The Immigrant Left In The United States

Andrea Long Chu, left, and book Females, right.

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Andrea Long Chu’s 2019 book, Females, about “femaleness” and “transness,” has received generally positive reviews from so-called “left-wing” publications, being seen, almost unquestionably, and yet unsurprisingly, as both stunning and brave. Chu situates this text upon the following premise: “Everyone is female, and everyone hates it.” Author of the 1987 work, “The Empire Strikes Back: A Posttranssexual Manifesto,” and acclaimed for founding the academic field of “transgender studies,” Sandy Stone praised Chu’s work as having launched “the second wave” of “transgender studies.” Stone refers, here, to Chu’s 2018 essay, “On Liking Women,” in which Chu writes: “The truth is, I have never been able to differentiate liking women from wanting to be like them.” As expected, Chu’s Females further develops ideas seen in that earlier essay, namely the notion, also shared by Stone, that a heterosexual male can be, in fact, a “homosexual female.”

Of autogynephilia, Chu writes that it “describes not an obscure paraphilic affliction but rather the basic structure of all human sexuality.” Autogynephilia exists at the intersection of autoeroticism, fetishism, and narcissism, a physiological and psychological condition specific to male sexual development that depends on men’s sexual objectification of women. Chu quotes the sexologist Ray Blanchard who, in 1989, wrote: “All gender dysphoric males who are not sexually oriented toward men are instead sexually oriented toward the thought or image of themselves as women.” Despite being a heterosexual male, Chu insists on being both “female” and “homosexual.” After all, if “everyone is female,” as Chu writes, all sex is “lesbian” sex, “because no other kind of sex is possible.”

“Sissy porn did make me trans,” Chu tells us. “At very least it served as a neat allegory for my desire to be female—and increasingly, I thought, for all desire as such.” With the humiliation of men by women as a theme, this genre of pornography is characterized by what Chu describes as “forced feminization.” Julia Serano uses this phrase in the 2007 book, Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity. According to Serano, “forced feminization” involves, specifically for people observed male at birth, “turning the humiliation you feel into pleasure, transforming the loss of male privilege into the best fuck ever.” For men, then, their castration can become both a cause and a consequence of enhanced titillation, rather than exclusively terrifying for fear over the perception of a lack of power and privilege on the basis of sex.

Correspondingly, for Chu, “femaleness” becomes essentially synonymous with powerlessness, because, as Chu writes, “the phrase forced feminization is redundant: the female is always the product of force, and force is invariably feminizing.” Structured by the sexual objectification of the female body within the male gaze, pornography affects what has been called “gender identity development,” since sex and sexual orientation both clearly precede and differentially influence what is defined as “gender identity.”

“Pornography is what it feels like when you think you have an object, but really the object has you,” Chu writes. “It is therefore a quintessential expression of femaleness.” More precisely, rather, Chu could say, perhaps even likely would say, that the object is you, since, according to Chu, “desire is this external force,” being “nonconsensual,” since “most desires aren’t desired.” For the male consumer of porn wanting to become the consumed female, the porn that he consumes, as in the case of Chu, becomes that with which he most deeply identifies his sense of self. Pornography, then, emerges as not only a political ideology but also a personal identity, fused together in both theory and practice.

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Given that, like in “On Liking Women,” Chu writes about growing up as a heterosexual male desiring to become the object of Chu’s own desire, we see in Females a definition of “transness” and “femaleness” rooted in a sense of the self as an object for someone else’s desire. “Gender transition, no matter the direction, is always a process of becoming a canvas for someone else’s fantasy,” Chu explains. Continuing, Chu tells us: “Gender is not just the misogynistic expectations a female internalizes but also the process of internalizing itself, the self’s gentle suicide in the name of someone else’s desires, someone else’s narcissism.”

Central to Chu’s Females, alongside the misreading of Valerie Solanas from the point of view of a heterosexual male who sees himself as a “homosexual female,” we see a misreading of Catharine A. MacKinnon’s 1982 analysis of sexism. Drawing upon the work of Andrea Dworkin, MacKinnon writes:

“Sexual objectification is the primary process of the subjection of women. It unites act with word, construction with expression, perception with enforcement, myth with reality. Man fucks woman; subject verb object.”

Indeed, Chu seems to take the sexual objectification of the female body, which feminists critique in the male-defined standards of femininity imposed upon people observed female at birth, and sees such expectations, rather, as what it is to be, in essence, “female.” “To be for women, imagined as full human beings, is always to be against females,” Chu writes. “In this sense, feminism opposes misogyny precisely inasmuch as it also expresses it. Or maybe I’m just projecting.” Perhaps, instead, feminism exposes misogyny, while Chu, in fact, does project.

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“Projection” seems to be the perfect word for describing Chu’s Females, since what Chu describes as “femaleness” is fundamentally the projection of male fantasy; it might as well be titled Fantasies. One is “female” insofar as one is “feminine,” because “femaleness” and “femininity,” to Chu, become one and the same, exactly what happens when sex and “gender identity” collapse into each other. What men have perceived as “female” has been enforced, by social institutions, as “femaleness,” gender stereotypes becoming seen as “sex traits,” uniting the process of men mythologizing women with the practice of realizing “womanhood.” And so, with Females, where the personal meets the political, male fantasy becomes female reality, yet again.