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Showers of your crimson blood
Seep into a nation calling up a flood
—“Scarecrow” by Melissa Etheridge
The wind blows me like a flute and I am playing pure tonight. I tear off my nice blue suit, lay it on the lawn chair gently, and jump into the pool naked, all but. My body blends itself into a pale smear, my boxers and my binder sealing to my skin as my heaviness hit the water. Jude comments on my body.
“You look so masculine,” they say.
I think I blush, but I’m feeling confident. I do an underwater flip. I remember that as a child, I made a rule for myself: I had to build my flips like pyramids. I would do one. Then, I would do two. And then three. I would finish by going back down to two and then back to one.
If I ever attempted three right off the bat, I ran out of air, every time. My flips would be off for the rest of my venture in the pool. It made sense, to me at least. It allowed me to break records – I used to be able to build up to five flips in a row without coming up for air. These rules allow me to succeed.
One. One, two. One, two, three. One, two. One. Breathe. I let my head break the still surface of the pool; Jude and I make eye contact and we understand each other exactly.
Of narrow minds who legislate
Thinly veiled intolerance
Bigotry and hate
I am sitting in Bardo coffeehouse in Wheatridge with my girlfriend; we are doing homework in preparation for midterms. I am cranking away in desperation on my thesis, headphones in and noise cancelled, when my partner catches my eye and flicks her eyes to my left. Not understanding, I crinkle my eyebrows. She jerks her head a little bit, again to my left. I glance left and see a young couple, both blonde and tiny and chatty, leaning in, staring at each other with a fascination that only occurs on a first date. Beginning to understand, I remove the headphone covering my right ear, on the side facing away from them so that I can listen in on their conversation with her.
“Did you know that in New York if you misgender someone you can be fined $100,000?” says the blonde woman. She looks like a blonde, pale, scene kid who grew up but never grew out of her dedication to scene fashion.
“That’s unconstitutional,” the military man she sits across from says, his voice coated in disdain and incredulity. He leans back and away from her a little bit.
“No, really, it’s true. Isn’t that just terrible?” the gleam in her voice is palpable and I hate it. I think I might hate her.
There is a pause. I can practically hear them shaking their heads at each other in disgust at the state of the world.
My eyes are fixed straight ahead, on the saggy green couch that holds the butt of a tall bald man. I pray he stays entrenched in the pages of his book so that he won’t look up and see me boring holes in the spot above his head.
“You know, it’s reasons like that that are the reason I check the ‘prefer not to answer’ box on job applications,” he says, self-satisfaction oozing from his tiny mouth.
“What, for your sex?” She asks, her poor little face confused.
“Yep,” he says, so proud of how he has played – nay, bamboozled – the system. Yes, the big “gotcha!” of marking the “prefer not to say” box! I wonder briefly if he knows that, by human resource standards, he and I one and the same.
I close my eyes, not tuning them out but trying not to internalize what they are spewing; as I do so, I revisit the fear I felt coursing through my body when I entered a men’s restroom for the first time. I am feeling how much I hate my body at the end of every night and the start of every morning. I am re-living the, “What the hell is that?” behind my mother’s eyes when she saw me for the first time after I shaved my head. I feel the red and raw spots all over my soul from the times that I have been less than a person. The times that I have feared for my and my partner’s lives in public places. Then, I swallow. I open my eyes and I put my earphone back over my right ear. I begin to type.
But they tortured and burned you
They beat you and they tied you
They left you cold and breathing
My favorite song all through middle school and early high school was “Scarecrow”by Melissa Etheridge. A queer icon, though I had no idea at the time, Etheridge was eulogizing the life and death of Matthew Shepard, a young, white, handsome gay boy murdered in Laramie, Wyoming in 1998.
They lured him into one of their pick-up trucks and beat him; when he fell unconscious, they took his wallet and stole all the money he had. All $20.
They drove him down a dirt path where they then tied him, Christ-like, to a fence using a clothesline. They then pistol-whipped him 21 times. They stole his shoes and left. Shepard hung there for 18 hours before being found. The people who found him thought he was a scarecrow in the distance. They had strung him up, like Jesus, to a fence. They say that when he was found, there were two clear streaks, through the blood that coated him, down his face from his tears.
One of Shepard’s murderers, Aaron McKinney, claimed that he had no choice but to murder Shepard after he allegedly approached McKinney with an unprovoked, non-violent sexual advance. McKinney’s defense became known as the Gay Panic Defense.
McKinney’s defense strategy was later termed “Gay Panic Defense,” and today it’s still used often, and, used even more so, the “Trans Panic Defense.”
We all gasp this can’t happen here
We’re all much too civilized
Where can these monsters hide?
“Are you a boy?” I ask. I know the answer, but perhaps if I goad them into honesty, my truth will not feel so shadowed.
“No,” Jude responds, not fully present in the conversation, yet. We are sitting on the floor of a hotel hallway, watching as passersby go to retrieve their nightly dose of ice. The carpet is a terrible, movie-theatre pattern; a gaudy combination of maroon and forest green. Sort of like us.
Jude has their shield up. I know that; I’ve seen them hurting before – seen them curled up in the protective, spikey exterior they love so much. Jude can be a lizard; harmless but inaccessible. I am the same, in many ways. Right now, though, I want to be vulnerable with someone. I crave it.
“I see,” I say and then pause. I have to time this next question correctly, or else I might scare them out of the conversation. In a vocal setting that is more hum than voice, I tentatively ask them, “Are you a girl?”
There is another pause. Not a planned one, this time. “I don’t know. Maybe,” they answer. I nod. That makes sense.
“Do you think you might be neither?” My voice remains, through maximum efforts, low and unassuming.
“I’m not sure.” Their voice seems to counter mine; it is higher than one might expect, though not from nerves. From the confidence that if here, in this place, they speak femininely, we will not be in danger.
I pause. I have an admission to make but I don’t want to make it unprompted. Sensing this, Jude inhales, bites their lip, and, without turning, asks, “Are you?”
“Am I what?” I know exactly what they’re asking.
“Are you a boy?” I pause. I wanted them to ask but now that they have, I don’t know what to say. “Or a man?” they add, almost hopefully.
“I think so,” I answer, my voice steady, a dissociative calm washing over me. My answer feels monosyllabic; perhaps if I don’t complicate my words my experience can maintain a simplicity about it, too.
One. One, two. One, two, three. One, two. One. Breathe.
For love they crucified you
I can’t forget hard as I try
Trans panic: a legal defense that excuses a perpetrator from the murder of a transgender individual [for one or more of the reasons listed below].
a. The transgender individual’s visual presence has caused the perpetrator to have a mental break down, rendering the perpetrator insane. The perpetrator is therefore not liable for the violence they inflicted upon the transgender individual.
b. The transgender individual propositions the perpetrator sexually, in a non-violent way; the perpetrator is left with no choice but to murder the transgender individual.
c. Due to the individual being transgender, the perpetrator, upon seeing the individual, feels that the individual was about to initiate serious bodily harm against the them; therefore, the perpetrator had to act first. It was self-defense.
This silhouette against the sky
Waiting to die wondering why
I have never been seen in the world before today, not really. My throat begins to well and so I clear it roughly. But then I sweep up his soft and beautifully lumped body, and I become one with the languid waterfall of him. I am awestruck by his softness, by his palpable masculinity. By the feminine curve of his belly, and the soft prominence of his arms. I see the gentleness behind his melted brown eyes. I see the temporary, uninformed love for what I am and suddenly, I am shattered whole by a stranger.
“…sounds like that may have been gender euphoria,” Rafi says, almost hopeful that I will agree that this is what I am describing. I am familiar with the term and it terrifies me that both my therapist and I have, separately, identified it as what I am experiencing.
Am I manifesting this? Have I just been thinking about trans issues so much that I have made myself trans? I do a lot of work in the queer community; could that have caused this fixation? Why does it feel so good when I wear my binder?
“I’m not saying you necessarily are transmale, just that it’s a possibility and I think, maybe, if you would like to, we could explore that,” my therapist says, his voice laced with kindness. “Are you worried about your partner or your family not accepting you?”
I flinch at his word choice. Transmale. It’s so clinical and it is so wrong. I am an expert in words that don’t fit me.
“Yeah. Of course,” I pause. He is silent. “I mean, what’s the point in being myself if I have no one to share it with?”
Transmale. That’s not right. It’s not my box. Trans man? Perhaps. I don’t feel certain of any of this. I should feel certain. Shouldn’t I?
“When I was first coming out,” he starts and then pauses. Rafi is a trans man and his usual eloquence has been faltering slightly throughout this conversation. “When I was first coming out, I said something similar. Someone asked me if I was alone on a desert island, who would I want to be and what would that look like? That, for me, was when I knew for sure.”
Angels will hold carry your soul away
This was our sibling
Of his fiancé, Ashanti Carmon, Philip Williams says, “She was the type of lady that wanted something out of her life. She could have made it. She could have made it.”
Ashanti Carmon was a Christian, employee of the month at Dunkin Donuts, and a transgender woman who was shot multiple times and left dead on the street.
Williams was asked what he would like to say to the yet-unknown perpetrators and answered, saying, “Listen to my voice. You can tell I’m in pain… She’s gone and she don’t deserve it. She was [my] perfect woman.”
When asked what Williams would say to Carmon if she were still alive, Williams said, “I will love you forever. Love of my life, for sure.”
This was our child
This shepherd young and mild
This unassuming one
“You bet I’m going to go and shoot him,” was the last thing that Alexa Negron Ruiz heard in this world, before she was shot ten times.
Driving by in the dead of night, three eighteen-year-olds spotted Alexa and realized that she was not only transgender but that her picture had recently been circulating on Facebook. The local community wanted her dead for allegedly holding a mirror under a bathroom stall in a McDonald’s women’s restroom.
The boys jokingly solicited Alexa for sex, shouting, “Hey, can you give me some of that ass?” at her as they rolled up. Then, laughing, they pulled out a gun and shot it ten times.
Police believe those boys left and returned the scene later to shoot her again.
Her body was found alongside the road where the video was taken, in a ditch, with twelve bullets in her. Her family has yet to come forward and claim the body.
Denied in life by her family, one can safely assume that Alexa’s body will remain unclaimed.
Imagine leaving Jesus’ body in a ditch.
But they are knocking on our front door
They’re rocking in our cradles
A few months ago, I was visiting Sammamish, Washington and my father informed me that several weeks prior my mother, who had never really seemed that interested in motherhood, had turned to him and asked, “Do you ever wish we’d had another kid? A boy?”
My father, apparently not knowing what to say, had startled out a “Yes. I do.”
My mother then followed up her question, saying, “I think a boy would have been a lot of fun.”
They’re preaching in our churches
And eating at our tables
Dear Professor Knorr,
I am genderqueer
I feel the eyes hot on my back, my left shoulder burning from the gaze. I whip around and see my partner reading what I’m writing on my favorite professors’ desk late on Halloween Tuesday.
“Hey!” I almost shout at her. I knew she would hate that I was saying anything. I knew she wouldn’t understand, she doesn’t get why I need to say it, to sing it, to be it with all of my person. When we are alone, she sings the praise of “No, baby, I think your gender is beautiful. It just scares me,” and then wonders why I won’t share with her the deepest secrets of who I wish the world could see.
I crumple the note in my pocket and glare at her. She quirks an eyebrow and leaves for the cold night air. I corner my professors. She is the first adult in a position of authority that I tell. And I tell her with my words, out loud, the crumpled note sitting heavy in my pocket.
In return, I get a parental hug from Knorr, jumps up and down, cheering. She embodies the type of excitement that I have craved since I realized that this body and this mind do not match, because it’s the excitement I feel on the inside whenever I think about who I am and who I could be. Her reaction feels so good. Euphoric, some might say.
I keep the crumpled note in my pocket for a week or so, until it is waterlogged and the words washed away by the laundry machine.
I search my soul
My heart and in my mind
To try and find forgiveness
I can forgive But I will not forget
“Could you still love me if I was a man?” I ask, somewhat drunk off the red wine, with a loose smile on my purpled lips. My face is smoothed over with makeup and I am a Pretty Boy tonight. A faerie boy, I like to tell people who have a basic understanding of gender, or a basic understanding of me.
“I love you. But it would be difficult. I mean, you know,” she says. Her eyes are already almost guilty at what she’s saying. It’s one thing to be a good, trans-inclusive member of the queer community and another to be a good partner to a trans person. My hoop earrings brush the pillow that I’m leaning on, and she glances at the light they reflect. A small smile plays upon her dark lips and I am encompassed.
I exhale. Her words sting in my ears and sear through my soul. There is a hole burnt through the top left corner of what makes me, me and I know that there is now a small wall between our two honesties.
Don’t ask questions you don’t want to know the answer to, my mother’s voice rings through my head. The green eyes in front of my hold my blues captive.
Waiting to die wondering why
I lie awake. It is 7:55am on Monday, April 27th. I am staring, straight ahead. I lay on my left side and I breath inwards. I’ve been forgetting to do that lately, to take in air. One. One, two. One, two, three. One, two. One. Breathe. I try my old trick, making myself wait for breath, trying to make myself hungry for it. It falls flat. Since COVID-19 hit and I can no longer frequent my favorite drag bars or, with a giggle, compliment the scantily clad boys in Charlie’s, my lungs have forgotten how to laugh. They sit idly and without thought forget to feed me the air I need.
I am staring at my Boy Juice. It sits, in a large prescription box shrouded in crinkly paper, in my bedside medicine holder. The box is big enough that it protrudes above the edge of the mattress and holds my eye.
“We’ll just start you off on half a dose,” my GP says. Her voice is kind and gentle. My eyes shrink and re-open.
“Okay. Yeah, that sounds good to me,” I say completely unsure of what sounds good to me.
“It’s called micro-dosing. You can try it out and see if this is realty something you want.”
The unplanned crinkle of the bag holding my testosterone startles me; my partner has shifted in bed and so shifts the whole mattress. My eyes shoot open. I breath again. My lids relax, my memory taking me to a different conversation.
“It freaks me out how easy it is to get testosterone,” my partner says, looking at me with pleading eyes. She doesn’t want me to hate her. “It got very real today when you picked up the prescription.” For me, too, I think but don’t say. For me too.
Was it easy? I don’t think it was. A lot of pain came. A lot of fights between me and mirror-me. A lot of internal, “Is it worth being myself if I have to be that person alone? Have I felt that type of acute aloneness before?”
The answer is no. “Nothing is as alone as choosing your true self for the first time. Ask Alexa Ruiz,” the vengeful voice inside my head croaks. It comes from a dead place.
Rafi’s words echo in my mind, “I picture myself … alone on the desert island … that’s when I knew for sure.”
“I mean, what’s it been? Two weeks? Were you even considering testosterone before two weeks ago?” she says, a knife cut in her voice. Yes, I want to scream. Yes, yes, yes.
But I am caught: to admit my yes is to admit to not bringing my partner in on this conversation. To lie and say no is to deny myself. Is this how Peter felt when asked about Jesus?
Did I just align testosterone with Jesus?
Closing my eyes so hard that I see stars, I ask myself why I don’t know for sure. What if I’m wrong? What is it, to be a failed, ugly woman? I would never look like any of the pretty twinks that I envy. What is it to try to find the body meant for you and in doing so to sacrifice any palatability your body and identity might have ever had? Do I choose privilege or honesty?
The stars behind my eyes lecture me, hissing:
Who are you to deny this ancestorship?
Who are you to think you know?
Who are you to say no?
Who are you to suffer?
Who are you?
I open my eyes. The stars behind my eyelids are too harsh.
“I don’t understand why you need to take T,” she says, her voice reasonable. I don’t think it’s reasonable. But what do I know? I am impressionable. “I’ll always see you as the beautiful, twinky, gay boy you are.”
“You’re afraid of the world seeing it, too,” I say, my statement not a question but a sentence formed out of calcified sadness, tinged with anger, and seasoned with a pinch of resentment.
“I mean… Yeah. I am.”
Looking at the crinkly bag holding the fragile box of Boy Juice, I know that it is not as simple as a yes or a no. There’s other people’s pain to bear in mind.
Rising above all in the name of love
I breathe deeply, trying to steady my chest flutter. I am going to talk to him. I adjust my button-down frog shirt and feel the ugly lumps of my chest wiggle their way to prominence. I readjust, hoping to hide them in the lost crevices of my boy bones. We make eye contact and the journalist leans his body towards mine, still in conversation with a different queer. I feel tiny by comparison. The person talking to him asks another inane question and his eyes flutter between social obligation and myself. The lean turns into a full-body tear away and then a head-first dive towards me, a smile gracing his full lips. Men are beautiful. How have I never noticed that before?
“Hello,” he greets, sizing my littleness up. His voice seems to drip forward, like a waterfall, unperturbed by gravity or timeliness. I will wait for his words to come forth.
“Hey, my name is Cory,” I respond too quickly, my voice too high pitched. I have jumped four steps ahead in the conversation; too far, too fast, as always. I stick my hand out and smile. I am nervous. Names, so far, have come first in this place. Many of us picked them ourselves and they will be our only progeny.
“I saw you watching.” My smile tightens; I am caught off guard. He puts out his hand, encircling my much smaller, much paler one, again with a relaxed slowness that my anxiety-ridden rabbit heart has never had before. I think I may have gulped. I worry that my lack of an Adams apple has just become prominent, so I put my shoulders back and flex my biceps inside of my dress shirt. My dress shirt that is covered in tiny frog print. I am a child. Jesus, take the wheel.
“With most people, you can’t see if they’re listening. But I could see how deeply you were listening to the panel. You were interacting with everything that we were saying. I like that.” His voice is caramel. My body is a vat, ready to absorb each droplet.
I blink and realize, too late, that he has seen me exactly as I am seen by God. It is breathtaking.
Cory Huston (they/them/theirs) is a trans masculine, genderqueer playwright and published author originating from Washington state. Their co-written play, A Mild Inconvenience, opened at the London theatre, The Hen & Chickens, in 2019 to a sell out venue. Cory is passionate about cultivating trans excellence in the performing and written arts. They are an alum of Regis University in Colorado where they received their Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and minored in Peace & Justice Studies. Other publications include 3333, loophole, and the Avalon Literary Review. Cory currently resides in Denver, CO with their leopard gecko, Larry, their cat, Bergamot, and their partner, Annelise.