The Artist Who Helped Imogen Binnie Develop Her Own Creative Identity

The “Nevada” writer came across Sybil Lamb’s illustrations two decades ago and thought, “Someone out there is doing this thing that I don’t even know how to articulate.”

Article by Coco Romack

Mothers and Daughters_Sybil LambFrom left: Sybil Lamb, 47, illustrator and writer, “I’ve Got a Time Bomb” (2014), and Imogen Binnie, 44, writer, “Nevada” (2013), photographed at Binnie’s home near Brattleboro, Vt., on March 3, 2023. Photography by Chen Xiangyun.

Imogen Binnie: I was desperate for anything I could use to figure out how to be trans, and there was so much on [the message board] and then LiveJournal. I first found your art on in the early 2000s. The way that you drew trans people was different from other portrayals I’d seen at the time, when there was so much trying to be invisible. Your art was a refutation of that. It was affectionate but also unafraid to be grotesque or hideous or beautiful. It was a little bit like being struck by lightning: “Someone out there is doing this thing that I don’t even know how to articulate that’s such a confrontation of all the things that feel impossible about being trans in 2003.”

Sybil Lamb: I was striving for realism. That’s the science of drawing: You need to learn all the anatomical bits and the structure of things. When I taught a drawing class a couple of years ago, I’d say that the body is basically a collection of different-size sausages arranged in different ways — all these weird bendy things. My work is about analysing transness, too. That’s what was exciting about “Nevada” [Binnie’s novel, which was rereleased in 2022] — when it came out in 2013, nobody had ever gone inside a trans person’s mind like that. All the dissociating and looking for yourself everywhere. There wasn’t a trans identity yet. There were tropes of ourselves, but we weren’t actually the ugly cross-dresser, the murdered prostitute.

I.B.: It was like, “Give me anything,” right? When I met you in person, it was at the trans health conference [now known as the Philadelphia Trans Wellness Conference] in 2004. I felt like a dumb baby because you seemed so cool. But then we were hanging out and I was watching you draw. I remember being fascinated: You were such a dirtbag, but you had this really nice drawing paper. The texture was perfect, and your pencil was very sharp. I appreciated you being your weird self. It gave me permission to be a weirdo, too.

S.L.: Oh, I love you, darling. I remember you at the conference, in the front row. And I was like, “Her. This is one to watch.”

I.B.: I had never been in a room full of queer weirdos before, and I was like, “Oh my God, I found my people.” I always thought that after “Nevada” was published, people would forget about it, and then maybe someone would discover it and have their minds blown the way mine was when I read Kathy Acker or Dennis Cooper. Instead, it’s grown into so much more than I could have anticipated, which is rad but very surreal. I almost don’t know how to engage with it. Still, every time a trans girl is like, “This blew me wide open and changed everything in a positive way,” I can’t believe I got to do that. The rest is just bonus stuff.