Thursday, November 18, 2010

I Forgot I Had Gills When I Got Here

After a panel discussion last night, someone in the audience leaned his head in close to mine and said “So. You were pretty vague about your gender up there.” I said “’transman’ isn’t vague” but he was insistent. “Well, later, you were saying something about this other space…” 

Oh yes, the “other space.” The interstices. I imagine bodily gender as a cellular structure, within which floats two, oh, let’s call them mitochondria. These objects, "male" and "female," in their solidity, have been mistaken  for the entire organism. Trans, using this metaphor – I know, bear the fuck with me – is the cytoplasm. In this way we can begin to see the fluid as having substance, of being substantial. I haven’t been around here much lately because I have been hella writing for dumb school – every class I’d chosen requires what amounts to a paper a week, of the kind that demands a works cited page – the creation of which takes more of my time than the actual writing. I’m that guy. Works cited is like algebra to me. Anytakepityonanancientundergrad, I recently wrote a paper about consumer identities vis a vis transgender, in which I suggested that “transition” become a gender placeholder. 

Transition, as typically understood, is a deceptive verb because it relies upon moving between fixity that exists only as an idea – that is, as an idea of gender as two poles (no pun intended). It’s not that these two genders don’t exist – male and female are not “constructs” entirely, they’re real, they have substance, right? But whatever they’re composed of makes man/woman appear different depending on where you’re standing. Nonetheless, as subjective and illusory they sometimes seem, there they are. They are floating in the buoyant and balmy jelly of transition. If gender were a map, then Male and Female would be two delightful (if demanding) little islands. Rosie might take her cruise ship there, and, depending on which side of the island the liner landed, shipmates might be greeted with jeers or joy. 

I’d like to offer transition as a place, as a “sea of possibility,” if I may quote my beloved Patti Smith, and I believe I may. I might on occasion hoist my anchor and harbor myself in the Bay of Manlitude, but I don’t have til sundown to build a lean-to and find water because there’s no need to stay. It’s not that I don’t feel some relationship, a kinship, with man – I do. But I think my kinship makes me more of a cousin than a brother. Man is something once removed.

Does trans longing ever cease, ever cede to something else? Whatever alterations I make, will I always ache for something else, something more? I like my body just fine – and having a “mussy” (you can break that down yourself, Smarty) seems like the best of all possible worlds sometimes…but I would be lying if I said I no longer suffer phantom limb syndrome. Do bodies born with penises ever long to experience what it might be like to have a vagina? To not have this mess of giblets always cluttering their plates? How strange must it be to have one’s insides enclosed in a drawstring purse between one’s legs! It’s like being permanently at a Renaissance theme park somehow – oh, there’s my clove orange! It seems obtuse and archaic…and yet…

Well. I can visit the island, but this transperson can never stay. It’s up to me to embrace the ocean – less defined, indefinable, peppered with terrifying, wondrous creatures; it’s briny, moody, and capable of scattering me like hermit crabs on the shore. It’s so way bigger than me, so way bigger than anything I know – those two islands for instance, and anything else that may emerge from its depths, I’m incapable of fully understanding it. Nevertheless, I know it’s real. 

So swim with me, transpeople, nontranspeople too. Let’s join, let’s link, and be tossed by these waves. They’re feisty now because they’re disgruntled with those islands – the ones that think they’re all there is. But the islands are really just toddlers – they haven’t matured enough to understand that an entire universe exists around them, with them, in them – not for them. It may our oceanic mission, to wash up upon their baby beaches, and let those island dwellers ponder what else might be out there beyond their carefully limned, yet ever shifting shores. They fear a return to the sea, my friends, as do we all. We’re just lucky we live there already.


  1. Why have I not been aware of you and your delightful writing before this? I am following you on Twitter #rightfuckingnow. And you love Patti Smith, too! Clearly it's meant to be. However, if I think of my "mess of giblets" at a mood-killing time, I WILL blame you :-)

  2. as ever
    bowing in thanks for your brilliance
    (sat.20.nov- whew- here soon enough :)
    pax, elliott

  3. Do you know where I've found the least painful? The marine reserves I traveled to in the Archipelago triangle in Malaysia, where you know I was to swim with/study cephalpods. The salt content is very high, the water warm, and it supports your many limbs utterly.

  4. from a straight psychotherapist, Trans Specialist... thank God, Allah, Mother Nature, the ocean, Darwin, Jung, whoever... for people like you and what you write and how you write - thank you

  5. Elliot is my friend. I read this post today, based upon Elliot's recommendation. As a pretty-straight-though-once-infatuated-with-and-sexually-desiring-of-a-scottish-woman-named-claire, I find myself in utter perplexity as to why others make judgements about another's gender. WHO THE FUCK CARES. a human is a human is a human. get to know some humans. feel the wonder of it all. Thank you so much for this post. Beautiful...