After We Watched Barbie

“Do you know your lineage? You know, lineage. The people who preceded you in history. Not your bloodline, nor your family tree. Nothing so flimsy as biology or genetics. Lineage, rather, is made up of the people who, in their lifetimes, fought the battles we are fighting now, struggled towards the same goals, tried to carve out similar lives against similar backdrops.” — Kathryn Payne, “Whores and Bitches Who Sleep with Women”

You’re a grown man with the trauma of a little girl.

I cried during Barbie. I was wearing a pink button down with a silver locket with his love note inside. I was a month into top surgery recovery and feeling good about my flat chest. The next day, while driving up and down the rollercoaster of rural Ohio, I took advantage of my two months of free Spotify premium and played the Barbie soundtrack through the speaker. I was swaying in a neurodivergent fashion until Sam Smith’s voice came on. “Man I Am,” an ironic song. Holding the steering wheel in one hand, I pressed next. It was a bit of a risky move, reaching for my phone with my post-surgery arm still readjusting to the mobility. But the (re)imagination of Ken sounded obnoxious and gave me almost a sense of repulsion. It was everything that signaled white masculinity, something I did not have an ounce in me. The memory of high school me dancing to women empowerment songs came flooding back.

I stopped listening to these songs. Or maybe I listened to them during these solo drives after I double checked all windows are closed even though I did not open them, or when I was alone in the bedroom and bobbing my head with headphones on. Maybe I erased these scenes from memory not because they make me dysphoric but because I was sad that I cannot claim them anymore, that I am no longer a part of the sisterhood or solidarity, the only things that I have missed since transitioning. A lot of the trans masculine people relate to Allan. In a movie with two presumably heterosexual white leads, Allan is queer-coded with his rainbow t-shirt and desire to give men foot rubs. He wants to escape Barbieland with Gloria and her daughter Sasha, but eventually he returns with them for the mission to save Barbieland from patriarchy. He unusually hangs out with Barbies rather than Kens, but more often than not, he awkwardly does not fit into either side. In a world full of Barbies and Kens, Allan is the only Allan, and he doesn’t understand why. I share this loneliness with Allan, though my friends are a lot kinder to me and are understanding of the complexity of gender.

Transitioning to a man in a predominately white world makes me resentful. Genders are floating worlds, and I am doing gender somewhere I do not belong. I am a man, but I never feel as strong of a connection to manhood as I do to Chinese womanhood. Sometimes I am jealous of my little sibling being a non-binary woman. How joyous it is, after all the gender-questioning, to discover you are still a part of womanhood. I told many people I still feel a sense of affinity with women after coming out as a trans man; some of them understand, some of them don’t. But the rainy night after we watched Barbie, I remembered that even though I joked about being the queer-coded Allan, I can no longer speak as a woman. I will listen to my friends’ complaints about patriarchal violence of women and be an ally.

I don’t mean that trans men cannot speak about the misogyny they experienced; it’s just now, most people will look at me and not see the layers of patriarchal violence I experienced. The song “Sweet Cis Teen” asks: Am I a boy or am I just my trauma? But all of my experiences did not magically disappear the moment(s) I realized I am a man, nor were they left behind. It was traumatic being a Chinese woman. I was spat at, harassed, fetishized, assaulted, told that my worth depended on others, my experience and abilities invalidated. My bodymind holds these memories and shapes itself with them, and I do not want to trivialize these memories because they continue to inform who I am and my politics. You can’t blame me for claiming womanhood along with manhood. I am a greedy being, a Chinese dyke before becoming a Chinese transfag.

Sometimes I wish that my lover is a woman. It is a purely selfish wish that I don’t actually believe in. Of course I want him to be whoever he is, and I love him regardless of gender; man or woman or person, he will forever be my princess. But sometimes I wish he understood how it feels to be someone who is raised to always put others’ feelings first, to be always prepared to manage the feelings of the future someone you haven’t met, to have your worth defined by that. This doesn’t necessarily mean being raised as a girl — marginalizations share commonalities, and most trans feminine people have experienced transmisogyny since childhood — but girlhood is where it most commonly occurred. I wouldn’t feel resentment doing more emotional labor in the relationship if I was doing it for a woman. Since I am not a woman, needless to say not a straight woman, I can’t speak on their experiences, but sometimes I feel so lonely that I (knowing this is problematic) think this must be what it feels like to be a straight woman in a heterosexual relationship. And I feel this way despite having a caring partner who does not subscribe to toxic masculinity. My love, it’s not that I wish you were a woman. I just don’t like to think about how my bodymind can be used for comfort, but at the same time, I want nothing more than to comfort you. This paradox kills me.

When I walk into the men’s bathroom, they still look at me, they smell something in me. That is not where my kinship originates. Or, I choose not to let that be. It is unjust to define womanhood by violence. Violence by men, violence by patriarchy. My kinship springs from the Chinese women — and Asian women more broadly — who loved me, nurtured me, inspired me, but at the same time knew their worth. I watched Barbie with two close friends who made me feel connected to Chinese womanhood because my bodymind has been carved with shared experiences and survival strategies. Because somewhere in space and time, I was a little girl furious at the double standards, a bisexual teenage girl scared for the scrutiny of her bodymind, a dyke marching after the powerful, brillant, and gender non-conforming dykes in history. Because my grandmothers and my mother and my sister and the future aunties to my child taught me how to fight and how to love and how to survive.

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Ocean Wei

Ocean Wei is a trans writer and a student at Kenyon College.

Ocean has written 1 article for us.


  1. Thank you for this lovely, subtle, tender piece.
    The sense of missing sisterhood really resonated for me. Being nonbinary, it’s a different distance than the one you feel, but there’s the sense of betrayal of self if I claim it. There was a weird moment recently when someone corrected themselves after referring to my past self as a little girl. And it’s like…oh, gosh, well, who was that kid? Who is my inner kid?
    You name the whiteness of the masculinity referenced in Man I Am. The genders played out in the film do seem, to me as a white viewer, very white, despite the diversity of the cast. Does that seem right? Or am I missing nuances?
    I hope to read lots more from you in the future

  2. I’m beginning to suspect that I might be a trans man and not a genderqueer enby. And, one of my biggest thoughts is, how embarrassing for me. I am mortified not at the idea of being trans but of being a man. I wouldn’t choose that if there were a choice.

  3. Huh. Most homeless trans people I see are trans fem. Of the countless SA and battery I have encountered were directly pointed at trans fem people. You are not an authority on trans women’s lives. So don’t lecture on experiences you know nothing about.

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