autonomy 2k16

i hop the subway three stops early to take my feet home. a sharp right into the park and the expanse unfolds before me. the sky lit up in gradient first pink then orange then blue. i have taken to walking or maybe more brooding. i have taken a shine to the cold, probably because it was absent for so long and my body’s rhythms couldn’t cope. so long without it, so far from the natural order of things that here my organs lean into it even as it bites at me and turns my fingers pink.

i pass a squirrel that seems to have just perished in the middle of looking for a nut. it remains frozen almost wholly intact. i pass a very robust pile of horse shit. i pass a downed pedestrian light that even with it’s body so painfully askew continues to flash orange, on/off on/off. i pass the white bright ice skating rink and squint. a reminder that this space, this last bastion of the commons is putting up a very weak fight against the creep of commodification.

i pass my exit and keep going. i hang a spliff distractedly from my lip.

i churned up another cockamamie scheme to wrench myself from wage slavery this week. then i poured hours and hours into formulating a business plan and calculating profits and dreaming, dreaming. and, i suppose the impetus for this brooding walk is that, for better or worse, my therapist has just talked some sense into me. it cut the euphoria a bit. she’s right. brooding seems right.

and that little dream was born of a security camera. they make them almost cute now, bright white apple-esque exterior and mesmerizing blue light. it sits behind me who sits behind the cash register. the cash register that is now locked because laborers aren’t to be trusted. locked in the panopticon, my precarity becomes visceral. i almost lost my job last month because amid all of my other earnest and distracted toiling i had failed, apparently, to sweep adequately. and you know, despite how punk it would be, i have never taken a dime.

finished, i shove the little burnt ball of paper into my pocket. finished, i exit the park.

i slip into the corner bodega, clank bottles on the counter. the man at the register refers to me as the “maricon” to the deli guy as though i haven’t heard it before, as though i don’t know the language. i slip out and pretend not to care. he doesn’t need to know. pendejo.

to be at the behest of others. not to be at the behest of others.

music spills into my ears as i settle my headphones back on my head. my headphones that i wear so i won’t have to hear what anyone else is saying about me. that i wear so people won’t think i’m available for conversation. that i wear so i can fantasize about being wholly alone, wholly in my own world on this densely crowded street. i change the words in my head:

autonomy 2k16, autonomyyyyy 2k16

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redistribution/theft

he asks me for a cup of ice and i oblige. it’s cold outside, finally, with the wind chill leaving the temperature in the teens. i wouldn’t kick anyone out anyway, but with the weather like this anyone who wants to spend a few minutes in the warm and calm ambience of a coffee shop has my blessing. he lingers nervously. i’m not sure when the exact moment was, but at some point during my end of the night cleaning process he took the whole tall, thick glass vase and all of its contents, probably around $20, out the door with him.

after the initial frustration, the letting loose of more than a few curse words, i calm myself. i try to remember my politics. i try to remember my relative class privilege and the (overheated) room where i’ll lay my head tonight. i try to remember the systems.

he probably needed it much more than i do.

for the poor and working classes, theft is a radical act of wealth redistribution. we are raised to believe that low-income and houseless folks have brought their state upon themselves by not working hard enough, by not being smart or savvy enough.  we are raised to ignore the acts of theft, the acts of exploitation that produce a society in which some people have thousands of times more money than any one person could ever need in a lifetime while some are forced to sleep on the streets in the dead of winter.  for a person in such a position to take something back, to do the work of surviving in a society that has left them for dead is an affirmative and powerful act.

and, this is par for the course in capitalist society. the same systems keep me employed, fed, clothed, housed and him without these things. we have to accept that the uneven distribution of wealth and private property means that sometimes we will have things stolen from us, sometimes we will be mugged. because for some people this is the only viable option. nobody is doing it for fun.

still, it troubles me, how embattled we are. or, rather, how embattled we are against one another and not the folks who are exploiting us. my co-worker jokes that the right thing to do would have been to come in and rob the business, not to steal tips from someone who does not belong to the petit bourgeois, the management class, the ranks of the wealthy. i cringe a little, but to some extent it makes sense.

i recall how giddily i watched as a man at the 7-11 across the street from me stuffed a pillowcase with dozens and dozens of pints of ben and jerry’s. i have no idea what he possibly could have been doing with that much ice cream. i just stood and stared, as did the employees at the opposite end of the store, as he dropped them in one by one. when he finished his work, he sprinted out of the shop and into the cold night. the employees shrugged, debated calling the police, and ultimately decided not to. why subject someone to that when it wouldn’t change their status as the exploited workers of a multi-million dollar corporation? why call in members of a classist, racist institution to take down another one of our black brothers? it was one of the most beautiful things i’ve witnessed in all of my time as a brooklyn resident. a radical shrug, a revolutionary act of indifference.

of course, the city is peppered with such acts of resistance, but on a larger scale the status quo remains. and, i suppose all of this is to say it frustrates me that we have so little choice but to take from one another. it frustrates me that if donald trump had a tip jar, it’d be guarded by a line of police who could shoot you with impunity if you stepped anywhere near it. it frustrates me that it is always the folks who have the least who give the most, while the upper classes clutch their wealth greedily. it frustrates me that our precarity and the quotidian exhaustion of attempting to survive neoliberal capitalism keeps us locked in cycles of taking from one another, cycles of recalling and forgetting the thieves at the top who’ve made this world such a ruthless place.

to be resilient

last spring and summer were sky blue. fall and early winter were pearl which really read as silver because you get what you pay for, and i paid 99 cents at CVS. initially it was black, the halloween gateway, the neutral zone. emboldened, black bled into fuck you hot pink. and, it was around that time that the neighborhood started referring to me as that barista who paints his nails.

but, they’ve been clean since christmas. i let the last flakes of pearl-which-really-reads-as-silver chip off and each time i pick up the bottle to start again something gives me pause. i remember that this small act of self-expression is really a big act of rebellion, and i just haven’t been up to shouldering that weight.

i have been brazen, maybe too much so.

each phase has come with it’s particular violences. the enforced femininity of my high school years left me feeling sick to my stomach most of the time with little explanation as to why. for my senior prom i gleefully and haphazardly brushed globs of pearlescent polish on my toenails, slipped into a cute dress, tucked a rose behind my ear. most days i kept myself to strict regimen of feminine presentation; i was sure to wear a skirt at least once a week, i reserved my baggy hooded sweatshirts for particularly rough days, i put on mascara each day even if i didn’t want to. but, i bubbled with pleasure getting ready for prom; i sunk into the lushness of full-fledged femininity. it didn’t exactly seem wrong.

and, i remember vividly the day i flipped the script, the day i made a left at the american eagle (yeah, i know) instead of a right. it was a maroon and navy striped sweater, XS and i was certain that i was never going back. something about high school made sense or almost did. i cut my hair short. somebody called me butch and it adhered to me just like that enforced femininity. suddenly, i was not masculine enough. my shoes belonged in the women’s section, my high-pitched voice and my swishy gestures made people question my commitment to the gold-star, bro butch aesthetic that was so prized on my college campus. and, did i make that left turn just to get caught in another labyrinthine trap?

and, how those first seasons in boston hardened me. the man who seethed at me and called me a “carpet muncher” as i walked past. the person who looked in disgust at my crotch in spandex shorts, then back to my face, then back to my crotch until i yelled “deal with it!” and turned on my heel to walk away. the guy at alewife station who shouted “i’m going to kill you, you fucking dyke,” when i refused to speak to him. i pushed hard to be respected as something not-woman. i started lifting weights regularly. testosterone slowly shifted my shape and the more recognizable i finally became, the more redoubled efforts seemed to fit me neatly into a cultural norm. this, after all, is the story we’ve been sold.

our identities are nothing if not persistent, resilient. feeling comfortable in my body allowed me the wiggle room to finally wholeheartedly explore my gender identity. and it started with wearing nail polish which felt like a magic salve. i could have a beard and pink nails. i could wear my incongruence proudly. i could make material the flux that fills my mind. and, i think of my gender like a pendulum’s swing. i am so emphatically both, yet i am so extremely neither that my comfort zone lies somewhere in the central portion of the arc. a delicate balance, the gentle sway of androgyny as boy body meets femme expression.

and, how the giant fuck you that is every word poured from my lips, that is every refusal to conform, that is living in this body that is male and female and everything in between got choked from my throat on christmas day. standing naked in my window, hand clutching cunt and pleading with hatred to just let me be, just let me be. our society reserves a special kind of hatred/violence/surveillance for transgressive femininities, for boy presenting bodies that refuse to be masculine or male or whatever. all of my cocksure strutting around, my out-and-proud orientation towards the world came to a crashing halt. i remembered that i am not safe. i do not know if i am safe.

i think a lot about what it means to call myself femme, to claim that identity as someone who mostly walks the world perceived as a man. i think of how fucked up it is that i feel guilty for not pushing harder, for not living more authentically, whatever that means. i want to push harder, i want to transgress further, i want to transcend every act of violence that has ever kept me from my truth. but, i guess i’d rather be alive and unharmed than to be so brazen as to walk down the street in lipstick and combat boots and a sensible black dress.

because, some days it’s a small miracle that you put on those boots and make it out the door. some days it’s your own quiet little riot as you walk down the street in a world that sort of wants you dead or at least just to be less visible or at least just to be a little more normal or at least just to be a little more quiet. some days it’s an act of self care not to be so brazen, not to push boundaries because it’s exhausting to spend so much of your time feeling unsure if you’re going to just be okay.