Daringly poised between profundity and trolling

Journalist goes to meet subject of interview, starts write-up with hipster description of meet and greet, so that we can get our attitude straight at the outset. Lila Shapiro meets Andrea Long Chu:

On an early fall afternoon at a dry-pot restaurant in the East Village, the critic Andrea Long Chu is talking about herself, which is, by her account, one of her favorite things to do.

I guess we’re meant to take that as irony? Or charming self-deprecating frankness? Or, ideally, some of each, so that we’ll fall all the more in love with Chu? I don’t know, but it doesn’t work on me. I’ve become profoundly resistant to people who love nothing more than talking about themselves. There are few things I hate more. If talking about herself really is one of her favorite things to do then I recommend not interviewing her, not meeting up with her in any kind of restaurant in the East Village (or the West Village or the Upper West Side or even the Bronx), not having anything to do with her. Seek out the people who are interested in other things instead.

But hey: of course Chu is a narcissist. I should have known.

A little less than a year ago, in a New York Times op-ed about her plans to undergo surgery to “get a vagina,” Chu made a provocative claim that angered some trans advocates: She did not expect the painful, expensive procedure to make her happy. Still, Chu insisted, she had the right to get it whether it cured her dysphoria or not.

I don’t think there is such a thing as a “right” to “get” a vagina (or a penis either).

Nearly a year after the surgery, she says she’s feeling more miserable than she’d expected. “It’s perversely vindicating,” she adds with a wry smile. Dressed in a jumpsuit patterned with blue-and-white flowers, she brushes a curtain of curls away from her face with a flip of her wrist, revealing a tattoo of a geometric vulva on the underside of her forearm. “It’s very dangerous to get what you want.”

This is the sort of statement — darkly funny, intensely personal, daringly poised between profundity and trolling — that has made Chu one of the most exciting critics working today.

Oh stop. Glib paradoxes of that kind don’t make anyone an exciting anything. They’re easy to make and they’re not particularly interesting, let alone exciting. Why are people so gullible about this kind of dreck?

In her first book, Females, out later this month, she posits a new theory about gender and sexuality, starting with the contention that “everyone is female.” (“I get criticized for projecting a lot,” she says dryly.) In Chu’s usage, female is a “universal existential condition,” defined by submitting to someone else’s desires. For example, even if you conceive of yourself as an alpha male who likes to top in bed, the desire to dominate is ultimately its own form of submission. “A top,” says Chu, “is just a bottom folded into another shape.” So why does she insist on calling a universal condition “female”? “Because everyone already does,” she writes. Women are the “select delegates” of this state of being.

Blah blah blah. It’s the same old shit with a new (but cheap and ugly) ribbon on. It’s Molly Bloom but more reactionary. It’s yet another guy explaining women to women. I say it’s spinach and I say the hell with it.

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