I was in Phoenix books in San Francisco’s Noe Valley, when I saw the cover of ‘Born on the edge of Race and Gender.’ Hey, I know that guy, I thought. It was Willy Wilkinson who I met at the Mixed Remixed Festival in LA after seeing him give a moving poetry performance. Soon I was walking out with a copy – it always gives me a thrill to buy a book by someone I know.
In this memoir-meets-poetry-collection-meets-activist-handbook, Wilkinson is genre-bending from the start, a style that always appeals to me. What is it with us mixed folks that we blend writing styles as well as so many other aspects of our lives?
I found the book’s structure very organic – it wasn’t divided neatly into issues but rather followed the path of Willy’s experience of navigating the perceptions of others and his own perceptions of himself. Through his ‘mixed-trans lens’ we look at life mostly in the US and in particular the Bay Area from the sixties though to today.
This book takes you on a gallop through Willy’s life – from early family experiences, a first trip to the boys clothes department at age nine, family history, back to China on his Chinese side and the Oakland hills on his Caucasian side, a graphic description of the practice and results of foot binding, forays into Mexico and Guatemala, cycling across the country and handing out condoms on the streets of San Francisco. The result is a fast-paced layering, an impressionistic vision of a life experience flavored with ambiguity and complexity.
I identified with and shared some of his experiences, for example, an aversion to wearing dresses as a child. Later when I was in my early twenties – coming out as a lesbian – I remember being called ‘sir’ and being gently ‘corrected’ when going into the women’s bathrooms.
Others of Willy’s experiences are not ones that I’ve shared – the knowledge from such a young age that he was a boy and then a man, and the social, political and medical processes that it took to get to where he is today. This is where writing can be so powerful, in letting us glimpse the world from another person’s point of view.
While parts of the memoir deal with difficult experiences, other sections amused me, such as the story of the errant ‘schlong’ in the men’s changing room and Wilkinson’s recounting of a dating ad he answered in the pre-internet days. He prints the content of the ad that led to him meeting the mother of his children, and then follows it with:
There was no picture, of course because this was in the days before the internet. That’s right. Gather ’round children. Grandpa’s gonna break it down. Let’s talk about life in the last century.”
At the end of the book, the 2015 Mixed Remixed Festival gets a name check when Wilkinson talks about going to,
the Mixed Remixed Festival in Los Angeles to perform spoken word about the intersection between the mixed and trans experience”.
He was happy to know “at least one other queer person”, Emily, at the festival and I’m glad to report that we were there in numbers in 2015, as I met a number of other queer folks at the mixed/queer writing workshop I ran.
There’s something for everyone in this book. Pick up a copy and see if you find something for you. And if you want to hear from the author himself, check out his February Book Tour Events:
- Feb. 16. Dixon Place, New York City
- Feb. 17. Bluestockings Bookstore and Cafe, New York City
- Feb. 20. Christiana Care Health Systems Perioperative Conference, Newark, Delaware
- Feb. 22-23. Penn State
- Feb. 26-27. Asterisk Trans* Conference, UC Riverside
- Feb. 28-29. Pomona College
by Clare Ramsaran