Imagine feeling as though you have something stuck in your teeth. You swirl your tongue around, anxiously trying to dig at it because it is embedded too far in to approach using just your fingers. You can still eat, but this thing lounging in the grooves of your teeth does not let you forget. This is how I feel in my body. I can eat and work. I can sleep and kiss. But there is something stuck in there that taunts me—sometimes silently, yet there are moments when I can do nothing but listen to the echoes of all that is jammed inside.
Bodies have been bothered for centuries; this problem I have is not new, nor interesting. To call my body a stranger or infiltrated chest of drawers has all been done before. There are no metaphors left to describe it.
So, what to call this…unease?
About six months ago, I performed a piece in a room full of strangers that addressed the topics of gender, identity and trauma on a body. I brainstormed all the ways I could speak this out without actually speaking and after many weeks of thinking, I could not get away from the one answer: nudity.
I have removed my clothes before in front of an audience, but never all of them at once and never in a way that did not abstractly address the issue(s) of my skin. But to speak out the dire truths of my scars, I needed to show them. All of them. Even the ones which might not be classified as such, like genitals.
I filled up placards with quotes that spoke to my vocabulary. Writers like Michael Cummingham, Ivan Coyote, and Kate Bornstein found their way onto white, neon yellow and green squares of cardboard. I also dripped a few of my own words onto the paper like queer,enough and even questions like what does it mean to be human?
Before the performance, I took time to ask myself what I needed from this. There are many things we cannot control in life and how others take this piece in was one of them. To be fair, I was a female-bodied human removing all my clothes; even though I had no intention to turn others on, there was a chance it could happen. I should mention that this piece was during a night full of mostly burlesque performance artists.
So, I wrote a short letter to my audience, which I never showed anyone, but it allowed me to articulate what I hoped for.
I want you to see the various genders on me. I want you to notice that although a/this body is/has been sexualized, what exists are the reverberations of trauma. I want you to notice your scars too. I want you to not call me girl/woman/miss/ma’am anymore. I want you to see the trans (movement) on me. I want you to read the queer tangled up in my tattoos and the words written on me. [Before the performance, my partner wrote down various words on my skin that I requested. Words I've been labeled by others and myself.] I want you to ask me questions. No one ever asks and how is anyone to know/learn/understand without asking. I want you to travel with me as I give you what I used to charge others to see. Except now…now…I want to remain whole. Or find my whole.
So, I started this by addressing how to re/approach a body.
Here is goes:
When my name was called, I approached the stage wearing all black. Music began to seep in like fog, filling the room. I removed button down shirt. Then pants. Then binder. Then underwear.
I commissioned an artist friend of mine to draw three separate panels: an over-sized pair of breasts, a male-bodied chest and a well-endowed penis. Throughout the show, I put the panels against my skin, approaching my body as though they were mine. With each switch of placards from illustrated parts to written words, I felt as though my skin was digesting. Gargling with language and genitalia. Suddenly, it did not matter how the audience took me in, I was gaining insight on myself.
I may always have this thing stuck in me, but maybe I don’t want to pick it out and remove it. Maybe I want this ambiguity, this uncertainly to remain. Maybe that is how I can re/approach it. As I said, I can still eat. And kiss. And breathe. I like feeling un-boxable and I can continue disrobing in various forms to connect with others. And myself.