Rabbit-Holing for Coherency: Queer and Transgender Artistry
One of my kid’s friend’s moms walked up to us in the elementary school gym. “Hi, are you D’s…” she decided to guess, “dads?” My partner looked at me; I looked at him. “It’s complicated,” he told her.
Complicated is one of those words that, upon looking closely, can apply to nearly everything. Shoelaces. Nipples. Physics. In day to day moments we encounter just the tangible tips of things, surrounded by icebergs, if you will, a universe of causal intricacies underlying a deceptive surface. Roughly paraphrased from the words of Thich Nhat Hanh, “the universe is in the tree.” Everything is in everything; nothing is simple except in its interconnectedness.
But don’t let that overwhelm you.
Writers know that writing is complicated. Any written piece is a performance, a tightly condensed fragment of an idea. Every body of work is merely a thread of a broader story, a story so vastly complex that no alphanumerical symbol, no string of words, no structure of grammar or symbolic stroke could ever fully hold it. All artists, writers among them, are caught up in the wild dance of trying to convey some piece, some part of this unsayable story.
But let’s not simplify things.
“Constantly risking absurdity,” we walk a line of seemingly conflicted dichotomies. We convey the universal; the universal is impossible to convey. We embrace the full profundity of life and nearly sink to madness to share it, and then calculatedly submit to those journals, press houses, or galleries most likely to enhance our prestige, with a bland cover letter carefully constructing our calming normalcy. We enrich the world with our work—we have the potential to liberate the world or ourselves with our work—but yet and still we fall back into the manacles of alienation, of mass advertising, consumerism, self-promotion, and Facebook, where we confuse digitized bits of sound and information for worth and connection.
I mean, what the hell does it really mean to “like” something?
Whole communities of people—queer people among them—are actively, violently spliced from visibility. Forced to choose between coherency and safety, many separate and seek to create validation and authenticity for themselves in hidden pockets of society.
And within these suppressed communities the splicing continues, hierarchies slicing whole people into fragments of identity, where telescopically we speak only a bit of ourselves at a time, turning relevant parts towards the brightened center of the lens, revealing selves distorted and fractured in a fishbowl of light edged with shadow.
We are hungry. Hungry for wholeness. Hungry for stories that send fault lines, tiny cracks fracturing down the side of the iceberg, schisms we follow to find the whole of the thing. We are a world in crash, in crisis. Even as we are full, others starve for our fullness. In the jagged tips of the iceberg that we touch, there is nothing clean left.
Artistry is an opportunity to advance the well-being of our selves, communities, the world: a chance to forge or reveal wholeness.
I’ve known that I am a writer since early childhood. I did not know this because of how often or how well I wrote. I knew it because I heard voices; I listened. Words moved in me. I saw them, I felt them. Sometimes I found the courage to write them down.
I am not now, nor will I ever be, a writer because I received a fellowship, or attended a distinguished MFA program, or got published in the latest experimental indie magazine that I not-so-secretly jones over on Facebook.
I’m a writer because I seek connection, because I listen. My heart stills as I listen, or hummingbirds up my throat with glee. And when I write what I hear, or when I spend hours crick-backed with a pot of coffee in the late of night wrestling my interpretation into something mildly coherent on the screen, I am filled with stupid, simple joy.
I’m a writer because I let something uncertain move in me. Sometimes, with courage and dedication, that shivers through the world freely, cracks things up, stirs up splinters, sparks, a tiny revolution.
I listen, and someone else feels heard: a wave. Art is connection. Creation is a desire to connect, to hold, enacted.
Coherency is not a privilege that transgender people enjoy. Sometimes in our separate pockets we feel held, but even then the telescopic splicing of hierarchy reduces us to something smaller than the greatness of what we are.
We are forced to find new language, new ways of thinking and story-telling to forge coherency in a world built around the assumption of our subjugation.
There are days that, in hopes for a little rest and simplicity, I have wished that I were dead instead of trans.
It is worse, for some reason, in the shower, where I alone with my body am pitted against it in a spray of water and steam. My skin itches, reddens; the parts of my hair that I allow length droop and plaster; water rebounds on tile in hot streams simultaneously continuous and broken. I wonder if my body, witnessed as I witness it then, would cancel out the truth of me. I wonder if I believe the truth of me. I wonder why, of all things, this truth has splintered so ridiculously to gender, why the physical fact of my flesh, its lumps, scars, discrepancies and contours, should take such pendulous priority over my life. Which will persist, the breasts or the heart? Better without you, I think, meaning the whole thing, that ambiguous monstered body of mine that so rarely seems a friend.
This gets old, the existential showering thing. But what a power. Every day I question fundamental assumptions of my own existence. Every day I must find or create my own coherency. Every day I must knowingly perform what others enact unquestioned, or knowingly refuse and live the consequences.
Incoherency. What a blessing, an opportunity to touch below the iceberg tip.
Liberation goes beyond revolt, beyond shock.
Liberation entails a connection so fierce that the surface level slips, and what was presumed fractured is seen as whole and deep.
And I don’t mean campfire songs. I hate campfire songs. I don’t mean people liking each other. I don’t like a lot of people. I don’t mean tolerance and I don’t mean inclusion and I don’t mean separation with later intentions of equality.
I mean something far scarier than that.
Something beyond new language, beyond innovative approaches of telling personal stories, beyond erotica anthologies.
Something like listening, searching, a receptivity. An opening of self that is less like “trying new ways of thinking” and more like splitting skin, until our senses are so raw that the passing of air between our lips feels exquisitely new.
Something like discomfort, pain. Waking to it, greeting it, trying again to transform and release it. Taking nothing for granted.
Imagine the artistic connected to the spiritual: we create to build wholeness, universal coherency. Conscious creation: listening for the world to crack, shift, reveal itself.
A few nights ago I dreamed about a three-headed snake that hissed with three tongues from the bloodied chest of a purring cat.
Before that I dreamed that my ex-best friend who was really my ex-girlfriend who married my ex-boyfriend danced with me in a broad grassy field. We wore only neon-colored doughnut costumes.
Anything can happen in dreams. Flying, dying, ass-fucking straight men by bonfire deep in the woods.
I like to write like I dream: the artistic connected to the spiritual. When nothing is taken for granted, anything can happen.
Lately I’ve seen a lot of articles written by writers, passed around on writers’ Facebooks, rallying against the stereotype that writers are crazy and poor.
These articles really cheese me off.
Crazy, tortured, hungry artist? Got it. Let me keep my archetype. They already put the rest in the DSM.
Even when I rode the short bus, everybody knew I would do at least this much. Listen, explore, create.
I find artists that claim sanity suspect. Creativity is similar to fetish wear: if it ain’t hurting, you ain’t wearing it right.
Bones reknitting, muscles tearing, dead tissue broken down and reabsorbed: growth hurts. Wear it proud, wear it right.
The trend in Special Ed these days is to “include” most Sped kids in “regular” classrooms. This purportedly helps Reg ed kids learn tolerance while allowing Sped kids to feel “normal.”
When I was a Sped kid, I rode a separate bus to a separate school, where I socialized exclusively with Sped kids as taught by Sped teachers.
The Swang-banger, a beefy red-bearded ex-punk who taught us some semblance of social studies, liked to remind us, “Y’all didn’t drive me to drinking, drinking drove me to y’all.”
The Swang-banger taught me many things. He explained how turtles fuck and how fat men fuck skinny women (she rides or he does it from behind, he said. I asked. [I could give him additional suggestions now]). He appreciated, even collected, the snarky posters that I made with Clip Art, claimed to see a budding graphic artist in the grungy fifteen year old playing with their shoelaces on the floor. He gifted my friend a copy of The Anarchist’s Cookbook, and taught me the anarchist version of “Onward Christian Soldiers”, which I then made a poster of, complete with corny Clip Art cross.
I hung it in the back of his room, where he allowed me to tape out a coffin-shaped space on the floor. This was my space. I sat there when I couldn’t take shit anymore. My friends sometimes slept there, or played music and sat around me to discuss who blew who in the time-out room.
The Swang-banger read my crap poetry. I wrote him illegible notes in red ink, turned his assignments to songs that I then refused to sing.
One day he asked me why I never ate bananas. I told him that it reminded me too much of blowing someone. He laughed—a surprised, spontaneous, delighted laugh—and said, “I hope you always keep your honesty.”
I tended to perform the Time Warp as The Swang-banger escorted me to the bathroom. I danced down the hallway, boots echoing, singing poorly, in fishnets, plaid skirt, worn band t-shirt, my camouflage jacket flapping like mismatched wings. The Swang-banger rolled his eyes, waited.
Sometimes exclusion means that there is more room to hold space, to refuse bananas, to dance. “Normal” is not always the best place for world change to happen. “Normal” can mean fitting into a system or institution that is broken or damaging: to see only the tip of the iceberg. Exclusion can be an opportunity to see what’s broken, and hold the space to fix it: to see the world whole and deep.
I don’t claim to know what experimental writing is, or should be, or can’t be, or should be called.
For me, experimental creating is a feeling, like fingering the bit of stretched skin beneath a recently shed scab, or gasping for breath around a throatful of wind. What does this actually feel like, to think, to want, to breathe, to have hair or lose it, to swell in the heat or go stiff in the cold, to hurt, to age, to fuck, to die?
Conscious writing. Survival writing. Exploring a wound for passage. Rabbit-holing into the unprecedented: rabbit-hole writing.
Rabbit-holing is enlarging a space to allow entry for the rejected or excluded, not through “including” the excluded by warp or downsizing, but by altering, misshaping, or destroying the hegemony of the “included” altogether.
Like refusing bananas: it’s more honest.
Transgender literature and rabbit-hole writing are one and the same to me; Queer writing, as well. Not because “experimental” writing is weird, and as our community is some glittery fringe we must thus hold to our weirder-than-thou cultural claims. I mean, sure, I’m for that, too.
But I also mean that, in order for our art to reflect our lives, our bodies, the shifts of identity, language, and power through time, we have to make shit up. Incoherency, imagining the impossible, conscious exclusion from acceptable genres or forms—these are paths to our coherency, our mediums to convey the inexplicable. “Normal” does not hold us, and it was not meant to.
Literature built around normalcy or sanity with all its attendant structures of power—its “isms”—will not hold us, nor was it meant to. Thus rabbit-holing can—and, to me, should—also be a spiritual quest, an act of mindful resistance, an icy and explosive exploration of all beyond the supposed surface of things. Embracing the incoherency of our trans lives—an incoherency rendered through our cultural exclusion, through experimental living, conscious creating and being—can also be a path towards our wholeness.
Transgender and Queer literature, therefore, are not to me so much about who wrote what with what content, but how a piece is written, and more importantly, perhaps, why. What cracks were intended? Not just in who is represented in books, but in how books are written, shaped, thought of—did the writer intend to revolutionize, to rabbit-hole, to connect through and despite the violence of imposed incoherency, to bring the draw of breath through lungs fresh to mind, and remind us that nothing can be assumed?
Transgender literature is conscious exploration, mindful incoherency. Coherency through incoherency: it’s complicated, like nipples, like shoelaces, like living.