Questions

August 25

Dear Leslie,

Curves and dots is one way to say question marks. I have sentences punctuated by curves and dots for you; little trees stoop over the shade of their creation for you. Perhaps I am the bothersome student who asks questions without listening; you may have already shared your truths in pages and orations I have yet to explore. Here are some questions I ask now.

When walking alone in the dark, did you walk tall or swagger as a man? No matter where you were in your identity, did you do this to dissuade strangers who might attack if they knew what body you were born into?

What spaces did you feel most comfortable in? Did you ever feel so joyous and present you grinned at the sky, equal parts certainty and disbelief, feeling as though you were part of a complicated 3-D jigsaw puzzle with all pieces finally present and being put together?

Throughout your life, did you care about the gender expressions of your lovers? Did you with your butch and transgender identities ever experience attraction to other butch, transgender, &/or nonbinary individuals?

Because you were butch, did you want your loves to be feminine?

How did you feel pressed up against someone sweet, strong, flowery, and gutsy who shied away from being called “woman” or “girl”? Did you respect their preferences?

Were you ever attracted to cis-gendered men? And did it scare you, gazing at a man, knowing you were an anomaly breaking all rules of attraction? Scaring even other butches?

Were you ever so fed up with the binary and heteronormativity you became pure stone or glacier? Did you throw parkas to the wind for strangers to catch when you were an ice age?

Did you ever feel alien? Did you question if you were an amnesiac astronaut from another solar system, squinting around wondering what was up with “He” and “She” differentiating nearly identical beings? And the purpose of waxing salons?

If you had the opportunity to scrub gender from the earth, would you take it?

You said, “Gender is the poetry each of us makes out of the language we are taught.” What new languages do you want babies to learn?

How did you sustain your fire?

I’m not real good with questions today and I apologize if these questions were too personal. But I do have more to ask eventually. I sit in the shade of those which remain with me.

August 22

Dear Leslie,

I’m not butch. I guess I have to share that. No one catching me scampering would ever mistake me for butch. No one who sees me joyously twirling or shaking my shoulders in a silly shimmy. I’ve been called a pixie and fairy more times than I can count. All my life, whether I welcome it or not. If someone did call me butch, my friends would raise their eyebrows or laugh if I told them. I know from experience. Luckily, I don’t claim butch identity for myself, although I’ve been wistful at times. But I do know stone* and I know the blues.

Just to put it out there, I don’t mean to presume my interpretation of and lived experience with stoniness is the same as Jess’ or yours. I need to respect that we have different stone experiences, Leslie. I have the fortune of never having been being sexually assaulted (yet/hopefully ever). Yet even without those kinds of oppressions, I feel myself as stone. I rarely welcome touch. It seems I have forgotten how to melt into hugs even with those I love, afraid of getting too close and afraid of sharing too much. And I’m just skeptical of contact. I bristle at being mistaken for soft sometimes, afraid someone will confuse that joy or warmth for weakness. Like a peach, at the core I am a stone. Maybe not all the time, and of course pits grow into trees if the circumstances are ripe, but I do often shut down and lie dormant in wait for rain or simply dormant, forgetting rain ever existed.

*In your 1996 interview with Julie Peters, you shared that stone means “very” in African-American vernacular. In the context of “stone butch,” it mean “very butch.” I never knew. You also wrote, “The second colloquial usage here in the states is that *stone butch* means a person who has been so wounded sexually that it is difficult to allow oneself to be touched. I chose to bring to life a *stone* character so that people could see how this particular form of oppression–like incest or rape–sometimes forces people to *shut down* sexually for a period of time, or for a long time. I don’t think of it as a strategy so much as a reflex.”

Why

August 20

Dear Leslie,

I will write you.

Why? Because my copy of Stone Butch Blues hasn’t even arrived yet, it’s still in Franklin, MA, but the first chapter I read online stilled my heart. For five minutes, I was completely engaged. Present in a way I’m normally not. I need the rest of the words and not from a book that has to return to the library. Although, you should know my library doesn’t even have a copy. One of the best library systems in the United States and no Stone Butch Blues. I imagine someone snuck it out just for the hope and validation its pages would provide or the comfort of having it on their shelves; copies aren’t easy to come by these days. I hope your loved ones are able to provide a PDF online (here, eventually) because I know what you have to say is important and it should be accessible to all those who want it.

I’m not just writing you because of your work as a transgender warrior, or because you were/are butch, transgender, lesbian, she/zie & her/hir, but because your activism wasn’t constrained by ignorance/apathy toward white privilege and supremacy. I’m not saying this very well, but you engaged in anti-racist, anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist work, and I admire that. Too often white LGBTQ+ activists are blinded to their white privilege(s) and are too proud to entertain the possibility(reality) they hurt people of color by not recognizing and addressing their privilege. I don’t wish to put you on a pedestal as perfect, Leslie, but you give me someone to look up to. I thank you for that. I wish I had explored your work sooner. I didn’t think it was relevant to me or I was simply deterred by “Blues,” but I’m making up for it now.

Stone Butch Blues will arrive shortly. I reserved Transgender Warriors at the library and I will soon read Drag King Dreams, too.

As I ponder gender, sexuality, race, class, and nation in my own life, I will learn more about you and your work.

Explanation

August 19

Dear Leslie,

A ladybug found itself trapped inside my room last night. Who decided to name the beetle “lady”? I hope it got out.

Perhaps I owe you an explanation for these letters. In future notes, I know I’ll explain more, offering a bit about who I am and what mud I’m leaping across or stomping in. Here’s a quick tidbit though:

I’m genderqueer, nonbinary, genderfluid, agender, or some other identity soup of not buying the gender binary of man and woman. I’m cool with it. Been doing my thing all my life just trying to be true to what feels right. I think I’m doing okay even if sometimes I’m left floating outside of everything as if I’m hungry and my head is light—too empty of gender roles and identities others use to remain grounded. But it’s starting to get to me.

I would like to see a therapist. A gender therapist, ideally. But in an effort to work through my lifelong fear of driving (heck yeah! optimism! can summon optimism! / I debated even telling you because my shame runs deep), I need to meet with someone who specializes in anxiety. I want to mold my driving-based fears into hopes and strengths. Rather than embark upon a likely arduous quest for a trans-affirming therapist who specializes in anxiety, I will focus on driving stuff in therapy.

Regarding gender and sexuality, I will write to you. I don’t need anyone to tell me I am not broken (I’m already down with me, Leslie). I just want to learn how to cope with feeling this alone in my not-woman-or-man-ness. I just want to learn how to better understand and navigate life as a genderqueer person. I know I’m not alone. Committing that knowledge to my heart and learning how to thaw remains on my to do list.

Things to learn:

How to [be] love[d]

&

How to be content,

while still

Fighting against all that which is inhumane.

Dear Leslie

August 19

I am going to write you. You, of course, are already gone. I know that you are dead—claimed far too soon from the bite(s) of ticks and even greater bites sustained from an “undeclared war.” If there is an afterlife, I don’t know that my words will reach you; I will leave any express lanes to you for your family of friends. Because wildfires are sparking, leaping, and wilding across Oregon, I will not burn this so that ashes may dance upwards in heat before nestling into the soil you are now part of. Instead, I will transfer words letter by letter with a tiny trowel to a screen, releasing word fireflies into the web.

You will never know me, nor I you. But I will write you. A queer to a queer, a stone to a stone, one human to another human, I write you.