“A Prisoner In My Own Vessel”

I’ve been thinking a lot about a line I wrote in a poem called “Desolate Lands” where I explained that sometimes I view myself as “a prisoner in my own vessel.” I wanted to deconstruct what emotions and thoughts I was processing in that moment. I was struggling with feelings about dysphoria and discomfort with my biological existence, though before I delve into the nuance of trans issues and the relationships we have with our bodies, I want to explain more about the methods I use when I write poetry. To me, the creation of authentic and visceral emotion in my writing requires me to allow my various thoughts to travel through me and my writing instrument to fill the page untethered with doubt for what I’m feeling in that precise moment. This means that I will often return to something I have written in the past and learn that my thoughts and feelings on the topic have dramatically changed. This is the reason that writing is so cathartic for me, because it helps me learn about who I am as a person, deconstruct complicated thoughts, and is as a catalyst for me to process emotion and trauma. Writing is a healing activity that allows me to move forward and understand my experiences.

I think we’ve all heard it before, the overtly common and limited narrative that suggests all trans people feel trapped in their own bodies, or as “prisoners in their own vessels” as I described in “Desolate Lands” no more than a day ago. I understand that there are many trans people who might feel this way about their bodies and that’s valid and real. In fact, I know that this is a feeling I sometimes have about my own body that comes from dysphoria, hence the inclusion of the line in my recent poem, and I’m not here to debate the reality of those experiences, quite the opposite. However, I do really want to emphasize that I don’t always feel this way about my body and that many trans people feel comfortable in their own bodies, and that doesn’t make them any less authentic.

There is a quote from Alok Vaid-Menon who explains that “[they were not] born in the wrong body, [they were] born in the wrong world.” This quote has always resonated with me as I’ve tried to come to understand my feelings towards my body. Alok draws attention to a toxic gender status quo and encourages us to move beyond a “Western colonial system that’s invested in categorizing everything about us.” I’ve realized since writing “Desolate Lands” that I don’t necessarily feel like a “prisoner in my own vessel” but rather lost in an ocean of stereotypes and false assumptions about my body and how this supposedly defines who I am or how I traverse the world. There is no monolithic trans narrative, and we all have unique relationships with our bodies. I agree with Janet Mock when she explains that the “trapped in the wrong body” narrative can inevitably function to “place [us] in the role of victim, and to those who take mainstream media depictions as truth [we are] seen as a human to be pitied because [we are] someone who needs to be saved, rather than a self-determined [human] with agency and choice and the ability to define who [we are] in this society and who [we] will become in spite of it.”

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