Cis-ters and brothers, I know the quiet, self-loathing complicity in your heart. You love and appreciate the trans women in your life. You want to fight for them, to protect them, to put them in a warm, well-worn pocket, safe with lots of air but still too deep for any transphobes to reach into.
Look: we all have problematic phantoms locked in our heads that cloud and distort our good intentions. You think of the trans feminine people in your life as a little sister or cousin, projecting a carbon copy of cissexism in the form of a nonconsensual power disparity, I transitioned in part to be a girl who dates other girls but constantly ghost the women I pursue or develop relationships with because none of the yes, yes, very gross transformation/feminization porn I consumed as an outlet for my teenage gender feelings warned me that sometimes desiring someone makes you nauseous with anxiety and introspection and pretending they don’t exist anymore is the only way to stop the bleeding, even if the occasional papercut is what makes you feel alive and whole.
We must be unafraid of our failures if we are to be one day unencumbered by them.
As part of your solidarity with trans women, you are wont to debate transphobes. But once you’ve gone hoarse shouting your support to the heavens, you realize you don’t have the needed ideology to counter transphobic rhetoric; it’s rooted in cissexism, and you are a cis person, so however ahistoric their argument, it still resonates with, if not your experience, your education of the world as a cis person raised in a patriarchal society.
So to refute it, you have to acknowledge it. Sure, trans women don’t experience puberty and menstruation in the same way most cis women do, and lack that frame of reference that we so commonly assign as universal to womanhood, BUT!
You let transphobia crash on your couch, assured that it will just leave in the morning without waking you, but it never expatriates itself of its own accord. It takes over your living room, fills up your fridge with its food, and makes racist jokes at your cat when you have company over.
“Shared girlhood” is a lie, construed from a model of white-centric, patriarchal, capitalist social progression. It’s not some otherwise ironclad system disproven with freak outliers. We likely all know someone who’s life experience is failed by the model of shared girlhood. I don’t want to speak out of turn and condense the experiences of poor, non-white, disabled, intersex, immigrant, refugee, and other people, AMAB and AFAB alike, into a gotcha on some food blog. But to provide a degree of lived experience on this front: I went to a cultish Christian private school for my first two years of undergrad, and many of my classmates had been homeschooled or educated in private schools all their lives, and even those women, themselves the very ideal of white western womanhood, are failed miserably by the fallacy of shared girlhood, even if they would agree with it.
Tired: Models like “shared girlhood” that treat identity as a top-down taxonomy, i.e. a poor cis woman deviates from the “standard” experience of womanhood, but because that standard is set by middle or upper class white women, she is part of “girlhood”.
Wired: Like, literally any other model for identifying communities and how they tie with identity.
People who hate trans women will say that we base the whole of our identity on consumption (clothes, makeup, etc) and affect (dressing feminine, etc), and that trans culture is just a collection of things we find in the world.
But that’s like, most identities??
I really need to bring this back to around food, so, consider: in Ireland, fish and chips are usually made and sold by Italian immigrants. Neither potatoes nor fried fish are indigenous to Italy; they’re still a legitimate facet of Italian experience and identity, even if it doesn’t relate to my grandmother’s as a first-generation Italian-American, or mine as someone who likes Sicilian pizza but is alienated by the ways her family has assimilated the racist, misogynist, homophobic attitudes of the very American culture that once othered and brutalized us.
Trans women crave pickles. Not all of us; some don’t take hormones, or are on hormones but no longer need to take spironolactone, or just don’t like pickles and prefer to get their salt fix through crackers, soups, or other condiments.
But it is common enough. It’s not uncommon for trans women in a group to share stories of drinking straight pickle juice or loading a burger order with lots of pickle spears on the side (we in the Bay Area are blessed with burger places that are generous with pickle sizes).
The biochemistry’s pretty simple! Many of us take spironolactone, which is an anti-androgen and diuretic. Pickles, and pickle juice, are a way of taking in fluids and replacing lost salt that helps retain those fluids, keeping us hydrated. I’ve also drank chicken or beef bouillon straight in a pinch.
At first you drink pickle juice out of necessity or just curiosity—in time, you begin to not only crave it, but develop a sensitivity.
After a decade of drinking pickle juice, I can taste what kind of vinegar and spices went into the brine mixture. When I bite into pickle skins, I can tell what kind of tannins were used to keep the pickles stiff. I can also tell if they removed the blossom end of the cucumber before putting it in. It’s like being super fluent in Klingon but only being able to speak it when critiquing vinyl records; it’s a superpower that really only a select few will ever appreciate.
But yet: it’s an intimate part of how we experience our bodies in the world. For some of us is it indelibly linked to our shared experience of living as trans women. In America, at least. How we maintain our salt levels isn’t something that comes up in trans conferences or caucuses. It should, though! When the rising proletariat impose single-payer healthcare o’er this land, we’re all gonna need stuff to talk about that isn’t how to get your surgeries paid for.
If I was a cis woman, this post would probably be about tofu, because my first relationships with other women involved a lot of vegetarian cooking, or La Croix, which almost every queer woman I know loves, either in earnest or ironically. Superfluous affect as gender/sexuality-confirming isn’t the exclusive domain of trans women.
And, maybe, if we could all stop beating the “trans women didn’t experience the humiliation of teenage bra shopping and having grown men leer at them as children” —except many do, for a myriad of reasons, because not every trans woman comes out at 30—conversation to death, we could focus on the more illuminating work of talking about what these material manifestations of likeness say about our human contexts.
If you want to be an ally to trans women, give them pickles. It’s good for their health, and it demonstrates your understanding that trans women aren’t “honorary” women, but a subset of an ever-expanding umbrella. You might not ever be able to fully comprehend their struggles and experiences, but realize they have needs that are quantifiable, like all marginalized people.
Some of those needs are ideological (putting the space between “trans” and “woman” doesn’t shunt them off into a separate linguistic category from other women), and some are very, very base: you need salt, friend. I care about you. Have some pickles.
Photo credit to Ben Mason/Flickr.
Author: Jetta Rae
Founder of Fry Havoc. Can be found on twitter at @jetta_rae