Exactly As I Am by Rae White

Rae White won the 2017 Thomas Shapcott Poetry Prize for their debut collection, Milk Teeth, which was also shortlisted for the 2019 Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards and commended in the 2018 Anne Elder Award. After following their work online over the last few years, I’m very excited to read White’s new collection Exactly As I Am.

This collection is a celebration of trans and nonbinary identity and queer love. Comprising five sections – Exclude, Exist, Exclaim, Exhale, and Exalt – White explores themes such as transphobia and misgendering, the bureaucracy of affirming gender identity, polyamory, queer friendships, and lockdowns just to name a few. It is a collection firmly rooted in the contemporary, not just what it means to be trans now, but also little contextual details that make up White’s world, particularly as it relates to the background of capitalism. It’s a powerful experience as a reader to witness White proclaim themselves exactly as they are, to say they are trans nonbinary and apoet, and explore how these two things are fundamentally related, while also allowing space for other components of identity to breathe too. This collection responds to current transphobic talking points, such as concerns over bathroom use, while also offering beautiful, sexy and sad poems about the limitless life of queer love and joy.

Particular stand-out poems for me are ‘Periphery’, featuring one very erotic tomato; ‘were’, in which White attends the funeral of a trans friend who is deadnamed by their family; and ‘levitate me, lover’, in which two trans people ‘conjur[e] a revolution in [their] beds’. Exactly As I Am is an accessible and engrossing read, demonstrating the possibilities of how poetry can convey the realities of queer and trans people. I highly recommend it and can’t wait to see what White does next!

Clare Millar is from Readings online.

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Exactly As I Am

Exactly As I Am

Rae White

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