Moriva and Thoughts On Wicked Wonders

I’m in my favorite coffee shop near Kannai, Yokohama. It’s called Moriva Coffee. I’m pretty sure it’s a chain café since all the menus are laminated, the coffee is relatively cheap and just tastes okay, and the cakes all look like convenience store fare. It’s near my work and is across from a nice little park though, and it’s never crowded.

I finished Wicked Wonders on the train today. My immediate reaction to these stories is that Ellen Klages is a very accessible writer; simple, no-nonsense prose, appealing precisely because of how comfortable it is. This was my first time reading Klages, and she has this incredible way of letting us peek into the corners of windows at these charming, wholly realized worlds, but whisking us away before we can be disappointed. I am interested in reading more of her work, and I especially wonder at how she handles full-length novels.

I didn’t connect with all the stories (Friday Night at St. Cecelia’s and Goodnight Moons), felt sort of iffy about others (Household Management, the ending to Woodsmoke), but fell deeply and passionately in love with most of them (Education of a Witch and Echoes of Aurora, omggg). I will probably at some point write my thoughts on the stories in more detail, though a quick summary of what I thought can be found on my Goodreads review-in-progress.

I do want to write about one of the stories, the ending to Woodsmoke, while I still have this first-read fresh on my mind. It obviously is one long spoiler, so I’ll put it behind the cut. Also CW for transphobia and gender dysphoria.

I won’t pretend to know that much about or speak for trans rights or transmisogyny. I am a cissexual woman who does not personally know of any (at least openly) trans people, so all of my knowledge is second-hand that I’ve gleamed from online accounts. I would welcome any comment and criticism on my following opinions by members of the trans community, since I am like many people woefully uneducated on your struggles for rights and representation.

THAT SAID, the ending to Woodsmoke did NOT sit well with me.

The story is about girls at summer camp who are coming to terms with adolescence, their femininity, their impending menstruation, and their budding sexuality. The protagonist’s “real” name is Patricia and her identity is as a polite, pink-clad girl, but at summer camp she transforms into Peete, a wild, tomboyish pirate who lords over the summer camp. Peete obviously is her “real” name more than “Patty” ever would be, and there is a lot of play about her gender and identity.

Her relationship with the more traditionally feminine and (at least at first) delicate Maggie is tender, sweet, heartbreaking. Maggie is the daughter of missionaries and is sent to summer camp because she is on the verge of entering puberty, and her parents are afraid she would be ravished and married off to the local Vietnamese villagers. (There’s a whoooole lot to unpack there, but for now let’s just roll with it.) Peete grapples with her romantic attraction to Maggie, especially after two other campers trade nasty and hurtful gossip about how two of the camp counselors are “dikes” and “lezzys.” Peete is ashamed of her attraction to Maggie, and she anguishes over how she can tell Maggie before they have to leave summer camp and part ways.

When (what is assumed to be) menstrual cramping sets in and Maggie is whisked away to the nurse’s, Peete finally blurts out that she loves Maggie. This is it! The moment that the story was building towards! Maggie starts to answer, but right at that moment the doctor enters. Peete is told to go outside. The big payoff is put on ice while the doctor consults with Maggie.

Then it turns out–surprise! ACTUALLY MAGGIE IS A BOY. Her “menstrual cramps” were actually her undescended testicles finally dropping down.

And that’s how it ends. The doctor refers to Maggie with male pronouns, insists that a “boy” in a girl’s camp is obscene and should leave immediately. Peete, horrified, asks Maggie what her “real” name is, and Maggie, equally horrified, says she doesn’t know. The End.

This sweet, melancholic story about two girls finding each other ends on this sour, twisted note. Not because Maggie ends up having male genitalia, but because they are horrified, all of them, to a one. The doctor advises Maggie leave immediately because “he” presents a danger to the group. Maggie and Peete throw out all of their experiences together and approach one another like complete strangers to each other and themselves. Though unstated, it’s assumed that Peete’s “I love you” no longer applies.

As I said, I am not as informed on trans issues to respond well to this, but my reaction as a cissexual was shock. This was a horrible way to treat Maggie, both the doctor’s insistence on gendering “him” and Peete’s horror that Maggie wasn’t her “real” name. I also feel that for a story so centered on Peete, Maggie’s sudden revelation at the end was just too abrupt and a nonsequitur; Maggie’s sexuality and identity should not be viewed through the cissexual perspective, nor should it be contigent on what Peete thinks.

Since I am cis, I feel I also should not take up space in the trans community by focusing too much on this, especially if I have spoken out of turn. I just feel that this ending betrayed the entire rest of the story, and regret the alienating, hurtful turn that this story took.