forbidden fruit

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{Content note for discussion of suicide, and dysphoria}

“One day you finally knew what you had to do, and began, though the voices around you kept shouting their bad advice–though the whole house began to tremble and you felt the old tug at your ankles. ‘Mend my life!’ each voice cried. But you didn’t stop. You knew what you had to do, though the wind pried with its stiff fingers at the very foundations, though their melancholy was terrible. It was already late enough, and a wild night, and the road full of fallen branches and stones. But little by little, as you left their voices behind, the stars began to burn through the sheets of clouds, and there was a new voice which you slowly recognized as your own, that kept you company as you strode deeper and deeper into the world, determined to do the only thing you could do–determined to save the only life you could save.” ~ The Journey, Mary Oliver

“Say remember when we were driving, driving in your car
Speed so fast it felt like I was drunk
City lights lay out before us
And your arm felt nice wrapped ’round my shoulder
And I had a feeling that I belonged
I had a feeling I could be someone, be someone, be someone.” ~ Fast Car, Tracy Chapman

As a child, do you remember the first time you realized adults are not invincible? Do you remember the moment you discovered your parents could experience fear? And did you ever have a moment when you realized you might be one of the things they’re afraid of?

For most queer folks who grew up in conservative families, that’s not too uncommon. I never knew if my parents policed my behavior, clothing, and hair because they were afraid for me or afraid of me. Growing up queer in a small Southern town meant being denied access to so many things–the least of all being clothing that felt like me. It’s interesting how clothing and hair are policed within these types of communities. By interesting I mean fucked up.

When I was ten years old, I fantasized about getting my hair cut short “like a boy.” And it wasn’t that I wanted to “be a boy.” I just wanted to look like one. My sister and I went to get our hair cut and came home. Our father flipped out and said we looked “butch.”

I remember the first time my mom told me I needed to dress more feminine and when I was told I couldn’t get away with not wearing a bra anymore. Playing with the boys suddenly wasn’t as cool but I could get away with playing with action figures with my male cousin Sam for a few years longer.

It was a miracle to get out of that town alive. Honestly, some days I’m not sure I would have survived much longer if I stayed. The word that keeps coming back is access. Especially access to education, clothing, a way out.

Today we celebrate the Obergefell v. Hodges victory for marriage equality and all I can think about is how far we’ve come and how far we have to go. Black trans women are still being murdered in the streets 50 years after the Stonewall uprising. And queer folx are still denied access to a way out of rural communities that seek to hold them hostage there.

They still want us to be in “drag.” They still want us to pretend to be like them. The “they” of course are the white cisgender, heterosexual people who rule the world we live in. Sometimes drag isn’t just drag–it’s real for us. Some of us aren’t just wanting to play dress up for your entertainment. When we “dress up,” we feel like ourselves.

In my closet, most of the clothes I own these days are anything but feminine. Also, in my closet, I have three dresses.

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Even though I’ve not worn a dress in about three or four years, I’ve held on to these dresses in particular because I picked them out for myself. They’re comfy and I liked how I felt when I wore them. The one on the far left I chose for myself to wear for my college graduation. There was a “dress code,” so I went with my friends and it’s honestly one of my favorite dresses.

Shopping with friends was so unusual for me. My mom, sisters, and I would go shopping together and get our hair cut together. It was communal and I hated it. We always were in the women’s section and it was hard for me to like most of the clothes there. The floral prints, the skirts, the lace–none of it appealed to me.

I would look longingly at the men’s section with the suits and button down shirts, bowties and neckties.

Flashback again to three years ago…when I wore a men’s dress shirt and bowtie for the first time. It was for Halloween for my Doctor Who costume. Except for me, it wasn’t a costume and I felt free. For perhaps the first time ever, I felt free in the clothes I was wearing instead of trapped in someone else’s outfit and body.

Lately, my gender dysphoria has been heightened. I long to find peace in my body and am waiting to figure out insurance and money for top surgery. Mostly it’s so tiring being misgendered at work all day long as I get called “miss” or “ma’am.” I get a little excited if someone accidentally calls me “sir” even though I don’t identify as male.

Yesterday, it came to light that JK Rowling is anti-trans and has suggested that perhaps trans women/trans people aren’t real. Which sounds like a bunch of bullshit for someone who created a magical world where queer folk could actually escape reality for a bit. She gave me a gift–someone who struggled to read found her books and I found myself in her stories. Of Luna Lovegood who didn’t fit in and was teased. Of Neville Longbottom, who also didn’t fit in, was sensitive, and ended up saving so many in the battle of Hogwarts. My church said I couldn’t read her books as a kid and I did anyway. She can’t take that from me.

My mother sent me an email today asking what I wanted for my birthday next weekend. Her favorite thing to do for my birthday is take me shopping. HER favorite thing. Is to take me shopping for clothes. Every year for my birthday for as long as I remember–at least starting in middle school, she has asked me “What can I do for your birthday?” And every year for as long as I can remember, my answer was never respected.

All I ever wanted was love and acceptance for who I was. But you can’t wrap that up in a present. Maybe what I want is 25 years of my life back where I wasn’t allowed to be myself. I long for a day where I can have a relationship with my mother that is more than clothes and hair. She always manages to make my life about herself.

What do I want for my birthday? Just time spent with my wife–who I know accepts me fully as I am. And to spend time with folx who love and care about each other.

What I want was always denied. Education and a degree I was never supposed to have. Clothing, haircuts, a life that was my own. That was the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden and you’re damned if you take it and damned if you don’t. For now, I choose the forbidden if that means life.

For my mother: There isn’t a tangible gift you can give me that covers over suicide attempts. There isn’t a gift you can bring me other than to set me free. Because access has long been denied us queer people and if we want it, we have to take it by force.  Sometimes the world you want is the world you have to create for yourself. I won’t dress in drag for you any longer. We’re bringing our full selves, with our clothes, our hair, and refusing to “fit in.”

Blessed are the powerless for they shall have power to change the structures that deny them justice.

Blessed are the trans for they shall be called by their names and pronouns.

Blessed are the queer for they shall be accepted and loved as they are

Blessed are the children in cages, for they shall be set free.

Blessed are the refugees at our borders and immigrants within our borders for they shall find a home where they belong.

Blessed are the unarmed black boys, for they shall be protected from harm.

Blessed are the suicidal for they shall be brought back to life

Blessed are the protesters with their fits high in the air, and the rioters who throw bricks at inns for they shall see justice flowing like a river.

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