- The Middle Way
You need mirrors. Without them, you fall prey to anomie, a ghastly sense of normlessness. That neither-here-nor-there sensation of the perpetually untethered. A blue helium balloon floating away. Alison Bechdel, David Bowie, Rhea Butcher, Marlene Dietrich, Leslie Feinberg, Hannah Gadsby, Andrea Gibson, Hedwig, Iphis, King Christina, Anne Lister, Dawn Lundy Martin, Eileen Myles, Orlando, Prince, Arthur Rimbaud, Ely Shipley, Patti Smith.
You parasocialized in coffee shops and listened to podcasts and watched movies and television shows with large ensemble casts and pretended that your needs for social connection were being met. Somehow, the psychic weight of other people had become intolerable.
Your unbounded loneliness grew into a deep isolation, which, at times, felt like that nature documentary scene where a wildebeest is drinking water, as every animal must, and a crocodile comes up out of nowhere and lunges with its powerful jaws and drowns the poor, dumb, thirsty animal.
“We learn to thrive / in the dry humor of soil; / carry water in our bellies / to quench our own thirst.”—Amir Rabiyah
Somewhere in your brain, a hidden, tangled conflation of strangers and hostility. A thorny bramble. A lioness hunting a gazelle in the savanna. A dog [End Page 25] chasing a squirrel in the park. A cat torturing a mouse in an old shed. A brace of ducks pecking at a lone swan.
You were gradually returning to a feral state, that halfway place between the wild and the domestic, where you don’t belong in either. Every day you got high and drove to a stretch of the Sacramento River west of town. Vagrancy evolved. You watched the egrets—burst of effulgent white—stalking fish or frogs on the far side of the river. Even when large, languid raindrops clouded their view, they remained still and poised, searching for sustenance. You envied their elegant patience, tried to stand as still as they did and for as long. For months, they were your only mirror. A creature that could exist as a metaphor for solitude. You liked them better as birds.
“listen to these birds as they wake, birds who call and call, always sure that some other bird will answer.”—Brenda Miller
You tried to name a cause of the anomie. You blamed the move. You blamed the divorce. You blamed being gay. You blamed the cashier who glared at you every fucking time you bought groceries. You observed her with other customers to see if she, perhaps, experienced a deep frustration with and contempt for capitalism like you and had difficulty hiding it. But, no. She was pleasant with others. No Oliver Sacks obscure neurological disorder that causes people to glare uncontrollably. It was just you. You remembered this same phenomenon happening in Logan, Utah, where you went to college. You’d wonder why it bothered you so much, and you’d ask your friends about it. They—mainly cisgender, straight white people—looked at you blankly or told you that you were being too sensitive.
And maybe you were, but your whole life, women in grocery stores have glared at you. You loved living in New York where the grocery clerks “are rude.” They never asked anyone how their day was. In small towns where “everyone is so nice,” the scorn is stark.
Reflecting on these experiences all at once activates short, shallow breathing and a familiar flush through your torso and face. You can only ever ask “why?” in a fit of pure frustration and rage. But you know why. You’ve always known why.
Behind that cashier’s glare, and so many others, is gender policing and this unspoken warning: No one defies the tyranny of conformity without social exclusion as a consequence. [End Page 26]
Agender, androgyne, aporagender, demigender, epicene, genderflux, genderfuck, genderqueer, gender fluid, gender non-conforming, gender variant, graygender, neutrosis, non-binary, pangender, polygender, third gender, trigender, two-spirit.
You look through old pictures and see one of you at Christmas playing a genderqueer Mary. You wanted to be one of the wise men. There’s another picture of you with your four brothers playing in the sprinkler. Like them, you are...