by Meredith Russo
One of the things most often praised about my book If I Was Your Girl isn’t the book itself, but the author’s note at the end (or the beginning, depending on if you’re reading the ARC or the final print) where I lay out my hope that cis people won’t take Amanda’s rather normative story as a set of rules trans people must follow and, more importantly for this post, where I admit that I had to make some concessions so the story would be more palatable for them. Let’s talk about those concessions, because they’re something I still think about a lot. Let’s talk about one in particular.
Making Amanda completely heterosexual was a pretty minor concession since it fit with her character anyway, but it was still kind of a Thing for me. I don’t know what to call myself moment to moment, but I’m sure as heck not straight, I’m more attracted to women than anything, and this was a HUGE problem for me when I was a teenager. My dysphoria wasn’t very bad when I was a little kid because masculinity wasn’t really imposed on me by my parents (I was still too scared to do anything overtly feminine where people could see) and, honestly, if I were cis I would have been a pretty big tomboy. Things got bad when I hit puberty though; I knew something was wrong, I knew I felt twisted and detached inside, and I knew I had to do something about it, but there was a problem.
Even if pop culture hadn’t convinced me from my earliest memory that a trans woman is one of the worst things a person can be (and that’s a big if), the fact that I was attracted to girls made my actually being trans impossible, because this was the early aughts and even after some pensive googling the best info I could find labeled me an “autogynephile” (google that if you feel like getting angry and depressed). So I came out as bi at thirteen, hoping that would relieve some of the pressure, and while it did it still wasn’t much. A few years after that I came out as gay, insisting that I only liked men because, for some reason (hyuck) I couldn’t handle how it felt to be with a girl as a boy, and the only time I ever really felt okay was when a boy made me feel desired and pretty in a way I now recognize, looking back, as how I imagined boys treated girls. Ask me about cognitive dissonance some time, because I am old hat.
So, obviously, that didn’t work. I eventually found a bunch of real, actual trans women online in my first few years of college, came to terms with the idea of being trans, and started processing that. But my attraction to girls was still a huge problem. I could never quite shake the idea that this made me that word, autogynephile, a freak who fetishized the idea of myself as a woman rather than a woman who happened to be attracted to other women. Other people didn’t really help, as the most common reaction from cis people I told was, “So, wait, if you’re into girls why transition at all?” As if loving a woman as a man and loving a woman as a woman are equivalent (believe you me, they’re not), as if straight trans women are just extremely gay men and gay trans women are… well, you get the idea.
I don’t think I really learned to feel completely okay about it until two years ago when I read A Safe Girl to Love by Casey Plett, which features more than a few short stories about trans women with cis women and, gasp, scandal, other trans women! I know, right? But it happens, and honestly it rules. I recommend it. Anyway, the relationships in the book aren’t all happy — many are dysfunctional or worse, but they’re still there, and the women in them understand themselves as queer, bi, or gay, and that isn’t questioned by the narrators, and that meant so much to me. Can you imagine if I had seen something like that in a movie, a TV show, or, more germane to the topic at hand, a YA novel when I was younger? Can you imagine how that might have changed my life? Because I can. I think about it a lot.
I’m sad that wasn’t something I could find a way to include in If I Was Your Girl. I intend to depict a more diverse trans experience in future books, but until then, hey, consider this an opportunity for you to do better. I promise I’ll be first in line to buy that book.