Why Have There Been No Great Trans Women Critics?
I'm just asking a question.
Candy Darling doll by Greer Lankton.
I'm just asking a question. Why have there been no great trans women critics? Why isn't there one great theory book by a trans woman, articulating the desires and needs of an entire group with clear arguments about the trans woman’s position? Are trans women replacing cis women at the front of feminism as dragons or sacrificial lambs? Who will the Proud Boys attack next? Whose home is in most flammable? Which little girls are being denied their rights in Texas? When will a novel like Manhunt by Gretchen-Felker Martin become a reality?
It already is babe. As bodily autonomy is under attack, minorities are bearing the brunt of reactionary Leftist backlash. TERF princesses are being crowned left and right, claiming they were “just sharing an article.”
When trans women writers and critics do gain notoriety, they may suffer extreme unwanted attention as a zeitgeist effigy. Andrea Long Chu has recently resurfaced after the chilly reception to her first book Females. Her work in Vulture is some of the most cogent literary criticism in years. She can exorcize the demons of mediocre books praised by many mainstream outlets such as Ottessa Moshfegh's Lapvona or Maggie Nelson’s On Freedom. Many feminist historians have covered the way cis women's writing has been suppressed (notably Joanna Russ and Linda Nochlin)--but what about the writing and work of trans women? Work that's been suppressed due to a hostile political ecosystem that decides trans women are a proxy issue?
Why have there been no great trans women critics? There have been, you just didn’t read them. In fact, there are many---Andrea Long Chu, Jamie Hood, Jules Gil-Petersen among them--all of whom publish with helter-skelter resources when compared to critics such as Pamela Paul. This lack of resources and political hostility create a two-pronged attack on trans women's ability to write freely.
I used to work in film. I was obsessed with sincerity, sometimes in a sickeningly sweet torturous way. When I began reading more explicitly trans writing--from Imogen Binnie to Shola von Reinhold—I saw the bite of trans girls. To move as a trans girl is to know how flexible and destructive armor can be. There is room for an emotionally cutting voice that also gives a reader a bridge to walk over. If they want it. I send a little version of myself to the frontlines, performing masochism over and over. But what if we’re not always gentle? What if we have an ax?
In a hot take economy, our work is circulated among TERF princesses and Reddit threads as a way to denounce whatever ideas we build for our alleged body parts. Everyone loves to talk about body parts as if gender is a flat, Mesozoic rock. If people are so insistent on talking about body parts in relation to a woman's work I will merely say my boyfriend has no complaints. But that's besides the point, what I'm talking about is the way our culture is suppressing the writing and criticism of trans women in favor of promoting the idea that women are women because of birth. The divine right of womyn-born womyn living in their castles wearing pussy hat tiaras.
If, as so many claim, trans women will one day be dug up and claimed as men, I hope they also dig up our writing and wonder how such prismatic, complex, angry work was ever seen as contributing to patriarchal expansion. Trans work is always about so many things—survival and beauty, love and fear, bodies and grief, wit and lust.
And sometimes, just sometimes, it is about many other things: why, for instance, a sentence doesn't work in the context of a novel. Or, perhaps, Moshfegh's strange relationship to fatness or even tracing the history of apocalypse narratives in tandem with trans fiction.
Why are there so few trans women writing at major publications? Why are so many major publications late to review trans literature—if they do so at all? Why are there not more trans-run media publications and why are the ones out there always precarious and teetering? How many trans writers have you commissioned? How many TERFS have you commissioned?
I'm just asking questions.
I hope you’ve been well. I’ve been resting up after FFS and working on other writing projects.
During the break, I wrote for Observer about Patricia Highsmith’s diaries, Gretchen Felker-Martin’s incredible block-buster Manhunt, Hil Malatino’s new scholarly work Side Affects: On Being Trans and Feeling Bad, Sarah Thankam Mathews and her stunning debut novel, and the legacy of Imogen Binnie’s Nevada.
I’m also particularily excited to announce my first short story, “Toys” has been published in Peach Mag.
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What about Roz Kaveny and her long history of criticism including for the TLS?