Standing on the Precipice of Myself

I will not settle for anything less than feeling home in my bones.

M. Kerlan
Gender From The Trenches


Photo by Kadir Celep on Unsplash

175 pairs of hands feeding me, shoveling light into my mouth until I burst, sutures tearing red-petaled flowers across my chest. I am having top surgery next month and it will save my life — mutual aid will save my life.

You do not know what it is like to be me.

I am locked inside my own ribcage, my jailed fingers like tree roots, tendrilous and snaking around chalk-white bone. I’m paying upwards of eight-thousand dollars in donated funds to be split open and made whole again — no, not again: for the first time. I have never touched solid ground with my own toes, only dreamt of it. Dropped through the folds of white sheets, gray sheets, blue sheets, clinging to legs and arms that could hold me at least until the morning doves cry out with grief, heralding the passage of time — a wake-up call for another day in a body of dissonance. Every second alone permeates my gut like cancer, skin and flesh irreconcilable with a mind aflame.

Tell me, do you love me for who I am or who you want me to be?

The answer is often fatal.

How many arms have I cried in? How many pairs of hands — worn cuticles and broken nails and all — have I loved and do they still think of me, of what I’ve become? Are they ashamed to have loved me in another time? Was that really me, in that other time?

This is my Ship of Theseus: if the surgeon excavates the fabric of my chest and clamps it shut with stitches and white tape, is it still my chest? If I disassemble myself, tearing tendon from bone, tissue from skin, is this still my life and my body?

Do you think you know me better than I do? Have you done the work?

Have you sat at the bottom of a mildewy tub, cold knees crunched into your heaving stomach? Have you stood before a mirror, transfixed with horror, prodding the folds of your silhouette and wishing ill on the unfamiliar body that has carried you for over two decades, through heartache and failure and triumph and love? Have you screamed into pillows with an agony so immediate and self-directed it punctures your lungs and claws at your joy, steals your breath and pries apart your curled fingers, desperate to hold on to something?

Do you think I am doing this for the hell of it? Y’know, just for fun?

I mean, why not?

Why not offer my flesh for some arbitrary needle pokes and IV drips? Why not elect to be chopped to bits and sewn shut, bruised and yellowed with iodine and antiseptic? Why not weather the odd looks directed toward me as I stand between public restrooms, doing lightning calculations in my mind, trying to figure out who will hate the sight of me less — cis men or cis women?

I am doing this because I must — because I’ve spent so long floating away from my body, growing unrecognizable, a thick cloud of smoke partitioning the me that steers my legs from the me that exists somewhere inside, nestled dormant between hot blood and tissue. I am the only person who has lived my life — who holds all my memories of sweet smells and hard falls. I am the only person who could possibly know who I am and what is left when you strip away all the grime and wet bandages.

I will not settle for anything less than feeling home in my bones.

My mind goes blank when I think of my childhood, my younger self some sad apparition taking the shadowy form of loneliness and quiet. She — or they, they didn’t know any better. They did what they were told: got good grades, practiced manners, didn’t argue. They were not a happy kid, and they couldn’t understand why. They didn’t know about the possibilities — that they could be anyone they wanted to — and for that they were watered down, washed away, made palatable.

The pain of rejection is searing. Everyone saw that goddamn 60Minutes special — the one that dismissed transition as some fast-tracked surgical royale for the irreparable, the unstable, and stole my credibility, my integrity. Handfuls of infographics and articles I gave out, pleading to be understood, were stripped of value beneath the words of some doctor who has probably never loved a trans person, never taken the time to get to know them, never thought that maybe, just maybe, trans people could teach them something they didn’t already know.

I know the truth though; I’ve read the literature, the theory. I know why my transness makes me a threat, makes me dangerous: the illusion of natural order spilling away at my feet. It can be quite unbearable to the shallow-minded — this idea that the Universe could hold space for someone like me, who isn’t bound by the same guidelines. Yet, I can’t help but revel in the sight of myself, looking more like me than ever before. When my skin drinks up testosterone like godly nectar, I can feel my cheeks flush with pride and gratitude, blood vessels widening to make up for all the time lost — all the time that could have been spent running and swimming and hiking, had I not been so heartbroken by my own form. Soon enough, I will run and swim and hike again, free of the weight on my chest, stars pouring forth from the lines of my incisions.

Against everything I have ever known, I have chosen to chase the light. I have chosen to dream of taking a full breath or two, to do anything to get there, shedding my binder and with that setting free my body and all the love it contains. After all —

I am alive and that is a miracle.

I am trans and that too, is a miracle.



M. Kerlan
Gender From The Trenches

M. Kerlan (he/they) is a queer writer and artist. For more about M. & their work, visit