Review: Imogen Binnie’s Much Awaited Reprint of ‘Nevada’ in the Golden Age of Trans Literature

The reprinting of Imogen Binnie's 2013 novel 'Nevada' is incredibly well timed as it coalesces with the golden era of trans lit it began.

Two different copies of ‘Nevada’ Grace Byron

The little red book. Nevada. Grab your drugs and your heels and your little purple slip dress. I know my demographic is trans girls who think they can fix me. Unfortunately, many have tried and failed. This is the perfect book for me. It’s the perfect time to talk about how everyone’s rediscovering Kate Bush and egg theory and we’re all arguing about firsts. We’ll be vers, switching off who’s mommy and who’s egg. So. 

The trans tipping point has spilled over. In 2013, Imogen Binnie released the now cult classic Nevada, a gutsy work about a twentysomething white trans woman who works at the Strand (it’s not named in the book but let’s face it) and wrecks her life. In retrospect, the book has been hailed as a trans literary tipping point, much as Torrey Peters’ Detransition, Baby has been dubbed in Triangle House. Nevada was recently re-issued by FSG through their MCD imprint. Both Torrey Peters and Imogen Binnie had books come out of the DIY press Topside. Casey Plett (A Dream of a Woman, Arsenal Pulp) wrote an early review on her blog when Nevada came out, describing the joys and pains of reading such a book by a trans woman for trans women. Meanwhile, since closing, Topside has faced whisperings and criticism over the years for its lack of inclusion. “Topside Press disbanded due to internal disputes between founders,” W Mag noted in their profile of Binnie. 

Many authors have re-emerged with new books and even those made by younger authors hum in the shadow of Topside. Just since 2020, we’ve seen a splash of interest in trans literature: Jackie Ess’ Darryl, Jamie Hood’s How to Be a Good Girl, Akwaeke Emezi’s The Death of Viveki Oji, Vivek Shraya’s The Subtweet, the publication of Lou Sullivan’s diaries, Shola von Reinhold’s Lote, Gretchen Felker-Martin’s Manhunt, Davey Davis’ X, and Cecilia Gentili’s upcoming Faltas. Mckenzie Wark has written about the ‘turns’ in trans literature, tracing four stages from Jan Morris to Detransition, Baby as a reactionary history. Wark portrays Nevada as a precursor to the floodgates opening, one of the “sad trans girl novels.” I can’t count the amount of us sad trans girls who are working on our sad trans girl novels, myself included. One has to credit Nevada with at least partially inspiring this trend. 

It should also be pointed out, as Morgan Page did when Detransition, Baby came out, that there is no single origin story for trans narrative. There’s still plenty of work to be done for equitable publishing to reach trans women of color. Casey Plett has noted it’s a novel that created a scene for a certain kind of white trans woman with some amount of social mobility. In fact, it seems like nearly every white trans girl freelancer is chasing a piece on Nevada. Just like when Detransition, Baby came out, we’re all flocking to the thing we’re supposed to be experts on. We’re all hailing a cab, thinking about the delirium that is the trans novel event. 

A lot has changed since 2013. A lot hasn’t. The book is set in 2008 during the time when LiveJournal and MySpace still held sway and Facebook, Metaverse, and BezosWorld were all still slowly gathering steam. It was the kind of punky, ziney book that circulated as a pdf ( free online, pirated for the masses of girls trying to learn how to shave their legs for the first time—the scene where Maria explains how to shave her face and wear make-up left a strong impression on me. 

The way I found Nevada was through an ex-girlfriend. Both of us were on the precipice, hungry for change, laying on her bed in the bright Pasadena morning waking up to piercing birdsongs. Nevada was the kind of thing she wanted to make. I’ve since heard this refrain many times. Both finding Nevada through an ex and wanting to make something about messy trans people without halos. Nevada is one of those books you come to because someone wanted you to come to it. Very Maria-esque. Maria, one of the two main characters of the book, is a disaffected trans woman struggling to own her shit a few years post-transition. She doesn’t come when being choked and almost seems to enjoy faking it, even though her cis girlfriend Steph clearly knows. Maria’s more interested in reading Kathy Acker and biking around, occasionally demanding support from her only trans woman friend Piranha who works as a cashier in South Brooklyn. Maria keeps busy spinning out. She spouts her grand theory of gender, rants about trans guys’ relationship to transness, philosophizes about how trans women deserve irresponsibility, and skates over how she left her Farm Town to transition. Surprise, girl has issues. She dashes off her life pre-transition as: “Whatever. It was a Very Special Episode.” Fair enough. 

Maria has the post-transition blues. She hides from the things she most needs to attend to, similar to many girls as they near transition. “All the books I read are about carrying the past around with us,” she says. The thing Maria loves most besides a good book is a good project. Soon enough, she finds a project in an egg named James. 

Ultimately, James feels like he (she?) is “the bad version of finding a carcass you’re excited to lick.” Maria’s a little too eager, clearly going through her own stuff. She’s just broken up with her girlfriend, stolen her car, and bought a lot of heroin after being fired from her job. At first James is thrilled by her presence, watching her waltz into the Walmart with a Poison patch. When he finds out she was just dumped and fired, he finds her a little less exciting of a prospect. He’s convinced transition will fuck up his life and Maria only seems to confirm his theory. He doesn’t want to lose his girlfriend and transitioning in Star City, Nevada feels like a pretty sure way to do that. He’s mopey and has no idea what he looks like. Typical egg stuff. 

At the reissue launch event, I was disappointed my boyfriend didn’t bring an extra Diet Coke. My lung collapsed a year ago so I can no longer mingle with the smokers. I have to find my vices in other drugs. For the best, I think when I see the Transliterati sitting in the stone auditorium. It’s drizzling and I’m wearing heels. A mistake, I think, until I notice Imogen Binnie is also wearing heels. When Binnie walks out onto the flat earth, my boyfriend turns to me and says she “looks like the English teacher who made going to school bearable.” I think that’s what Binnie represented to many trans women—someone who through the character of Maria exposed a certain self-delusion while also taking on the jaded persona many wear a few years into transition. In short, girls project. On characters and on people. We call them complexes. We call them the stuff that makes it more bearable to admit we’re having Feelings. 

Much of the discussion surrounding Nevada frames it as a piece of “messy trans art. Binnie has explicitly pushed back on the idea the book is autobiographical. This is not a take on the trans memoir. It’s craft. That’s probably why the ambiguous ending is so infuriating to some. It takes the maternal impulse many trans women have towards eggs and destroys it. So often there’s this idea that art by trans people is only ever about ideas, never craft. That art by trans people is second rate or not worthy of serious study. If it is worth studying, it’s merely as an example of “history.” It’s just brave. I can’t recall the amount of times I’ve been in a workshop and been told something was just “vulnerable,” “brave,” or even worse— “powerful.” 

“I silently accepted that trans life was a distraction from serious art, not material for it. I didn’t even know how much pain I was in until I read a novel like Nevada–which, I feel like, is all about loneliness and dissociation,” Stephen Ira (Chasers, New Michigan Press) told Observer. 

“When I first read Nevada in 2013, I was living in Texas, without very much queer community around me. Nevada was like a decadent treat from another world, a big box of chocolates soaked in sherry and rum,” Jeanne Thornton (Summer Fun, SoHo Press) said to Observer, describing the feeling many feel when they first dig into the book. 

Binnie hasn’t published a second novel yet although apparently it’s about Kurt Cobain. She is, however, living a full life. She’s written on TV shows such as Doubt and Cruel Summer. She lives in Vermont and works as a therapist with her wife and kids—a far cry from the chaotic life Maria is chasing at the end of Nevada. Binnie originally began the book after after living in Oakland and finding queer community but struggling to connect with other trans women. By then she was already publishing on Fictiomania and LiveJournal, making the contacts needed to sell Nevada to Topside and start touring. 

It created a zeitgeist. My friend Zefyr Lisowski (Blood Box, Black Lawrence Press) knows girls who have named themselves after Maria. I asked her about the first time she read it. “I read it right after I came out as trans, and then I moved to New York City to be with a lover, and then (coincidentally) I started working at the Strand, where Maria worked during her time there in the novel.” She went on to say, “I wouldn’t have become the kind of writer I am now without the scene of trans writers I entered into in 2015 when I moved to the city; that scene, in many ways, was inseparable from the impact of Nevada. Maybe that’s the impact of the book, how a genuine scene sprouted out from it.”  

It’s a book that seems to raise optimism even through its Holden Caulfield veneer. Thornton told me about the effect rereading it had: “The idea that someone could get weary of transness is no longer surprising. And this time it hit me just how YOUNG both Maria and James are… They’re both so unkind to themselves!” It’s true. These are vicious punky pained people. Thornton points out neither of them make plans to get food. It’s something I noticed too, projecting my own food issues onto them. 

I put out the call on Twitter and found the girls were excited to talk. Tell me about the first time you read Nevada. Something everyone noted is how much their relationship to the book has changed over the years. “The thing I find so fascinating about Nevada is how it changes based on where you are in your relationship to your own transness,” Sloane Murphy emailed Observer. “I was a deeply repressed and dissociated egg dating a deeply self-loathing trans girl, and she told me I had to read it, along with Whipping Girl and a few other things. She definitely knew, but what can you do?” Wendy Bujalski wrote in. 

For many trans women, egg theory represents a cross section of shielding someone else and reparenting themselves. Egg theory is possessive, people like to be in the know. People like to feel like they’ve gotten to something first. See also: everyone freaking out about young people discovering Kate Bush through the new season of Stranger Things. I’ve had my fair share of women trying to sell me on T4T lesbianism as a way to protect me. I’ve also dated my fair share of eggs, many of whom were just girls who needed someone to tell them it was going to be okay. There’s something sticky about this relationship between dommy-mommy-saviordom and regret. Binnie talks about it in her new afterword: “One of the most common ways for trans women to self-flagellate is with a whip labeled ‘I should have come out sooner.’” And this, essentially, is what she was trying to communicate with Maria and James.

I’ve heard some say they were so excited to read a novel that wasn’t about transition, but most of the people I’ve talked to, most of the things written about Nevada, ended up discussing the book’s relationship to helping someone “get there.” I asked my friend Mapes Thorson about the first time she read the book. “I first read Nevada on a pdf on my phone in a hotel room at Ocean City, NJ during our annual trip to the shore with my in-laws in 2017, a month before my appointment at Planned Parenthood to start taking cross-sex hormones.” Her own road trip, I thought to myself. “That’s what Nevada was for me; it was Maria entering my life and telling me I was a woman. James H wasn’t ready to hear it, but I was. And I think that’s why it’s so potent as an early transition text.” 

It’s a road trip novel without a proper diner scene. Personally, I love a diner scene. Instead we hardly get a gas station scene. In an interview with Niko Stratis of Autostraddle, Binnie said: 

“There’s a theme in Nevada, of cutting out the middle part that’s supposed to be the important part. So you know, it was this idea of let’s not show anyone transitioning, let’s show somebody who’s before transitioning, and maybe after transitioning. And I guess it’s not exactly the same, but let’s put heroin on the table. And then not have anybody use it… And so there’s a piece there, too, that’s about let’s read a road trip novel where actually, they get in the car for a minute, but we don’t see her really doing any of this road tripping.” 

It’s almost like Thelma and Louise. It’s almost a road trip full of freedom, the kind my friend Stella always wants to take with me: topless in a convertible driving down the California coast. But it’s complicated. After her road trip, Maria is essentially stranded in Nevada with no job prospect and no community. In many ways, it’s a trans girl’s worst fear. 

We’re at the end of the road girls. We’re left with a bunch of books by trans girls to read and a lot of swirling thoughts about the ways we try to mother ourselves and each other when history often breaks, as Kai Cheng Thom has noted in her essay “Trans Girl Ghost Story.” Trans girls disappear. Trans girls fail each other. Trans girls need space. Trans girls need moms. Trans girls recreate the dyke dramatics of the L Word. Trans girls launch Twitter feuds. Trans girls lack mentorship. Trans girls form hype houses. Trans girls look for mommies on Lex. Trans girls take care of each other. 

Maybe I’m just as drunk on the discourse as Maria, trying to create my own unified theory of trans girl apocalypse. Hopefully not but if so I hope at least some of it you can take and run with. Whatever. It’s all very Trans Girl Tries To Crack Egg Theory Instead Of An Egg. I, for one, hope people stop trying to “crack eggs” like it’s a sport. If you can help someone, by all means, do it, but that’s quite a different approach, one based on community and support. Leave the Freudian psychobabble to the psychoanalysts. Of course, some of the girls are indeed psychoanalysts. 

I wasn’t sure what I would feel when I heard Imogen Binnie read out loud. A cutting thrill? “My thumb instead of an onion?” Or perhaps something more sweet, like a cathartic group laugh, expanding my lungs until I reached my emotional capacity. Can’t talk right now, I’m processing. But no, none of that really. I had my own complexes swirling. What I did think was how nice it was to know somewhere in Vermont there was an incredible writer making life more bearable for so many. That there was a book–one of many, in fact–that told trans women they could have writing careers, could make a scene, could write searingly beautiful books with or without road trip scenes. 

I’m visiting my hometown soon. I can only hope when I walk into a Walmart, as I inevitably do at 9pm and everything else is closed, that I can ask some egg where the Miranda Lambert CDs are. Then we can talk under the fading neon, drinking cheap bourbon and messing around with sparklers late into the night. 

Review: Imogen Binnie’s Much Awaited Reprint of ‘Nevada’ in the Golden Age of Trans Literature