ode to the small town gay bar

after my 18th birthday i convinced a friend to drive me down to halo. i grew up in a small town in texas which is a polite way of saying i survived (we love euphemisms down here) which is another way of suggesting that almost a decade later i find it difficult to swallow when people say ‘happy birthday.’ it feels like a stale piece of cake in the fridge: beautiful until you bite. like im living on stolen time. 

halo was a gay bar downtown: a folklore passed down from high school seniors, a place of whispers, nudges, innuendos. i couldn’t believe it until i went. nothing like that could exist ‘here,’ & by here i mean the town i learned magic tricks: how to disappear myself, how to make them think i was still there. & by there i meant the baptist church around every corner, the persistent drone of ‘faggot’ ‘pussy’ ‘sissy’ flung at me like a morning prayer. a baptism in their spit. in god’s name, a-man!

i have never understood why they call it “coming out,” as if removing their arms from my neck is about my emergence & not their erasure. but at 18 i clung onto words like ‘gay’ to hold up a white flag among the wreckage. “i surrender.” less about the accuracy, more about indicating a sign of life. 

& i found myself at halo week after week too shy to ask anyone to dance (still am), that 18 year old messy girl on the stage getting her life (in more ways than one) until close, that flaming queen from texas, setting the stage on fire. it was me & “britney bitch!” & the goths & punks & rebel middle school teacher & old cowboy from 3 hours away, & that lady i recognized from the grocery store - it was “us,” one of the first times in my life i remember experiencing “us.” halo was that place where ‘we’ the discarded things, the children they did not talk about, the misfits, the queers, where we came to dance — or rather, live. 

here i am almost a decade later with a new gender & an old shirt. & so much of who i have become is from this bar & this town: learning to love difference in myself & others despite everything we were taught, saying “hello” like our lives depended on it, needing each other because we had nothing else.

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bad byes

i have always been bad at goodbyes. by which i mean my dad gets mad at me for hanging up the phone too fast & i never know when’s a “good time” to leave. i can’t do goodbyes because what can be good about missing you? i do bad byes. my friends ask to see me before i go, and i always have excuses & promises instead. i am sorry you didn’t know i was leaving (again). i am sorry there was no dinner, no sendoff, no farewell. because how am i supposed to fare well without you? i believe trains & planes are for crying, by which i mean trains & planes are ways of getting somewhere. sometimes i get to the airport early & just sit there watching people leave each other & cry. want to hug everyone & just say i am sorry, i understand. this is all a scam. we shouldn’t have to leave each other. ever! “bye” makes me remember that time is real & things end. i struggle with inevitable things. i want to believe in forever. i want to stand in the ocean & tell the waves they cannot take me! i want to go on the streets & tell the men they cannot hurt me! i want to fall in love & tell the heart it cannot break me! i want to believe that time is a circle here to hug us even closer & closer together until we remember that we were never apart. i am deeply nostalgic. i miss everyone & everything, even the people i haven’t met yet. i cry using the same bathroom at the same train station from last year because “remember when.” i like memories more than anything because my mind is a movie theater & can make anything beautiful. chances are i like you more from afar. chances are we remember things differently. sometimes i make soundtracks for my life & on the plane — leaving you — i think about how this would be a season finale, this would be an end of a chapter, this would be the scene they won’t forget. i am scared most of being forgotten. so i leave abruptly. i disappear. i leave you wanting more. i leave you wanting. i leave you. i leave. i...

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the loneliness of being yourself

they will tell you to be yourself & then they will punish you when you are. they will encourage you to pursue your dreams & then when you do they will call you selfish. they will create marketing campaigns, slogans, video reels that tell you to live your truth, but there will be no flowers when you do. there will be loneliness. there will be fear. there may even be violence. my entire life i was told to “express myself” & then when i did people couldn’t handle it. i was told that *coming out* would make me happy & then i got bashed & no one seemed to care. what i am getting at is that they are lying to us & what’s even more painful about it is they don’t even know that they are: when you repeat something over & over again you begin to think it’s real. what i have learned is they only want half truths — they only want you to live your best life (& still grovel to them), be yourself (but not too much!), shine bright (but tone it down!). they cannot handle real truth because real truth is a mirror & they cannot look at themselves (they prefer to look at you). there will be no camera crews or congratulations when you do that thing of excavating yourself from the graves we mistake as bodies, holding it out to the light. there will be no celebrations because chances are there will be no one else there. there is a direct correlation between giving birth to yourself & your relationships dying. the more you gain the more you lose. when you unearth her she will not be conventionally beautiful, she will not say the right things, but she will be dignified nonetheless. & it is that dignity — that ability to hold your head high say, “i am” & mean it, for once in your goddamn life mean something beyond what they told you to (be)lieve. in a world that tries its best to dispossess us of everything, there is something resistant about walking away with your dignity.

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drowning

i am constantly devastated by a world where the things that are most dear and important to us are the things we cannot talk about in public, where healing isn’t something we have space to do collectively, where people care more about our personal brands than our real lives! i always forget to drink enough water and take my vitamins and protect my boundaries and i have always needed other people’s help to keep myself alive which goes to say i am so hurt by a world that believes in individuals as if we can do any of this alone. i believe we are all constellations of stories, i believe that when you want to scream and you aren’t allowed to the scream doesn’t go away it eats you inside, i believe that almost everyone i have ever met is lonely, sad, and feels undesirable and most of all i believe that’s not our fault! most of the time it feels like i’m drowning surrounded by people who have perfected the art of erasing themselves for other people’s comfort and there are so few moments when i am allowed to be expansive and weird and...me! and i believe one of the most important things we can do right now is bear witness to one another’s pain and give permission to one another to experiment, transgress, become. and i want to spend the rest of my life doing that work: for myself and for you, for us.

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5 year anniversary of performing!

flash back friday: 5 years ago today when i was on my first ever poetry performance tour!! it was called “reclaiming our color from the rainbow that stole it from us” and i was raising money for (the now no longer 😢) queers for economic justice! i had no idea what i was doing but i scurried around the east coast crying & screaming & dreaming and it was the most spectacular feeling. that sense of being able to name my hurt, and perhaps even make something beautiful out of it, externalize it from my body. i remember wrapping up the tour and saying, “this is what i want to do with my life.” i remember the clarity that came from being able to work it all out on the stage. i love performance because it is one of the only times in the world we can be real anymore. the stage is one of the few spaces left for truth telling. it was on the stage that i eventually came into my gender — performance was the only space I could experiment with my gender, be affirmed for it. when i look at myself and my becoming over these past 5 years i realize that i am the product of the hundreds if not thousands of audiences i have had since then: being seen, being allowed to grieve, being allowed to be messy. performance has fundamentally shifted the way that i life my life by which i mean i try my best to apply what i learn from the stage (vulnerability, story telling, catharsis, experimentation, improvisation) to my life. onwards to the next 5!

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ending the gender binary helps everyone

when i say i want to “end the gender binary,” i am not saying that i want everyone in the world to be nonbinary nor that being a woman or a man is a problem. what i want is for “man” and “woman” to be understood as only two of millions of potential ways of being. i want all gendered & agendered ways of being to have access to the same legitimacy, safety, compassion & beauty, i want the category “woman” to exist without an oppositional relationship to that of “man” (and vice verse), i want “man” to not be regarded as mutually exclusive with “woman,” i want “woman” & “man” to contain multitudes & not be homogenized & flattened. identifying as a man or a woman isn’t about “reinforcing the gender binary.” the way that we perpetuate the gender binary is more about the systems of value we uphold & how we treat each other than the particular words that we affix to our experiences. this is why i believe that all of us — regardless of how we identify & navigate the world — have a stake in ending the gender binary! it’s a system of power that values its reproduction over our realities, its supremacy over our stories, its universality over our uniqueness. i want a world where gender is respected as a story, not just a word. one where we understand that it means a fundamentally different thing for one person to be a woman than another, where we recognize that there is no one way to be a man. when nonbinary & gender non-conforming people challenge the gender binary it is not because we want to police or restrict others, rather it is because we want to create a world that values difference, complexity, and infinite transformation.

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sexual harassment against gender non-conforming people

been holding this in my body: feeling sore & tired and just need to get it out somewhere. the other day a cab driver interrogated me incessantly about my genitalia. “do you have a penis?” “do you have female hormones?” “who do you have sex with?” i was noticeably uncomfortable & kept trying to deflect, but he pushed & insisted to know what was between my legs. i was anxious because the car was moving, he had my address, i was the only one in the car. so i just sort of complied. i felt disembodied: thought of all the stories i know of what happens to trans girls & gnc femmes of color when men are too curious. thought about how powerful i feel on stage and how traumatized i feel in public. i eventually got home (safely), but was overwhelmed with deep sadness not necessarily at this individual man but the world that enabled him and this. i thought about the hundreds of times absolute strangers have interrogated me about my genitalia, my body, personal details of my life with this..look in their eye as if i am not a person right there in front of them. i thought about all of the comments & discussions random strangers online have about my genitalia & body. i thought about how this was and is never understood as a transgression of a boundary because as a gender non-confirming person i am already seen as transgressive & therefore incapable of having boundaries/privacy, my gender presentation is made into a spectacle for public consumption & therefore cannot belong to me. it brought up how dismayed i have been to witness conversations about harassment that once again erase trans & especially gender non-conforming people, even though we experience assault on the daily & are blamed for it because of our gender expression. i felt the fear, anxiety, and paranoia about going outside — knowing that this would happen again, that there would be no discourse to acknowledge that it happened. i thought about how in a moment of supposed “victory” and “progress” gender non-conforming people like me still can’t exist in public without constant fear and how so few people seem to care about this. care about us: we who are neither women nor men.

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small talk

it’s not that i don’t do small talk, it’s that I can’t do small talk. i’m the girl that they ask, “how are you?” & i am like: “missing everyone i ever loved, constantly hurt by the callousness of a world that reduces me to a body, and mourning the loss of everything i could have been — how about you?” i don’t know how to function in a world that believes in strangers. i need everyone’s help for directions: both on how to get where i am going and on how to process heartbreak. heartbreak not from a person, not as a moment, but as a condition, from the world. i am messy, inconsistent, naive, earnest, too much. or rather i am honest in a world that lies. i don’t know how to compartmentalize myself, give digestible narratives, don’t know how to play pretend. i am difficult to chew on, so most people just spit me out. i think every person i meet could be my best friend. it’s not that i didn’t grow up it’s that I realized that growing up was a sham. i believe in the power of temper tantrums and slumber parties. i love everyone and everything so much that it tears me apart, because most of the time it is unreciprocated. when they ask me how are you? i want to say “UNRECIPROCATED!” and it’s not your fault but i don’t know who to blame. how do you incriminate a condition? i experience past, present, future at the same time. i wore Velcro sneakers until like 13 because i couldn’t learn how to tie my shoes. i don’t know how to make decisions alone — the last coat i bought i texted 15 friends to ask if it was “me,” maybe it’s because “i” only exist because of “you” which is why i cannot do small talk. because i need your help to be. because i need to ask you how we got “here,” and by here i mean everyone going home alone at night, and by here i mean, privatized intimacy, a subscription you have to pay for. and by here i mean “this,” this wanting to know you but settling instead to know the words you say about yourself, as if language is all that we are. i believe that we are more than language. i believe that we are related beyond blood. I believe that i need you and therefore i love you. i need you, and therefore i love you.

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trans issues are cis issues

the way that the mainstream has *discovered* “trans” is so dehumanizing and almost always boringly predictable. trans critique has become sanitized, individuated, and relegated to the mythological construction of “the trans.” by which i mean: we wait until “the trans,” enters the room to think trans (as if trans was not already always in the room). by which i mean we regard “the trans” as a woeful minority, as if in a world without transmisogyny there would not be many, many more of us. by which i mean we enfold “the trans” in cis ideology so tight so that when they/she/he speaks no words can be deciphered — and we take the groans as affirmation, not just consent but campaign, not just campaign but cash...for whom??? by which i mean: we want to protect “the trans” from the scary people “out there” as if “in here” isn’t also the problem. we tell “the trans” that we love them (insomuch as we can use them). we tell “the trans” that we need them (insomuch as we can incorporate them). we tell “the trans” that we are allied with them (but would/could never be them). how much of trans acceptance is for the consolidation of cis identity? how much of trans visibility is for cis profitability? how much of trans solidarity is for cis supremacy? what would it mean to understand that the problem is not just anti-trans violence, it is also cis supremacy? what would it mean to say that the state or emergency is the proliferation of cis identity politics? that the consolidation of cis identity and the gender binary (the future is female, etc.) is a direct response to the assertion of trans and gender non-confirming life? what would it mean to name and to address how transmisogyny is the means through which (cis) “man” AND “woman” are asserted and mobilized? what would it mean to shift the terrain of trans politics from “over there” to “in here,” to your own articulations of self and community, not just ours.

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sexism against trans femmes

the current moment only regards trans women & femmes insomuch as we LOOK, not SPEAK! cis women reproduce the very same tactics of sexism & misogny they experience from cis men, on us! we are reduced to aesthetic props, inspiration porn, metaphor & parable...exhibited as both the delight and the crisis, the problem and the solution of gender. when we do speak our minds we are punished for it: we are disappeared, disparaged, disinvited. we are dismissed as “emotional,” “selfish,” “bitchy,” “vain.” when we challenge the mainstream (cis, white, hetero) feminist imagination, we are ridiculed, demonized, reprimanded. “how dare you bite the hand that feeds?” the expectation is that we should be grateful for being noticed...as if that is all we are worth: tokenization, condescension, objectification. why do we keep calling cis people looking at trans women & femmes progress? why do we remain silent at the double standards and discrepancies between cis women & trans femmes? i want you to think about this — seriously — the entire “debate” (as if our lives are a matter of public opinion) around trans issues is fundamentally rooted in our appearance! how misogynist is that? how insidiously sexist is that? we have no range — intellectually, politically, economically — beyond our appearance! to make this more explicit: there are days that i do not want to wear makeup or a dress because i do not want to get chased down, spat on, assaulted. but i know if i don’t i won’t be taken seriously. so i do...and i am still not taken seriously. this is the double edged sword of trans femme life today: be visible and still be invisible.

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liberal transmisogyny

biology is not destiny, genitalia is not prophesy, & we are far more expansive than a body. 

part of the way liberal transmisogyny operates is the insistence on foregrounding and stabilizing our “biological sex,” even while acknowledging gender variance. 

examples of this include people telling me: “you look fabulous, man!” “you are such a well dressed gentleman!” “nice dress, sir!” by liberal transmisogyny what i mean is the acknowledgement of our femininity, but the subsequent devaluing of it as:

1) always less legitimate/real than cis womanhood
2) merely an aesthetic and not a fundamental dimension of our personhood
3) a transgression of gender that is necessarily distinct from “biological sex.” the idea becomes: “I accept that you are feminine, but you are just a feminine man!” Or “You are a gender non-conforming man!” in other words: gender can only be subverted insomuch as it re-inscribes binary/biological sex. 

this is why often compliments toward trans feminine people like me aren’t actually experienced as affirming...because they are still invested in the idea that we are “men” who just happen to be “feminine.” liberal transmisogyny has shifted its rhetoric but not its practice: boundaries of “womanhood” are policed in a way that continues to harm transfeminine people, especially those of us who are gender non-conforming. liberal transmisogyny creates a barren ideological landscape — one that cannot (or rather refuses to) accept that there are many, varied ways of existing in the world detached from a binary gender and binary sex (colonial lol) paradigm (erasing intersex people altogether). liberal transmisogyny might accept that “hypothetically” violence against trans women and femmes is happening, but it plays no part in it! this is enabled by understanding trans critique as simply one of not being included, not also one of being actively oppressed. but remember: the problem isn’t just anti-trans violence, it is cis supremacy. 

which goes to say: i am not a man. and it is so silly and ridiculous that we have to spend so much time convincing you what we are not.

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