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story of contradiction


this is the story of contradiction. i know that change is necessary, but i fear it nonetheless. sometimes i am afraid of making new friends because i think about them dying one day. sometimes i am afraid of saying goodbye on the phone because i am terrified it might be the last time. so i just hang up. so i just disappear. sometimes i leave so i don’t have to get hurt. or rather: sometimes i hurt myself first so other people can’t hurt me. i think about hospital beds, funerals, grief. is loving worth the grief? i am afraid of falling in love because i am afraid of the loneliness on the other side — how alone becomes freshly lonely in the aftermath of it all, the way a crumpled sheet takes a new character when you are gone. i fear the things i know — or rather, i fear the things that i expect. i am expectantly shocked. i pretend things will last forever (even though i know they will fall apart). i pretend that we will live forever (even though i know we will die). i pretend that my body & my mind are distinct (even though i know they are not). i know that knowledge is failing me, but i keep trying to know. for so much of my life i thought the goal was about fighting, but now i think it’s more about feeling. maybe feeling is fighting? pain feels closer to truth than anything i have ever known. or rather: feeling feels closer to truth than anything i have ever known. i know that the people i am & the people i love are dying. but i also feel like we are living while dying. watch me live while dying. watch us live while dying. what do you feel knowing that we are dying? i want to run outside & ask everyone what their plan is for the end of the world but instead i am writing you this letter. here to say i know, and that’s precisely the problem. i know, it hurts. or rather knowing hurts. knowing hurts. 📸@christianhutterphoto

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because we are alive, we remind them that they are not

originally published 2/22/19

the day after being called a tranny in this outfit i had a photo shoot. i saw this dress, still stained with the tint of their laughter, discarded on my living room floor like a fruit rind…or an ex. it reeked of both fear & sweat, pungent, unforgiving. perhaps it was a whim (or death drive) but somehow i decided to bring it with me. touching it: i felt their loneliness. their shame. there is a magic to navigating the world in this body: i see things other people don’t see: exit signs, gestures, denial. i listen to the biographies of objects: stop signs & metro cards. there are libraries in every nook & cranny in this city, tomes in every look. in minutes i can establish the energy in a room & whether i need to leave it. this is how i have survived: by sensitizing myself to everyone & everything. when i walk outside i have to decipher the invisible tongues of thousands. is this stare curious or lethal? is this invitation genuine or genocidal? in split seconds i traverse universes. so when the camera invited me in: i surrendered to the ritual & found myself smiling on the other side. reclamation is turning destruction into joy. joyous in my pain: i find it impossible to hate the people who hate me. i love them & worry about them, their gum recession, their dysmorphia, the ways they have mistaken misery as masculinity. disgust comes when the boundaries of life & death are unsettled. it is directed to us not because we symbolize death, but because we symbolize life. they have marked us for death — but in their squalor, we find glamour. we proliferate it! we birth it! we reproduce it! it overflows from us: gorgeous & grotesque, seeps out of our pores into the garments into the words onto the streets so that there is always a trace of us there, lingering. the reason they want to kill us is because when we are alive we remind them that they are dead. but i, i have learned how to make communion with everything: you, a dress, this body hair cursive written all over my skin: a love letter to me, a love letter to you: “hi my name is alok. i am alive. are you?”

portrait by bronson farr


our natural state is water

hello my name is alok and i believe that feelings are real and that gender is not. i believe that loneliness is an international state of emergency. i believe that crying in public is political. i believe everyone in the world is mourning the disconnect between who they are and who they pretend to be. i believe that performing is the closest i have ever come to being honest. i believe that i am weak and scared and confused and i believe that is ok. i believe that everyone in the world needs someone to have hot chocolate/mango laasi/coffee (your choice) and just talk about it. i don't know what "it" is but I believe it haunts you like it does me. i believe it has the capacity to unravel you at the seams. i believe we want to fall apart because water is our most natural state. i believe in falling apart routinely -- every once in a while. like a forest burns and a heart bends, i believe in breaking down just to see what was waiting there underneath.

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the biography of pink

how do you write the biography of a color?

a long time ago: pink was born. 
pink had lots of friends.
then pink was taken hostage
got a life-sentence, had to serve it in this
foreign land called “gender”

how do you write a romance novel about a color?
is the color the protagonist or the villain? does the color love you back?

at age 2 i refused to wear anything but pink
by age 11 i stopped.
substituted the floral and lisa frank for a pair of grey slacks.
the thing is: i was desi. which meant my mom didn’t let me near Hot Topic
which meant the closest i was permitted to goth was a pair of grey dress shoes,
slacks, and a knit sweater,
from spelling bee to blasting Evanescence in my room,
i was ready for anything

how do you host a funeral for a color? 
where does it take place? was it when they pushed you down?
was it when they called you a faggot? was it when you feared for your life?
not only from their hands, but yours? was it when you
began to fear everything you used to love? is that when it died, the color?
when you feared everything you used to love

these days i still fear everything i used to love.
see the magazines say “girl power” wonder
what kind of a girl does pink love? 
what kind of girl does pink punish?

wonder when does their romance novel become
our horror film?

want to shout at the feminists but don’t know how:
the only pink i was allowed to keep was the one in my mouth
so i used it so much at some point it became photo studio
full of negatives i’m still trying to process
every time i speak about it a couple of old polaroids come out
of a boy wearing pink, a girl wearing blue, 
a body before the storm:
puberty OR a natural disaster

it’s not that i wanted to be a girl
i wanted to be pink.

it’s not that i wanted to be fragile,
i wanted permission to be fragile

it’s not that i wanted to be weak,
i wanted to be offered help.

at my funeral make sure they dress me in a pink birthday dress,
frilly and superfluous.
lower me down, 
watch me
come to life.

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to the person who gave me a thumbs up in union square: i don't know who you are but i swear in that moment i wanted to write a thousand love letters to you, wanted to drop a banner down the Empire State Building saying "THANK YOU STRANGER, I AM HOME," wanted to run over and tell you that I have been running from something from a long time but you finally gave me permission to rest. it was almost as if you understood this daily marathon: how fatigued it leaves me, how i want so badly to give up, how bruised my spirit has become. it was almost as if you knew that i could not do this alone. i have been struggling to find the language to describe what it feels like to have your heart broken by a stranger: how one word can erase an entire collection of poetry. but what you reminded me on that afternoon was that that which can destroy you also has the potential to dignify you. thank you for sustaining my dignity. thank you for teaching me the opposite of heart break. i wanted to let you know that i made it back home safe. and i have been trying to find your smile in the crowd ever since.

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when cis women
tell me to shave "if i want to look like a 'real' woman" 
i remember
that men are so lazy
they make women
do the work
of patriarchy
for them. 

i smile back. 
say: "no thank you!" by which i mean: 
what could be more real than this?

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sticks & stones

“sticks & stones may break my bones
but words will never hurt me.”

to the man who stopped in his tracks,
turned around and walked up to me said,
“you are disgusting!”

i ran down the stairs to the train to get away from you but i met another man with a different word but the same stare so i kept on running back to my childhood
where i learned that if you
repeat a lie over and over again
at some point the familiarity
makes you begin to think it’s true

“sticks & stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.”

thank you, stranger on the street
for teaching me the difference between familiar and true

how foolish i was to think it was true,

your word versus my body
your world versus my [        ]
who wins?

sticks & stones may break
my bones but words will disappear them
will make you believe it never happened
will write a story about an incident on 14 street
that everyone saw and no one saw at the same time

what happened to him/her/them/it?
(too ambitious)

what was him/her/them/it?

why couldn’t “he” have worn shorts instead?

why couldn’t “he” have kept that at home?

why couldn’t “he” have loved “himself” harder?

believed in “himself” more? held “his” head high?

envy the stick. 
envy the stone. 
envy the proof.

how can we win when they control the word?
(too ambitious)

how can we live when they control the word?
(too ambitious)

how can we exist when they control the word?

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the last laugh

to the four trans women who pointed and laughed at me on W19th street saying
“what the fuck do you think you are doing?”

i wonder:
how does it feel like to be on the other side of the joke for once?

is that what we are fighting for, to be on the other side of the joke?

would you believe me if i told you
 this morning i looked at the mirror and asked myself the same question:
“what are you doing?”

the thing about power is that it will make something that feels so familiar
look so strange.

i understand.

when i started my transition it felt like something i had already been doing my entire life: erasing myself in order to fit in.

i am sorry for the deep voice.
i am sorry for the body hair.
i am sorry for the wide shoulders.

at what point does femininity become synonymous with apology?

i am sorry for all of the people in the world who mistook your prodigy for parody:
you who mastered the art of giving birth to yourself when they simply could not.

i am sorry but i was doing nothing but standing here on the street.

i wonder when they see us seeing ourselves like this, 

who gets the last laugh?

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i am used to this

to the dozens of people who stared at my crotch all day,
pointing and laughing

i wanted to tell you how familiar i am with this scenario:

your eyes,
my body.

your finger,
my gender.

sometimes i wonder if i would have a body if you didn’t want something to look at.

like when the doctor looked between my legs and said this is what i know (gender) 
like when the lover looked between my legs and said this is what i want (gender)

there is a history to this. 

if you think that i am strange and terrifying
i want you instead to consider
how frightening a world is
that encourages hundreds of thousands of people to
scrutinize my genitalia,
make a spectator sport out of it.

there is a history to this. 

25 years ago a “doctor”
told my mother i was a “boy”
because i had a “penis” 

because some other man told him that he was a “scientist”
and he misheard, called himself “god.”

but what he forgot to tell her is
he put a mirror between my legs.
and people have been looking at themselves
through me
ever since.

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a historic tradition

To the man who called me a faggot on the way home: 
thank you for your honesty. 

There is something validating about being harassed during Pride weekend in New York City. 
Thank you for making explicit what they won’t say tomorrow. 

Tomorrow these streets will be filled with thousands of people celebrating big words like “victory” and “equality,” 
and other words that eventually lose their meaning
when you hear them on repeat like a radio anthem struggling to remain relevant. 

I understand: 
in a world where we are told that we have everything
but still feel like we have nothing, 
words take on the gravity of incantations. 

Maybe if we say “love wins” over and over again we will get over our last ex. 

Maybe if we say “proud” over and over again we will forget the loneliness tattooed on the back of our throats, the aftertaste burning like mouthwash for years. 

Maybe if you say “faggot” over and over again you will make yourself a man. 

Did you know man — I mean, puddle of words on the street I almost slipped on the way home — that Pride was started by trans people? 

Did you know man — I mean, fairytale told so many times it became history — that they will tell me tomorrow that I am more equal than ever before? 

There are few things I am proud of these days, 
but I have to say I am proud of you for saying what they won’t admit: 

that you are afraid of me, 
that you will spend the rest of your life marching away from the me inside you, 
that you’d rather I disappear like the setting sun in your voice, 
that I do not belong. 

There is something validating about being trans and harassed during Pride weekend in New York City. 

This is a historic tradition. 
Every day is a fucking march.

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