Amaze Clarissa contributor AJ McKenna talks Will Franken and what it means to be a trans woman, especially in the face of public and personal criticism.
I never got to see Sarah Franken during her Edinburgh run this year. I missed her again when she performed at Silly Billies comedy club in my home city of Newcastle. By all accounts I didn’t miss much – friends who have seen her live tell me Sarah’s show largely consisted of her acting as if her trans status gave her a get-out-of-jail-free card for being RACIST AS FUCK – but I felt guilty nonetheless. I was a fellow trans performer trying to establish herself in a medium dominated by cis people. Surely I should’ve at least tried to blag a press ticket to the Silly Billies gig, to support her?
Turns out, I needn’t have worried so much. Because now, mere months after very publicly ‘coming out’ as trans, Sarah Franken has decided it isn’t for her and she wants to be Will again. And why? Because, he tells us, he is ‘thoroughly bored with transgenderism’.
Sarah, Will, honey, girlfriend, whatever – do you think the rest of us don’t get bored with being trans? Being a trans woman is exhausting. Not only do you face constant gatekeeping from the medical professionals who are supposed to be ‘helping’ you, not only do you have to deal with verbal abuse, physical harm and the knowledge that women like you are murdered at an alarming rate, not only do you have to witness the spectacle of those who cheerfully hate you being feted as heroes of freeze peach while women like you die alone in men’s prisons, but on the rare occasions when there is something about you in the media it usually stars and is directed by a cis person and you’re supposed to make puppy-dog eyes at them just for noticing you. Who wouldn’t want to quit in the face of all that?
Well, me, for one, and every trans woman I know, for another. Because the thing about being trans, Will, is that for all of us, there’s one thing that’s worth the abuse, the risk, the gatekeeping, and the having to watch every shitty episode of Transparent in order to review it (okay, I admit that last one may be a little niche): the fact that for the first time in our lives we are authentically being ourselves. And that was never what you were doing, was it, Will? You admit as much in your essay for Beyond the Joke, in which you express the shallow, mercenary hope that coming out would see your shows garner ‘a significant bump in numbers’ and in the Independent article where you boast that you got ‘an amount of press better-earning comedians would have obtained by paying two grand to a PR firm’. I’m sorry Will, did you think you would make more money by coming out as trans? Congratulations: the entire trans community, which suffers from massive amounts of unemployment alongside all the other shit we have to put up with, just gave you the biggest laugh of your career.
Maybe you think that’s worth it? You seemed to prioritise your career to an astonishing extent. Witness your admission that you had no plans to undergo hormone therapy because you wanted ‘to preserve the violent feelings of justified anger’ you felt. I can see where you’re coming from with that: before I went on testosterone-blockers earlier this year I was afraid that I might lose some of the rage which drove my early poetry and performances. But you know what? That’s bollocks, will. Women get angry: this site is living proof. We’re overwhelmingly female, cis and trans alike, and we all love nothing better than sticking the boot into the crappier parts of pop culture.
There’s a poem I sometimes do in my live show which finishes with me facesitting a chair that stands in for Dapper Laughs (or Jeremy Clarkson, depending on my mood), and I am not the angriest female poet I know (that would be a toss-up between Sophia Walker and Joelle Taylor – both cis and therefore never having had to forego their testosterone). There’s a difference between pre and post-blocker anger, it’s true, but it’s qualitative rather than quantitative. Before, my anger, like pretty much everything else about my gender presentation, was performative: it was something I felt I acted but which I never felt connected to, like
your routines someone doing a really crap impression of Bill bloody Hicks. Now, when I get angry, it hurts. But if you think I’d shy away from expressing my justified anger to spare myself the suffering, you know nothing about a woman’s tolerance for pain.
And few things make me as angry as what you euphemistically refer to in your essay as ‘niching yourself from female companionship’, or in laywoman’s terms the fact that being trans didn’t get you chicks. The fact that this was one of the things which encouraged you to pack in being Sarah astonishes me on a number of levels.
On the shallowest level there’s simply the fact that it doesn’t mesh with my experience at all – since coming out as trans, and especially since going on testosterone-blockers my dance card has been pretty damn full, thank you very much – but more importantly, have you never heard of the cotton ceiling myth? That’s a deliberate, transphobic misreading of porn performer Drew Deveaux’s objection to the exclusion of trans lesbians. This misreading paints us as sexual predators who cry ‘transphobia’ when women refuse to sleep with us. It’s one of the most horrible accusations transphobic bigots throw at us – and with your whining about not getting any pussy despite how NICE you are, you’ve given those bigots one Hell of a Christmas present. Who knows – maybe some of them might even throw you a bone, eh?
But I think there might be something else which puts women off you whatever you’re wearing and calling yourself, Will. See, in your Independent article you take great pains to disassociate yourself from Caitlyn Jenner, and you’re happy to do it in starkly misogynist tones, saying that you are ‘proud to have never seen a single episode of the Kardashian reality whorehouse of which she presumably is the madam’. Wow. Wow. I mean, the blithe dismissal of a major cultural figure is bad enough, but the negativity about sex workers too? If you’re hoping to get a shag to relieve your ‘boredom’ you’ll have a long wait.
Enjoy the bump in ticket sales your ‘SJW’-baiting stunt will probably get from TERFs, MRAs and the kind of people who hang out on sites which end in ‘chan’, Will. But stop blaming the ennui you feel when the dressing room door closes on ‘transgenderism’ (a phrase I’ve only ever seen used by transphobic bigots by the way – funny that). If you’re the kind of person who ‘comes out’ as trans while rubbing your hands about how much free press it’s going to get you, the reason for your boredom is probably a little bit closer to home. As the Pet Shop Boys pointed out a long time ago, sometimes the reason you’re being bored is simply that you’re being boring.
AJ McKenna is the author of the poetry pamphlets A Lady of a Certain Rage and names and songs of women, and the album …the gunshots which kill us are silenced. Her poetry film Letter to a Minnesota Prison was screened at the South Bank Centre in 2012, and she performed her spoken word show, Howl of the Bantee, at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2015. AJ previously served as So So Gay‘s Deputy Editor. She is about to embark on the Apples & Snakes tour, Public Address III, which is being directed by Hanna Silva. She lives in Newcastle with two cats and two lesbians.