Representation.January 4, 2021
I just finished reading Sovereign, the second book in the Nemesis series and really enjoyed it. I was going to do a review of the book, but after I finished it, I realized that there is something more important to blog about. Instead, I’d like to talk about representation.
Dreadnought was the first book I ever saw myself in. Which is really sad considering I’m a week away from thirty-five as I write this. But, it’s true. It’s the first book that ever brought me to tears in several chapters simply because I truly felt what Danny felt. It unearthed things I’d buried or hidden from. Reading these books, I felt seen. Seen in a way I’d never been seen before.
We’ve seen a lot of conversations about representation in media. There have been conversations about white-washing in Hollywood. There have been conversation about showing more diverse characters in popular franchises. But, many of these conversations talk about the social impact of diverse representation and very few about the individual human impact.
I grew up in a small town in rural Pennsylvania, a place where Barrack Obama once said people only care about their bibles and their guns. And, he wasn’t wrong. It’s a very conservative area. It’s depressed and forgotten and angry. Growing up, I didn’t have the words to describe this feeling I had. But I felt wrong. All the boys around me were into street hockey and football. I made bracelets out of beads and crocheted with my aunt, Janice.1 I didn’t know how to tell my mother that I didn’t feel right. I didn’t have the words.
What I did have was fear. There was one gay guy at our school. He was kinda funny and I remember talking to him the first day he came to our school and thinking he was nice. But he was different. He was mocked a lot in high school. He did have friends and some people were nice to him. But, I was aware that if he was mocked for being gay, how badly would I be bullied for being a girl.
So, I buried those feelings. I didn’t transition until I was thirty-three. I didn’t grow up learning how to be a woman. I grew up learning how to pretend I’m a man. I didn’t understand trans culture because I was trying to hide being trans.
What I’m getting at, is that there was no one to tell me, “hey, you’re trans.” There was no one to explain to me who I was. No one to give me a vocabulary for how to talk with people about it, nobody to console me and tell me that what I was going through was normal. I could have really used books like the Nemesis series when I was growing up.
Thankfully, I have a few trans friends now. It’s been refreshing to confide in them and have them say, “oh tell me about it! I feel that way all the time.” In the same way, it’s been validating to read the Nemesis books and feel such an emotional connection to Danny and her experiences. I finally have something the describes the things that I feel.
Over the last year, I’ve had a recurring conversation with my therapist about this fear that I have that my womanhood is at the mercy of therapists, doctors, and insurance companies. It’s at the mercy of legislators, and business owners. In all of these conversations, I’ve never had the words to describe what I felt except “fear of rejection.” But, Sovereign gave me the words.
What I feel is a fear, not just that I’ll be rejected for who I am, but that my womanhood can be taken away by these people. It’s a fear that my womanhood doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to all the people who could take it away. It’s a fear that some part of me isn’t mine.
At its heart, that’s what Sovereign is about. It picks up several months after the events of the first book. The book sees Danny lose her powers when the titular villain kidnaps her and holds her hostage. Graywytch is working with Sovereign to find a way to use magic to remove the mantle from Danny. It’s the primary goal of the villains to take Danny’s powers and her womanhood.
I read a couple reviews on Goodreads when I was leaving mine and several took issue with this portrayal of Graywytch as a villain. But, I found it the most powerful part of the book. To see Danny triumph over her felt empowering. In a way, defeating Graywytch is reclaiming her womanhood.
Representation is important because people need to see themselves in the media they consume. As a closeted trans girl in rural Pennsylvania, I didn’t have anyone or anything to show me that who I was was okay. I floundered. I felt wrong and guilty for being who I am. I locked that part of myself away. I told myself, “it’s just a phase,” and “I’ll grow out of it.” I built a mirage to show the world and to show myself.
I’ve seen some comments on “alphabet mafia” TikTok and Twitter about how important Mulan was to our childhoods. A lot of queer people I know(myself included), consider it their favorite Disney movie. It doesn’t have any overt representation of LGBTQIA+ characters. But, it embodied this feeling of being alien to gender norms, feeling out of place in a binary world. Mulan isn’t seen as the perfect woman, but she doesn’t fit in with the men either. As a character, she lets the audience explore this uneasy space of performing gender. It’s not LGBTQIA+ representation, but when you’re in a desert, you’ll take a cis straight character singing the line, “If I were truly to be myself, I would break my family’s heart.”
I have felt like I missed out on the part of my childhood where I grew into a woman. Instead, I’m figuring it in my mid thirties. Reading Dreadnought and Sovereign, I can’t shake this feeling that if it had been around when I was 12, I’d have asked my mom to help me get on puberty blockers.
I’d have come out sooner. I’d have gotten to live an authentic adolescence. And, most of all I wouldn’t have spent so much of my life feeling so wrong. I could have read the book with my mom. I could have had something to point to, to say, “THIS is me. THIS is what I feel inside.”
In my Dreadnought review, I said that cis people could read the book and take something away about the experience of being trans. Selfishly, I loved Dreadnought because of how it made me feel seen. But, it isn’t just that the author sees me. It’s that people reading the book will see me too.
Representation is important because what we choose to make normal, makes everyone else feel falsely abnormal. It gives the “normal” people the impression that to not be like them is to be abnormal. Expanding representation helps us all relate to each other and to ourselves.
Author’s Note: I was trying to make an effort not to turn my blog into a transition blog. But, it’s been a huge part of my life the last 18 months. I have one more blog post in progress about J.K. Rowling and why I believe we shouldn’t separate her from her work. After that, I’m gonna try to get to other topics. I have an iPhone 12 Mini review and a reaction post to I’m Thinking Of Ending Things both outlined so look out for those(unless I decide not to finish them and move on to something else, which happens often).
I am not saying that these activities are inherently gendered. But in our community they were gendered. Wanting to do these activities was me wanting to be around the people I identified more with. It’s not a comment on the activities themselves. ↩