The Well-Adjusted Mister Ripley

The Talented Mister Ripley is a novel by Patricia Highsmith about a reserved young man who buys a hat on a trip to Europe! and in so doing realizing he has quite a nice face! Subsequently he learns to believe in himself, and to be confident, and to make friends, and that people like people who like people! And that it’s nice to want to be like your friends, and that you can do anything you put your mind to, even Italy, especially friendship, just boys.

As soon as he could get a passport, he’d be sailing for Europe, probably in a first-class cabin. Waiters to bring him things when he pushed a button! Dressing for dinner, strolling into a big dining room, talking with people at his table like a gentleman! He could congratulate himself on tonight, he thought. He had behaved just right. Mr. Greenleaf couldn’t possibly have had the impression that he had wangled the invitation to Europe. Just the opposite. He wouldn’t let Mr. Greenleaf down. He’d do his very best with Dickie.

Setting an intention is such an important part of being Tom Ripley! If you make clear goals, you’ll always know where you are. And it’s nice to celebrate small victories, like behaving just right at dinner. Terrific!

But first there was céleri rémoulade. Tom was very fond of it. He said so.

“So is Richard!” Mrs. Greenleaf said. “He always liked it the way our cook makes it. A pity you can’t take him some.”

“I’ll put it with the socks,” Tom said, smiling, and Mrs. Greenleaf laughed. She had told him she would like him to take Richard some black woolen socks from Brooks Brothers, the kind Richard always wore.

Ha-ha! He won’t really put celery in with the socks. But what a funny idea! I’m glad he told Mrs. Greenleaf about it, so she could enjoy the idea too.

“And here’s the girl there, the only other American who lives there.”

 “Marge Sherwood,” Mr. Greenleaf supplied. He sat across the room, but he was leaning forward, following the picture-showing intently.

The girl was in a bathing suit on the beach, her arms around her knees, healthy and unsophisticated-looking, with tousled, short blonde hair—the good-egg type. There was a good picture of Richard in shorts, sitting on the parapet of a terrace.

Marge seems like a lot of fun! Maybe all three of them can be friends. There’s always room for another friend!

Cleo was enthralled, as he had known she would be. Her red lips parted in her long, pale face, and she brought her hands down on her velvet thighs and exclaimed, “Tom-mie! How too, too marvelous! It’s just like out of Shakespeare or something!”

That was just what Tom thought, too. That was just what he had needed someone to say.


He was courteous, poised, civilized, and preoccupied.

He had a sudden whim for a cap and bought one in the haberdashery, a conservative bluish-gray cap of soft English wool. He could pull its visor down over nearly his whole face when he wanted to nap in his deck chair, or wanted to look as if he were napping. A cap was the most versatile of headgears, he thought, and he wondered why he had never thought of wearing one before? He could look like a country gentleman, a thug, an Englishman, a Frenchman, or a plain American eccentric, depending on how he wore it. Tom amused himself with it in his room in front of the mirror. He had always thought he had the world’s dullest face, a thoroughly forgettable face with a look of docility that he could not understand, and a look also of vague fright that he had never been able to erase. A real conformist’s face, he thought. The cap changed all that. It gave him a country air, Greenwich, Connecticut, country. Now he was a young man with a private income, not long out of Princeton, perhaps. He bought a pipe to go with the cap.

Wow!!! Things are looking pretty good for old Tom Ripley, and now with a hat! And it’s nice to see some character development. Not that Tom needed to change!!! But increased self-esteem can only help. He’s not forgettable at all!

He was versatile, and the world was wide! He swore to himself he would stick to a job once he got it. Patience and perseverance! Upward and onward!

Setting goals is a critical part of personal growth!!

As you see by the stationery, I am on the high seas. An unexpected business offer which I cannot explain now. I had to leave rather suddenly, so I was not able to get up to Boston and I’m sorry, because it may be months or even years before I come back.

I just wanted you not to worry and not to send me any more checks, thank you. Thank you very much for the last one of a month or so ago. I don’t suppose you have sent any more since then. I am well and extremely happy.


Thank you very much for the considerate letter, Tom, is I bet what his aunt will write back!

Lots of aunts and even strangers raised a child for nothing and were delighted to do it.


When he woke up the next morning, he was in Italy. Something very pleasant happened that morning. Tom was watching the landscape out of the window, when he heard some Italians in the corridor outside his compartment say something with the word “Pisa” in it. A city was gliding by on the other side of the train. Tom went into the corridor to get a better look at it, looking automatically for the Leaning Tower, though he was not at all sure that the city was Pisa or that the tower would even be visible from here, but there it was!—a thick white column sticking up out of the low chalky houses that formed the rest of the town, and leaning, leaning at an angle that he wouldn’t have thought possible! He had always taken it for granted that the leaning of the Leaning Tower of Pisa was exaggerated. It seemed to him a good omen, a sign that Italy was going to be everything that he expected, and that everything would go well with him and Dickie.

Way to make lemonades out of lemons, Tom! Yes, that tower is leaning — but it’s supposed to, for luck. The little imperfections are sometimes what makes something truly beautiful!

He spent the time examining Dickie’s rings. He liked them both: a large rectangular green stone set in gold on the third finger of his right hand, and on the little finger of the other hand a signet ring, larger and more ornate than the signet Mr. Greenleaf had worn. Dickie had long, bony hands, a little like his own hands, Tom thought.

What a great point of connection!

He could remember Dickie’s smiles that first day they began to get along, when he had confessed to Dickie that his father had sent him. He remembered their crazy first trip to Rome. He remembered with affection even that half hour in the Carlton Bar in Cannes, when Dickie had been so bored and silent, but there had been a reason why Dickie had been bored, after all: he had dragged Dickie there, and Dickie didn’t care for the Côte d’ Azur.

It’s always a good idea to reconsider a situation from someone else’s perspective, especially if it helps you to treat a friend with greater patience and consideration. And what a lot of nice places Tom and Dickie have been!

It gave his existence a peculiar, delicious atmosphere of purity, like that, Tom thought, which a fine actor probably feels when he plays an important role on a stage with the conviction that the role he is playing could not be played better by anyone else. he was himself and yet not himself. He felt blameless and free, despite the fact that he consciously controlled every move he made. But he no longer felt tired after several hours of it, as he had at first. Now, from the moment when he got out of bed and went to brush his teeth, he was Dickie, brushing his teeth with his right elbow jutted out, Dickie rotating the eggshell on his spoon for the last bite. Dickie invariably putting back the first tie he pulled off the rack and selecting a second. He had even produced a painting in Dickie’s manner.

You can do anything you set your mind to, and it feels really good, and it’s the most of it, and it’s everything, and it’s always but easy, and it’s happening now, and you’re pulling it off, and nothing’s underward. And it’s absolutely. It’s absolutely. Absolutely, absolutely.

There was a sureness in his taste now that he had not felt in Rome, and that his Rome apartment had not hinted at. He felt surer of himself now in every way.

Wow, that’s great!

“A donda, a donda?” the taxi driver was saying, trying to speak Italian for him.

“To a hotel, please,” Tom said. “Il meglio albergo. Il meglio, il meglio!”

That means “the best”! I bet the taxi driver appreciates that Tom has gone to the trouble of learning Italian, so they can understand one another more easily. I know I would!

Foreign Policy, Bell v. Tavistock, and Grace Lavery

Grace Lavery on Grace Lavery: “Here’s the essay on British gender critical feminists’ capture of juridical and media institutions that I’ve been trying to place all year, finally published in Foreign Policy.” I’ve had a front-row seat to the waves of harassment Grace has received from TERFs over the last year, and it’s often been dispiriting to see how easy it is for someone with nothing more than a double-barreled last name and some anti-trans animus publish variations on “Trans People: Why Do They Mean To Eat Wimbledon?” in major newspapers. Often, between the relentless vitriol and the sneering “it’s just common sense that you’re perverse garbage” tone, I find myself wanting to ignore the existence of transphobes entirely. They are exhausting on purpose! And yet is possible to counter them with elegance and clarity of thought. I am grateful Grace has done so here:

Earlier this month, the British High Court judged that no children under the age of 16 can meet the standard for informed consent—a long-established norm known as “Gillick competency”—that would allow them to take puberty blockers, drugs that delay hormone-induced development. In effect, the British courts intervened in the transition-related care of any children in the United Kingdom experiencing gender dysphoria, putting those children and their families in the position of having to seek care abroad….The decision is an unprecedented juridical attack on the LGBT community in the U.K., in which the British state has asserted a right to enforce unwanted puberty—and to arrest transitions that are already in progress—on the slimmest of pretexts.

The muddled thinking and moral panic of the Bell v. Tavistock decision requires cultural analysis, not just legal dissection: How was such a wrong and dangerous decision met with almost universal acclaim in the British media? The root cause is the escalating and intensifying campaign against trans people being waged online…

In the couple of weeks leading up to the Bell v. Tavistock decision, I was embroiled in a strange “free speech” controversy, after the anti-trans activist Abigail Shrier claimed in the Wall Street Journathat I was trying to silence her. Her article (to which I was not given a chance to respond) ignited a cascade of follow-up panic-pieces in the Daily Wire, the Federalist, the Daily CallerFox News, and the rest of the right-wing press. That, in turn, instigated a torrent of rape and death threats sent to my work email address, and a campaign of letters to my chair and dean trying to get me fired. Meanwhile, Shrier got a laudatory review in the Economist and then was asked to cover the Bell decision by Newsweek, her third anti-trans article for the magazine this year. Being “silenced” gives you plenty of chances to talk loudly.

“Lesbians, not cops” makes for an excellent manifesto, I think — “a foreign policy we can all get behind.”

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"I Heard It's Not Even That Good for Guys": Another Round Table Between the Trans Men Who Don't Want Anything

Previously: The trans men who don’t want anything politely decline offers of testosterone.

Three trans men of a certain type (were Mary McCarthy writing The Group today, they’d have featured prominently in at least the Vassar flashbacks, say. By which I mean: yes, of course they are) sit down at a table. Before them is a loaf of bread and a pamphlet. They wait politely. There is a long silence, followed by an even longer one.

MAN 1: I hear it’s not even that good for guys.

MAN 2: I hear that too.

MAN 1: Oh? Who do you hear that from?

MAN 2: Well, I hear it when I say it myself, of course. And I say it a lot. Sometimes if I’m getting ready for the day, I’ll just announce to my mirror that I hear bottom surgery isn’t that good for guys, without going into any further detail about what “that good” means, or how I’d assess possible outcomes, or which kinds of bottom surgery I’m talking about, or who the guys are. So primarily that’s where I’m hearing it from.

MAN 1: Right, absolutely. And do you try to work in an unspoken intimation that the reason it’s not that good for guys is because it’s good — possibly too good — for trans women, who are probably having too much fun, and very likely getting away with something at our expense?

MAN 2: Absolutely. The doctors used up all the good ideas and equipment on them, and by the time they got to us, all that was left was a little bowl of gruel from Oliver Twist, which is why our options are pretty much just fingerless gloves, orphanage, please sir may I have some less?, terrible hunger, it don’t hurt so much nae more, if you please sir, and never-you-mind.

MAN 3: I heard they can give you [redacted] but only if you let a witch steal away your ability to feel tenderness and smell bread.

MAN 2: Oh, I definitely heard that too.

MAN 1: And a lot of us don’t even want surgery. Not because it’s not that good — I mean, it happens to not be that good, at least that’s what I hear, but even if it were good —

MAN 2: Like as good as the surgery they do for girls —

MAN 1: Right, with their great surgeries.

MAN 3: Which probably happened because of all that visibility. Not that I’m complaining!

MAN 2: Not that I’m complaining!

MAN 1: God, not that I’m complaining, least of all about trans women, and especially trans women of color.

MAN 2: No, especially, trans women of color —

MAN 3: Absolutely, especially trans women of color, especially. But a lot of us wouldn’t even want a great surgery. Which we couldn’t have if we wanted, I’ve heard. Not from a doctor or a surgeon, or anything, because why would I ask them about something I already know isn’t any good, and doesn’t work on top of not being any good? But I have heard it.

MAN 2: We’ve definitely heard enough.

MAN 1: I don’t think there’s any reason to even pick up this pamphlet to begin with. I already know everything there is to know about bottom surgery. I don’t need details.

MAN 2: I heard they just put a doll’s arm down there, and they charge you extra for a nerve hookup if you want to be able to move the doll’s arm, and they chop off one of your own arms for no reason afterwards.

MAN 3: I feel really good about not wanting anything, you guys.

MAN 1: Oh, do you still feel things about not wanting things? I remember that, I think.

MAN 2: I did hear about a guy who got it once.

There is a long pause. Each man attempts to push the loaf of bread away from him and towards one of his non-dining companions at the same time, creating a sort of Ouija-board effect.

MAN 1: How interesting!

MAN 3: Did he die, or explode, or something?

MAN 1: Did he say it wasn’t that good for guys after all? It’s worse, right? Does he wistfully say things like “better the devil you know” when he walks past mirrors now? Now’s bad, but change is worse, right? How committed is he to white transmasculine abjection? I bet not as committed as me.

MAN 3: Does he have pics?

MAN 1: Yeah, I mean, does he — does he have pics?

MAN 3: Yeah, does he have pictures?

MAN 1: Does he have any pictures? Do you know if he took pictures?

MAN 3: Did he take pictures of it?

MAN 2: He did, but I should warn you, they’re not as good as the pictures girls take.

MAN 1: Oh, no, of course not.

MAN 3: No, of course they’re not.

MAN 1: Or maybe you could just tell him to swing by, and he could show us in person, and we could tell him a few times how bad we hear it is. Whatever’s easiest. I just really need to make sure it’s not any good, and to tell him about all the stuff I heard, so he can understand why I need to look at him and not learn anything. Any time that’s good for him, really.

Kafka's Metamorphosis But The Other Samsas Are All Empaths

Previously: I am the horrible bug that lives in the town. I am the bug and you are the miserable mother with no antennae. I invented my body and it was the worst idea.

As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect. He was lying on his hard, as it were armor-plated, back and when he lifted his head a little he could see his dome-like brown belly divided into stiff arched segments on top of which the bed quilt could hardly keep in position and was about to slide off completely. His numerous legs, which were pitifully thin compared to the rest of his bulk, waved helplessly before his eyes.

What has happened to me? he thought. It was no dream. His room, a regular human bedroom, only rather too small, lay quiet between the four familiar walls. Gregor’s eyes turned next to the window, and the overcast sky — one could hear rain drops beating on the window gutter — made him quite melancholy. What about sleeping a little longer and forgetting all this nonsense, he thought, but it could not be done, for he was accustomed to sleep on his right side and in his present condition he could not turn himself over. However violently he forced himself towards his right side he always rolled on to his back again. He tried it at least a hundred times, shutting his eyes to keep from seeing his struggling legs, and only desisted when he began to feel in his side a faint dull ache he had never experienced before. As he struggled again to rouse himself, he tilted too far across the new axis of his thorax and clattered noisily to the ground. All at once there came a knock at his bedroom door.

“Gregor,” his sister Grete cried from the hallway, “I am a highly sensitive person, with a keen ability to sense what people around me are thinking and feeling, an ability that is so keen within me, in fact, that it operates as both superpower and chronic disease. I can tell that you’ve turned into a giant bug in there, and that you have a terrible pain in your side, and that you’re worried about work, and family rejection, and that you want to eat garbage, and it’s as if it’s happening to me, too.”

“Just a minute,” Gregor said, lumbering his many little legs in what he hoped was a consistent direction doorwards. “I’ll be up at once. The life of a traveling salesman may be difficult, but it’s nevertheless the life I’ve chosen, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

“I know how hard you work to support this family,” Grete said, weeping a little. “I can sense it, because of my great empathy, so in a way I work as hard as you do to support this family, because of how keenly I can sense your hard work, which is very tiring for me.”

“How distressing that must be,” Gregor jawed.

“Oh! Oh!” Grete said. “My jaws! I can feel them alive with mandibular clackings and re-settings — as if my entire anterior skull has been rearranged along horizontal lines for the purposes of grasping, crushing, and grinding. How monstrous!”

Gregor heard the sounds of additional footsteps in the hallway, and moments later his sister’s voice was joined by that of his mother and father, high and pinched with empathy.

“Oh, Gregor,” his mother wept. “I often feel deeply tuned into the feelings of those around me, even people I don’t know well. I suppose you could describe me as exceptionally sensitive, but of course it’s more than mere sensitivity, or even receptivity. Think of me as a sponge, which absorbs the emotional conditions of others without differentiation and without protection from the energies that others give off. I myself do not give off anything. It is a terrible gift, this empathy of mine, and I cannot help but experience your enweevilment as a psychic assault. Against your experience I have no defense. I am being horribly transformed! I am being metamorphosized!”

“So too am I being metamorphosed,” said Gregor’s father. “All through the night last night was I troubled by intranquil dreams, dreams that rearranged my soft innards into chitinous spinnerets and agglutinated scales, and when I woke, it felt as though my numerous legs, which were pitifully thin compared to the rest of my bulk, waved helplessly before my eyes. There are thirteen signs that a person might be an empath, Gregor — empaths are vanishingly rare, but I count myself one of them — we experience things differently than other people, and can even sense someone else’s pain or even their intentions, without ever meaning to. One sign is that you take on other peoples’ experience as your own. Another is a deep sensitivity to vibes. For example, an ugly or cluttered room is not merely distasteful to me, but the source of profound spiritual and physical pain.”

“So too did my numerous legs feel pitifully thin compared to the rest of my bulk,” Gregor’s mother said. “So too are they waving helplessly before my eyes, even now, and sometimes people turn to me for advice, because empaths make exceptionally good listeners, although that sometimes means that other people don’t realize how much energy it takes for me to listen and advise them, and how important it is for me to recharge after I have shared my gift with them.”

“As an empath,” Grete said, “the mere idea of pain or violence completely incapacitates me. I am completely incapacitated by your verminity, Gregor. I am beset by ridges, and I feel too swollen to even hide under the sofa.”

“All I need,” Gregor’s father said, “is for someone to bring me a whole selection of food, all set out on an old newspaper. Some old, half-decayed vegetables, bones from last night’s supper, perhaps covered with a white sauce — one that has thickened, of course, if the sauce has not thickened than I shall not desire any sauce at all — some raisins and almonds, a piece of cheese that I would have called uneatable two days ago, a dry roll of bread, a buttered roll, and a roll that has been both buttered and salted, for the purpose of comparison, and besides all that, a basin full of water that is to be reserved for my exclusive use, and for the creature who brings me my nourishment to understand with fine and innate tact that I cannot eat in their presence, and so to withdraw quickly, even turning the key, to sensitively and indirectly communicate they understand the importance of my taking my ease, as much as I like.”

“Yes,” Gregor’s mother said, “That is exactly what I need, too, for I have been turned into a horrible sclattering sort of creature, and besides I am in exquisite agony from when the chief clerk at my traveling-sales office threw his shoes at me this morning, because I was late for work, on account of having been crittered in my sleep.”

“Oh, Gregor!” Grete moaned. “If only you could open this door, and see how much we are bugs now, I am persuaded that you would take pity on your family, and not shut us up in this hallway like vermin, nor cry out in disgust at our monstrous visage.”

“It is terrible, how much we are bugs now,” Gregor’s father said. “Please, Gregor, my son, if you have ever cared for your father, you will open the door and care for us, just as if we had never transformed, and were still your same loving relatives.”

“But I cannot open the door,” Gregor said. “I have no hands with which to operate the lock—”

Please, Gregor,” his mother begged. “You who are a bug only in body must surely understand the greater terror and alienation of second-hand co-buggification. My empathy is so attuned as to cause me incredible pain and distress, to the near-derangement of my senses; I am so very empathetic that when something happens to you, you are murdering me.”

“We are such bugs,” Greta said, kicking out with her legs against the door, such that the plaster fell from the ceiling of Gregor’s bedroom. “We are such bugs, Gregor! If only you could understand us — if only you were possessed with a finely-tuned instrument of sensitivity, as we are, and could imagine our pain and terror, I am sure you would be only too eager to help your poor family, who are the most bugs it is possible to be —”

“Yes, Gregor,” his mother said, tearing through the door with the poker from the fireplace, her hair slipping out of its usual careful arrangement with the effort, “you must not lock us in — you must realize we cannot simply turn our feelings on and off, as you do — that our trilobitation is more than merely literal, as in our case, but goes straight down to the root of our souls — as an empath I dread conflict, but this is a case of survival for me —”

“You are feeling only your own pain, Gregor,” his father said, stepping through the door and carefully removing his shoes before helping his wife and Grete pick their way over the splintered wood and into the room, “but we are feeling ours, and yours, and each other’s, and so much more.”

“Empaths often have a hard time setting boundaries,” Grete said, stationing herself at Gregor’s dorsal segments. “We are soft, and permeable, and very much bugs now, and all of us are late for work, Gregor.”

“If only he could understand us,” said her father, moving closer to Gregor’s compound pigment-pit ocelli, “as we understand him.”

“I understand Gregor so much,” his mother said, sobbing, and wrapping her fingers around one of his fore-legs. Her hands were so soft; everything in the room was as tender as fresh corpseflesh, except for Gregor. “He has no softness to him. As an empath, I cannot see someone in pain without wanting to help.”

“I can’t walk past someone in need without doing something,” Grete said, weeping too. “I don’t care if I lose my job as a traveling salesman, or stay in this hideous, chattering body for the rest of my life, with no one to bring me delicious garbage to eat, or to stow me safely under the sofa.”

“I’m a bug, Gregor,” his father cried. “Gregor, your father is a bug all over! Can’t you feel it? Why can’t you feel what we’re feeling? This morning we awoke from uneasy dreams to find ourselves feeling you transformed in your bed into a gigantic insect. Won’t you help us?” And they all three began to stroke at him, in soft fleshy unison, until the whole room was filled with sympathy.

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