apocalypse dreams

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.

on consent in trans and gay community (full version)

an edited version of this piece can be found at
http://www.trans.cafe/posts/2016/7/18/we-need-to-talk-about-consent-in-the-trans-gay-community

It is the story of every survivor who speaks out about their history of sexual violence, and you know that it is true.

That you will start to wonder if you should have kept your mouth shut. That you will be gaslit, and you will start to wonder if it really happened. That you will start to wonder if you’re just a bad person, and you deserved it. That you will start to wonder if you are a ghost.

****

Two weeks ago at a party designed for trans men and cis men to meet and cruise with one another, a cis man sexually assaulted me and crossed my boundaries of consent. This is not new to me or to many of the transmaculine folks that I love and am in community with; I am a repeat survivor of sexual assault, and while I have hopes for a different world, I expect this wasn’t the last time. At the time of the incident, I was confused about what had happened, and I felt unsure how to respond beyond just powering through. The following day the memory resurfaced in the middle of my shift at work, sending me into a spiral. I was deeply triggered. My breath grew shallow and anxiety flooded my nerves.

After processing with a good friend who had been at the party that night, I realized that I needed to take further action not only for my own safety, but for the safety of all of the other trans and queer folks in my community. I decided to speak up. So, I sent a message to the party producer, a white trans man, explaining what had happened and asking for two things: first, that the person who assaulted me be banned from future events, and second, that we start a conversation about how to make the event a safer and more consensual space in the future. To me, these felt like two small and simple ways to remedy the situation, to aid in my own healing, and to work towards building the queer cruising space I’ve long dreamed of.

The party producer responded by telling me that I should have told someone right when it happened so that they could have called the police. Like many trans, queer, and feminist folks, I am critical of the police, and I am aware that trans people and survivors of sexual assault in particular have often been mistreated, harassed, and not believed by the police. In addition, the person who assaulted me is a person of color. The police have escalated their murders of unarmed POC, especially black folks, in the past few weeks; getting the police involved would mean risking someone’s life. My aim was to seek accountability within the community, and hopefully spark more dialogue about how to make our spaces safer. Instead, I was victim blamed and told that it would be a liability for the event producers to mention anything about consent at the party or on the event page.

So, I decided to go public. I posted about our interactions and the event producer’s responses on social media in order to spread the word about what had happened to me and to let my community know that the event is not safe for trans and POC folks. In the flame war that ensued, I had a trans man call my non-binary identity into question with vitriolic and hateful words because I have a beard and am on testosterone. I had a person I haven’t spoken to in over ten years drag up stories about interactions from our childhood. I had plenty of folks who didn’t believe me, and others who said i should just get over the incident because it wasn’t that bad.

What happened to me was not merely a touch, but an intention, an attempt to forcibly penetrate my body. How do you describe this to someone in detail? How do you do so without requiring yourself to share intimate details of your prior trauma? What language can we use to jar people from this idea that touch, words, dynamics that aren’t exactly physically violent can still do and enact harm, can produce a culture where rape is considered acceptable?

****

I have been thinking a lot about why so many of the trans men involved in the party, all of whom are white, have had such an averse reaction to my decision to be vocal about my assault and, I think it boils down to two things.

First, is a desire to assimilate with cis men at any and all costs. As trans folks, we are often fed narratives about who we should aspire to be from a cisnormative and cissexist world. We are made to believe that we are lesser or that we are sick if we don’t align neatly with strict, dichotomous gender roles; and, even that we are lesser simply because we are trans. In the gay male community, which is predominantly made up of cis men, the impulse to assimilate feels heightened. Add to that the gay male community’s denigration of femininity and celebration of white cis masculinity, and you have a toxic combination. I have been in this position, this mindset, as have many of my friends. I have so longed to fit into gay culture that I’ve compromised myself just for acceptance. This very attitude breeds a sense of desperation that has, ironically enough, landed me in situations where I’ve encountered some of my worst experiences of assault, of willful non-consensual behavior, of misgendering, and of discrimination.

Additionally, one of the ways rape culture has been perpetuated is through dissemination of this idea that consent check-ins ruin the mood or are unsexy. The kind of consent check-ins I have with folks are quick and simple: “Is it okay if I do x” or “how are you feeling?” I have never felt that someone asking whether they can touch me makes an encounter less hot; if anything, I’m probably more attracted to that person for their compassion. From all of my experiences, it seems that gay male culture is simply obsessed with holding on to backwards ideas about consent and safe spaces. Just today a person called me a “tourist” in gay male culture who is trying to ruin everyone’s fun with my “sex-negative radical feminism.” Gay cis men (and the trans men who put them on a pedestal) aren’t having these conversations the way queer and trans folks, including cis men, are having them in my community. I think the party producers are afraid they might alienate gay men by bringing up consent to which my response is: why would we want those people in our spaces anyway?

Second, there are incredibly high stakes to taking down rape culture in our society. Rape and sexual assault are endemic to patriarchy; rape and rape culture are structural violences that enact and enforce patriarchy, while simultaneously being informed by it. White cis men benefit from this system more than any other group of people. But, trans men rape, too. And, trans men also benefit from patriarchy. Aligning with rape culture is yet another way of assimilating with cis men, another backwards attempt to fit in with a white, cisnormative, patriarchal ideology that is actively doing unspeakable harm to our queer, trans and GNC, and POC community members.

Masculine folks, cis or trans, feel the need to hold on to attitudes about consent, because their privilege is contingent on this world where certain people can violate other peoples’ bodies with impunity. It is an unspoken code; if we don’t say anything about this, if we treat it as though it’s not important, then we can continue to uphold this behavior as a necessary component of the system that we benefit from. What is troubling, is that this tactic also silences male and masculine spectrum survivors of sexual assault. Folks feel they cannot speak up without fear of being considered traitors to patriarchy. As though that would be a bad thing.

This is a concern that extends beyond gender and sexuality into notions of ownership writ large. The violence of attempting to violate someone’s body sexually grows from the same roots as white capitalism and imperialism. It grows from the idea that some people are less human and less worthy of respect and dignity than others. Or, worse yet, that they are property to be owned, used, and discarded.

****

I came forward with my story because I want to live, to enact, and to build the world I dream of. This is the lesson I have learned from so many utopian thinkers, prison abolitionists, and queer anarchists. Through telling my story, it came out that another transmasculine person had been harassed by the same man who assaulted me that night. I’m deeply saddened that they were also made to feel unsafe, and while I didn’t need any further justification for my actions, knowing that I made someone else feel less alone has given me the strength to continue this fight. I am not here to wait until things get better while folks continue to get harmed. I am not here to make change for the future or for the next generation. I am here to be present in this world and to make this world better through my daily practices, my words, and the way I navigate spaces and interpersonal relationships. I am here to do the work.

If you want to stand with me, if you want to build this world think about your own practices of consent. Ask before you touch someone always but especially in sexual situations. With everyone, trans and gender non-conforming folks in particular, think about asking what parts of their body are and aren’t okay to touch and what language they use around their body. If you are a party producer, consider putting a note on your event page or a sign at your event teaching folks about consent and letting them know they will be held accountable for any actions that violate another person’s boundaries. If you are a survivor, think about ways we can call for accountability that don’t involve going to the police.

We can build this world, and the overwhelming upswell of folks who have supported me, stood by me, and fought on my behalf let me know that we are already doing so, right here and right now.

aftermath

content warning for discussion of sexual assault



it is the height of summer now. the whole world is heating up quick, flush with green, and i can feel brooklyn shudder. we are busted up and breaking, on the verge of being reduced to ground. nothing feels right here. each day is a deluge.

****

aftermath is derived from an old germanic term. it means the grass that grows after the initial crop of hay is harvested. it marks the life, weak yet aspirational, that subtends the wreckage of reaping. at some point we must have realized that pulling plants from the ground was its own sort of violence and that the flora that survives the devastation is never quite the same. that’s when we forgot what aftermath really meant, when it became what it is now.

we humans are good at tearing even fallow ground to pieces.

****

it was also summer when i finally realized i had been raped.

chris was charming and fifteen years older than me. chris was the first man i’d ever slept with.

one day when the fresh, thin red scars across my chest were in the height of their healing, he invited me over to watch a movie. it seemed like a caring gesture, the kind i hadn’t seen from him yet. i told him i was still tender and sore. i told him i was still immobilized and raw and he saw an opportunity to take advantage. he plowed past my boundaries again, each time leaving a little less and a little less and a little less. he told me he missed my breasts.

i was already moving to new york, and it seemed like the only way out. on my last day in boston he told me he was moving to new york too, and we went on like this until the season changed to fall, and i finally gathered up enough strength to tell him to never come back.

it was a year later, a new and first summer in the city when a sick feeling in my stomach evolved into a revelation. i did not know how to say no; i was devastated, i was plucked clean off the stem.

and, how do i make myself grow, flourish again when i have been reduced to chaff?

****

i want to be made of stone, but i also i want to be porous.
i want to be rock, but i also want to be soil.
i want to be a volcano erupting spewing noxious gas into the atmosphere, but i also want to be a tree that grows tall and breathes life back into the lungs of the world.
these desires are hard to reconcile.

****

the world is a constant state of aftermath now. the devastation is daily, it is micro and macro, global and local, pointed and extended in time. there is no end to the wreckage, and thus no end to the grieving half-lives that supersede it.

the mass shooting is the suicide bombing is the police brutality is the ecological devastation of our planet is the hit and run is the most recent in a long line of men who have violated my body because they see me as the commons, as ground to lay claim to.

****

i end each night with a prayer for it to crumble so something fresh and vibrant and untamed can grow again. it is a prayer for the end of the aftermath.