in dreams: the sky lit up in hues of night vision green like news footage of rounds upon rounds of bombs being dropped on iraq. or the plane buzzed just overhead, hit the ground and burst into black, billowing clouds of smoke. each time i was the only one left, completely alone and forced to figure out how to cope in the aftermath, this strange new world. there was no sense left, only why?
people often ask me how i knew i was trans. or how long i’ve known. or did i know when i was just a kid. but, knowledge implies fixity, knowing suggests consciousness. i want to banish this question. “how long have i not known?”, i want to say, and leave it at that. it makes for a better story, one that weaves its way around a gaping hole, the very absence of a concept so fundamental to the plot.
second grade: boys v. girls war and where exactly do i stand? i have just started going to church. they chased me into a little white dress, drew an oil cross on my forehead, surrounded me with baptism babies but i am seven, a sore thumb. i straddle the line in the playground gravel; i am trying to make peace.
i’d like to think i knew when that little boy i loved and me pissed together in his bathroom and tried to figure out if we were different. i’d like to think i knew when mom flipped on the daytime talk shows and we’d watch sex change freaks reveal truth as identity and fight with their fists and lose their wigs. i wish i had known that as i made a sharp turn into my twenties she’d point the finger of those words ‘sex change’ at my newly boy-bound body like someone holy shouting ‘shame, shame.‘ and when i reimagine it i grew straight from that awkward little tomboy in oversize shirts to a person who knows their body is a place of comfort. but, tomboys don’t mean a thing about gender, they all said. even freud said so, he said little girls grow out of wanting to be boys when they grow up to be straight women. i chased myself into that blue prom dress. i batted my little lashes and tucked a flower into my long red hair.
track practice, 11th grade: my feet pound the pavement of the country road back to the high school. i dodge roadkill, fur and blood imprinted on the shoulder. overhead six military planes fly low buzzing the trees, circling back and forth unrelenting. i quiver in fear. later someone will tell me it was “reconnaissance training” and i will wonder what strange thing they could possibly be looking for in this bumfuck rural town. for now i’m sure i’ll die this way.
post-9/11 america is a nation structured by anxiety (though hasn’t it always been this way?). xenophobic racial anxieties exploded into a hearty reinvestment in white supremacy and white imperialism. those same anxieties demanded the reinforcement of gender and sexual norms, even among what had once been considered the deviant gay minority. we marry under red, white, and blue; we marry for the sake of the nation. my transition from the looseness of childhood androgyny into the enforced femininity of adolescence finds its nexus at precisely the moment when four crashed planes reminded us of our fallibility, our vulnerability to penetration. this is not a coincidence. being a good american meant being a good girl. being a good girl meant repressing and channeling the discomfort i felt around my gender identity into a fear of planes and bombs and global warfare; it was, coincidentally or not, a different kind of envisioning of apocalypse.
19: i have these dreams most every night now. curled in bed in a lover’s arms, she knows nothing; she doesn’t hear the bomb ticking every time i get undressed. i call out of work sick, i watch the flames lick my skin. what follows is the hospital. what follows is medicine and endless talking and is this a disease? mom asks why i cut my hair short and she’s crying, crying. alarm clock has woken me up again, he’s pacing the hallway back and forth and karen’s in the next bed over fast asleep; tomorrow she will steal the flowers they bought for me. paper bedding and thin sheets, thick blood between my legs and a shower without a lock. i feel sick when i get dressed; doesn’t everyone feel sick when they get dressed?
my bound chest becomes the central point of surveillance. an awkward arch, like a question mark that asks if you are not legible how can i see you at all? or if you are not legible can i see too much of you? my decision to transition cannot be chalked up to self-knowledge, even now. it was a response, reactionary.
needles and scalpels, meat and bones, and the marrow of what it means to change. because the hospital is also the place of possibility, the necessary condition for the shift that leaves me bearded and breastless. what do they mean by science and medicine? liquids and quick fixes that respond to the circumstances we’ve created. the surgeon pulls back my paper gown, makes a map for himself in purple marker across my chest, inflicting violence with tight precision. i enter the battlefield, counting backwards from 100, and when i wake the bloodshed is over. all that’s left to do is heal.
i share space and infrastructure now with the hollow that once held the twin towers, with the phallic structure a giant middle finger pointed towards the rest of the world that flies under the moniker of freedom. but, i live liberation and things are almost different now because i learned how to scream from my belly. to scream no to empirical evidence. to scream yes to the end of the west, to clouds and smoke and coming out of the dust alone. an embrace of the apocalypse dream, i have done away with meaning, meaning i refuse. break it down, destroy it, tear it apart. i am all impulse and gesture, i am instinct in the long pause, the accumulation of moments, the groping along, the crisis of the everyday.