Trigger/content warning: mental health, transphobia, ableism
Gorgeous, on a good day, I can tell what is challenging or not.
A few years ago, when I still couldn’t say “I’m a non-binary femme” to myself with a straight face, time suddenly started working again. I hadn’t realised it was broken. I couldn’t feel it in my body. I was alone in a share flat, wearing a suit jacket/collar shirt frayed at the elbows. I assumed this is what life was like now: hours would go by, or stop and start randomly, until it was evening and I could stay up until 3 am recuperating them, watching YouTube video essays, and I’d do that until I died. Time would keep speeding up and then I wouldn’t be here: it wasn’t challenging to recognise that, just a truth.
Then time started working and a whole world of challenge opened up again. Oh I see, I was sick, am sick, with holding on. What do I do now?
While coming out doesn’t give me more good days, it frees a certain kind of energy to remember the challenge. Like splitting an atom, the majority of its power siphoned off by Elon Musk. It does leave me enough to live as myself, which is more than I could say before.
The more I come out, again and again, the greater the challenge sits in me: I get slurs out of second-hand Fords by The Boys, I have panic attacks in the street, I feel eyes follow my body everywhere. A terf might say, “welcome to femmedom, sweaty” (I don’t think they know what femmedom means) and I’ll say I was always living in femmedom, I felt it even when you didn’t. On a bad day it was muggy and I could pretend it was fine, but I knew all the same.
The question comes back to me: what do I do now? The challenge that makes my life what it is, or rather is co-symptomatic with it, no matter what I want. What do I do with it?
On a good day, I remember that I’ve been here before, and things are different: I have beautiful friends and partners who love me in a way I never imagined possible as a teen cis-boy. That I can offer love in return, to an unexpected degree. I can see the line I followed, moving away from one point to who knows where.
I have a language for bad days I can share with/adapt to other people. I can see what the bad days do/say when they erase my sense of challenge: (this is an eternal cycle with no possible exit, you are fundamentally alone/isolated but it’s ok, solidarity isn’t possible, it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism. This is your body, now and forever, it’s ok).
Is it a question of challenging myself to do better? I couldn’t do anything differently. To pretend otherwise would be paraphrasing the bad days: the only effort possible is individual effort, you must challenge yourself alone to do better, because the people in power will never change. You can’t challenge them, so challenge your body to do better. There is no alternative to it. No comfort. Yet.
On a good day, I can feel the challenge and it almost kind of feels like a flicker, in my chest, even if it requires a sense of irony. When a lad yells slurs at me in his busted Honda, my first thought is, huh I guess I’m visibly me for the first time.
So what do I do with this challenge, my busted body/brain? More options make themselves known as I come out, again and again, and new responsibilities too. But there are ones that make me feel at rest, against the responsibility preached by liberals trying to murder you.
We are making a home together, which is a challenge and a joy, before the end of the world. Where your body and mine can exist in their bustedness and be at ease. A holding of space, before we get back into it, because until it’s over and we’ve beaten them, that’s our world.
But it’s one I’m glad to challenge with you, gorgeous.
About the author
Josie/Jocelyn Deane is a writer/student at the University of Melbourne. Their work has appeared in Cordite, Australian Poetry Journal and Overland, among others. In 2021 they were one of the recipients of the Queensland Poetry Festival Ekphrasis award. They live on unceded Wurundjeri land.
Note: this piece was originally published at sookylalainc.