The back of the book, where most have generic praise, contains the happily disgusted squeals of the privileged. “Sick!”, they cry in agonised glee, “raw!”, “shocking!”. I’m not sure what I expected, the book is after all about someone who douses herself in drugs and radiation each pregnancy to produce disabled (“deformed”, whispers the back) children as a money spinning scheme. Until page 19, it seemed like typical fiction that promotes and feeds off disgust towards bodies that aren’t normative. On page 20, that was confirmed, with the admittedly good writing describing a “pre-transsexual” who “reveals a shriveled penis and scrotum” (shock! Horror! Hear the cis shriek!) and will “return as a real girl”.
I very nearly gave it up then. But I kept on. A hunchbacked albino little person is forcibly and non-consentually stripped, paraded on stage, and it felt like some dull, heated claw was being ripped softly from my ribcage as I remember being forcibly stripped myself, once. Amid the transphobia and ableism, the probable appropriating of painful realities by an author who has no photo or biography for me to know if they are indeed appropriating, (oh, who am I kidding, only a cis person could write this kind of transphobia-) there are moments that will stay with me.
A striptease on stage that ends with the giver revealing a tail, with a smile and the imagined but unvisited outrage of the privileged and oppressive being tricked into attraction to a body that’s unlike mine in every way but those vital, invisible inches of external hatred, making me think that that aura is a part of me as much as my dancing visual distortion or the hard bones that I like to press on from behind the thin covering of my 98 pound weight.
That it’s seeped into my personality, by some strange alchemy letting me appreciate the beauty of that single, fictional moment. Then the smoking, red-hot phoenix-foot shape of emotion branded into me is instantly cracked into tumbling gray slabs by the hard and abrupt strike of a trans woman’s mispronouning, and I’m reminded that this isn’t written by someone like me.
I struggle with complicated feelings, and I don’t know if I should like it for the prose, hate it for the oppressive content or love it for those singular moments of pride in being battered, scarred and discoloured. Reading this book is emotional masochism, but two hundred and fifty or more pages later, it’s still bypassing the lack of emotional affectedness that characterizes nearly all of my experiences with anything beyond the true, the immediate and the often horrific, suddenly suprising me with those ugly chunks of bigotry but otherwise an eloquent diary of fictional dysfunction.
Even though it’s not written by someone like me, and it’s only written about people like me in the broadest sense, it gives me words and feelings and coherency for things that I struggle to contemplate, a unified aesthetic for the split pieces of my chimerical reality. Without the oppressiveness of it, this book would be something truly astounding, but I’m held back from loving it.
I’m still unravelling the skein of nasty, covert statements and sure, unthinking ignorance, the utter lack of mentally disabled people in an entire book about physically disabled people and that fundamental question of how much the author meant us to think beyond the most obvious & ableist of ideas.
There’s no broad rating or judgement that I can make on Geek Love. I have no mental scales with which to weigh so many intangible, personal and throroughly subjective things against each other, and I don’t know how new it might be to you, or if you consider a surprise punch in the face a worthwhile experience the first time just to see how you’d react. I do, but then I wouldn’t go looking for it, or pay a cis, abled person who appropriates what they don’t understand money for it.