Friday, December 16, 2022

Advent 2022, Dec 16: Sol Kim Cowell, The Final Girl

 The Final Girl: Groups, Series, Histories, and Transness

Sol Kim Cowell


All bodies are gendered—even if it’s through the absence of it altogether—but few people are as intimately aware of this nature as those who experience an incongruence between the physical form and the gendered form. By which I mean anyone who is policed by the perceived gender of their body, but just for today: those who identify as transgender. To anyone outside of these experiences, it can be hard to imagine the complexity that exists even at the most fundamental level of perception. Not just externally, but internally as well, down to an organic and cellular level.

I’m not a believer that you have to medically transition to be transgender, but I do think it’s important to examine the many different pathways and experiences that trans people take throughout life, and it is for that reason that I consider Cavar’s “a complete family / hstry” to be one of many essays detailing a gendered experience that is simultaneously individual and universal.

Cavar’s ode to their hysterectomy begins with a quote from Alison Stone’s “On the Genealogy of Women: A Defense of Anti-Essentialism.” Parts of it are italicised for emphasis by Cavar’s own decision, and understanding the reasoning behind this is central to approaching the larger piece from the intended perspective.

[Groups] are collections of individuals who mutually recognize significant areas of shared experience and orientation to common goals. In contrast, membership in a series does not require sharing any attributes, goals, or experience with the other members. The members of a series are unified passively through their actions being constrained and organized by particular structures and constellations of material objects.

Now, I don’t intend to diagnose the intentions of any writer other than myself, but in the case of this specific decision, I can hazard a guess. We are connected not through identical pasts, presents, or futures, but instead through the collective shoehorning of us into neat little boxes. And who is we? Anyone who does not fit the patriarchal ideal. Women of all kinds, yes, but also those who transition away from womanhood, and therein lies the crux of this essay. I’m not a particular fan of the whole women-and-nonbinary-people rhetoric—I find it reduces the nonbinary experience to that of women-lite, in the way that saying “cats and kittens” implies that one is the derivative of another.

That being said, however, there is an important unity between people of any marginalised genders, and Cavar’s careful selection of this quotation serves to illustrate how their story sits in the intersection of all of these things without reducing it to any one of its singular parts. There is a way to shed light upon the tangents that interconnect this intricate web we weave without centering one experience above any other and Cavar’s story is just one part of infinite library of things.

He’s cis, straight, white, male, at least fifty, probably six feet-something with a hanging belly. I am transgender, queer, and barely-twenty. He is my gynecologist.

Immediately, there’s a dichotomy here, but also a connection between these two people. The picture of the gynecologist is painted first—we’re seeing this through Cavar’s eyes, and the comparison is not lost on them. I think back to the opening quote and wonder if underneath their differences, there is still some sense of togetherness shared in their humanity. And there is some camaraderie! A handshake, a congratulatory note, and Cavar’s tentative sense of wonderment (“And it’s—it’s out?”) punctuates the end of the beginning.

At this point, the narrative changes. It is no longer a quote from a far off philosopher or a post- surgery memory painted on the page, but now the inner musings and narration of Cavar themselves. They recount the long farewells of their uterus, saying “goodbye in crimson streams”, but then the focus shifts from the individual to the collective once more.

Still, I was thankful, having heard my whole life that this procedure was unthinkable for a healthy young adult—unthinkable to not make my future child, impossible to embody today an already-empty future.

It’s at this point that I realise the use of “hstry” in the essay’s title can be read as shorthand for both “history” and “hysterectomy”. The two are intrinsically tied in the way that the assumption of a “future child” is made by almost any doctor discussing the possibility of a hysterectomy with a younger patient. To them, this procedure is a defiant end to the creation of history and an unimaginable cruelty to the hypothetical children toddling around in what they assume must be a universal daydream. This isn’t something just faced by Cavar, but rather a collective experience that every young person pursuing anything seen as a permanent contraceptive goes through.

But Cavar draws us back to the multifaceted queerness of their existence, shedding light upon the way in which society views us. Queer, a synonym for odd.

Yet in hindsight, I understand: after two years of biomedical regendering—breasts gone, gelled testosterone a daily application—of course I could forfeit my uterus with relative ease. After all who wants a mother who is actually a monster? Who wants the deviant to spawn?

What’s important about this little segment is how naturally it addresses the medical changes that Cavar and many other trans people go through in pursuit of gender euphoria. Again, I want to draw attention to the use of “many”—many, but not all. More to the point, they continue past this to establish how these changes cause others to view them as a “monster” and a “deviant”.

There’s something of a bell curve in the transitioning process, at least medically. Before you undergo any procedures (should you wish to), you’re able to assimilate into the sea of cis people. Even with a binder or a packer, there’s always the option to remove those things. Transfems can boymode, should the situation call for it. But once you begin making changes to your body, you enter an uncomfortable in between state, where people take great pride in “clocking” your transness. Your voice may break and deepen. Going the other way, you might begin to develop breasts. Your fat distribution across your body will change, as well as your ability to build and retain muscle. Whilst you experience this second puberty, it’s extraordinarily difficult to feel like you’re simply part of a crowd — it’s not until after years pass that you can slip into the sea once more. That is, if it’s what you wish.

I don’t attribute my hysterectomy entirely to trans identity. [...] “Gender dysphoria” is a medico-psychiatric racket, a means of transmuting acute suffering under conditions of biological essentialism into individual fault.

To Cavar, it’s not all about transness, and indeed there are many reasons for pursuing a hysterectomy that are not exclusive to trans people at all. And the notion of gender dysphoria has long been used to exclude and gatekeep people from transness, implying that there must be a degree of inherent and vitriolic self hatred to warrant entry. But the reality is that this is not wholly separate from Cavar’s trans identity, either.

Yet for years prior I had taken extreme measures to cease menstruation, and even before puberty, I feared and loathed pregnancy. I begged to get my tubes tied the moment I learned of the possibility, feeling existential terror at the sight of a rounded belly, a growth hijacking some innocent gut. This growth would then bear my name, doing with my legacy things I would be unable to control.

Again, Cavar toes the line between the individual and the other. There is Cavar in the modern day, and then Cavar as an ancestor—something to be interpreted and reinterpreted by descendants long separated from their individual truth. This is Cavar as a footnote in a history book or a name on a family tree. It is not a child, but a “growth” that sprouts within their nightmares; something unwanted and unintended. Contrast this with their earlier reference to “[their] future child,” italicised in its irony and quotational nature. The idea of this growth does not belong to them, but has instead been ascribed to them by others.

I say goodbye to future. Goodbye to period promise. An organ to waste.

The first time, I was at my grandmother’s house. I spent the bulk of my childhood there, walking the same hall as my father and late uncle, passing several generations of family photos mounted on the violet wall.

As Cavar becomes “unwoman”, they reflect upon their first period. It’s back to history and future, the relatives of generations past witnessing the blooming of a new adult. Alison Stone’s quote comes to mind once more: is this a group or a series? They are connected by heritage, but unbeknownst to little Cavar, they will grow up to diverge from this path. To end the history of their family, even if only in a small way, and in a manner which staunchly resists the desires of their own grandmother (who vehemently declares that it’s “not the same” to adopt).

Someday, I will be the last living Cavar. I was a final girl, left to tell the story. But then I, too, would die, and take my family with me.

The concept of the final girl stems from horror films, primarily slashers, and describes the last living victim who lives to tell the tale. And just as Cavar is the final girl of their family, their last period remains the final girl of womanhood—a survivor of the hysterectomy, but one that would die out like any other.

At the feel of another dam giving way to blood, I squeeze my eyes shut and try to laugh at the irony. Here was my heaviest period, unleashed in final protest against the uterus that isn’t.

And what place does a final girl have in a group or a series? They are the mouthpieces that tell the stories of those who do no longer have the voices to speak. The “final protest”, in this case, is made by the remnant of that which came before. In this way, could Cavar and the metaphorical final girl of their uterus be mirror images of each other? Cavar shedding womanhood, and the last period clinging to it posthumously.

I am not a girl but I am the final. I tell the story of a family history that will soon end. Without intending to do so, I have ended history: severing it and slowly, painfully, excreting what remains.

And just like that, the essay borne from the ungirling concludes, just as Cavar’s family history shall someday come to an end. From trans identity to familial inheritance, Cavar has woven a story of gender and the rejection of it: the series that is marginalised gender; the group that is their family, though they find themselves diverging from the shared goal of continuation; and the final girl, the last living member of her group, doomed to tell and retell their story until it dies with her.

The interaction between groups, series, and histories is central to the narrative of Cavar’s essay, but at its core, this piece is about the individual. This is Cavar’s story, not anyone else’s, and it cannot be taken from them, no matter how much their “grandfather’s heart [cracks] with pity” or their “grandmother [grieves] for the child that would not come”. Referencing the opening quote once more, Cavar has lived and will continue to live a life “constrained and organized” by others, but this moment is just for them. Their choice is their freedom.

Some may say the final girl is trapped in her role, forced to relive her memories again and again. I beg to differ—the final girl is the only one who can make the choice to move on and continue living. She’s the only character in the story who can learn and change, and she’s the one who can take ownership of her existence once more.

I leave you with an excerpt from Cavar’s ending notes for this essay and the hope that regardless of your membership to our group, series, or history, you hold this story in your heart. One of many stories, each different in their own way, but each deserving of individual understanding.

Perhaps last is simply the resting of a burden, only to be

drug up once more.                            Perhaps, then, final

just the broken promise of a last. Final—end of history, of a story

I did not know I was telling

(a story I today remake in text?)


Sol Kim Cowell is a transmasc mixed British-Korean writer and local café regular. He writes about the convergence of mental illness, sexuality, and cultural heritage. At his doljanchi, he picked up the pencil, and he hasn't put it down since. Find him at

No comments:

Post a Comment