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“Man-Eaters” Could Be the Trans Allegory We Need (But it Ain’t)

When we first heard about "Man-Eaters," we thought the story could be a great trans allegory: But oh, sweet dear, were we wrong. So, so wrong.

Ash Griffith | December 5, 2018

When I was originally suggested to read Chelsea Cain’s “Man-Eaters” series from Image Comics, I was unbelievably excited. Feminism, cats, comical misandry, what more could I need?

Well, a lot apparently.

I read an issue, and while it was still good (good enough to make as my recommendation for that week’s comics column on RVA Magazine that week, even), something about it still felt very, very, very off. I read the next issue, and, well, I got my answer.

When I heard about this comic, not only was I told by multiple people that it was very much like “Bitch Planet,” but my immediate thought was about how much this sounds like a trans allegory, and how perfect it could be for GayRVA. I even pitched it to my editor, who is a proud trans woman, just as I told you, dear reader.

Oh, sweet dear, was I wrong. So, so wrong.

So here is the thing with “Man-Eaters.” The writing is incredibly strong. Cain took a break from comics for a while to focus on novel-writing, and quite frankly, it shows. Her skills have strengthened exponentially since “Mockingbird” (her claim to fame). However, when you take the time to look at the narrative itself and break it down, it dances dangerously hard on the line of being very much like a TERF’s wet dream.

The story focuses on a twelve-year-old cis girl getting her period, while existing in a world where hormonal fluctuations cause women to transform into wild cats and kill men. This could have, and should have, been a vehicle to explore a lot of things that it did not, whether intentionally or otherwise. What would have made this perfect would have been if the point-of-views of trans women and trans men were involved.

PHOTO: Chelsea Cain, Image Comics

The thing that adds to this being so problematic: The narrative driving home the point that having a menstrual cycle is so vital to being a woman. Hell, even many cis women don’t experience a period. To leave our trans brothers and sisters out of this conversation, once again, is damaging.

Say it with me now: You do not, under any circumstances, have to have a period in order to be a woman. You can have a period and not be a woman, and you can not have a period and still be a woman.

There are many even going so far as to question if Cain herself is transphobic. Regardless of what your answer is to this, her work is sure as hell not helping her defense on this. She did say some things to Women Who Write Comics that both supported and refuted this claim.

“This is a story about what it’s like to be a cis-gendered female coming of age, in a culture that consistently reinforces the messaging that periods are shameful, that our bodies are shameful, and that womanhood — and the biology that goes along with it — is something gross and not for polite company,” Cain told Women Who Write Comics in an interview.

“You don’t have to have a uterus to be a woman. Anyone who thinks that hasn’t been paying attention. But let’s not get lost or distracted here — this is a specific story, about a specific experience — the way that all good stories are.”

I certainly find it interesting that Cain completely contradicted what she said, in one paragraph, for sure, and it makes my eyebrow raise. So, will I be continuing to follow this series? Honestly, it’s doubtful — but I do hope that it does make room for inclusion and learns from this mistake as the series develops.

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