Trans (Mis)Representation in “It Chooses You” by Miranda July

by: H. Melt 

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I recently discovered Miranda July’s book It Chooses You—an intriguing tale of productive procrastination. This book is a collection of interviews and accompanying photographs by Brigitte Sire. It profiles people who advertise in the Los Angeles version of the PennySaver, which is essentially the print version of a thrift store or an offline version of craigslist. In this publication, people can freely advertise anything they want to sell, as long as it costs less than one hundred dollars.  While July was desperately trying to finish the screenplay for her film The Future, she decided to call people in the PennySaver to see if they were willing to be interviewed. She traveled to the homes of those who agreed and interviewed them about their lives—creating a unique portrait of Los Angeles and America.

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the very first interview is with a trans woman named Suzette selling a ”large black leather jacket” for ten dollars in Hollywood. Before Suzette fully opens her door to let July into her home, she states that she is transitioning. This leads July to ask several questions like, “When did you begin your gender transformation?” and “What was your life like before you came out?”  As a trans person, I found it incredibly affirming that this is the first portrait July, a cisgender person, features in her book. It is an understatement to say that there are not enough positive representations of trans or gender nonconforming people in print where we are allowed to speak for ourselves. This was slightly risky of July—it could cause some readers to slam the book shut. For me, it set the tone of the book as a document of real people, real every day Americans who are open to sharing their stories with a stranger such as July.

However, I was left with several questions because of a note July left at the end of her interview. With an asterisk next to it, July states, “At the time of this interview, he referred to himself as [former name] and still used the pronoun he; later, she changed her name to Suzette and now uses the female pronoun. So my pronoun here is debatable.” While I used the name Suzette and the pronouns she/her above, July uses Suzette’s former name and pronouns in her transcription of the interview.

July admits that her choice to publish Suzette’s former name and pronouns is “debatable.” July, that debate is not up to you to decide. All trans people should be granted the basic respect to choose when, how, and to whom we reveal our own histories. Since July printed this note, it signals her uncertainty about what name and pronouns to publish. She could have easily asked Suzette what name and pronouns she preferred to be published in the book.

One of the beauties of discovering my trans identity was realizing that I have the power to decide the name, pronouns, and language that describe who I am. It is a huge relief and brings me great pleasure when people refer to me using the correct name and pronouns that I chose for myself. No one else can decide that for me. And no one else should decide it for you either.                

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