Jul/Aug 2021  •   Nonfiction

Trans Origin Story of the Jackelope

by Margaret Speer

Photo by Solen Feyissa on unsplash

Photo by Solen Feyissa on unsplash

The only children I know recently received one of those plastic tubes of little toy animals as a gift. Instead of different types of sharks or dinosaurs, these are cryptozoology animals. I thieved the little jackelope and glued him to the dashboard of my car. They also got hover boards and electronics; really, they haven't missed him.

I stole plastic out of the hands of babes because of Marie de France's fable "The Hare and the Deer," a transmasculine allegory for the Reluctant to Transition.

I'm a graduate student and may get around to manning up one of these days, but right now I mostly just feel resentful of and stressed out by postdoctoral applications asking me to describe my gender and state my pronouns every damn day. It feels rushed and, frankly, too expedient to lean into my vast and deep well of loneliness transmasculinity for the purposes of making my gender diversity legible on the academic job market. I'd like transition on my own schedule, please. All grad students wonder if they are intellectual and professional frauds on a regular basis; the Reluctant to Transition also wonder if they are fraudulent genderqueers when they start thinking about switching to "they/ them" due to the frequent appearance of such an application field. As the meme says, "I have no pronouns; please do not refer to me."

Who is Marie de France? She was a conservative aristocratic woman in medieval England, writing in French. Her beast fables largely allegorize critiques of corruption among the ruling class while simultaneously aggressively defending monarchy and hierarchy. She strongly encourages the lowly to stay in their place in stories with such feminist titles as "The Peasant and His Cantankerous Wife." The Jackelope origin story "The Hare and the Deer" is one such narrative:

A hare once saw a stock-still deer—
And at his horns began to peer.
—This head, thought he, so beautiful!
While his seemed lowliest of all
Because such horns were not his lot;
Also he was too small, he thought.

Wishing for male beauty is a big mood. Like Buffalo Bill, that other majorly problematic trans representation, the hare doesn't "seek out things to covet"; he just happens to see this gorgeous Boydeer. Hannibal Lecter says, "we begin by coveting what we see every day"; one such thing to covet would be that "non-binary" box just a checkmark away on fellowship applications.

And, that rhyming line "such horns were not his lot;/ Also he was too small, he thought" kills me... I mostly want to transition so that I'll be taller. Anyways the hare talks to lady God (!!?) about transitioning:

He went to talk to the Creator
And started to interrogate her:
Why had she not made him that way
With antlers in such fine array
Like those of deer whom he'd just seen.
To this the goddess answered then,
'You're wrong! Now stop it! Let me be!
You couldn't manage them,' said she.
'Oh yes, indeed I could!' hare said.

Like most queers and grad students, this hare is a lovely combination of abject insecurity and insufferable cockiness.

True to form, Marie punishes hare for desiring status mobility.

Thus he got horns atop his head
But he could not carry them around
And could not move with them, he found.
It was more weight than he could bear
And much too much for likes of hare.

Marie says that if I transition, my dick will be so giant and heavy that I'll have trouble walking, so I should probably just stay a girl.

From this example you should see
Folks covetous and miserly:
They always start such projects as
They think will raise their social class.
What they attempt through foolishness
Turns back on them, injurious.

Okay, fine, so Marie is also kind of talking about class, even though I think it's mostly about transcock.

Historically, professional / material advantages and gender presentation are deeply related. Melina Alice Moore has pointed out the difficulty of separating "stories of gender crossing... relevant to historicizing transgender lives" in early periods from "'passing' as a form of deliberate masquerade to achieve greater freedom or financial gain" (573).[1]

The author of The Well of Loneliness herself, Radclyffe Hall, tried to gatekeep financially-motivated female masculinity away from inversion, a historical form of lesbian desire that implicitly depended on transmasculine gender identity. For Hall, inversion was noble, but women who dressed as men for material gains facilitated by cross-dressing were "'mad pervert[s] of the most undesirable type'" (573)!

Gender identity and sexual orientation are separate issues with separate histories that we are often quick (and wrong) to collapse. But just as desire is always situational, gender identity is also contingent—at times even expedient. Telling my cousin about my idea for this essay, she immediately replied that she puts "she/ they" in her landscaping business email signature not because she's the least bit gender non-normative, but to let people know where she stands politically—quote: "I fuck with they/ them."

At the risk of sounding like Hannibal Lecter's diagnosis of Buffalo Bill (where transition is a means to an end that's not exactly, not necessarily about "true" desire to be a woman)... historically, passing as men has been an avenue for women to secure financial advantages not available to them as women. These days, women can make a living without becoming men, but JK Rowling still thinks that girls are transitioning because misogyny is real and it's easier to just not. We are right to vehemently reject this dismissal of trans youth. But do we have to pretend gender identity exists in a vacuum to do so?

For Marie, the hare's desire to grow, ahem, "horns" was about class mobility. In the early 20th century, passing as male was sometimes about professional opportunities and financial security. For grad students in the humanities growing mullets "as a joke" (me), who's to say whether the final push to come out as trans will be a tantalizingly check-able box on a diversity app, or something more "organic?" What would be more organic, in a profession that so heavily draws on and invades the personal?

Gender is always social and socialized; for that, it's no less real.

In any case—Marie's hare is already a he/ him, and God is a woman.


[1] Moore, Melina Alive. "'A Boy Inside It:' Beebo Brinker and the Transmasculine Narratives of Ann Bannon's Lesbian Pulp." Gay and Lesbian Quarterly, vol. 25, no. 4, 2019, pp. 569-598.