on writing, and not

November 15

Les,

I feel bad for writing after such a long absence. Have I any right to? Or write? Maybe it would help to share that since coming out to my parents, I feel a less urgent need to express myself and sift through gender and sexuality online. I’ve been doing more processing offline, such as contemplating changing my name. The poem I posted today was written in September. I forgot about it until seeing it in my drafts today. Since then, I’ve stopped introducing myself by my first name, outside of work settings.

I write now because I have a 3,000 word essay due tomorrow for my wonderful class but the words are not falling into place. Not for a lack of content, but for too much. The words and feelings are jammed in my heart, throat, and stomach, and so knotted they perhaps do not belong on paper just yet. I’m still trying to make sense of things to even begin writing. But maybe I just need to write a tangly mess.

It’s like this road, and in part caused by it:

The road is becoming overgrown. And I know that much of the debris, such beautiful red and brown debris, is from autumn calling leaves and needles to the ground, but there is more to it than that. This logging road in Mt. Hood National Forest has been blocked to vehicles, which serves the purpose of both preventing motor and recreational vehicles from continuing onward and inhibiting folks from easily shooting firearms at signs, bottles, and ornaments. The bridge sign is actually gone now. Maybe shot too many times. Maybe taken as a keepsake.

The road is also overgrown because people like my family haven’t been walking down it much.

And despite 9 years in the making, I’m having a difficult time saying goodbye to my favorite place in the world, my family’s cabin in Mt. Hood National Forest.

2017 has been a big year, bigger than paper or a blog, and the year our cabin was put on the market.

I don’t have the words out in the open quite yet for loss of place and certain traditions.

what my name is

September 8

is not a question I can answer or

sentence I can finish.

It’s a tightrope from you to me,

you could say. Or a rope to follow

in the haze of a blizzard. Heck,

I’d say. It’s the blizzard.

So we dance—

you want to know, and I don’t want to say.

Away and up, we sashay

around the outskirts of my name.

Away from vowels and letters,

I lead.

Back among the roses

June 9
Les,
After five weeks of travel in Europe, visiting old friends, and venturing to new places alone or with them, I’m back in Portland, and grateful to have such a beautiful hometown. I’m thankful for the strength and love of strangers and the safety of my many loved ones, particularly after recent terrorist attacks, one of those attacks by a white supremacist at my main transit center in Portland, and one on the London Bridge, in nearly the exact spot my friend and I were three weeks prior.
 
I have complicated feelings about travel, mostly related to climate change and privilege, and also nurse complicated feelings about my hometown and the environment it presents for people of color and other low-income communities with its unique brand of racism. Still, I am immensely thankful for my time visiting old friends and experiencing other cultures, and thankful to have returned to a city with my loved ones and my roots where I can smell the roses. So many roses.

visibility

April 2

Les, after hours of thinking and writing, I posted the following on Facebook.

I wanted to write something on Transgender Day of Visibility on Friday but missed it. I’m posting now because I wanted to last year but wasn’t yet out to some of the people I really needed to be.

I wish I’d had the words for being neither a boy or girl as a kid. Because I never learned it was a thing, I didn’t know that I wasn’t a girl. I just knew that I was frustrated with the different options and rights for boys and girls, and felt an overwhelming urge to defy gender norms, and be myself. Sometimes I wish there’d been books, fiction and otherwise, featuring characters whose relationships with gender matched my own or otherwise ignited me. I read a lot of LGBT literature in middle school and high school, but didn’t linger on the few transgender characters I stumbled across, mostly because binary transitions (FTM or MTF) weren’t relevant to me. I still haven’t read a book or watched a movie with a character I truly identify with in terms of gender.

Can you imagine that?

With a personal history of vocal feminism (forever this) but also comfort with being called girl, sometimes I feel self-conscious about my past. I feel afraid that because I was comfortable being “girl-ed” in the past, people will disbelieve my nonbinary identity. But this is a fundamental truth: regardless of my education, I was just as nonbinary and genderqueer as my 5 year-old self twirling in dresses or pestering my mom for things to carry in my pockets as I was in 6th grade when people asked if I was a boy every week. Or, didn’t ask—just called me a boy, or wondered what I was in not-so-quiet whispers to their parents or friends in 8th grade.

I could tell you that at no point in my life have I been any less or more nonbinary than I am now, but honestly, there is a time seared into me: because of the ways it made me feel out of place in the world and my skin, the night I was crowned Homecoming queen in high school is the queerest and most transgender I have ever felt. Being queer and trans is never a problem, but feeling like there is no space for you to exist as you truly are is.

We get an inadequate education on gender and sexuality in schools and the media. The best education is everyday life but often it doesn’t feel like it’s easy or right or safe to ask questions or say to someone: neither girl or boy feels right to me, or sometimes my body doesn’t match how I feel on the inside, or I like my body but it makes people assume things about who I am that just aren’t true.

Or: I don’t see myself growing older in this society as it or I currently am.

And that last one is something we really need people feeling comfortable sharing. We need changes so that everyone, regardless of their gender, can live open and comfortably. We need a society with an emphasis on respect, inclusivity, and dignity. We need more conversations about the limitations of the gender binary system of man and woman, and the society that is structured around it. A binary system transgender people are reminded of daily on survey forms, in department stores, when we need to pee, join a soccer league, or are being Sir-ed or Ma’am’ed on the phone.

From a young age, we don’t get many discussion on the either or the neither or the both or the whattheheck of gender. It’s assumed that we are what was written on our birth certificates when we were born.

We aren’t given many safe spaces to ask and learn about gender and sexuality, regardless of what’s in our hearts or between our legs or who invites butterflies into our stomachs.

Because I grew up around families that didn’t match my own, and because I had parents who let me wear what I want, and let me chop off my hair even when they weren’t thrilled, I got to learn and grow and feel better about myself sooner than some. I got to like different things at different times and mostly not feel ashamed. Some shame, of course. That shouldn’t be an of course.

Because of some advances in education and policies, and sheer need to live authentically, more people are coming out as trans. Thanks to beautiful and brave humans like Laverne Cox and Parinya Charoenphol, there are are more openly famous transgender people. More, even, than when I was a kid. But we still have progress to make, everywhere.

There are about as many experiences with gender as there are people in the world. My trans, my nonbinary, is nobody else’s. One transgender identity isn’t representative of all, and I think that’s important to note. We need many representations of trans individuals in literature, film, and the public and private sector. We need people feeling safe, comfortable, and proud to be themselves without hiding or lying or avoiding the careers or people or sports they really want in their life. We need visibility and inclusivity as a habit and rule, not the exception.

Here’s to visibility.

a year on, still beating

February 18

Dear Les,

I’m housesitting for my sister, and found some photos on her coffee table. She’s a photographer and actually just said bye to years in the service industry to really give things a go so it was extra special to discover some film prints lying around.

I found this one and was a little confused. I didn’t recognize the setting, didn’t remember ever sitting in a chair like that or why I would. I wondered why she’d use film on me when I was full on cowlickin’ and carrying large bags under my eyes. When I was so quiet, and probably struggling with my thermos.

It took me several minutes to realize that this photo was from March 1, 2016, and we were waiting together with my mom at Providence for my dad to get out of cardiac surgery. I had stayed up late the night before, and wakened early to at least see my parents off to the hospital. I didn’t know if I’d see my dad again. I don’t take much for granted.

We all got to see my dad again. We had him for Father’s Day in June, our summer birthdays, and his birthday in October, when I treated him, my mom, and Elizabeth to pizza and Hunt for the Wilderpeople at the Academy Theater, where we all laughed louder than anyone else in the theater, and Elizabeth and I cried.

And I got to come out as nonbinary to both of my parents together in June the night before I turned 24. I had waited weeks for my mom to return from the east coast so they’d have each other when I told them. I couldn’t begin another year of life with the wrong nouns attached to me.

Just today I got to confirm that he didn’t subscribe me to the mysterious copy of Seventeen I found on my bed with my name this afternoon (I’m not their target audience, the mystery continues).

The thing about life is that it’s precious. It’s discarded McDonald’s wrappers on the sidewalk and sunsets that pull stranger neighbors outside to admire together. It’s friends losing parents and you carrying them letters with stickers and doodles or editing their grad school applications or helping them pick out a cardigan for a funeral. Not because someone precious to them has died and you feel pity but because goddamn you are tied together by tiny threads, colorful, translucent, there’s love, and simple decisions to be there. They will not be alone, even if you cannot share everything they are feeling.

It’s chronic illness, and watching inaugural season soccer games with your buddy’s mom in a bed across town from where they’re happening because it’s better to watch the games together, even if on a computer screen.

It’s even forgetting that a day is the five year anniversary of a day you decided not to write down your assignment’s due date if you weren’t going to live to see it—and not remembering until you see a reminder on Facebook, of that, and your promise to live.

It’s a friend coming out to you as queer from over a thousand miles away, because they feel safe enough to share their truth with you.

Life is not giving anyone the permission to take your fire, not even you. It’s jumping across puddles and still sloshing water on your shoes. It’s screaming with joy at the mess of storms and thunder during a downpour with your friend after you didn’t receive the Fulbright you applied for and her mother woke her up at 0700 with news of a divorce.

Life’s not a wide open plain, but maybe it is. It’s broken glass glittering in the sunshine, shards that could so easily slice us open, beautiful against gritty pavement. It’s mosaics. It’s what you have to say of it, love, some gummy bears, stale croutons, and more.

I’ve got some doubts about life sometime, but I think it’s something to lean into. In the waiting rooms, in the downpours, or on top of hills in the Gorge with wind ripping through your hair.

I show up, and I’m an average student with perfect attendance until it isn’t. I hope you keep showing up, too. What a ride, bumpy and smooth. What a gift to have so many options and stars in the sky, even when we can’t see them.

Image may contain: 1 person, indoor

letter from early 2017

February 5

Dear Les,

It is odd to return to this blog, even for a quick second, even for a short post, and find that it has just as much traffic as ever, if not more. Most of that traffic, after scrutiny, is for a url delivering folks to a pdf of your words, a pdf of Jess Feinberg, of Stone Butch Blues.

It’s 2017 and there are many stones, many butches, many queers, and many with the blues clamoring for recognition. Clamoring for hope and good news. Hoping and itching to see themselves on pages.

I’m not butch, I say it again. I don’t identify with butch or femme, masculine or feminine, but I’m still strung up and over the binary, still fighting the gender on the little band placed around my premature wrist twenty-four and a half years ago in a hospital after doctors and nurses saw what was between my legs. Tiny holes, tiny folds.

It’s 2017 and I’m speaking. It’s 2017 and there are some things too heavy to say.

Les, I hope you are well. Wherever you are, if you care to, please send energy to the resistance.

from a distance

December 4

Les,

Somehow it’s been months since I wrote with regularity, and

I can’t give you a solid reason why. Perhaps

because coming o u t         [to my parents]

was a big focus of mine, and now that I started

I don’t know how to proceed. The stress

of the initial conversation has lifted, and I am left

with the regular, daily work, and the need

for further conversations. But sometimes,

it’s just nice to breathe, and hunker

I’m not done. The work is not

done. But I’m alive, and perhaps

that (continuing) is as how it should be.

Did I tell you a year ago I learned a favorite author has Lyme?

I know I did not tell you

a friend was diagnosed with Lyme.

They keep shining, Les,

and every day, I think we all try

to do the best

we can at the time.

I keep walking

November 12

Dear Les,

If you’ve paid any attention from wherever you are, I think you know lots of us are scared, hurting, and rolling up our sleeves, wondering how best to move from grief to action. A demagogue is president-elect. After waking up on election day on the brink of an anxiety attack (with fear of this election’s outcome), I took care of myself all day and didn’t “tune in” to the news until vote tallies were well underway. Even with some hints from friends that things were not going well, I organized my thoughts and posted this beforehand. It’s about moving forward.


As a nondriver and someone who enjoys being outside, I spend a lot of time walking. I walk to buy groceries, pick up prescriptions, rid my dog of some of her tissue-thieving energy, grab a bite to eat, return library books, drop off my ballot, and simply listen to the wind rustle leaves. Often I just walk for the heck of it.

Much of this walking takes place at night when the earth has already spun so that we don’t see the sun. In the dark, walking in residential neighborhoods, I can see when folks have left their car’s dome lights or headlights on. Growing up, my brother and I made a great team whenever we noticed this. We’d guess which house the car belonged to, and one of us (often I) would go knock on the door while the other waited on the sidewalk with our dogs. I’d knock or ring the doorbell, ask if it was their car with the lights on, wish them a good evening, then continue into the night.
Alone on my walks, I do the same.

Most times, someone does come to the door, and although they are confused and/or stressed upon answering the door for a stranger, they are surprised and grateful once they learn my reason for knocking.

Doing what I do is very simple but it’s layered in complexity. In order to save others from dead car batteries, one must feel comfortable seeking out the owners at night. Night is a time I feel very comfortable in my skin, and hopeful. It’s something I refuse to cede. So is my faith in others. What I do also requires that people have enough trust in the unknown and faith in others to not just answer their door, but listen.

A sad truth is that one of the reasons many people likely immediately cancel “threat” from their minds when they encounter me on their porch, is that I’m white, small, and routinely perceived to be a woman. Due to centuries of systematic and interpersonal racism often only enhanced by divisive national rhetoric, I find it highly unlikely that someone of color, particularly a black man, or someone who is perceived to be transgender, would be as safe as I am knocking on a stranger’s door. Safe in both the physical sense, and from seeing doubt and prejudice flit across the resident’s face. As someone living in a body with breasts and a vagina, as someone who learned like water is life that I needed to be cautious around men, I know I’d be nervous about opening my door to a stranger at night, particularly a man.

For many reasons, that is a shame. Regardless of the outcome of tonight’s election, despite the months of angry rhetoric, I hope we wake up to a world tomorrow in which people suspend their fear (or better, analyze and resolve it) and open their doors to each other. I hope, no matter whom we elect, that we allow ourselves growing faith in others, trusting that we could possible mean and do well for each other. Trust that it pays to listen, and pays to speak up, even if it just means a saved battery sometimes.

I’ll keep walking tomorrow and the next day and the next night after that. As long as my legs allow me, I’ll walk, and I’ll gently offer help. I’ll keep my faith, placing myself at the mercy of those whose doors I knock on, because it’s an investment in my community, and I need that faith in others like I need water and I need air. I need to believe we can be good to each other. And I promise you, I’ll do my best to open my door with an open heart. I hope you will join me.

jack o’lantern tinder

October 30

Dear Les,

What’s a queer

up in the ether

in the basement sweeping cobwebs

or admiring clouds past a steeple

what’s self love and honesty

what’s advertising and marketing

on a smartphone for hand

holding and/or

finding midnight

snacks with somebody

What’s looking through ads when you never even

used to know about Black Friday

I couldn’t tell you a penny from

a sigh, couldn’t tell you

a nickle from a dime, and nope

I’m not placing a value

on anybody

I’m wondering about lots of things

including tinder, and

why it feels like

I’ve stacked kindling

to burn artery and vain

with a lick, with a spit of flame

it’s difficult to swipe right or left

when you are shy

about swiping right on yourself

I’ve built this ship to do things other than sail

and swipe right

or swipe at all

Back to the beginning—

spiders weave clouds that catch

instead of give

They glow

once you see them

Fish flit below the hull of this ship

and I’m a queer up in here

what of it

trying for patience, compassion, understanding

October 25

Les,

While scribbling about zizi and gender neutral family titles last week, I also scribbled the following.

By asking others to honor my identities, I’m in a way asking them to come out to others by putting themselves in the types of uncomfortable conversations that result from one saying a person is neither a woman or man. It shakes some people’s realities—the teller’s, and the tellee’s. Although I don’t mean to, I’m asking others to help me feel more comfortable by using language that may discomfort others.

I don’t mean to cause discomfort. I just want to exist as I am, and have these basic truths be respected.