Born in the Right Body: On Creating Trans* Counter-Narratives

We tell ourselves stories in order to live” Joan Didion

I recently attended a reading/lecture by writer Thomas Mcbee at the University of Chicago.  Mcbee began by explaining his desire to create alternative narratives of transgender experience in the media as an editor and a writer of personal creative non-fiction. He identified several problematic dominant discourses that monopolize the public perception of what it means to be trans.


He explained that the exigencies of the editorial process (What’s the story? What’s the hook?) can lead to reductionism and sensationalism in media content. In the context of dominant representations of trans experience, McBee singled out several abiding trends that he finds fraught and vexing:

  • Born/trapped in the “wrong” body (a common trope that plays into a cis-gender binary)
  • The child who always knew 
  • Passing as endgame
  • Trans people shoring up ideals of authenticity (“I finally feel like my true self”)
  • Transgender as the ultimate social taboo
  • Passing/Deception
  • Before/After photos

In order to remove what he calls the “cis lens” and formulate a counter-narrative, Mcbee seeks to:

  • Remove stereotypes/essentialism
  • De-“other”
  • Remove sensationalism

He does this by being hyper-personal and vulnerable in his own published work. He sees narrative complexity and radical vulnerability as the answer to reductionism.

Some examples of his work can be read here: 

“Trans- but not like you think”-Salon

Self-made man #14: “Untroubling the body” - The Rumpus

Self-made man #17 “Real Men” - The Rumpus

For Mcbee, Lana Wachowski exemplifies a high profile non-binary trans person. This speech is one example of Mcbee’s ideal of vulnerability over simplicity:

"Lana Wachowski’s Stellar HRC Speech and Making the Invisible Visible"- SF Weekly

Ultimately, Mcbee argues that gendered expectations impact everyone, and so the trans experience does not need to be perceived as foreign or taboo. His pieces push everyone to think critically about their own gender identity, and the way their stories and experience of moving through the world are mediated. 

This talk was inspiring in its advocacy of complicating narratives, allowing space for everyone to identify, and using storytelling as a non-violent form of resistance. 


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    Alternative narratives… ‘bout fucking time.
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  21. decentkid reblogged this from femmetheory and added:
    absolutely love and agree with this and it’s nice to see trans issues being discussed which are non-binary, but i really...