(read at Words in the Warehouse, June 2016, Dublin Ireland)
(EDIT: Someone just informed me this *might* be Greer Lankton. It sure looks like the woman I remember. Anyone have more info, like, did she do a thing for one of the tabloids?)
It is 2:38 pm and I trudge down the stairs of my school.
Puke green tie and slacks, shirt the colour of piss,
Fear etched across my face.
Today, Michael McKerry called me
a dirty fucking cocksucker who deserved to die.
At 8 years old, I have no idea why someone would suck cock,
or why that makes them dirty,
or why that would mean they should die.
But I do know that Michael,
like all the other boys in my school,
is dangerous to me.
My grandmother is waiting for me outside.
She is wearing the blue kerchief today.
It’s Monday, which is rosary society day,
and shopping day
and laundry day
and she has been walking since 6am.
Her legs with the varicose veins
That make them look like a map of
the new york city subway system.
They throb with fierce obstinace,
step towards step towards home.
It will be many years before I understand that kind of tired,
But at 8, I am beginning to tire as well.
The prayers every night to a God who
I am convinced has made a mistake go unanswered.
Let me wake up a girl
or let me not wake up at all.
My grandmother has a yellowed mimeographed sign on her fridge,
attached with a Coca Cola magnet.
“God doesn’t make no junk” it says.
I know this sign is adults lying to me again.
Because at 8 I am convinced that
if god made me he fucked up big time.
I have been praying this prayer for years,
for as long as I can remember
and god isn’t doing anything.
I am not even sure he’s there anymore.
Or maybe he’s like my cousin.
Drunk all day and kind of in and out of consciousness,
abdicating all responsibility for his fuckups.
It is 3:13 pm. I lie on my grandmother’s sitting room floor,
tears streaming down my face, tissues up my nose.
My nose is bleeding. It is the next day and
Michael tried to make good on his promise.
My grandmother sits there, silent, reading her trash tabloids.
I sit at her feet, quietly weeping,
knowing that my parents will yell at me for not fighting back.
But they do not understand the terror I feel
at the mere thought of striking back.
Because if I don’t turn the other cheek
as the Bible tells me to,
Then, I reason, this cruel God
will be even more pissed at me
than he obviously already is.
I am not aware of the list of transgressions
that I have yet to atone for
that would make this catholic god of my parents
take a girl and make her look like a boy, but I am
petrified that his despotic punishments
might get yet more creative.
Maybe he’ll turn me into one of the mice
that lives behind our walls,
whose screams when they are caught in my fathers glue traps
wake me up at night.
Or maybe he’ll do to me what he did to Lot’s wife
and turn me into a pillar of salt.
Or maybe he will do worse.
I am smart enough not to test his wrath.
My grandmother hands me one of her tabloids.
This is a ritual with us. New paper day.
She gets to read them first, then I get them.
It is our thing.
She finds it amusing.
I tell her I like reading the ads.
“Buy your own 100% REAL Ghost!”
“Build your own Flying car!”
I dream of my own flying car
and flying away from this life,
with my 100% REAL Ghost,
sitting beside me, to keep me company.
But in truth, I read them to torture myself,
to see all the women I will never be.
I do not tell my grandmother this.
I do not think that she would find it amusing.
I am still crying, as I flip through the paper,
trying not to look at these women,
trying not to make the pain worse.
But I cannot help but look,
to feel the shredding of my young soul,
and to taste it’s blood.
It is somewhere near the centerfold
where the dangerous territory
of celebrity Fashion Do’s and Don’ts live that I see HER.
All these years later, and I can still picture her face,
forever seared into my mind.
Her sad brown eyes, with a glimmer of defiance in them,
the shape of her strong proud red lips,
pursed in bold disobedience.
The headline gives me this word
that I don’t quite understand,
but I know that I will have to look up in a dictionary,
careful to not be found out.
But the story,
HER story is evidence
that the God I have been praying to has capitulated
to my constant nagging
or more likely has skipped town
and left me to my own devices.
The word shines as if a Broadway marque,
leaping off the pages.
I hunch over the paper,
instinctively knowing that this words,
this precious, dangerous word,
needs to be eclipsed by my body,
lest my grandmother notice my interest in it.
She works as a waitress in a diner.
They show her in her uniform,
in all it’s pink 1970s polyester glory.
She’s saving up for the quote unquote sex change.
Her family refuses to speak with her.
She is looking for a boyfriend
but men leave her when they find out.
She is sad but determined.
The story is sensationalist crap,
a story designed for the cis gaze,
“See the poor tragic deluded transsexual!
There but for the grace of God go I.”
screams the tabloid sideshow barker.
But at 8 years old I fall in love with this woman
who I will never meet,
whose name I do not even remember,
but whose face, her beautiful face screams resistance.
Her face I can see clearer than my own.
Decades later, I will know that this story
is just one of the many cisgender enforced narratives
that trans women for generations have had
to parrot in order to survive,
But at that moment, I look into her eyes,
and see a future for myself,
see a way out.
She has given me a word, a brass ring for me to grasp at.
I still think about her, wondering what happened to her.
When I am feeling optimistic,
I like to believe she ended up moving to a farm
with a boyfriend she met in a coffee shop.
He fell in love with her smile,
with those deep doe eyes,
with her laugh.
He proudly took her to meet his parents.
They adopted some queer kids.
She cooks Sunday dinner.
Her in-laws love her.
She wears gingham dresses sometimes and thinks it’s a hoot.
I dream that she ended up tossing off the bullshit
transmisogynistic heterosexist expectations
put on trans women.
I dream that the farm she lives on
is in reality a lesbian separatist commune.
She works on tractors in her spare time.
She still wears the lybris necklace
her first girlfriend gave her.
She has a girlfriend named Echinacea
and sometimes they fuck under the stars,
the sound of the nearby creek,
quenching the trauma of her past.
I know better.
I know that if she did not perish in the plague that
left my community in tatters,
she was a victim of one of our many comorbidities
that destroyed the lives of these women who came before me.
She is gone and I will never know her
but for the picture I see
when I close my eyes all these years later.
I want to believe she escaped that fate,
I want to believe that she found a place,
to grow old with,
to have family with,
to pass on her story.
I want to believe that one day we will meet.
But I am no longer 8 years old
and no longer believe in fairytales.
I sometimes promise her that I will honour her memory
in the only way I know how.
By taking what she was not allowed to have.
By demanding what she was not permitted to ask for.
I am 8 years old
and I am enthralled with a woman
I will never know.
She has given me hope, all, through a single word.
It is 3:20 pm
My tears have dried.
My bleeding has stopped.
And I lie there at my grandmothers feet,
and her doleful brown eyes
stare back at me from the page.