There Should Be a Closetspace/Lease Bound Crossover Fic

I want to use the platform of my comparatively ("comparatively") obscure blog to tell you about two comparatively obscure webcomics I like, that display some striking parallels, and whose readerships probably anti-correlate—overlapping less than two arbitrary webcomics of similar comparative obscurity.

Closetspace is the story of a boy named Jason who decides to live as a girl named Carrie in Texas of the late '90s or early 'aughts. Escaping family disapproval, Carrie moves in with a new housemate, Allison. The twist in the premise is, it turns out that Allison is also a male-to-female transsexual, but neither is aware of the other's secret.

The series follows Carrie and Allison as they face life's challenges—their house gets attacked by a insurrectionist; Carrie gets accidentally kidnapped by a dominatrix (who is also trans); Allison copes with regrets about her own transition; Carrie's mom has a stroke and dies, and Carrie faces pushback (including from her previously mostly supportive sister) after showing up at the hospital and to the funeral as Carrie, causing her to develop social anxiety; Allison gets addicted to an old video game, connects with an interior-decorating client and an old friend; Carrie's drag queen friend also dies.

It wasn't something I noticed when I first encountered Closetspace around 2010 or so, but knowing what I know now, it's really striking how much the Blanchardian two-type taxonomy shines through in the course of telling Carrie's story, not because the author intended any such reading, but because the taxonomic structure in human psychology is going to show up when you tell a story that's true to human life. (Recap for new readers: there are two etiologically distinct types of male-to-female transsexuals—an androphilic type coterminous with the most effeminate gay men, and an autogynephilic type—"men who love women and want to become what they love".)

The author probably doesn't believe in the typology (if she's even heard of it), but the traits line up anyway. Carrie is straight—gynephilic ("Guys just aren't my thing", she tells her sister). Carrie's gay (androphilic) drag queen friend Victor/Victoria doesn't understand Carrie's motivations: "Not to mention you don't think like one of 'them'", she comments on Carrie's lack of innate femininity. (Anyone can see that effeminate gay men taking on female roles "make sense"; autogynephilia is harder to understand if you haven't yourself felt the tug of the scintillating but ultimately untrue thought.) Allison's recollection of her origins includes a moment of envy about a girl: "she looks so pretty ... so pretty". Heidi the (male) dominatrix displays a working knowledge of the typology while coming on to Carrie: "We're both crossdressers, and we aren't anything like drag queens [...] sometimes I want to hang out with someone like me. Someone like you." Indeed!

Likewise, Carrie's beautiful pure sacred self-identity feelings ("And I feel a longing ... like I'd had a body like that once upon a time, and want it back") and stirring post-transition meta-attraction are on type.

A point of skepticism on the premise: it doesn't feel realistic to me that Allison doesn't clock Carrie given that Carrie is not on hormones yet. Passing is hard, especially when you're living with someone, rather than just seeing them "in passing" in public. No one mistakes the Texas insurrectionist woman as a man even though she has short hair and wears men's clothes. And Carrie sings! (Vocal pitch is hugely sexually dimorphic; one study reports the sex difference in mean fundamental frequency at Cohen's d ≈ 5.7, which is so huge that I can't quite take it at face value insofar as it implies that Tracy Chapman (whose singing I've mis-sexed) should outright not exist, rather than merely being very rare.) I feel kind of vindicated that a guest illustrator gave Carrie a realistically unfortunate face.

Okay, Heidi who is on hormones lied to Allison to cover for Carrie once—maybe that helped tip the scales after the hypothesis had been promoted to Allison's attention? How much work is being done by the effect where it's easier to pass precisely when transsexualism is rare? Maybe Allison in particular is just (autistically? self-deceptively?) really oblivious? ("I thought I knew what to look for.") Allison and Carrie do get clocked by restaurant waitstaff, to Carrie's discomfort and Allison's obliviousness.

Closetspace seems to be on life support—there have only been four updates since 2019. (If a blog updated in September, and the previous post had been in May, would you think the author was relentlessly persuing her vision? I didn't think so.) As much as one mourns the tragedy of real life moving faster than the independent creator can tell their story, in a way, it seems—fitting?—in the sense that Closetspace is noticeably a product of its time. Someone starting a comic in the current year, about the challenges of being trans in the current year, wouldn't still be speaking in the vocabulary of the '90s. Specifically, no one in the world of Closetspace seems to disagree or be confused about what women are. "I'm not really a woman," Heidi confesses to Allison. (Not really? You mean, you're not cis, right?) "I haven't been your big brother for over a month," Carrie tells her sister (implying that the act of social transition is what makes Carrie not-a-brother, rather than an underlying identity). For her part, Allison is committed to a life of stealth, disdaining trans people ("I shouldn't be so negative. I just ... have a thing ... about people straddling gender roles"), rather than taking up solidarity as one of them. Even the narrator is in on it (describing Carrie as "male" and Allison as "once male").

Lease Bound is the story of Jaden and Riley, two typical lesbians in Adelaide, Australia in the current year who find themselves sharing the same apartment after a clerical mix-up.

Jaden works as a bouncer as a female-only nightclub and is surprised one night when three crossdressed men try to enter. When Jaden politely refuses them ("Sorry to disappoint, but this is actually a women's only venue. If you're looking for a great night though, there's a fantastic gay bar just a few blocks from here."), they don't take it well ("We are women, sweetheart. Trans women. Understand now?"), and a scuffle ensues in which Jaden gets bruised up.

Jaden, despite having gone to college (perhaps, at the University of Under a Rock?), is oblivious as to why the assailants felt entitled to enter the club: "What the fuck is a 'trance' woman?" she asks coworkers. "Were they part of MadMarch"festival season in Adelaide"or was I seriously supposed to believe they were women?" Her colleagues explain: "You know those guys who say they're lesbians trapped in a man's body?" "They're like that, but dead serious."

When Riley expresses concern for Jaden's bruises the next morning, Jaden admits that "a few men kicked up a fuss at the club last night." Riley assumes the troublemakers were homophobes protesting lesbianism; Jaden says she doesn't know what they were about, but that they "called themselves trance, women, or something. I can't really remember. [...] I didn't really get it either. But hey, that's straight men for you, haha!"

Riley, who has not been living under a rock, feels ideologically uncomfortable with Jaden's account—Riley feels morally obligated to be a good ally, but isn't personally zealous enough to correct Jaden's speech. Riley starts to worry that her girlfriend Blaire will start a quarrel if transwomen come up in conversation when meeting Jaden. (Transwomen is spelled as one word in Riley's thoughts, but we imagine Blaire is the kind of person insists that it's two.) The meeting goes fine thanks to Jaden's continued obliviousness; when Blaire asks Jaden what pronouns she prefers, Jaden (momentarily distracted by Riley nervously dropping a glass) mishears the question and replies, "The way you pronounced it just the was fine." Later, Blaire asks Riley if Jaden might be trans and not know it, causing Riley to grapple with the contradictions of the reigning ideology and muse about her own "gender".

Lease Bound is actively updating. I'm really looking forward to the brewing ideological conflict between Blaire's doctrinal purity and Jaden's normie common sense eventually becoming overt—although the comic mostly isn't focused on politics (the author's note on the last page of chapter 9 says that next we're going to see more about Jaden's childhood), and that's healthy.

There are a lot of obvious and striking parallels betwen these two slice-of-life webcomics about unexpected sexual-minority roommmates keeping secrets from each other—even the titles match (two words, with the first alluding to the roommate-drama setting, Closet/Lease, Space/Bound). They both have an "Everyone is [our sexual minority]" dynamic going. (In Lease Bound, the landladies are also lesbians—the rainbow panel background when Jaden and Riley find out was a nice touch—and the neighbor whose son Jaden helps is gay.) I like both of them, and I think it's sad that the natural fan demographic of each probably mostly hates the other's guts. Gender-critical lesbians aren't going look sympathetically on the protagonists of Closetspace, and trans women aren't going to read Lease Bound, which portrays them as predatory bullies. The conflict is understandable, but the magnitude of it seems ... unnecessary; I think a smarter world would be able to compile all the relevant facts and broker some sort of Pareto-efficient compromise that gets everyone most of what they want.

Carrie has a compelling interest in being able to modify her body and social presentation without being socially punished for it: though humans can't actually change sex with currently-existing technology, one could at least be permitted to try to approximate it as best one can.

But simultaneously, the proprietors of Yonique have a compelling interest in being able to declare membership criteria for their private club. When the AGP Gang (the out-of-universe canon name for the three troublemakers) stops by, Jaden shouldn't have to pretend not to notice that they're male, and when Jaden explains the club's policy, they should accept it with dignity.

I'm trying to imagine a fanfiction—what if it had been Carrie, Allison, and Heidi? (Who ... have somehow traveled from Texas to Australia—and twenty years into the future? Don't answer that.) I'm imagining that Jaden would only deny entrance to Carrie. (Jaden being unaware of trans being a thing should make it easier to Allison and Heidi to pass, but Carrie's not being on HRT is prohibitive.) Carrie would be distressed at being clocked—but not confrontational and entitled like the AGP gang; she would just leave in a panic. Heidi would go after her, but Allison (shocked at Jaden stating what should have been obvious about Carrie, and not wanting the stigma to bleed onto her) goes into the club. And then ... um, Allison and Jaden end up talking somehow?

I don't actually have a direction for this story to go in. I just—wish it were possible for the LGB and the T to be friends without the uniting force of a common enemy. Without trying to set up a false equivalency (my analogues who read different books in a different order bear the blunt of the blame for the mess we're in; actual lesbians have a right to be pissed), it shouldn't be rare to read both sides' comics; it shouldn't be normal for political forces to shape neurotype-demographics into sides.

Submit to Reddit

(Post revision history)

Comments permit Markdown or HTML formatting.