Two Essays and a New Book from Andrea Long Chu
October 16, 2019 2:54 PM   Subscribe

Andrea Long Chu, On Liking Women:
The truth is, I have never been able to differentiate liking women from wanting to be like them. For years, the former desire held the latter in its mouth, like a capsule too dangerous to swallow. When I trawl the seafloor of my childhood for sunken tokens of things to come, these bus rides are about the gayest thing I can find. They probably weren’t even all that gay. It is common, after all, for high school athletes to try to squash the inherent homoeroticism of same-sex sport under the heavy cleat of denial. But I’m too desperate to salvage a single genuine lesbian memory from the wreckage of the scared, straight boy whose life I will never not have lived to be choosy. The only other memory with a shot at that title is my pubescent infatuation with my best friend, a moody, low-voiced, Hot Topic–shopping girl who, it dawned on me only many years later, was doing her best impression of Shane from The L Word. One day she told me she had a secret to tell me after school; I spent the whole day queasy with hope that a declaration of her affections was forthcoming. Later, over the phone, after a pause big enough to drown in, she told me she was gay. “I thought you might say that,” I replied, weeping inside. A decade later, after long having fallen out of touch, I texted her. “A week ago, I figured out that I am trans,” I wrote. “You came out to me all those years ago. Just returning the favor.”

Andrea Long Chu, The Pink:
In truth, I was collecting pains, pinning them like insects to the corkboard of my brain, scribbling little labels below. Together I hoped they might testify to a deeper metamorphosis than the mere rearrangement of flesh. In vaginoplasty, the penis is not removed but delicately opened up and turned inside out — think slicing a mango. The scrotum, its tenants evicted, helps to line the vaginal wall and form the labia. I dutifully observed the garden-variety anxieties: that I would have a complication, that I would regain consciousness on the operating table. But really, I wanted to be cut, sawn in two like a lady in a magic show. I feared not that the degree of change would be catastrophic but that it wouldn’t be catastrophic enough.
Lila Shapiro, Andrea Long Chu Wants More. The 26-year-old critic argues for a new understanding of gender and desire in her debut book, Females:
In her first book, Females, out later this month, she posits a new theory about gender and sexuality, starting with the contention that “everyone is female.” (“I get criticized for projecting a lot,” she says dryly.) In Chu’s usage, female is a “universal existential condition,” defined by submitting to someone else’s desires. For example, even if you conceive of yourself as an alpha male who likes to top in bed, the desire to dominate is ultimately its own form of submission. “A top,” says Chu, “is just a bottom folded into another shape.” So why does she insist on calling a universal condition “female”? “Because everyone already does,” she writes. Women are the “select delegates” of this state of being.
posted by JimBennett (17 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
(It's probably worth mentioning that among the trans women I know who read ALC's stuff, a lot have reactions like "This is dangerously misleading" and "She doesn't speak for me at all." I find her writing interesting to think about — and incredibly close to my experience at times, though incredibly far from it at others — but it's nothing so simple as a reliable guide to What Trans Womanhood Is Like.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 3:40 PM on October 16, 2019 [14 favorites]

(I don't know, sorry if that's getting things off on a bad start. She's a really good writer, her stuff is really interesting, people should read it and discuss it, thank you for the post.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 3:47 PM on October 16, 2019 [6 favorites]

hopefully this post didn't come across that way, i try to never assume any writer speaks for the entirety of their community. i just find andrea to be an incredibly gifted writer and was surprised to see these essays had never been posted on the site before.
posted by JimBennett at 3:48 PM on October 16, 2019 [6 favorites]

Fascinating. Ms. Long Chu definitely writes well.

Thanks also for the contextualization from Nebula.
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:08 PM on October 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

She says a lot of interesting stuff that I don’t agree with but is true. Her experience of transness is so different from mine that it’s completely alien. I liked this graf:

“Only heterosexuality might not have been doing it for Dave, either. It seems never to have occurred to Jeffreys that some of us “transgenders,” as she likes to call us, might opt to transition precisely in order to escape from the penitentiary she takes heterosexuality to be. It is a supreme irony of feminist history that there is no woman more woman-identified than a gay trans girl like me, and that Beth Elliott and her sisters were the OG political lesbians: women who had walked away from both the men in their lives and the men whose lives they’d been living. We are separatists from our own bodies. We are militants of so fine a caliber that we regularly take steps to poison the world’s supply of male biology. To TERFs like Jeffreys, we say merely that imitation is the highest form of flattery. But let’s keep things in perspective. Because of Jeffreys, a few women in the Seventies got haircuts. Because of us, there are literally fewer men on the planet. Valerie, at least, would be proud. The Society for Cutting Up Men is a rather fabulous name for a transsexual book club.“
posted by Sterros at 6:30 PM on October 16, 2019 [13 favorites]

I also think that Andrea Long Chu is a tremendously gifted writer, but some of her assertions leave me gasping: positing that 'female is a “universal existential condition,” defined by submitting to someone else’s desires', for one. The final paragraph of her essay The Pink, linked here, left me feeling bereft, even angry, for her sake:
For my part, cousin: I don’t want what you have, I want the way in which you don’t have it. I don’t envy your plenitude; I envy your void. Now I’ve got the hole to prove it. I would give anything to hate myself the way you do, assuming it’s different from the way I hate myself — which, who knows.
I must have read this essay five or six times over the last year, marvelling at the high-wire gymnastic language she invents, its tricksy twists and turns. But her explorations seem to be revolving around an empty centre (something she has made explicit here). I understand that she doesn't want to give us a narrative of rebirth, that she is committed to the messiness of feeling and compulsions with unclear motives and double-about-face lunges of irony. It still frustrates.
posted by jokeefe at 7:08 PM on October 16, 2019 [3 favorites]

Yeah, one of the things I do love about her is her intense commitment to Not Being One Of The Good Ones in an examined way that goes deeper than the "Fuck it, guess I'll do whatever works and feel vaguely messed up about it forever" thing that me and my friends have in mind when we talk about Not Being One Of The Good Ones.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:17 PM on October 16, 2019 [9 favorites]

I also think that Andrea Long Chu is a tremendously gifted writer, but some of her assertions leave me gasping: positing that 'female is a “universal existential condition,” defined by submitting to someone else’s desires', for one.

This is what leaped (lept? Autocorrect says no) at me too, and what seemed both very interesting but also incredibly problematic.

If nothing else this piece really makes me want to hear people more directly involved and affected respond to it, and that’s something.
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:43 PM on October 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I would go with incredibly problematic. But I think Grace Lavery made a post (on Stage Mirror?) a little while ago where she was roughing out a kind of taxonomy of trans women writers and had Chu on the "Ironic" side, so I take her bluntness a little less seriously now.
posted by jokeefe at 8:54 PM on October 16, 2019 [2 favorites]

I'd say she's more a lifestyle troll. I think she might agree.
posted by fleacircus at 9:05 PM on October 16, 2019 [2 favorites]

It is a supreme irony of feminist history that there is no woman more woman-identified than a gay trans girl like me,

posted by fshgrl at 10:01 PM on October 16, 2019 [8 favorites]

She's clearly smarter than me, so I can't analyze anything, but let us be measured in our criticisms. The writer can be intentionally problematic, knowingly woke in the supposedly wrong way, can "troll," can do whatever the fuck she wants. To me, it all feels both intentionally provocative and emotionally honest. I've never more strongly wanted to give an artist grant to someone whose ideas about stuff are so different from mine.
posted by Sterros at 11:21 PM on October 16, 2019 [4 favorites]

it's nothing so simple as a reliable guide to What Trans Womanhood Is Like.
Is there such a thing? As with all human experiences, there are as many experiences as there are humans.
posted by winterhill at 4:28 AM on October 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

I like her a lot, and I sympathize, and still reading her made me want to not be a trans woman (somewhat exaggerated for effect). Which doesn't mean her views aren't (as the kids say) valid, they are, they're virtuosic, they just don't belong in the NYT (yet? ever? I don't know how getting your stuff published works).

I love some of the things she says, it's all quite brilliant. " “A top,” says Chu, “is just a bottom folded into another shape.” " This is so deeply true it's almost spiritual. "As a good feminist, I know there’s no such thing as a woman. As a woman, I resent this." And another very similar paradox, being "female is a “universal existential condition,”" but still "she will never be able to fulfill her deepest desire, which is not just to be a woman but to have always been one." Which is where things get counter-productive (for her I guess) and kinda misleading (for the reader, therefore leading to all sorts of ruckus and cancellation on twitter) because the fact that one gets hung up on this kind of contradiction isn't due to being trans, and describing it as if it is is, let's say problematic. Probably being trans makes these contradictions easier to notice, that's for sure.

So apparently I'm drawing different conclusions from similar experiences and intuitions. For me when everything is (always/already? is that the right term here?) female, being trans becomes a very different proposition than it is when gender is seen as an objective thing. More like potential for expression, but for her sadly it becomes even more of an existential double-bind. I hope she finds some peace with it.
posted by disso at 12:29 PM on October 17, 2019 [3 favorites]

I can't believe she's only 26, although I think when I learned that, the whole provocateur thing she has going made more sense to me, 'cause that's the age when you do that kinda stuff, and then usually you kind of settle down.

I really enjoy her blistering take-downs, though aspects of them can be fucked up and I'm not sure I should be enjoying them. Her intense pessimism/self-deprecation/depression resonates with me. I'm also inherently a troll (not someone who does trolling, just someone who has that personality) so that speaks to me as well. But I get why a lot of trans twitter freaked out at her NYT op-ed. Idk, she's complicated and interesting.
posted by pelvicsorcery at 1:11 PM on October 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

-> leapt

that's the spelling you're looking for

english is weird


alc has a terrible habit of universalizing her experience, as if she's speaking for her community; even if she denies it, given that she's one of a few who is often platformed, those unfamiliar with us will use her writing as a touchstone or gateway to observing the trans experience.

but, whatever. it's not like cis folk will ever really get it. let her get held up as a brilliant writer, even if that talent plays into the prurient cis fascination with surgical interventions, including the transmisogynistic description of a neovagina as a wound, or an eyebrow-raising skepticism of an expansive, intersectional feminism.
posted by anem0ne at 11:07 AM on October 23, 2019 [5 favorites]

Women on twitter are not exactly loving it.
posted by fleacircus at 5:33 AM on November 2, 2019 [2 favorites]

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