April Clark (@autogynefiles) started using Twitter in March 2020, during quarantine. She was eighteen and bored, living at home with her parents in Seattle, and she liked using Photoshop to make fake news headlines. From the New York Times: “NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio Says ‘Monkeys Ride Free’ On New York Buses.” From the Guardian: “Robert Pattinson: ‘I don’t really know how to walk down stairs.’” Anything could be “so true,” as she often tweeted; that was the joke. While some posters treat Twitter like a diary, April thought of it as a genre, with its own set of aesthetic and social conventions. The algorithm was opaque; this was part of its power. But April loved puzzles. (While I interviewed her in early November, she picked up my Rubik’s cube and solved it over and over.) She hit 20k followers before her twentieth birthday.
Grace Freud’s first big comedy break was a 2017 Clickhole Writing Fellowship. Launched in 2014, Clickhole parodied websites like Buzzfeed or Upworthy, which prioritized hits over quality content. But Clickhole also produced viral content, and, like TV showrunners and marketing execs, the site sourced many of its writers from Twitter.com. The platform often functions as an audition room: accounts try to go viral over and over, for free, in the hopes that someone will eat them up. At Clickhole, Grace wrote scripts for videos like “These Elderly People’s Stories Of An Early, Unsafe Version Of Disneyland Will Terrify You.” The short clip looks and sounds like something your grandma might share on Facebook, featuring various seniors who describe visiting the theme park in 1948: “I was absolutely enamored with Donald Duck”; “It felt like you won the lottery”; “I just wish we’d all survived.” In February 2021, she became the only out transgender writer for the Adult Swim series Rick and Morty.
Grace told me that when she first found April’s Twitter, she thought, “Is this a trans chick? Or is this just a cis chick who thinks she can say those things?” In a way, both answers are so true. “Transphobia is bad <3 OR IS IT? Two cisgender women discuss,” April tweeted recently. She doesn’t debate transphobia; she puts it on like a skin suit and walks around. This might be seen as a version of improv’s classic “yes, and . . .” rule: instead of shooting your partner down, expand the scene by agreeing with and adding to it. The two women soon became close friends, and when Grace, who lives in Los Angeles, visited New York, they decided to do an act together. They called themselves Girl God and booked two Brooklyn shows for the first week of November, which sold out instantly.
Seeing Girl God was like the live-action version of an animated cartoon, but the characters are Twitter personalities to whom you’re parasocially attached. While the two performances were not identical—the first featured more pre-scripted bits, while the second was more improv-heavy—each night featured the standard comedy show format: guest performances interspersed between longer Girl God segments. Comedians Rachel Kaly, Caleb Pitts, Patrick Doran, and Michelle Gold had their starts on Twitter and transposed material for the stage. Jes Tom and Sarah Squirm began as stage comics and worked backwards. But being good at Twitter does not make you a stand-up, and most “Twitter comics” fail under the bright lights: they just get onstage and read tweets. April and Grace are performers, and their Twitter personalities translate to the stage, both individually and as a duo.
For Grace, the persona is “her, but from a distance.” During her monologue, which she performed at the end of the first night, she described how cis woman friends only greet her with a feminine descriptor—“hey lady,” “hey girly”—in the way they never do with other cis women. “It’s like they come up to me and say, ‘Hey, woman.’ ‘Hey there, woman.’ Woman. Woooman.’” She stamped her feet. “Woman. Woman. Woman.”
April’s Twitter persona, in contrast, is April but nobody. “The character on Twitter does not have an internal world,” she told me. “That would be too close to home.”
“Having an internal world would be too close to home?” I asked. April laughed.
“Exactly. My character has no interior life. So you cannot relate to it.”
Most viral content is also designed to be relatable: you’re meant to watch and say “me.” It may be gimmicky—doing numbers without saying anything new—but that’s precisely why it’s incentivized by social media algorithms. Most trans content is placed under extra pressure to be relatable, either because it’s made for cis people, or because it’s made by isolated trans people trying, quite literally, to relate to each other online. The latter is extremely understandable, a result of transphobia and cultural austerity; if trans people had healthcare, safety, IRL friends—would they still need to post so much? Nevertheless, as a genre, relatable content is aesthetically mediocre.
“I think,” Grace told me after the show, “that I hate relatable content.”
“It’s almost never funny!” April says.
“Exactly. But a lot of trans people do it! And try to overly simplify their lives in the process. And make the experience of being trans very bland. But relatable content is not designed to be funny. It’s not designed for laughs. It’s designed for claps. And I hate that,” Grace says. “I—despise it. Girl God is making fun of relatable content. But it’s not actually relatable at all.”
She’s right: Girl God isn’t relatable; it’s surreal, and narratively complex. “Right before I got up here,” said April, kicking off her opening night monologue, “my mom texted to say, ‘Call me, I’m not mad.’ So I’m feeling . . . incredibly turned on.” Despite its brevity, this joke, like most of April’s tweets, has a beginning, a middle, and a twist ending,
The “left” backlash against identity politics uses valid critiques of neoliberalism to launder bigotry against anyone who, they claim, is still cringe enough to have an identity. Identity is over! Didn’t you know? To think otherwise, they argue, is not just politically mistaken but uncool, betraying an addiction to self-expression and individual grievance. This position is right and wrong. It’s true that mainstream identity politics discourse reproduces central facets of neoliberal culture like individualism and competition; this is why corporations and politicians favor representation rhetoric instead of material change.
But such an argument becomes bad faith when critiquing “identity politics” is just a way to attack anyone who “has an identity.” Within this framework, “identity” morphs from a product of structural power to an individual choice. Someone “has” an identity the way they have brunch, or a Telfar bag. You chose to. Why didn’t you choose otherwise?
The rhetoric of identity as individual choice is levied against all marginalized groups, and sticks to each of them differently; for transgenders, it centers the fantasy that people transition, not because dysphoria made you a zombie, but for some other mysterious social gain. It’s a rite of passage to be told that you did it “for the attention,” “for the clout.” The only gain imaginable is going viral online.
Girl God parodied neoliberal identity politics and relatability aesthetics without devolving into individualism and punishment—until the very end of the show. For their final act, Grace and April asked the audience “who wanted to learn how to become a famous comedian” before inviting a cis woman volunteer onstage. “Here,” said Grace. “I’ll show you how to introduce yourself. You’re going to step up to that mic and say, ‘So, as a tranny . . .’” The woman hesitated.
“Come on!” said April. “Don’t you want to listen to us? Two beautiful transgender women?” After only medium amounts of prodding, the woman stepped up to the mic and voiced the slur.
“I hadn’t actually expected her to say it,” April told me after the show. “So when she did, I was like, wait. You ruined the joke. And also now I feel weird.” That confusion and hurt was palpable in Girl God’s response, which was mostly to yell at her. The woman stood there, smiling at no one. If she was uncomfortable onstage, she also, disturbingly, seemed to have enjoyed the bit.