On the nights I feel most in control of my gender, I wear thick eyeliner and paint my nails and let my blue mane down. I sit in a dive bar and watch the men stare. I listen to whispered what-is-thats and don’t-they-know-this-isn’t-a-gay-bars.
Sometimes, a man will put his drink near mine and look at me for an uncomfortable amount of time, like how a dog looks at food when it hits the floor, before I say, “YOOOOO—are you gonna order or are you just looking at the menu?!”
Liquor does things to the men I run around with. A few shots in and they’ll start saying the gayest shit, like, Wow, your eyes are really pretty—do you have a sister?—what does she look like?—are you wearing perfume? You smell soooo good. A few shots later and their hand is on the small of my back and they lean in to my neck-nape and say,
do you know so and so and I’ll say no and they’ll say, she’s a tranny porn star. They’ll say tranny again and again as if each incantation solidifies their heterosexuality, because that actress is passing and it helps some men sleep at night.
Once I loved a man who liked me most when I was in drag, when I was fishy as fuck, when I was contorted and tucked into something that made him feel okay putting his body all over mine. He’d talk about the women he dated, his pussy-conquests, and say wow, she kinda looks like you, you two should meet, wow, she paints her nails like you, wow, wow. The animal between my legs howled as if caught in a trap.
Confession: I sleep walk and talk. When this man stayed over, I’d take all the knobs off the stove. I have a history of self-destruction. I didn’t want to wander into the kitchen while he was stretched out in my sheets and turn the gas up and Sylvia Plath us. Previous acts of sleepwalking fuckery include: dismantling a ceiling fan, sorting cookbooks, making an indoor picnic setting for eight.
I don’t trust myself at night and I don’t trust myself when a man decides to sleep over.
The first and last time he beat me I said all our safe words: crackerjack, snuffleupagus, I said no, I said stop, I said you’re hurting me, I said no like a beautiful, blue parrot who couldn’t caw anything else. I went to the bathroom and threw up. I went to the bathroom and looked at the handprints where he tried to beat the gay out of him and into me. I locked the bathroom door. I scrubbed my body until my skin was so raw little spots of blood started showing. I came back in to the living room and he’d passed out with a cigarette dangling from his stupid, smug little mouth.
In the morning, on the way to the train, I said how uncool everything was. I said that wasn’t right. He replied, “If you weren’t such a wimp, maybe you could take it better.” He said, “I got too fucked up” like an acceptable apology. I stayed silent like a good, little gender non-conforming punkass. He kissed my cheek and said, “Buttercup, I’ll text you later.”
I stood at the rim of the El platform and thought how fucked that it’s come to this, how to not go back to a man.
That dream of a heteronormative wedding disappears: his parents, my parents, a flower girl in blue. I think we would have had a preacher, a church, a cake, a glorious rice rain. For the longest time, I only wanted the social trappings that have been conditioned into me since birth. Now I know I can share space without domestic slavery, I can love him without all the hoopla. I loved him, I loved him, and now this nothingness.
Your chest aches with his punch-prints. Four years, two months, a week, and one day dissolve as you’re snotting yourself on the train, crying because your body has to. At lunch, you look at domestic violence rates in same-sex relationships. You look at how the data is hard to collect, because who wants to say their found-family started swinging? Who wants to say that in an Eden of only Adams there are darker things than a talking snake?
That night, I took all his things from my apartment and burned them in my alleyway, like a glorious witch at work. My neighbors walked past. They didn’t ask questions. They knew that something had died and that this was the best way. I got wasted and flirted at a bar. I let a man put his hand on my shoulder and I flinched. Someone played Amy Winehouse and I huffed my jacket, a glorious alleyway smoke-stained armor. I stumbled home and looked at my smeared make-up in the mirror and thought, whatever box someone else wants to put this body in, it won’t be beaten.
I woke up and covered the bruises with foundation before work. I put the eyeliner on dark and thick. I noticed a man staring from across the train. I took my cap off, and whipped my hair like a magical fucking unicorn. I gave him a stare that said: coming into this, give me all you’ve got.
C. Russell Price is an Appalachian genderqueer punk poet living in Chicago. Previous publications include: Assaracus, Court Green, Nimrod, MiPOesias, Weave, and elsewhere. They currently work with The Offing and teach creative writing at Northwestern University. Their chapbook Tonight, We Fuck The Trailer Park Out Of Each Other was published to great acclaim in June 2016 by Sibling Rivalry Press.