i am back in my hometown when i receive the news that Leelah,
a 17 year old trans woman in ohio has committed suicide by walking in front of a truck.
the article refers to her by her birth name and gender
and i remember that “rest in peace”
is a luxury only afforded to bodies
whose violence ends with death.
i am sitting in the waiting room to see a chiropractor
ostensibly to diagnose the chronic back pain that i have developed this past year
but judging from the middle age women in the waiting room
i think this is also a place to be touched
to experience the intimacy a man touch you
as if he cares
in this town certain acts of transgression are permissible
as long as they are covered by insurance or
have a bible quote to justify them
(is there a difference?)
this past year i have publically started identifying as trans.
my doctor does not know this. but my mother does.
though, if she could use denial as a pronoun for me she would.
earlier today my grandmother tells me that young boys like me
aren’t supposed to have so much pain in our bodies.
in other words, we are not supposed to be hurt
apparently we are only supposed to do the hurting.
we live in a small town in texas
which means that there are crosses hanging on every wall of the doctors office
and bible verses in fonts like comic sans and impact used completely un-ironically
so i think to my self how remarkable it is
that one symbol can mean such different things for two people
their clipart, my cliché
their birth certificate, our search warrant
our femininity, their ridicule
their cross, my classmate ashley
in tenth grade tells me that i will rot in a pit of burning sulfur if i do not embrace jesus christ
there are not many things the people
where i’m from tend to be right about
but i think she was about this one:
signed sincerely: me,
the flaming faggot from texas
the doctor traces the muscles in my back
he asks me if i had an accident
he needs an explanation of how it is possible for something
to feel so irrevocably broken and yet
still somehow be working
it would seem that my doctor regards pain as an exception.
what a privilege it is to navigate the world like that
as if pain is something you can pinpoint and eliminate
not the only thing that reminds you that you have a body
to begin with.
this is the town where i attempt suicide at thirteen.
i did not have the language for it at the time,
it was a tightness in this chest,
a tinge in this voice
a belt around my neck
there was no language for why.
there was just this body
and His religion
and this bible belt around my neck
and i did not know what i was doing
but i knew why i was doing it
sometimes i miss that sense of conviction.
these days i have all of the theory to explain
how this doctor and this god and this town
made this body find dysphoria
made that dysphoria find hand
made that hand find belt
made that belt find …
but i don’t have that conviction that comes
from submitting to your body,
listening to it like that
because i had to put my body on mute
to keep that bible belt down
around my waste and not my neck
these days i have all the theory
to know why they would have called this a ‘suicide’ and not a ‘murder’
to rinse their own hands and crosses of the blood
as if we hate ourselves because we chose to and not because they told us to
as if we kill ourselves because we wanted to and not because we were following their instructions
as if we were not following their prophesy
on our knees,
in His name
doctor the only accident in my life was when they
proclaimed me both ‘boy’ and ‘brown’ at my birth
and i have been trying to recover from ever since
the thing about this body is that you will use words
‘anxiety’ and ‘pressure’ to diagnose this pain
instead of ‘race’ and ‘gender’ and all of the other words
that never made it into your bibles or medical textbooks
these diagnoses i wear like commandments on my back
since a man who looked just like you
told my mother i was born and
forgot to mention that he also prescribed my death
how it’s often not about the accident, the slur, the punch, the suicide
as of violence, as if trauma, as if gender
is an episode that starts and stops,
it doesn’t work like that.
and it never stops.
most of the time it is dull, quiet, and normal
it sinks into us so deeply that sometimes
we cannot tell the difference between our
depression and our oppression
violence and our gender
our sin and our skin
i am in pain not because of an accident,
but because of the norm,
do you understand?
her death was not an accident
it is the norm
do you understand?
we are not broken
we working the way we were told to
do you understand?
i tell the doctor that i slipped and fell
for the same reason i let my mother use the wrong pronouns
the same way i tell people that i’m happier now because i moved away from that small town
the same way so many of us learned to play pretend as children
and never stopped
because it hurts less
that’s enough to survive.