I take all blame
on my own shoulders
even though I know
I am not alone.
I take all blame
I take all blame
on my own shoulders
even though I know
I am not alone.
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
this abstract concept called romance,
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 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 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.”
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 someone becomes aware of our existence. From the hopes and desires of parents, to gender reveal parties and baby showers, our lives are decided for us without any consideration for our own desires. Often before we are even born we are treated more as objects whose function is to provide familial satisfaction – to feed into the limited and stereotypical heteronormative nuclear family – and to fulfill the wants, dreams, and aspirations of our parents and those who raise us. People develop these grand ideas about raising their children, and often impose their own ideologies, desires, and stereotypes on their children based on nothing more than the results of an ultrasound, their desires as parents, and their assumptions about their child’s gender.
This violence continues through to our birth, and as I mentioned in a previous article, a doctor took one look at me in the hospital and decided that it was appropriate to coercively assign me an identity 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. Most wouldn’t consider this an act of violence, especially because assigning a gender to children at birth has become such a central aspect within our culture; a supposed way to know how we should celebrate and prepare for the child’s arrival, but is our society not aware that we are removing our children’s self-determination?
A phrase that I repeat often within conversation is that gender is both a galaxy and a prison. As infants, we know nothing about gender and our potential for self-discovery is as limitless and expansive as the cosmos. However, the moment we assign a gender to a child at birth, we immediately imprison them within a concrete and immovable set of expectations and stereotypes. Perhaps the child has been assigned male at birth? From this imposed identity parents might develop ideas about raising the child to become a doctor, engineer, or similar STEM related professional. Or perhaps the child is assigned female at birth, and the parents develop these ideas about the supposed beauty of their child and their capacity to bear children and nurture a family in the future. In other words, there is an inherent assumption about the activities, desires, interests and behaviors of that child that comes directly from this imposed gender identity.
These assumptions are reinforced in the various ways parents raise their children. It can be seen in the clothes 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. In essence, if you were assigned male at birth, then parents are far more likely to enroll you in sports and hands-on activities, whereas a child assigned female at birth might have less access to those activities due to their parents assumptions about what it means to be a little girl. Another example of this is the fact that our society associates action figures and toy cars with little boys, and dresses, dolls, and tea sets with little girls. Doesn’t that sound absurd? Why can’t any child enjoy dolls and action figures, toy cars and dresses, sports and tea sets? Why do we have to imprison children within a binary framework and limit their potential for self-exploration; their opportunity for discovery and growth?
This whole process of assigning a gender to our children at birth echoes throughout their entire lives and throughout our society as a whole. Gender, as a social construct, is something that we learn, and the issue is that the dichotomy of male and female as a 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 within our society. Issues like toxic masculinity and the assumption that the feminine is always subordinate to the masculine are things that we learn from birth, all because our parents and society as a whole failed to mention that we are limitless, and that our experiences are more diverse and beautiful than could ever be described by an imprisoning and rigid 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.