by Bash Ortega
Luke is the first person I’ve dated since coming out as nonbinary. Sure, I’d been on a few dates with people, but they either became friends or went back to being strangers – nothing romantic.
The day of our first date, I realized that I hadn’t told him I was trans. We’d chatted enough at the coffee shop I worked at to know we got along, and I had slipped him a piece of paper with my name and number, but not my pronouns.
Our first date went well. We talked easily, and it felt like we’d been friends for a while. On the first few dates, I made sure to lay on the T-boy stuff really thick. I mentioned how I had started drinking with whiskey because I let toxic masculinity get the best of me, and how I had Testosterone shot appointments that I had to make.
It turns out this was all unnecessary. We were sitting at a bar after several dates when he told me he knew I was trans from the start. In fact, he thought I was a binary trans man when I had first asked him out. Apparently, my shirt with the trans flag and matching bandana were kind of a giveaway.
That day he told me how happy he was to be asked out instead of feeling the pressure of having to do the asking. It felt natural to me and I loved how confident it made me feel. Confident enough to climb to the higher part of the slanted sidewalk we were on to be taller than him when we kissed.
As we continued to date I realized that one thing I love about Luke is his freedom. He is beautiful and unrestricted. He allowed himself to be himself and do what he feels in the moment. He loves both the masculine and feminine parts of himself, and I do too. Luke loves without wanting to control, and that’s something I have very little experience with but is absolutely liberating.
Gender ebbs and flows in our relationship. When we lie in bed groggy in the mornings, and Luke rolls over into my arms, I feel strong and protective. I look at my arms, and they look like men’s arms, wrapped around my lover. When I put my hand in Luke’s much larger hand, I feel safe and taken care of. When we dance together, he twirls and takes my hand, and I jump around like a drunk college girl; all the while we’re drinking together like frat brothers. I don’t need to “perform gender” with Luke. Who I am is right. He’s not going to see me differently because I’m not all masculine all the time. I can be my fruity, silly self because he knows me.
He introduces me, without hesitation, as his boyfriend. Me: with my curved body that testosterone hasn’t quite gotten to and my long flowing hair. I know I look like a girl to strangers, but not to Luke. Luke sees me, and his unashamed introduction of me demands that his friends see me too.
My body surely isn’t what I want it to be yet. I’m not quite sure what my physical transition goal is, but I know it’s not this. When Luke and I first started having sleepovers, I realized how open he was with his body. He never seemed to feel self-conscious sleeping in just his boxers in my bed. His confidence made me feel I could be confident with my body. After all, there was this gorgeous, kind person who loved me: it made it harder to reject myself.
Obviously, self-love and self-worth shouldn’t be based on the love or approval of another person, but goddamn does it help to have someone who loves you in the way you deserve, and really sees you how you want to be seen. To be trans is to choose yourself over the culture that hates you; it is inherently nonconformist. The best thing I’ve done to choose myself is to surround myself with love.
It always feels worse in the summertime
by Finn Brown
For me, at least. Although I don’t think I am alone in this. Summertime is less. It is a time of taking things off. It is a time of undoing.
When I have worked so hard to do myself up.
In winter I can layer, and these layers can shape out a body of my choice, can conceal, can create. Heavy coats and thick scarves and beanie hats which can make me unidentifiable to the gendered eye. Who are they, they wonder. What pronoun would I use if I had to verbally defend them in the street?
Summer is a different beast. As the weather turns I am peeled open. Onion-like, I take off layers until the first thing you see of me is my body with its feminine shoulders and small, but present, breasts, and oval hips spilling out like they have something to shout.
A man once told me, before I cut all my hair off and declared myself un-woman, that if I cut all my hair off I would still look like a woman. Something about your face, he said. It’s shape, it’s softness. Inescapably woman, he said.
Whatever people think of my face, it is my body I am most often looking at. I look down at myself. I see pictures of myself. At an event where I saw myself rectangle, all non-binary lines, the camera sees me curving in and out. This body challenges every edge of me, redefines self-image, reminds me I will always be unfamiliar with a body I look away from.
I don’t wear skirts or dresses anymore. When I first cut my hair, I thought it would help. I thought it would help with these feelings that I had every time I wore a dress or a skirt. I thought it was about looking visibly queer, and short hair, I knew, would do that for me. It would be enough.
Once I cut my hair I didn’t want to wear anything like that, all that swooping fabric. I dressed like a teenage boy because I was a teenage boi. I lived in baggy T-shirts designed by mates and tracksuits that the baggy T-shirts didn’t reveal the waists of. That is when the pronouns started. And my friend and I would sit in my too-hot, sun-soaked room and I would say things and they would say, “Yes. Yes, that’s gender.”
The next house was all queer when we started, and very quickly all non-binary too. Something in the water. Something about understanding that we were held and accepted in this space, whatever we looked like and wore. Gender and presentation undid themselves somewhat.
But that isn’t all of the world and it still didn’t make skirts and dresses feel better.
Where am I now? Winter feels like the safest territory. I sculpt my own shape. I run my hands over a bulky body stuffed with fabric in all the right places. Summer remains hot. There are parts of my body that I dislike and these don’t have anything to do with the gender binary, although plenty to do with the patriarchy. There are parts of my body that I dislike because of the gender binary and they are unchangeable and uncuttable. It helps when they are loved, it helps when they are looked at, and held with a love and a recognition that exists, outside of gender. But it doesn’t fix anything. I am attached to a body that I must strive to live with because no form will fit me. With and without, this body will always be off the mark.
Sweaty summers remind us of what we cannot take off, what we do not want to undo, what lies beneath. And the ache it runs through us.
by Is Curtis
The petunia on my windowsill is on its third blossom, a purple-twinged pink that will soon give way to full magenta. A chopstick from last week’s Thai takeout keeps the plant from leaning. It’s an improvement from the plastic knife—liberated from a friend’s Thai takeout—that I had been using. I was worried about accidentally severing the roots, keeping the blade tilted away from the plant’s main body as I plunged it into the dark soil. I’m still worried about it. The possibility of lingering damage under the surface.
Petunias are hanging plants, my mother reminds me, again, you’ll need to put it in a new pot when you get home.
Its current container was a winter break purchase, a dark reddish-brown that reminds me of wet clay and the state of Arizona, even though I’ve never been. It doesn’t match the soft green and vibrant fuschia of my intrepid companion. Nothing like the minuscule, blue-glazed pot that now sits empty by its side. So close and yet so far.
I wasn’t expecting it to grow so quickly. I was a habitual succulent killer, but I’d been diligent; pulling up my blinds just enough for the morning sun to shine on its upturned face and looping the cord around my bedpost because the curtains haven’t worked since move-in day. Sometimes I rotate, or water it when the inspiration strikes.
I fucking hate petunias.
How do I loathe thee? Let me count the ways:
1. Unremarkable coloring
2. Unpleasant smell
3. Undesirable when wet
The catalog-worthy image of fresh rain droplets dripping from flower petals is not one a petunia can sustain. No, the lightest drizzle reduces them to mush. Your petunia won’t be outside, my friends and family remind me. That’s not an excuse for such a horrible design flaw, I reply.
My petunia came to me as an unidentifiable wisp of a thing. One of a series of half-wilted leftovers from my friend’s greenhouse job. My mom thought it was an African Violet. I eyed the light green leaves with skepticism but deluded myself at the hint of dark purple in the enclosed buds. Mom was more knowledgeable about these things, after all. It was only as they elongated into that signature trumpet that the realization blared.
It figures the only thing I can grow is the one thing I hate.
I jokingly threatened to throw it in the garbage as soon as it bloomed. My roommate seriously offered to take it. The flat way in which I deliver sarcasm had been a problem before, remedied in middle school by pitching my voice until it was cartoonishly over-exaggerated, but I’d dropped the habit long ago. Now, I was too stubborn to drop the act, and irritation built within me at her earnest pleas. My gaze fell to her own windowsill lined with succulents. No. You can’t have it. It’s mine. Mine. Mine. Mine.
Mom has a green thumb. A childhood spent trailing behind her, shoes crunching against graveled pathways in hot greenhouses proved that. The filtered sunlight bearing down on the multi-colored blossoms until the air hung heavy with their perfume. I’d long been delegated to cart-puller, left to maneuver the unwieldy plant-laden contraception around old women who scrunch up their noses at my short haircut. Mom has an obsession with English gardens. And English houses. And English people. The book I bought her on the history of the White House gardens almost four birthdays ago still rests on her nightstand. Unread.
Mom also flower shops like she grocery shops: flitting from one item to another with no regard to aisle order.
What do you think of this for the boxes this year? Do these go together? Should I put this in the south garden?
Yeah, I think that’s really pretty, Mom, I say, trying to keep the sunglasses I balanced over my prescription ones from slipping.
We always do our shopping two towns over, just far enough away from the place my family has spent their whole lives in. There’s a freedom to it—not recognizing your fellow shopper as someone you went to high school with, sheltered from their knowledge of your past. Mom finds that same freedom elbow-deep in potting soil. She arranges, refines, and snips away that unwieldy new growth until her cluster of plants achieves the planned effortlessness of an English garden. My petunia can’t quite attain the look, half-propped up and spilling over the lip of an ever-shrinking container, but neither can I. I used to be my mother’s mirror image, her prayers for a daughter and my father’s weak genetics made manifest, but now I am unpleasantly masculine and undesirably queer; the unremarkable petunia made shocking by their long African Violet lineage.
If I was Mom’s supposed reflection than her own mother was a grating dissimilarity soothed by their common talent. Grandma’s gardens were so lively when I was growing up: roses crawling up a white trellis, bushes bursting with candy apple red flowers, and stream water babbling under a small bridge. Once, she spray-painted my grandfather’s old work boots blue, arranging the dirt-filled shoes next to her pink creeping phlox, ambivalent to my mother’s dismay. It was too yokel for her tastes, but I found it funny. There was a whimsy in that summer of youth when girlhood didn’t feel like a mistake yet.
This is why I can’t begrudge my petunia. It’s my only throughline. Grandmother. Mother. Dau—ah, well. That’s not quite right. Grandmother. Mother. Child? If there is a great tree of womanhood, I am a seedling set adrift by the breeze, sailing further and further away with no place to land. Where do I fall when I’m both the reluctant heir saddled with an unwanted matrilineal legacy and the desperate outsider trying to prove my place within it? I can’t be a woman, but if I can be a gardener instead, then maybe I don’t hate petunias.
Proxy :: Desire
An Essay on Gender
by Mateo Perez Lara
I always thought of my body and the journey inside it as a haunted house. I think of the movie The Exorcist, when the demon says that today is a great day for an exorcism. The body that you feel comfortable in sometimes doesn’t feel like your own. Your skin is foreign, sometimes parasitic, you want some alien to chest-burst out of you.
Sometimes, learning to love your skin isn’t empowering and beautiful and positive. Sometimes, it’s haunting, demonic, vicious, visceral.
My body has fluctuated from hairy to smooth, from rough to soft, from week to week, adjusting to finally accepting myself as nonbinary, figuring out how I present, how I feel comfortable presenting and the gamble that happens when you go out into the world.
What’s your favorite scary movie?
If you loved it, I probably experienced it in one way or another inside my body and trying to love the outside of it.
When I was five years old, I used to dress up in my grandma’s nightgowns, run around the house pretending to be chased by scary men that I had seen in the movies. The purples, the greens, all the pretty silk touching my body, something smooth, but on the outside, was anything but.
I was a hairy kid. I was a smelly kid. I sprouted hairs everywhere. I had a beard when I was thirteen. I shaved every day even if I saw a little bit of hair creep and dig itself out of my chin.
Other kids told me I smelled. I had pimples that made their little cult across my forehead.
I was so distraught at my body and its hair, I once shaved myself completely smooth.
However, I got a bit more erratic and started shaving my pubes and the hair on my butt and butthole.
I once shaved so fast and so viciously that I sliced a big gash down my butthole and bled for a week. I couldn’t sit without it hurting. I couldn’t do anything.
It looked like a murder scene in the shower. Blood everywhere.
I think that’s the biggest issue I’ve had with coming to terms with myself. I had to either accept that I would always be hairy or really spend the time, money, effort, and trauma to get rid of it.
I decided to relinquish myself in the fight and let the bushy gods possess me. I decided to let my beard grow out. I decided to let my genitals and ass get hairy and I decided to accept it and not care what anyone else thought.
For a little while, at least. I never felt completely like a boy. My mother made me play sports when I was younger. I would be in the baseball field looking up into the clouds, playing with the bugs, not really caring. All my guy cousins were tall, had muscles, were mean. They were like a pack of wolves, if they smelled pretty, they would pounce. I had to act like them, or I would be seen as lesser, as a victim. But I knew deep down, I wasn’t like them. I wasn’t like anyone around me. I didn’t like wearing jeans. I didn’t like having body odor. I didn’t like having a penis.
But I dealt with it because it was there and none of my family would understand. They were all strict Catholic. Any inkling of difference, of change, of unusual, of unnatural and I was now a demon, a pariah of the family.
Well, eventually, that would happen anyway when I was caught making out with my ex-boyfriend in his car in front of my house. My cousin told my grandparents, and it was all over. Everyone knew I was gay. ( I didn’t use queer yet; it was too radical for people to understand).
Even now, at 29, I still feel like my body is alien-like. It’s filled with xenomorphs. It’s filled with flies and insects and other abominations. But I am trying to love it. I don’t wear jeans anymore. I wear makeup to make me feel pretty and exotic.
I want to feel loved. I never feel loved. Not by my friends, not by the boys who bend me over or touch me. Not by my grandma or my mother. It’s a constant push toward accepting this isn’t true.
I go to therapy to maybe exorcise some of these negative thoughts.
I am five foot two. I am 180 pounds. I have an underbite. I try to tell myself someone will find this body loveable. That’s what I feel, being nonbinary, not being masculine enough for the gays, not being feminine enough for the gays or the bisexuals. I feel undeserving. I get angry.
I swarm inside with bees; I feel at odds with my own desires. I don’t feel close to them. I hate when I get boners. I hate when my nipples get hard when someone even remotely shows me some attention.
I’m trying to forgive myself for the days I wanted to die. I try to forgive myself for the ways I pushed people away because I didn’t love myself and who I saw in the mirror.
I feel like the doppelganger me is winning, most days. The one who played sports. The one who loved girls. The one who still went to church. The one who didn’t wear eyeshadow. The one who didn’t wear leggings and all black. The one with a soul. The one who killed the demons in the Evil Dead and wasn’t one of them.
Some days I want to go back and be masculine. Want to exude to the world the patriarchy and be accepted. Other days, I want to be radical and write fuck all men on my shirts and on all my socials and wear my thongs and dresses and go dancing wherever and whenever. I fluctuate and sage my haunted body house. I do pray to a higher power for a radical answer.
How do I exist without the distress? How do I love my body and un-gender it? I just want to wear what I want, love who I want, and be okay. I know that’s not completely possible. But I manifest it.
Every day is an anger and a struggle and it’s okay. Some days the monsters are right in my face, and I can smell every rotten thing, other days, the monsters are scared of me.
I have to remind myself it doesn’t fucking matter what a man is, what a woman is, what a person is. People are just themselves in all their gore and glory. Your body is a complex, messy thing. I sweat when I’m nervous, I desire at awkward times. My makeup runs when I’m angry. I yell at people when they call me faggot in the streets or at the bar. I still wear my glitter. I still sparkle under my shirts.
All the villains should be scared of how free I’ll eventually be. I’ve learned I don’t need approval from anyone. I just need to treat my community with love and safety as they do me. My life feels like Saw, the bloody pieces of me when I don’t love my body. I pick and poke and gnaw and scratch and I’m finally saying it’s okay, this is my body, this is its land.
The struggle with gender is sometimes ongoing and lingering and haunting, and that’s okay. That’s the point, finding the space inside yourself that works for you. It’s an ongoing journey, it’s a horror movie with a good ending. We kill the monsters at the end, we just have to survive. We just have to be the final girl. We just have to fight. I repeat this to myself every morning and before I go to bed. I touch my body and am learning to be tender to it. That my desires are not remote and not random, they matter, they are right here, they are important to who I am and what I need.