Man-Eaters and Trans Erasure
Awhile back I was in a comic store and saw the shiniest, pinkest, glittery-est cover I'd ever seen. And it had cat paws! Then I saw Chelsea Cain's name and onto the stack it went. I really loved her work on Mockingbird and was excited to see what cool new thing she was working on now. So I started researching as soon as I got back to the car. (Don't worry, I wasn't the one driving.)
And immediately felt the disappointment and suspicion creeping up on me. Oh. Oh, no.
Spoilers for volume 1.
Man-Eaters, for those who aren't familiar, is a comic set in a world where a variant of toxoplasmosis turns menstruating people into giant murdercats.
Well, menstruating women, in the official descriptions. This book is not at all interested in how trans people would fit into a world like this. It complicates the already flimsy story and it's not-at-all scientific explanations, it's really just easier to pretend we don't exist.
When questioned, Cain's answer is basically “yeah I know you don't need a uterus to be a women but this is a very specific story about a how the biology that goes with womanhood is treated” and somehow doesn't see the contradictions there.
I'd have more respect for her if she just acknowledged it's not something she thinks about, it didn't occur to her until someone asked, and she has no plans to include trans stories because she clearly wouldn't know how to tell them. I mean, it's not like I want to read her take on trans characters, I don't trust her with that. What I'd really like is to see actual trans writers take it on in a similar way to how side stories were done with Bitch Planet.
Because it's an interesting premise definitely worth exploring, weird not-quite-right attempts at scientific reasoning aside. And it was a pretty neat experience reading it at the endocrinologist's office as I waited to get my second testosterone injection. There's a lot of talk about hormones in this. Some of it accurate, some of it purposely bad to emphasize the patriarchal control and demonizing of femininity, a lot of it just kind of lazy.
A big part of the story is the government dealing with this not by actually treating the illness but instead just stopping menstruation by pouring birth control hormones into drinking water. Oh no, but now boys can't drink the water! So there's all sorts of estrogen-destroying cleaning products and a line of sodas made specifically for men and boys so they aren't exposed to it, and girls apparently aren't allowed to drink anything else???
The main character sneaks into the boys' lounge and convinces the guys who catch her there to let her take a bunch of the soda with her. Because she and a few of her friends have decided to do an experiment and stop drinking the tap water, purposely starting their periods. Gasp!
Ok this is fascinating and I have so many questions because obviously this has so many implications for trans people. The author isn't interested in exploring those questions, so I guess I'll have to go look for some fanfic. Honestly, my initial impression after reading the first volume is that fanfic is the only hope for this series because the trans erasure is much worse than anything good the series has to offer.
Then a couple of my co-workers were discussing birth control and its effects on their bodies and the dangerous lack of understanding their prescribing doctors had of it. And our boss, a pharmacist said “Ok, you guys are grossing me out and I'm going to report a hostile work environment if you don't stop.”
A pharmacist. Referring to people talking about issues with medications. That have a serious effect on a regular everyday normal biological thing that happens to half of the population.
As a trans person I hate the lack of concern about trans people in this comic. As a trans-masculine person who hates periods and frankly just about everything estrogen does to me and whose periods came along with debilitating pain every month causing me to miss work and school regularly, I really can't relate to the “wow periods are so awesome and badass” rhetoric and I'll be honest enough to admit at the back of my head while reading I'm kind of like “...I mean who actually wants a period, though?”
But I appreciate the under-represented perspective on it. And the willingness to talk about it, openly and aggressively and positively. It's obviously not all positive, but one of the reasons it sucks is because we're so discouraged from talking about it so we don't always know things like when the level of pain isn't normal until we've been dealing with it for decades and just been told to shut up about gross private things. That needs to change.
I don't know that I'll keep reading it. It's very alienating to me on several levels and I really don't like the author's attitude about trans people and the way she pivots away from actually answering questions about where we fit into her world. But I probably actually will go looking for fanfic related to those things and hope other people with a more inclusive outlook make their own work dealing with menstruation and other “gross and private” things that we need to be able to talk about. I might try making my own, maybe just some tiny autobio zine or something.
And while I probably won't be recommending it to people either for the most part, I guess I'm landing on the side of sort of glad it exists and will cheer on people who do find something worthwhile in it. It's nowhere near perfect, but the conversation has to start somewhere and I guess this is where it's starting. And if that makes it a little bit easier for the rest of us to jump in on it and tell awful sexist medical professionals to get over themselves and let us talk about our health, that's awesome.