content warning: transmisogyny, violence
the story goes something like this: it is on the days that i feel most myself that i am most punished for it. it is the days that i feel most beautiful that i am most terrified. it is the days that i have the words that i am not permitted to have a body. the difference between a “body and a “idea,” is the difference between who is chasing and who is being chased.
i stay up until 5:30am finishing my talk. it’s an old habit that i haven’t been able to shake off: putting things last minute, only being able to create in the stillness of the night. but there are few things more luxurious than that sleep-deprived brilliance: creating something with my own hands that i can’t even recognize with my own eyes — writing myself into existence. at 8:30am i wake up to the modern rooster call of my phone alarm. i slip into my outfit quickly. the trick is to figure out your outfit the night before so that pre-caffeinated you doesn’t have to decide. i put on my makeup. i am out of the house and at the venue by 9:30am.
i ask someone to take this photo of me before my talk. i am tired, but i am feeling powerful. confident, sexy even. i want to remember this moment: that time i pulled off that semi-all nighter and still felt this great. at 10:30am i begin speaking. i start by saying that i am often scared, lonely, and hurt. because this interaction — me on stage and you in the audience — feels comforting and familiar, but also temporary and hard. when this is over i have to return to a world that has no frame of reference for what i am. i talk about how gender non-conforming transfeminine people are only permitted to exist on a screen, in a photograph, on a stage — something staged, never real. how people still understand us as parodies and costumes that only exist to entertain, to fascinate, to inspire. i talk about the irony of only being able to be considered real in a performance context — about the dissonance that happens when i walk off a stage and onto the street.
it is 3:00pm and i am tired and full: both of good food and even better conversation. i decide that i want to go home and take a nap. it is the middle of the day and i am not alone so i do not think twice about getting on that packed tram. i do not think twice about my heels or my makeup or my body because in that moment there were no heels no makeup there was just me: tired, but complete.
the tram turns suddenly and i accidentally fall down on the lap of a white man sitting next to me. i apologize profusely and then sheepishly walk to the center of the tram. i am embarrassed: my flushed cheeks match my lipstick.
at 3:05pm i see that man approaching me. i think nothing of it. then, he punches me in the face.
i do not have time to feel the pain. he is screaming at me. he says "you didn’t even say sorry.” he keeps screaming “you didn’t even say sorry.” and in that moment i know he wanted me to apologize not for falling on him, but on him falling for me. for me being femme in public (and him liking it). for me accidentally touching him (and him accidentally liking it).
i want to cry. i want to say: i have written the same poem my entire life, it begins with “body” and ends with “i’m sorry.” i want to run away — both from this moment and how powerless i feel. my heart starts beating fast. i find it difficult to breathe. i am about to have a panic attack. i think about all of the videos i’ve seen of transfeminine people getting harassed and no one coming to our defense. i think about everyone who has ever harassed me. i can’t tell if i am more afraid of this man or of the world who nurtured him. i can’t tell the difference between him and everyone else in my life who wanted to love me but ended up hurting me instead.
a person on the tram screamed, “hey you can’t do that — he just fell! he apologized!” i wince at them calling me “he” but i am grateful. so grateful. in that moment i want to write hundreds of love poems for that person. i want to hug them and say, “i have been waiting for you for my entire life.” and then that man screamed, “if you don’t shut up i will hit him harder.” “i will hit him harder”
and i am back to being nothing. back to being all word, and no body. back to being that thing that belongs on a stage and not a tram. and that man looked at me in the eyes like he wanted to destroy me — or rather, that man looked at me in the eyes like he had already destroyed something inside himself and was coming for me next— screamed “i am okay with gay people, but you are too much!” he screamed: “i am okay with gay people but you are too much!” and then he got off on the next stop. i do not say anything. i am still, quiet. i want to be invisible. i want to disappear.
at 3:30pm i get off the tram and my friend asks me if i’m okay and i say, “i am fine. i am used to this.” and what scares me most perhaps more than that man on the tram was how utterly unfazed i was by his violence. how i could continue on with my day. how normal it felt to go from being assaulted in public to preparing for my next show: slip into the next outfit, put on your makeup, repeat. how so many of the femmes in my life have been forced to live their lives like this, “it could have been worse.” (call it, tradition)
at 7:30pm over dinner my first response is to intellectualize trauma: thank you stranger on the tram for making explicit how the gay movement has only become successful by distancing itself from gender non-conformity. but what i am learning is that it is easier for me to theorize than it is to heal. i am learning the difference between verbalizing and internalizing: one stops at the mouth, the other begins in your gut. all i am is scared, lonely, and hurt. all i am is scared, lonely and hurt. and isn’t that enough?
it is 8am a few days later when i first cry. i am talking to my mother on the phone. she says she has been trying to reach me for hours. i feel the desperation in her voice. and i am reminded that even if i can’t yet love myself, that i do love her. and that her voice is one of the only places in the world i feel safe anymore. and i start crying in that airport terminal where everyone thinks i am a man because i am wearing pants and a shirt because i am scared, lonely and hurt. and i promise her that i will be more careful. i do not know what this means. it was daylight. it was in public. i was with a friend. what else could i have done? but i am good at words. it’s what i do. so i say, “i will be more careful” like i mean it. like my best performance yet. and we both try our best to believe me.
that night i go on the stage at 8pm. i am wearing a dress. i say, “the only place i feel powerful is on the stage, do you understand?” after the show a young person approaches me and my body tenses up. these days when strangers approach me i am often afraid that they will assault me. they ask, “how are you getting home tonight? do you need a ride?”
i hug them. say,
support the author