Simone de Beauvoir famously wrote that "one is not born, but rather becomes, a woman," a claim I could imagine making writer and critic Andrea Long Chu roll her eyes.
At the very least, Chu has an update: "Everyone is female," she writes in the appropriately titled Females, her first book, "and everyone hates it."
Chu has earned a reputation over the past few years as one of the sharpest new thinkers on gender and sexuality with her essays on, among other topics, transgender identity, feminism and television. (She has also picked up a rather loyal following on Twitter, where she treats her mental health, PhD candidature and pop-culture diet all with equal wit and consideration.) In Females—part memoir, part theoretical intervention—Chu explores and defends this claim about universal femaleness, perhaps as much to herself as to anyone else.
Of course, the "female" identity on which the book is based is admittedly less a biological condition than an existential one. Chu describes it as an experience "defined by self-negation" that includes "any psychic operation in which the self is sacrificed to make room for the desires of another." In other words, to be female—which, remember, we all are—is to not express your own desires, identity, personality but rather those of others, impressed upon you. And gender, it follows for Chu, is what people do to deal with the terrible fact of being female.
If that sounds dramatic or provocative, that's largely Chu's style. In 2018, she wrote a powerful essay in the magazine n+1 about transness and the history of feminist organizing that theorist Sandy Stone credited with launching a "second wave" of transgender studies; later that year, Chu wrote an opinion piece for The New York Times about transgender people's rights to medical care. In both cases—and in much of her writing—Chu meticulously frames the popular debate about transgender people, then positions her own point of view on another plane entirely. She's just as bored by those known colloquially as trans-exclusionary radical feminists, or TERFs, who deny transgender people's identities outright as she is by the common refrain that transgender people are simply "born in the wrong body" (as when Caitlyn Jenner joked to Diane Sawyer that God gave her "the soul of a woman"). At a moment when society is largely starting to gain a vocabulary for talking, albeit in less-than-nuanced ways, about transgender civil rights, Chu's refusal to support any mainstream narratives have made her a somewhat controversial figure.