Trans Horror Satire with a Beating Heart: Boys Weekend by Mattie Lubchansky

the cover of Boys Weekend Affiliate Link

Boys Weekend a satirical horror graphic novel about Sammie, a trans feminine person who is invited to a bachelor party of an old friend as the “best man.” While there, Mattie seems to be the only one concerned about the cult sacrificing people. This was already on my TBR, and I was happily surprised to find out this one is sapphic! Sammie has a wife.

This is illustrated in a style I associate more with adult cartoons than graphic novels, but it works well for this dark comedy. Sammie is conflicted about whether to attend Adam’s bachelor party, but Adam has been fairly accepting after they came out, so they decide to take the leap. The party takes place at a sci-fi, ultra capitalist version of Las Vegas: it’s called El Campo, and on this island, anything goes. Including hunting your own clone for casual entertainment. Adam’s friends are all tech bros, and Sammie is uncomfortable with them on multiple levels: while their home is decorated with ACAB signs and pride flags, Adam’s friends are interested in strip clubs, get rich quick schemes, and everything else associated with hetero masculinity.

Even before the outright horror elements come in, this is an unsettling and upsetting environment to be in. Sammie constantly misgendered, both from strangers and friends/acquaintances who should know better. The horror plot is really just an exaggeration of the cult of masculinity that the bachelor party is so devoted to. There is some gore, but as a whole, it is focused on the satire, not being outright scary.

It’s difficult reading Sammie experience the unrelenting transmisogyny that they do, but there’s also a defiant, hopeful element to this story. It explores the complicated question of which relationships are worth holding onto after coming out—what about the friends and family who don’t get it but aren’t actively hateful? When is it time to walk away, and when is it worth reaching out and trying to repair the relationship?

Despite the horror, the micro- and macroaggressions, and the constant misgendering, this wasn’t bleak. Sammie reaches out to their wife and other queer friends throughout the story, asking for their advice and support over the phone, so even when they are surrounded by assholes, they don’t feel alone. Sammie is secure in their identity and self-worth and has support from coworkers, friends, and in their marriage.

While having lots of over-the-top elements—El Campo is something else—I actually teared up a bit at the end. The setting and plot might be cartoony, but the emotion is grounded. I recommend this both to horror fans and to those less familiar with the genre: as long as you’re okay with a few pages of gore, this is well worth the read.

Mfred reviews Piece of My Heart by Julia Watts

Can a poor end to an otherwise okay book truly ruin the entire reading experience?  This is the question I have been pondering since reading Julia Watt’s Piece of My Heart.

Jess Hamlin starts grad school just out of the closet and broken hearted.  Pining for her former (yet still straight) roommate, she begins a series of gay adventures, like going to lesbian bars, making queer friends, dating actual lesbians… Only to end with the book participating in some seriously transphobic “hi-jinks” that made me rethink everything I had considered enjoyable about the book.

Here is what happens (TOTAL SPOILER ALERT):  At the very end of the novel, when Jess has finally let go of her fear, met a great lady, and started a happy lesbian life, Julie Watts brings in a villain.  Grady, one of Jess’ students, makes romantic overtures of the unwanted “I love lesbians because of the 3somes!” variety.  Michelle, Jess’ new girlfriend, gets pissed and plots vengeance– her male-to-female dominatrix friend Chastity will trick Grady into gettin’ freaky with her, only to reveal herself as the man she really is!  Hilarious, right?!!

These are sarcastic exclamation marks, by the way.

When Jess and her lesbian friends meet Chastity, they spend pages and pages goggling at her inexplicable feminine beauty.  Their gazes linger, ooh-ing and ahh-ing over her face and breasts.  To prove just how incredible it all is, Michelle whips out pre-transition photos of Chastity and shows everyone, also telling them her former name, without her permission.  One character asks her, over dinner, whether or not she has had bottom surgery.  Aside from being humiliating, it’s also downright rude and ill-mannered.  The point is made, clearly and explicitly, that Chastity isn’t really a woman, no matter how feminine she may look on the outside.

But we haven’t even gotten to the comedy yet!  After all the plotting, Grady is, of course, completely and utterly emasculated by the sight of a trans woman’s penis, and runs from the room.  All of the lesbians die of laughter and high-five each other for finally evening the score with conservative heterosexuals everywhere.  No one seems to appreciate that they have made a mockery of Chastity at the same time.

Watts and her characters fetishize Chastity the exact same way Grady objectifies Jess and her girlfriend.  Chastity’s sole purpose is to be a horribly attractive freakshow that can both entice and humiliate anyone who looks at her.  The way the characters treat her, from outright staring at her body to the rude questions about her genitals, sickened me.  The way Julia Watts wrote Chastity as a totally defined by the state of her genitals also sicked me.   A trans person’s body is not  a punch line.  It is not public property, for everyone to gawk at and use.  The more I think about it, the angrier I get, and unfortunately, I cannot detach from these feelings.

It might not be fair, but how the book ended completely colored my opinion of the entire book itself.  I can’t divide the good from the bad.  I also refuse to make excuses for the book:  it’s not that old, it’s not that funny, and someone writing a queer book for queer readers should have known better.