Far too often
I take all blame
on my own shoulders
even though I know
I am not alone.
Far too often
Far too often
I take all blame
on my own shoulders
even though I know
I am not alone.
Write to feel.
Feel to write.
I’ve never hated you.
You’ve carried me through this dangerous world,
despite the assumptions, the shame, and the violence.
And yet the world decided you were nothing if not male,
but they never asked you, in all your clarity and wisdom.
They could never understand that you transcend their vision,
that you are far more than their assumptions and stereotypes.
Because you are the vessel that carries my soul home,
towards that luminous beacon on those distant shores.
You are my salvation.
What is romance?
What is this deeper connection
that we define as somehow separate
from platonic care and affection?
How do we draw the lines
between the romantic and the sexual
and how they affect our relationships?
Romantic attraction. . .
Sexual attraction. . .
Platonic attraction. . .
Aesthetic attraction. . .
Sensual attraction. . .
What are the differences?
What are the similarities?
Theoretically I know the answers,
but how do I navigate my own feelings?
Maybe I am not meant to understand
the abstract concepts of love and desire,
and maybe there’s nothing wrong with that.
Maybe I am not broken after all.
Dim light shining through my bedroom window,
the glass covered in rain droplets and thick fog
obscuring the outside world in a sullen gloom.
As the droplets cascade through the dense haze
it reminds me of tears falling from despondent eyes,
of a smog that obscures all bliss and contentment.
And yet this overcast and dismal source of light
is all that I have in the solitude of my own bedroom,
isolated in a sea of consuming darkness and sorrow.
My own bedroom is a prison cell with a barred window,
chained and unable to move from the warmth of my bed,
depression and anxiety are the wardens of my captivity.
I’ve been mulling over a line that 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 all the thoughts and emotions that I was processing in that moment. Though, Before I delve into the nuance of trans issues and the relationships that we have with our bodies, I wanted to explain a more about the method I use to write poetry. To me, the creation of an authentic and visceral experience in my writing requires me to allow my various thoughts and emotions to travel through me to fill the page untethered with any doubt for what I am feeling in that precise moment. This means that I will often return to something I wrote 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 to me, because it is able to help me learn about who I am as a person and how I traverse the world. It also helps me deconstruct complicated thoughts, emotions or opinions, and thus it functions as a catalyst for me to process trauma and my overall experiences in life. Thus writing is a healing activity that allows me to be able to move forward and understand who I am.
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 have harbored towards 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 want to emphasize that many trans people, including myself at times, don’t always feel this way about their bodies and also might feel totally comfortable in their 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 Vaid-Menon 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 pities because [we are] someones who needs to be saved, rather that 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.”
coiling around me,
bursting from the earth
that is my own flesh.
A deep and hollow rumble,
the vibration in my chest,
that feels like an earthquake
rather than my own voice.
A tumultuous flood,
rushing water over barren soil,
intrusive thoughts and emotions
the deluge of my own uncertainty.
A prisoner in my own vessel,
exiled to these desolate lands,
a constant struggle to feel at home
in the caverns of my own soul.
This might all sound hopeless,
but our eyes tell a different story
of a limitless and expansive galaxy
that is our own to explore.
Complicated emotions wound tight like a noose around my neck.
The tense anxiety of existence that dominates every fiber of my being.
How else do I explain what it’s like to traverse this world as me?
Should I lie to you, the people I love most, and say it’s all going to be fine?
Or do I tell the truth and risk exposing myself to the chaos of your empathy?
Most people don’t even realize that the violence experienced by trans and gender-variant people begins as early as the moment that someone becomes aware they are pregnant. From the hopes and desires of our future parents, to gender reveal parties and baby showers, and even throughout our childhood, our lives are often decided for us without consideration for our dreams and desires. Oftentimes, before we are even born, we are treated much more like objects whose function is to provide parental satisfaction and to further perpetuate the outdated and stereotypical notion of a heteronormative nuclear family structure. Future parents will often develop these grandiose ideas about raising their children into their own image, and will often impose their own ideologies, desires, and stereotypes on their children based on nothing more than the very limited results of an ultrasound, their desires as parents, and their assumptions about their child’s gender.
This violence continues through to our birth and also into our childhood. For example, a doctor took one look at me in the hospital and decided that it was appropriate to assign me a gender identity based on nothing more than the appearance of my genitals before I could even comprehend what that would mean for me in the future. In that moment, as a vulnerable and unaware infant, I was dependent on others to make decisions for me. I never could have imagined that someone would make the decision to imprison me with a label meant to regulate how I traverse the world. The reality is that most people don’t consider this an act of violence, especially because assigning a gender to a child at birth has become such an integral aspect in our culture. It’s supposedly seen as a way to know how we should celebrate and prepare for the child’s arrival, and to possibly know who that child will become, but in the process we are removing our children’s self-discovery.
A phrase that I repeat often within conversations is that gender can be both a galaxy and a prison. As children we often know very little about gender, and our potential for self-discovery and growth is as limitless and expansive as the cosmos. However, the moment that we assign a gender to a child at birth we are imprisoning them in a concrete and immovable set of expectations and stereotypes. Perhaps the child has been assigned male at birth? From this imposed identity there will be parents who develop ideas about raising their child to become a doctor, engineer, or STEM professional. Or perhaps the child is assigned female at birth? From this imposed identity there will be parents who develop ideas about the beauty and innocence of their child, and also their capacity to bear children and nurture a family in the future. There is an inherent assumption about the desires, interests and behaviors of that child that comes from this imposed identity.
These assumptions are reinforced in the various ways that parents raise their children. It can be seen in the clothes that they choose for their child, or the toys and entertainment they provide the child, and even right down to the basic treatment and care of the child. For example, if you were assigned male at birth, then parents will be much more likely to enroll you in sports and hands-on activities, whereas a child assigned female at birth will often have less access to those activities due to their parents assumptions about what it means to be a delicate little girl. Another example is the fact that our society associates certain toys and activities with specific gender identities. For example, action figures, toy cars and sports are more often associated with little boys, whereas dresses, dolls, tea sets and nurturing activities such as childcare with little girls. Doesn’t that sound limited and absurd? Why can’t any child enjoy dolls and action figures, toy cars and dresses, sports and tea sets, and why is it expected for girls to be nurturing and prepare for parenthood later in life? Why do we have to imprison our children within a binary framework and limit their potential for self-exploration and their opportunity for discovery and growth?
This whole process of assigning a gender to our children at birth echoes throughout their entire lives and also throughout our society as a whole. Gender, as a social construct, is something that we learn. By assigning a gender to children at birth we are perpetuating the same social issues that exist in our society due to limited and toxic gender ideologies. The largest issue that I see with this is that the dichotomy of male and female, as a very limited binary framework, is so embedded in our societal imagination that we often can’t see past our own assumptions about gender in order to give our children the freedom to discover who they are on their own terms. This creates a perpetual issue where harmful stereotypes about gender are further embedded and supported in our society. Issues like toxic masculinity and the false assumption that femininity is somehow subordinate to masculinity are things that we learn from birth, all because our parents and society as a whole failed to mention that we are limitless. Indeed, our experiences are more diverse and beautiful than could ever be described by an imprisoning and limited dichotomy.
This can be an uncomfortable conversation topic, because masturbation and any sexual experience is considered taboo to discuss, but I’m all about smashing social norms, so let’s talk about it. Masturbation and sexual release are topics that I have had difficulty navigating as a transgender person, because the dominant discourse is that all transgender people hate their bodies and therefore avoid sexual stimulation and arousal. I want to emphasize that such a perspective is not accurate for many transgender people, and personally I do not experience any dysphoria in relation to sexual stimulation.
This has been strange for me to understand because I have fed into a discourse that says it’s impossible for me to enjoy sexuality with my current biological existence. I believed that it was inappropriate for me to enjoy masturbation and sexual release because of this ridiculous notion that all transgender people supposedly hate their bodies, and therefore I should feel shame about not hating mine. I had this absurd sense of guilt that was founded in nothing more than internalized cissexism and biological essentialism.
I realized how ridiculous that is, especially when one considers that many transgender people don’t feel any dysphoria towards their bodies at all, and have no desire to seek medical transition. I feel as though I had this inappropriate association of masculinity attached to my genitalia (see internalized cissexism above) which made it difficult for me to accept that it’s normal for me to enjoy masturbation and sexual release. Now that I’ve come to realize these issues, I want to emphasize that enjoying sexual release without dysphoria and regardless of our biological realities doesn’t make us any less valid as transgender people, and our experiences with arousal and pleasure are authentic.