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Last month, RedBone Press released celebrated author Alexis De Veaux’s prose/poetry hybrid Yabo. The book lyrically maps the spiritual and physical borders between love, passion, sexuality and gender. As writer Jewelle Gomez wrote in her blurb,
Alexis De Veaux laces together the past and the present with poetic elegance in an intricate and delicate pattern of call and response. …Echoing the work of Jean Toomer and Toni Morrison, Yabo speaks in a powerful and insistent cadence about things we may have forgotten: death, desire, magic and the drum beat of resilience.
In the following excerpt, a couple grapple with issues of gender and identity with regard to their newborn child.
A BOTH AND I:
There was no pink or blue in that room.
There was no pink and blue. It was called the little room and its occupant was referred to by a new pronoun, the child. “Is the child hungry?” “Is the child wet?” “The child is beautiful, isn’t the child?” The parents did not say her or him, hers or his.
For they understood these had to do with twos and opposites and none was the whole that was living with them. Theirs. This.
Let’s call the child Jules, Ruby said one day.
That’s a boy’s name, Ramses said.
J-u-l-e-s, Ruby said. It’s a both name. The child is a both.
Yes, Ramses said. Both. One inside the other.
When Jules was three Ramses discovered that children masturbate.
And he became uncomfortable when it was his turn to give the child a bath, or change a diaper, or with anything that required him to be intimate with the child’s body.
One day, after spying on the child for some time, he went to the doctor secretly.
He said: Fix me so I don’t make no more babies.
The doctor said: How come?
Ramses said: Can’t afford them, that’s all.
He did not say,
He did not tell his wife about the operation.
When Jules was five, they asked, when it was time to get dressed, what would you like to wear today? Who would you like to be?
Then Jules, standing naked, would study the small collection of dresses and pants and shirts and skirts and bowties displayed on the bed each morning.
I want to be that, Jules would announce finally, pointing a baby finger at a dress sometimes, pants or coveralls at other times, a dress and pants and a bowtie from time to time.
Ruby and Ramses accepted this daily ritual as a sign of Jules’s imagination, an attraction to colors, patterns, and shapes; since they never ever said this is a dress and only girls wear dresses or only boys wear bowties and pants.
They had no idea if what they were doing, how they were raising Jules, was good for Jules. But, and although they did not attend the Baptist or Methodist or Catholic or Pentecostal church in Shadow, Ruby, more than Ramses, believed in God, in a synthesis of what she had grown up believing God to be—a permanent imprint in the human mind, for which there was no need of proof of existence, even to a child.
Just as Jules expressed imagination, so did God through Jules.
Whenever Jules asked, am I a girl or boy, Ruby said, both and that’s normal for you; figuring that the simplest answer was the best, and being consistent was loving.
But both was only half true, for the child was also neither of the two acceptable sexes; and as time went on, first Ruby and then Ramses slowly began to refer to Jules with a new pronoun:
which, whenever Jules was around they shortened to bn.
To the child’s ears, the Southern accent of the parents made the new pronoun sound like “be in.”
One evening, Ramses came home from work. Ruby was in the kitchen cooking.
Ruby said, if we send Jules to school which bathroom Jules supposed to use?
Both, Ramses said. Sat down in a kitchen chair.
Nobody’s gonna understand that, Ruby said.
Alright, Ramses said. He took off his blood-stained work boots. We could home-school the child.
That means I could home-school Jules, Ruby said. I’ll be the one to stay home.
Well what you want me to do woman? Ramses said.
Jules a year past time to go to school, Ruby said.
Ramses rubbed his feet together, sighed. He’d been called black chink boy all through elementary school. He knew that children could be cruel to other children.
And that some adults needed categories, a social order, to think of God’s imagination as truth rather than poetry. But he knew she was right.
Okay, he finally said, okay. When dinner going to be ready?
What we going to say if the teacher ask is the child a girl or a boy? Ruby said. She tossed some okra into the hot skillet.
Ramses thought a moment, then said, can’t say either, that would just confuse the child.
Yes, Ruby said. She turned up the heat so that her okra in green tomatoes sizzled and fried.
One night, I was sitting on the couch playing with my Rubik’s Cube, smelling my mother’s fried green tomatoes cooking, listening to her move around in the kitchen, when my father came home from work.
Hi Daddy, I said.
Hi, he said.
You want to play?
Not tonight. Daddy is tired. He sniffed the room and went into the kitchen. After a while I heard them arguing.
Jules is big enough to go to school, Ram.
Get shit on the job all day, come home to more shit.
Daddy’s boots dropped to the floor, hard.
I want to go back to work. I’m not used to sitting round the house all day.
You know I can’t afford no babysitter.
We don’t need a babysitter. Jules need to start school now.
I stood at the kitchen door. I want to go to school, I said.
Daddy looked at me. He was irritated. If we send Jules to school, he hollered at Momma, which goddamn bathroom, which goddamn bathroom Jules supposed to use?
The girls’ bathroom, I said.
What? Daddy said.
I like girls, I said.
Where you learn that from, baby? Momma said.
JesusfuckingChrist, Daddy said. He looked scared.