For My Queers

Trigger fucking warning, I am about to publicly say some dark and heavy shit about my experience as a genderqueer person. If you don’t wanna read it, no hard feelings.

I don’t talk about it much anymore, but for a number of years I identified as a transwoman, and presented as femme almost daily. I lived with constant, skin-crawling dysphoria, and a deeply unstable sense of self. Experimenting with my gender presentation and identity were the best means at my disposal to make those feelings abate. I also lived with some level of fear of having transphobic violence perpetrated against my body, but never experienced this, despite walking nearly everywhere in town. I feel painfully aware that I am the anomaly here rather than the norm. I never know whether to chalk it up to luck, or the fact that I wear one mean fucking mug when I’m out in the world.

In the spring of 2013, I attempted to hormonally transition. The weather had just turned warm after a long and brutal winter. I had just finished massage school. I had finally left an emotionally abusive and controlling relationship with my partner of four years who thought of himself as a center of the queer community in Asheville, even going as far as to refer to himself as a “local celebrity” (fucking seriously). During our relationship, he often used his own transition to excuse his physically aggressive and verbally abusive behavior. The fact that we were finally done and I had room to breathe, made it seem even more like the right time.

It is difficult to remember with any clarity how long I stayed on T blockers and hormones, but I think it was roughly three days. I spent most of the time sick and with crippling panic and one full day of near psychosis. I spent that afternoon in bed, having visions my own death, and the death of the people I loved. I saw myself on my knees in the mud in an internment camp, and felt a hulking shape behind me taking aim at the back of my skull with a rifle. I heard the report of a gun, felt my body convulse and my world went black for a moment before my reality reshaped back to my bedroom.

I laid in bed and felt certain of a future filled with transphobic violence and alienation ahead of me, and saw a life of watching my friends die. All the sudden, the shotgun in my closet seemed like a very simple means to bail the fuck out of that future. Luckily, I realized I was in way over my head, and called my friends. My friends took turns staying with me for the next two days while I cried and puked and tried to feel normal again. I went back to the doctor the next week, and informed them that I would not be finishing my first round of feminizing medication.

Really, I spent that whole summer and the year after that trying to come back to normal. I was scared all the time, and just wanted to be in less pain. I ended up changing my gender presentation drastically, primarily because the only way I could feel comfortable in my skin was to hide it. This presentation largely endures to this day. I am mostly comfortable with it, and have come to love myself in ways I never thought possible when I was younger. While I make never make any apologies for survival, I do at times feel like I somehow failed, or was not strong enough to transition. I wonder if I didn’t take the easy way out in exchange for comfort. I came away from the experience with a new awe of what my sisters go through to just live, and live in a dangerous world that marginalizes the living shit out of them at that.

My point in telling you this story is simple. I would bet you money that this latest (and terrifying) anti-trans legislation surprises all of about none of the trans people in your life. While the potential scope of state sanctioned erasure of trans people is absolutely chilling, it is not new. Transphobic violence is not new. This violence is encoded into our histories and brutally written in the names and bodies of the trans people who came before us and didn’t make it. This violence is written in the snuffed out lives of the staggering amount of transwomen of color who are murdered every year. This violence is written in the hard-lived lives of trans people who are denied access to safe housing, employment, medical care, and are routinely criminalized.

Now a whole lot of us are scared and the potential dawning of a new era of state sanctioned violence and eradication perpetrated against trans people. So I want to close with this: You’ve gotta back the trans people in your community, like right now and harder than you’ve ever backed them. They are fucking terrified and our basic humanity and very existence is under attack. Back the transmen in your life. BACK THE FUCKING TRANSWOMEN IN YOUR LIFE. ESPECIALLY BACK THE TRANSWOMEN OF COLOR IN YOUR LIFE. Think about how it threatens power that trans people reject binaries and heteronormativity and how that puts a big ol’ target on our backs. Check in with your people. Ask questions. Offer support. I know I am thinking about what kind of support I can offer my community as a gender variant weirdo who can go stealth easily. I am imploring you to do the same.

If you aren’t thinking about how to ally with your transgender community right now, if you aren’t ready to throw the fuck down with and for them, I don’t want to fuck with you. Period. Point blank. This is not a debate. It’s a war. Pick a side.

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For My Queers

For My Mother and Desmond Dekker

Sixteen years old
Doing my chores
On a summer afternoon
With the window opened
Out over the rolling hills
Of Southern York County
Desmond Dekker sings to me
On the stereo for company
I can hear the world waiting
In the soundwaves
Making their way down the street
Reaching escape velocity
On their way out out
Of my lonely little town
I will make it out one day too

Scrape the dried Elmer’s glue
Off the sink with a smile
Check the stiffness of my hair
In the mirror for the tenth time
Spiked towards the sky
Like a middle finger aimed at every sideways eye

My mother sticks her head in the door
“Oh! I like this song!
I remember when it was on the radio”
Back when I was young
She hums along
With a rare smile
Cracking across her face
Remembering a life
Thirty years gone

All the sudden
My mother is no longer
The narcissistic monster
Living as a prisoner
To her suffering
Tethered to this decrepit house
Raising a selfish afterbirth
Already racing for a world
With no room for her in it

I see you as you were, mother
Young and full of hope once
Summer of ’68 in the desert
With the radio on
A glint of moonlight
Catching in your smile
Your broken home caught
In the reflection of
A rearview mirror
With good things on the road
Ahead of you

Raised ducking for cover
Seeking shelter from gathering clouds
And the chill winds
Blowing ill from a cold war
Summer of ’68
With power’s proxies catching a spark
From fires lit before you were ever born
Your older brothers
Jump from from iron birds
And into the firestorm
With not a reason why
But to do and stay alive
One took a bullet
To the thigh
And never quite got right
The other made it home
And never talked about
The War Again in his life

You grew.

Into the mother
I once knew
Tiny and sometimes cruel, filling the world
Smart and sharp
With a quick wit
And the bitterness lingering
Below the surface to match it

You taught me well
How to stand up for myself
To everyone save
For you
You taught me to lock
All the doors at night
Hide my heart
Hide my light

I see you there sometimes
Out there in the shadows
Lonely and uncertain
Where I am sixteen years old, steel-toes
Stomping up the stairs
To the sound of Desmond on the Stereo
Singing for every mouth to be fed
And waiting for the war’s end
Where all our noble failures born
From the best of intentions are forgiven

I see you now, in the lateness of the hour
The mother who
Did the best she could
With the mess and neglect
And violence
She was given
Spent a life running
Looking for the calm
After the storm
Looking for her son
Without seeing the one she bore

I will meet you there
When sun finally breaks through the thunderheads
Where Desmond Dekker is singing
For every mouth to be fed
Holy forgiveness
And every war’s end

Desmond Dekker

For My Mother and Desmond Dekker

Untitled

12:42 AM
Drunk, but not too drunk
Just marveling at
The taste of alcohol on my tongue
After five years of
World crushing panic
Every time I tipped a bottle back

Lying in bed
With candles lit
My last great love’s
Scent lingers on the pillow
Long after the echo
Of their laughter
Exited the room

Lingering on
Like cigarette smoke
Permeating hair
Painfully aware
Of toil dragging a body down
Taste the weight of age
Gravity gripping my face
Fear the grave
Lick my lips
Taste a long kiss goodnight
With all the beauty and bitterness
Of mortality on my lips, still

Untitled

On Island Road

Cooper City Florida, 1987
Voorhees and Krueger Come
To gruesome life on a suburban television
Screaming children run
Across a flickering screen
Fleeing bloodslick blades gripped
In the hands of fictional horrors unrelenting

The credits roll
The Screen goes blank
The groan and hum of the cassette
Rewinding breaks the brief silence
As the screams of so many murdered
Teenagers fade into the recesses
Of my young mind.
“What did you think of that?”
The words slide
From his tongue with cold eagerness
“Uh. A lot of people died.”

I am six years old
Spread on the floor
While parents wrestle with oblivion
Behind closed doors
He says ghosts live
In the corner of
Every room, watching
This scares me more than the movies
For some reason

His mother’s apron
Hangs limp from a hook in the kitchen
I imagine now, every corner filled
With aprons, suits, dresses
Suspended
Haunted
Lifeless

The cathode ray glow
Filled with cheap horror
Keeps my restless ghosts
At bay until the morning

Less than a block away
My parents sleep
Ashtrays on their night tables
Who smokes in the house around
A first grader with asthma anyway?

Late night cable
Takes a turn for the worse
Filled with wet mouths
And hungry curves
Speaking a language
I have yet to learn

He unzips his pants

There are power lines outside
Humming static against the
Thick night sky
The heat is oppressive

I know I should feel something more.

Right here
In this town
Sneaking around
Feet pound
Late night blacktop
Still clinging to the sun’s last heat
In this house
On this street

I feel nothing.

Do you know how
To give into hate?
I now know how to give in
To hate.

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Photo credit unknown
On Island Road

I don’t Know What To Say

I was six years old the first time I was sexually assaulted. I can recall the majority of the details with clarity and alacrity. This is a blessing and a curse, I guess because the memories have stayed strong and present with me all these for the past three decades. I have spent the majority of my adult life wrestling with them. Like many survivors, the memories often come bursting out of me with little warning, and at inopportune times. Sometimes during the summer if I am sleeping in a room with a ceiling fan, I wake up with a start thinking it is someone’s breath on the back of my neck. I have spent much of my life in and out of various states of dissociation and bottomless rage. I have spent much of my life like I still don’t know how to say no, and often find myself intimate with individuals who know just how to exploit that.

On the other side of that survivorhood, I distinctly remember being thirteen and my male friends and I figuring out that that there was a blurred line between persistence and coercion. To our young minds, the absence of physical violence somehow differentiated us from the individuals who assaulted me years earlier. Furthering that idea, when I was fifteen, a group of boys abducted one of my friends and took her to a party where they assaulted her. This crime was never reported, but served as singular turning point in the young lives of my friends and I; a reminder of sorts of the secret truth we had always known, encoded in our young bodies: The bad men were real, and they mostly got away with what they wanted. My best friend and I walked around school carrying knives secreted away in our pockets the rest of that year, swearing that we were going to stab the one perpetrator we could identify to death the first chance we got. We never did. He went on to live a normal life until dying in a car wreck on the run from the law ten years later. I was at a party when I heard, and I laughed audibly, comfortable in the certainty that my friends and I were so different from this sorry, dead asshole.

When you are a young person, especially when you grow up in punk, you define yourself by what you are and what you are not. You delineate everyone into a clear “them” and “us”. You surround yourself with other freaks and outcasts and convince yourself you somehow live outside of the unrequited-blood soaked horrorshow that is life on this planet. My friends and I naively believed we were somehow different, all the while shutting out the voices of the women and queers in our lives who have been imploring us to just fucking listen and do better. The few deeply intimate relationships with I have had with men have been with fragile boys with fragile egos, unable in varying degrees to examine hard truths about themselves, always wondering why their lives are perpetual disasters and their exes fucking hate them. Don’t worry. I am counting my relationship to myself in there too.

I wrote letters to two of the individuals who assaulted me at the beginning of my thirties, never having the nerve to send them. Two years back, I decided to send them while trying to reconcile and change my own patterns of abusive behavior towards intimate partners. I held the naïve belief that maybe these two men would hear me out and open a dialogue and that maybe we could sort out some of this mess together. One of them responded. I obviously could not hear the tone in their voice as they composed an email, but I am fairly certain it differed very little from Brett Kavanaugh’s as they berated me, simultaneously calling me a liar and weak for still feeling the effect of their actions thirty years later. They included their phone number in the email, demanding that I call them, which I never did. I have no doubt that had we spoken on the phone, they would have sounded *exactly* like Judge Kavenaugh did on television the other day.

This individual also came out to me as trans in their email. Two days later, they committed suicide. I blamed myself for the death of another trans woman, and wondered what kind of common ground we could have found had they just listened. I wondered how similar the paths we had walked really were. I spent the next week certain their ghost was in the room with me at night and slept very little. I left my room only to eat or walk my dog. I told my friends I was sure that they would be waiting for me in hell when I died. The crushing feeling of guilt stuck with me until I thought about what an utter fucking chump move it is to hurl yourself into whatever afterlife will claim you rather than take responsibility for your actions.

My heart feels ripped out of my chest this week. My heart is broken for all the people I love who are survivors (and that is almost everyone I know.). My heart is broken for all the people I love who are raising children, especially daughters in this thresher. My heart breaks for the kids who come after us, who were supposed to inherit a better world. My heart breaks for the people I love who live the duality of being both survivor and perpetrator this week, because every person I have loved the most has endured/is capable of/has inflicted some serious harm, and we have to live the lives we’ve made and pick up the pieces. My heart breaks continuously thinking about the people who I have done harm to. My heart breaks thinking about what it is to live in a culture that benefits you so intensely that your hard-learned life lessons usually come at the expense of the people you love the most, and that is treated as normal.

I am tired. We are all tired. We are all tired and heartbroken, and I have no optimism with which to end this post, only a small body filled with venom and unwavering love for my friends doing the best they can.

I don’t Know What To Say