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Andrea Long Chu: Liquid Modernity’s Poster Gal

A year after acquiring a fake vagina, celebrated trans critic is as miserable as ever
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About a year ago, I wrote in this space about Andrea Long Chu, a man who was on the verge of having a sex change operation, and who penned a NYT op-ed about it. 

The NYT piece was highly controversial at the time. Chu said in it that he did not expect his pseudo-vagina to make him happy, but he deserved to have a pseudo-vagina anyway, simply because he wanted it. Desire is its own justification, in other words. Chu wrote that for the rest of his life, he is going to have to insert an object into his fake vagina to prevent it from healing shut, as his body will consider it to be a wound. As I wrote in response:

Do you see what’s happening here? Chu says that the treatments doctors have given him are making him sicker, even making him desire suicide. But if he wants to suffer and to die, then he should have that right. Satisfying desire is the only thing that matters.  

This poor man with asparagus-colored hair is going to submit to mutilation next week, and will have to spend the rest of his life inserting an object into the wound surgeons will have made in his pubic area, to prevent his body from healing itself. This man — “like many of my trans friends” — expects this medical procedure to make him no happier, and in fact may make him feel more miserable, even suicidal.

But he wants it. People like him want all of society to upend its laws, its customs, and its norms to facilitate that desire, and to act like there’s nothing wrong with it. And society is giving them what they want, and punishing those who deny that this is paradise.

Freeing the autonomous will from sex and gender norms is the summum bonum of contemporary American progressivism. The insatiably miserable Andrea Long Chu is its incarnation.

Well, we’re coming up on the one year anniversary of the casting-off of Chu’s male genitalia, and the miserabilist critic sits down with New York magazine to talk about zir’s new book. Excerpts:

Nearly a year after the surgery, she says she’s feeling more miserable than she’d expected. “It’s perversely vindicating,” she adds with a wry smile. Dressed in a jumpsuit patterned with blue-and-white flowers, she brushes a curtain of curls away from her face with a flip of her wrist, revealing a tattoo of a geometric vulva on the underside of her forearm. “It’s very dangerous to get what you want.”

So, there’s some stability in Chu’s life, then. More:

Chu was 23, a couple of years into her Ph.D. studies and in the midst of a breakup with a girlfriend, when she felt compelled to transition. Within a week, she’d bought her first bra. She wasn’t “coming out of the closet” after years of consciously (or unconsciously) hiding; the desire to be a woman descended upon her suddenly, like “a tongue of fire or an infection,” as she writes in Females, and she acted on it with uncharacteristic speed. It was “easily the most impulsive thing I’ve ever done,” she says.

Like a possessing spirit. And:

Snapping out of her reverie, she sighs and adds, “Now I’m just in a sexless marriage with myself.” As she describes it, the root of all her unhappiness — the reason she believes there’s no “cure” for gender ­dysphoria — is that she will never be able to fulfill her deepest desire, which is not just to be a woman but to have always been one. “If I were to unleash the full force of dysphoria onto a conversation partner, it would be Lovecraftian in the scale of horror,” she explains. “It would be like an indescribable, tentacular nightmare.” And yet she’s almost amused by the tragedy of it. After all, our endless striving in the face of certain failure is an essential part of what it means not to be trans but to be human. “We tell ourselves the object compels us. This person will give me what I wanted, this job, this belief, this breakup,” she says. “But it’s desire itself that compels us. It is by nature gratuitous and without purpose. The infinite desire to desire.”

Chu is in hell, driven by desire, but unable ever to find satisfaction for it, no matter how elaborately she masquerades, and self-mutilates. A hero for our liquid-modern times.