success?

it is a story i have told thousands and thousands of times with wrists and foam. each slightly different than the last, but of a shared nature. today i pass the story to someone else, but the telling takes time and learning the narrative even longer. i forget that i know it by heart.

repetition has been theorized in many ways. there’s the butlerian track, the idea that the thing we call identity is actually the accretion of the repeated performances of given actions, speech acts, expressions that already possess cultural and symbolic meaning. i have repeated this story full-time for over five years now; the hellos, how are yous and LATTE FOR HERE, CAPPUCCINO TO GOs. am i become customer servant, barista from the persistent and exhausted repetition of these acts? have i dug myself into an identity trap?

two years ago i was on track to be an academic. but, academic is a word, a trade, an identity that never comfortably adhered to me. now i am overeducated. now my intellectual potential feels, well, underutilized.

and there’s the bunk, yet oft cited notion that 10,000 hours of repeating the same activity is the attainment of mastery. let’s see, 40 hours per week, 52 weeks a year (minus those three weeks of vacation i took to have top surgery, but who’s counting?), for 5 years adds up to a cool 10,400 hours. i have spent 10,400 hours of my life doing this one strange thing. sad, and yet is this the very definition of mastery? have i done something truly incredible here? and, now having achieved mastery, can i turn back to pass the process on to others?

i always said i didn’t want to be a teacher, because that’s what my mom and dad did and they both seemed stressed out a lot.

seems i can’t help myself.

****

how do i make meaning from my work? how do i resist making my work mean when it comes to my self and my identity?

i experience tension, pull from two sides. on one is the desire to do my work well and with care. from each detail, the grind, the tamp, the pull, the steam, the pour. i take care of each customer and take pride in doing my work well. because nothing is worse than spending the pittance that is your wage on an overpriced espresso drink, only to find that it’s bitter, acrid/sharp, overfoamed, underfoamed, melted, undrinkable. i have always tried to be the best at everything i do. but, that’s a holdover from my anxious youth. that’s a holdover from being raised as a woman, being told repeatedly that i had to work harder and do better to receive the credit and respect i was due.

barista is a transient occupation. people enter and exit at all times. it is hotbed of mediocrity. which i both love and hate.

on the other side is a punk, anticapitalist ethos. i want to slow down. i want to fuck up, spill, fail, a refusal to line someone else’s already overflowing coffers. i want to resist hierarchies and let things slip. i want to shout in the faces of people who treat me like an overly complicated cash register/coffee making machine. i want to banish coffee from the united states for the ecological impact of its transport and the economic impact on the folks who farm it for too little pay. i want to refuse to participate in the caffeine ideology that says we must always be rushed and productive, even if it means locking ourselves in jittery and unhealthy drug cycles.

****

a few weeks ago i took on a promotion. i took up a position of power, a slightly higher rung on the workplace ladder from employee to management. i feel, at long last, respected for the talent i have and the effort i put into my work (which is no doubt in part a result of my being perceived as a man now). but, i wonder whether management is an inherently fraught subject position. is it possible to be a “good” manager or have i tacitly consented to participate in an irreparable capitalist power dynamic? or, if we’re stuck in this moment of capitalism where labor is structured in this particular way, is it an act of harm reduction to have someone in a management position who is interested in creating a safe and healthy work environment for their staff?

of course, the new position has also come with an increase in my pay which is a contentious point as i navigate the choppy seas of neoliberal capitalism. increased pay and a managerial role are a boon when it comes to weathering my crushing student debt, my vulnerable position as a member of class that faces employment and housing discrimination, and the precarious nature of service labor. but, an increase in my pay stands on the backs of others receiving less. i watch my pay rise while the cooks and dishwashers who motor the entire food service industry in new york continue to be overworked and severely underpaid. the notion of deserving seems a moot point.

****

what does it mean to be successful? do i want success or is it just another chronormative ideology of progressive achievements that i would do well to critique/analyze/resist?

or would success look like something more simple? would it look like having friends and lovers, good food, peace and clarity, space for creative expression, space for contemplation of philosophy and the cosmos, a sense of meaning beyond who i am and what i do?

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on junk

he is old, pale, pinkish around the edges. he rotates beneath the hair dryer rotisserie style. ass, cock, ass, cock. old, pale, pinkish around the edges, flaccid. his cock is neither impressive nor unimpressive, it simply is. it looks like an eruption, a strange sneeze, a coincidence (accident?) of chromosomes or genetics. some in, some out just like belly buttons. his naked body is not an outlier here in the ymca locker room. another naked body approaches and passes. i moan to myself silently, ‘what ease, what ease.’ oh, to be anything but spectacular.

i mostly avoid men’s locker rooms. my logic brain knows that the majority of people i encounter each day have no idea that i’m trans, but my trans brain hasn’t caught up yet. i am simultaneously thrilled by this simple space of quasi-erotic homosociality, and mortified at the thought of being found out. i want to cruise and also i want to leave. now.

****

there’s a magical stretch of west 18th street between 8th and 9th avenue where i cruise with abandon. i am suddenly saturated with trans folks, fags. a man brushes past me as i mess with my phone. twenty yards down the sidewalk he turns fully around to look back at me. we catch eyes, smile. he turns on his heel and goes back on with his day. the arc of attraction is brief and i like that. it’s less messy that way.

it’s a short walk to christopher street pier from here. it’s a short walk to the trucks and abandoned warehouses, to the bars. i could walk there if i want, but it’s not the same anymore and anyway i wasn’t there. even in my imagination i can’t place myself, because there’s a lot of navigation, negotiation that goes into my casual fucking like is my body okay with you? am i packing? am i safe? my anxieties infiltrate my fantasies; even in unreality i can’t escape reality. i long for something i can’t access. then or now.

but, i’m not here to fuck, i’m here for a pelvic exam. i hate going to the lgbt clinic. they probe, they pry, they always make me feel like i’m doing something wrong. but, this little stretch of somewhere else, sometime else is cool i guess.

****

i realize that despite the fact that i’m completely naked, cloaked in a thin papery gown, legs spread in front of a complete stranger, the only thing i can think about is the fact that i wore two socks with holes in them today. how embarrassing.

i only let people i don’t care about fuck me. i guess it’s a good thing i don’t care about my gynecologist.

although, the last time i had a pelvic exam i cried. which is intimate.

she leaves. i grab a handful of condoms for unexpected encounters i won’t have. and two more for good measure.

****

my therapist asks if my frustration feels like taking steps backwards. i tell her no. because everything i ever hated about my body has been resolved. no more work necessary. i really fucking love my meat suit. i walk like i want, i cruise, i coast. i have never wanted or needed a different genital configuration. i have only wanted and needed a world where my body is inconsequential.

****

oh, to be anything but spectacular.

a very new york day

and sometimes you have one of those very new york days where you pack it all in. see, it wouldn’t make sense to schlep back to south brooklyn from your therapist’s office in manhattan before the show, but four hours is a long time to kill. you duck into a bar just off washington square park and nurse a beer while you read last exit to brooklyn, all the while cringing at the rawness, the violence, the poverty, the buried histories of gender transgression. how hip of you.

and you heard about this talk at an anarchist space near the diy venue and it ought to kill just enough time, so you go even though you hate going new places alone. you hop off the m train and turn yourself around three times before heading in the right direction (i mean, who even takes the m train?). you walk into a room of metal folding chairs, sparsely dotted with fresh-faced and well-meaning white folks. did i mention it’s a talk about gentrification? the bearded and very new york guy at the front makes several self-congratulatory jokes about new york time/anarchist time and decides to start talking 30 minutes late, which is fine, but i guess it means you’re gonna miss the punch line.

your defenses are up. what does it mean to have a conversation about gentrification ring-led by a straight, white cisgender man? what does it mean to have said conversation in a room absent the folks most affected? and, he proves you right within minutes, ‘while gentrification is in large part a race issue, i believe that it’s really a class issue.’ he proselytizes from his privilege, a privilege he’s attempted to skirt by shuffling off his academic life for the life of a union, working-class laborer. and, who gets to choose to be a part of the working class? which good marxists get to ignore issues of race, gender, sexuality, ability for the “good” of the proletarian struggle? he asks if there’s any questions, and you want to chime in with a play on his slightly condescending teacher voice and ask if he knows the root of the word gentrification, if he knows that whiteness is built into the very word that we call this phenomenon, but you don’t and white cis men’s voices continue to fill up the space. you would have left right away, but the only thing worse than offering your tacit consent to be talked at like this would be showing up to the show way too early and having to stand in a corner by yourself.

you leave the talk around the reagan era and maybe he would have disproved your suspicions, maybe he’s a good anti-racist after all, but you’ll never know. back out into the cold you go, and you’re excited because an idol, a real trans idol is playing this real small venue. but, you walk in and it’s stuffed to the gills and that old anxiety creeps in. everyone’s doing that punk show shuffle, which is really more shoving and you always figure out quick who the assholes are. the first one makes himself known, takes up his space during the first set when he yells to the singer, another one of your favorites, to sing the song about how cops suck because subtext: he’s sick of this gender shit. you wonder how so many cis men got into this gig about the end of gender and you wonder is this a good or a bad thing?

she comes on stage and offers intermittent selections from her journals, struggling with feelings of gender dysphoria in the hypermasculine world of anarchist punk. she punches you in the gut, because sometimes it’s harder for you to hear reflections of yourself than fictions about someone else. and, you are feeling it hard and doing that punk show dance that is mostly knees.

SOMETIMES THE UNIVERSE. SOMETIMES THE UNIVERSE JUST ILLUSTRATES POINTS FOR YOU.

because it’s another white cis man behind you, singing (yelling?) flat as fuck right in your ear. he is wailing, “DOES GOD BLESS YOUR TRANSSEXUAL HEART?” and you want to know if he’s allowed to sing along. you want to decide if it’s good that guys like him are being exposed to real trans lives, real gender non-conforming lives, but it’s really fucking unclear. maybe it’s just going to be another way for them to take up space, another battle for them to take up as their own. you want to start a movement in this moment, you joke to your friends that there should be a trans to the front rule like the riot grrrls did. you are only half kidding. and, a shout rings out from behind you, him again, inexplicably yelling ‘FUCK YOU!’

is it wrong to want some safe space, some space safe?

you linger after the show, hoping to meet your idols and do your awkward fanboy duties. and you do and you will spend the next day wondering if you embarrassed yourself because, hey! that’s how social anxiety goes. but, you got a real nice hug and you got to say thank you to somebody doing it right, somebody you wish you had known about when you were young. it’s 2am and it’s cold, a train to a shuttle to a train to a train before you get home and you decide it’s time. you stumble out into the night a little buzzed and say your goodbyes.

that’s always when your privilege smacks you right in the face. right when you’re feeling your own struggle.

she approaches and you pull a few crumpled dollars out of your pocket so she can eat. but, she doesn’t say good night. ‘damn,’ she says. ‘you are beautiful.’ and you don’t know where this is going just yet. ‘i could suck your dick real nice. i bet you have a nice dick.’ (spoiler alert: you don’t have one and you’re bad at lying and what the hell are you gonna say) you fumble with your words, you tell her you can’t and you tell her goodnight. ‘are you gay?’ she asks and you say yes which is only sort of true. ‘it’s ok, i’ll still suck your dick for you.’ you tell her you respect her and you wish her good luck and you hope she has a good night and she’s disappointed and you put your head down and you keep walking.

because, you create this. it doesn’t matter how trans you are, you’re white and you’re masculine-presenting and all the things you have rest on other people having too little. all the things that keep you off the streets keep her on them. and, how can you talk about straight white cis men like you’re not part of the problem? how can you navigate your pain, your trauma, your anxiety without forgetting your place? your race, your role, your consent, your participation.

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

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.