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GABBLER RECOMMENDS: ”How Twitter can ruin a life” by Emily VanDerWerff
She had at least some reason to expect that the complete vacuum of personal information about her — the short author bio attached to the story said only that she was born in 1988 — wouldn’t be questioned. Trans spaces, both online and in real life, have a long history of allowing an anonymity that paradoxically hides within one’s true identity.
If you want to attend a support group meeting and say your name is Isabel and you use she/her pronouns, you will be treated as such, no matter how you look or what name is on your driver’s license. Gatekeeping in a trans space usually involves loosely enforced rules that focus on giving those who exist within them a safe place to explore their identity. Those rules almost never attempt to determine that someone is “trans enough.”
But anonymity isn’t always welcome on the internet, where an anonymous identity can be weaponized for the worst. That gap — between the good-faith anonymity assumed in trans spaces and the bad-faith anonymity increasingly assumed online — was the one Fall wandered into.
At its core, “Attack Helicopter” is about the intersection of gender and American hegemony. On that level, it has plenty to say even to cisgender people. After all, if all gender is on some level a performance (and it is), then it can be co-opted and perverted by the state. But if it’s also innate on some level (and it is), then we are powerless against whatever it is that enough people decide gender performance should look like. We are constantly trapped by gender, even when we know we are trapped by it. You can’t truly escape something so all-pervasive; you can only negotiate your own terms with it, and everybody’s terms are different.
The conversation around gender “is dominated by those who can tolerate and thrive in it. It is conducted by the voices of those who are able to survive speech and its consequences,” Fall says. “But it is a conversation that is, by necessity, reductive. We need teams and groups and identities, not just to belong to, but as mental objects to manipulate and wield. If we tried to hold 10 million unique experiences of gender in our mind they would sift through our fingers and roll away.”
Such a conversation around gender is not particularly conducive to those who are figuring out their gender in public, as all trans people must do eventually. It’s especially not conducive to artists who are exploring their gender in their art, under even greater degrees of public scrutiny. Which is to say: That conversation is not conducive to people like Fall.
The delineation between paranoid and reparative readings originated in 1995, with influential critic Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick. A paranoid reading focuses on what’s wrong or problematic about a work of art. A reparative reading seeks out what might be nourishing or healing in a work of art, even if the work is flawed. Importantly, a reparative reading also tends to consider what might be nourishing or healing in a work of art for someone who isn’t the reader.