‘Love the World Or Get Killed Trying’ Is a Poetic Cry of Trans Loneliness

The “Acknowledgements, Afterwords, and Afterworlds…” section at the end of Alvina Chamberland’s novel Love the World Or Get Killed Trying begins with a disclaimer. “Since writing this book five and a half years ago, my life has changed dramatically,” she writes. She then goes on to say that her daily life has become safer now that people mostly perceive her as cis — even if the danger still exists when they learn of her identity.

It’s a context that clarifies the perspective of this work of autofiction. It’s a trans novel about traveling and a trans novel about heterosexuality and a trans novel about writing. But, above all else, it’s a trans novel about being trans and femme — visibly trans and femme.

As the Alvina of the novel travels from Iceland to Berlin to Paris, her experience of constant harassment and assault brought me back to my early years of transition, how casually I grew accustomed to this kind of dehumanization.

The onslaught of comments and groping and stares didn’t lessen because I started looking cis — it lessened because I hid within queerness. At one point, Alvina writes about her envy of queer trans women who can find love with cis women or each other. But it was my choice of fashion more than my choice of partner that eased the harassment. I stopped wearing dresses except for special occasions. I almost always chose pants and shorts over skirts. I leaned into androgyny with gay pride. Because that is part of me, yes, but also because it meant fewer stares on the street, one sexual comment from a stranger per week instead of twenty, being groped once a year instead of once a month.

Throughout the novel, Alvina speaks with self-deprecation toward herself and her storytelling. “My adventures are not epic,” she writes. “And my anecdotes? Monotonous, the opposite of entertaining, nothing worth telling at a cocktail party.” While Chamberland’s wit and way with language negate these claims, there is a truth to Alvina’s assertion. Being harassed constantly, being othered constantly, being lonely constantly, all get really fucking boring. I never articulated the experiences Chamberland outlines in this work to friends, because I was too bored of experiencing them to share with others. Only when something had really shaken me, did I tell those closest to me, and, even then, never with the weight it deserved. It’s thrilling to read a work that captures both the weight and the mundanity. Chamberland does not consolidate these experiences into a handful of moments — instead she sits in their frequency, at one point even listing numerically all that happened to her and at her in the span of a single stroll.

Much of the novel centers around Alvina’s yearning for romantic love and companionship from men. She feels the pain of so many trans women whose bodies are claimed by cis men while no cis men will claim them as a partner to love openly. “At times it is better to be treated like shit than air,” she says comparing the pain of being raped to the pain of being ghosted, ignored, and unloved.

But the achievement of Chamberland’s text is how she reveals the deeper loneliness beneath this romantic isolation. Through Alvina’s escapades, it’s clear that shit and air are not separate states but intrinsically connected. It all returns to the loneliness of moving through a hostile world. Whether someone feels entitled to our bodies sexually or ashamed of their attraction toward our bodies or free to laugh at us on the street or awkward when speaking to us in a social setting, it all returns to the same dehumanization. It’s lonely to be treated as less than a person.

Yes, queerness makes it easier. Yes, appearing to be cis makes it easier. Yes, community makes it easier. Yes, writing and other artistic creation makes it easier. Easier. Not easy.

Throughout the novel, Alvina references Violette Leduc as one of her heroes. It’s a sharp self-comparison for a work filled with pain that nevertheless finds hope in its own invention. “I don’t think I’ll ever become a person who believes my words mean anything to anyone other than myself,” Chamberland writes. “My greatest solace is that this assessment seems to be incorrect.”

It’s a moment of self-confidence hidden within self-deprecation. And the truest self-assessment of the novel. The despair is instilled in us by others. Why shouldn’t we find hope from the same source? If cis people refuse, we, at least, have each other. To comfort, to care, to listen and join our honest cries of anger.

Love the World or Get Killed Trying is now available from Noemi Press.

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Drew Burnett Gregory

Drew is a Brooklyn-based writer, filmmaker, and theatremaker. She is a Senior Editor at Autostraddle with a focus in film and television, sex and dating, and politics. Her writing can also be found at Bright Wall/Dark Room, Cosmopolitan UK, Refinery29, Into, them, and Knock LA. She was a 2022 Outfest Screenwriting Lab Notable Writer and a 2023 Lambda Literary Screenwriting Fellow. She is currently working on a million film and TV projects mostly about queer trans women. Find her on Twitter and Instagram.

Drew Burnett has written 539 articles for us.

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