Book Review – Nina Here Nor There

I’d heard Nina Here Nor There mentioned a few times since it came out earlier this year, and it stuck in my mind after a friend of mine recommended it early this summer (as well as mentioning that he had briefly dated one of the women Nick Kreiger talks about in the book and how weird it was to see her, even under a different name, in someone else’s memoir). I’m so in love with the San Francisco library and have been reading a lot this year; I finally checked out a copy the last time I was in and found it to be a quick read.

The tone of NHNT is very personal; in places it reads more like a detailed journal entry than a more formal memoir. Many of the scenes take place at social events or recount conversations Nick had with friends and acquaintances about how they navigated gender. Much of this conversational recap is passive, though. Nick’s talking to other people about how they feel about their bodies, gender, and sexuality, and often he’s not participating as much as he’s listening. And this isn’t bad in itself, of course; there’s a lot to be said for absorbing new information in relative silence and processing it later. But while I as a reader knew he was mulling over these conversations and saw later in the narrative that his identity or approach to something had shifted, I was frustrated that he didn’t talk more about those moments when things did change.

After the parties, after the heart-felt conversations about binding and the shopping trips to get a packer, I wanted to get a sense of how Nick was contemplating and absorbing the information he’d been taking in, and I rarely did. At one point, he’s “enraptured by the way [a group of friends] blended, blurred, and reformed the boxes of gender and sexuality, tugging the colored edges into shapes and shades that would never fit on some linear spectrum,” but even though he’s doing the same thing as the book progresses, we never get to see a clear picture of exactly how his self-perception is changing until the last few paragraphs.

The strongest writing in this book comes in the last two chapters, in which Nick has some very difficult conversations with his parents about his identity and decides to pursue top surgery. It’s clear that the problems he has explaining his complicated identity to his parents and trying to get them to respect his choices aren’t new; he has a history of feeling loved but not always supported by them. There’s a very sad moment in which he has to tell his dad “I can’t talk to you at all right now, and in the future not until you can be more respectful” and I got the sense that this wasn’t an issue that had fully resolved by the time the book was released. After having that discussion and being mentally prepared for a break with his family, he felt able to open up to the idea of having chest surgery (much of the book deals with binding, thinking and talking about other people’s top surgeries, and his chest as a no-trespassing zone) and in the final chapters as he comes to this decision, watches a friend go through surgery a few weeks before his own, and has his mother in town to help with recovery, I finally got to see some of the internal processing I had been missing for the rest of the book.

Every time Nick mentions being attracted to women, he either specifies that he tends to be into straight women or talks about wanting to interact with them heterosexually. I was interested to read these comments because I had a similar experience as I started to realize that my gender identity was shifting in unexpected ways. One of the first things that clued me into the changes was the realization that while my attraction to men was as strong as ever, I wasn’t interested in being with them as a woman – suddenly my sexual attraction to men felt very gay. This was made difficult by the fact that, at the time, I was dating a very straight man who would NOT have been happy to hear that, but unsurprisingly the relationship didn’t last long after I started trying to pin down my identity a bit more. To digress further, now that I live in Gaysville, USA and am around gay dudes all the time, it turns out that I’m equal parts excited and terrified by gay men because I feel like there’s this entire world of gay culture I have no background in, plus I am kind of skittish about being sexual with cis men for the most part (although there are exceptions).

There’s definitely some good content here, and it’s odd and interesting to read a book set in San Francisco and realize I have a good picture of many of the places Krieger describes. But I was hoping for less focus on his contemplation of other’s choices and identities and more on his own. He may be struggling to understand himself throughout the narrative but he’s not always forthcoming in sharing himself quite enough with the reader either. If you’re interested in a different take on a trans coming-out/self-discovery story, I think this is worth a read (especially since it’s relatively short and easy to plow through), but even though I found certain parts resonating with me, I wasn’t as emotionally connected to his story as I’d expected to be.

Finally, I want to share my favorite quote from the first section:

“I stopped listening to the story and focused only on grammar and syntax, amazed at what sounded like a tongue twister, all so Melissa could avoid referring to Bec with a pronoun. She used to do the same thing with Pony, the person who lived in my room before me, and I once made the mistake of asking her whether Pony was a he or a she. Melissa had looked at me like I was nuts. ‘Pony is a pony,’ she said.”

I always get excited about the combination of people carving their own space out of a restrictive name/pronoun system and other folks actually respecting that. I’m still bitter about the incident where my hairstylist of a few years said “you can’t do that” when I explained that my partner prefers gender-neutral pronouns. I had to find a new stylist.

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