I don’t think it’s controversial to say 2019 has not been a good year for feminism and the overall fight for women’s rights. From middle-distance runner Caster Semenya being told to take hormone suppressants or cease participating in the sport she excels at, to an increasing number of U.S. states pushing abortion legislation that would essentially criminalize all abortions, we are living through the beginnings of a visible rollback of the rights of all women, trans men, and non-binary people.
Pair that alongside the recent increase in anti-transgender violence, and its associated increased policing of what makes a woman, and it’s perhaps not a surprise I recently felt like going back and revisiting possibly my favorite comic book series of the past decade: Bitch Planet.
Bitch Planet is a 10-issue feminist reimagining of the exploitation film genre, set in a near-future world where women’s rights have been rolled back to an extreme extent. Any woman deemed unacceptable is branded with the letters NC, signifying that they have been deemed “non-compliant," and shipped off to live on a space prison away from the rest of the world. It’s an exaggerated future perhaps, but it’s rooted in very real and current beliefs that are seemingly becoming more commonplace.
In the world of Bitch Planet, acceptable femininity has become something much easier to define and tick off on a checklist. The reverse is also true; the list of things that disqualify you from being accepted as a woman, or accepting of rights, is rigidly defined. Many of today’s biggest unspoken taboos are committed to paper.
In Bitch Planet, “compliant” women are skinny, they refrain from vulgarity, they do as they’re told, they seek permission, they wait in line, they keep to their station, and they abstain from forbidden knowledge. They’re not allowed to defend themselves, to be violent, to be angry, or to be strong. Black women, trans women, tattooed women, independent women, even women whose husbands decide to cheat on them are seen as dangerous, disposable, villainous, or lacking in humanity.
This isn’t a world where all women are locked up and policed, far from it. You’ll frequently see skinny cis white women working in roles like a prison warden, evangelizing about how the world doesn’t hate women simply because the world has never tried to police their specific kind of womanhood. There are some women in this world more than happy to sit back and watch as their fellow women are dragged off and thrown out of sight.
While we’re not shipping women off to space in 2019 for refusing sex with men or not “being able to take a compliment,” all of the above are already being used as part of how the world measures the value, the worth, and the acceptability of women. We may not have reached these exaggerated heights, but women are already being attacked, assaulted, or arrested in many cases for being the wrong kind of woman. For being non-compliant.
While getting surgery as a trans woman isn’t a prerequisite to being a woman, nor did it in any way make me more woman than I already was, I knew it was going to feel like a turning point for myself, and many people around me.
For the family who wanted to pretend that this was just a phase that would pass, this was the moment they had to really process that this was me forever. For myself, this was a big scary unknown. As much as I was confident this was what I wanted, it signified a point of no return. I could never let myself go back into hiding, pretending to be a man to navigate certain unsafe situations, or avoiding who I was.
The hate, negativity, and danger that come part and parcel with being a visibly out trans woman were going to be part of my life every day going forward, and I was scared by that.
What if I didn’t have it in me to stand up and defend my femininity if challenged? What would I do if people made my life challenging, or downright miserable, for claiming that female identity? What if I was forever ostracized for being who I was?
Surgery wasn’t going to change anything in that regard, but it made the finality of those questions sink in.
While the premise of Bitch Planet on its surface is about the policing of femininity, at its core it’s a story about women reclaiming femininity that the world denies them. It’s about being told you’re not the right kind of woman and saying f*** you in response. At a time of immense anxiety regarding the world and how it might treat me as a woman, it was exactly what I needed to see.
From Penny Rolle, a large black woman who sees herself as already perfect with no desire to change who she is, even if it means incarceration, to the pair of lesbian trans women who find love and support in each other despite being were some of the first women locked up for being themselves, Bitch Planet offers hope and solidarity in being the kind of woman that makes men scared.
Bitch Planet told me it was okay to be an “unacceptable” kind of woman.
The non-compliant brand on all these women is meant to be a mark of shame, a signifier that they failed to be women the way they were meant to. By the time the series' short run is done, it’s a mark of pride. It’s a mark of power, confidence, strength, and a reminder that they can’t stop us being non-compliant women.
That’s why I branded myself with a non-compliant tattoo just before heading in for surgery.
I needed to remind myself that it was okay to be the kind of woman the world tried to legislate out of existence. That people trying to present me as some menace to society can’t take my identity from me.
I’m non-compliant, and I‘m proud of it.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBC Universal.