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You maybe don't know how to do this


Emily VanDerWerff

Mar 15 2019

5 min read


Every so often, on main, I'll tweet something that sparks an energetic response from the many, many energetic white dudes who follow me. They are argumentative. They want to debate. I never, ever want to do this. I want to monologue in peace.

Don't get me wrong -- I am happy to defend my ideas if they come up wanting. It's part of writing things on the internet. But something about the extra-combative world of Twitter, especially, has always filled me with dread. When there's an argument going down in my mentions, I inevitably have to mute the whole conversation, or else I get nothing else done. My need to prove myself to them remains so strong.

Today, I found myself in such a situation. Someone responded with, "What a great debate!" and all I wanted to do was crawl into bed and hide. I muted and moved on. But I'm still there, in some ways, wondering what people are saying without me, if they perceive that I'm weaker, somehow, for wanting no part of the public ritual of debate, the impulse to argue and argue and argue until both sides are tired of it, and leave things with a joking riff on "agree to disagree."

Please understand: I don't think there is any harm in this interaction. I think it is, in the right contexts, fun and healthy for people. There's an aggression to it that's akin to playing sports -- a safe way to expend energy that might otherwise go into sewing conflict in less emotionally healthy ways. But I hate it. I have always hated it. I am trying to learn the method many of my cis woman friends employ of simply muting and ignoring. It doesn't come easily.

I am not trying to suggest that an aversion to arguing is intrinsic to womanhood, but, rather, than a lust for it is part of a very particular kind of manhood that I have never quite been able to untangle myself from. The best debaters I knew in high school were women; almost all of the people who most welcome a lusty argument on Twitter are men. There is a kind of weight to this that has always triggered a flight response in me, and I'm trying to figure out how closely tied that is to my sense of self, or, rather, my sense of Emilyness.

But I'm also thinking about the time, a few months from now, when this same thing happens, but the dynamics of it open up because I will be publicly out. The same thing that happened to me today will perhaps happen then, yet also, it won't be the same. There will be a chasm that opens up underneath this interaction, an edge to everything that happens. Men and women debate respectfully online all the time, but the rules of engagement will be different. The rush to argue with me as a (perceived) man is something I recognize as a kind of respect; I know enough of womanhood already to realize how easy it is for that respect to be worn away by acid.

Maybe all of this is to say that I am picking and choosing now, selecting the pieces of my old self that are part of my new self and letting drift away the things that never quite fit. When I have to go into large public settings as my old self now, as I still have to for a little bit, there is an awkwardness to it, an unease that I can't pin down. I am a living ghost, walking among people, a funeral in process that nobody knows they're attending.

The things that I'm keeping are things like my dark sense of humor, or my love of trolling people. These feel intrinsic to who I am. But there are all of these performative elements of my masculinity that are just sort of withering away. I never liked getting involved in loud, public debates. They made me feel uneasy and threatened. And now, maybe, I can just stop taking part, because I won't be "expected" to. I can still perform these aspects of myself if asked, but they are final echoes. I am not that man any more, because I am me.

Except the idea that I can somehow skip debate entirely is also false, because to be trans right now in America and especially to be a trans woman right now in America is to be enrolled in a debate with a bunch of people you'd rather not interact with in the first place, and the stakes are your right to exist as yourself. It feels silly to answer the question of, "What is your argument?" with "Well, I am my argument," but it happens, around me, more and more every day.

I am liminal right now, me and not me, in so many senses of that idea. I am on the precipice of a life where all of the things I used to know how to do are going to feel more and more alien to me, but also a life where people will look to me and expect me to have answers that will guide them to some deeper understanding of themselves, or maybe just of me. I don't know how to explain that this is how none of this works, but I am getting stronger. I had to excavate myself from myself, and now, I can watch the house where I used to live burn.

I am a trans woman in her 30s. I live in Los Angeles, and you might have heard of my other self. I'm obviously not named Emily Sandalwood, because lol, whose last name is Sandalwood? Anyway, you can respond to this, and I will look at your reply and nod sagely and probably never write back, or you can follow me on Twitter, where I am extremely funny.

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