There was a time in the Western World — early 16th Century to early 20th Century — when all children wore dresses, when gender was neutral — sorta — when identity was undefined.
Eventually, time for sorting came. Girls continued to dress in frocks but boys … well, boys were breeched.
Sounds like an ordeal, eh b’ys?
No later than age eight, boys dropped their frilly skirts and hauled on their first long pants — trousers, breeches.
Okay? Now, get this. As a child Earnest Hemingway wore dresses. His mother — whose deck, I suspect, was mostly jokers — dressed little Ernie like his older (18 months) sister. Momma Hemingway had dreamed of twins.
Okay? Now, also get this. When I was baptized — two years before Confederation pupped — I wore a Christening gown. (I checked with Mother. My gown still exists, for frig sake.)
Okay? So what?
Just before Christmas I read Laurie Frankel’s novel This Is How It Always Is, a story about a family, one of whose children is transgender. You should read it; it’s a good book.
Increasingly, transgender folk are posting stories in the press.
Recently, transVersing [Breakwater Books] arrived at my house, mailed from its publisher.
I wondered if stars were aligning.
transVersing has two parts: selections chosen from submissions to a For the Love of Learning (FTLOL) project designed “ … to dramatize the issues transgender youth struggle with every day in our community,” plus Berni Stapleton and Sharon King-Campbell’s dramatic text based on the selections.
So, transVersing — poems and a play. An interesting combination.
I read the poems. I read the play. Then — may the ghosts of antiquarian librarians forgive me — I ripped the book down the middle. I even tore scattered pages from its severed carcass and spread them on my desk.
All the better to delve into the heart, the viscera, of this provocative little book.
I’ve scribbled and scrawled. I’ve puzzled and pondered.
As a result, I hope I’m closer to understanding transgender people than I was before I eviscerated my copy of transVersing.
Dane Woodland, who has decided the Golden Rule is “complete and utter bullshit”, cries out for understanding — not tolerance, not acceptance, but understanding.
Pinned to my corkboard like reminder notes, are more than a dozen scraps of text I’ve pencil-carved grooves around to help me digest an understanding of transgender emotions.
For instance, an understanding of how one person feels “illegible to those that birthed me.”
How another feels like “a miss fish out of water.”
Or a “butterfly stuck in honey.”
Or a “fairy child … a Changing-child.”
Or an understanding of Fionn’s defiant, triple-dare challenge to be seen “as more than a body, as more than a shape.”
Listen: “I dare you. I dare you. I dare you.”
Sorting my pages in imitation of an actor shuffling through a playscript (as much as a gnat can imitate an eagle, anyway), I searched for a line that might suggest how our present society is attempting to assimilate transgender reality.
I found it in Taylor’s offer to “dear Mummy.”: “I can give you this — a new patience for change, and a fierce determination to stay in a moving place.”
What does it mean? B’ys, it’s poetry. (Remember how we struggled as reluctant scholars?) Might it mean this? Transgender life is being lived here on the solid Rock. Patiently, although, determinedly, the Rock’s attitudes are changing, moving towards a better understanding of transgender issues.
Any of that make a grain of sense?
What about the boys in dresses, the boys in breeches, at the top of the page?
I hardly know what I’m talking about, but I’m trying to squeeze out the idea that society’s manipulation of gender identity has always been around but — albeit at a glacial pace — it changes.
I’ve probably frigged it up, eh b’ys?
Taylor’s voice again: “There are rainbows in my chest swirling, in the cavern of my rib cage.”
Rainbows sound like good things. Ever since Noah moored the Ark, rainbows have been bright symbols of promise, if not assuring symbols of bright promises.
“But,” says Taylor, “Sometimes they make me sick./An oily gasoline sheen sticking between my ribs.”
Hear my favourite writer dead or alive — Kurt Vonnegut. In his greeting to baby’s arriving on this planet he says, “There’s only one rule that I know of, babies. God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”
I say, “God damn it, understanding needs a cup of kindness.”
Finally, a question from Taylor to tamp in your pipe and smoke: “Who doesn’t want a heart full of rainbows?”
Thank you for reading, for understanding.
— Harold Walters lives in Dunville, Newfoundland, doing his damnedest to live Happily Ever After. Reach him at email@example.com