I saw this TikTok last year. It starts with someone, white, wearing a short-sleeved button-up shirt, leather-strapped watch, asymmetrical haircut, lip-syncing to recorded dialogue.

I’m a girl in a man way. But I’m not a man, I’m a little guy. I’m just a little guy. I’m also a lesbian.

And then this video is interrupted by someone, black, wearing a black t-shirt, short bleached hair, speaking. They say:

No, like, no hate, like, absolutely no hate. I think this is super cute, I think this audio is cute, but when I first saw it, I had this thought. And then I clicked on the audio to see if it was confirmed and it was. And it’s, like, it’s so funny because this – this concept of a person, of like gender expression, of whatever expression: it’s white. Like, when I first saw it I was like that’s so funny because I know so many people that this applies to and that is absolutely correct, they look exactly like you, and like everybody under the sound, and yet none of them are black. That is a white thing, a white queer thing, and I think that’s funny. Like never have I been able to explain this aesthetic more than through this audio, but it’s a thing. Black people, we’ve got studs, we got a bunch of other options but this: that’s y’all’s culture.

I think roughly around the time of seeing this TikTok I was reading Yves Rees’ memoir All About Yves: Notes from a Transition and side-by-side I began to think a lot about this phenomenon of non-binary transness being defined by difference. And as I had these thoughts they weren’t giving me new insight into non-binary gender generally, or my own gender identity, but rather I thought about identity expression as it has come to rely on popular culture, and how that process of identity-actualisation has a fraught relationship, conscious and unconscious, to systems of power.

I have transcribed a TikTok to start a review of All About Yves but I’m not being flippant, I want to offer my critiques really carefully. This is a memoir and it can be hard to apply literary criticism to memoir, especially in Australia, without it reading like a critique of the person writing it or of their experiences. It can be hard to apply criticism without feeling, you know… mean. And perhaps the professional thing to do is to not care about being mean, but two years into a pandemic I’m tired and I’m losing faith in almost everything and I don’t want to be mean about a book or an author. The world feels delicate right now, and it’s not the time to be taking books personally, but it is a time to read closely and to consider these books’ implications, I think. In terms of working out what might come next.

This is a book written by a trans writer and I am a trans reader, but this is not a book written for me. Rees has collated a sort of Cliff’s Notes on transitioning, largely I think for cis readers who are confronted by the idea of transness and for trans readers who are still at a point of finding the process of transition daunting or mysterious. I am far enough along my journey of trans consciousness not to need this sort of book, which isn’t to say that there are not others who will need it, and isn’t to say that the people who do need it, shouldn’t. But while I read it, not being the person it was written for, what kept occurring to me was that I wasn’t interested in it so much as a memoir, revolving around Rees as a person – an intelligent, community-focused individual who discovered something miraculous about themself, something that changed their life and opened up their world, and someone who decided to write about the experience – but an idea of representation and an assumption about its importance, namely that it is universally a good thing, something that trans people need and deserve. It’s this that I want to unpack. Not because I don’t think representation is important, but because I think representation can function in more ways than All About Yves leaves room to think about. And so, without wringing my hands too much further at the prospect of being a ‘mean trans reviewer’, I’ll just say that I think at this moment in time what I want criticism to do is not to promote or denigrate a work but really just to run alongside it, offering something else to think about, which you, the reader of this essay, can take up or refuse. And this idea of difference, reinforcing difference through representation, and how this relates to social power, is what I want to use this book as an opportunity to think more about.

All About Yves is broken into 20 short chapter-essays. At the start, Rees recounts a creeping uneasiness that arose while live on radio discussing ANZAC Day celebrations about being referred to with feminine pronouns, or assessed against feminine expectations. In the next chapter, set eight months earlier, on the morning after getting high in Vancouver, a thought materialises in their mind, ‘You’re not really a woman’. They describe leaping out of bed, bundling up their skirts and donating them to charity, ‘Femininity extinguished,’ they write. ‘There’s no need for this costume anymore.’ From here, Rees begins to ‘read the mess backwards’ (the title of the third chapter), unearthing evidence that makes plain, in light of this revelation, firstly that they are trans, and secondly that they had been trans their whole life, though the dominant cultural expectations didn’t allow any opportunity to realise it.

This is, of course, an insidious result of the colonially imposed gender binary. That, for people living in cultures with only two broadly accepted genders, born before say 2005, if you did not fit into the gender you were assigned at birth, it might have taken a long time to come into contact with, or come into familiarity and support for, the idea that you can change that assignation. Rees’ goal is to make awareness of transgenders, and their naturalness, more prevalent and so this is a book that functions as both an explanation and a sort of press release for the trans community, simplifying trans identity at the same time as reiterating its beauty, strength and potential value.

In some ways, this could be seen as demystifying trans identity in order to create a safer and more accepting world. I don’t discount this possibility or the benefit this could have if it was achieved. But there’s also something about Rees’ narration that appears to prime transness to be taken up into popular culture and positioned as aspirational. Rees’ story is not written to trans people, rather they speak seemingly on behalf of trans people. They generalize a lot, the royal ‘we’ is used liberally for instance, and I often found myself resisting being drawn into Rees’ corralling of trans difference and the resulting, perhaps overcompensating, slide into trans superiority.

We trans folk are all so different, a whole ecosystem of bodies and genders, yet through it all runs a relish for the queer and uncategorisable … This makes us one magnificent tribe … Here, in the badlands of gender, is my real team.

I don’t believe in representation as a means for trans liberation in the same way as Rees does. At least, I think it should be approached extremely cautiously, because of its relationship to capitalism and commodification. It’s like the cultural concerns of the 90s and early 00s around the dangerous influences of popular culture – that young minds were being moulded around unrealistic beauty standards, or the glamorisation of violence, for instance – gave way almost immediately in the 2010s to demands that everyone should have the opportunity to see themselves reflected in popular culture. And I suppose this trajectory was an attempt to balance out the toxicity of a monoculture predicated on aspirational white beauty and cultural capital. But it’s as though the moment the iPhone was invented, we accepted that media would have a larger and larger place in our lives, and then immediately surrendered the power to shape our identities to the process of selection by popular culture as to what is desirable. We dropped the conversation about the dangers of letting ourselves be moulded in the image of popular culture in the first place, and instead started conversations about the most ethical way to do it.

We’ve entered this ouroboros, wherein discourse around identity representation requests that popular culture should reflect the infinite ways of being human, and simultaneously suggesting that people ‘can’t be what they can’t see’. Which implies that a way of being needs to have already been represented in popular culture in order to be emulated in the real. So which is it? Is popular culture supposed to reflect us, or is it our job to reflect popular culture? I don’t think the toxicity of aspirational ideals in popular culture has been neutralized simply because now there are way more different ways of being to aspire to. I think treating identity categories as aspirational at all is the enduring issue. In fevered discussions about the importance of representation in popular culture we are forgetting how many cultures exist, quite successfully, completely outside of global popular culture. In this idea that a way of being can only be taken up if it is first modeled and seen in popular culture, we are engaging in a bizarre denial of our humanity, ignoring that most of our impulses originate in our mind and bodies, rather than being taken in from an external source. Yes, we learn how to socialize as babies from the people around us, external sources. But to think that something will only know how to behave and express itself if it is first fed instructions from man-made cultural objects is to imagine a robot not a person.

I came to All About Yves with my pre-conceived reservations about the liberating possibilities of trans representation in popular culture and I was not won over. Where Rees fails to convince me in their advocacy for representation is their difficulty in reconciling their anger at a representative system that failed them with a desire to be elevated within that very same system. Early in their journey, Rees visits a psychologist who uses WPATH (World Professional Association for Transgender Health) standards to assess their level of gender dysphoria. Rees details the labyrinthine bureaucratic obstacles of this process. Despite their awareness of their own distress and its relation to the societally imposed limitations of their gender expression, they must pass this diagnostic test or they could be denied access to hormones and surgery. Indeed, Rees feels their very transness might be invalidated if they cannot pass the test. And so, when their psych asks what their favourite toys were as a child, Rees manipulates their answers. ‘The true answer is that I played with Barbies. Doll’s houses. Dress-ups. I read fairytales. All the classic girl stuff. But that’s not the answer the psych’s looking for.’ And reading this I thought, hell yeah, do what you gotta do, get it etc.. ‘This is all a game, I realise, not a quest for truth.’ Rees writes. ‘I would play along with the diagnosis game because I needed doors to open.’

From here they detail the evolving history of transness and its repeated revisions in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, from transness listed as sexual deviance to gender dysphoria detailed as the treatable mental distress that can result in trans people. ‘If the “diagnosis” was just official-sounding weasel words, liable to be superseded within a few years, why situate trans bodily modification in a diagnostic framework at all?’ But two months later, when Rees receives their result (58 out of a maximum 70 – classified as severe gender dysphoria) they describe a feeling of triumph, not at having beaten a system they’ve just described as fundamentally flawed and unreliable, a system they consciously made an effort to ‘game’, but rather because, ‘even well into adulthood, I’m still the perpetual straight-A student, always desperate to top the class and win the teacher’s favour. A high score, no matter the metric, is cause for celebration.’ And yes, they are making a self-deprecating joke about being a high-achiever, but the celebration continues, ‘with my diagnosis, I’d crossed a threshold. It was as though “trans” has been carved into my flesh, turning an inner feeling into something official and irrevocable.’ Frustratingly, this happens a lot throughout the book, particularly at the ends of chapters. Rees undermines every argument they’ve just made against a restrictive system as soon as they get a taste of renegotiating their position and once again being deemed acceptable by it.

There is this repeated refrain that Rees uses throughout the book, ‘not-woman, not-man’. They are something else they say, again and again. It becomes static and uncomfortable. Not because non-binary genders aren’t legitimate (obviously, I do not think this!) but because by repeating it so often it starts to feel not so much like Rees is deconstructing binary gender as ratifying a three-party system. Turning two fixed, enforceable gender designations into three. And, due to Rees’s tendency to describe in detail the toxic system of gender roles and their assumptions, while also making plenty of them themself (they refer to anatomical descriptions of gender a staggering amount, or assess themself according to various gay stereotypes, presumably to speak into the assumptive language of the cis audience they are attempting to convince), I’m not convinced that this is such a good idea.

Why is there this tendency to define oneself through difference? Non-binary, not-man, not-woman. It is not just Rees who does this, all humans do. Anthropologist Gregory Bateson used the term schismogenesis as he sought to describe social behavioural patterns that can occur between separate communities, or distinct groups within the same community. We create identity by creating difference. But, Bateson identified, schismogenesis in a community always incurs amplification. Complementary schismogenesis, one form of this process, sees two groups assert themselves using different but complementary patterns. One group expresses X pattern of behaviour, such as being more dominant and the other group adopts Y pattern of behaviour (here, submissiveness) in response. As each group adopts these patterns they become respectively more assertive and more submissive in response to each other. The other form is symmetrical schismogenesis, where two groups exhibit the same behaviour but continually one-up each other, in order to maintain difference. In both scenarios, at some point, Bateson says, something must intervene to cease the amplification or risk the total collapse of the system.

It seems to me that this notness of asserting one’s gender against the norm – ‘I’m a girl in a man way, but I’m not a man, I’m a little guy,’ ‘not-man, not-woman, something else’ – is a quasi-submissive iteration of schismogenesis. And, in the context of white, non-binary memoirists, I’m wondering what it achieves. In A Year Without a Name (2019) Cyrus Dunham similarly writes into notness, struggling to distinguish between gender dysphoria and having to live in the shadow of a famous sibling and wealthy, art-world famous parents. What notness in writing does is identifies difference, sets an identity apart, in the least threatening way possible, because crucially what notness defines itself against is not just categories of being, perhaps man and woman, but specifically the ills perceived in both. I am not the feared parts of X, but I am also not the uncomfortable parts of Y. The notness is a refusal to surrender any power and to position oneself as pure. There is something a little petulant about it. It has not invented anything for itself. It remains childlike and innocent and demanding. To truly deconstruct the gender systems that are limiting would necessitate building something new. I think this not manoeuvre sometimes reads as though, as white middle-class trans people, we’re not entirely ready to face discomfort in the prospect of disrupting and letting go of a claim to privilege and power we had grown accustomed to having. It reads as wanting to belong to two groups at once. Not man and woman at once, but the good middle-class white person, whose transness also gives them insight into marginalisation. And letting go of this power isn’t simply acknowledging privilege, being aware and accountable, as these are also manoeuvres which maintain a status quo of being ‘just a little guy’ non-threatening and pure, but rather not manoeuvring around it at all, not finding a new less-problematic position of power by being a spokesperson but allowing yourself to be in some ways exactly the person you have always been, a person who already had and continues to have ample power, rather than someone who lost it or needs more of it.

This isn’t to say that a white, trans person can’t experience grief, unfair treatment, or genuine fear and alienation, and then write about those experiences, or seek communion in those experiences. But sometimes in reaching for validity in these feelings, certain writing can become hyperbolic and full of indecent slippage. For instance, in ‘reading their mess backwards’ Rees has a tendency to superimpose unilaterally their current awareness on past memories. Bringing a current perspective to memory is an interesting exercise but in All About Yves it is often done with an air of judgement towards the people around them in their memories. Describing their adolescence they write, ‘I buy the dresses, the skirts. I go through the motions of performing “girl”. I even go on dates when men ask me, half-amused they can’t see through the farce.’ But, what does this mean? If even Rees wasn’t aware of their transness back then, how can others be expected to? Perhaps Rees is amused now, or perhaps they were bemused back then without understanding why. But in this articulation, Rees seems more to want to exert power and control retroactively than genuinely to situate themselves in and fully understand the moment they are describing. Their eyes have been opened so everyone around them should have always had eyes open too. I don’t write this to be centrist or to abandon my trans community, but I think we can bring compassion to the fact that as long as it took us to break free of gender assumptions, it will take the cis people around us longer, and they don’t have an internal drive compelling these discoveries. Rees writes, ‘To be unknowable, perhaps is to taste something close to freedom’. But this project is seemingly a work of the opposite, a desire, almost an expectation, to be as knowable as possible and to make all trans people knowable as well. Despite the fact that feeling alien is not solely a trans experience but often a very human one.

Rees writes consistently as though they are under attack. They ‘weather a barrage of curious eyes’, their gender ‘performances are a reminder that I’m living undercover. A small yet delicious subversion of the surveillance of the state’. But while trans people are under political attack often and experience violence often, what Rees describes within the book are not the most high-stakes of trans attacks. In one chapter, ‘Blondie’, they write about how their naturally blonde hair has always been admired, particularly by hairdressers who tell them frequently how lucky they are to have it, how many of their clients pay a lot of money to get Rees’ natural hair colour. This progresses into a historical analysis of why blonde is seen as a desirable attribute and red hair, for instance, isn’t, and by extension why being transgender, intersex or albino aren’t, despite these attributes being just as rare statistically. World War II is referenced, as is the fact that blondeness tends to evoke childhood and innocence. ‘All in all, the hype over blondes felt a little too much like the mutterings of a Klu Klux Klan stalwart with paedophilic tendencies. And so I would squirm under the hairdresser’s hands as they marvelled at my tresses.’ This is, to be honest, a bonkers long bow to draw. Beyond being inappropriate and insensitive to people genuinely victimised by those histories, it also assumes, as Rees’ writing often does, that because they are writing about transness, transness and transphobia are the only social dynamics at play. This scene is a hairdresser, someone paid to talk to strangers with whom they share very little context and make them feel good about hair, paying Rees a compliment. I understand they are trying to be impactful in their writing, but describing a hairdresser as emitting the mutterings of a KKK paedophile is just deeply bad faith characterisation, and isn’t necessary. When you are a member of a victimised and oppressed group of people, why go to the length of searching out harm and threat? What is there to gain from this?

I don’t really use Facebook anymore but I am still in an FTM trans support group that I joined early in my transition. Whenever I log in, these are always the posts I see first. The other day someone posted about how annoying it was that they had just moved house and their parents kept coming over to help them out, set up their utilities, buy items for the kitchen, etc. They said they felt like it was because their parents didn’t trust them because they were trans. I was relieved to see that almost all of the comments pointed out that this probably wasn’t a trans thing. Bro, most parents have difficulty letting go when their child becomes an adult, the comments read. Another post said, ‘Honestly, I hate cis people and I want them to die. I was at a pub this evening and I went up to play darts but suddenly the game finished and I was left all alone. Is it really so threatening to have a trans guy want to play darts with you?’ Again, the comments replied, are you sure they even knew you were trans? Probably the game just ended. I honestly don’t think anyone was thinking about you in that way.

Rees writes with hyperbole, seemingly from a protective drive for their community. In describing Melbourne’s lockdown they write, ‘Of course, lockdown loneliness was not restricted to trans folk. Everyone—cis or trans, no matter their circumstances—suffered under the isolation. But the pain was especially acute for trans people, who rely upon gathering together to offset a lifetime of stigma and prejudice.’ It is of course admirable to want to stick up for your community, but to say this sort of pain was more acute for trans people is again unnecessary and unknowable. It is possible to describe the specificities of this experience as a trans person without having to put us in competition with cis people. This hyperbolic overreaching began to bother me more and more. In a description of an Our Watch report which found that strong beliefs in what it means to be either masculine or feminine were key drivers of violence against women, Rees writes, ‘In short, to end the national tragedy of one woman murdered each week by a current or former partner, we need to allow kids to play with gender.’ This research is compelling and important and it feels undermined by this blunt, declarative writing that over-distils its implications and the many social dynamics that influence domestic violence.

Transness in All About Yves is both constantly victimised and also the answer to all of the problems of the world. And also, a useful position from which to gain power. Rees offers themself as the expert reporting on all of this. Rees is uplifting trans people everywhere, a sort of Robin Hood figure, robbing the rich cis people to give to the poor trans people and no one can stand in their way because their arguments for the right to self-actualisation are simply too humane to deny. But to position oneself as expert is to suggest that gender can be known, that it can be explained, that it is something one can be an expert in, and this seems at odds with the established notions of transness they elsewhere describe as destructive: an experience that invariably starts with an assignation, an unearned knowing. To dismantle this assignation with more assignations jars. Their writing on the diagnostic testing again, ‘For all my scepticism about the diagnostic process, for all my frustration over the medicalisation of transness, the diagnosis itself is a blessing. I’d been anointed, smeared with holy oil, and now drifted in a rarefied state, apart from the world.’ It is hard to believe in Rees as an author to follow into the lands of systemic validation because they quickly set themself apart as soon as it suits them.

In a chapter called ‘Screen Time’, which starts by broadly summarising the points made in the documentary Disclosure, Rees reports watching the movie Ace Ventura: Pet Detective as a child, a film infamous for a scene in which Jim Carrey exposes a trans woman in public and then vomits at the realisation. Rees writes that it is their earliest lesson about transness, that from this movie they learnt that being transgender was the most disgusting thing you could be. Again, somewhat undermining their own claims, they then write that they had suppressed their memories of Ace Ventura until they saw the film Disclosure, in which trans people in media describe how awful this scene is. And while I think Disclosure is a fascinating documentary, one that moved me and gave me pause for reflection and one that makes good points about the ways trans awareness has been thwarted in popular culture historically, I think moving forward, tying the success of widespread trans narrativistion so strongly to the extent of cultural representation is dangerous.

Popular culture today functions quite differently to how it did when Yves and I were children. It is no longer just movies and books and plays and journalism, widely accessible while remaining discrete units. We have allowed ourselves to become completely permeable to the influence of media and commodification, the celebritisation of identity is widespread. We have welcomed colonialist capitalism into the most intimate and private areas of our daily lives. In fact, Rees themself mentions turning to Instagram a lot following their discovery of their transness, ‘I need to find other people like me, other not-women born with vaginas. I guess at a hashtag – #transman – and I’m off and away, enraptured by the endless selfies’. Rees forgetting the impact Ace Ventura had on them until they see it deconstructed by another piece of media feels suspect. Because it resembles modelled behaviour, learned behaviour from a powerful influence, and something that Rees feels they need to emulate in order to join a new, more desirable group of power players: the trans media celebrities. If they are saying the movie Ace Ventura taught them to feel bad about themselves, and I also saw that movie as a child, maybe it also made me feel bad about myself. Rees’ book rests on the idea that it was hard for them to realise they were trans. But it never deals with the fact that almost as soon they had the thought in Vancouver ‘You’re not a woman’ they didn’t have difficulty finding representations of transness. They looked for it and found it in many different forms.

I did not learn that I was trans because I saw a respectful portrayal on television or in books. I learned I was trans because I met a non-binary person and I thought ‘oh cool, I didn’t know you could be that, that’s for sure what I am’ and then once I processed this realisation, I came out. And it was difficult and is still difficult for many of the reasons Rees describes but I am glad it happened that way. I believe representation is necessary in the sense that I think transness should be discussed openly, and lived openly (where possible and safe), in order for it to be part of more people’s universes, so that they can come into contact with transness more easily. And I understand that cultural representation disseminates awareness very efficiently. I am grateful for books like Lou Sullivan’s diaries, or Detransition, Baby, books where transness is positioned as incidental to the experience of being human. I see these works disseminating the normalcy of transness well because they don’t seek to explain transness or reduce it to something discrete and commodifiable, or amplify it into something aspirational, transness is just there as one part of the universe. My fear with a book like All About Yves is that it reduces and parades transness in a way that, as a trans reader, felt strangely exposing and possessive and didn’t seem to deconstruct anything so much as capitalise on an opportunity to be the trans expert and reconfigure a coercive system to retain a place for themself. Rees seeks representation within a system of commodification. They demand to be commodified the same way as anyone else and ask for the same value to be ascribed, rather than undoing the commodification system to begin with. The system is bad, yes. But paired with an ever more factional system of differentiation-identification, asking a bad system to be nicer to you specifically, leaping to outrage as soon as you are not accommodated by a system you know is famously unaccommodating, is effecting less and less change.

Throughout All About Yves, responsibility for Rees’s internal struggles is located in external forces. Which is antithetical to being human. It can be annoying to have a reviewer make grand, generalising statements about what art does or should do but (I’m doing it anyway) from my vantage point, all writing must acknowledge at its core the fact that life is hell for everyone. And we can write about why it is specifically hell for us, or we can write about the beautiful moments we’ve found despite this hell, but ultimately life is hell. We all know it. Especially right now. In taking it upon themself to validate transness on behalf of the community, I think Rees veers dangerously close to dismissing a sort of universal vulnerability to the systems of oppression and marginalisation they identify, and the work feels shallow because of that.

Transness can be a very fear-laden experience. Fearing perception, fearing possible violent results of perception. It’s not fair that anyone should have to go through life regularly experiencing fear or discomfort. But we have an implicit responsibility as conscious beings negotiating identities separate to but co-existing with billions of others to sort through some of these fears and to work out what is internal and what is external. All About Yves relies heavily on Rees’ research of transness and trans writing. It seems like they read a lot throughout the early stages of transition and are keen to share what helped them. But I think what it lacks are scenes of them in community, not just with other trans people but just out in the world. They spend time with friends, they volunteer at events, and they report the lessons they learn in key discussions. But I also wanted to hear about them out in the world where transness is just one aspect of their life, rather than a problem they’ve had forced on them by cis supremacy and that they’ve taken it upon themself to solve.

My very favourite parts of the book are when Rees has conversations with their mother. This is the only relationship in the book that we witness evolve over the course of the collection, without Rees’ conscious control of it. At one point when Rees discusses changing their name, their mother says she never really liked her name and Rees tells her she can change it if she wants. She dismisses the idea at first but then, later, in another chapter, she announces that she has changed her name after all. It’s a wonderfully sweet moment, where Rees, just by being in the world, has opened up something for someone close to them, trans or otherwise. It is not a controlled moment. It is not something where they knowingly gain or give power, it just happens. It unfolds silently behind the scenes of other chapters. And narratively it’s exploring some degree of sameness, as well as difference, and still it reveals more about the character of the people being described, their positions in life and their relationship, than any of the other writing.

By setting transness apart through writing notness, I worry we are fracturing ourselves to the point of total disassociation. Bateson wrote that a circuit breaker is always needed to avoid collapse. We are defining ourselves through difference more and more and perhaps it would be better just to allow these differences to be mundane. Not spoken about as beautiful and valuable, but accepted as incidental. I am not a man and I am not a woman either. And I don’t know what the answer is but lately when I sign into government portals and fill in forms and I see the options ‘man, woman, non-binary, prefer not to say’ I think the best thing I can do against a system of control is to just select ‘prefer not to say’. Am I non-binary? Most of the time it doesn’t come up and I’d prefer not to talk about it. Personally, I’m happy just vibing as much as possible. Certainly, it is frustrating that because I was born in New South Wales I cannot change my sex marker unless I get bottom surgery. It is annoying that when I go to the post office I, like Rees, have to do a little back and forth with the person behind the desk, standing my ground and assuring them that although the name is different to my ID I am the person who is supposed to be picking up the parcel. It is confronting how often I just want to have a streamlined, anonymous bureaucratic process and someone feels the need to tell me unprompted whether they think I pass or not, or whether they have a queer relative. It scares me that sometimes when I am out alone in the world I do worry that someone is going to randomly beat the shit out of me. These are not nothing things. But still, life is hell for everyone. These fears and nuisances are not just experiences of trans people, but a result of living in capitalist society that demands we compress our identities into the most valuable form possible and then compete and fight with each other for who can make the most out of that process, who comes out on top.

Life is hell. We must remember this when we write. Life is hell and living under capitalism is restrictive and awful but life is more than what can be packaged and sold and written about.

 ‘Stories make worlds, and the stories we tell about transness can be a matter of life or death.’ Rees writes.

But stories do not make worlds, people do. And perhaps there is more benefit to be gained from accepting that our identities are infinitely different and that we can follow our impulses to find ourselves no matter how long it takes, rather than attempt to define ourselves by finite categories of difference. Perhaps we might try living first, being first, and telling the stories inspired by our experiences of living, in order to make life slightly more bearable, rather than telling stories with the enormous burden of responsibility that they should make living possible.

Published May 9, 2022
Part of Juncture: JUNCTURE is a fellowship program presenting a series of new essays on Australian and international literature by leading critics.  All Juncture essays →
Oliver Reeson

Oliver Reeson is an essayist and screenwriter. In 2021, they are one of the...

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