A Guided Meditation
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There are two rooms that exist that are so quiet they actually have negative decibels. That is, they absorb more sound than is created by any ambient noise. They’re used, largely, by universities to study sound waves, but only under direct supervision and after you’ve signed the appropriate waiver.
I want you to imagine signing that waiver. Feel the pen in your hand, the way it rolls over the page and the rough surface of the clipboard beneath it. I want you to imagine going into this room.
The walls are high and covered in large, brown, geometric spikes that look like cardboard. The space itself is small. Almost claustrophobic. There’s a single plastic chair in the center of this room.
You’ll be ushered in with a hand on your elbow. That’s not courtesy, it’s caution. The space is so quiet that your inner ear will not be able to provide you with any balance. Even once you’re seated, simply flopping over is entirely possible. You can’t use even your small measure of echolocation here.
Once the door is shut, you will start to hear noises, though. Not sounds of the room, but of yourself. You’ll start to hear your stomach sloshing, your heart beating, and the sound of fluids moving through your body as they do.
Your own body will be the only sound available, and your ears will clamp onto this sound, hoping for some direction.
Now imagine walking through your life always able to hear that sound. Imagine hearing every squelch, churn, and flush of your body. Other sounds, too, layered in with it, but always those noises will be audible. Always you will be aware of what your body is doing, what processes it’s employing, how it’s doing digesting your lunch. You’ll hear every swallow. You’ll hear every breath. You’ll hear the blood rushing into your lungs.
How foreign would your body feel to you under these circumstances? Would you feel like you were operating a meat puppet? Would you feel like you were possessing a human form rather than inhabiting it? Would you scan the face of every person near you to see if they’d heard some impressive stomach gurgle or especially rattling breath? Would you feel at home in a body you were that aware of?
There. That’s as close as I can get you. You can almost imagine what being in the wrong body feels like.
When people in my community ask about my gender, I give them an identity label familiar to them, but that will probably be unfamiliar to you. Null gender.
It’s not that I’m both a man and a woman. It’s not that I move between the two. I cannot say that I’m demi this or demi that. It’s that the question doesn’t make sense in my body. If it were a formula, it wouldn’t even come back with zero. It would come back with an error message. There is no data with which to answer the question “are you a boy or are you a girl?”
I am not confused about this. It’s not a failure of introspection or a trick of the light. It’s not a product of trauma or the times. My body simply refuses to answer the question. It hurls itself madly against my upchuck reflex at both ends. “Are you a boy or are you a girl?” What kind of question is that? My body wants to know. Are you a raven or are you a writing desk? And what does that have to do with me?
Evicted from the Gendered Space:
For most people it’s easy to gloss over an instance of overly binaristic or heteronormative language with a shrug and a passing remark about how it could be more inclusive but is overall still useful. That is not the case for me. Moments like that in the media I consume are not something I can stroll pass. It is not a small failure by the creator for me. It’s an eviction notice.
Such moments are signs that whoever created this piece has no space for a person like me in their worldview. I do not exist here. There is no room for me. Not unless I can deign to pick a sensible gender marker and follow along with the class.
But I can’t pick. It’s not that I won’t or that I’m stubbornly ignoring biology. It’s that the question doesn’t make sense to me. I have to spend time unpacking what the author means by masculine or feminine. I have to find other words for these things. I have to translate from the language of a cishet person who has no idea what a body that is neither might feel like, move like, exist like, and find a way to pass through with that word instead.
I’m not a man or a woman. I am neither masculine nor feminine. I am a river of red buttons, clinking gently together, an imitation of a babbling brook, making a strange and nearly bloody spectacle as I maneuver through a world with clear demarcations that simply do not apply to what I am.
“It’s common to imagine this relationship in terms of gender: to the extent that our Ego is masculine, our West is feminine, and vice versa. This is independent of whether we’re anatomically male or female. If we are feminine at the core of our psyche, our Inner Beloved is said to be masculine, whether we are a man or a woman. And we’ll be strongly naturally attracted to people who are masculine at their core. And vice versa.” (Wild Mind p 106–107)
I’m sure, to you, this passage has meaning. To me, it’s nonsense, and it’s heteronormative nonsense at that. It’s a paragraph with no meaning to me other than, “Vico, why are you here? Can’t you see that this wasn’t meant for you?”
Am I a raven or are you a writing desk? And what does that have to do with my soul?
It mostly goes unsaid among my friends. Unless a small group of older queers are huddled together after a show or party, no one speaks of it. But you can see it, passing from eye to eye when someone proposes a late dinner or a stop in the south part of town. You can feel it when the topic of current events comes up. There’s a question that no one can answer. A hope so delicate it cannot be said.
We all devour the news with a hunger and a desperation that we can’t be sure will ever be sated. We are watching. We’re paying attention. But we’re also looking for our dead. They’re harder to spot than you’d think. Rarely is there a headline reading, “Trans woman killed.” Instead, our dead are ungendered, stripped by their families of their identities and presented in death as a person unknown to us. Someone their families wanted them to be.
We largely don’t know each other’s dead names. We cannot recognize each other from high school photos.
“I haven’t seen Claire in a while. You don’t think…?”
Of course, we do think, and we search for each other. So far, we’ve been incredibly lucky, but we also know it’s just a matter of time.
I don’t have a single friend with ovaries who isn’t on birth control, not because they’re all dating someone who could impregnate them, but because we live in Kentucky. Corrective rape is alive and well and abortion access is extremely limited. In theory, an abortion pill would be provided at the hospital if someone reported an attack there, but that’s an added trauma that produces enormous hospital bills and rarely any other results. I can’t speak for my friends, but I know that personally, I carefully researched more permanent birth control options after the 2016 election. Despite the pain involved, especially for people who haven’t had children, I went with a copper implant. They’re effective for up to 12 years and can’t be stripped away in the event that birth control restrictions are strapped onto an anti-abortion bill. I know several people with ovaries who did the same. We all volunteered to drive each other home after our procedures.
Never on any of these trips to and from doctors’ offices did we talk about why so many of us were going in for the same implant within a few weeks of each other. We simply took each other for ice cream and commiserated about the pain.
Occasionally, someone wanders close to the subject at hand in passing conversation. “So, have you decided who you’re going to phone bank for in the primaries? I like Bernie, but I think Warren and Biden probably have the best shot.”
No one asks the question in the way we want to ask it. No one says that they’re afraid.
The truth is the Trump presidency has emboldened bigots of every stripe. We most often hear of race related hate crimes and the movements of domestic terror groups in the news, but the queer community, especially the trans community, hasn’t fared any better. Every queer person I know has felt less safe in public since election night.
I’ve been calling and writing every local politician I can think of since then. I’ve written form letters for other people to send their representatives. I’ve driven people to vote.
I also keep up with the news. Nightly, it makes all of my attempts feel hopeless. I feel like I’m floundering, trying to make some impact against the coming tide.
And still my friends come to me to scare them. I know why. I understand their need and I feed it every time I’m asked. They need a fear they can manage. One they know will be alleviated after a few short hours, and that will be peppered with laughter and hugs and comradery. I give them an escape into a fear with clear rules and boundaries.
Together, we run screaming through the woods. A pack of wild rabbits bolting this way and that, chasing each other, chasing shadows. We laugh when startled. We scream at the wind. We play with fear so that we can manage it. We play with fear because otherwise it might well kill us.
The Sammy and Ben Show:
I was listening to a podcast recently called King Falls AM, a serialized fiction podcast set in a town plagued by the paranormal. One of the hosts switched from going to the phone lines by saying “Ladies and gents, you’ve heard our story, now let’s hear yours,” to instead saying, “Guy, gals and non-binary pals, you’ve heard our story now let’s hear yours.” Then they spent time on it. They explained why it was important to be inclusive, to be open to people, to welcome them in with the same warmth that Sammy (one of the hosts, who is gay) was welcomed in with.
I admit, I cried. The show went from briefly evicting me every episode to welcoming me in. Even with such a simple change, they stopped asking what I was doing there and asked instead why I didn’t come sooner. In a world full of shut doors and darkened windows, they turned on a light. They stopped insisting that I come knocking and unlocked the door.
Maybe it’s easy to gloss over the reverse as the norm. When that norm is tossed on its ear in favor of welcome and understanding, it’s easier, I think, to see why the norm was so wrong to begin with.
It makes me wonder, if being inclusive is this easy, if you can invite more people into your work with just a few changes and a little more thought, what’s the motivation for doing otherwise? The eviction notices like the one Plotkin issued look a lot more callous when you realize that someone who sat down to work with words couldn’t be bothered to choose carefully enough to not bar the doors and windows to an entire community. Then after making that choice, despite the hordes of beta and sensitivity readers offering their services, he instead had to have picked an editor with only his own limited world view. Either that or he ignored his editor completely.
It’s not one choice, it’s many. Many choices to say, “This isn’t for you. I didn’t invite you here.”
Blinking Cursor of Hope and Peace:
Imagine, then, a blinking cursor on a blank page. You can still hear your body churning. Can hear the plip of a postnasal drip you wouldn’t otherwise know you had. But for a moment the opportunity, the forgiveness, the comfort of that blank page almost drowns it out.
What would you write if you knew your words might lessen that sound you’re hearing for someone else? What would you write if you could reach into that vast field of white and hold onto someone with hands like yours, nails obsessively filed and tended to send just the right message, and keep holding them? What would you write if you knew your words could anchor someone else into their place in the world? What would you feather your nest with? What songs would you sing the fledglings who might seek solace there? What would it mean to know that you already had a story, itching at the tips of your fingers for them, for you, for them?
How much hope and solace would that page bring in just its possibility?
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