I don’t believe in the idea of “success” being a) a real thing, b) the end of a long road, or c) a term that actually serves us. I also don’t buy into the idea of “failures,” for similar reasons.
That said, I find value in sharing our “failures” with each other, not as motivational carrots to keep us going in pursuit of “success” (everyone fails! it’s okay! pick yourself up out of the mud and keep going!), but rather, in an effort to create shared spaces of vulnerability. Like art, like theater, like music, like real honesty, it is beautiful when we pull the curtain aside and expose our humanity, in whatever form it takes.
This is my “failure.” I submitted this piece, about my experience of gender, to a literary magazine, and they rejected it. I tried for something, and didn’t see my hopes actualized. This isn’t a reflection on my abilities as a writer, my worth overall, the validity of my ambitions, or any other such nonsense. I am disappointed, but nowhere near defeated. I love this piece. And so, I give it life, here.
Water Over the Bridge
“I will never do some man’s laundry,” I told my Grandpa, when I was 13. That was the summer I played Cap, the old man who ran the newsboy orphanage, in a local, musical theater camp production of Newsies. My hair was short. I hadn’t found eye makeup, yet.
A gas station attendant said, “Thank you, son,” after I handed him cash for my dad’s fill up. I didn’t mind this. When my brother’s neighborhood friend, the gangly blond boy with comic-book eyes, called me a boy, I minded – he made it sound like a bad thing.
We moved across the country the middle of my sophomore year of high school. I made friends with choir and theater nerds. I decided I was bisexual. I kissed my girl friends at parties. I dated effeminate boys; boys who made pottery, who loved their moms, who wrote poetry, who introduced me to Ani DiFranco and wanted to know how to please me.
College boys were sour tasting. I could see through them, predator to predator, we stared each other down through the tall grasses. They were “put on.” I tired of playing the players. The nice ones were dull.
I had no idea how to date women, but I was determined to figure it out. I walked halfway down the long hallway to my college’s LGBTQ group meeting, and stopped. I was so nervous my lower back started sweating (it was January in Boston). I found a girl from a nearby school on a dating website.
I didn’t hate boys. I wasn’t obsessed with girls. I wasn’t a femme; I wasn’t a butch. Collared shirts and a cocky attitude was a more appealing outfit to me than printed dresses, and got more attention. I adapted, for a time.
At the height of my Lesbian Life, I had short, gelled hair, bomber jackets, heather grey hoodies, and an aspiring career as a singer songwriter. I met a girl. She was crazier about me than I was of her, at first, but that changed quickly. We were fireworks.
She moved in with me. She was long and lean as the cornstalks she grew up in. Her Midwest was skin deep; she was darker, inside, and it slipped out over the years to follow, like a tar pit tearing apart the Earth’s skin. I grew my hair out. My best friend told me I had started looking like a soccer mom. I listened, and bought V-necks and Converse that rubbed my heels raw.
Something was broken. She went to a gender group. A few months later, “she” was “he,” and a vial of Testosterone lived in the bathroom cabinet. We got married. I wore a dress. I liked it. It didn’t feel like mine.
A month passed. We had no honeymoon. His Irish-red face, enraged and bulging, was a Guillotine looming over mine, that night, his arms, the frame around all of mine. He rode his bike into the pitch-black night. When he returned, the bike was halved, his forearm barely spared the same fate. His breath smelled of booze for the first time since he punched through the window in our kitchen, a year before.
He left me on Christmas Eve. I sold yoga pants to suburban women that day, like many days before. I told them their butts looked good in the spandex; no cellulite bumps could be seen. My boss told me it was the injected Testosterone – it was unnatural. I needed to find a real man.
I tried Timmy. He shared a house with three friends, his room, in the basement, was filled with toys, comics and posters of porn stars. I drank like a frat guy that summer. I didn’t eat. I wore a bikini and crossed my legs and said nothing. I left him for my ex, who showed up at my work with a black eye from a gay bashing incident.
“Queer” became a thing. I liked my longer hair. I kept it and told people to call me Chet. I still have friends who do. I dated trans boys, mostly. Gender became everything; in, on, around. I read it, talked it, wore it, sexed it, taught it, squeezed it, tested it, ate it.
I prefer not to think about it much, these days. I forget that not everyone drowned in it and somehow washed ashore. I call my boyfriend “princess” and “diva.” We want to have a family together. He’ll be Dad. I’ll be Mom.