I'm supposed to be working on my next novel right now
instead i'm scrolling The List
[I’m making this public for now so that it reaches others who might feel the same, but will probably lock it later due to how raw, unedited, and, uh, downer-ish this is. content warning for anti-trans genocide, murder, and everything else In The News as of late.]
My friend, regular hiking buddy and fellow writer, Elsie, and I, have this thing we do that I later learned ADHD folks call “body-doubling.” Basically, she and I sit at our computers together, put on FaceTime, and decide we’re going to write for an hour or two. We mute ourselves and turn off our cameras, and we write, comforted and encouraged by the little blue initial that signals someone else is writing, too.
Usually, I dedicate my co-writing time to working on my current novel-in-progress. Already longer than my first and now-forthcoming novel (which clocks in at a meager [for science fiction] 66,000 words), my current behemoth, yet unfinished, is already past 80k, and growing. The time we set aside to pursue our creative, non-grad school focused goals is precious, as neither of us are in MFA programs (or ever have been) but still need the opportunity to write stories. We need it like water. For survival.
But tonight? First, my computer demanded an update. No, wait. First, another trans child was murdered. No –– first, South Dakota Texas Florida Michigan –– wait. First, cisheteropatriarchy assumed hegemonic control in christian fascist led empires and––
I’m trying to talk around the point, which is unnecessary, because I am lost in grief. I am always grieving, but this week, I am grieving even harder.
Not only for Brianna Ghey, a talented, compassionate young woman who helped her comrades access life-saving medical care despite state violence and fear. My sister with a kind of courage at sixteen I admire at twenty-four. I mourn for her, I demand she be mourned in the key of Brianna, with language that fully encapsulates her personhood, her autonomy.
Not only for any individual child or adult murdered in this escalating global attack on bodily autonomy. Not even only for the collective. My grief is a hyperobject, it’s too big to see. The only way I can describe it is to gesture vaguely to all of the shadows around me, to attempt to capture what it means that that darkness is in everything. It’s inside me. I tried so longsohard to keep it out. I am not an optimist, but I try not to shroud myself in shadows. But these days, these weeks, this week in particular, I feel like I am watching the demolition of something big.
So, the list. The list I’m referring to lives at nyletter.com. A former writing teacher of mine, Andrea Lawlor, shared this list on their instagram several days ago, calling upon anyone adjacent to the new york times, the media, the news, and other interrelated wordworlds to sign this open letter condemning the nyt’s violently reactionary (and ever-worsening) coverage of “trans issues.” Of course, I signed the letter. I cancelled my subscription close to a year ago at this point, due to some other anti-trans drivel they decided was fit to publish, and watched yet another wave of angry trans people and accomplices cancel theirs.
Most of all, I watched the list grow exponentially by the hour. I input my signature via google form days ago, and it hasn’t even made it to the document yet. Given the rate at which the list is growing, and the fact that my name is nowhere to be found, I can only assume that the volume of signatories is immense, probably unmanageably-so for whatever poor souls first signed onto maintaining this list.
Despite not being on the list, I feel like I’m kind of always on the list. I check it compulsively, like refreshing email in class or clicking a social media app before you realize you’re clicking, and when you do click, you’re like, fuck. This thing has Pavlov’d me good. Right before sitting down to write with Elsie, I’d been sitting on the toilet with my legs going numb because I was scrolling the list, my latest compulsive click. I scoured the thing for new names. I searched keywords. I scanned for last names I knew, got a hit of dopamine when I saw one. I was a gambler pissing myself at the blackjack table, refusing to get up. My feet tingled when I finally stood, and my mood dropped when I realized I had been staring for upwards of twenty minutes and was barely through the Ds.
After getting on the call with Elsie, I knew it was going to happen –– I was going to go to that fucking list and read some more, despite desperately wanting to join my characters in their antics. Writing is about way more than escaping the “real world” –– honestly, it’s not about that at all –– but this time, I simply felt too trapped inside myself to write much of anything. I scrolled. Saw some food people I admire: Samin, Sohla. Some huge writers whose trans politics I had never really thought about before: Rebecca Solnit, Jia Tolentino, Nicole Chung, Patrick Ness. Some were expected, even anticipated. The trans ones, of course; the queer ones I knew and loved. Check out the list and breathe your own signs –– I meant sighs –– of relief. And a few dozen more gaps of anxiety and dread.
If you go on the letter and scroll long enough, I guarantee you’ll find a few random cis people and think, damn, I never knew they were down with my existence! And then you’ll spend twice as long wondering why you are so surprised and relieved, and how comically futile it is to chain yourself to a list of celebrities and others who are not actively trying to kill you, or, at least, believe that disclosing their active attempts to kill you would be in poor form. Even writing that, I feel so stupid, and this in part fuels my reluctance to talk to other trans people about this: how can I, smack in the middle of all these intellectual debates about assimilation and the cold comfort of shitty allies, point to this list as proof of, well, anything? That I happen to be tolerated by people with whom I’ve developed a parasocial relationship? Does this matter? And if it doesn’t, why can’t I look away?
I think that this letter is a meaningful gesture. We knew it was meaningful the moment the nyt picked it up and immediately tried to debunk it, bury it, dismiss it. The letter is a meaningful gesture in the way that all long and elaborate things are meaningful when they coalesce around a collective intention: on this list are nobodies and somebodies from everywhere all agreeing that the nyt’s trans coverage is fucked up. It might even provoke a half-assed apology from the times, though I’m increasingly doubtful of that happening (and anyway, it’ll be locked behind a paywall). They’ll claim free speech, claim a misunderstanding, claim — explicitly or not — that we’re hysterical. Nothing will change, and even if it did, so much damage — ha, perhaps even “irreversible damage” — has been done. Children are dead who should not be dead, because no children should be dead. Parents and teachers and doctors are empowered, more than ever before, to destroy trans lives.
In the face of all of this (and in the face of immense survivor’s guilt for having escaped childhood and finished the bulk of my ~transition~ before this latest uptick), why not latch onto a list. Seeing the names appear is a slow trickle of sugarwater. Empty, sure, but sweet enough to keep me coming back. I know that we have visibility, “allies,” pronoun buttons, and I know that all of that is meaningless. A name absent action is meaningless, too. But I am still stuck here, behind my computer, clicking compulsively every hour or so and scouring this unwieldy document for new names.
That’s what’s going on inside me, in the place in my heart where Creative should be.