Why I Didn’t Participate In The Women’s March

If it weren’t for my debilitating depression, anxiety, sense of utter alienation, and horrible dysphoria, I would have marched next to this woman with a sign of my own.

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Staying Inside

I refuse to shave today.
I’ve had enough.
I won’t wear a skirt or dress today.
I’ve had enough.
I won’t shower or use lotion or wash my face today.
I’ve had enough.
I won’t put on earrings or a necklace today.
I’ve had enough.
And they can call me sir and he and look sideways today.
I’ve had enough.
I will live inside me today
I will take care of my daughter today
buy her galoshes and let her stomp in the rain
give her pencils and my sketchpad
to let her draw what she draws
a complex home made of archways and stairs and domes
three cornered rooms, flagpoles, narrow walk ways
with bannisters and birds out of their cages
and tigers who patrol every blind corner
every shady ledge and one-exit grotto.
I will ask her to take me along.
I will say let’s go get lost
and she will smile that straight lipped smile
and ask, pencil in hand, “are you sure?”
and I’ll squeeze her shoulders into my side
so she knows I am ready whenever she is.

I Can’t Bring Myself to Draw My Little Girl Self

Maybe I’m afraid she won’t look right.
Maybe I’m just tired and can’t think
or don’t want to think or don’t want to try
or what if the sketched image doesn’t measure up
to the imagined, remembered image.
Maybe I’m tired of crying
and imagining
and pretending.
Maybe I don’t want to go back
to the planet she’s from, but want her come to this world.
I want to hear a small knock at my bedroom door
and a voice that hasn’t lowered yet
and say come in and wait for the door to open
and see her form backlit against the hallway light.
I want the reality of her in this world.
I want the glow of stray hairs around her head,
the small steps that bring her to the side of my bed
hands grasping her upper arms
cold or afraid. I want to scoot my actual body over
to let her climb into bed next to me.
I want the bed to shift against her weight.
I want to say “tell me you dreams”
to hear the words come out of my mouth.
I want to feel space and time warp around our bodies
as I take her against me. I want
to touch her with my own hands
and smell the sleeplessness in her hair
with my own nose. I want to feel the bones in her
squirm and adjust into the reality
of my small, sensitive breasts.

Dear Humans

The depth of your pain haunts me.
Your gentle love-touches burn in me.
The emptinesses you carry
from every loss and loneliness
draw me closer to your shadowed form
in the dark of your homes.

I’ve finally learned how to travel
back to the planet I’m from,
back to my daughter who has missed me,
and the small moon at night
and the birds who aren’t afraid
to follow behind me
when I walk outside in the early morning
in my robe and slippers.

I think our worlds aren’t so different after all.
I imagine my home and your home
exist simply as one inside the other,
and there is no traveling from here to there
but a constant living in each place at once.
I imagine there is something human
inside me, and something alien in you.

Maybe the pain you suffer
is also my pain,
your losses, my losses.
Maybe the loves
you hold to your skin
are the same loves I hold
beneath mine.

The Book of Birds

Today I will travel back
to the planet I’m from
for the second time this week.

I will go back when the sun has set
and the blue curtain dissolves
to reveal Orion, the Heavenly Shepard,
son of the Gorgon and Poseidon god of the sea.

I will take a book with me.
The Sibley Guide to North American Birds
and read the names to the little girl
I found on my first visit.

She was standing alone and small
in an empty classroom,
her hair falling just past her shoulders
like a parted theatre curtain.

I will go to her again tonight. I want
to sit with her on the top bunk in her room,
as her younger sister sleeps below.

When she begins to feel the room
expand beyond her control
and her breathing begins to quicken,
I will tell her that I’m not tired.

We can stay awake together
and use the light from our bodies to read
from the book of birds.

We will settle down into the bed.
She will take my arm into both of hers
and I will turn to her a little, my cheek resting
on top of her head

until the peace in me bleaches away
the fear in her, and the book
falls open to wherever it likes – the falcons
let’s say – and we begin to read

about their talons and beaks,
the differences in males and females,
their small size, their voices
that travel between worlds…

until I can feel her breath fall
into its sleeping rhythm
and my own eyes sting with the need for sleep.

Seeing Myself in First Grade For the First Time

I’m going to try to write this first part as straightforward and as accurately as I can.

I was abused by my first grade teacher. Physically and emotionally abused. I actually have few memories of that year, only that I was put out in the hall for doing unknown things I assume were “bad.” I would getting multiple “Fs for the day” for not doing whatever I was supposed to have done. First grade taught me only one thing, really: that I didn’t exist.

I have only one clear memory of that year in school. The memory begins with the teacher’s hand gripping the hair on the back of my head and lifting me up just enough to allow my toes to sweep the ground if I pointed them. She marched me out the door and left me in the hallway. I don’t know how long I was in the hallway. I got bored quickly of course and started to look for patterns in the speckled carpet (which is black and white in my memory). I played PacMan by running my finger along the mortar between bricks that made up the walls. This went on for some time, and before long I gave up and laid down on my back (in front of the door, apparently). I stared at the lights, then closed my eyes to watch the colors make little ghosts and explosions behind my eyelids.

Patterns on the floor, PacMan, ghosts behind the eyelids. I repeated this succession of entertainments as the day aged and became stale. I began to hope I’d spend the rest of the school day out there in the hall. It was quiet. A simple place without any expectations. But my pleasant stay in the hallway quickly ended when a teacher from across the hall came out and saw me lying down in front of the door. I knew she had come out because I was instantly lifted up by my shirt, shoved against the wall and yelled at for being so inconsiderate as to lie in front of the door. She was a wide lady. But in spite of her omnipresence in that moment, I can’t remember what she looked or sounded like. Everything went quiet. I pooped my pants. Then my own teacher came out and told me to return to my desk. I was sure they could all smell me.

Her name was Mrs. Hutchins. My mother said she was pretty and seemed at first like a better teacher than Mrs. Gray from whose class I had just been transferred because she yelled a lot (not at me specifically, but in general) and it was upsetting to me. I can remember Mrs. Gray’s appearance a little bit. Nothing very specific, but I think she had a rather squarish head with a bundle of gray hair on top. I may be wrong about the hair. But I at least have a sense of what she looked like. I have no memory of Mrs. Hutchins at all. She doesn’t exist in my conscious memory anymore. Not her face, not her basic shape, not a hint of her size or the sound of her voice.

What’s worse, I remember my own presence as little as I do Mrs. Hutchins. She had effectively made me disappear.

And I’ve stayed disappeared until today.

I had an appointment with my therapist today. I’ve been seeing various therapists for a few years now, ever since I came out as a transgender woman. The appointment began as most of them do: brief talk about the week in general, a little recap from last session, and then the question “So how are you feeling today.” Normally I would answer with something about gender dysphoria or loneliness, despair, I’ll-never-be-this-or-the-other. But today, I couldn’t really explain how I felt.

So rather than saying an “emotion” word, I simply told her where I had just been.

I had just spent the night at a friends house, where her son, Eli, seemed so drawn to me that I couldn’t take my attention away from him to spend any time with my friend, or her brilliant Ukulele playing/song-writing daughter.

Eli is eight years old, with a perfectly round head and a chin that seems to exist only to house his enormous three-cornered smile. He has freckles. He didn’t like them at first, he said, but they’re okay now. I watched him play X-Box for … well the whole time, until we started to get ready for bed.

As we were arranging the pillows, he pointed out a few books on the nightstand that he had been reading when he couldn’t sleep. One was about a dog I think, and the other I can’t remember. But then I noticed a book he hadn’t mentioned.
I picked it up and discovered it was the first book to the Chronicles of Narnia. I asked him about it and he said he hasn’t read that one yet, so I told him we could read from that for a while. He said he would like that.

So we got settled in the bed, I opened the book and started reading. I hadn’t even made it through the first paragraph he turned to me and opened up his eyes really big and said his eyes are blue. I love odd comments, so I went with it. My sister’s are also blue, I told him. He said my eyes look kind of yellow around the middle part. Probably from being tired, I said, although I don’t feel tired. He laid back down again, resting himself under my arm, and I pick up reading. He interrupted again. He pointed out how the wall was dirty, marked up, smudged, which lead us to talk about how walls are built from sheet rock, which I supposed came from some kind of crushed rock (I didn’t know), and that, instead of painting them with a roller and brush, walls are often sprayed with something like paint using an air compressor and that’s where the odd texture comes from.

Eventually we turned out the lights, turned on some music, and switched on some kind of small light projector that covered the ceiling and walls into a churning nebulous red and blue and green ocean. He was soon asleep and I remained pleasantly trapped between his body and the wall. Of course I couldn’t sleep. I stared at the back of his blonde head, then up at the colors, then back to his head. I thought about how he had insisted, almost begged his mother to let me stay over night. I thought about how he had curled into me as I read to him. I was stumped at how quickly he had chosen to touch me. To rest his whole little self against me as if I were some important figure to him, even though we had just met and he would often call me “he” and then “I mean she … or … Ellee.” I couldn’t name how I felt. I felt really really happy and hurt, but it wasn’t anything Eli had said. I didn’t know what it was.

Eventually, I gave up trying to sleep, extracted myself from the bed and went to sleep on the living room couch.

I still don’t think I slept much. I had felt something I didn’t understand. Something I had never felt before, or don’t remember ever feeling. At first I just thought that the boy’s interest in me had made me feel a bit like a parent – a tinge like a dad. Which neither bothered me nor made me feel good. I found myself crying a little. A calm, seeping sort of cry.

He woke me up around seven o’clock. This is a kid, according to him mom (the friend I had come to visit), who went to bed always too late and struggled to get up in the morning. But here is was, staring into my probably bloodshot eyes, and asking if I wanted to play X-Box. I said I wasn’t much at games. More of a Lego builder kind of creature, but I’d watch him play. So he pushed all the button things and grabbed a controller and the TV became busy with snipers and shotguns and breaking down walls and finding bullets and med-packs, and this boy, this bottle of Pop Rocks talking and talking and talking, telling me about how his mom and dad divorced and that’s kind of sad, but he sees his dad, I think he said on some weekends, and they play video games and “stuff.” And as he was telling me his whole life story, he pulled his whole self onto the same couch cushion I was sitting on, and began to play the game with one hand while practically anchoring himself to me at the same time. (He died often and re-spawned many times during the morning.)

I didn’t know what to make of him. Somehow he reminded me of myself. His personality was quite different. More energetic and talkative. I couldn’t make sense of it. And yet I felt immediately connected to him. Not as a parent of course – we had just met. I felt myself anchored to a kid who was anchored to me. And we were strangers to each other until last night. I couldn’t understand why. It felt good somehow. Relieving on a deeply, fundamentally human way. I was impatient to get back to St. George and see my therapist. I needed to talk about it, so I tried to wrap things up and get going. We ate like a thousand oranges, played with the dog, I drank coffee, then more coffee, and I left.

The ride home was surreal. Something had been stirred. I felt as if aware of something – something that had settled a long time ago, deep down at the very bottom of my brain’s black cauldron. At it wanted to come to the surface, but I didn’t know what it was, and couldn’t bring it up very far.

That’s where I stopped telling this story to my therapist. I imagine she had long since made the connection between this boy and the young me in first grade. I don’t remember her exact words, but she essentially told me to close my eyes and look at myself as I was in first grade. So I did. I closed my eyes and looked at my little self. And there she was. Immediately. There she was. A she.

“Where is she?”

“In the classroom.” I said.

“Who else can you hear or see?”

“There’s no one around.”

“You’re alone?”

“Yes. There aren’t even any desks.”

“What does she look like?”

…. “She’s wearing a dress. She always wears a dress or skirt. And she has on black Mary Jane slippers.”

“Describe her face.”

“I can’t see it. I just see the top of her head.”

“What is she doing?”

“She’s looking down and scraping the carpet with the toe of her shoe.”

We continued this kind of dialogue for a long time. I squatted down in my imagination, so we could see each other better – me now and me then. I took her by the hand. She let me take her hand, and grinned but looked away. I touched her hair and said she has a very pretty dress and shoes and that she’s always so well dressed. I told her that everyone says she has the most beautiful eyes. But she still didn’t look at me. She stood still as if she didn’t hear or didn’t believe me.

My therapist asked me, “What does she need to hear right now? What can you tell her right now that she needs to hear,” and said that I just hug her. I keep hugging. By now, my face had turned into a wet stuttering mess, but I staid with it. I staid with her.

“How do you feel towards her,” my therapist asked.

I could hardly speak, but managed to mutter “I love her.” And my therapist told me to tell her that I love her, and I said it.

“I love you.”

And then the girl and I were both crying and hugging and I was promising that I’d always be there for her no matter how hard it gets. I told her I know what she is feeling. I know. “I see you better than anyone” I said to her and I was on my knees, squeezing this girl I hadn’t known I’d always been.

“God I love you,” I said to her, forgetting entirely about the therapist and the room or the fact that I was imagining anything. And then we pulled out of the hug. I was still kneeling, wiping my face, looking at this little gem of myself as she smiled at last and began playing with my fingers, drawing circles in my hand.

“You’re smiling now,” I heard my therapist say, and I opened my eyes. “What’s making you smile?”

Now I was the one grinning and looking at the floor. I said “when I closed my eyes, I saw her immediately. I didn’t have to imagine. She was just there. I’ve tried imagining myself before, as a boy, but I’ve always just been a blank form that takes up space in my memory. But this time, when you told me to look for her, me, the girl…I didn’t have to try. She was clear. She was real.”

And that’s how I knew I could love myself. That I could accept myself. Could be there for the little girl through everything. She wasn’t alone anymore. The classroom wasn’t empty anymore because I was in it.

What I’ll Bring Into the New Year

self portrait_22
I like oranges.
The little ones
that are easily peeled and eaten.
I like to pull each piece apart with my teeth.
I like that each one
has a different texture – some
are dry and stringy, some
pop in your mouth like a purse of juice.
There’s no need to cook them.
There’s no need to raid the kitchen
for onion powder, paprika,
lemon pepper, salt, anything.
I like the mesh bag they come in.
I like to use one finger from each hand
to tear a large hole to pull the oranges from.
I like pulling the skin apart.
It’s is like unwrapping a present, no matter
what season or month or day.
They are easy to love.
They never argue. They never
swat their orangey hands at me as if to blow off
the compliments I give them – such
a warm complexion, such ample lips, such
soft thighs so easily parted.
They blush a little
when I say I’m in the mood
to tear off their clothes and lick each wet crescent.
I hear a small giggle
when I press my thumbnail into their skin
and make my first penetration.
Such a genuine fruit. Such humble citrus.
I love how their taste continues to burn
my cracked lip corners.
Such faithfulness.
I take them to my lips and squeeze
and they burst inside me.
They shed their bodies and descend
into my stomach.
But something remains on my tongue for days.
Call it their memory.
Call it their stamp in my brain.
I like to think it’s their spirit – a lot like mine,
with it’s alien flavor,
it’s extra solar presence that lingers
and eventually leaves. Although
I can’t quite pinpoint when.