Kind of Like High School

first published by great weather for MEDIA

 

It is similar to when you are in high school. You are in the cafeteria and the smells of imposter pizza and imitation chicken nuggets lead you to almost forget about your deafening hunger. You’ve got your lunch and your over-stuffed backpack and your quintessential post-pubescent pimples and you’re ready to search out a table to sit at.

Usually, you’d be sitting with _______, but you are no longer speaking because of _________ or __________, but probably because ___________ said ______________.

So, you sit elsewhere and pretend that person who you used to call your best friend simply no longer exists. This friend who knows that you used to pick your nose and then eat your findings. Who knows that you had a crush on Judith Light from “Who’s the Boss”. Who knows that you sometimes forget to brush your teeth and hair. Who knows simply all of you (thus far).

You pretend to easily digest your lunch even though you ache. Even though this friend who was like part of you is like a stranger now.

It is like that.

Except this isn’t high school and the friend who held the other half of your BFF charm is your body. Yeah, it’s like that.

But here is the twist.

Cut to twelve years later or fifteen or twenty and you see this friend and you don’t know how to act. Can you just say hello after all this time? Do you pretend you didn’t spread rumors about each other and that most (if not all) were true?

Somewhere in my twenties I had a massive fight with my body and banned it from sitting at my lunch table. What I mean to say is: I ignored IT. Gave IT away to strangers. Handed IT over to people who didn’t even care enough to learn how many vowels are in my name. Dressed IT up, even though the lace was itchy and the push-up was too pushy.

It doesn’t matter why (that’s another month/another poem/another story), but what matters is I let go of IT. I stopped addressing IT, asking IT questions: Does this feel ok? Am I mispronouncing you? What is off limits?

After years of the silent treatment, I started to call my body QUEER. It felt slanted, but not exactly toward anything specific, just away from WOMAN. Away from GIRL. Away from SHE.

I covered up the parts I gave away. I ripped off my pronoun. I cut my hair. I grew out my hair. I asked my breasts to stop addressing me. I grew attracted to those who slanted too. I liked the ones who understood what it was like to be engaged in bouts of silence with their bodies. I liked not having to explain why I cried every time I was touched.

For me, I just wanted to erase everything I had done to IT. Hide the parts that had been broken into (by others and myself).

And then. One day—it happened to be a Saturday—I saw IT. We sort of made eye contact, but both immediately turned away. I almost didn’t recognize it; it had been so long.

*

When I was old enough to get a tattoo (18), my friend and I (who shared the same birthday) went to a small shop on route 9 in a strip mall in New Jersey, and got inked. She got a fairy on her lower back. I got the WOMAN sign.

I was not yet OUT (lesbian) but a FEMINIST and excited by my breasts which were finally growing on me. I wanted to look like her and all the other girls in my school.

Eighteen years later, I added to that woman sign because it didn’t quite speak the truth of how I saw myself. So, I added a MALE to the FEMALE and suddenly I felt a little better.

On this Saturday, where my body and I began to slowly break the silent treatment, I wasn’t quite sure what to say. So many years of reticence. I had forgotten how to approach it.

 

ME: It’s you, isn’t it?

MY BODY: Yeah.

ME: I…I’m not sure if an apology is—

MY BODY: There’s nothing to be sorry about.

ME: But I stopped talking to you.

MY BODY: And I stopped listening.

ME: Is it too late?

MY BODY: Why don’t we go for a walk?

ME: Can I…can I hold your hand?

MY BODY: As long as you don’t let go this time.

LUMEN Festival!!! Saturday, June 25th!!!

SATURDAY, JUNE 25th:  a festival of performance art at Staten Island Arts’ 7th Annual LUMEN! located at Atlantic Salt Company 561 Richmond Terrace

BUY TICKETS!  Come and support local artists celebrating performance art!

I will be performing a movement/textual piece called: CUT/Gender, which explores the ways in which we wear gender through text and textures. The evening begins at 7pm and goes through midnight. I will be performing with Lys Obsidian Presents! Performing Gender: A Kala Lolo Sideshow. The line-up:

7:30 Lesbian Under Ground: “Hair”,  An exploration of gender identity and expression
8:15 Oglesby the Clown
8:45 Rachel Therres featuring Lys Obsidian: “Hatchet”, A poetry performance of feminine nature
9:15 Crux Rhodes: “Moon Childe”, Birthing of a Cross-Gender Seasonal Entity
9:45 Aimee Herman: Challenging the various versions of gender through body and  language. What it means to be human, pressed into boxes, pushed down and the sound of (re)emergence.
10:15 Obsidian Absurd: “Femme as in F*ck You”, a burlesque
10:45 Sincerely Yours: “Beauty Queen Deconstruction”, a raw performance art piece addressing gender issues and expectations women face
11:15 Lesbian Under Ground: “Daily Target”, A performance addressing persecution of femininity

1512OP_LUMEN2016_STD_ecard

 

dial tone

I play a furiously combative game of phone tag with my body.

When my body finally picks up, call waiting beeps me out of line.

My body informs me that I am too elusive and not committed enough to my internal infrastructure.

 

There is an uncomfortably long [estimated 437 minutes] bout of silence between my body and I on the telephone.

My body is clearly housing a collection of disgruntlement.

 

I call up 1-800 Flowers and order a bouquet of 

just because with peonies and alstroemeria.

My body sends it back without hesitation.

 

I try again, knowing I have over three decades to make up to my body.

I paste letters to its skin. Create melodies for poems celebrating its bones, even the broken ones.

 

I make my body a meal of coq au vin; it reminds me its a vegetarian.

I bake my body cookies; it tells me it no longer ingests sugar.

 

I pay $4,700 for an apology in the sky. But it was windy that day and by the time my body looked up,

my words had swiped themselves away.

 

one day.

One day, you will rise out from the ghosts of your bones and declare your entire body a forcefield of beauty.

One day, doors will no longer be a vehicle for slamming or keeping others out, but the shape of a wooden welcome banner.

One day, you will walk outside and forget about the trauma of yesterday; instead, you will gasp at all the oxygen and color and music and calories awaiting to be consumed.

One day, you will not be afraid to keep going.

One day, you will finish all the books you had difficulty starting and then, write a poem for all the days that led you here.

One day, you will try out religion again.

One day, you will ask yourself out on a date and actually enjoy…no, savor… the company of your skin.

One day, you will eat without guilt, without mathematics, without purge.

One day, you will leave your declared sexuality behind and experiment with the language of all-of-the-above.

One day, you will dance in the middle of an ocean and flap your arms against the salt that has waited for your swallow.

One day, you will finally go to all the lands you read about in the Travel section of The New York Times.

One day, you will finish your novel.

One day, you will forgive yourself.

One day, you will learn how to trust men again.

One day, you will remove part of your body in order to feel whole.

One day, you will get married and it will not be synonymous with any other contract or relationship. It will be gorgeously queer.

One day, you will sleep through the night.

One day, you will recognize your body.

One day. One day. More.

before and then. after.

“I tried to concentrate on who I was before I became no one.”   –Roxane Gay (from “An Untamed State”)

Before, there were no roots. No deep breathing. Breaths just arrived naturally like high fives and appetite.

Before, there were no secret entryways carved out into closet walls. No scooping out of innards. Because then, everything seemed intact.

Before, there were no pronoun discrepancies. No body dysmorphia dislocation elocution elasticity. Because then, gender was pronounced in ink without eraser tip.

Before, blood was just blood. Gathered inside body like footnotes.

Before, breasts were waited on. Welcome mat in place for slightly delayed arrival.

Before.

And then. And then. Statements became questions and questions became concerns and concerns became diagnoses.

After…. there is still room for footnotes and nests to form in the crevices where the echoes are hushed. And all of this becomes just another poem. Another shout.out. Another misread op ed.

Or. An opening. For what arrives later on.

good with words

Recently, a Rabbi called me a wordsmith. He knew me many years ago, when my hair was a different color. I was not much like this person I am now. I didn’t want him to recognize me, and I was quite pleased that he didn’t.

I read a short poem and words about mourning at a funeral for my uncle. Afterwords, once all the salt that sifted out from both eyes had dissipated, and I, longside five other men, took on the role of pallbearer, he said to me, “You are quite the wordsmith; you should keep at it.”

I smiled because he had no idea how much I needed to be reminded that I do. I smiled because my sister heard and she looked at me with pride.

This man of God, saying to me, a human who teeters on the edge of atheism, that I am good with words. 

On a Friday night, I sit wearing nothing but skin and remnants of sick still stuck to my flesh. I light a stick of incense and encourage the smoke to breathe me in, wrapping its seductive trail all over me. When one stick burns out, I light another. Inhaling this nag champa tickled my stuffed nose, but gathered me into a deeper mindset.

I began to think of the time my mother stormed my bedroom, and threw out all of my incense. She thought I had it because of drugs. She had no idea that I had yet to begin my thunderous battle with addiction; I just enjoyed the smell.

Even now, I like lighting these aromatic perfumed sticks not to mask any other smell, but to remind me to breathe in deeper. To get lost in the curls of smoke.

All I could say was, “thank you,” to the Rabbi, even though I wanted to say so much more.

I wanted to say to the Rabbi, “Do you remember me? I used to be blond and my parents liked each other. But you must see a lot of rotating marriages. It is 2015 and all.”

I wanted to ask him, “I know Jews don’t believe in heaven or hell and I don’t either but. But what do you think about a human who no longer feels comfortable in the body they were born into? There are words for this, but for me, those words don’t quite fit. And Rabbi?” I’d continue.

“Rabbi, what I mean to say is, I’m not so good with words when I need to use them to describe how this all feels. And also….” Here is where I will pause for such a long time, I will watch this scholar of Jewish law, get uncomfortable, and even impatient.

“…The thing is, maybe I just have a difficult time committing to letters. And designations. And clubs. And groups. And classifications. And stereotypes. And….”

The last time I went to synagogue, I sat, nervously reading prayers, translated into English. I was with my partner, who practices.

I practice to0. But not religion.

I practice how to be.

I just said thank you to this Rabbi who knew me before puberty and mental illness and trauma. I’m much better with words on paper; I’m just not so good with words when they want to come out. Sometimes, they just need more time to prepare.

how to re/approach a body

originally published by great weather for MEDIA

 

Imagine feeling as though you have something stuck in your teeth. You swirl your tongue around, anxiously trying to dig at it because it is embedded too far in to approach using just your fingers. You can still eat, but this thing lounging in the grooves of your teeth does not let you forget.

This is how I feel in my body. I can eat and work. I can sleep and kiss. But there is something stuck in there that taunts me—sometimes silently, yet there are moments when I can do nothing but listen to the echoes of all that is jammed inside.

Bodies have been bothered for centuries; this problem I have is not new, nor interesting. To call my body a stranger or infiltrated chest of drawers has all been done before. There are no metaphors left to describe it.

So, what to call this…unease?

About six months ago, I performed a piece in a room full of strangers that addressed the topics of gender, identity and trauma on a body. I brainstormed all the ways I could speak this out without actually speaking and after many weeks of thinking, I could not get away from the one answer: nudity.

I have removed my clothes before in front of an audience, but never all of them at once and never in a way that did not abstractly address the issue(s) of my skin. But to speak out the dire truths of my scars, I needed to show them. All of them. Even the ones which might not be classified as such, like genitals.

I filled up placards with quotes that spoke to my vocabulary. Writers like Michael Cummingham, Ivan Coyote, and Kate Bornstein found their way onto white, neon yellow and green squares of cardboard. I also dripped a few of my own words onto the paper like queer, enough and even questions like what does it mean to be human?

Before the performance, I took time to ask myself what I needed from this. There are many things we cannot control in life and how others take this piece in was one of them. To be fair, I was a female-bodied human removing all my clothes; even though I had no intention to turn others on, there was a chance it could happen. I should mention that this piece was during a night full of mostly burlesque performance artists.

So, I wrote a short letter to my audience, which I never showed anyone, but it allowed me to articulate what I hoped for.

I want you to see the various genders on me. I want you to notice that although a/this body is/has been sexualized, what exists are the reverberations of trauma. I want you to notice your scars too. I want you to not call me girl/woman/miss/ma’am anymore. I want you to see the trans (movement) on me. I want you to read the queer tangled up in my tattoos and the words written on me. [Before the performance, my partner wrote down various words on my skin that I requested. Words I’ve been labeled by others and myself.] I want you to ask me questions. No one ever asks and how is anyone to know/learn/understand without asking. I want you to travel with me as I give you what I used to charge others to see. Except now…now…I want to remain whole. Or find my whole.

So, I started this by addressing how to re/approach a body.

Here is goes:

When my name was called, I approached the stage wearing all black. Music began to seep in like fog, filling the room. I removed button down shirt. Then pants. Then binder. Then underwear.

I commissioned an artist friend of mine to draw three separate panels: an over-sized pair of breasts, a male-bodied chest and a well-endowed penis. Throughout the show, I put the panels against my skin, approaching my body as though they were mine. With each switch of placards from illustrated parts to written words, I felt as though my skin was digesting. Gargling with language and genitalia. Suddenly, it did not matter how the audience took me in, I was gaining insight on myself.

I may always have this thing stuck in me, but maybe I don’t want to pick it out and remove it. Maybe I want this ambiguity, this uncertainly to remain. Maybe that is how I can re/approach it. As I said, I can still eat. And kiss. And breathe. I like feeling un-boxable and I can continue disrobing in various forms to connect with others. And myself.