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