As a non-binary person, I’m tired of being celebrated for my resilience. This year, I just want to be celebrated for being hot. (I identify as trans and non-binary, and will use these terms interchangeably when referring to myself, although this is not a shared experience among all non-binary people.)
Scrolling social media, I see that a friend has posted a thirst trap online. They’re posing without clothes, at an angle that emphasises their juicy butt, and as you might imagine, it’s really hot. Someone has commented on the image, “You’re so inspiring, so brave,” and it makes me flinch. I contribute my own comment, full of love hearts and peach emojis, because my friend looks sexy. They also happen to be trans. Their gender identity doesn’t make their ass inspiring or brave (although their squat routine probably does make their ass strong).
Mainstream narratives around being transgender tend to focus on folk being brave, resilient, and inspiring. Trans people are upheld as examples of diversity, rather than individual people who have distinct lives and characteristics. The limited scope of roles offered within trans representation restricts our imagined potentialities to copycat cookie-cutter moulds. As a poet who publishes and performs their work, I am frequently shocked when I’m told a poem is ‘inspiring’ when from my point of view, it was simply horny. I want to be able to write about boring everyday things; about joy and fandom; about sex and feeling sexy; about veggie burritos — without being called brave.
Years ago, as a slam poet, I travelled and competed in various cities. Slam poetry is a live poetry competition, in which the poet stands on stage and delivers a poem to an audience (five of whom are picked randomly as judges) and then scored for their efforts. It sounds a bit cruel, but I’ll admit: I’m a Leo sun and I craved the attention. During my time as a slam poet, I observed a phenomenon I’ve since termed ‘points for pain’, in which there was a tendency to perform increasingly traumatic poems to earn higher scores. Although sharing poetry can be healing, this phenomenon was frequently strategic. I participated in conversations where competing poets pondered over which traumatic subjects would score the highest among that night’s selection of audience-members-turned-judges. This had become a competition for empathy.
In the same way that higher points were awarded to tragic poems, there is an appetite for trans stories that depict a not-cisgender person overcoming hardship, or experiencing violence. Most films still script trans characters as the victim or the comedic relief. Too often, we are just minor plot points. Our pain adds cinematic texture to the journeys of cisgender main characters. But what about trans joy?
I’m horny for wider representations of transness. There is a narrative beyond trauma and resilience that we deserve to occupy. I want to read romance novels where trans people are the leading characters; where trans folk are the femme fatales and the shirtless heartthrobs. I want to watch slow-motion beach scenes where the protagonist has surgery scars. Sometimes I even want to watch trans people included on terribly toxic dating shows, where they’re selected not because they’re trans, but as a logical inclusion into that contemporary cohort of public yearning. After all, we are desirable. Trans people aren’t just diversifying your life and your social media timeline; we’re also adding to its hotness.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not promoting the fetishisation of trans bodies. There is a big difference between a consensual appreciation of attractiveness and trans-chasing. But sadly, when I think logically about a trans person being cast on a mainstream dating show, it makes me worried about potential backlash, knowing that their gender identity would likely become a clickbait title rather than just one part of a whole person.
To me, feeling sexy is a radical decision to decide that your body is a desirable body. It can be an act of community advocacy, and a survival tactic in a society that pressures people who are different to shrink themselves to make themselves palatable. Anyone who has ever dressed up in their favourite fancy outfit (mine involves a glittery mesh crop top) knows that it is an act of visibility. By celebrating yourself, you engage with the gaze. This could be a stranger’s gaze, a lover’s gaze, or maybe your own gaze in the mirror. But in dressing to impress, there is an implied invitation to be looked at. When I wear my glitter mesh crop top and look in the mirror, I am whispering to myself, this is my trans body and it is capable of joy and desire. I am building my own mirror.
The truth is, I would rather be known as a caring friend than as an inspiration. Let trans people exist beyond bravery. Let trans people be boring, complicated, and sometimes even unlikeable. This pressure to perform a perfect representation is yet another part of the stigma placed on trans folk; to enact a palatable version of transness, a likeable version, not too intense, to distribute thirst traps that fit into a narrow narrative that makes other people comfortable.
When I enter a room, I don’t want people to glance at my pronoun badge and say, “Wow, Madison is so brave.” I want them to say, “Wow, Madison looks incredible in that jumpsuit.” The same goes for my writing and the ways I represent myself in it. Yes, sometimes I am brave, sometimes I am resilient, and perhaps I could be inspiring. Yet that is not my only narrative arc. I’m ready to be more. It’s time for me to retire from my resilience: this year, I just want to be celebrated as a hot piece of ass, who just happens to be non-binary.
Madison ‘Maddie’ Godfrey has performed poetry at The Sydney Opera House, St Paul’s Cathedral and Glastonbury Festival. Their first book, Dress Rehearsals is an exploration of what it means to be feminine, and is out now.
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