Thursday, February 5, 2009

Faigelah Verklempt

You know, just when I begin to fall into the narcotic and compelling fantasy that it’s all about where there’s hair, and what makes a man, I’m jostled awake by the weirdly sweet, clotted cream voice of Antony. If you don’t know Antony, let me introduce you briefly. He’s a deep-visioned, deceptively gentle-voiced singer and performer who identifies as transgender. His work is hard to take…his sound can be challenging and he can, at first listen, read lyrically very dark. I’ve always stuck with him, though, since being introduced to him a few years ago – stuck it out through my discomfort and unease because his work is so transcendent.

His resonance, and what resonates most about this idea I call “transgender,” is this un-bittered place of violation; he sings from a waking dream of dancing motes in sunlight while being sexually abused. He speaks of transgendered children, and gay children too, as being those kids who were often found “dancing alone in the light.” He thinks of homosexuality and transgender as a gift.

It’s a very romantic notion and the cynic in me thinks it’s a delicious conceit – but there is some truth there too, for me anyway. I never felt a part of the rest of humanity, and I knew, I’ve always known it had something to do with my gender, my sexuality. It’s tempting to focus on the mechanics or the sexual aspects of the transgendered or gay but as Antony points out, this is reductive. It fails to reveal the true essence of the gender outlier, which is shamanic or alchemic.

The gay or transchild often lives in a place of beautiful magic. As we grow up, we think we are imaginative, that we developed “coping skills” of escape, of self-creation. Artists think this too. But what if that realm exists for all of us – what if we didn’t make up a “safe” place in our heads? What if we just went there?

I see us all, alone on wooden floorboards; all the children are outside playing raucous, bellicose even. We are dancing with a broom and all the things that are sparkling in this sunbeam. We are never alone: look at all our friends!

I was trespassed time after time after time. I know this is true for many gay and trans kids. This is the cauldron where this mettle is tested. I was trans, a true outlier, before I was ever touched, or made to do things I didn’t want to do, or lived in a kind of choked fear of my fellow first-graders and certain adults, day after day after day after day.

So we don’t retreat into this inner-world to hide, we expand inviolate into a dimension only some of us can travel, and I recognize you and you and you there. My whole family is a family of outliers. Weirdos, smarty-pants – never picked to be on the team, or only picked because we had developed tremendous ass-kicking skills and so were feared but not exactly liked. We find, by degrees, that these picked-on kids were sometimes portals, offered windows into other worlds, and that often they were sweetly eager to show us what they saw. I know I love sharing this place with you. It makes me feel connected.

There’s something about this culture that does want to take a trans-person and reduce us to titillating parts. Shit, we do that with everyone else, right? But if I’m incautious, if I’m not paying attention, I do it to myself. Sometimes the way I know to connect with you is to make myself a buffoon, a little less-than. Sometimes I just want to fit in, and what “fits” better than dick and pussy? And I’ll seek entertainment over epiphany many days – that’s why I’m more often listening to the usual indy pop than an artist like Antony. It is true you can only take so much.

The secret trick is to not get lost in that, not mistake artifice-for-art kind of thing. The artifice is make-up and passing; it’s the freakshow glamour of pregnant man or Amanda Lepore. That’s the E-Tranny Channel. Totally necessary, useful in its way. But at the end of our program what shall we have learned? Some of us break through Maury and become healers. RuPaul did it. Boy George not so much. The judges are still out on Thomas Beattie. Who do I want to be when I grow up?

The fruits rot when they ripen too long in front of a mirror. The temptation to narcissism is superb. That’s why flamboyant men and women get stuck; they forget all that peacock was supposed to be a spacesuit to another dimension, and fell asleep into a dream of a large showy bird.

I am not a man and I have only ever been a woman for minutes, and those are suspect. I think I’ve only ever been a woman as a sexual kink, a perv trip, kind of like I’ve been a horse and a gay man and a cop, depending on what you needed at the time. I really am something else entirely, or some midpoint, some gender chimera. I think I’ll spend less time worrying about the kind of man I’ll be, or what it means to be a man, or how I should act or dress or piss or smell, how I should swagger or cut a fart, how I should garden or tie my shoes or vote. I got into this meshugass to wake my damn self up, not to trip over the garden-hose of my own dick. Oh, I wish, don’t I!?

Let’s make a list of the gay people, the possibly trans-people we know, we grew up around, who changed our way of seeing things. Let’s test this thing, let’s see where it goes. I’ll start with my best friend in high-school, who taught me about Iggy and Lou, whom I “dated” and to whom I said “you know, when I put my hands down here, this is not what I expect to find.”



  1. "Covered in charcoal, head to toe
    Sticky, sticky, charcoal, I want you to know
    How I long till I get these off?
    They're so convenient but at such a cost
    King I go out to plead
    Sticky, sticky warmth, come and rush to me
    I want to know, I want to see
    There's life for me

    Oh, how I long till I get these off?
    They're so convenient but at such a cost, oh."

    My Morning Jacket, "Cobra"

  2. I loved this post. I listened to the Antony interview on NPR last week as I was driving out to Truth or Consequences. I feel like it changed the way I understand myself in some fundamental way and I can't articulate how. Like the difference between an event and an experience when an experience lifts you out of your everyday reality and when you return everything is changed.