Ruby’s 2021 list of things that made her think about gender

So in the last few years of my life I’ve noticed I keep coming across pieces of media that have helped me think about my relationship to my gender. I’ve also come across media that has helped me communicate aspects of myself and make me feel understood. Additionally, recently I’ve noticed among my cisgendered friends a willingness to better understand trans experiences beyond a cursory level. To this end (and also because I want to practice my writing skills), I’ve decided to put together a little article listing some of these pieces of media that have had an effect on me. I’ve also added some commentary helping to explain why the pieces resonated with me as a trans person (and a binary trans woman in particular). These pieces have explicit trans themes or representation. They’re also, broadly speaking, fairly accessible pieces of media (with a few exceptions).

Shapeshifting is the greatest superpower, hands down

When I was growing up, there was this really cool series of books that some people might have heard of called Animorphs. Written by K. A. Applegate, the Animorphs books depict a war between two alien races: The parasitic Yeerks and the shapeshifting Andelites. Earth is caught in the middle of this war after the Yeerks secretly invade and plan to subjugate humans. To stop this plan the Andelites arrive and give 5 teenagers their ability to transform into any animal for a period of time. What was happening in the 90s that we got both Animorphs and Tomorrow, When the War Began? Both stories child soldiers forced to commit horrific acts, and the trend is still going as far as I know. Anyway, the Animorphs books are fantastic, and particularly in the additional chronicles books, get into some pretty good sci-fi. Animorphs doesn’t have any explicitly trans content (although the author has a trans child who she’s very supportive of), but I don’t actually want to talk about the Animorphs books as a whole. I don’t even want to talk about the Animorphs tv-show adaptation (which is bad). I want to talk about one character in particular, and I want to talk about fanfiction.

Bird in a Cage by Etothepii

Fanfiction is a weird thing. Is it mostly cheesy accounts of explicit sexual deeds between men written by teenage girls? Yes, it is. Can I at all enlighten you as to why that is indeed a thing? Nope, I’ve never heard a satisfying reason, so your guess is as good as mine. Are the depictions of trans people often added only to satisfy some fetishistic interest of the author? Unfortunately, yes. But finally, Is there so much of it that like Borge’s Library of Babel, there is indeed some great work in there? HEAVENS YES. “Bird in a Cage” is one of those great pieces of Work.

So, webcomics huh, they’re a thing.

It’s something about webcomics that develop slowly over a long period of time that can lead to very strange interesting, often quite original stories. The downside of this however is that these stories and fandoms become incredibly difficult to get into. Multiple friends have tried to get me to read Homestuck (probably one of the biggest webcomics out there) and I just can’t stick with it long enough to get invested. I do quite like the format, though. For one, webcomics are incredibly trans. Between Rae the Doe, Julia Kaye’s Up and Out, this recent very cool arc of Real Life, and literally countless others have trans elements. But the one I want to talk about today is called El Goonish Shive.

El Goonish Shive by Dan Shive

I started reading El Goonish Shive in July 2019, but the comic started in 2002 and has been going fairly regularly since then. It started as a school newspaper comic with a weird mad science spin, and predictably juvenile writing, but then it quickly becomes something… else. Early in the first arc we’re introduced to Grace, a strange part teenage girl, part alien, part squirrel, escaped science experiment. Around the same time, one of the main characters, Ted, invents a transformation gun, and turns his best friend Elliot into a girl. Elliot then splits into two different Elliots, the original male Elliot, and a new character Ellen. Ellen becomes a complete main character along with the others, and has her own stories and character development. Things that seem like weird jokes or asides suddenly turn into meaningful parts of the story. This sort of emotionally vulnerable and thought out zaniness sets a strange, but engrossing tone for the series.

Dysphoria is weird, really weird

I want to kind of talk about how dysphoria manifests, at least for me. I’ve always found the easiest way to make sense of the feelings is to categorise them into three separate areas. The first area is body dysphoria. Body dysphoria is a feeling of discomfort relating to my actual physical body. My angst and discomfort when I think about my neck, my chest, my genitals, my height, my hips etc. It’s in this category. The second area is social dysphoria. Being misgendered, people making assumptions based on my sex, and transphobic micro-aggressions come under this. Basically, anything that points out that the way I think and want to portray myself is very far away from what people see.

Lone Shadow by Mia Nie

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When something you hate does something good…

Ok, so I really don’t like superheroes. I find the stories contrived, the world building cliché, and they are often just so very American, and well, boring. I do like trans representation though, so of course when I heard about “The first trans women superhero”, being in an episode of “Supergirl”, I had to hang up my pride and watch an episode. This trans superhero character is Nia Nal, I have no idea if she’s an original character or not, but I know the character is played by Nicole Maines.

Supergirl S04E11 “Blood Memory”

I just want to reiterate, I don’t really think this episode is good in and of itself. There’s a terrible non-trans related plot in it that I can only barely remember. The writing is up to the CW’s standards which is to say… inconsistent, but at least the trans stuff is fairly self-contained, so you can appreciate it without watching any other episodes of “Supergirl”. I sure didn’t. Also, hey there’s a small section with a good Maggie Rogers song it, so there’s that too.

Teenage Dream

In HBO’s Euphoria, the watershed moment for me, when It all clicked into place in my mind, happened in the second episode. Zendaya’s Rue and Hunter Schafer’s Jules are riding on their bikes through an Orange grove and come to a stop. They’re both laughing and smiling and enjoying each other’s company. Rue then asks Jules if she wants to come over to her house, but Jules declines as she has a family commitment, and instead she’s going to go home and binge-watch a magical girl anime. This was a “holy shit” moment for me. It was the first time I saw a trans woman in a tv show who resembled trans women who I know in real life.

HBO’s Euphoria

The opening act of episode four, details Jules’ backstory, and it is some of the most personally affecting tv I’ve ever watched. So much of it could’ve been pulled from my life, the childhood depression, the overpowering hatred of yourself, the way you think, the way you look, the way you exist, the body dysmorphia, the disassociation, the obsessive thoughts, all of it. I mean there were a couple of differences, I’ve never slept with a “100% Straight” cis white guy, and I didn’t transition until I was 23, but oh lord do I wish I transitioned before I hit puberty, I wish I did every damn day of my life. But there’s another really important aspect to Jules that I want to talk about. Jules’s is a bonafide trans female love interest, and a sapphic one at that.

Ok, so I’m going to talk about Natalie.

Ah Contrapoints, good old controversial Contrapoints. Natalie Wynn is a video essay creator who publishes videos under the Moniker: “Contrapoints”. She got her start commenting on the alt-right and gamergate stuff that was going at the time (which would be a good few years old now) and she is still going on to this day. She has since transitioned and incorporated trans topics into her body of work. Furthermore, she’s a big player in the oddly named “BreadTube” part of YouTube, a collection of video essayists creating works with a decidedly left leaning political stance.

Are Traps Gay?

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Autogynephilia

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The Aesthetic

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Beauty

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Shame

I feel like every frame of this video speaks to me. Compulsory heterosexuality is incredibly strange when you’re trans. You don’t have to deal with the religious or cultural disgust with homosexuality as much as cis people because like, you’re already sort of dealing with that indirectly. However, there’s something so incredibly shameful about being a trans lesbian. Contrapoints explains why better than I ever could, but it’s something I’m constantly aware of. I still try to hide the fact I’m dating a woman from people at work, or anyone I have a professional-type relationship with because it feels so unfeminine. I’m afraid I’ll be accused of not “wanting to be a woman enough if I can’t have the decency of being a straight woman”. Similar to Natalie, part of me hoped that starting on hormones might make me be attracted to men, but it didn’t.

Final Thoughts

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