gender

death of the author

every time i try to write poetry, it sounds the same. 

 

procrastinating) fucking with my fingernails and that’s rust not dirt that’s 

from last night, i never minded needles but sometimes i 

still have to get drunk to make myself do the shot and then it 

bleeds bleeds bleeds 

like (not enough of) an exchange 

 

in every mousehole/trashcan/outhouse/pillbottle where i almost glimpse profundity it 

turns out to be another hidden mirror and jesus christ, 

i’ve seen enough of “my” own face i’ve seen 

enough 

already 

 

my favorite scenes to write (genre:fantasy) were ones with daggers (“darksilver”) 

and jewels and mead and gossamer and sacrificial lambs and 

“holy” water and “green” moss and 

CISGENDER men and CISGENDER women i was always 

enchanted by the idea of eating one’s fill. 

 

all art is quite useless but it is so exhausting to think that 

the artist is as well.

Justification

I won’t to be your princess

I rule my own damn castle.

 

/I refuse to be your statistic/

I am flesh, blood, bone, human.

Hear me fucking roar.

 

Don’t make me the object

of your hidden desire, sheathed

neatly, behind excuses

and defenses,

 

you paint them like I give a shit

or asked for this

or asked for you ––

I fucking didn’t.

 

It’s not me who begged for the validation

of your desire,

didn’t ask to press my stomach to yours in defeat

at the gravesite where you bury

your secrets like me,

 

I’m not your therapist,

won’t fix your broken wing

won’t justify myself to you.

 

Today

for the last time

she will make her bed in defeat

 

Tomorrow

for the first time

she will raise her arms to the heavens instead

 

She will live

with no justification.

Little Gay Comix: #4 – Creative Block

Been a little low on brain fuel lately, but I’m working on it!

Little Gay Comix: #3 – Reminder

Take care of yourselves, friends!

A Girl’s Lunchbox

First grade, first day, six years old. I have golden locks that fall to my chin and a pink shirt. My lunchbox, soft fabric, is covered in tiny purple and blue and red flowers. I place it in my cubby with my backpack. There’s probably a sandwich inside. Pretzels, apple slices, a bottle of water. It’s a normal lunchbox. I’m a normal kid; this is a normal first day.

So when we go to lunch I’m surprised at the angry voice that comes from across the room.

“You got a girl shirt and a girl lunchbox.” Forgetting these words, or their impact, is not an option for me.

Angie is a tall girl with plastic clips in her hair and a shirt not too different from mine. She is well-liked by everyone, even the teacher. Her voice, the cutting edge of her words, take me aback. She’s not the first person to police my expression, and she’s not the last. But it is a delicate moment of first-day fragility. I am scared. And because I am different, I’m vulnerable too.

Shame. Shame is what I feel. Shame for who I am and the clothes I wear. I put my lunchbox back into my cubby without eating and I fold my arms across my shirt for the rest of the day. I feel like I’ve made some crucial mistake. I feel like a joke.

 

Little Gay Comix: #2 – Clothing Confusion

I am an enigma when I wear a skirt.

Little Gay Comix: #1 – Mood Boost

Sometimes one person is all it takes.

Angels Have No Gender

Prior Walter may like his angels best when they’re statuary, but I love them when they’re flesh and blood and gender-nonconforming!

Trigger Warning: BDSM, Cutting

Mural by Kelsey Montague

Last July, before its run ended, I had the privilege of seeing The National Theatre’s production of Tony Kushner’s Angels In America on Broadway. Although every aspect of both Millennium Approaches and Perestroika left me absolutely astonished, I was fittingly most in awe of the titular angels. The Angel, masterfully played by Beth Malone and an ensemble of “Angel Shadows” takes the form of a dilapidated birdlike creature. Unlike many previous iterations of the character, this production depicts the angel as inhuman-looking, primal, and entirely detached from notions of gender, apropos given the text.

In Act 1 Scene 2 of Perestroika, the angel is described as having eight vaginas and being “Hermaphroditically equipped as well with a Bouquet of Phalli” as well as being the manifestation of the female energy that Prior Walter, her cis male chosen prophet, possesses. The angel goes on to speak of humanity with disdain saying that God split the world in two “Human beings. Uni-genitalled: Female. Male.” She expresses her disgust for biological binary and thus paints a picture of angels as intersex and gender-nonconforming and humans as “uni-genitalled” and delegated to adhere to roles of male and female.

Photo by Brinkhoff & Mogenburg

There are clearly inaccuracies in the angel’s worldview, since many humans are intersex and many humans exist beyond the binary of male and female. Yet the notion of gender-nonconformity as angelic is both widespread and empowering.

In spite of attending Catholic school for a decade, I was first exposed to the concept of angels being genderless during my sophomore year of college. My art history professor, Jason Rosenfeld, who was both irreverent and informative in his sparknotes-style explanations in order to provide context to the paintings we viewed, commented that angels are genderless, lest students get caught up attempting to analyze whether angels were male or female. Inspired by this newfound knowledge of angels being genderless, I recall myself reveling in my fledgeling nonbinary identity, drawing self portraits in my sketchbook with halo of glitter nail-polish and the words “Angels have no gender and so I am an angel.”

My sketchbook was stolen so that drawing was lost to the ages, but here’s this photo of me posing with angel wings

Multiple scenes in Angels in America, most notably the final scene of Perestroika, take place at Bethesda Fountain, a place whose angelic imagery is inherently linked with gender nonconforming queerness. The sculptor of The Angel of the Waters, Emma Stebbins, modeled the angel’s appearance after her lover Charlotte Cushman who successfully made a living playing male roles in Shakespearean plays. When The Angel of the Waters was unveiled Stebbins received bad press due to the angel being viewed as inadequately feminine and “large bodied”. An art critic wrote, “the angel who sat for the model of the buxom deity on top of the concern must have been brought up on pork and hominy”. (Merrill, 202)

The Angel of the Waters

Ethyl Eichelberger, an assigned male at birth drag performer who explored womanhood, got a giant tattoo of an angel on her back. Ethyl often worked a way to display her tattoo to the audience into the choreography of her shows, in spite of the historically evocative costumes she wore. Although the tattoo artist describes the image, a drawing by Ken Tisa, as a nameless dancer given wings, many who knew Eichelberger, as well as many queer scholars, in retrospect see the beautiful angel on Ethyl’s back as a manifestation of her idealized self. Many who remember Ethyl Eichelberger refer to her as their angel.

Photo by Stanley Stellar

Kate Bornstein a self-proclaimed “gender outlaw”, like Eichelberger, has a back adorned with angel wings, albeit not in the form of a tattoo. Bornstein’s angelicness, beyond gender nonconformity, aligns with the angels in Angels In America due to its connection to ecstatic sexuality. In order to elaborate, I must divulge details of BDSM and cutting. Please stop reading if such topics trigger you.

The Knife Cuts Both Ways

“If you’re going to open space for me to tell a story, let me tell my fucking story.”
Photo by Serena Jara

Since becoming aware of her work through the 2017 Live Ideas: Mx’d Messages Festival, I have been an avid admirer of Cecilia Gentili. The Mx’d Messages festival, which explored “the idea of a world without binaries–across gender, politics, theology, sensory perception and race”, included a panel on trans visibility. Ms.Gentili spoke about how the narrative of her life as a trans person rarely aligns with what is seen as respectable for trans people, due to her citizenship status and proud career as a sex worker, and thus her identity is under scrutiny.

She elaborated, saying that when she is given a platform as a trans storyteller it’s often under the condition that she tell the sort of stories the dominant culture wants to hear, as opposed to them accepting the truth of her experience.

“People want to learn about the pain of being trans… You’re not gonna hear it from me… If you’re looking for that story where I’m like “oh she suffers a lot but then she puts in some effort and conquers the world” that’s not interesting to me to say, and if you’re going to open space for me to tell a story, let me tell my fucking story.”

(Cecilia Gentili speaking on the panel at the 2017 Live Ideas: Mx’d Messages Festival)

Thankfully through her show The Knife Cuts Both Ways (produced as part of Dixon Place’s HOT! Festival) her “fucking story” could be told and received by adoring audiences ready to listen without respectability policing.

The common thread Cecilia wove throughout her stories were the recollections of her grandmother, an eccentric supportive maternal figure who encouraged her to risk ridicule and shame in order to live the best possible life. The first story was about how Cecilia was taken to the principal’s office to be reprimanded for using the girl’s bathroom. She didn’t understand their problem, so the principal and teachers showed a six-year-old photographs of genitals and insisted she describe which genitals correlated with male and which with female.

Since Cecilia knew she was a female with a penis, and due to the commonplace nature of UFO sightings Cecilia figured she must be an alien from a planet where women are the ones with penises. Thus when Cecilia told her grandma, her grandmother didn’t question it and instead took her out to the field and waited with her for her alien family to come pick her up. When no one came, Cecilia’s grandma assured her, “Don’t worry, someday you’ll find your people!”

Photo by Serena Jara

Another story Cecilia told of her grandma assuring her that it’s worth the danger to live truthfully as a woman was when Cecilia was assigned New York as a place to do a presentation on for a show-and-tell talent show at her school. Cecilia’s grandmother utilized the opportunity to help Cecilia break into her aunt’s closet and steal clothes and wigs for Cecilia to dance in. Cecilia was faced with so many wigs she didn’t know how to choose which one, so Cecilia’s grandmother said to go for the one that speaks to you. She picked up a Farrah Fawcett style blonde wig and put it on her head saying, “Grandma, it’s beautiful” “Yes, you are” her grandmother replied.

Photo by Serena Jara

On the eve of the talent show, Cecilia expressed fear to her grandma saying that the other kids will surely laugh at her. Cecilia’s grandma didn’t attempt to convince her otherwise, and instead encouraged Cecilia to do it anyways, saying, “someday you’ll be in New York doing this and laughing at those who judged you”.

While looks of horror and disgust spread across the faces in the audience, Cecilia’s grandma cheered praise and looked on with love as Cecilia did the provocative disco choreography in an outfit they created complete with earrings hanging from a bra like nipple tassels.

Photo by Serena Jara

Cecilia spoke of how, as soon as she could, she made a pilgrimage to the closest gay bar she knew of in order to find her people. There she found a trans woman she looked up to and aspired to be like, and immediately latched onto her in a frenzied plea of “Help! How do I be like you? I want to be a woman too!” to which the trans elder insisted Cecilia calm down and replied something to the effect of, “If you choose this life, I can assure you three things: You will do drugs. You will turn tricks. And you will die young. Do you still want to do this?” Cecilia responded first with fear, but then returned to her trans mother with determination, that even if it means dying young, she would prefer a shorter life as herself than a long life of hiding her truth.

Photo by Serena Jara

This interaction is especially indicative of how the story of Cecilia’s life differs from the narrative dominant culture demands of trans people. Instead of responding to this warning with an empowering speech about how things shouldn’t have to be this way, and that she is determined to defy her fate, Cecilia instead spoke of her actual reaction, and the sacrifice she’d be willing to make in order to be herself.

Yet Cecilia never dwelled on the tragedy of her transness as she would have to do in order to tell her stories in dominant cultural spaces or to be taken serious in legal settings. Between stories Cecilia projected the image of her appeal for citizenship and pre-recorded audio narrating the traumatic stories of being a trans person in Argentina. As the hints of abuses and horrors she dealt with were brought into the space, they were drowned out with the audio of the song Gloria by Laura Branigan, which she danced to, as the documents were overtaken by projected images from glamorous photoshoots Cecilia modeled for.

Photo by Serena Jara

The final story Cecilia tells is that of moving to New York City to be a porn star, buying glamorous clothes, falling in love and calling up her family back in Argentina, to tell them of her new life. Her grandma clarified, “You’re living in New York and you’re with your people and you’re living as a woman?” “Yes grandma!” “See?” said Cecilia’s grandmother, “ I’m always right!”

Photo by Serena Jara

As Cecilia took her bows after the final scene-breaker of her reading the document awarding her citizenship, she immediately welcomed to the stage her collaborators. Cecilia utilized the telling of her story to champion other trans artists, namely photographer Serena Jara and fashion designer Gogo Graham. Their art is an intrinsic part of the staging of the show, and was displayed in the gallery of the venue leading up to the performance space. Their symbiotic work can be seen also through the companion piece zine which tells additional stories from the show ( http://docdro.id/y0gFVJm ).

Thus The Knife Cuts Both Ways serves to further prove what Cecilia and most other trans people know, that the stories that best represent us are often the same stories the dominant culture attempts to silence. Truth is always more valuable than adhering to others’ notions of respectability, and oftentimes the best way to tell such truthful stories is by making work both with and for other trans people.

Photo by Serena Jara