[This was almost a Twitter thread, but I am desperately trying never to do those again. Thus, some reading notes about today's curious overlaps on the timeline. A version of this appeared on my website Cariglinotype, but I would like to preserve it here.]on the ghost of ourself
I'm not sure if I'm "performing" my identity so much as cosplaying it, engaging in a kind of performance once-removed, an amateur-hour escape from the reality of the flesh that I'm stuck in, something I do as much because I enjoy the company of my fellow fans as I do the source material itself. My Twitter timeline seems to tell me I'm not the only person spending the first day of Trans Week of Awareness on these sorts of musings or their artifacts, and while I'm not particularly interested in tracing back patient zero of this discursive tendency (that's a game for Twitter; I'm coming here to avoid playing it), I think it's worth musing aloud about it for a few moments, more as a distraction from the crisis motivating these thoughts than as an intervention.
We begin at the end of the line, with the intervention that made me finally start writing: Emily Van der Werff asking this question near the end of a poignant meditation on transness and self-continuity: "How do you function within a life that feels built for you by somebody else?" It left me startled to think that someone else has landed here, at this question that motivates so many of my present dilemmas; it's a punch to the gut to consider it. There is a part of me that sees the story of my transition thus:
One afternoon, I woke up from a nap, and Scott had vacated the premises, and Emmeryn was here, and she was terrified to find that he'd left the place a fucking mess. His body was weak and constantly in pain from lethargy and poor diet. His job felt like a dead-end concession to the idea that, as bad as things were, he had to be doing something so he wouldn't starve. All of his relationships were in free-fall, largely because he hated himself so much he was hell-bent on convincing everyone else that they should too, and it was starting to work. So I emerged, broom in hand, to start clearing out the wreckage, and whatever I am and whatever he was, our similarities are only present in the sense that two different people could have some things in common (like a body). I write about him like he died. I think hediddie. I think he had to.
Of course, I am very much myself in some senses: legally I am a continuous person; medically I retain the same body, give or take the corrective work of estradiol; intellectually, I retain most of Scott's predilections and tendencies, save for those I've thrown out because of his poor taste. But there remains a sense of total discontinuity that evades a purely rational approach: I am not him, on some unreachable level. At some point, there was a severance. And yet, as Van der Werff posits, "the wrong life" (his life,my life) "is still following me around like a ghost."He had to die so he could haunt me,and it does feel like a kind of haunting more than anything else, because like a ghost, I cannot convince myself that I really see his presence. He is dead, I am assured by my loved-ones and lovers, and good riddance, he was shit.I laugh because I'm relieved, and I blanch because I swore I just saw him right behind you.
Only celebrities," tweets McKenzie Wark, "are allowed to create distinctive selves. Because there's a conventional agreement to allow them and only them to become so. They become on behalf of those who bind themselves to convention." This, of course, in the context of a short thread about transness and the "art of selfing" (a phrase I am delighted by if only because it evades the citational suggestions of other terms one would, and will, use here) that I'm not sure was motivated by thisotherthread about transness without transition (
I said I wouldn't play the game of trying to figure out who started the discourse, and yet here I am, because Twitter has broken me) but that seem to pair nicely together. The discussion of allowance, or permission to self, is enticing, and here we have two ways of looking at the same, very social-scientific question: who gets to self, or to have a self (besides celebrities, which I'll grant Wark as a given, and beyond whom she expressed an interest in writing)? How is access to, not the art necessarily but the technologies of selving, or "really" self-fashioning, regulated? Transition - at least, medicalized, rationalized, orderly gender transition - is a school whose sole knowledge to impart is the regulation of technologies of self-fashioning, and spending more time thinking about it as such.
Enter, of course, Sir Ewan Forbes, whose emergence as one of trans-Twitter's memes of the week, in part because of Zoe Playdon's book, in part because of the sale of its television rights, and otherwise because of the coverage of said book and its breathless baiting about "secret court cases" that point to some sign that, as far as gender self-identification goes, things were not always thus! Finally, a ray of hope, we can claim that we have a history, that we "aren't some new degeneracy as the liars pretend" as Christine Burns so forcefully put it. And I would love to be able to uncritically celebrate this history, and the shockingly enthusiastic attention the British press is heaping on its so-called rediscovery, except that, like most things about being trans, it's neither that simple nor that satisfying - it does, however, let us start gesturing toward our question.Thankfully, like every good cooking show, I have one made in advance; the conceit here is very similar and the wording more honest, because like on a cooking show, Ididn't do it. Os Keyes hits all the marks I had hoped they would: