A trans woman lives in town. I only thought about her after reading McKenzie Wark’s essay on writing about and by trans people in The White Review called "Girls Like Us". Our lives have never intersected in any significant way. Sometimes I spot her walking, usually on her own, blond wispy hair, long fringe swept to one side, in a long beige trenchcoat and black flats. She’s an American, from the South, who arrived about a decade ago. I’ve heard people refer to her as "he", “him”, or “she-male”; they don’t know her name. Nor do I. I wonder how she got to this small town on the west coast of Ireland, and how she finds it here. She looks sad, with her downturned mouth and steady frown, but it’s unfair to project so on strangers, on real bodies you don’t inhabit.
Maybe she’s happy, happier at least than before she began the process of transitioning. Does it ever finish, transitioning? It’s not just biological, I imagine. Nor does it occur in a social vacuum. “Transition helped a lot with your fucked-up gender,” writes Wark, “but I don’t have to tell you—it can also fuck your life. You just run into a wall of pain inflicted by a cis world that on bad days wants you dead and on a good day tolerates or patronises you.”
Who am I writing this post for? I look at the first sentence with suspicion: “A trans woman lives in town.” Wark writes, addressing trans women: “You are often in cis people’s books, fiction, and non-fiction alike, as a narrative device or alibi for cis people’s desires and anxieties about their gender.” When I remembered that there was a trans woman living in this town, I wondered how I would write about her, and in a way, this post is a clumsy experiment in writing about trans women. How to find the right words that avoid making a claim to the pain, or simply the being, of others? Wark writes, “My pain, or yours, is specific to my body, or your body, but we can understand each other’s stories, if we listen, if we share, if we are vulnerable to each other. To judge is to close off one’s own woundedness to the other. I would love it if cis women wrote about girls like us like this. But they’d have to recognise us as sisters, as also having insights into womanhood that could be curious, surprising, that could inflect what it could be or could become.”
When I first encountered her, I was walking the dog. She shied away from us; she does not like dogs, or at least my very enthusiastic Sam. Afterwards she would cross the street when she saw me and Sam. Then one day in June, I greeted her in passing, because it’s a custom in this small town, as it is elsewhere in rural Ireland, to greet people as you pass them. (A few people, however, will never respond.) She responded hi, and from then on, she would greet me, sometimes without prompting, from close-up or across the street.