Nick Krieger’s memoir Nina Here Nor There tells a story of coming out as transgender that’s different from the narrative that dominates mainstream media. Nina didn’t grow up with an overwhelming sense she was in the wrong body and she doesn’t reach some all man, macho end point (Krieger’s asked that the character be referred to as Nina/she, and the author as Nick/he). Nina’s almost 30 when she moves in with a group of younger queers in the Castro in San Francisco and discovers a community that’s pushing and transcending the boundaries of gender – having top surgery, taking hormones, changing names and pronouns – or not. Nina begins a process of exploring her own gender identity, something she never knew was an option before, and finding ways of presenting and understanding herself that fit best in her current moment.
In our media context, where only one kind of narrative about transition seems to be allowed, this alternate personal story can feel pretty revolutionary.
Krieger brings the reader through a process by presenting ignorant, transphobic assumptions and then tearing them down through Nina’s own process, or showing trans guys performing misogynist masculinity and then offering an alternative. He writes incredibly perceptively about issues like gender and class, approaching them through storytelling and subtle personal exploration instead of explaining through standard social justice language.
Given the book’s honest and revealing take on many issues of identity, I was surprised by the lack of any critical commentary on the fact that Nina’s community is almost completely made up of folks assigned female at birth. There is some subtle critique of the idea that trans guys and lesbians should date though, which is pulled off well through Nina’s own sexual experiences. Most jarring is the almost complete lack of any discussion of race. Nina’s white and Jewish, and we’re told a few other characters are blond, but beyond that there’s so little discussion it’s hard not to assume Nina’s community is overwhelmingly white.
Nina Here Nor There offers an honest, personal take on many aspects of identity – I’m impressed by what Krieger does get right. I just wish it went farther, as the book’s limitations may keep it from being helpful to folks who aren’t white.