Sunday, November 4, 2012

Courageous Spinelessness

Friday I left UNC's Spine Center rubbing my chapped mitts with the kind of joy one gets from a new medical diagnosis (surely the Germans have a word for that). "Brachial Neuritis or Radiculitis Nos" said my important papers--I couldn't wait to google.

As it turns out, Brachial Neuritis typically follows injury "such as gunshot or stab wounds" or follows a viral infection or surgery (double mastectomy, anyone?). It does have a genetic marker, is fairly rare, but basically no-one really knows what it is or how it functions, but it might be an auto-immune response.

It struck me that the language around this syndrome was very much like fibromyalgia, which I had been diagnosed with nearly a decade ago, with some strong differences. Brachial Neuritis is a "man's disease." Fibromyalgia, at least when I got it, was a "woman's disease." Doctors treated me as if I was a Victorian lady, hysteric, suffering from the symptoms induced by my own lively imaginings, as if I had indulged in too much busy manly brainy work and was now suffering the consequences. "Women who have been sexually abused get it" said one doctor, fairly rolling his eyes. Had I gotten fibromyalgia from stab wounds or gunshot I'm sure we all would have been much happier.

I'd like to suggest something, something dangerous. I'm going to (for one, for once) ignore the ridiculously preferential and gendered medical language and suggest this: what if this uptick, this surge, in auto-immune responses, in disease where our bodies seem to "feel too much" or "feel the wrong thing," is an evolutionary move towards the kind of all-bodied sensorium of octopuses?

My spine is crumbling, encrusted with the barnacles we call spurs--but I believe like a fossil, my original spine is nearly gone; it has been replaced by the minerals and shell bits and heavy metals of my past. I believe we are moving towards the kind of embodiment that "thinks" with its arms--like an octopus--that our bones are attempting to shore us up against what we have sunk into this earth, poisons and pesticides, and that our central nervous system, being overtaxed by impact, the crashings of sensations from constant electric immersion (tvs, cell phones, electricity) is both attempting to protect and to extend itself because it needs more room.

Enter then, this new being, still bilateral, still sentient, but sensing and thinking from its softened arms and legs. The fad for muscularity will presently be replaced by a delight in bodies that can move in even more spectacular ways, requiring...drum roll please...a surgically implanted (at first) flexible spine, allowing our new being to squeeze under doorways and through cracks like mice. Later, this being will have no spine at all.

The pain I feel, radiating from the various injuries to my spine, my chest, my self, might actually be evolution. The delicious, damnable, brutal heavy electric stabbings of evolution. You with me? If you, like me, have experienced interstitial cystitis, irritable bowel syndrome, migraines, fibromyalgia, and now some kind of hyperalgesia induced by multiple incidences of violence not limited to but including (as they say) car wrecks, assaults, concussions, mosh pits, then you might feel a reluctance, anger even, by the suggestion that your pain, your trauma, is some kind of motherfucking evolution.

Sisterbrother, I feel your pain. Let's look to the octopus for a sec. The octopus brain isn't centrally located like ours, or rather, it has dense neurons everywhere--it does something like "thinking" with its arms. (I do something like "thinking" with my....oh never mind.) This makes it a supreme test subject. The octopus is often used as a lab animal because of its incredible intelligence, its unique capacity to experience life through not just its enlarged head, but through its eight motile arms. As a test subject, it is an uncommonly able subject--its sensorium is geared for sensation, for pain, all over. Not like we are. More, I imagine, how those of us with amped up sensations are, those of us for whom a whisper of wind relays stark horripilation, whose bones require battening against the everyday, whose fascia begins to set after a second, rendering ordinary movements like getting out of ones chair an excruciating exercise in what feels like breakage. The octopus, particular as test subject, is my kin.

How then, to relinquish what many of us feel is our only raft in a terrifying ocean, that is, our identities as disabled? Too many transfolk I know have one or more of these diagnoses, and I'm confident this isn't merely because I gravitate to people of similar experience. Transbodies in particular (like octo-bodies) are subject to the kind of abuse that leaves a neural stamp, the imprimatur of pain...Transbodies in particular are forced to be complicit with the medical industry, to get our hormones, our surgeries, our care.

I am, just for today, relinquishing this identity, except for bureaucratic necessity. I am willing to explore this idea, this embodiment, this, these pains, as yes the result of myriad abuses but parlaying themselves into exploration, into a riot of sensation yearning to be without armature, longing for and making exodus to a free body, a body that moves any way, goes anywhere, is free, not of pain necessarily because pain is important--a body that is always, already oceanic and celestial. I can bear some of this pain with the knowledge that my sisterbrothers after me might endure less, that bodies might move to...dare I say it aloud? Invertebrate. Sister Sea Slug, wrap me in your tongue-like body; naughty nautilus, invite me to tea. I will slip underneath the heavily guarded and locked laboratory doorway and free all my kin, all my octo family. Are you in?

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Boys with their Baby Vein Faces Shining Neon

It's been dark around here, I'm not going to lie. I have friends whose ability to stay tethered to this dimension seems fragile and full of pain, the pain of lusty, unhinged cells replicating and replicating. Just as they seem to become full of something Not Themselves and slow of pulse and breath after so much quickening, do I become leaden, full of bile and blood. I feel like rot watching my friends be sick.

I myself am enduring one of many detoxes. I am in a some kind of perpetual withdrawal state--kicking one chemical after another in an attempt to relieve my own constant neuralgia, being prescribed cymbalta, vicodin, gabapentin, lexapro; getting rolfed and massaged and acupunctured and just generally torturing myself at the gym. I am in a state of pain I'm confident would be solved by opiates, and indeed, they bring such a sweet relief it's almost ridiculous. Like, why aren't we all on opiates?

I watched the Peter Weller documentary about William Burroughs, a man I had the good fortune to meet not once but twice, and actually spent an afternoon with. Peter Weller comes off as the biggest kind of art douche, but Burroughs? My kind of guy. I was heartened to hear that he struggled with dope til the end. Not in some kind of schadenfreude way, but because I struggle with dope now and again. It's a solution to a lot of things. I was a heroin addict in my twenties and on methadone for nine years. It has a way of changing you. Or rather, I came to it because I was already changed, I was already awash in some other stream, one that neither parallels nor crosses the so-called "stream of life," one that creative people seem to wade and occasionally drown in. Burroughs was so charming. You can be charming on dope, junk, to use Burroughsian vernacular.

In my neurochemical jazz fest, the one that's happening in my brainy parts right now, I recall Burroughs coming to the book shop I worked at. I ran in a crowd that worshiped him. We both did and did not understand his genius. It's taken me years--getting older does that, you ripen, your memory cells accommodate and imbricate information in gratifying ways. Stanislavski, the great actors' teacher calls it Emotion Memory. You overlay and shape memory with your new experiences, archiving and adding like a hypermotile librarian in the Strand Bookstore of your brain. Burroughs came to Lambda Rising, in Dupont Circle, where I was employed as a cashier/book seller/only one there. We carried his books in 1980 to be sure, but they didn't sell. Nope, gay men bought sad, horny romance novels by Gordon Merrick, and Inches and Blueboy. Not Genet, not Burroughs, not even Rechy. There I was, all New Wave-punk lesbo behind the cash register, reading Fleur du Mal and Seasons of Hell, Naked Lunch and Queer, all written by homosexual geniuses. You can imagine the attitude I was handing over with your change.

Burroughs came upstairs to do an impromptu reading. It was wonderful. Four of my besties and me alone, hanging on to Bill. He was polite and unconcerned by what  for me spoke to the general state of the gay male industrial complex--that it routinely sacrificed its most hard-won gifts for tawdry emotional appeal, in art, in literature, and most obviously in music. Of course this is true of another kind of 99%, right, the regular ol' world, the other 1% of us having been "blessed" with no discernibly useful talents except for making art. But Burroughs brought something real to the table. While the queers were buying poppers and jack mags--and why not!?--Jane and Paul Bowles, Verlaine, Barnes and Proust were getting thumbed by yours truly, who would then "sell" them back to the bookstore as "used." Oh, there's another financial amend I owe. Fantastic.

Burroughs didn't seem to need gay approbation, and why would he? He wasn't Lambda Rising Gay, then a mixture of 70's clone (hoodie in jean jacket, moustache, aviators )--he was his own thing--but my favorite part of meeting him was when he sent down his Aryan amanuensis James to ask "if it was okay if Bill took some magazines home." And sure enough, when they left, Burroughs carried a paper sack stacked with Numbers, Inches, Colt, and Honcho that I had packed up for him myself, secretly dreaming an unseen dream of being someone, something, that William Burroughs might jack off to.

Maybe we didn't shoot our wads together, but possibly that night, William and I might have shot other things, in hotel rooms, basements, rest rooms. I met him again with John Waters. I would never want to be the man John Waters would jack to, but I admire him just the same. They both articulate the life of men who cannot be anything other than themselves. Iconoclasts. Heroin had Burroughs. It was a love affair that lasted his entire life. What heroin, addiction in general is to me, is a way of grinding myself to my body. I haven't tasted dope since 1993 but I know its smell, I can conjure it any time. I want to curl up behind Burroughs, my thick torso and gloppy belly smashed against his sticky bones, the filo dough of old man skin wrapped around a skeleton. Poppies in your ear man. Burroughs left poppies in my ear.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Bats With Their Baby-Veined Faces--Part 1

Patti Smith is on my mind today. My beloved soul-sister Stephen called me yesterday. He's dying of cancer but his inevitable cellular expansion into the unknown has been put off for some months, hopefully some years. It turns out he's of the blood type that can undergo genetic resequencing. There's been a lot of work in this area, much of it experimental and much of it hopeful. He's on some kind of drug--we didn't talk about it in depth because we had too much to say to one another, mostly about what he's going to do with himself, now that he's got all this time. These therapies can be very successful, just not permanently. Yet.

"I feel pretty good these days," he explained to me, even as he was calling because he's going through withdrawals from the fentanyl patch he's been on for a couple years. "I don't know if I should travel the world, see Bali with my husband, fire-walk, or stay here and get out of bed and get breakfast for the kids and take them to school and, you know, just live my life."

Steve and I both survived the 80's AIDS crisis. We were both in New York City when Reagan cut funding for social services while tacitly denying this distinctly American genocide, Steve a robustly sexual gay man and me a intravenous-drug addict. I say "intravenous-drug" because there was a time when I was as addicted to the needle as I was the drug. (Consequently I have injected any number of interesting substances, both purposefully and by accident: cocaine and pastel dust, isopropyl alcohol, and dirty water come to mind.) I watched as my city streets filled with humans, people disgorged into the streets who had been (some for years) in mental wards, treatment centers, and hospitals. Elevators were crowded in a new way even for Manhattan, filled with the collage-phrasings of schizophrenics and the ramblings of dementia, people leaning on sticks and crutches as limbless and lost as people I had seen in Haiti. Little wonder heroin was my drug of choice; it was a soft and comforting euphoria spansule that enveloped and protected me as I roamed through Hell.

It changed everyone who was there. It reminds me of John Shirley's novel "A Splendid Chaos," where people go to this disco and it turns out its some kind of technology that takes them to this "Survivor" like planet where they're forced to figure out how to live on this weird planet with multiple other alien species and diseases. There's this electrical field that travels like a merciless storm cloud, and if you're caught in it, it "twists" you electrically. Some part of you emerges that was always there, but the phenomenon dislodges and even enhances it. So if you went through the 80's in a big city that was devastated by AIDS you've been through that electric event, and some part of you is distorted and enhanced. If you're lucky, it was your compassion.

It seemed to have been so with Steve. He has an incredible generosity and almost unlimited compassion, even and maybe especially as he took care of his partner through his partner's death from AIDS. But I'm waaaay off topic now so I'll get to the point. Steve recently finished reading "Just Us Kids," Patti Smith's homage to her relationship with artist Robert Mapplethorpe, which is also kind of a billet doux to New York in the 70's. Steve and I both had a similar experience reading the book, which evoked an unsentimental awe for the decade before the madness. BM. Before Madness.

Extending that device, I could also parse a significant movement in my own life, that being Before and After Patti Smith. Seeing the still stunning Mapplethorpe photo of Patti for her first album at age 15 changed my life. For a burgeoning lesbian and future transperson, the impact of an androgynous, iconic contemporary woman artist was meteoric; I was caved-in and smashed to bits in the kind of wonderful way in which you are then magnetically rearranged into something greater, this particular impact having merged with your molecules. That she existed NOW, in my space/time--unlike Marlene Dietrich or Romaine Brooks, whose photos and biographies I had devoured with a longing I can only now begin to identify--and, that she had agency, was an artist, was enormously important in 1975. I mean, I didn't even particularly like Romaine Brooks, but in a desert of a certain kind of androgyny, one had to make do.

Gertrude Steinian butchness didn't quite capture it, and while I adored the male forays into femininity, like Bowie and even young Robert Plant, I needed to see a woman doing it. At fifteen I was already exhausted by masculinity and its tantalizing yet repulsive allure. I could not have any of it. Those moments in which I allowed it to transmute my body, to "twist" me, were often abruptly halted by someone taking the piss out of me, or by my own hyper-vigilance. Patti offered a way to allow the cells of masculinity to pass through my membrane and infuse me with near luminescence. It was liberating beyond belief to release some of the tension in the reins I had bridled myself with.

Her impact merely began there. Because of Patti and her genius eruptions, her own literary/artistic obsessions, I read Rimbaud, Ginsberg, the Bible; I listened to Coltrane and Ronnie Spector; my eyes slid greedily over Brancusi's "Bird in Space." I probably read about and saw more demanding work during my Patti-era than I did any time in art school. I hope the kids have somebody today, somebody whose presence forces them to confront as much of themselves as they are ready to, not in a "Beautiful" way, or in that way in which people like Pink and Katy Perry have made an industry of, "comforting" us by telling us we're "okay." "You're beautiful the way you are" always rests on the substrate of "you are actually not beautiful." And why do we need so much reassuring? Patti was only reassuring in that I knew there was someone else out there, like me, dying to create, chafing at conventional genders, yearning to roll in a field with Wilhelm Reich, Jane Bowles, and Mick Jagger.

When Stephen asks the wonderful question, "what will I do with my time?" I inevitably ask it to myself. My adolescent obsession with Patti Smith showed me all I need ever know, that I flourish in commune with others, that relationships are everything, and that everything is creating all the time. Stephen offers intention
as the light that moves a life from the prosaic to sublime. My intention then, is to foster and care for my relationships, with my lover, with friends, with animals, with systems, and with objects. And then, turn it into art.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

HE'S BAAAACK! (putting the "ack" into...well, you get the picture)

Gosh it's been a long time! See, you didn't know I had incorporated "gosh" into my vocab it's been that long. Well there you go. I've used this site to document my experiences on testosterone as I changed, paying some attention to the delicious physical outpourings of hair growth (ok, more like weed growth in an abandoned construction site), sexual VIGOR, Rowrr!, but really so much more interested in what was happening to my BRAINS.

Ye Gods. The brains. Please plunder the goods here; there's a lot of writing and whining and OCTOPUSES and also some moments of divine intervention. Not my doing. Think of me sitting on a cat-clawed comfy chair wearing my girlfriend's striped calf-length long johns, laptop atop two pillows, clacking away on my toast-crumb ridden keyboard when all of the sudden...

yes, I say meekly. SIGH.

And now this is reading like a Terry Pratchett novel.

I've reemerged from the briny deep to report that while terrible things are happening to the planet, and humans seem desperately resistant to changing the way they see things, other things are happening too. There are creative, mischievous, passionate forces at work here Dollface, and they might be coming out of YOU. Things are going to look very different tomorrow, and transgender is having an enormous impact, holding hands with queer while extending tentacles and eye-stalks in divergent directions.

Just this week I read about body-mod folks implanting magnets in their fingers as the next step towards cyborg. They're able to sense microwaves, and hold pictures to fridges. Called "body hacking", it may seem frivolous, it is absolutely a foray into the margins, the liminal space of the what-else. And it's in this space we'll find where we're going to live, shaping our bodybeings into configurations that connect with whatever landscape we emerge from.

I read about a woman who inseminates sea corals, suggesting that this dying ecosystem may no longer live in the ocean, but will continue in aquariums or other spaces. I saw that a friend of mine, who has been working with a team to create chemotherapies that denote only when they reach the cancer, has been having some great success in trials.

I myself just repurposed  a table, some pegboard, and some wood, retrofitting my shed and my studio with new old objects, not the stuff of cancer research perhaps but environmentally awesome plus points for making furniture. Retrofitting old stuff is kind of like transitioning...

These are hopeful moments. These are NOW moments, not just future hopeful moments. The GREAT SHE KRAKEN recedes now--my own work is with my body and pain, juddering synapses and hyperalgesia, the ongoing evolution of sensation. I'm convinced we're moving towards an embodied sentience, like the octopus, which shares neuro-optical brain heirarchies with humans. They "think" with their bodies. I imagine this is what my hyperpain sensitivity is doing in me, extending a knowing into worldings. But it hurts.

Enough out of me. For NOW.