Spotlight series #28 : Trish Salah
Curated by Canadian writer, editor and publisher rob mclennan, the “spotlight” series appears the first Monday of every month.
What might a lyric sexology be, or mean? Or how might lyric provide an approach to sexology, an interference with sexology in its role as deviance’s catalogue, or an axis of translation towards a philosophy of desire and its becoming?
Lyric as counter discourse might seem an unlikely conceit in this late century, but in the long nineteenth — was the twentieth longer? — it was quite a thing to become a subject. Certainly it was not for everyone; by design not everyone could. And if being without a sex, in between, unrecognizable within one, a figure for beyond, residing in a “happy limbo of non-identity” might in latter days seem queerly liberating, a walk on the wild side even from certain vantages, say reading Jeanette Winterson’s Written on the Body or Michel Foucault’s Herculine Barbin in 1991, limbo is at least some of the time an afterlife, one susceptible to papal retconning out of existence. And if sex is one of the ways we count or class the human, what is not, sexing catalogues both within and enmeshing race.
Lyric Sexology took a while to write, what of it is written. Volume 2 may take a while longer. Talking about how the first volume came about I got into the habit of telling a certain story, describing Lyric Sexology as the underside of my PhD dissertation. That was an inquiry into some archives of the sexological unconscious, one interested in contradictory rhetorics and affects inscribed around sex and figures for its transgressions, and how they might ramify for trans and gender varying people. Between my dissertation and the poetry is a question, how might the remains of discourses be animated as lyric possibilities, for speaking, for those subjects occluded, fashioned, and self-fashioning within, alongside and against such an inscribed cisgender imaginary of sexes’ beyond. Of course, that cisgender imaginary is not as homogenous as all that, either, and can only be named and cleaved off as such from the mid 1990s on in any case. Trans, genderqueer, Two Spirit and other gender varying people have been working on being for quite a while longer than that.
Of course, there are many ways of coming at histories of trans sexualities and genders: histories of scientific innovation; of hormonal and surgical technologies; of the figural within the writing of gender; of discourses and practices aimed at the sexualities of non-European, Indigenous, Black peoples. There are histories of media preoccupations with the appearance of sexual “exceptions”; histories of gender oppressions and social movement responses, and of sexology’s constitutive entanglements and discerning of inversion, homosexualities, bisexualities, intersexes, perversions, transvestitisms, and transsexualisms. Perhaps within these histories traces of our histories have always been there, in various forms and shapes overwritten and transfigured as colonial travelogues and anthropologies, autobiographies and case studies, sensational news stories and legal codes, speculative fictions and political theories. Such histories were encoded, hermetic, often fragmented, distended and distorted by the dreams of cissexuals and trans people raised by them, immersed in their cultures, histories, ways of seeing and thing, and their pre-occupations. So much of Lyric Sexology ventriloquizes the colonial archive, working at unmaking it.
Lyric Sexology is also an attempt to wonder what a different history of our kind might be a, a history that imagined our entry into a domain of fragments, codes, distensions, mirrors and dreams. To reimagine what might a history of trans desire and becoming in a cissexual world look like? What might it be like to exist?
Long days of sand, green leaf and water in three directions. Brine kisses of olive or seaweed. Rummage old books, languages written after their slow and inevitable decline, our ascendency. I had such hope for them — fringe exotica of a more cosmopolitan whorl. What we learned from barbarism, etc. It is difficult to work in the afternoon, sufficient unto____. HOW LITTLE they wear under this sun. But desire’s variegated fathom, how it catches at the most ardent and disciplined of us. Call it contagion, I would, if it did not dissipate so utterly when one sets foot upon English soil.
Space 1999: Andulusia
Al-Andulus goes to sleep. Al-Andulus wakes up, in fragments.
From New Year’s or Gay Christmas in a Red Room. Not the Red Room.
Humid, smoky with whisky, doubt, insinuated lust
And embattlement, whispers of her name, how she came by.
Wanting, for all you’ve wanted, not something else
Brush feather tip trip up cheeks, intimate more, scales.
At our throats, the family not family caress, song
Of frustrated skews to what might be, wanted, sung.
Hunger birds, mottled plumage, lust growling
We are just having a good time, making fun of straights
Not even, wanting what we have but more, you
Are sable and I say wine and wine is in our hands
Its too late to go back — it always is, but
Lover you say we never left and words cease.
What if I’m dead and so are you. Why rain
When is never ending.
Will you betray time? Did I? We promise, can’t say
Who needs to thief just a little from marooned eyes.
Dance at our tables, heavy with not wanting to leave
But knowing we can turn ugly too. Grief doesn’t sit still.
Stolen grounds, unceded, broken, salted and made up
If we are just three or five bodies or nine or uncountable.
The white of the world on this city, city deep buried but
Still going to move, moving because moving is all we are.
Belonging and not, deserving and not, no one needs to be
killed is what this place is too, who’s survival, hope and grind?
Al-Andulus goes to sleep. Al-Andulus wakes up, in dreams
For years to come, long kiss of the world goodbye.
Born in Halifax, Trish Salah [photo credit: Ralph Kolewe] is the author of the Lambda Literary Award-winning poetry book, Wanting in Arabic, and of Lyric Sexology, Volume 1. Originally published in 2014 by Roof in New York, Lyric Sexology was released in an expanded, Canadian edition in 2017 with Metonymy Press. Salah is also co-editor of a special issue of the Canadian Review of American Studies, focused on Ann-Marie MacDonald’s Fall on Your Knees, and of an issue of TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly, on Trans Cultural Production. Her writing appears in recent and forthcoming issues of Anomaly, The Capilano Review, PRISM International and The Puritan and in anthologies including Troubling the Line and Meanwhile, Elsewhere: Science Fiction and Fantasy from Transgender Writers. She is a recent recipient of the Dayne Ogilvie Honour of Distinction from the Writers’ Trust of Canada and is associate professor of Gender Studies at Queen’s University.
 (Barbin xiii, 1980)