I Hope We Choose Love: A Trans Girl’s Notes from the End of the World, by Kai Cheng Thom. Arsenal Pulp Press, 2019. ISBN 9781551527758.
February 2020 – This book consists mostly of essays and some poems that range from the personal to the political. At the end of one worthy essay on sexual harassment and violence in the queer community, Kai Cheng Thom writes: “I want to live in the real world now – an uglier place, to be sure, but I hope, a more honest one. I have spent my entire adult life searching for the Truth. It’s possible that I’ve been looking in all the wrong places.”
This suggests that perhaps she’s grown beyond what often seems to be the insular worlds of her queer community and the radical left social justice movement. There are truths in those worlds, to be sure, which she expresses in the essay Righteous Callings when she affirms the principles in which she believes. However, insular communities also suffer from the things she’s often critiquing here. She lists these in the same essay, and they include, as two examples, “Performance of Virtue”, which “often relies on adherence to startlingly simplistic slogans that are applied rigidly across situations regardless of context” and “Bullying and Call-Outs” a culture in which “the majority of political education is done through public shaming.” Indeed, the social justice movement is sometimes its own worst enemy with some of its ideas being easy targets for ridicule.
An essay called Stop Letting Trans Girls Kill Ourselves provides a good example. In it, Thom argues against the idea that suicide is “an act of personal agency that should be upheld and supported by the ‘community’”. In other words, the idea that if someone wants to kill themselves, step aside and let them do it. I would never have thought such a notion would be remotely defensible, and yet evidently there are enough people in the “community” who think so, enough that Thom felt compelled to write an essay against it. Although Thom dismantles the argument, she may be a little generous in her analysis of how anyone could arrive at this dubious position. Issues of consent and body sovereignty are undoubtedly important, but when you are effectively saying, “I don’t want to hurt your feelings, so go ahead and kill yourself” you’ve gazed so long into your navel that you’ve misplaced your moral compass.
For this reason, I preferred the personal essays that made their point through stories from her life as a Chinese trans woman. There is a delightful and insightful essay here occasioned by the death of her grandfather and another titled The Chinese Transsexual’s Guide to Cheongsam – the instantly recognizable dress linked to Chinese women – which for a time she became obsessed with wearing. Both these are entertaining, educational and insightful.
Underlying all these essays and poems is a trans woman aware of her own growth and deliberating upon the communities which nurtured her, but which she is reluctantly discovering may now be limiting her. I didn’t enjoy all of it, but she’s a good writer and I appreciated her courage in sharing her concerns about herself, her communities, and the future.