Hail to Spring

Something’s about to burst

It could be the rain, slow and steady this month for days

It could be the leaves, come out to gorge themselves on sun rays

It could be my body

For it will flower this spring,

it will sprout like the leaves and spout like the rain

It will glow like the sunburst of the first warm day

Now I’ll have renewal with a pill,

Renewal after the chill of early April

It will creep like the vines as it grows

And receive the birdsong of Spring

Unlike these natural things things long since gone and renewed

It will for the first time be renewed

Like the clacks of doors it is, and the whispered footsteps that you hear

And speculate about, and you can’t know

Who’s coming or going from your house until you’ve seen them

I will partake of spring

Sunflowers for eyes

My body of trunk and grass

My breasts turfy mounds that grow

Hands that smell like lilacs and daffodils

For the first time the earth’s body will be like my body

Open the cabinets, shake off the dust that settled on you at birth

Hail to spring

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A Review of “The Collection”/Being Seen

My expedition for more trans lit has been a bit anticlimactic. Turns out I just had to venture down the block to my local library. There I (somewhat surprisingly to me) found The Collection, a book of short stories edited by Tom Léger and Riley Macleod. All of the authors are trans or gender-nonconforming, and all the stories are about similar characters.

My two favorite so far were Saving by Carter Sickels and The Queer Experiment by Donna Ostrowsky. These wildly different stories nicely highlight the variety of the contents of the book. Saving is about a trans man from Appalachia going to see his ailing grandmother who’s in the nursing home. He road trips down there with his hot, hip Brooklyn girlfriend who is always pulling out her camera to intrusively film tender moments for her next experimental short film. It deals with love, memory, and the feeling of going home to a small town that’s empty of the people you knew. I won’t spoil the twist at the end or the emotional revelations of the protagonist, but I highly recommend it. The characterizations are rich, and the whole experience reminded me of the writing of Marilynne Robinson.

The Queer Experiment is a parody of 1920s British academia, with its musty old professors and universities and incredibly misogynistic career structure. The narrator, a self-repressed lesbian academic who at the start finds herself locked in an asylum, speaks with a pompous and parodical tone. We learn about her strange experiments with an ancient machine to reach a gay world full of rainbows and club music, and her steamy liaison with her research assistant that leads to some unexpected experimental breakthroughs. I laughed out loud at the conclusion, which I shan’t deign to ruin. It’s definitely worth a read.

I’ll review more stories from this book and whatever other trans-related fiction I get my grimy mitts on, so be on the look out

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Aside from my book review, I want to address something that is always pecking away at my self confidence. It’s being seen, and the feelings it engenders (heh).

When you’re a ‘standard’ cis person in your presentation and identification, there’s a certain level of invisibility that you can expect. Maybe you get a couple glances here or there or if you seem out of place, or (mainly when you are a woman) if guys are being creepy, but, if you don’t deviate too much from the norm, you can at least expect to go around to a relatively benign place like the grocery store and not be noticed too much on an average day.

I used to do that too before I started transitioning. I never felt great about how I looked or that confident about it, but at least I could glide by. Eyes and footsteps would part around me like calm water, and I would sail on through.

Not anymore. For a lot of the last two years, especially as I was still figuring out my presentation and what my gender could be, I would be intensely stared at. Long, cruel stares, the kind where you can tell someone has firmly come down on the side of you having violated the rules of personhood. And it’s to such an extent that you can imagine that they would physically restrain you and yell at you if you weren’t a stranger or in public; maybe they would try to ‘save you’ if you were their friend. Deep, dark stares they give, that show you the whirlpools of fear and insecurity churning inside them. You can almost hear them say it (and it’s not hard to guess what they’re thinking either): “What the fuck is wrong with you?” And the less intense ones, who just look at you like you’ve got legs where your arms should be, “What the hell is that?”

I, of course, just feel like shit whenever it happens and try to roll with it. All I have done is try to wear a skirt that day (or makeup, or do my hair, or whatever it was that I was timidly exploring). You know you’re trans when you’ll put up with that to try these things, because being yourself, even halfway, can offset the feeling of ostracism and shame. It still fucking sucks though.

I haven’t gotten to hormones just yet (will get them next week actually), but even before doing this medicalized part of “transitioning”, I’ve already started to blend in a little again. Not from close up, not when I talk usually, but I’ve figured how to dress and do make up. I’ve also grown out my hair enough, so with all that I can glide by in public and not be noticed a lot of the time. It’s amazing to feel that way, but I can only think of my trans sisters (and brothers and siblings) who can’t do it so easily. If you’re trans and you’re reading this, know that it takes time to figure out how to look the way you want. I had a lot of help and it’s taken me two years, and I’m very far from perfect or where I want to be.

Know that you can be beautiful or handsome even when people stare at you. It’s not because you’re ugly or weird. Rather, it’s because, like a sunflower standing tall in a garden of roses, you’re too beautiful and incomprehensible to the people who only expect roses and couldn’t imagine another flower would be there at all.

To the cis people reading this, just a word of advice. Don’t gawk at trans folks, even if you feel it’s positive attention. It usually isn’t, and getting singled out for attention (even verbally) just reminds us that we’ve got a ways to go.

The (trans)Allegory of the Cave

Behold! a woman living in a underground den, which has a mouth open towards the light and reaching all along the den; here she have been since her childhood, and had her legs and necks chained so that she cannot move, and can only see before her, being prevented by the chains from turning round her head. Above and behind her a fire is blazing at a distance, and between the fire and her there is a raised way; and you will see, if you look, a low wall built along the way, like the screen which marionette players have in front of them, over which they show the puppets.

And do you see, people passing along the wall carrying all sorts of vessels, and statues and figures of bodies made of wood and stone and various materials, which appear over the wall? Some of them are talking, others silent.

And she sees only her own shadows, or the shadows of another, which the fire throws on the opposite wall of the cave.

And of the objects which are being carried in like manner she would only see the shadows.

And if she were able to converse with another, would she not suppose that she was naming what was actually before her?

To her, the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images.

And now look again, and see what will naturally follow if the she is released and disabused of her error. At first, when she is liberated and compelled suddenly to stand up and turn her neck round and walk and look towards the light, she will suffer sharp pains; the glare will distress her, and she will be unable to see the realities of which in her former state she had seen the shadows; and then conceive some one saying to her, that what she saw before was an illusion, but that now, when she is approaching nearer to being and her eye is turned towards more real existence, she has a clearer vision, -what will be her reply?

And you may further imagine that her instructor is pointing to the objects as they pass and requiring her to name them, -will she not be perplexed? Will she not fancy that the shadows which she formerly saw are truer than the bodies which are now shown to her?

And if she is compelled to look straight at the light, will she not have a pain in her eyes which will make her turn away to take in the objects of vision which she can see, and which she will conceive to be in reality clearer than the things which are now being shown to her?

And suppose once more, that she is reluctantly dragged up a steep and rugged ascent, and held fast until she’s forced into the presence of the sun itself, is she not likely to be pained and irritated? When she approaches the light her eyes will be dazzled, and she will not be able to see anything at all of her reality.

She will require to grow accustomed to the sight of the upper world. And first she will see the shadows best, next the reflections of people and other bodies in the water, and then the bodies themselves and her own; then she will gaze upon the light of the moon and the stars and the spangled heaven; and she will see the sky and the stars by night better than the sun or the light of the sun by day.

Last of all she will be able to see her sun, and not mere reflections of it in the water, but she will see herself in her own proper place, and not in another; and she will contemplate herself as she is.

By an oasis

Recently as I’ve been getting closer to getting hormones and finishing coming out to a lot of important folks in my life, I’ve been starting to feel a need for more media with trans women in it. I gobbled up A Safe Girl to Love by Casey Platt and a collection of science fiction stories with trans characters and themes from the local library. I’ve also been watching Sense8 again, which has the trans character Nomi in it who was one of the first positively depicted trans women I’d seen. The media that I’ve found has been good, and interesting, and wholesome, and confirming, and there’s a few more books and stories that I’ve been looking into. But when I look beyond these few things farther into the past, I come up short.

It’s like I’m in this little oasis and there’s lamps hanging in the palm trees around it, and the sand surrounds me and I hear it blowing back and forth, but behind when I look it’s just that pitiless darkness. It yawns wide open behind me in the past, and I’m barely past it in the present. I wish there were more lamps…more novels, books, plays, shows, conversations, poems, radio shows, and other things that make up history. Some are there, flickering along the road that led to the present. But they’re so few, and fewer the farther back you go.

I wish I could meet read more about those sisters of mine and know their lives and thoughts better, from their own words. Not as side characters or subjects in some cis author’s novel, news article, or scientific study from back in the day. Where’s our trans Moby Dick, our trans ‘Great American novel’, our trans Bible? But the past is past, and the present is fitfully lit up after decades of us traversing that desert. Laverne Cox, Jamie Clayton, Samantha Allen, and others (just a few names I can recall at the moment I write) are there and alive and lighting up lamps and byways that lead to where I’m sitting now, since they themselves have set out and traversed upon the path that I’m walking and which has led me to this oasis and keeps bringing me back. They’re all creating a record for us, images and stories for us and about us and involving us.

I think it’s my generation’s duty to bring in even more light. More stories, more shows, more poems, more bathroom graffiti and songs, more of anything to show trans girls that they exist too and can take part in a culture from which they’ve been excluded. They need to know they can exist. They need to know they have a history and a community. The struggles they face will of course always remain, but they should also have hope. They need stories like everyone else has that can show them how to be and to thrive.

I’ll keep searching for what’s out there and mention it here when I find it, but, you know, I can write well enough. I’ll work on stories and poems and music, and I’ll share it here and wherever I can to do my small part. I don’t want others to have to wait as long as I did to come in from the dark.