Twined Fragments, Chapter 2: Shifting Nouns

Original artwork by Miriam Suzanne. Prints and digital downloads available.

Twined Fragments is an ongoing collaboration between authors Allison Washington and Miriam Suzanne. Each fragment is sparked by the previous, as trans women of different generations pass their memories back and forth, reflecting on lives and transitions separated by a quarter-century.

Working through these fragments of reflection lets us touch on moments and emotions that are sometimes too painful to interrogate deeply. In conversation, we do together what we could not alone.
The result leaves us with more questions than answers, and we love that. We want those questions, and hope you will extend this conversation in the comments below.

Previous: Chapter 1: Mothers, Fathers, Husbands, Wives

I’m standing here in a group of women, all strangers. They’re warm and kind, inclusive, as though I’m any other woman. Am I? I’ve seen myself in the mirror. I find me…disorienting. What do they see that I don’t? 
Why aren’t they laughing at me?
#Mia #2017 #34 #Passing

His shocked disbelief is so comical that I can’t help but laugh. He shakes his head, turns away, turns back, his mouth agape, his expression searching, confused. I have to repeat myself before comprehension finally dawns.
 — Ah, well, I always knew something was off.
#Allison #2017 #60 #Passing #Bullshit

I spend years convincing myself that I’m too masculine, too bulky, too…everything. Transition is for beautiful femme twinks, not Indiana farm boys. I grow a beard to pass as a man, but my clothes transition without me, until my wardrobe looks like the women’s section at Goodwill or Target. Eventually I break.
 — You shaved!
We celebrate with a late-night snack at Breakfast King. 
 — Thank you ladies. Come back soon!
For the next 6 months, my gender is on shuffle. One calls me sir, the next says ma’am, in the space of minutes.
I notice that Allison was only a year younger. 
#Mia #2015 #33

I approach the cashier and she smiles,
 — Did you find everything you were looking for, sir?
Worse than the catcalls, her politeness takes the life out of me. I am wearing a dress, jewellery; long, styled hair, varnished nails, lipstick, and I’m holding a bra and undies. I fight back the oestrogen-enhanced tears. In a minute I must go back out, to face the world. Avoiding eye contact and painfully conscious of my voice, I mumble, pay, scurry away.
I tense as I pass the floor manager on my way to the door. He smiles and I am caught off-guard,
 — Thank you for shopping with us, ma’am.
Men have a different smile for women. I can breathe again. 
#Allison #1989 #32

I spend the weekend with family in Moab — everyone doing their best, maybe. It’s not enough. It’s too much. I hide in my room through dinner. 
The feeling isn’t anger, it’s never anger, just this overwhelming shame and embarrassment and fear and self-loathing. The apologies make it worse. Everyone is defensive. It’s hard, you know? I know. I know. I know.
Jonny slides in beside me. Hey sis.
#Mia #2017

Father, twelve pages, here is a story of my life — thirty years of suffering, of living dead inside. Things you may have seen: here is what they meant. I’ve found an answer, a strange solution to my strange problem. Here is how my hopeless life will become my good life. 
I am your daughter. 
Son, a few short lines , you are ill. I have always thought you were ill, and now I know, and how. You are delusional and determined to mutilate yourself. Abandon this nonsense or I’m done with you. Don’t call, don’t write.
You are not my son.
(29 years of silence.)
#Allison #1988 #Transphobia

Dad quotes queer and feminist theory at me — as though it will fix our pain. I know you’re always right, I don’t say. I want to hear that you’re sorry.
At the family reunion, I tell 62 relatives that I’m trans. My aunt clarifies pronouns — she/her, or they — but I haven’t picked a name. Grandma approves, but hopes I don’t transition. It’s expensive, and you look good as a boy. We support whoever you are, Dad says in passing. 
A year later and he’s sitting, silent. I haven’t seen this look before, as though we’re both human. 
As though our differences finally make sense.
#Mia #2015 #ComingOut

I am doing something that has been done once before, that we are aware of. The difference is my visibility. Within hours four thousand people know, and work across the entire company is effectively halted. I step into the cafeteria at lunch and a thousand voices fall silent, a thousand heads turn. I go home early.
The newspaper wants an interview. I decline, but they write about me anyway.
#Allison #1989 #Terror

Good morning Facebook! 
It’s the third Saturday in October, which everyone knows is Announce Your New Name And Gender Day. A little-celebrated holiday, but it’s important to some of us (me). I’m flipping my first and middle initials, repurposing that undefined M — now Miriam — the name my parents picked out for me 33 years ago and failed to apply. 
It’s never too late!
I glance around the cafe, heart pounding. Later, my co-workers struggle with the pronouns, but the client just nods congratulations and moves on with business.
#Mia #2015 #135Likes #Terror

Why do we need our old names to be dead? There is something deep to them, something raw, vaguely hideous, but it’s not like they can actually hurt us, right? So why is it that I, quite literally, cannot even think my deadname?
There was nothing wrong with my birth name (call me Jaëll). It wasn’t even a boy’s name. When I transitioned I did what many do and made a slight, feminising change: Jaelle. I thought this was what I wanted; I thought it would be easier for those who knew me. But it was too close to…him. It restricted my progress, distorted my identity, held me back. I shortened to Elle, but even that was too close. 
For me, encountering my deadname would be like encountering a corpse.
I have not heard that name in over a quarter century. It would fill me with an anguish that is indescribable. Deadnames have enormous power, and I don’t know why.
I am Allison. Jaëll is dead.
So, I notice that Mia kept her deadname, after a fashion, and I don’t understand. 
#Allison #1989 #2017 #Livename

I’m reading a poet with a gender-flipped middle name, and I’m in love. It looks so casual, or rebellious, or non-binary and exposed. Maybe I want that. Maybe transition doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing, all-encompassing, dangerous. Maybe this is something to hold onto.
I still have trouble seeing my full name in print — Miriam Eric Suzanne — but middle names are easy to hide, and I do. Still, I hope some scared, non-binary trans kid will be inspired when they discover my secret name, taken by the humanity of it. The uncertainty, an openness to transition with history. 
Life isn’t simple, kid. Some names can make you flinch.
#Mia #2015

Twenty-seven years tucked away, hidden in the cisgender woodwork and I emerge into an unfamiliar trans-scape. My first new friend is a ‘they’ and I am so confused. I am a product of a more ignorant time and I don’t get it. I am an expert on he-to-she but…this? It makes no sense. To me. It makes perfect sense to them. For the first time I can recall, I have pronoun trouble. And it dawns on me: This must be how I confuse cis people.
I respect what I don’t understand.
#Allison #2016 #Emergence

Eight queer bands, back-to-back. I’m surrounded by trans rockers — metal, folk punk, indie, emo — I want to live in this moment and never leave. Then drunk breath,
 — What do I even call you? All of you? I can’t say she or he, someone explained it to me…it’s binary, or something. So what do I say? It? Do I call you ‘it’? 
 — She.
 — No. That’s too binary. What do I call you?
I turn my back. Now I want to go home.
#Mia #2017 #She

Another micro-attack, this time on a deeply thoughtful trans philosopher and writer. A nasty letter is peppered with ‘it’. Thus we are rendered inhuman. 
But even the hateful ‘it’ is less painful than a lazy misgendering from someone who should care.
Nouns matter.
#Allison #2017 #She #It

Twined Fragments
Chapter 1: Mothers, Fathers, Husbands, Wives
Next: Chapter 3: Sex, Love, & Romance

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