I heard Lucy Corin read at &Now in San Diego in October 2011. She read a piece that was essentially 15 straight minutes of dead baby jokes bounced back and forth between father and daughter. One of them was sick or dying, I don’t remember, but the jokes – as shocking, disgusting, creepy, and cliche as they were – were meant to make the horror of their lives seem ok. Rilke said: “We have no reason to mistrust our world, for it is not against us. Has it terrors, they are our terrors; has it abysses, those abysses belong to us…” I honestly can’t think of another piece of writing that has surpassed Corin’s ability to make me feel implicated, uncomfortable, not necessarily forgiven but recognized. Fucked up. Acknowledged. Seen.
I’ve been teaching Introduction to Composition for years now. I am constantly thinking about speaker and audience, how we scare and desire one another, how we dodge, how we connect. Specifically, I’m interested in notions of private and public and how we experience intimacy. When is the gendered body public and when is it private? If every speech act is mitigated by privilege, who is speaking/spoken to, what do they/we assume, what do they/we get?
In the haibun, On the other side of the wall is a bench, after Basho, I want to embrace and embody every accusation (both internal and external) against me, against trans men, against queers, and against men. I don’t want to shy away from any of them. It occurred to me a few years ago that I’m afraid of being called deviant b/c I deviate. I don’t hate my body but I don’t think I would want to live without testosterone. I haven’t had any surgeries and I don’t plan to. The narrative isn’t slick. I was sexually abused as a kid and that may very well have something to do with it. I’m so glad I’ve spent the majority of my life as a girl. I wasn’t born any way other than a cute little squishy sack of blood, DNA, and shit. The 2nd wave feminist critique of transmen as self loathing and self sabotaging feels useful not b/c it is anymore true for transmen but b/c, in a capitalist, homogenous culture, it seems, for everyone, so generally true. Is transitioning a way of killing myself? If I have ostensibly killed Melissa in order to give birth to TC, what other kinds of violence am I capable of? Am I, as a trans man, degrading women simply through the acts of transition (“acts” because there are many, both repetitive and cumulative, somehow seemingly never ending)? To present my particular acts of transition as a simple resilience narrative feels insincere, too neat. I don’t want to be a misogynist lady-killer but I got tired of dismissing the questions. So, ok maybe. Maybe.
Also, I was reading Babyfucker by Urs Allemann. And two books on neuroscience and human behavior: The Power of Habit and The Compass of Pleasure by Charles Duhigg and David Linden, respectively.
I expect folks to be uncomfortable with the work. I am uncomfortable with the work. It is, in a very visceral way, a grappling with implication, anger, blame, the line between shame (as Brene Brown defines it, “I am bad”) and guilt (“I did something bad.”).
I have a master’s degree and I finally have healthcare. I consistently pass as a man and I am the safest I’ve ever been in my life. I started a project called Made for Flight and for that, I visit schools, youth groups, etc and talk about trans identities, violence, how to be an ally. I am constantly saying these words: A trans woman (usually a trans woman of color who is a sex worker) is murdered every other day worldwide. Does saying this change anything? What does it mean to be complicit? When Janet Mock says, Every time there’s a trans woman of color in the media, she’s getting killed. It wrecks our souls. To whom or to what is she pointing? Can we separate self-hatred from the self? What does it mean, as a person who has already, in the minds of many, gone too far, to go too far? Where is excess and what does it clean? Do the dead women give a goddamn about all of those kites?
And then there was a day after reading about the murders of over 200 trans women when I found myself giving this one woman shit. Her name was Brenda. She was murdered in Italy. Her lover was a politician and when he was outed, he had her killed by setting her house on fire. I made this kite for her – it was oddly shaped – needed at least 6 dowel rods, wouldn’t stay upright no matter what I did with it. I was exhausted and snarky and I made some crack about how Brenda was giving people as much hell in death as she did in life. It was funny. I only felt sort of bad. She knew I was right.
Now that I look like the guy who would tell those jokes, is he in me? Am I in him? Is the 4-minute list of jokes about trans women an act of violence? Who is the perpetrator? I don’t want to be the guy who makes fun of violence against trans women but here I am, the guy on the microphone telling horrific jokes about violence against trans women. I collected them. Some I made up by adapting dead baby jokes. Some I searched for. They are always coming out of my mouth – the mouth of a passing trans guy. The mouth of a man with a vagina. The mouth of an activist. The mouth of a woman. The mouth of a man. Is confession a form of intimacy? Is rejection? Is ambivalence the crux? Is intimacy why violence exists?
As a trans writer (and this is different, I think, than a writer who happens to be trans), I am particularly interested in form. Formally, On the other side of the wall is a bench, after Basho, is an experiment with passing and the act of confession. I want to interrogate passing and confession as goals, actions, and forms. I think of the textual body as a gendered body. These massive prose blocks are a major shift for me and lately I’ve come to see them as mirroring my current gender expression in that they seem so coherent from a distance – using all of the devices of prose: grammatically intact sentences with discernible subjects, objects, and verbs, paragraphs, etc. The whole thing screams, “I’m normal, don’t you worry about me – this is writing you can recognize, writing you can understand.” But then the text is unreliable; the veneer of coherence and safety completely gives way. The narrative is ruptured. Trust is broken. How passing, for me, can be both a protection from violence and can perpetuate violence. A necessity and necessarily enigmatic. A practice of practicing. A reckoning with constraint, with ambivalence, and with form.
I’ve been thinking a lot about passing and the safety and the power inherent in it. The way that passing allows me to be visible (read: vulnerable) when I am up for it, invisible when I’m not. Like all forms of power and privilege, what my body – textual, gendered, and otherwise – what my body now offers me is choice.