‘A Wishing So Strong That There Are Moments She Nearly Believes It’

The writer Morgan Thomas on desire and risk

Morgan Thomas
Ezra Carlsen / The Atlantic
Editor’s Note: Read Morgan Thomas’s new short story, “Bump.”

“Bump” is a new short story by Morgan Thomas. To mark the story’s publication in The Atlantic, Thomas and Amy Weiss-Meyer, a deputy managing editor at the magazine, discussed the story over email. Their conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.

Amy Weiss-Meyer: “Bump” begins with a confrontation of sorts, addressed “to those who accuse me of immoderate desire.” The line immediately raises a tantalizing question: Should we be accusing this narrator of immoderate desire? And if so, desire for what? Even before readers know Louie’s name or her predicament, we see her in relation to the perceptions of others, who may or may not be judging her. What’s the function of this preemptive self-defense?

Morgan Thomas: In my reading, Louie has been accused of immoderate desire, and the story is her response. In that sense, I don’t see her self-defense as preemptive. We see, near the end of the story, the first glimpses of that accusation, the events that likely led to it. In those last scenes, the people on whom Louie relies for emotional support and security fail to understand Louie’s desire to be pregnant and mock the pregnancy bump she’s bought.

The beginning of this story also makes me feel hopeful. Louie directly addresses and rebukes those who would accuse her. She doesn’t succumb to their judgment of her desires. She isn’t afraid to desire things that others might deem inappropriate or impossible. Louie has several things—a lucrative job, a relatively stable long-term relationship, frank conversations with her grandmother—that I, as a genderqueer and queer person, have only recently dared to dream for myself. The first line opens the door for the story to expand visions of queer and trans desire.

Weiss-Meyer: Louie is a trans woman who has accepted that she will never be pregnant. Still, when a co-worker reveals that she thinks Louie is expecting, Louie goes along with the misconception, ordering a pregnancy bump online. She claims that her attachment to the bump is an attachment to the idea of pregnancy, yet she’s clearly also grappling with her role as a caregiver—for her grandmother, for Len’s baby, for Len himself. How much is she deceiving herself about her own desire?

Thomas: Louie desires a child. I can’t say whether she desires a child because she wants to raise a child or because pregnancy and motherhood are intimately tied to her conceptions of family, success, and womanhood. I think distinguishing the two would be difficult for her, as it is for many people, as it is for me. I don’t see this as self-deception, but as the eternal difficulty of distinguishing personal desire from collective expectations of what we should want.

Does Louie understand that the bump is not a child and will not result in a child? I think she does. I also think she wishes the opposite were true, that the bump could result in a child, a wishing so strong that there are moments she nearly believes it. I don’t see this wishing as self-deception either. To me, Louie’s experience of pregnancy—as “an end in itself, the enactment of a ritual”—is real, a realness founded on a combination of external acknowledgment and a deeply internal sense of commitment and connection to the bump.

Weiss-Meyer: Did you start writing with the character of Louie, or did the idea for the story start with the bump?

Thomas: The story began as a conversation with two friends about the ties of pregnancy and childbirth to conceptions of womanhood. Both friends—one a cis woman who doesn’t want kids, the other a trans woman who does—expressed grief related to the entangling of womanhood with motherhood. I wrote “Bump” to further explore that shared grief.

Weiss-Meyer: Louie strives to “polish” herself, and admires others who do the same. Her boyfriend, Len, for instance, has gotten rid of his southern accent, “like it was nothing, doing away with a whole part of yourself.” Is polish always about artifice, or can it be an expression of authenticity?

Thomas: Artifice suggests falseness, and I don’t see polish, as it manifests in the story, relating to falseness. The story uses the notion of “polishing” to encompass a wide range of behaviors. Some of those, like learning to code, offer financial security and social status. Some, like doing away with a southern accent, are about obscuring an aspect of identity. Some, like using makeup and nail polish, are about presenting in the world as femme.

For Louie, polish is sometimes related to questions of gender, of wanting to be perceived in a certain way. This isn’t artifice. Everyone performs gender.

The Ilocano/Visaya/Xicano artist and scholar Rafael/a Luna-Pizano has asked whether trans is something we do or something we are. I think the only possible answer is both, but I’m interested in the spaces where that bothness breaks down, moments when I can be genderqueer without doing anything to enact genderqueerness, without thinking about how I’m perceived.

For me, these are usually moments of solitude. Some of my favorite moments of “Bump” are when Louie is alone with the bump, when we see the bump as something more than polish, as part of Louie’s sense of herself.

Weiss-Meyer: The bump makes Louie visible to her co-workers in new and exciting—and risky—ways. Is the risk part of her attraction to the gambit?

Thomas: I don’t see Louie deliberately seeking risk. In spite of her privileges, Louie experiences the risks that trans people, especially trans women, face in this country—hatred, harassment, violence. But there are also internal sources of risk. A deeply felt desire, ignored too long, can sublimate into an uglier thing—into self-hatred, isolation, despair. I see the bump as Louie’s attempt to shift away from that internal risk, toward fulfillment and contentment.

Weiss-Meyer: The bump comes to feel like a part of Louie’s body. She describes it as vulnerable, in need of protection. Do you consider the bump its own character in the story?

Thomas: I don’t consider the bump a character, but I do see the bump as usefully troubling two conceptions about who we are and how we relate to each other.

First, I think of Scott F. Gilbert, Jan Sapp, and Alfred I. Tauber’s article “A Symbiotic View of Life: We Have Never Been Individuals,” which argues that biological individuality doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. Our bodies are porous and composite, forever incorporating new elements—pacemakers, antibodies, IUDs—and changing shape. So when Louie says the bump is an extension of her body, I believe her. Why couldn’t it be?

Second, I hope “Bump” expands our sense of caretaking, of that which is worthy of care. I’ve become more and more aware of the rules determining who and what can be loved, in what ways, and how much—hierarchies of partner, family, friend. Questioning those hierarchies and insisting on the validity of a wide variety of expressions of love and care is for me part of the work of queerness.

So I wouldn’t say that the bump is a character. Rather, it offers access to Louie’s character by substantiating Louie’s not-at-all-immoderate desire.