I’m not ashamed to be vulnerable and sincere. I’m not ashamed to love deeply with ocean force. I’m not ashamed to touch with electricity and conduct love and kindness palm to palm, skin to skin. I’m not ashamed of the creativity that moves through me.
I’m not ashamed of my willingness to step up and try despite great uncertainties. I’m not ashamed of my great passions for salmon, salamanders, and mountain flowers.
I hold deep love and respect for the women who fomented me in blood and wanting. I hold love for the woman and family in me. I hold my own intelligence and depth, and my ability to explicate the inexplicable, and my willingness to lights words and images through the dark places of being.
I hold with great honor my willingness to explore and embrace the frightening and unknown.
I love my love for my child, and the body that brought him to being, and the shared will and resiliency that carried us through terrible odds.
I love my pulse, my heart, its chambers and striations as it channels immense volumes of blood through my muscles and guts.
I love that I am still alive and opening, even when it feels like breaking or losing or dying or failing. I’m not ashamed that I’m still here and hoping and holding for love, despite everything.
Shame. The root of this fear of giving and receiving love is shame.
I’m ashamed because my coat was pulled out of a donation box in a church basement homeless shelter, and it still smells like wet snow. I’m ashamed because the majority of my clothing came from donations boxes, or free boxes, or the side of the road.
I’m ashamed because most of my underwear is stretched and stained and full of holes. I’m ashamed because all of the furniture in this shelter was donated en mass to us by a Christian organization. I’m ashamed because our food comes from food stamps, or the Union Gospel Mission, or the food bank. I’m ashamed because kindly strangers have bought our Christmas presents for two years in a row.
I’m ashamed because my shoe size is a range instead of a definite, because I have to make what I find fit.
I’m ashamed because my relatives hate what I am so much that they left me for dead. I’m ashamed because my community hunted us and drove our family into the unknown. I’m ashamed because against the bear I had rocks and against my rapist I had words and against my home town I had an upended bottle and a petition.
I’m ashamed because I couldn’t keep my family safe. I’m ashamed because I’ve been raped, because my health is bad, because I have bad teeth and panic attacks and nightmares. I’m ashamed because a social worker comes each month to teach me how to live and to make sure that I’ve vacuumed properly.
I’m ashamed because we live in a shelter. I’m ashamed because I have very little power or control over the circumstances of our lives. I’m ashamed because I have to see so many doctors and social workers and make so many appointments and sudden adjustments that I rarely make deadlines. I’m ashamed because my body and mind fail me, regularly.
I’m ashamed because my arms are covered in scars and my belly covered in stretch marks. I’m ashamed because over and over and I must prove my own incompetency on official government forms. I’m ashamed because the government has officially declared me simultaneously broken, dishonest, unworthy, and owned.
I’m ashamed because my life is uncertain and unstable. I’m ashamed because my body and mind are uncertain and unstable. I’m ashamed because my genders are uncertain and unstable.
I’m ashamed because I’ve fielded so much trauma in my life that my being has split into parts to hold it all.
I’m ashamed that I’m ashamed. And I’m ashamed that I’m ashamed that I’m ashamed.
It doesn’t fucking matter that oppression has shaped my shame, that my shame serves my oppression. I sit here with it all the same, so tight and thick I can barely breathe. How do I allow myself love through this?
Shame. At least is has a name now.
Made it home and didn’t expect to. A terrible, tearing sense of foreboding, despite green leaves and sunlight. Specifically: concerns of a car wreck. A friend shared premonitions of such, intense enough that she canceled long held plans to visit me, as well as eschewed a training conference that she had paid for in Seattle. A similar sense of foreboding hit me suddenly while driving, of all places, to therapy.
Home now and alone. Before I got in the car again I asked L. to run a tarot reading. I don’t generally consider myself woo enough for tarot, but lately I am cracked open and reaching.
The tarot said: The transition taking place will intimately affect those around you and chart your life’s direction. Don’t go it alone- ask for help. Seek advice from teachers, counselors, wise spirits, and your higher self.
Also: Love, joy, and excitement are being reborn and nurtured. Renew old friendships and family ties. Drink the beauty of renewal into your heart.
And: Your relationship to nature is off balance. Life has been so full of obligations that you have neglected your sacred connections. Establish the connection and you will feel greater wholeness.
Connect is the primary message. Interesting at a time when my impulse is to isolate and run, when connection itself is the thing that so completely terrifies me.
I have a lot of work to do, y’all. Thank you so deeply for being here to witness and listen as I woo and worry and break open to greater dimensions.
If you were going to take your under nourished femme part, complete with high heels, garters, tutus, and fancy dresses, on an exclusive vacation to perform a ritual of acknowledgement, where would you go?
My answer, apparently, is to a log cabin built in 1907 in a rainforest, with no plumbing or electricity or potable water. Win.
Look at it. Isn’t it sweet?
I already have childcare and about 7 pairs of fabulous thrift store shoes. The idea of shitting in an outhouse and pumping water from a well on my femme-part vacation fits perfectly. My femme is fucking fierce- a survivor. Some cushy vacation with a hot tub and room service would make her fucking antsy. This? This is perfect.
I’m so excited. And yes, I am totally cracked right now. It’s true. It’s okay. I am learning to accept and appreciate and be alone with the parts of me that generally, I’d rather not acknowledge or sit with. I’m choosing to move towards those parts.
More specifically, to take them to an isolated cabin along a glacial-fed river in the rainforest to come to terms with each other by firelight. Apparently.
No one mention bears.
I can’t remember what I was dreaming. It was something tense, and this night I didn’t wake periodically between anxious dreams to find my hand between my legs.
Instead to sweat and something akin to panic. I fell asleep with the lamp on. The lamp is still on. I’m alone in the shelter tonight. Rocket stayed with a friend, L. moved out. We’re divorced, which many see as broken.
Yesterday I was at Evergreen, all day, from 8 something am to nearly 10 pm. Soon (in the way that Christmas is soon) I will be a student there. Then I will have a bootstraps Legitimacy to my poverty (not a sponge, a student!) that will simultaneously bolster and sicken me all over again. Like the first six years parsing cities, tech school credits, and periods of homelessness into my liberal arts degree in Whoops I Got Pregnant My Sophomore Year wasn’t enough.
In every shelter and indigent care resource we’ve lived in or accessed, there has been some earnest and well-intentioned Evergreen student or Evergreen graduate being an asshole.
I attended an internship information session yesterday. Half of the list of possible internships are places I have had to live in or beg resources off of to stay alive. It didn’t feel good. An Evergreen student volunteer from Out of the Woods called me just last week, hoping for an update. “How are you doing now?,” she sweetly inquired. There weren’t words small or cold enough to fill the silence growing between us. “Can I get back to you on that?,” I finally asked. What I wanted to say was, fuck your funders and leave me alone. Even if I were a success story, I wouldn’t be yours.
I dreamed about Cloud. I just remembered. Cloud and L. They were gone from me. Cloud was taken, turned literally to sand.
Alone in this shelter. How can I keep them safe through the night when I can’t hear them breathing? So long I have measured their breath in sleep as I guarded their bodies. From the bear, transphobic shelter mates, nightmare. I attended them, bats and booklights and knives in hand. I listened for footfalls, noted tensions and shifts and measured the pull of headlights across the walls.
We are growing now in space and uncertainty. I smoke too much. I’ve fallen in love. When I can’t hear breath pass through their lips I can’t sleep. This is growth, I know, a process that feels like everything turning to shit then flowering. Come September I suspect that I will be nearly unrecognizable to myself.
An Evergreen student. An intern. A lover. Is success becoming an asshole? The family dog dissolved to sand. I’ve written through the alarm and now the sun is up, the danger has passed, I’m exhausted.
My mother was conceived in a nuthouse by a man who didn’t raise her.
My grandmother beat and beat and beat my mother, the youngest of her six, the only one with black hair, brown eyes, brown skin.
For years she passed as white, in the way that poor rural whites can: sharecropping, angry, crusted with dirt. In highschool Sheriff Tom Poppell tried to press my mother into sexual slavery, to work with the other girls of color fucking roadgoers in peach stands for food.
My mother, in middle school, contracted strep throat. Left to languish- short on money, health services, love- the strep flowered down her throat to touch her heart. Rheumatic fever: she never breathed or moved the same again, scarred heart pumping overtime to carry oxygen to all aching parts.
Bootstraps was the only ethic of survival in an impoverished county as hers. Broken-hearted and raised on belts and beans, my mother went to college despite and became a teacher. Desegregation opened her to new counsels: her kindergartners named her a “bright”: a black-white with “good” hair.
Later- after she married my white father and birthed my sister and I- my sister by intention, me by blatant accident- after the alcohol and the beatings and the pills and the bathtub overflowing and the year that electricity danced, danced through all the reeling dendrites of her brain- she met a man who saw her, or part of her, and they moved together to an all-black part of Atlanta.
Race was never spoken of. We visited them and were welcomed in their neighborhood- two white girls of a high yellow mother and a black man. The police were less welcoming; for the crime of driving with two white girls, the man who should have been my step-father was pulled over and jailed.
For the crime of loving two white girls, the man who should have been my step-father was imprisoned on false charges of child molestation.
Race was never spoken of. My mother lost visitation rights- for years we saw her only in hotels, within my father’s county. Although charges were later dropped, my mother left her fiance for fear that she would never see us again.
The white man who later became my step-father did what the man who should’ve been didn’t, although nothing was ever said.
Who am I in this? Who am I? My grandma dead, now, her secret with her- my mother dying slowly of a swollen heart. I think of the Kentucky of my mother’s birth- I think of family I’ve never met and never will, of the man who was my grandfather. I think of the man who should have been my step-father, whom I will never see again. I think of my skin, freckled and Irish-white like my father’s, and the danger it has wrought. I think of my child’s skin, even paler than mine, and the privilege and oblivion it carries. I think of the bars we stood outside of that they made him stand within, as we shed worthless clueless white girl tears.
I think of longing fiercer than breath for the knowing of those lost to us. A knife like ice I carry always, sunk deep into my lungs. My mother. My mother. With her the thread is snapped that I must tend and carry. And meanwhile all the blood back-flowing through valve and chamber, rising, closing in.
-Pastor Abe at my grandmother’s funeral, Valentine’s Day 2009
I was 15. My mother was in the hospital again, prepping for another round of heart surgery. Aden and I had dated for 8 months. In our small Bible belt town deep in the gut of Georgia, this was enough for his parents to presume we would marry. Thus practically engaged, I was permitted to stay over several nights while my mother was ill.
“Do you know how to fry chicken?,” Aden’s mom asked me over dinner as she smiled benignly, one dark eyebrow lifted neatly in doubt. Her husband loudly hocked a loogie into his napkin. “Uh,” I said, and tucked my purple-dyed chelsea behind one ear. I shot a look at Aden. He knew damn well that I couldn’t even scramble an egg; I’d sickened him trying.
“No, Mrs. M., I’d have to say, no, I don’t.” Aden smirked at his plate. I planted my boot in his shin under the table.
“Jesus!” he exclaimed. “What? What’d I do?” He grabbed for my thigh, squeezed.
“Children!,” Mrs. M admonished, “not at the table. Let’s say grace.”
She bowed her head and murmured prayer while the rest of us bit back grins. Mr. M scratched his elbow impatiently. Aden pinched a roll and tossed a bread ball my way.
“Amen.” Mrs. M. looked up. “Now, V—-, no girl can marry this boy of mine if she doesn’t know how to fry chicken. If you don’t know how, I’ll just have to teach you.” She smiled warmly, brown-red lipstick parted sweetly over light yellow teeth.
“Gee, uh, Mrs. M., that sounds, uh-”
“Your mama never taught you?”
Aden laughed out loud. I opted to dig a heel into his toes. He trapped my shin between his legs and grabbed my knee to pull me under the table.
“Sorry, Mrs. M.” I sunk my nails into Aden’s forearm. He howled and tossed his roll at me. “My mom can’t cook worth shit. She hates it. We live off of hot pockets and pop tarts-”
“Well. I’m sure she’s tired a lot.”
“Yeah. Yeah, that, and-” I pinioned Aden’s feet under mine. He slipped a hand between my knees, skipped his fingers along the inseam of my jeans. “She thinks my step-dad is an asshole, and she doesn’t want to cook for him.”
Silence hung briefly. I sipped water, blushing.
“Well. I’d be glad to teach you. My boy will need his fried chicken when I’m not around to fix it for him. Maybe tomorrow? Before we go visit your mama in the hospital?”
“That would be- real, uh, real nice.” I picked Aden’s roll off my lap. He sat back and neatly slipped his fork into a pile of peas, smiling in a way that said, yes, I am a useless Southern man-to-be with balls bigger than my ethics, and I deserve a woman who can fry up some good, good chicken.
I leaned to slip the roll back on his plate. “I know where you sleep,” I hissed to his neck.
I noticed it first at 12- the looks my step-father gave me, the unsubtle glances cast my chest and ass whenever my step-sister’s husband dropped by. In the hormonal mind-fuck of puberty I’d gone from boy to BOOM, with swells and protuberances riding unnerving curves. Getting what I wanted became easy. Knowing what I wanted was as elusive as ever.
I remember inserting my first tampon. Alone in the house, upstairs in my mother’s bathroom, always her long black hairs, his gray pubes furring the toilet seat. Cold dusty tile, cardboard applicator, the crack and floral chemical cloy of the packaging. Hands trembling, I studied the diagrams, read the instructions, noted the warnings: toxic. Shock. I crooked a knee on the toilet seat, attempted to part a fissure of self I’d never elected to touch.
I woke up stuck to the tile with sweat. Ears ringing, fish-mouthing air. I lay coiled until my sight returned, then sucked teeth and pulled the bloodied cotton staple from between my thighs. That night was the first night that I cut myself- then just shallow scratches that tingled and itched more than hurt.
How do we know the things we know? How do we know that we know the things we know, when we learn them like breathing, like pollen sucked through nose and parted lips to gum up our lungs, microbes and dust mites and dead skin stuck to shrinking airways?
Aden fucked me on the floor of the bathroom, linoleum sucking hungry at my ass and tailbone. I lay limp, let my knees fall open for him, tears pooling in my ears.
These things I knew: Getting fucked against my will was the price I paid for having incited his desire. My fault, my job.
These things I didn’t know: that I could say no. That I had any right to say no. What no felt or tasted like in a body claimed by men.
The taste of no- salty, maybe. Sharp and cracking, crust, crisp. Hot steaming flesh sucked soft from bone. Tendons sticking fast between teeth slicked with oil. Tight sear of hot meat too recently speared from the skillet, blister, boil. Salt and sharp ground into fresh sores. The slow yeasty bloom of nausea, cramping. The insistent spasm and blow of runs, the burning smear of grime trucking through all arteries and gutways, constricting, closing, more than a tingle now, more than an itch- no. The taste of no.
A throatful of snot collected where he liked to slip his dick. Swallowed quietly, so I wouldn’t interrupt. He fucked me, finished, fell against me, his cheek against my chest damp with his sweat, my tears.
My father used to sing this song as he drove us through the mountains of north Georgia:
You take a chicken and you kill it
And you put it in the skillet
And you fry it up a golden brown
And that’s southern cookin’
And that’s mighty nice
It don’t cover a lot when you look on a map
But I once studied Geography when sittin’ in my mammy’s lap
You take a K and an E
N and a T, a U and a C, K, Y
And that spells Kentucky
And it means paradise
I said Kentucky
And it means paradise