An Apartment on Uranus
Paul B. Preciado
“Over the course of writing these pieces, Preciado began the process of legally and physically transitioning towards the “political fiction” of being male rather than female”
Written primarily as a column for the French newspaper, Libération, and translated here by Charlotte Mandell, Paul B. Preciado’s essays are obsessed with borders. If you were to glance at the content list and attempt to distil its main interests, you would likely come up with the following: gender, cities, the State, legality. You might also get a taste of the sharp-wittedness, the humour, the delight – and the corresponding fury – that runs through Preciado’s lucid exploration of often highly charged theoretical ideas. ‘Journey To The End Of The Bed’, ‘Valentine’s Day Is Crap’… but also ‘Your Wheelchair Turns Me On’ and ‘Declaring a Uterus Strike’. Don’t take his joy in language as a sign that this collection isn’t deadly serious.
What you might not get from this preliminary glance is the way these ideas spark together in Preciado’s writing. The way the trans body becomes the state becomes sex becomes refugee… Over the course of writing these pieces, Preciado began the process of legally and physically transitioning towards the “political fiction” of being male rather than female, which means that – sometimes as the main focus of the writing, sometimes not – they present a record: of the way he begins injecting himself with testosterone, of his flirtation with the name Marcos (which was abandoned by the next column following accusations of colonialist appropriation), and of his eventual claim of the ‘strange, absurdly commonplace’ name Paul. ‘It was necessary to destroy the legal fiction ‘Beatriz Preciado Ruiz’ in order to invent the legal fiction ‘Paul Beatriz Preciado’. So I am born for the second time…’ he writes at one point. That ‘the border is a space where identity is destroyed and produced’ is not a particularly original sentiment in and of itself, but here this idea is taken to places you could never imagine. The body, the border, the city: all of these get reframed and repositioned.
Reading the pieces cover-to-cover means seeing the past few years of the world skip past at an unnerving pace. This is especially true for those pieces, which span from March 2013 to January 2018, that touch on contemporary events (such as the Catalonian uprisings and the 2016 US Presidential election), and which hindsight can make seem inevitable. How the world has changed – and is changing.
This sense of unease, even horror, is very much the point of An Apartment on Uranus. The title refers to Uranism, a concept coined in 1864 to ‘legitimise a form of love that, at the time could get you hanged.’ I didn’t always agree with Preciado’s arguments, but as a challenge to viewpoints I didn’t even know I’d imbibed, as well as a collection that does things with language, it left me feeling like what I thought was Earth had been another planet all along. My copy is full of exclamation marks in the margins.
Words: Alice Wickenden