Critical Inquiry Critical Inquiry

Shwetha Chandrashekhar reviews Side Affects

Hil Malatino. Side Affects: On Being Trans and Feeling Bad. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2022. 240 pp.

Review by Shwetha Chandrashekhar

9 May 2024

At the beginning of Side Affects, Hil Malatino affirms that he was “palpably relieved” after reading Andrea Long Chu’s New York Times opinion piece “My New Vagina Won’t Make Me Happy” (p. 3).[1] Thinking about the right to feel bad, he asks us why trans people are not seen as complex subjects with ambivalent views on gender, sex, marriage, food, and children, just like cis people. Much like Sianne Ngai, Lauren Berlant, Ann Cvetkovich, and Katie Stewart, Malatino embraces the domain of negative affects with trust and conviction and puts forth many elegant concepts such as “trans trauma-ordinariness,” "'future fatigue,'" and "'infrapolitical ethics of care'" (pp. 6, 14, 16). I will place Side Affects alongside Ugly Feelings (2005) and Cruel Optimism (2011) as it sheds light on transantagonistic worlds within liberal-capitalist world systems that engender envious, disoriented, exhausted, and numb trans subjects.

Malatino’s exploration of the enmeshed connections between anxiety, guilt, and envy in the third chapter opens up new ways of thinking affectively about the tensions within and between masculinity, transsexuality, and feminism. With a sound claim that “a gender is not the same thing as a politics,” he brings into a comparative frame the operations of horizontal hostility within trans communities and the various kinds of intracommunal antagonism experienced by queer, Black, brown, and female subjects (p. 86). Envy, in this light, comes across as a political awareness—a growing alertness—about the radically unequal distribution of resources, privileges, and opportunities around the world. Malatino does not simply undermine “the normative,” as Jules Joanne Gleeson notes in her review of Side Affects.[2] Through trans envy, he humanizes many messy desires and yearnings that spill beyond fixed gender and sexual categories.

Questions of precarity and survival are central to Side Affects in that they guide Malatino in conceptualizing rage in ethical and pedagogical terms. His theory of “performed trans rage” (p. 124) reminds me of Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar’s feminist idea of “passionate rage”[3] and José Esteban Muñoz’s queer notion of “disidenitificatory performances”[4] as it brings to light the affective exchanges between the enraged trans subject and the witness of trans rage, who is more often than not a cis person. Not for once does Malatino consider trans negativity as redemptive or restorative, thereby leaving no room for moralistic hierarchical empathy. His aim is to illuminate the damaging effects of transphobic hostility and discrimination which can be countered solely through the documentation and performance of rage. Thus, as a means of survival and a cause of exhaustion, rage becomes a double-edged sword for trans subjects.

In the last two chapters of the book, the oft-ignored problems associated with the labor of social justice take on particular urgency. By drawing attention to the burnout experienced by voluntary gender workers, Malatino circles back to the broken medical and social support systems engendered by neocolonial neoliberalism. However, his critique of neoliberalism is far from unidimensional. It pierces through trans bourgeois whiteness and trans orientalism with ease. Side Affects is a timely book that accomplishes the difficult task of problematizing the fetishization and exceptionalization of trans embodiments without undermining the everyday dehumanization and discrimination experienced by trans people.


[1] Andrea Long Chu, “My New Vagina Won’t Make Me Happy,” New York Times, 24 Nov. 2018.

[2] Jules Joanne Gleeson, “In Defense of Transnormativity,” review of Side Affects: On Being Trans and Feeling Bad by Hil Malatino.

[3] Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar, The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination (New Haven, Conn., 2020), p. 340.

[4] José Esteban Muñoz, Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics (Minneapolis, 1999), p. 196.