trans* issues

Cutting the Cocoon

Today is the longest day since surgery. I’ve been sleeping up to sixteen or eighteen hours a day, bonding with the bed and Jessica Jones and Alan Hollinghurst. I’ve had in depth dreams about popping pimples. Instead today I’ve been active and creating from 7:30am to…it’s looking like 2am.

Pieces return bit by bit.

I walked on the beach in Fort Lauderdale this morning.

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Having a camera that can do my imagination justice again supports my willingness and desire to share and create. I wanted to do everything before, but it never looked quite right without the details.

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After getting dirty and enjoying the sea breeze, I went to work on the current video project. I’ve been inspired by such a barrage of strange, different things lately, and I’m sure it will show. I’m all about strange art film though. Two of my current muses, are L’Etrange couleur des larmes de ton corps, or The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears, and Selfie – A (Short) Book. Both of these have a lot to do with the nature, and even inherent violence of art, photography specifically, about expressions of the body, and with nonstandard use and abuse of film stock.

Perhaps where my theme becomes most evident is in my favorite poem from Richard Siken‘s new collection, “Portrait of Frederyk in Shifting Light.”

And everyone secretly wants
to collaborate with the enemy, to construct a truer
version of the self. How much can you change
and get away with it, before you turn into someone
else, before it’s some kind of murder? Difficult,
to be confronted with the fact of yourself.

(Read the rest of the poem. Read everything Siken has written. After you finish the blog.)

Did I mention I just got surgery? Of course Im fascinated by body horror, by the constructed doppelgänger of the selfie, by the mutibility of art and identity! And ftm top surgery (double incision…) is classified as cosmetic, which bears weight even though it’s untrue. But having my breasts removed, my chest restructured, not only makes me smile every time I look down, but also has gotten my mother to call me her son (at least more consistently). The effects are tangible. At the same time, I’m unable to do the kind of work I was doing while recovering, and am attempting career introspection and overhaul. This is a time of positive, but intense, turmoil.

And as everything does, my experience has jumbled up in my head to create art. I’m finally feeling good about making video again, and it’s everything. So after the beach I walked to Starbucks, worked on a video that involves drawing and musings on identity and a lot of selfies, and then waited in the purgatory of Christmas carols to be called into the doctor’s office — the place where my cocoon would be cut away —

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Forgive me if I keep the results to myself a while longer. I’m (still) too covered in bandages for a selfie at the moment. Suffice to say, no regrets.

As to the art incubating inside me, video rendering on my computer as I write, that will see the light very soon. Yes, on this blog.

Love,
Charles

P.S. Thanks for stopping by.

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How Much of Myself Should I Share?

I have these conversations periodically about how much of myself and my poetry might better be kept in journals or on hard drives, unshared. Thus far, all of these conversations have been with my mother. When I was a teenager she encouraged me to not come out, partly for the entirely reasonable fear she had that my best friend’s parents would react poorly. As it turns out, they did react poorly, but they also got over it. I wrote a poem about that conversation with her that won my first ever poetry award, a Scholastic Regional Gold Key. Another such conversation resulted in Gentle. (My mother did see both poems eventually.)

My mother has gotten better at broaching these conversations over the years, so that the last one resulted in neither one of us crying. She pointed out that she was actually less concerned about my identities as trans and queer than my “sensuality” (I talk about sex and I swear, guilty as charged). She also broached the topic as a question, acknowledging that I know more about the world of poetry and spoken word than she does, but I confess I don’t know the answer either. I tend to dismiss a certain amount of her concern because she is a children’s book author, and the kind of spoken word poetry I’m aware of thrives on identity politics and controversy. My current goal is to one day be picked up by Write Bloody, which carries my beloved Sierra Demulder and recently picked up Andrea Gibson. A poet friend of mine advised that if I want to be able to speak to the bar scene, I had better embrace the racy portion of my poetry.

Mary Lambert plays at the Wooly

Last night, April 15, I saw Mary Lambert perform in a Pride Awareness Month sponsored event downtown at the Wooly, an intimate venue well-lit with red and blue lights. She wore a floral-on-black dress with bright red lipstick, played her keyboard, and sang and talked and recited until most of us laughed and cried. A friend described her voice as “rolling around in silk.” Mary got a girl singing a love song about another girl on the radio. In rural Kentucky. Yes, she’s quite proud. Mary also made a point of performing a poem/song about domestic violence, and another deeply moving and incredible piece about rape. She not only has a piece about body acceptance in her act, but is making a Twitter (#BodyLove) campaign out of it. All of this from a woman who sang with Madonna at the Grammy’s. Does this mean the world is changing?

Mar Lambert plays at the Wooly

charles and mary lambert

I waited at the end of the line so I could heap my excitement and love on her after the show, and my time was well worth the conversation and the hug I received. She had said during the act, as part of her trigger warning for the rape poem, that people expected her to be a pop star now, but she insists on talking about what matters to her. When I spoke to her one on one, she said it was difficult sometimes, but (except for not swearing in front of minors) it was worth it to stick to your guns and talk about what matters. Keep writing, she said. Her face and signature are going to hang on my wall to ward off worries.

Last week, NaPoWriMo gave a lovely prompt to rewrite a classic poem, suggesting Black Stone on White Stone and providing Nickel On Top of a Penny as an example, both of which inspired me. That incredible reinterpretation, by Stephen Burt, perked my interest. The author self-references as “Stephanie” at the end of the poem. I kept reading through that blog for the next couple of days, finding good poems but inevitably landing on an essay-style piece entitled, “My Life as a Girl.” Stephen explores the various feminine personas they have taken on over the years, levels of gender dysphoria, and says something I relate to particularly: “I’m not sure how much of that feeling comes from having the body of a man, and how much of it comes from having a body at all.” (I am using “they” not because I think that’s what Stephen normally uses, but because I don’t have the luxury of asking what pronouns would be best in this particular context.)

Mostly, though, I was struck that Stephen says their earliest publications referenced these alternate feminine identities. Today, Stephen works as a professor of English at Harvard. And yet, poems and essays about their gender exploration are available on the internet. Perhaps it helps that Stephen is still living, more or less, as a cisgender man. I prefer to think, however, that the levels of talent, hard work, dedication, and unique ways of seeing evident in Stephen Burt’s poetry are more important to Harvard and Stephen’s numerous readers than issues of identity.

Myself and Yocheved Zenaida-Cohen held a poetry and performance art event on April 4th to celebrate the release of my cd, Riverbed (which was not actually out at the time). We got a considerable audience and a very positive reception, considering the venue and the number of competing events. Our set focused on issues of identity, relationships, social justice, and trans* lives and bodies. A friend of mine spoke with me after about getting a copy of my CD to a friend of hers, specifically because she thought my poems could help him in his transition.

And that, right there, that is why I write! That is why I share my poetry. I do love the sound of words, the feel of language, the intoxication of writing. However, my true, compelling purpose is to change lives. I want my poems to be hugs when no one else is there. I want my poems to say stay with me. To say it’s okay to be you. To say stand up and fight for what you believe in. It’s not an accident that I get asked to perform at events for Pride, ISO, and a workers’ celebration on May Day (upcoming).

First of all, writing poetry instead of novels or nonfiction about science puts me in a niche market. I think it’s worthwhile to be bold about my identity, and that my identity and my beliefs will do me more good than harm. I may never have the kind of caché that more privileged writers have, and I do not expect to be invited to speak in elementary school classrooms in Texas like my mother has (with a book about vegetarianism, a minor miracle!), but I’m doing the work that is meaningful to me. If I make it, I will make it on the platforms that matter to me as the person I am.

withlaverneAnyway, I’ve gotten hugs from Mary Lambert and Laverne Cox in the last month, so clearly I’m doing just fine.

What about you? Is this a question that you consider in your poetry, or other art forms?

Gentle (Poem Video) – A Trust Fall

Above all else I mean for what I make to be beautiful – but I also want it to be meaningful, to shake the foundations of the Earth, to give kids like the one I used to be a hug. This particular video contains a message that’s close to my heart, told in a way that I think is meaningful, but I’m also placing a good deal of trust in my viewers, because unlike an anonymous blog post my face is attached to my message and my in real life friends may have a tmi moment…or learn something.

But that’s what art’s about for me – the trust fall. The needfull exchange. For every negative comment hopefully I’ll make a difference to a few people.

I’m a transguy – no surprise to most. I’m loud and I’m proud on the internet, but in my personal life loved ones don’t always take it well and a lot of acquaintances assume I’m a cis guy. Sometimes I let people thinking I was born male because I wish I was.

This one comes with a few trigger warnings. I’m saying what I need to say, how I need to say it, and I would love for you to be able to share in that experience, but if you think discussions of transphobia or partial nudity will be triggering for you, please don’t risk yourself.

Not a Happy Poem

In rotating cast of commedia dell’arte,
majority groups get hundreds of stories,
different types they fall into, but the rest of us
get just one: the single story.
I get “boy trapped in a girl’s body.”
I get a tragedy where people like me
are beaten to death and kill themselves.
 
But my body smells wrong,
and the texture of my skin
reverted to soft as a French debutante’s
when I had to stop testosterone.
So yes, I do feel trapped,
trapped by the economy
trapped and unleashed
by the fact that the only thing I’m good at
is writing poetry,
in a blemished skin that won’t
grow gills or scales or fur.
 
I tried to tell somebody once
I have the kind of cunt and tits
a man would have, big,
aggressive, and they
had no idea how I could imagine
a man with a vagina.
So I ditched them for people
who understood.
This river of blood
won’t be the death of my dignity
rinsing out my diva cup
in the handicapped stall
in the men’s restroom.
I’ll be a bloodbath,
the sacrificial altar to a vengeful god,
trickster, and protector of travelers.
 
Yes I am
another angry queer
trapped in an old story.
I wonder when I’ll find the guts
to write a happy poem
about being trans.
 
12 September 2013