Afterland: Chapters 45, 54

[Content Note: Transphobia]

I quit the AFTERLAND book, but I promised I'd read the 3 chapters that I know explicitly deal with trans people. My last thread was on Ch. 29, which was the "sorry, trans sisters!" bit and it was awful. TERFy as fuck, and with a "sassy gay man" narrator. The next reference that I can find to trans people is in Ch. 45, where a trans man is referenced. Briefly. So let's tackle that one.

AFTERLAND. Chapter 45.

"45. Miles: Wolf in Wolf's Clothing"

Oh no, wait, I had my notes upside down: Chapter 54 is the brief reference to a trans man. Chapter 45 is the one where Miles meets the detransitioner who rails against transition. So this will be fun, obviously. Trigger warnings for transphobia.

We've skipped a lot of chapters so I don't know precisely what is going on, but Miles is in an empty school and wearing religious robes called "the Apologia". He doesn't like the robes or their situation, whatever it may be. In case we've forgotten, Miles refers to the plague as the "Manpocalypse" which is obviously great in a chapter where we're about to meet a detransitioned trans man. We could've met a transitioned trans man in this book, but apparently that was too much to ask.

Miles thinks about all the boys who ran these school halls and grieves for them and it's all very cishet-normative and about how they must've worried about "grades and girls and getting onto the football team". Miles sounds like a 40 year old matron.

He sees the art room and imagines painting himself as "Half-girl, half-boy. The Speak and the veil of the Apologia on one side—calm, contained. The other side would be real. Angry. He twists his face to mimic the expression." I have a lot of issues with juxtaposing maleness with anger, especially for a character who has been treated in the narrative like a trans boy--being misgendered by his mother and forcibly girlnamed.

He reads the school pledge of this Boys School on the walls--"I will find the courage to become the man I was meant to be."--and it moves him to tears. I continue to have trans boy feels about Miles and it hurts. He weeps that "no one is ever going to be around to show him what he’s supposed to be." This is... a hell of a chapter to stick a detransitioner character in, that's... all I can say at this stage.

Miles finds a boys' uniform and puts it on, figuring out the tie from some vague memories of his father. A woman named Generosity instantly sees him and drops a bowl of Fruit Loops in her shock. What timing! What a coincidence! How uncontrived!

“Oh, Mila,” Generosity says. “I knew it. I knew you were like me.”

This is just... so disgusting. It's easier for me to screenshot it than to summarize. Hang on.

This author claims to support trans people. Folks who read and raved about the book in order to sell it claim to support trans people. I am so disgusted and sickened.

“Oh, Mila,” Generosity says. “I knew it. I knew you were like me.” “I…what?” She walks over, pulls him into a smothering hug. “I was four when I started putting on my brothers’ clothes. I insisted everyone call me a different name. When puberty hit me, I started binding my breasts. It felt like my body was betraying me, like it belonged to someone else. I thought if I willed it, I could force the world to see me as I saw myself, as a boy.” Miles feels like the conversation has veered wildly off course. He keeps his face blank to cover his confusion. “But it’s wrong, Mila. I see that now. We carry Eve’s sins, and we can’t escape that by wishing we were different. We have to learn to ignore the voice of Satan in our hearts, and listen to God. He has made us women, and we must accept our suffering. For that is His will.”

She grips his shoulders. “I was lucky. I found the Church before I could save up for surgery. I was so close to mutilating the body God had made me. As it was, I poisoned myself with hormones, Mila. But I’ll help save you from all of that.”

This is the ENTIRE CHAPTER, by the way. Miles thanks her for keeping his "secret" and the chapter ends. The entire chapter is just Miles having anxieties over being a boy, then meeting a detransitioned trans boy who affirms that Biology = Identity. Nothing else.

This can't be waved away with a simple "well, the character is wrong!" because the author chose this framing, this approach. She chose this to be what we see of transgender masculinity, the one voice we have for trans men. Our only trans male voice in this novel about a gender plague that kills cis men is a self-hating detransitioner who calls hormones "poison", surgery "mutilation", and who says we can't escape the gender we're assigned at birth. This isn't an accident. This is trans-exclusion and transphobia, boiled down into the page and premise.

People are going to justify it by saying that the character is not the author. But no cis author needs to include this perspective, that hormones and surgery and transition are "poison" and "mutilation". Especially not in the "authoritative" voice of a detransitioner. The majority of people who detransition do so because they faced stigma after transition and they retreated back into the closet. Perpetuating this transphobic garbage--that our bodies are "mutilated"!--hurts them, hurts all of us.

I've been reading previous references to trans people as afterthoughts which were hastily shoved in when someone asked "what about trans people?" but now I'm forced to rethink that premise because this chapter isn't an afterthought. There's no REASON to include this here--an entire chapter on What Masculinity Means And Why Trans Men Can't Attain It--unless you think you're saying something clever about gender. This chapter doesn't further the plot or develop the characters!

Then again, I could see this being shoved in as a second draft sort of thing--"I need a trans male perspective, but I didn't bother to write a trans man in, oh what if one of the Handmaid's Tale-esque nuns!"--but if that was the case then what a phenomenally bad choice.

Just to get this over with, we're going to do the one other chapter that I can find even a mention of transness: Chapter 54, also a Miles chapter.

AFTERLAND. Chapter 54.

"54. Miles: Compound Sins"

I don't think it's a deliberate choice that both of the trans masculinity chapters are from Miles' point of view, but I don't like the juxtaposition. Where are the out trans men in this world, visible for Cole and God and everyone to see? This makes trans men a weirdly internalized phenomena where the boy (Miles) can see them, but they aren't Real for Cole to encounter. And/so/if she did, she'd realize there's no need to keep dressing Miles up as a girl.

Anyway. Chapter 54. We've skipped a bunch of chapters again. Cole and Miles are fleeing "The Temple". Miles seems upset about this, so I'm assuming he got partially indoctrinated by the nuns and the detransitioned sister. Now we're going to meet the queer-coded women who cross-dress as men in the seedier parts of town. Miles reacts with disgust at their explicit sexuality and maybe also at their queer-codedness.

"The bouncer standing beneath the sign is everything that is wrong with the world, and it makes him feel even more lost. Her face is full of rainbow piercings, and she’s wearing a white mesh vest with no bra, so you can see the glint off her nipple rings. This is so distracting that it takes him a moment to notice the codpiece with a giant, erect purple dick that she’s wearing over her jeans."

Miles remarks that the only person who would dress that way obviously hates themselves. Again: I'm aware he's supposed to read as indoctrinated, but it's a hell of a choice to make a queer-hating protagonist after all the queer-hating that has come before. The few mentions we've had of lesbians in this World Without Men have been perfunctory or sneering, the two gay men we hear about are sassy and dead, the trans women are all dead, and the trans men are so far absent or detransitioned and filled with religious self-hate.

Miles thinks of the dildo as a "giant purple joke of a penis" and considers all the women who work here to be "perverts". They're led inside to meet a Dallas who is supposedly expecting them, and we get to see the author's vision of sexually attractive men:

Luna leads them through a beaded curtain and down a corridor tiled with screens, all showing clips of men looking brave or sexy or something. Some of them Miles recognizes: Han Solo with his gun, and that actor who played Captain America, and Idris Elba, bare-chested, laughing, holding a puppy licking his face. But a lot of them are plain weird, a skinny guy with glasses and a pigeon chest, a fat man in a steampunk suit and top hat, twirling his mustache, the old Canadian prime minister. It’s all so random. And the slideshow is interspersed with ones that make him feel sick and confused. Sexual ones, like a man worshipping the high heel at the end of a lady’s extended leg, or a man’s veined hand around a woman’s throat, her lips slightly open, a black-and-white photograph of a man’s butt with a whip sticking out of it like a tail. Gross.

This book is so deeply *prudish* that I have to keep checking that the author is a queer* woman. [*Editor's Note: This was an assumption based on incorrect information; see note at the end of the post.] I feel like this is something a sex-hating matron would write while trying to dream up new sexual depravities. A man on his KNEES before a woman, THE SCANDAL. This is supposed to be some kind of hostess club--or, well, host club--where (fake) men service women and we're given as the height of female sexuality a picture of Han motherfucking Solo on the walls?!?!?! I'm- I- I'm genuinely at a loss, I really am.

They reach a bar with a karaoke stage. "All the servers are cosplaying men in sharp suits with boy-band hair. He squirms when he realizes that the glass display case that fills the wall behind the bar is filled not with bottles but dildos." Don't really understand why there aren't also bottles; this could be an "oh shit, I just remembered the apocalypse might have a booze shortage" moment, or horny women just don't drink in their sex bar, for reasons that baffle me.

"“Kyabakura,” Luna says. “Drinks, cabaret, karaoke, a handsome hasuto to hang on your every word, delight and enthrall you with their conversational wit. All tastes, we don’t judge. And if you want to go in for some pillow business, that’s strictly between you and your host".

I'm holding my head in my hands: "they go up a flight of stairs and into the wings, where a troupe of women dressed like stripper plumbers are fixing their dungarees over the artificial bulges." Like, on the one hand this sounds like a fun Saturday night but on the other hand this still sounds like someone trying to "hey, fellow kids" meme their way into making a realistic women-oriented sex club. Plumbers. PLUMBERS. All she needed to do was watch Magic Mike XXL for research! I mean, *I* would've had pretty feminine boys ready to go on with lace and lots of delicate underwear straps, but I can understand if masculinity got hyper-masculinized in the apocalypse.

[Transphobia] Just in case you forgot how this book feels about AFAB people calling themselves men, we get this: "Miles tries not to look at the performers and their costumes, an insult to the memory of men". Then they reach the woman (Dallas) who is supposed to help them escape back to South Africa and we get this doozy of a passage:

She puts down her pen and peers at them over the rims of her glasses. “You must be our Africans. Huh. Automatically assumed you’d be black.” “I get that a lot,” says his mom. The old lady heaves herself up and limps over to them, leaning heavily on a cane. It’s tipped with a silver penis, Miles can’t help noticing. “You’re the ones causing all the fuss, huh? So are you a real boy, or are you looking for a blue fairy to make you into one?” “Does it matter?” Mom says. “Well, you’d be our first biological specimen passing through. We had Felix, but he’s trans. Needed to get away from the rich bitch who paid for his dick.” “Are you sex slavers?” Miles demands. Dallas looks shocked and then breaks out in a huge smile, revealing yellowing teeth. “Ha! Let’s get right out with it. No, sorry to disappoint you.” Luna chimes in. “We’re all licensed hosts, thank you, Mayor diComo Sex Act for making us legal! We pay to be able to stage our performances here. Too much, some might say.” “That ‘some’ better not be you,” says Dallas, raising one of her thin eyebrows. “Not me, boss lady. I’m happy as a clam!” “You talking about your vagina again?” the witch cackles.

Where do you start here? There's the TERF obsession with genitals: the silver penis cane, the tortured attempt to turn "happy as a clam" into a vagina reference. There's the 'reverse racism' gotcha of assuming there are no white African people.

There's this monstrosity of transphobia from a character who is otherwise so far sympathetic saying that only cis boys are "biological" men. "So are you a real boy, or are you looking for a blue fairy to make you into one?”" To be clear, that is a Pinocchio reference: that trans boys are fake wooden imitations seeking a magical cure to make us "real". Fuck this, fuck that, fuck everything. And she clearly knows about trans boys because they had one--ONE!!--trans man working there. The invisible, absent, Sir Not Appearing In This Film "Felix".

No, actually, scratch that: I thought Felix was a former worker, but I see now that I was wrong. Dallas helps people get away from other people--she's like a human trafficker but for liberation--which means Felix, passing through, was a trans boy seeking escape. The only thing we know about Felix is that he "Needed to get away from the rich bitch who paid for his dick." I'm baffled that Dallas needed to share this about a trans person, that the author managed to IMMEDIATELY talk about a trans person's genitals. Not "well, we had a trans boy we helped but you're our first cis boy", no sir. Instead it's 'we helped a trans boy AND HIS GENITALS SHALL NOW BE DISCLOSED."

We know nothing else about Felix. Was the operation something he consented to or had forced on him? Dallas could be disclosing abuse and trauma in addition to his genitals. But it's REALLY IMPORTANT to know what is in a trans person's pants at all times! And I'll note that this is the ONLY other trans masculine reference I can find in the book. So we get a self-hating detransitioner and a trans man/boy on the run from an abuser. No happy trans men in the "manpocalypse", just victims and more victims. The logical leap here is that Felix would've been better off staying closeted and not attracting the attention of his abuser which, again, fuck this and that and everything else about it.

Why are there no trans men working at the host club? Supposedly there is good money to be made here and it's legal and fashionable and above-board, so why? The implication is that cis women are better at portraying masculinity than trans men are, or have more agency. I can well understand that a real world answer might be that the privileged cis women forced trans men out of the host industry because they wanted the money for themselves, but that's neither implied nor explored. I'd assume the author forgot about us but there Felix is on the page, right there, a reminder that trans men exist! So what's the reason we aren't working there? We aren't mentally well enough to handle host work?

That's the chapter. Dallas orders them to get Miles some food and he scowls and we get this swipe at ace/aro people. "Don’t be so serious, kid. It’s all fantasy. And you never know, sometimes romance blooms. You’ll fall in love one day. It’s a beautiful thing." It's almost impressive how this book manages to beat on ALL the queer identities. Lesbians are treated as gross aberrations, gay men are dead, trans people are all victims, and ace and aro people just don't exist. Nor have I seen any mention that intersex folks exist.

I'm done with this book but I'll jump to the end just to see how this bullshit ends.

Miles and Cole are on a boat, confronted by Billie (still concussed, eternally dizzy) and the thugs. The detransitioner--Generosity--beats up the thugs, so I guess maybe left the church. The narrative is still calling the character "she/her", crushing my hopes that Gen might have left the church to embrace transness again.

Wait, I guess they're on a dock instead of a boat. (Look, I'm doing my best here.) Billie levels a gun at Cole and Cole and Miles calmly step on a boat to freedom. Billie doesn't shoot and Generosity converts Billie to the church. Such tension, much danger.

The epilogue ends with them on the cruise ship to freedom, where they see a pod of killer whales. “And they’re a matriarchal society! Aminah says the grandmothers and mothers run the pod.” / “Sounds like we could learn a thing or two from them till we get humanity back on track." That's it, that's how the book ends. There's no twist that Miles was trans all along (as far as I can see) (which, I didn't really want that anyway) and we never see how his life in South Africa is supposed to work since men are torn apart by maenads.

All told, we have a book which had almost no plot, paper-thin characters, and a lot of transphobia that a lot of cis people assured us definitely wasn't there. The gender plague did nothing, made no sense, and had no impact. Queer people were reviled. The "moral" of the ending is that sometimes mothers need to let their sons have some independence, a little bit, as a treat, when they're old enough. And for that we had to suffer a lot of bullshit about how only "biological" males are REAL males.

Some of the great things ya'll are pointing out in the comments:

(1) BOTH the trans men immediately have their genitals disclosed. I hadn't noticed that Gen rushes to assure us that she detransitioned before she could get surgery.

(2) Society is now "matriarchal" by default, so what do we need to "learn" from the killer whales? Even after years without cis men, women are still running things so badly that we need lessons from Mother Nature? That ties in with the weird narrative thread which suffuses this book and which suggests that a world without men wouldn't just be a tragedy, but that it would also be strangely...incompetent. Women rush to fill men's jobs, and do so badly.

There's a weird thing that occurs with TERFism, where it's like "being a woman is so horrible it MUST not be a choice, why would anyone CHOOSE this torturous existence" while at the same time saying "trans women just want to APPROPRIATE our glorious womanhood". Thus positing womanness as both the Best Thing and the Worst Thing at the same time, when you'd think that would be mutually exclusive, and it feels like this book is attempting that same sleight of hand.

So we have communities where the stores open their doors and let people take what they need (no money required!) and they miraculously convert parking garages into lush gardens, but also there are no experts because all the experts were men and the women aren't smart. I can't count how many times we were told that [field] was suffering now because "most of the practitioners were men", with zero thought for how 51% isn't 100%, nor for how the field has changed with half of humanity gone.

Like, why would we need to immediately backfill the web developer gap when half of the internet users are now gone? And then you still have the same oppressive systems of police and military in place, somehow, despite staggering losses of personnel. But none of this is explored and instead we get gender-sniffing dogs who can probably also program with their paws, the end, goodbye to this book, bon voyage.

Thread Addendum: I thought of two more things that bother me about the detransitioner.

(A) Since she uses she/her pronouns, trans people are forced to use she/her for a self-identified trans male character. That's a valid personal choice for real people, but for a fictional character it's a choice that forces me to navigate a lot of misgendering trauma just to talk about her. I dislike a cis author making this choice for a fictional character. (Again, this is a perfectly valid choice for real trans people. Pronouns are complicated.)

(B) Because the character "saves the day" at the end by knocking out the villains, were forced to deal with a "heroic" self-hating transphobic detransitioned trans person AS A MAJOR CHARACTER. And I recall precisely zero reviews warning for that. I really, really do not think cis people should be writing about trans characters who have detransitioned, because this was just so gross and violent.

*Editor's Note: I've been (foolishly) assuming the author of this book is queer because she received an LBGT award, but I've been informed the award was for her problematic documentary on drag performers. There was an incorrect assumption on my part that the award would go only to queer people; it apparently isn't one of those awards. So I have no idea whether the author identifies as queer or not. I apologize for the error.


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