Use Of Mobility To Provide A Sense Of Freedom In Nevada By Imogen Binnie And Stone Butch Blues By Leslie Feinberg
Running away from one’s problems often seems like the easiest action to take when conflicted. Whether it is refusing to accept the reality that is or not wanting to step outside of a comfort zone, running or in the following cases, being mobile, allows individuals to isolate themselves and coup with ongoing struggles and experiences. In both Imogen Binnie’s Nevada and Leslie Feinberg's Stone Butch Blues, the main protagonists (Maria and Jess, respectively) subconsciously use mobility to provide themselves a sense of freedom that also acts as a placeholder for self-care. Each has their own: Jess and her motorcycles and Maria with her bike.
Throughout Stone Butch Blues, Jess describes her motorcycle as part of identity with, “All we got is the clothes we wear, the bikes we ride, and where we work”. It was her “greatest recreation” and the “joy and her freedom”. This mode of transportation, however, also holds deeper values for Jess; consciously, the bike was a symbol of sexual desire. She describes the way two women ride a motorcycle together as an indicator of how they will be together sexually. Jess left her family and her home before she was 16 because she could not deal with how she felt and was treated. She describes herself as “going crazy” before she “felt free. Free to explore what freedom meant”. Naturally, on a more subconscious level, it makes sense to believe that Jess is looking for this freedom; a way to break loose from any chains that restrict her life. The motorcycle fits this niche. A life of freedom is not going to come without its fair share of troubles, especially as a butch during a time where transgender individuals are barely treated as humans at all. Consequently, the motorcycle provides Jess another means to run away from her problems, such as when she tries to ride away after having a bitter fight with Milli, but it also provides some her the only self-care she receives for a while.
After Theresa and Jess split, takes the Norton out on a ride, describing it as “the place I found my mobility and my safety”. While not directly self-care, Jess saw the motorcycles as an embodiment of herself. After her Norton was smashed and twisted, she described looking at it, “like a ghost looking down at my own mutilated body on the asphalt”. She would pick up extra work shifts to tune up and the motorcycle and restore it back to its former status. When Jess was starting to take hormones and struggling with the idea of sinking a needle into her thigh, she “pictured my Norton, all smashed to smithereens in the pizzeria parking lot” to make the injection seem like a smaller hurdle Maria isolates herself from everyone as much as possible. She wants to learn more about herself, but at the same time through her isolation, she has kept herself from figuring out more about herself. She has been like this “for the last three year” that Maria has been with Steph, her boyfriend. But her somewhat steady world turns inside out when Steph breaks up with her after lying to her making her homeless, and she becomes unemployed after losing her job at the bookstore: “Maria Griffiths is homeless and unemployed in New York City”.
Maria is on a journey of self-discovery. She plans on “acting on every dumb idea she has every enlightened, Buddhist kind of living in the moment”. Mobility as a means of self-care is a bit more hidden in Imogen Binnie’s Nevada. Maria seems to use her bike as a simple means of transportation. She oddly explicitly links her bike and its experiences to positive characteristics. As Maria is exiting the subway, after leaving Piranha’s home, exclaims how “you can’t help but look cool carrying a bike up subway stairs”). This may seem like a small detail, something that could almost be overlooked; however, these little points pop up throughout the first half of the novel. Each interaction with her bike is of an odd particularity, even comparing it to Pegasus. Jess and Maria are two characters, with different backgrounds, unique perspectives, and often contradicting views about themselves and the world around them. Despite these discrepancies, two crucial factors bring these somehow distant characters together: their transgender lives and their need for mobility.
For both transgender characters, mobility is both a tool, which was repeated relied on, but it also became a central way of thinking. For transgender characters, including in Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars, mobility allows a character to escape or remove themselves from a current situation to another. It is important to note that this movement point may not necessarily be better or easier to live in, but mobility allows for such movement. Often, mobility is the only form of self-care available or even possible for a transgender character. Why? Self – care is anything that is deliberately done to take care of one’s mental, emotional, and physical health. In Nevada, Maria elaborates on how she tried going to help support groups at the LGBT Center, but realized that she really did not fit in. The support group she described consisted of predominantly cross-dresses rather than transgender individuals that had been on hormones. It is important to note here; however, that it was Maria that chose to separate herself from the group, even though members of the group invited her to events. She was afraid of being seen in public with other trans individuals. And that is completely understandable.
While Maria is in a more ‘Transgender Friendly’ era, there is still a stigma around transgender individuals, which is immensely unfortunate. Maria does not have a strong community of trans people to go to for support. The members of the support group, do not go about their day to day lives as trans. Rather, they wait for the support group meetings and change into their desired attire before going about the meeting. Maria’s mindset to attend a support group was an act of self-care; however, since it did not pan out as she expected, she gained no benefit. On the other side, in Stone Butch Blues, Jess does have a relatively strong trans community with all the butches and femmes that she has befriended, but having a community is different from self-care. The freedom and mobility from her motorcycle was her regular prescription to deal with any mental or emotional troubles. When Jess wanted to start taking hormones to address to appear more like a man, she was enacting a different act of self-care; however, similar to Maria’s situation, hurdles were thrown into Jess’s life, starting most significantly with Theresa leaving him for his choice to start taking hormones. Without getting into the exact details of their split, Theresa was the love of Jess’s life, and as a result, the experience would forever imprint the idea that wanting to follow her gender identity would come obstacles of varying sizes. It took 3 different bikes (a Norton, a Triumph, and a Harley) before Jess moved on from motorcycles.
Maria, on the other hand, took her bike with her with Steph’s car on her journey to Nevada and then to Reno after she leaves New York City. To say that Jess gave up her bike would be an overstatement. She had a realization that there was not much for her in Buffalo, but she was still hesitant to leave, wanting to believe there was still something left for her in Buffalo. That mindset changed the morning that her bike was stolen. The bike was the last drip of freedom and true mobility that she had in that town. On the other side of the coin, Maria, also did not give up her bike. She attached to Seth’s car and took it with her; however, we do not hear anything about her experiences with the bike after she leaves New York City. Maria and her bike share an interesting connection because while Maria is attached to it, it does not affect her ability to care for herself. The bike was Maria’s last attachment from New York City that really gave her freedom. The concept and ideology around the bike seem to attach itself to the car as Maria uses Steph’s car as her new vehicle to embrace mobility and to find herself. In the case of both characters, their ‘departure’ from their bikes does widen respective potentials for self-fulfillment and self-care.
While it may appear to be as visible of a change for Maria as it is to Jess, I would argue that Maria has a greater potential for self-fulfillment. I say this for the sole reason that Maria is ‘stealing’ Steph's car and leaving New York City to restart her life. She is attempting to take care of herself while also adding meaning back into her life. Often times we do not know the true value of anything until we are in the absence of it. Sometimes, characteristics of our life that seem so simple such as mobility can have life-changing effects.
Jess and Mary are protagonists from Leslie Feinberg's Stone Butch Blues and Imogen Binnie’s Nevada whose subconscious changes in mobility allow themselves to get closer to self-discovery, achieving a sense of freedom, while also developing a sense of true self-care. It is interesting how the loss of such mobilities expedite their journey to such discovers by broadening their individual potentials for self-fulfillment and self-care.