Les Misérables is not, I think, inherently cringeworthy, although there are a number of elements — religious fervor, emotional sincerity, an obsession with a single father’s self-perception, male college students, 80s-era musical theater, Nick Jonas — that tend to attract and highlight the cringeworthy. And there is nothing inherently cringeworthy about being a transmasculine person — but sometimes we do behave in ways that we later look back on and cringe over. Lovingly, and with great affection and patience, but the face does tend to screw up a bit in recollection.
Anyhow, I love all of us, and it’s best just to accept that everyone in Les Mis is a trans man for different reasons. Here’s why come:
Religious (when people say “religious” they still tend to, in this country at least, mean “Christian,” it’s whatever), but in a way where you’re kind of like, do you just like using the word ‘vocation’ and find some of the language meaningful, or are you still chasing your parents’ approval and hope pretending to be more monogamous than you really are is going to get you there? Which is fine? But also, you seem sort of isolated in your church community, which maybe you’re cool with, and I certainly don’t want to make things harder for you, but are you really in the community, or are you like, “in the community” as long as you present yourself as fundamentally sexless? But like, doing great, transitioned a million years ago but never complains about the “younger generation” of trans kids or whatever, no puberty-blocker sour grapes.
Just like, a succession of increasingly disappointing boyfriends as part of an exercise in staving off transition because “Herbert really needs me right now.” And like, same thing, I’m not going to be the one who says, but when do you get to need Herbert, or whomever, because I think the dynamic is obvious and it’s frankly overstepping my boundaries to ask whether they’re actually seeking out emotional “projects” because they want to keep putting off something I think they actually really want, because what do I know about what other people really want? Eyes on my own page, or whatever, but I really do think at least some of it is because you’re worried you’re not going to be able to pull even disappointing boyfriends after transition, but you will, oh my God, the gay boys are going to eat you up, but you’ll get there when you get there.
So committed to being only attracted to women for so long (“I have complicated feelings around the idea of calling myself straight – obviously I believe trans people can call themselves straight if they want to, but actually even fuck that waffling language, I believe trans people can be straight and there’s no bar that keeps us from that group, but I also believe that when it comes to like, the collective resources and protections of heterosexuality, our lives are a lot more complicated than just straightness, so that even straight trans people have an automatic place within queer communities, and yes in a lot of ways it is as straightforward as being a guy who likes women and I need my partners to respect that, but I also realize there’s a dimensionality to my relationships with women, regardless of whether they’re cis or trans, that cishet couples don’t experience”) that he doesn’t even realize he’s been sort of upsettingly in love with other trans guys for a while now. “I don’t have feelings for him — it’s just the principle of the thing —” then cue that big Cher-in-front-of-the-fountain-at-the-Galleria moment in Clueless.
ENJOLRAS AND THE ABC GANG
Rightly sensitive to claims of “Peter Pan syndrome” getting lobbed at them merely because they are a group of youthful-looking transmascs who tend to spend a lot of time together. “I own my shit,” Combeferre says, “and just because I don’t attempt to, like, replicate the heterosexual life model doesn’t mean I’m ‘avoiding responsibility.’ Frankly I resent the implication that I’m somehow honor-bound to prioritize monogamous commitment and the accumulation of property in order to be taken seriously as an adult trans man. I’m in therapy, I’m emotionally aware, I treat my partners with respect, I effectively communicate my boundaries without being a robot about it. And frankly, the fact that I’m so often read (and treated) as a teenager when I’m twenty-fucking nine is not a bonus, it’s often incredibly distressing, and it in no way detracts from my real, actual adulthood.”
Enjolras gets a little boundary-anxious about trans guys who call themselves femmes because he’s really worried about the whole ‘super-senior lesbian’ thing, which obviously means that Grantaire makes a habit out of shouting “I CLAIM FEMME AS PART OF MY IDENTITY” whenever they have meetings, which no one really knows what that claiming looks like in practice but everyone’s too scared of Grantaire to ask, which is actually kind of wonderfully femme when you think about it, maybe? Everyone’s in ACA, obviously, or a sufficiently critical mass of them are so that the vibe you often get from them as a group is “ACA meeting.”
It’s not that he never experienced dysphoria, it’s just that he was basically really good at being a girl, whatever that means (you all know what it means on SOME level because everyone agrees that he was really good at being a girl) and then he just did it and basically skipped having an awkward phase or even a single unflattering haircut. And you can’t even stay mad at him about it because he’s such a good fuck and he loves to fuck his friends so everyone’s just like, Okay.
Sometimes says stuff about, like vulvas, where you’re genuinely not sure, okay, is this camp, is this misogyny, is this unresolved dysphoria, is it transphobic to even call vulva-antagonism misogny?, and obviously he’s like, “Well, I have a right to use language that’s meaningful to me about my own experience, and that includes not patrolling my own affect to make sure I don’t make us look bad in front of cis people,” and at the time you’re like I guess that’s true but later you’re like, Wait, was I actually asking him to ‘patrol’ anything, or is that a misdirection? And there weren’t even cis people there, but he’s also been through a lot, and you worry you’re being too hard on him, and he’s always doing like binder recycling programs that you know you should probably help out with but you still feel so like your own top surgery was so recent that thinking about binders actually just feels too raw, so you don’t.
“Okay, when I say ‘T makes you gay,’ I’m like, broadly gesturing at the multiple ways queerness can expand after transition, not trying to make a reductive generalization about everybody’s experience on HRT, and I feel like if you were listening to me in good faith you would acknowledge that, instead of assuming I’m trying to box everybody out of their own lived experiences, or whatever, and yes I know we’ve had that conversation about what ‘good faith’ actually means and you know it’s just shorthand for ‘giving me the basic credit of probably-good intentions’ and I don’t really care if that’s not what it actually means, can we stop assuming antagonism when we’re both basically on the same side here?”
Either 41 and six months on T, or actually 20 and got to do puberty blockers and everything; everyone is afraid it’s rude to ask. “YES, IT IS,” Combeferre shouts from the next room. “IF IT’S IMPORTANT FOR YOU TO KNOW ABOUT IT, HE’LL TELL YOU.”
I’ve got a whole book of shit like this coming out next month – pre-order it here.