Finding Nevo, Nevo Zisin (2017)
This review is taking on a different format to our usual reviews. That is because this book is non-fiction. Finding Nevo is not a ‘story’, it is a person’s life. It doesn’t seem right, or at all necessary, to critique this novel with the view of deconstructing ‘good’ and ‘bad’ parts of it. The only thing I could say along those lines is that this is a clear and concise narrative with a great sense of voice. Apart from that, I don’t want to talk about how this book was constructed, because it wasn’t. Instead I want to talk about Nevo Zisin’s words and why Finding Nevo should be on the reading list of every single person ever.
In their final paragraph, Nevo says, ‘…I don’t want to hear how my story has touched you. I would rather hear what you’re going to do to make this world safer so that each trans person doesn’t need to be a role model. So we can live our lives without being constantly politicised. So we can choose to be activists, not be forced into it.’
Here’s what I’m going to do.
I’m going to keep fighting so that Queer persons, and particularly Queer youth are able to see themselves reflected in current literature and media.
Zisin writes with such maturity and emotional depth, it is easy to forget they are just 21 years old and began the process of actively unpacking their sexual and gender identity at 12 years old, with most of their major identity transitions occurring before the age of 18. Zisin speaks about how the lack of ‘non-normative family structures’ in the media ‘scared’ them, as they could not understand how to negotiate being a lesbian (as they identified at that stage aged approximately 14) with being a parent. When Zisin then started to navigate their gender dysphoria in Year 12, they again found themselves having no idea about ‘trans, gender diverse and intersex people’, even though Zisin was part of the Queer community. This landscape (for any Queer person unable to find themselves reflected in culture) contributes to the deeply traumatic sense of isolation, loneliness and ‘otherness’ that leads to severe mental health issues and youth suicide. By advocating for an unending stream of Queer #OwnVoices narratives, across YA fiction and non-fiction, my aim is to create an environment where Queer youth can always find themselves, their community and their experiences written about with strength, pride and validity.
I will never cease fighting for issues that personally affect me, and will step back into a supportive role when fighting for issues that do not directly affect me.
I aim to be a strong role model and a strong ally. Something we hear again and again, whether it is about Queer rights, or women’s rights or any marginalised group, is that if we were ‘nice’ about it and tried to be ‘understanding’ about why our presence in the world makes people uncomfortable then maybe we would get further. Maybe people would give us more rights if we weren’t so aggressive about it all. Maybe if we begged on our knees we would be treated with some small scrap of respect. Well, fuck that. Zisin writes that ‘It is absurd to expect people of oppressed minorities to calm themselves and educate you delicately on a topic you don’t understand because you haven’t put in the effort.’ There is this expectation on minority groups to educate, explain and justify our very existence, but if you are part of any minority/ies you will know how incredibly exhausting that is.
So I am choosing to be an activist. I am choosing to exert emotional energy on this, not to educate non-Queer individuals specifically, but to be a voice for Queer persons who are just trying to hold it together. In saying this, it is important to recognise where I sit in terms of privilege and not attempt to speak for or over those voices I do not represent (including many in the Queer community whose identities I do not personally share). As Zisin puts it, ‘If you don’t experience those oppressions, you don’t get to have an opinion on how they affect the people that do.’ Being an ally means being supportive: not dominating discourse with your own views. I am honestly in awe of how Zisin managed to figure all this out at such a young age.
READ THIS BOOK.
Give it to your friends, kids, parents, neighbours, strangers on the bus. Then, MAKE MORE BOOKS. Finding Nevo is an important book, because it is one of the few trans/non-binary voices in Australian literature in general, let alone in YA. The weight of trans/non-binary activism should not be entirely on Nevo Zisin’s shoulders though. There are other writers with stories to tell, currently hidden below the layers of patriarchal sludge that pollutes our society. We need to find them, to give them space to share their stories, fiction or non-fiction. So write your story. Support #OwnVoices. Share this post. Make a commitment with me and with Nevo (and thousands of other activists working all over the globe, working quietly, working loudly, working tirelessly) to change our world. Educate yourself. Be a good ally.