Let’s start with this quote from Females: “The truth is, you are not the central transit hub for meaning about yourself, and you probably don’t even have a right to be. You do not get to consent to yourself, even if you might deserve the chance.” What were you reaching for when you were writing the book?
[Laughter.] What was I reaching for in writing Females? It’s funny because we’re talking about something that I started writing in the fall of 2018. I wrote the second draft of it in the fall and finished it in early spring. It feels like such a long time ago. I think I was trying to work out something very personal in public, which is something that I had already started doing before that point. I have mixed feelings about that now. Partly, I was trying figure out why I had transitioned. That definitely is animating the book.
I mean, there’s obviously a real theoretical core to it that I don’t want to discount, which is a basic claim about psychoanalysis: that Freud said the libido has one sex and it’s male. And I think that’s half right, but there’s a fundamental misunderstanding of maleness. The funny thing about the book is that it’s mostly about men. Valerie Solanas too, obviously, but Valerie is also mostly talking about men. That’s part of a long radical feminist obsession with men: What are men? What is patriarchy? How does male power work? On the one hand, it’s incredibly self-evident—
Right. The infrastructure of maleness.
Well, look at the way society is arranged. Surely, we can demonstrate that something like patriarchy is going on, but when you drill down into (no pun intended) a given man, what you find is: weakness, softness, and indecision. You find all these qualities that are projected onto women, which is what Valerie says. So how do you understand the fact that the phallus doesn’t actually exist? That no one has it?
I think that understanding comes from our relationship to castration. The textbook analysis of what it means to be without, to live in the lack. Right? I was curious if you were familiar with Mary Kelly’s artwork?
Oh, I’m not.
She has a conceptual piece titled Post-Partum Document, 1973-79, which was a multiyear project that explored the mother-child relationship where Kelly applied Lancanian psychoanalytic principles to her own experience of child-rearing. She had just had a boy; well, an alleged boy based on the genitalia. Someone born with a penis.
[Laughter.] Yes, I’m familiar.
The work details the process of this child living in the world and this mother living through the child. It ends with the culmination of the child turning five and being able to write his own name. It’s said that children reach a new kind of consciousness at age five, and independence. The work showcases that once the child is able to write his own name the mother ceases to exist anymore, because of her lack of having a phallus and his consciousness of it.
I’m curious though, in terms of your relationship to the book. Do you feel like you have to adhere to the critiques of the book, though so much has changed politically, personally, and ethically?
Well, the book did emerge at a specific point in my career, in time, and in myself. I don’t know, the whole book is kind of a hedge, like, “Well, maybe I don’t mean any of this.” I don’t think that has to be a fault, though it very possibly could be. That’s kind of an expression of this ambivalence about graduate school I had, the freedom not to mean things. Some of that material was done at conferences and was written in anticipation of a dissertation, so I think I was trying to work through the kind of writing that I felt like I was going to be allowed to do in an academic context. I was kind of playing with the freedom not to mean things.
I go back and forth about it. Sometimes I think, “Well, gosh, it was a kind of silly thing, wasn’t it?” But sometimes someone shows me a part in it, or I open it up, and I think, “No, this is really right. There is something very correct about the arguments here.” The most academic section of the book makes a claim about porn studies which I think is incredibly correct [laughs] and no who works in porn studies should not have to reckon with the claim. But I don’t always know about the other parts of it.
To me is seems like you picked up or discovered something that you couldn’t put down. It’s apparent that you’re talking across different modalities and genres in a way that I don’t think has been addressed quite yet, beyond being acknowledged stylistically. Especially in the section on porn studies … I wasn’t reading it thinking that I was reading some fictive report but rather that it grounds your central thesis in a captivating way mainly because you show us through action/example how they’re all related, if not the same thing. I went to the New School for undergrad, and I took a class called “Body Genres,” and learned about Behind the Green Door and Deep Throat, which both came out the same year—1972—and became the standard framework for what we now understand to be porn and what became the porn industry, right?
Though to get back on track, in preparation for this interview, the thing that made me the most nervous is that I didn’t want to talk through your transness necessarily. Is that something you want to do? The only way for me to get through it was to think about my Blackness, right? We can talk through these things and these different modalities of expression and articulation, but there are two simultaneous truths. The first is us talking through a minoritized and othered subjective positioning, and the second is thinking through style, tone, genre, structure, and narrative of the academia and writing as profession.
The book isn’t yours anymore and hasn’t been for the last three years. And so, what was the project to you as an exercise?
There was kind of implicit expectation to write about being trans. Even when it was reviewed there was a question if it was “enough” of a memoir—should it have been a memoir, or is it just a messy memoir? Which is arguable, it could be. Calling it Females was sort of like a joke to myself. It was kind of saying, well I’m not just going to talk about trans women, I’m going to talk about females, and I’m arrogating the concept of female to myself and claiming it just as a baseline for the book.
But yeah, I know what you’re talking about. You know you do go back and forth between telling yourself, “I don’t want to be a trans writer. I want to be a writer.”
You are a writer. [Laughs.]
[Laughter.] Right. I am a writer. But realizing that my transness is going to be there and that it needs to be there, and then feeling like it’s going to be a way to shoehorn me in the future once my work received—I don’t know. I mean, trans people did not write the book, you know? A specific trans person wrote the book. You want to be free to exceed that minoritization without its becoming irrelevant or having to say that it doesn’t matter because it obviously does.
Let’s bring in some specificity. What was going on during that time in your life?
One of the challenges of writing Females was that it was open-ended. Verso approached me about doing something and not vice-versa. They approached me about Solanas’s play Up Your Ass by Valerie Solanas because they were thinking about publishing it, and initially I was billed to write an introduction for the book. Then the introduction changed into a short book because they wanted to do this pamphlet series, and they said, “We’ll have Up Your Ass be the appendix,” and that appendix like many appendices was removed, and so we were just left with an idea of doing a book.
At first I was really just working with a word limit in mind. I was really listless. I was working in this really fragmented manner, and I couldn’t put my finger on what the book wanted to be about. I had the first draft done right before my vaginoplasty and then revisited it after. It changed a lot between the two drafts, but the intervening event was this thing I have since learned to call traumatic, which no one had prepared me to think of as very traumatic. I then made worse for myself by introducing it to the readership of the opinion pages at the New York Times. Why did I do that? Do you want to tell me?
[Laughter.] Right. I just checked the date of the piece; you were popping off during the month of November. You published two seminal pieces. What was that about?
The Times approached me about writing something for the opinion pages, and I had these experiences and wanted to write something about them. I didn’t anticipate that everyone would be so angry as they were, but I understand. I also know now, with benefit of experience, that I was right.
What do you understand about their anger?
What I said was that surgery should be available to everyone regardless of if it’s going to make them “better,” because that notion of “better” is infantilizing and just a way to control trans people’s bodies. But I called the neovagina a wound, and people didn’t like that. I said there were no good outcomes, which also made people angry. And sure, on the one hand I get it. But it’s fucking surgery; do you think anyone has ever liked surgery? Jesus Christ. It’s a medical procedure that does something, but it doesn’t do everything. It does whatever it can do in the moment in time that it can do it.
My takeaway from the Times piece actually takes me back to the quote we started off with, where you say, “you can’t choose how people see you. You can’t choose who you are to other people.” Right? What you say in the piece is desire ≠ happiness. You can desire something, and that thing can become a material reality, but it doesn’t necessitate or guarantee a new reality. When I was reading your piece, I was thinking about how you, the general you, don’t get to decide what makes you a woman to other people. You can decide what makes you legible to yourself, but as a bystander walking down the street, I’m not going to assume you’re a woman because she’s wearing earrings, has long hair, or has breast. There’s a lack of specificity and descriptions and descriptors that makes me think of the failures and promises of the female gaze, cinema, and porn studies.
What makes your book so legible to me while I’m reading it is that I’m not asking myself any questions about what’s happening on the page because I’m following your thought and what you’re pointing to. Where normally when I’m reading something, I’m constantly queering the text. Like, I’m reading something about architecture and I think, “Oh this concept has been proven in art or queer studies.” It’s not all happening on the page so I’m to make connections outside of the page and cross reference these narrow declarations that are being posed in these specific fields when these claims have very real effects on people’s lives and livelihoods.
I’m not sure how related this is to what you were saying but I want to go back to your question of what the book is about. There is very directly a theory of gender. I read Gender Trouble when I was whatever, twenty years old, and Judith Butler does not tell you what gender is. She tells you how it’s constituted and how it’s not a natural thing—that it’s communicated through norms, the symbolic, repetition, speech acts, performativity, all of which is great, but the specificity of what makes it gender and not something else is sort of assumed. It’s not in the purview of her project. But what became canonized is a watered-down version of Gender Trouble’s argument: that gender is socially constructed. And that’s just not a sufficient explanation of what the thing is. It’s like saying, “This coffee cup is mass manufactured.” Well, fine, so is everything else in this room.
I think that’s perfect. We lack a specificity, which I’ve been struggling to articulate over the last two years. It has been hard participating and witnessing contemporary culture and artists of this time essentially virtue signaling to these vague institutions, but no one is willing to specify what we’re actually grappling with as a “community.” It’s ultimately a battle of aesthetics, that’s what came to mind when you were talking about Butler’s Gender Trouble. To me, all of subtopics and categories presented by Butler reminds me of Bob Damron’s Address Book, from 1980, with its handkerchief codes and bandanas for gay men, which communicates your sexual interest or desire. It deals with the same sort of blatant lack of specificity because it doesn’t reveal anything about what it means to be gay that just informs how and when to approach someone if you want to have sex with them.
It seems like we’re allergic to actually admitting that concepts aren’t always constants or clear one-to-one definitions of what they’re meant to represent. For instance, what is transness? Is transness about being in a perpetual state transition? I really loved your analogy of dysphoria of the airplane in the Times piece where you write, “But in my experience, at least: Dysphoria feels like being unable to get warm, no matter how many layers you put on. It feels like hunger without appetite. It feels like getting on an airplane to fly home, only to realize mid-flight that this is it: You’re going to spend the rest of your life on an airplane. It feels like grieving. It feels like having nothing to grieve.” Mostly because of how fucked it is and it made me think about Blackness in those terms. I’m like, “Fuck! I was born on the airplane.”
I was born on the airplane! I know where I’m going, there’s a destination. I know what the program is, what music I’m listening to, I know who I’m sitting next to (though that’s subject to change every few years or so, because I might rearrange some seats), but I know where I’m going.
[Laughter.] And they have these little informational brochures of where you’re going, so you can study up.
[Laughter.] Yes, they tell you what the weather will be like, what to expect, and how to dress. I have all the possible necessary wardrobes with me, but I never can leave the fucking plane.
In terms of, like, constructing a theory of minoritarian identity, part of what constitutes the experience of minority is alienation from the minority identity that one supposedly has. So part of what makes you trans is not feeling trans—feeling like there are other trans people, maybe they’re the real ones, and not being able to understand how it is to exist inside of being minoritized.
So that sense of confusion, that sense of unsettledness can be what it is to be a minority. It’s that feeling that we have about that word community, right? On one hand, especially when you’re talking to people who are not “part of the community,” sometimes you want to say “the trans community,” “the gay community,” “the Black community.” But sometimes when you’re in it, you’re like, “Ugh, fuck, man, I don’t know these people. What do they have to do with me?” Community is imaginary. It’s real as imaginary. What is the trans community and how do we have anything in common? I know the gay people in my life, but how is that enough? How could just that be enough just to hold something in common? Because of violence and marginalization? Maybe, but that’s an insufficient answer, and sometimes you find yourself stuck in that insufficiency.
I find solace in your writing because it gives me something to think against. What you just described is a kind of alienation that goes both ways, right? The pendulum swings both ways. It’s like, yeah, community, where is it; what is it? How does one find it? It comes back to this question of specificity and what it means to you in a given moment. That alienation is also partly what the community expects you to be, as a kind of role model presenting your own narrative that requires a certain legibility in order to be accepted.
As I was doing research, I was asking myself how I was going to engage you. Like does she identify as a trans writer? Do I get to ask her questions about being trans? Like, do I want to talk about you being trans? Because you write and you’re a writer who is trans, but I want to know about who you’re emulating, who you’re reaching for, to talk about the actual structure and style of writing. Yeah, yeah, you’re trans, cool. But your writing is so exacting, and that’s what I want to live in. You know, talent is still a thing, why can’t we exclusively live in that?
[Laughter.] I mean you can ask me questions about being trans if you want, I’m just entitled not to like them. I haven’t written almost anything for the past two years. I finished writing Females in early 2019, and then I wrote a review of Bret Easton Ellis’s recent book White, and then I couldn’t write anymore because I was too mentally ill and had to stop. I was too depressed.
The content of my depression has historically been about gender stuff, but not exclusively, there’s also loneliness. But the content also was just catatonia, being unable to get off of the couch. And there was a whole battery of treatments that we tried. I am writing about this now, actually, but the result is that I was not, until about March of this year, mentally well enough to do any work, which is to say that there has been a hiatus.
An unintentional hiatus?
Unintentional, though as part of the process of healing I learned to embrace it some and to accept that I wasn’t working. I got off of Twitter and actually used the parental controls on my phone to keep me off the internet. I had to make my life very, very small, so that I could just have a few things and know where they were. [Laughter.] It’s like when you’re playing Animal Crossing on the Nintendo Switch, and you’re just starting out. You have a little home, a chair, a bed, and a plant. That’s what I needed: a chair, a bed, and plant.
I couldn’t deal with having to have a take. It’s not even about the bad parts of Twitter. I also couldn’t even deal with the good parts. I wouldn’t have been prepared for how quickly my life changed even if transition hadn’t been a part of it, though obviously it was a huge part of it. I will never not experience transition as being something coextensive with becoming a little well-known.
What do you mean?
Well, in my case, it was reflecting on transition that made me valuable to the literary scene in New York, right? It’s why I got an agent, why I got a book deal, and why I will write more books. It opened all these doors. I had decided to do this relatively crazy thing that most people will never do, which is change genders. I decided to change my life, I reflected on it, I wrote those reflections down, and then I accidentally changed my life again. I had these two things going on, such that you’re sitting there interviewing me now about some very personal decisions I made sweating in my little East Village apartment in 2016. They’re all fused together—my experience of transitioning, gender, the internet, fame. Though I don’t think we’re talking about fame-fame. Like, I have been recognized on Tinder a few times. [Laughs.]
I think of my fame as very local. I mean, I think the queer women on Brooklyn Tinder have a decent chance of knowing who I am. I’m like the weatherman, you know? I’m a local celebrity. But my point is, all of those things were intertwined.
I know, I guess I could sense it while reading Females this past week. It’s, like, clear to me that this isn’t something that you reflected upon but that you were constructing and writing it as some sort of discursive text or manifesto. It’s not something that you’re living in, it doesn’t seem like it’s something that makes up the four walls of your world where you’re like “I couldn’t leave this place,” it seems more like “Yeah, I understand this, and I know how to write this story.” But then my question for you would be: What happens when you leave your house?
Okay, yes. It was something that I constructed. In fact, I think the way that it’s constructed around the play is ingenious.
I agree. You use Solanas’s play (Up Your Ass), which is about a man-hating lesbian protagonist who is also a prostitute who ends up killing a man, as mnemonic device to structure and draw out certain similarities and parallels of your own life.
Yes, that is something that comes from my interest in doing something that is formally experimental. But also, as I said, the surgery happened in-between the two drafts, and using the play as a framing device did not enter into the picture until the second draft after surgery.
The thing that you have to remember is that in the middle of writing a book about castration, I was literally castrated. How many people can say that? I know what castration is because I’ve literally experienced it, and it’s both very much what you think it would be and very different from it. It’s obviously different from it being hacked off by Daddy. But it was so overwhelming and confusing and just shattering. There was a real sense in which I lost a sense of my sexual self. No one prepared me for that. Most of what you find if you go looking for writing about vaginoplasty is people saying that it “went pretty well.”
Do you know who the six million dollar man is?
The bionic man? The Six Million Dollar Man was the name of the show about this NASA pilot who gets into an terrible accident, and they rush him into the operating room and the scientist says, “Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology. We can make him better, stronger, faster.” That’s the bit that everyone knows.
Yes, Daft Punk’s “Harder Better Faster, Stronger.” Of course!
Right, yes. So I have this scene in my mind, of this guy getting into the accident and being rushed into the hospital room and the scientist takes one look at him and says, “Gentlemen, we can’t rebuild him. We don’t have the technology.” Because it turns out that sometimes you have the technology, and sometimes you don’t. It’s a completely arbitrary empirical and historical thing. Obviously there’s a question of access, which is not arbitrary at all, but the sheer level of technological possibility, if you wanna call it that, is genuinely arbitrary. It’s just whatever it happens to be in this decade.
What I realized after getting surgery was that we have some of the technology. Like, it’s fine, but it’s not great, and it’s nowhere near what you’d really want it to be. You know, my first car was a 2003 Toyota Camry, and now I have a 2018 vagina and it will remain a 2018 vagina indefinitely. It’s imprinted with the arbitrary level of technological advancement of the time when I got it and there’s nothing about the fact that vaginoplasty exists that means it’s going to be particularly good, satisfying, or anything. Like, we don’t have flying cars, and we don’t have great vaginas.
So that’s one side of it. But there is also an essentially metaphysical side of it, because as anyone who has read Females will know, I’m obviously of the belief that nothing is more fundamental to ego formation than sexuality. I’m a very committed Freudian in that way. It’s just a hell of a fucking thing to lose the genitalia that you’ve had for your entire life. With respect to the book, that means I was writing not just from a place of physical pain, which was true, but also to make sense of a sexual aporia that had opened up. Of course there’s no way to talk about it that doesn’t sound like I’m thinking of the vagina as a lacuna, a gap, a void, whatever. But I was asking myself: What do I want? How can I want things now? I was writing this book about how there is nothing more fundamental to human identity than sexuality right at the moment when I felt like my sexuality had been destroyed.
With that in mind now, how do you feel about what you were doing and how you were writing then? And having those two moments collide?
I don’t feel great about it. But I’m very ambivalent in general, and the book is the book. I can’t change anything about it, and it’s not worth being upset over now.
But doesn’t that ambivalence teeter on the fact that you had a set of tools up until that point and then you had this experience but didn’t have the time to reflect on what had happened, so you were using this dated toolkit to process this new material reality and it left you kind of spun out? So, isn’t the feeling of ambivalence inevitable, especially considering that you’re no longer who you were then when you were making all of those decisions? You made this document of time that’s really beautiful and there was no such thing as getting it right.
I was recently watching the Tina Turner documentary on HBO Max—I didn’t watch it when it came out because I typically abstain from participating in the culture—and it just bummed me out after, in thinking about her life. If we’re to use choice words, we’d call her a Rock n’ Roll pioneer. A Black Rockstar. But the racism, classism, sexism, and domestic abuse she endured for sixteen years is devastating because she ultimately suffered. She is a pioneer of sound and that’ll never be attributed to her because she was first, and it sucks. She reinvented herself so many times and had to navigate finding a sound or tune that felt tangible of her interiority and ethos while also dealing with the R&B charts, and eventually charting on the Pop charts. It’s fucking hell and I can’t imagine navigating it prior to the internet either.
I get into fights all the time with my fellow artist friends about not liking their work or whatever—
[Laughter.] That’s the problem with being friends with artists.
[Laughter.] And then someone will retort, “It’s not actually that you don’t like my work or what I did but that you wouldn’t do it the way that I did it, anyway because you’re you. You’d do it differently.” It’s just to say that you’re no longer the person you were in that moment so how could you like this book that you wrote when you know what you had to endure and who were you and chose to be in that moment?
Yeah, I think that’s true, and thinking of it as a document is helpful for me, but it’s not something that I would expect of the reader. They shouldn’t have to read, for instance, this interview in order for them to have an experience of the book. But I do think that’s right for the artist personally. You write something so that you don’t have to think about it anymore, and it’s a part of you that leaves and goes out into the world that you feel alienated from because it’s no longer yours.
The thing about “being first,” and obviously I wasn’t actually first, is that I did not do myself any favors by being so public about exactly the thing that made me first. It was like, oh there’s this woman who’s a very good writer who is writing about being trans because she is trans. But that was the environment too. People wanted to hear about me being trans, and it was what I was going through, so I wrote about it.
You’re reminding me that it’s so cyclical and meta. Let’s build out the foundation. You’re a writer or well, actually let’s say foundationally you’re a reader and then you’re a writer. Then you’re trans? Then you’re trans writer/reader who is also writing about yourself on top of all of those identities. So, what are you reaching for in any given moment? I think about when I write I’m received as someone Black writing about X topic and I’m not just a writer on assignment, right? Like if you were to write about goats on a farm in Iceland that would be a political project in and of itself. So, what does it mean for you to be a trans writer writing about transness and writing through transness on your own experience? You’re writing as this identitied person.
Yes, and there is a third level. I was in China a couple of years ago, in Yunnan with my then-girlfriend’s parents who wanted to go on these wretched tours. We went on a tour of Dali, and the tour guide was this Yi woman who was in “traditional wear” leading our little tour on this small bus. (The Yi are a recognized ethnic minority in China.) She had this headdress braided into her hair, but then she showed me that the braids were just yarn because it would be too much work to do the “real” thing, and she also had on these very sensible tennis shoes because she had to be on her feet all day. And the people on the tour were asking her what it’s like to be a Yi person, like they wanted her to say, “Well we go into the fields, and we gather our buckwheat,” or whatever. They wanted some narrative about indigeneity, and she gave them those answers, but her actual answer would have been something like, “I stand on this hot bus all day answering questions from people like you.” Her lived experience of ethnic idenity in China at that point in history had in a big way been subsumed by the tourism industry.
The same phenomenon happens in the States and all over the world, obviously, and I’m not trying to say that these are equivalent. But when people ask, implicitly or explicitly, “What’s it like being trans?” the answer is again, “It’s answering questions from you fucking people.” Including you! That narrativization isn’t just something that we’re doing for ourselves, it’s something that’s constantly being asked of us by the people around us, especially if you work in media but also if you don’t. And that relationship to narration, that becomes constitutive of being trans.
In my case, I was 25, and I took that structure and blew it up to a level of the New York media world. I experienced my transness as a particular formation of tweets. I experienced my transness as a shape the Internet made when it looked at me. It’s the snake eating its own tail: being trans is talking about being trans is talking about being trans. It intensifies the need to find something that isn’t that recursion, just as intensifies the difficulty of finding it.
With the book, I don’t feel like a trans person wrote it.
[Laughter.] And see, I don’t know how I feel about that! Let’s say people are teaching Females. Like what are those classes? What is the name of the unit that the text falls in for that week, right? I guarantee you it’s usually getting taught in the context of “Trans.” I think the book was clearly received as having been written by a trans person, and Females fills a specific niche in a syllabus that often may not allow it to travel outside a Trans studies class or the trans section of a Women’s studies class. Which is fine. Again, the book is the book.
The last page of the book is so nasty (in the best way) and I’m actually glad I saved this until last because I have so many questions. I was so angry that I wanted to find you and beat you up.
It’s surreal. I have always subconsciously gravitated towards Alice Neel’s painting of Andy Warhol. I had brain surgery twice in 1999 when I was five years old, and I could have died. [Laughs.] Though obviously very different, I had a late ’90s brain surgery.
Right, now you have a ’90s brain.
To bring it back to where we started; I think the portrait of Warhol is captivating because, like you say, your identity isn’t something you can choose for yourself but something that is given to you. I think about how you wouldn’t know that Andy, who was shot multiple times, who had his spleen, stomach, liver, esophagus and both lungs were damaged, who had to wear a surgical corset for the rest of his life. That’s not the Warhol that we know or that kind of iconicity that we envelop him in.
I don’t think people have really written about it. Maybe Hilton Als? Though I have seen people write about the vulnerability of this wounded icon that’s visually distraught yet regal. To be so vulnerable with this birdlike chest that’s a perched indentation. That’s not my reading of it. The icon Andy Warhol isn’t someone who’s read through this lens of being this person that’s had his body rearranged because when he has on a t-shirt you don’t know who or what he is. While I was reading Females, I was confused about the last bit, where you write:
Valerie Solanas shot Andy Warhol on June 3, 1968. The bullet damaged his stomach, liver, throat, both his lungs, and his spleen, which the doctors would remove during emergency surgery. When he reached the hospital, he was pronounced dead, and he remained so for a full ninety seconds. But death didn’t take. Andy was delirious. “I kept thinking, ‘I’m really dead,’” he later recalled. “This is what it’s like to be dead–you think you’re alive but you’re dead. I just think I’m lying here in a hospital.’” Fifty years later, Valerie shot Andy again. This time, he did die, quickly and without hesitating. Before, there were only boys. Now there was just a girl, and no boys for fifty miles.
This is nonfiction, right? But that’s not the truth?
What do you mean it’s not the truth?
She didn’t shoot him twice.
[Laughter.] Yeah, but it’s me.
You didn’t know that it’s me? I say a couple of pages before that it’s hard to read about Andy because that was my name. Yeah, it’s me. She shot me. [Laughs.]
I wanted talk about Lauren Berlant because I just started reading Cruel Optimism and the first line of their introduction reminds me of a lot of what you untangle in your work. “A relation of cruel optimism exists when something you desire is actually an obstacle to your flourishing.”
Look, Lauren Berlant was the greatest thinker of their generation, full stop, and is a huge influence, and I love that book so much that I can’t bear to look it most days. I thought for a while that the difference between Lauren and me is that we were focused on the same loop of desire, but in at different places in the loop. You want something, you don’t get it, you still want it. What they called it was “optimism,” because you still go after it, and what I called it was “disappointment,” because it’s disappointing to realize you’re going to keep trying. The resilience of optimism is disappointing.
But I never talked with them about that really, and mostly I was just trying to come up with a way to feel like I wasn’t just constantly plagiarizing them. Like, how could I think closely to them without just burning up in their atmosphere. That, I did talk to them about, and they were like, “No, we’re different. You’re quick, and I’m slow.” Which was not a compliment, just a distinction. My first essay in n+1, “On Liking Women,” at the time I thought the whole thing was just me doing my Lauren Berlant impression. Really all of it, from that essay to Females, is sort of a period for me now. Then there was this hiatus, because of sickness, and now I will do other things.
What are those other things?
I bragged to a friend of mine that what I’m working on now does not have the words gender, trans, and maybe even women in it, and that feels wonderful.
So what does that mean? What does that make the text?
Well it’s about a particular type of treatment I tried in the course of being sick. It’s all about the brain, and I get to do some interesting things formally.
To bring it full circle back to desire: What do you want now? For your life, for yourself?
I want a cute summer fling, a dining room table, and I want to get laid.