Discover Why Wanting in Arabic Is This Year's Best Transgender Fiction

The Lambda Literary Foundation named Trish Salah's first book, Wanting in Arabic, the best work of transgender fiction produced this year. Read an exclusive excerpt from the book below.

BY Trish Salah

June 30 2014 6:00 AM ET

Poet and scholar Trish Salah's new book, Wanting in Arabic, just won the Lambda Literary Award for Best Transgender Fiction. Salah's win is an accomplishment representative of her career, which she's spent, in part, showing readers the critical importance of transgender literature.

"So often trans* people's work is read as a symptom of our identity rather than as creative and critical writing that may arise from our experiences, oppression, and culture, but which is not reducible to it," Salah recently told The Manitoban.

A Lebanese-Canadian professor of women's and gender studies at the University of Winnipeg, Salah has focused her research on the emergence of transgender and transsexual minority literatures as well as feminism, decolonization, sex work, and transnational sexualities. Most recently, she organized Writing Trans Genres: Emergent Literatures, a groundbreaking conference dedicated to trans literature.

In addition to Wanting in Arabic, Salah has published numerous scholarly articles, sits on the editorial board of Transgender Studies Quarterly, and has just released her second book, Lyric Sexology, Vol. 1 (Roof Books).

Read an exclusive excerpt from Wanting in Arabic below.

Phoenicia ≠ Lebanon                     

Phoenicia ≠ Lebanon
though they occupy the same place, more or less                
        a) on a map?                                 do you see
           b) in my heart?                        to the west, the accident
         c) in this poem, Phoenicia ≠ Lebanon?    that holds you down?        

    i have never been to Lebanon                  before i was
though i have often dreamed of Phoenicia        dreaming in this world
the cedar groves, the long low galleys            my father was
bazaars raucous with a thousand tongues         born in Lebanon ( ≠ Phoenicia)
                                                                                       & before Lebanon was
Babylon by any other—all too Greek for me.        
                                                                        & though he did not die    
                                                                        there, in Phoenicia, or, in Lebanon

i am my father’s daughter                              (few return from that voyage
 May he rest in—                                       like Odysseus, from the sack of—
                                                                  to die, comforted in his own bed)

who, as a small boy, intimidated at the prospect of the priesthood—
of following in my father’s footsteps
until they ceased to be his—
                                                                  he only made it to the seminary,
before he came across the Atlantic transformed                             May   he   rest

in the middle passage, like the Phoenicians, perhaps
in their long low—
before him                 never to return—not without my mother & she,
                                  Irish Catholic, with her own “troubles”
                                                                        you can’t get there from—

perhaps that’s the origin of my infatuation with high heels
or better, mary janes,
eschewing the Jesuits’ cassock
for convent girl plaid

what i never could figure,
my brothers had it worse & they didn’t turn out
sissy boys, she-hes, homo
sexuals, or, as in my case,
lipstick lesbians.
were they not raised for dodging bullets, racist dogma,
the Christian Phalange, to fight for ruined
Beirut against all odds, against Muslim, Palestinian?
after Daddy’s death, precocious, they studied the way of the warrior,
or its suburban equivalent, Tae Kwon Do,
the Tae Kwon Do twins used their powers
to protect their too femme older bro’  
strutting the corridors of St. Pat’s High,
neither a phobic bone, nor a homo
between their strapping young bodies

so maybe it wasn’t my father’s plans for us
that got me so queer
maybe it was a child’s premonition
of his stroke at 37
an immigrant’s death of stress, a high salt diet, a foreign tongue and, let’s face it,
too many years of eighteen hour days
or perhaps it was smaller
just the way his mouth got tight about
his voice strangled and raging at
a 5 year old’s inability to sleep
i’m not unsympathetic, who wouldn’t
be frustrated by chronic insomnia in a child so young?  anyway, who cares why
i ended up my daddy’s little girl?

i ended up my daddy’s little girl                                                              didn’t i?
heartbreaking, he didn’t live to see the day & the boy
i was, caught dead in a crossfire in Beirut or Belfast
prostrate before my pretty Mohammed                                                ever after
and nothing to do with Phoenicia        
or Lebanon, but ex-girlfriends’                               and after my surgery comes
memories of a childhood, Cypress                that boy’s dead by any other name
where my cousins also fled a June War in ’67
                                                           you know what the dead do best is rise
and, called                                                                            Phoenix-like, again
to return to Lebanon
where i have never been
my name should be Phoenicia
i’ll prefer Yismine, for my aunt’s sake.
for shame’s sake, my French, my Arabic will mime strangers’ tongues
missing my father’s tongue

the Phoenicians were the ranging traders of another world
 on the news tonight shelling in this Lebanon,
    a trampled marketplace
        a strategic site
occupied by the French, the Americans, the Syrians, the Israelis
and Beirut is a hole in the ground through which the past comes up
                                                                                             my cousin Nada says,

                               never you mind, cuz, some of the richest people in the world
                                          in that city. it will be beautiful and whole again,

                                                                                            give it five years
                                                                                  just you wait and see! )

i stole this poem from Robert Kroetsch
but don’t feel sad about it, he wasn’t
Phoenician & even at sea, even trading
in words, in the past, in love, in the middle passage
                                                                                                   in the in between
i’m not either
but am i Lebanese?
not like that dyke comic,
do you remember her? playing coy,
Ellen? the TV lesbian?
who, coming out on Rosie O’Donnell
was either Lebanese or lesbian, on TV or off
except, perhaps, as in my case
where, sure, say it:
i am
a) Lebanese
b) lesbian
c) TV
d) all of the above
e) none of the above
                                                                                so much for that


Read more of Salah's work on the following page. >>>