Pleased to meet you. We all want to get out of the heat, so it’s no surprise that you turned up eventually. Not you in particular, but everyone looking for a little less sunshine. Everyone with too many scars on their eyes. Good news, there’s a lot less light in the closet, and it’s better that way. Each corner enclosed and signed over to the imagination. But if you lived in it for as long as I did, every perch and crevice is so familiar even those astronomical darknesses (the ones you can’t see without a telescope) can’t obscure them. Their outlines are enough to suggest all the familiar swords to fall on, all those invitations to suicide you slipped between the pages of your favourite book. Keeping your page, keeping time by the little numbers on the envelopes.
In Kafka there’s a man who turns into a monstrous insect. A true disaster, mostly because his job is in sales and his family is a knot of vipers. I sympathize with him: from his point of view, everything is the same. But his family lost everything they cared about: his steady job, his social status, his pasty normality. Insult to injury: they’re left with a bothersome insect who’s like their old stooge absent all the things they could exploit. It’s like he died but left a corpse with six legs and a tendency to skitter about the ceiling casting eerie shadows. No longer able to buy or sell anything––a true monster.
Meanwhile being in the closet and coming out is less like Gregor Samsa’s rude awakening and more like the slow, crushing gestation of the cicada. You spend years, even decades invisibly tucked under the dirt, waiting and twitching with the agony of expectations. As if your birth was stretched thin and flat, an event more tectonic than biological. You realize, maybe a long way into your entombed larval stage, that you have to say something quick when you finally emerge. But what? Many people’s first instinct will be to try to push you back in the ground, to bury you and be done with it. Best to brush up on flattery. No one wants a whiner, and any whiners are probably going to be nothing but a husk of skin sooner or later. No matter what, though, you sadly realize as you prod at the last film of dirt hiding you from the hateful sunlight, no matter what, you will be a fearful thing. So if you’re going to be a monster, you might as well be a real terror.
I suppose this will be considered “burying the lede,” but the reality is that I’ve been going through the process of coming out. Given my affection for and interest in monsters, dusty gods, demons, and all the haunted parts of the world, I consider the company of insects an honourable place to be. Plus, I have to admit, it’s hard to be dry and scholarly when discussing matters close to the heart. If I had to tell the doctor about the piece of grandma’s vase lodged in my aorta and needed a muse, I would probably reach for Blake before Spinoza or Lenin.
Coming out as a trans person combines all the terrors of showing your art in public and submitting yourself to a full-body scan at the airport. For someone to take that (sometimes literally) fatal step in today’s capitalist world, it must have some value, or else no one would ever do it. Even when I look at my own life, the closest and most comprehensible example I have, I still ask myself why I put a giant target on my back. Ultimately, like any human act, coming out is incomprehensible if considered as an individual act separate from the whole social reality of which it is a part.
Despite my failure to sort through these issues in the short time since I’ve come out, I’ve decided to write about the process of coming out and the place of trans people––at least this trans person––in class struggle. Not class struggle in the stereotyped sense, which recognizes the male white industrial working class while forgetting the ways in which class is shaped and placed by gender, nation, age, ability, and sexuality. I mean class struggle in the sense of how the increasing majority of humanity fights for our survival against: exploitation, repression, war, entropy, the systemic murder-suicide impulses of capitalism.
A Hundred Thousand Names will be an inward-looking essay, but looking inward is another way of seeing a single, reflective shard of the complex social whole. My aim is to try to make sense of my experiences and struggles as the experiences and struggles of an individual always caught up in the experiences and struggles of trans people (and in particular trans women) as a whole. We must all work tirelessly for trans liberation not as an abstract identity group but as a political, conscious force working for the destruction of all exploitation. How? Maybe I’ll be able to begin to sort that out in these pieces.
To come out is to come out into a burning world.
I’ll catch you next Saturday.
I have a hundred thousand names. One of them is “communist.”
Trans liberation is liberation of trans workers, nationally oppressed trans people, racialized trans people, trans people with disabilities, old and young trans people, trans people who come out and those who don’t. The freedom of each one is the freedom of all, and vice versa.