when my body becomes the art

mixed media

2018

Winner of the SEAMUS Allen Strange Award in 2018, “when my body becomes the art” is a reflection of my process leading up to the decision to go on testosterone. It uses recordings of my voice from different months of T, reflecting on my experience of gender. The performative elements of the piece include different gender expressions, ripping up the letter from the therapist, taking off a binder, creating ritual space, and injecting myself with testosterone, ultimately showing how testosterone is an ongoing surrender to continual shapeshifting and self-love. The incorporation of my physical body in the piece demonstrates how the ritual of gender is enacted on my physicality. My body cannot be separated from the art. My body has very real implications for the way I experience the world. This is my way of survival.

Check out the interviews I’ve done about this piece:

Text:

Prologue

It is Tuesday, March 28th and they say this is my rebirthday. That I might remember this day for the rest of my life.
[underneath Days of Testosterone]:
Here’s what I know so far:
Woman and man are archetypes for whom gender is meaningful.
Masculine and feminine are unattached to the aforementioned labels.
Gender is a social construct particular to time and place.
Masculine and feminine are divine and exist in everyone.
Masculine and feminine are meaningless and non descriptive labels.
Trans as a prefix means moving away.
We are always moving towards and away and between and through.
People assigned female at birth who later go on testosterone
typically experience a growth in sex drive,
possible increase in appetite,
possible need for more sleep.
Some people going on testosterone experience an attraction to men, sometimes for the first time in their life.
Being on hormones is not required of any specific gender, even and perhaps especially, trans.

I am:
Transforming
Transcending
Transitioning
Translucent
Tranceiving
Transcribing
Transversing
Translating
Transecting
Transferring
Transporting
Transgressing
Transfiguring
Transfinite
Transfusing
Transient
Transilluminating
Transitting
Transitive
Transliterating
Translocating
Transmigrating
Transparent
Transshaping
Transmitting
Transmuting
Transpersonal.

If I find ways to use this prefix, can I claim it as my own?

I ask - where is my voice?
With me, all along but -
Can you hear me yet?

Where is my voice?
Can you hear me yet?

 

1. Departure

I’m supposed to write a poem right now
(Then I will tear it apart).
I stutter because I want to make it impersonal,
but this manila folder on my desk keeps staring at me.
I’d like to pretend it means something,
That in going this far I have become trans enough.
(How will I substitute this?)
But maybe this journey
(towards, away - the prefix trans doesn’t actually specify direction)
is just an ongoing argument for external validation.
I know it doesn’t have to be that way.


In this poem, I have used the word “I” 
ten times.
Tell me this isn’t self-absorbed.
Tell me everyone is on a journey of becoming
and no one is done transitioning.
Tell me we just talk more about our journeys because they can often be more visible.
Tell me my trans is in the right direction.
Tell me it’s not all in my head.
Tell me
Tell  .  me
Tell m . .e.

Right.
The letter in the folder uses my birth name.
(I could make some “deal” out of this, but it is my professional name after all).
The letter never once messes up a pronoun.
It uses words like:
“strongly and persistently”
“desire to be less feminine”
“a 21-year-old biological female”
“androgynous identity”
“significant mind/body conflict”
“genderqueer, nonbinary, demiboy”*
“gender neutral pronouns”
“masculine attitudes”
“significant reduction of personal distress”
“persistent gender nonconforming identification”
“goals for transition”
“presents as nonbinary in areas of school, work, and social circles”
“not fully disclosed their gender identity or goals for transition with their parents”
“align their physical appearance with their psychological identity”
“increase the likelihood of being gendered as more masculine or androgynous”
“criteria for Gender Dysphoria in Adolescents and Adults, (DSM-5 302.85)”
“insight and judgement are within normal range”
“psychologically sound decision making capacity”
“has met all the criteria outlined in the official World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) Standards of Care v7 for treatment of individuals diagnosed with Gender Dysphoria”
“psychologically ready to proceed with hormone therapy”

If this was a queer theory class,
we would discuss how
identity is unstable,
reaching for meaning pushes it further away,
longing for a sense of self destroys the sense of self,
(long)ing for . a. sense of
.. se . l . f.
d / e  /  st / / ro  / / ys
              ///
the (sense) of
[self]

we must allow room for contradictions.

Perhaps my contradiction
is the numbness of reading this letter
and the urgency with which I will deliver it.

 

2. Threshold

It’s in my throat,
an itch,
like I have to keep clearing it
or drinking water,
a weight
like everything yet unsaid
is collecting there,
preparing the cords for song.

I return to the railroad tracks because I thought I would meet someone there.
Brown hair swinging in the wind,
blue dress and bare feet
waving at me.
She wasn’t there though.
I think I left her on a vision quest
sitting in the woods with twigs in her Earth-tangled hair,
reflecting jungles in her eyes,
crouching by the river, sharpening a knife.
She flits out like candle flame if you look too closely at her.

Instead I stare into the eyes of Pan
stalking the crest of a hill,
an impish grin on his face,
asking me why I summoned him.
I dance,
jumping around and through him
all chaos and flow
pinning him to the ground
panting as his laugh shakes the Earth beneath me.
His smile tastes like a secret he will never tell you.

My voice cracks
and the world pries in
to open me wide.
I am Ritual
enacted. 

I don’t know who I’ll be tomorrow.

 

3. Return

If I could,
I would stop writing
poetry about being
trans enough.

I would accept
the changing
fluid motions
of understanding
and identities.

I would surrender
to Mystery between
my atoms,
rejoice in the unknowing
as a way of becoming
again and again.

If I could,
I would accept
this body
as is, 
as grows,
without injecting
my shapeshifting
into its biology.

(Sometimes, even,
I do accept Her. 
It is only by outside,
the others looking on,
that I fear I will
never be seen in
entirety.)

I am not substituting this journey.
I am not forsaking my past.
I am not letting go of my feminine.
I am reverently listening to all parts of me.

I am making room for my contradictions.

 

Epilogue

Sweet boy -
Breathe.
You are here.
You do not have to be good -
You only have to stay.
Stay,
Stay, love -
Patience with your becoming.
You are enough.

Leave me to my
     eyes welling up
Shapeshifting
               and feeling all of it.

               Follow if you wish -
                    We’ll trace the circuits of time
                          lean into divine.
                                Softly surrender
                                      our animal.

*Note: The phrase “I wish they’d used an “i” for boy” is heard in the live premier video of this piece. While I used to identify with the spelling “boi,” I learned after the premier of this work that the history of this spelling began in communities of color, particularly among black folks reclaiming “boy” from its derogatory use. Later, queer communities of color began to use it as an identity term. As a white person, I know now that it isn’t appropriate for me to use this spelling, and I don’t anymore. I have edited that part of the audio to not include that line on Soundcloud, for future performances and videos. The premier video, however, remains unedited, as it was first performed. I apologize for my mistake, and am working to do better in the future.