I’m in the middle of Kathleen Winter’s acclaimed novel Annabel, the story of Wayne, born in Labrador with ambiguous genitalia and ‘made’ male through a combination of surgery and hormone pills. Wayne learns of the Annabel that is also a part of him and struggles to integrate her into himself – and into a social world defined by the male/female binary, a world that has no room for ambiguity. By no means is Annabel an autobiography; nor is it a medical consultation. But in it I found some beautiful meditations on the relationships between body, self and society.
“What was beauty? Not frailness, not smallness. … Years of hormones had made him angular, and it occurred to him that he wished he could stop taking them. He wanted to stop swallowing them every day and having them alter his body from what it wanted to be into what the world desired from it …. He wanted to throw the pills away and see what would happen to his body. How much of his body image was accurate and how much was a construct he had come to believe? …. If he stopped taking the pills might his breasts bud, as they had at puberty? He was afraid of having breasts. But were breasts beautiful? Could anyone tell him? At night when he danced alone, his body wanted to be water, but it was not water. It was a man’s body, and a man’s body was frozen. Wayne was frozen, and the girl-self trapped inside him was cold. He did not know what he could do to melt the frozen man.” (Kathleen Winter, Annabel, Toronto: House of Anansi Press, 2010, p. 343).
Just a few pages later, Wayne considers the immense chasm that separates male and female in his social world, reflecting on what it might mean to claim the space between: “Could the two halves bear to see Wayne walk the fissure and not name him a beast?” (Kathleen Winter, Annabel, Toronto: House of Anansi Press, 2010, p. 350). In Wayne/Annabel’s mourning, I hear echoes of Susan Stryker’s rage, so evocatively captured in her1994 GLQ article: “My Words to Victor Frankenstein above the Village of Chamounix: Performing Transgender Rage.”
Which bodies matter? And how do they come to matter? Perhaps we all need to find ourselves in Frankenstein’s monster.