman of colour Lovemme Corazon, has a beauty within its pages and on its surface cover that's simultaneously self-confident and obscure. As I gaze at the book's front image, of the slender Corazon gazing in turn at me from a frame of sunflowers, I'm left uplifted by her story even as it prompts some head-shaking moments of sorrow, in a narrative that's constantly switching between radical politics and personal highs and lows.
Some of those highs occur as Corazon affirms confidence in her own sexuality – a rare thing in a transgender memoir:
'My hallmates are hanging out in one room together. I walk in with a trench coat covering up most of my body. They collectively gasp, ooh-ing and ahh-ing at my stockings . . . I part the trench coat and show off my new garter belt holding up my stockings. I'm showered with hoots of "Damn gurl! You so fine!" and "That is sexy as fuck." That's right. I am sexy.'
Other times, Corazon's self-image appears destabilized by the sexual and physical abuse she suffers growing up which cannot fail to shake you as a reader. Trauma Queen is arguably unique as a published book featuring these intersectional oppressions and experiences of the writer: a Californian teenager of colour in a highly racialized white society, who doesn't hold back on revealing episodes of abuse. Rejecting the value of one-to-one therapy as an outlet, meanwhile, Corazon turns to social media and community to lift herself, as well as through story-telling. Her vulnerability therefore is complex: it exists throughout, but so too does a fierce self-awareness and self-examination.
It is this defiance of Corazon as a queer and trans person of colour (QTPOC) that arguably serves as the one constant in a narrative of ever-evolving and every-changing self-appraisal. The white-picket transgender politics of Clintonite and trans activist Sarah McBride is entirely missing. Instead we see a regular hostility and suspicion of white-dominated mainstream narratives including those from white-dominated LGBTQIA+ politics. Corazon's final moving words typify her position outside this white exclusion, including policy positions you would never hear in white mainstream LGBTQIA+ spaces:
'Dreams will save your life . . . I dream that the prison-industrial complex will be destroyed, that we go beyond education reform, that we have open border policies, that we give back land to indigenous folks . . . I dream for health care services that are queer and trans empowering, for care practices that are non-abusive and sexually exploitive of disabled people. I dream of liberation.'
I end this review by signalling my frustration that Trauma Queen currently appears to be out of print. Lovemme Corazon's visceral, coruscatingly raw perspective, as a sensitive and angry queer and trans person of colour, is just the kind we need to hear, not least for its exposure of the racialized nature of our white Western society, and of how LGBTQIA+ politics should aspire to be much more than a single-issue domain. Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised by the book's recent marginalization but I hope it's given fresh opportunities by some publishing company or other with sufficient vision. In the meantime, ask you library to get a copy – as I did. Trauma Queen represents a rare, shining jewel in the sometimes banal history of mainstream-published transgender narratives.P.S. one book on the market that currently features Lovemme Corazon's thoughts on art and mental health is Nia King's insightful Queer and Trans Artists of Color – which I also recommend.