"Not Feeling Anything Feels Bad"
Imogen Binnie on dissociation, drugs, and gratitude.
Imogen Binnie’s Nevada, a story of young trans people trying to find stable lives and battle their self-destructive tendencies (which include a lot of drug use), was published in 2013 and has since then become a trans cult classic. It was recently re-released by FSG. Since the book’s publication, Binnie has become a therapist and social worker.
In writing Nevada, were you pulling from your own experience as a trans person?
I was pulling from my own experience for sure, as dissociation as a default state. I don’t want to generalize to all trans people or anything, but I think it’s pretty normal to survive the part of your life where it’s not safe to come out as trans by dissociating from discomfort. I think the book talks about this, maybe not exactly in these terms, but it talks about the era in your life when it’s not safe to discuss or acknowledge your discomfort, and you often don’t acknowledge it by just not acknowledging yourself. And so at the time I was writing it I didn’t have as much a clinical understanding of dissociation, I didn’t have experience as a therapist and a social worker, which I do now. So I might use different language now, but on a personal and community level, when I wrote Nevada, I had a pretty clear sense of the dissociation that was going on. It was always a struggle for me to be emotionally present, rather than dissociate from the discomfort. I’ve worked a lot on that and it’s better in my life than it has been in the past, but I definitely wanted to portray that in the book.
Do you feel distance from that dissociation now?
Yes and no. Those years when it’s not safe to explore things, and therefore not safe to acknowledge all the many, many ways that being trans leads to stimuli being…triggering is an overused word, but—there are so many gendered things in the world that would make me feel fucked up. And I could not have gotten through a day if I had stopped to process how much discomfort those things were giving me, even if it’s as small as seeing a floral pattern. There’s so much gender in the world and when it’s not safe for you to acknowledge the fact that it feels wrong to you in some way, it becomes a very deeply ingrained tendency to dissociate from that discomfort to the point that it can be really hard to be present. That continues to be my work, personally.
Do you feel more present and less dissociated now?
I feel like I’m in a much better place in regard to that stuff. The way that trauma works is that you don’t undo it, you just kind of learn to be on top of your shit, or as on top of your shit as you can be. I’m much better at being present. But it’s work to get on top of that shit, and I’m fortunate enough to be able to do a lot of that work. Dissociation doesn’t feel foreign to me, but I definitely feel in a better place than I did when I wrote Nevada.
It feels very common that trans people experience this external world that doesn’t match with their mind and so they have to dissociate, or self-medicate, to get through that. So how do drugs play a role in that in the book?