It’s Time to Retire the Media’s Sad Transgender Trope

From Rewire News:

Transgender writers shouldn’t have to perform sadness or pain just to get published.

Katelyn Burns
Nov 26, 2018

Beyond all else, cisgender people have a compulsive need to imagine that transgender people are miserable. In telling transition stories, it’s often the pain that is centered—the pain of loss, of discrimination, or even physical pain. Those stories do nothing for trans people and exist merely to fulfill the voyeuristic need of curious cis people. Trans storytellers who are willing to dig deepest into their own trauma are thus too often elevated to the biggest media platforms.

In a New York Times op-ed published Saturday, trans writer Andrea Long Chu became the latest to take advantage of that dynamic, describing how she has become more depressed, dysphoric, and suicidal after starting hormones and claiming that her forthcoming bottom surgery won’t make her happy. Chu skillfully exposed her very raw pain on the country’s largest print platform, presenting a very important counter-narrative to the idea that trans people are universally happy after transitioning. The thesis of her piece is that it shouldn’t matter whether transitioning makes us happy or not, and fundamentally, she has a point.

But whatever she hoped for cis readers to take away from her piece, it’s overshadowed by her inaccurate and offensive claim that a post-op vagina is a “wound,” and her insistence that trans people aren’t happy after transitioning. “There are no good outcomes in transition,” she wrote, projecting her own transition difficulties onto everyone else.

The act of inverting a penis into a vagina is so extreme and offensive to society that misery is the only prerequisite justifying the procedure. “People transition because they think it will make them feel better. The thing is, this is wrong,” Chu wrote, before launching into a beautiful monologue detailing her own painful experience. But without qualifying that her statement is merely her own, she perhaps unintentionally asserts her own experience as universal. In truth, studies have shown that trans people are generally happier after transitioning and that most of their difficulties in life come from discrimination and social rejection.

Many trans people have responded to her op-ed by explaining that they are happy with their transitions, but Chu asserted later on social media that trans people lie about how happy we are after. As Chu noted, there is a basis for her assertion because trans people are forced to follow a script to satisfy the gatekeeping demands of cis therapists and doctors who determine who gets which treatment. The issue again is that this merely creates more fodder for the cis people who ultimately have the power to decide who gets to transition or not.

If none of us are happier as a result of transitioning, and anyone who claims happiness is a liar, how is transitioning an ethical treatment option for gender dysphoria? Why should we allow these tortured souls to serve in the military or even access these “mutilating” surgeries, one might ask. Chu is playing a dangerous game with transition care access currently threatened by the Trump administration.

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Must Trans Narratives Cater To Cis Audiences?

From Into More:

By: Eli Erlick
27 Nov 2018

Much like my testosterone blockers, the truth is a bitter pill to swallow. Andrea Long Chu’s recent polemical op-ed in the New York Times polarized the trans community. Within hours of the release of “My New Vagina Won’t Make Me Happy,” thousands of responses flooded social media. Some trans writers claimed it will harm trans people and cause cis audiences to doubt our transitions. Others applauded it for generating a discussion on trans dissatisfaction without petitioning to take away our healthcare. The piece’s central purpose, obfuscated by vague language and generalizations, is that trans people do not need to become happier to get access to the care we need. Chu contends we should be able to talk about our complex relationships to transitioning undisturbed by cisgender medical or psychological gatekeepers. Regret, unhappiness, and discomfort can and often do become part of this process. Yet we still deserve care. Nobody knows our own bodies and narratives like we do.

Chu’s op-ed distances itself from the “liberal counternarrative” to anti-trans pundits who claim that being trans is a “clinical delusion.” This liberal story — trans people are inherently suffering and must receive care to become happier –- is limited in scope and usefulness. Chu, like many other trans people, became viscerally less happy while transitioning. She explains that estrogen allowed her to access repressed emotions that make her feel worse. She still stays on hormones. Transition exacerbated her dysphoria, made her suicidal, and caused her to question transness. Yet, as she explains, “desire and happiness are independent agents.” She is arguing –- nebulously –- that we should not set happiness as the “benchmark of success” for trans healthcare. Rather, the desire to transition is enough. If we confine the ability to transition to the ideal of happiness, we may be allowing medical and psychological professionals to withhold treatment. They would judge our qualifications by a potential “successful outcome” (being happier). Wanting to transition is ample rationale for transitioning on its own.

Many critics pointed out that while Chu’s arguments are important and strong, the New York Times may not be the best venue for this op-ed. The newspaper caters to notoriously anti-transgender readers and writers, meaning the article will inevitably be misinterpreted. If your op-ed is in the New York Times, it probably isn’t that radical. But Chu never asserts that being radical was her intention. Her writing will almost certainly lead to people withholding care from trans communities, especially trans youth. Nevertheless, this critique also pivots Chu’s narrative on its palatability to cisgender people in power. It’s not pragmatic, but she never claimed that’s what she aims for. We shouldn’t have to lower our standards to respectability.

The other, more pointed criticism of the piece focuses on Chu’s decision to universalize trans experience by paving over the narratives of other trans people. She writes, “people transition because they think it will make them feel better. The thing is, this is wrong.” Perhaps this was wrong for her, but the majority of trans people, according to nearly every narrative, community space, and study, says otherwise. If we want to get exact with language, she is correct that transition “may make them feel better.” It’s not a guarantee. Still, the majority of trans people do, in fact, feel better when we transition. When confronted with this fact by trans researcher Samantha Allen on Twitter, Chu responded that trans people are simply lying to researchers and themselves when we claim that we’re happier.

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