Also Fire

When everyday life is an act of rebellion

Brook Shelley

The date fizzled. She could tell I was trans, and I watched as interest left her eyes. I should've said "to hell with this woman," but my first thought was, "how do I pass?" The scene repeats at job interviews, over coffee, in the cab, meeting coworkers' partners. It's never any more fun. It turns out when you are the only living, talking transsexual woman folks have met, they assume all their questions are new ones. That they have figured out gender. They haven't. A friend recently said if anyone said anything new, original, or interesting about gender, her head would explode. Her head is firmly intact.

I put on my shoes one-handed. The cast around my left hand doesn't care what gender I was assigned. Nor did the cement that I hit, hard, with my elbow and hand. The strength to get back on the bike, ride to an appointment, then go to the hospital feels the same as what it takes to keep going every day. It's momentum, but it's also fire. A fire that says, "Look, I don't care what you think, we're not going anywhere." This glint of heat is in my eyes, and I see it reflected back by my sisters. We meet in dingy squats for punk shows, in coffee shops, at work, hesitant to notice each other.

Defining yourself by a one-time event like birth, or transition, is the wall we have to break through. I'm more than a word, or a letter on an ID. The punch line to a joke might be "tranny," but I take a breath and move forward. It looks like strength from the outside, but what is it when you don't know how else to be? Our existence depends on our stubbornness, a redefinition of ourselves, a literal standing up and saying, "I'm not who you said I was." There's coming out, and there's coming out, and the rest of the story is much more interesting.

Even the word surgery must only mean one thing for a woman like me. I don't get broken bones or appendicitis, right? Just a birth defect that my entire life is a march toward. On the morning of my surgery, the receptionist looks at me, and I am glad she only sees a woman. I sign in and make my way to the adjustable bed, shucking my clothes for a purple gown and socks without a discernible heel. A small DVD player is placed in my lap to show a hospital introduction video, and I think "Is my junk visible? Can I wear underwear against their directions into surgery?" Later a chaplain visits, and I joke about escaping Texas. He says he's sad that my dad never accepted me. I don't know how to react. A plastic hose, affixed to my gown, blows hot air across my legs. "This keeps your body at core temperature, and prevents infections," the nurse informs me.

A question asked in a trans writing workshop I attended once was, "What do two trans people talk about when they talk to each other?" As I put words to a page meant for other trans women to read, I think, "What do I say to you? How do I look you in the eye and not spiral into self-doubt? How do I write this for you?" One thing in common does not a friendship make, but we struggle in many of the same ways. We understand our community in-jokes and know the slang. We know that we don't get to have elders, because the ones that AIDS, or cops, or johns didn't get often got themselves.

Surgery is a series of indignities. A string of new people popping into the idea of a private room, defined by a curtain, to poke, prod, and attach you to a bag of salt water. I'm thinking about brunch. About the woman who will pick me up, a person who had the hots for me through whatever cultural avoidance training we all took on trans bodies, and our relationship to each other. I want to eat brunch with her. A man uses a sharpie to mark the hand to be split open. I laugh. "It's so we don't forget." I can't tell if he's serious.

Are we required to learn politics and vernacular with our first shot of estradiol, the first time we go out into the world as ourselves? Do we have space for ourselves to be messy, or is that relegated to the other, the not trans, the cis? I get tired of the infighting, and the kill-or-be-killed attitude that appears when we spend time with each other, online or offline. The power to overthrow a game rigged against us sometimes looks like giving up a little on perfection. Those politics and impeccable thoughts aren't worth the splintering. I want to be strong enough to hold myself together even if you lean on me. I want to lean on someone too.

I wake up with sharp. Pain. Digging. Into. Me. "Nine" is the answer to how bad it feels. Will anything be a ten? Will I ever admit, "I'm weak and this hurts and do what you can to make it stop?" Finally, the good drugs. Groggily I make my way to the bathroom. Clothes on. Pants are hard to fasten with one thumb, and it's really about leverage, and the topography of the wall, and my body. There. I am wheeled from the hospital, climb into her car, and I breathe. Brunch arrives, and I remember that fire needs fuel. I lean on her.

Each day, getting up, going about our work and living is an act of rebellion. I'm not sure where I'll go, but the pressure to not be here, to hide away and avoid the stares is strong. I've been stronger. The strength I find through friends is bolstered by these acts of rebellion. Maybe my stubbornness will join with theirs, and together we'll build something better. So I keep moving and stop hiding. I come out again into the light.


Gender, Identity


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