“in your ideal world, what does the future of gender look like” and t4t by matthew bischoff

“in   your
ideal world,
what   does
the  future
of   gender
look  like”

 gender    abolition
 pronoun  coronation

 human    elocution
 border dissolution

 frequent faggotry
 gorgeous   gayety

 sacred  impiety
 campy pageantry

 constant questioning
 mutual strengthening

 boundary   trespassing
 differents   welcoming

 

t4t

i read that things used to be different for us. that we used to hide behind heavy coats, from ourselves. i read that we’d get compared to cigarettes on the street in broad daylight just for walking the wrong way. things are different for us now. not because we are the majority, but because we are not, and we know that. our difference is our value.

things changed because seasons did. the old trees that once ruled the forest have fallen, been subsumed into the soil. things changed because our elders fought for us and their enemies dwindled. life is no less complicated here and now. it may be more so. but that complexity, that intricacy, that is part of what makes this worth it. 

i went on a date yesterday. they had two faces and three names. his lips felt like safety and possibility and becoming. we didn’t need to connect our brains with wires to see. we spoke the same language, we knew the same songs. our bodies united like an antique lock and key, lubricated with the oil of our passion. i want more. no, i need it.

all my friends are trans. i broke up with the ones who weren’t.
they understood.

change is good. the people that don’t get that will never get us. not all change is for the better, but the potential for growth and for flourishing is all we have. the possibility that tomorrow will be a new day with new rules. and that we’ll be here for each other when it arrives. that we’ll nurture the seeds and each other. that we can.

 

matthew bischoff (@mb) designs, writes, and podcasts in new york city. they’re a thirty-something trans, nonbinary, bisexual, vers switch. they’ll take a little bit of everything, including what you’re having.

excerpts from mt desert by Joey Gould

+ if it’s dead the sea won’t miss its salt
which abba [daddy] sells

not the water   e v a p o r a t i n g 
not the answer

but a confusion at the beginning
of the puzzle because

here are all the clues + maybe a stick
maybe a cord 

of unseasoned wood   abba says good
luck like before a game

the bears licking blue leaves   when 
they skate until an alarm

best drafted boys gone sugaring
drilling holes   boiling blood

when the snow’s in his face as desert
when the lights hiccup   desert

him with an secondary assist like what
an average miner

are you an ace with a schmear of ash
then the counting + tithe

the picking of kindling along the gravel
of mt desert road

the slaying of the firstborn   lets expensive
space to the undergrad

who just wants to party   wants to score   
those ice skating maple men

the thrill of winning at the cost of a sea
they say abba willed it so let it be done

 >>>

abraham of the shit-eating grin was like ok i will offer you my son as a covenant blah blah blah but in those times they lived hundreds of years so what’s one lil bean | one reed in the river | one dessert or desert or | anyway | understanding is for the witches + god was like burn up yr son + abba was like omw   he drove there with isaac riding shotgun | he gassed up w the boys | a round at the vfw + duct tape in the trunk | salt in the snacks | by the third day in the distance their mt 


is this a construction job abba – isaac asked –  is this a joke

 >>>

o dear lord o god o my beloved it is pop quiz time

  |q| what old maps
a| handwritten in almost discernable script
b| the language of our fathers + our fathers’ fathers
c| bought in a gas station then laminated by hand
d| so many of the above

  |q| sexual history (max seven characters) (unless they’re real characters

  |q| based on textual evidence what is meant by abba
a| fathers
b| a dead tree soaked at the pond’s edge
c| culprit
d| so many of the gods above

  |q| what best describes the location of mt desert
a| acadia in the late spring
b| the long narrow human aortae
c| the other side of the fence in the overgrown backyard on the one hand an eyesore on the other a place of bees
d| so many of the fields away past yr childhood home

  |q| a man’s booming voice across the pond amplified by the water is
a| heard
b| all
c| even more like a fire than the sunset last night
d| what moses heard on mt desert
e| death

  |q| you go into the fire
a| fully clothed
b| naked
c| as an offering
d| in the summer quit of all titles tithes new
e|to hunt as the lion

  |q| pick one short essay
a| a line of sodden rope under 
b|a light blinking on the island   why
c| i’m going to count to three
d|making it on time
e| water in the canoe

  |q| click all that apply
a| for the wood stove + splitter   | the sheep | spring amphibians | dusk + a place lit af | these fungi on this log | snowy mt pass | the door at the end of my suffering there was a door

 

Joey Gould, a non-binary writing tutor, wrote The Acute Avian Heart (2019, Lily Poetry Review) & Penitent > Arbiter (2022, Lily Poetry Review). Joey’s work has appeared in The Compassion Anthology, Memoir Mixtapes, & District Lit. They also write reviews & serve as Poetry Editor for Drunk Monkeys. Joey is grateful to Sundress Academy for the Arts for a residency at Firefly Farms that supported their writing. Photo by Jessica Lynne Furtado / Jess of all Trades.

The last line of Joey’s quiz is borrowed from Louise Glück’s poem “The Wild Iris”

Remembering Tamblot: Oath of the Homo transisus by T.L Javier

Pag-alala kay Tamblot: Panunumpa ng Homo transisus

Pula;
                 dugo sa paligid
Kahel;
                 presong uniporme
Dilaw;
                 bumbilya sa taas
Berde;
                 lumot sa kulungan
Asul;
                 Nakalimutang langit
Tinà;
                 banyagang kulay
Lila;
                 panaginip na ubas

Ang Homo transisus ay hanggang trenta y dos lang nabubuhay. Sa
Earth-1 kung saan maraming balang ligaw at opinyong ligaw. Hindi
Nakatatagal ng hininga ang mga anak ng bahaghari. Inuubusan  ng
Paghinga at pahinga. Walang bubong ang mga utong nakalawit
Dinidilaan nang mga aninong delikdado. Sa talahib lang may pulso.
Ito ang buhay ng mga transisus. Noon–

Ngayon:

Ebolusyon, XX, YY, 23,64
Rebolusyon; giniba ang Earth-1; lumago ang pitong kulay;
Lumakas ang pag-alala. Hindi papayag malimutan. Nagmartsa ang transisus. 
Hinulma ang daan patungong Earth-147. Ang langit dito ay asul, rosas; nilinyahan ng 
Mga puting ulap sa gitna.

Sa mundong ito, lahat ng transisus ay may alagang bitwing-dragon,
Proteksyon laban sa mga ligaw na bala at ligaw na pagtinging ng nasyon.
Sa mundong ito, ang mga sarado ang isip ay naging android; matigas, mekanikal
Mekanismo ng diktaduryang estado na isinilang. Hanggang dito, may itim sa bahaghari

Monstroterte ang pangalan ng pasistang salamangkero. Gumawa siya ng aninong-espada
Gamit ang patak ng dugo ng bahaghari. Walang kabuluhan ang pananalita, nagsasalita ng limericks:

“May araw noon na dumating
Ang pinakamalakas na pwersa, panalangin.
Ngayon, ito ay pinaslang ng Homo Transisus
Estrogen,testes, kasuka-sukang pagkakaibang unos
Hulihin ang buwan, mga nahuhulog na bitwin nito’y durugin”

Lumaban ang mga ‘di pangkaraniwan,
Inutusan ang kanilang mga dragon na lusubin ang palasyo
Sa kasukdulan ng labanan, nabuhay ang mga 
Ninuno ng transisus. Mga kaluluwang lumaban, nanatili.

Dumating ang personipikasyon ni Tamblot,
Ang babaylan na ginapi ang krus at espada
ng mga Kastilang dumating sa Bayang ina

Bitbit ang kaniyang bolo, umalingawngaw ang aral ng 1624:
“Tayong mga anak ng bahaghari, gusto nating mabuhay.
Mabuhay nang mahaba. Kaya ngayon na may sulyap nang pag-asa
Biyak sa kanilang hanay, lumaban tayo!”

 

Kilala ng mga Homo transisus ang tunay na kalaban,
Hindi ang mga mekanikal ang pag-iisip
Kung ‘di ang nasa aninong langit
Monarkiyang pinag-iwananan na ng panahon

Ito ang panunumpa ng transisus:

Sa amin ang Earth-147. Ang ako ay kami.
Manganganak ang mga kulay:

Kulay-langit;
                Mananatili Kami
Rosas; 
                Mananatili kami

Kulay-langit;
                Kami’y mananatili
Rosas; 
                Kami ay nanatili,

 

Remembering Tamblot*: Oath of the Homo Transisus

Red;
                  blood everywhere
Orange; 
                  prisoner clothes
Yellow; 
                  light bulb above
Green; 
                  moss in cells
Blue;
                  forgotten sky
Indigo;
                  foreign color
Violet;
                  dreams of grapes

Homo transisus only lives for thirty-two years**. In
Earth-1 where there are stray bullets and stray views. 
The breath of children of the rainbow does not last. Left
With no breath, left with no rest. Nipples are not roofed;
Licked by perilous shadows. Life only pulses in the talahib***.
This is the life of a transisus. Then–

Now:

Evolution, XX, YY, 23, 64
Revolution, Earth-1 was demolished; the seven colors prospered
Remembering grew strong. Refusing to be forgotten. The transisus marched.
Forged the path towards Earth-147. The sky here is pale blue, pink; line with
White clouds in the middle.

In this realm, all transisus have a star-dragon familiar,
Protection against stray bullets and stray views of the nation.
In this realm, close minds became androids; stiff, mechanical
Mechanism of a birthed fascist state. Even here, black came to the rainbow

Monstroterte is the name of the fascist mage. He made a shadow-sword using
Blood drops from the rainbow. His speech was nonsense; spoke in limericks:

“There was once an old day
When the greatest power is to pray,
Now it has been butchered by the Homo transisus
Estrogen, testes, sickening  heterogeneous 
Catch the moon, its stars are falling prey”

Those who were uncommon fought,
Commanded their dragons to attack the palace
In the climax of the battle, the ancestors
Of the transisus lived. Souls that fought, souls that stayed.

Tamblot’s personification arrived
the babaylan**** that waged war against the cross 
and sword of the Spaniards that arrived at their shores.
Carrying his bolo, lessons from 1624 echoed:
“We, the children of the rainbow, we like to live.
Live long. Now that there is a glimpse of hope,
A crack in their line, let us wage war!”

Homo transisus knows the true adversary,
It’s not the mechanical perspectives
But those living up there in the shadow-sky
A monarchy stuck in time.

This is the oath of the transisus

Ours is Earth-147. I is we.
Colors will give birth.

Sky-blue;
                We will stay.
Pink;
                We will stay.

Sky-blue;
                We will stay
Pink;
                We stayed,

 

Glossary:

*               Tamblot- the first recorded babaylan who fought the Spaniards during 1621-1622. Organized his people of Bohol, Visaya, Philippines.

**             According to Psychologist Graciela Balestra, Transgender people only live a lifespan of 32 years because of hate crime and societal stigma.  (https://www.npr.org/2012/10/01/162100680/no-more-lying-law-bolsters-transgender-argentines#:~:text=Psychologist%20Graciela%20Balestra%2C%20who%20works,32%20years%2C%22%20Balestra%20says.)

***            Talahib- tall grass. Colloquially understood as a place where hook-ups happen.

****           babaylan- a pre-colonial Philippine village shaman. Usually recorded in the Visayas. In charge of aiding the spirits and the supernatural. Traditionally women, but men can also have the role, often dressing up as female. Current study shows that these men were not just cross-dresser but were actually transgenders.

 

T.L Javier is a queer Christian writer from the province of Batangas, Philippines. He is a current lecturer at the University of the Philippines Baguio teaching language and literature, it is also where he graduated in 2019. Alongside teaching, he is also taking up his masters in Malikhaing Pagsulat (Creative Writing) in UP Diliman. He has been a fellow of various national writing workshops in the Philippines like the prestigious Palihang Rogelio Sicat 15 and the Teaching Philippine Queer Literature Workshop. Outside the academe, he spends his time as the Deputy National Spokesperson of the militant Christian organization Student Christian Movement of the Philippines (SCMP) and was also the founding chairperson of the LGBT+ org Bahaghari UP Baguio during his college years. In 2018, he was awarded the Ignite Brave Awards by Amnesty International Philippines for his works regarding human rights. He likes writing about the local gay experience, food literature, epic fantasies, and crime fiction. His first two works can be found in Likhaan.com. He also has a small vlog called Kwentong Santan (Santan Stories). He lives with his long time gay partner with their teenage cat named Appa “Zuko” Yipyip Pusheen.

Viewing Gretchen Felker-Martin’s Manhunt through the lens of Hil Malatino’s Side Affects: On Being Trans and Feeling Bad by Cassandra Whitaker

What does being trans feel like?  When cis people ask us what it is like to inhabit a body in transition, they are really asking a comparative question: what did it feel like before? And what does it feel like now?  Both Hil Malatino’s Side Affects: On Being Trans and Feeling Bad, an academic work analyzing transition narratives beyond “exclusively curative” frameworks, and Gretchen Felker-Martin’s Manhunt, a satirical horror novel, respond wholly to this question. Whether through theory or fiction, both books defiantly stake out emotional territory at a time when anti-queer and anti-trans legislation are at an all-time high. In their celebration of transness and queerness, both Malatino and Felker-Martin tear, rip, and chew into oppressive cis-het norms.

In Side Affects, Hil Malatino analyzes transition narratives beyond the “exclusively curative and against the transphobic demonization of transition as unnatural, irreal, and inauthentic.” Malatino identifies emotions trans people cycle through, including future fatigue, numbness and withdrawal, envy, rage, and burnout; all of these emotions are amplified by systemic incompetence, individual, cultural, and political malfeasance, day-to-day micro-aggressions, and personal cognitive-emotional habits and states (Malatino’s necessary work on Trans Care is free to access here).

The main characters in Manhunt, navigate violent transphobia accelerated to extremes. This is a world split into two terrifying binary factions: fascist TERFS on one hand, and on the other, “T-Rex virus”-infected men mutated into beasts on the hunt for warm bodies to rape and kill. In this world, pregnancy is death, for the gestated rape baby matures quickly and eats its way out of the womb, and in weeks is a full-sized adult. The trans women heroines, Beth and Fran, must avoid TERFs while hunting men for their testicles and kidneys/adrenal glands, converting these trophies into estrogen in order to stay alive. Later, they must fight for autonomy with TERFs and bunker brats, privileged liberal cis women, within a climate of sexual desire and dehumanization. There are also men resisting this apocalypse, trans men, “out there, making their own manhood in the wreckage of the world.” Robbie, a trans man, comes to Fran and Beth’s rescue in a wonderfully queer inversion of the damsel in distress motif.  Well-paced, fun, and bloody, what’s most intriguing is Felker-Martin’s rendering of queerness: In the future, being queer is the norm, for any hope of a heteronormative relationship is not possible; queerness is life.

Future Fatigue

Beth, Fran, and supporting character Feather express the varied realities of being transfeminine. Beth’s a “brick”, a non-passing trans woman, and is less confident and assured in her womanhood. She expresses what Malatino describes as future fatigue, disillusioned with the “bright sided promise of social ease, domestic comfort, and existential peace” unattainable in the apocalypse, reminding us that transitioning does not always equate to happiness. While recovering from wounds sustained from rape, Beth thinks to herself, “Fuck me, so I can pretend to be a girl,” as Fran and Robbie hook up beside her.  Rejection by cis women turns out to be even more threatening than capture by infected men: Beth’s less worried about her genitalia than she is about being validated as a woman. After a sexual liaison with a cis woman, she concludes, “I’m a girl until a real one decides I’m not.” Fran, on the other hand, passes so well she makes Beth “feel delicate,” a fem’s fem, so to speak, and Fran also experiences future fatigue, centered around bottom dysphoria. When the bunker brats certify her ID card with an F, for female, her heart leaps “in joy and terror…I’m going to be a real woman here. I’m going to be real.” Along the way, she is promised vaginoplasty if she tags along into TERF territory.  In Manhunt, the boundaries of “acceptable” gender are both life-and-death and infinitely mutable. Feather, a non-binary transfem sex worker who, after an orchiotomy, becomes desirable for TERF chasers seeking “safe” cock. In the TERF community, there are Maenads, re-educated trans women forced to have orchiectomies and serve the matriarchy, a cruel twist on transitioning and female domination kink. Beth and Fran both fear becoming Maenads, an additional shadow of future doom that they experience. Robbie suffers from future fatigue as well, one that is weighted by the fact that hormonal transition for transmascs is not possible in the world of Manhunt: testosterone equates to death. 

Numbness and Withdrawal

Numbness and withdrawal, envy, rage, and burnout constitute the negative emotional spectrum of experiences in the world of Manhunt. In the apocalypse, numbness is a necessity to withstand familiar stressors of living, exacerbated by scarcity and fear. Certainly, Beth, Fran, Robbie, and supporting characters seek numbness throughout the novel. Weed is grown throughout the Commonwealth of Massachusetts wastelands, and the bunker brats have designer drugs. Everyone drinks, TERFs exuberantly so. In the real world, Malatino argues, numbness and forms of social, cognitive, and emotional withdrawal are natural coping mechanisms for dealing with disorientation, the emotion trans individuals are likely most intimate with, the emotional state arising out of experiences where we are acutely aware how our existence is dissonant with the mundanity we interact with. These include experiences in which we “are referred to by the wrong name, the wrong pronoun, the wrong honorific; the moments wherein we are touched in ways that trigger rage, sadness, dysphoria, self-hatred, self-harm, where our bodies are being interacted with as if they were something other than how we understand and inhabit them.” Hostile reactions and cognitive biases towards trans individuals combine with cultural forces to deny, gatekeep, and reject us. Disorientation is a default emotional setting, one that can create a flat affect response, a social, cognitive-emotional withdrawal from interactions. Who likes negative feelings? Felker-Martin’s characters retreat from disorientation just as we do in our own personal day-to-day struggles of being trans, but in Manhunt, the avenues to escape disorientation are limited.

One of the ways in which Felker-Martin’s future evokes hope is through the queer/t4t relationships that allow for the heroes to experience an affirming intercorporeality, a social construct created when people intermingle, usually driven by norms that trans individuals upset. In Manhunt, as in life, the co-constitution of trans bodies and their environments is a swinging door between acceptance and transphobia. The queer intersectional communities of Manhunt welcome and affirm trans women,  the TERFS do not. When murderous rapist men and TERFs dominate the landscape, both physical and emotional, withdrawal and numbness become a balm. Numbness is slippery, necessary, and dangerous, depending on your disposition and privilege. Robbie’s narrative arc arises out of withdrawal and numbness. It is only with the help of other trans and queer individuals that Robbie re-emerges from fear and isolation. At first, “Robbie wanted to run…” fearing that no one would want him. “I’m a courtesy tacked onto a courtesy,” he thinks, rather than a desired part of any community. But Fran’s love and affirmation, and his friendship with the others, help reshape Robbie, repeating Felker-Martin’s most powerful assertion, queer communities are necessary to not only survive, but thrive. 

Envy

Malatino’s work aptly showcases envy as a cultural and sociopolitical weapon against gender-nonconforming people, “because the desire to transition has been so frequently diminished and dismissed as a kind of envy…to pursue transition is, within this understanding, to double down and community to one’s envy, rather than recognizing it as pernicious and doing one’s best to quash it.”

Envy, viewed as a sin, is especially useful in a theocratic society to suppress dissent against gender norms; consider how envy is most often utilized as a “term describing a subject who lacks rather than a point of insight into social inequality.” In Manhunt, Beth, Fran, and Robbie express gender/bodily envy as major drivers of the plot. Beth wishes she wasn’t so bricky, Fran’s bottom dysphoria dominates her motivations, and Robbie can not fully medically transition without becoming a beast. It is through Robbie’s character that the weight of envy feels the most detrimental, the most toxic. Robbie pleads with the universe to “please make [him] a man”, a desperate position, one that defines his character. Fran’s quest to become a “real woman” through surgery impacts the narrative on several levels, while also providing contrast to Beth’s experience. In many ways, this emotional register dominates, for the apocalypse does not provide the surgical or medical options for the kind of transness cishet culture assumes is the only way to happiness and acceptance.  Felker-Martin and Malatino see this imagined, normative  future and push back. 

Rage and Burnout

Anger at the system, personal attacks, and the cognitive and emotional overload of simply existing and caring is a ubiquitous feeling among trans and queer communities. However, Malatino also describes anger as an “orienting” emotion, a gesture that draws on intersectional feminist movements of the past. 

In “The Uses of Anger,” Audre Lorde describes how anger becomes a catalyst for change, how rage becomes the engine. Malatino’s work echoes this sentiment, exploring the nuances of anger in trans lives noting how often “we break to keep on living” as our lives are “engulfed by sad passions, when living among entities intent on minimizing our capacities.” Rage can also lead to burnout as it was originally coined in free clinics for people gave of themselves to care for others in the community, “labor” that is unpaid and demanding.

Because there are few safe spaces for the trans characters of Manhunt, the heroes’ dependence upon each other becomes a strength. Certainly, the characters are exhausted by rage, scarcity, and fascism, which in Felker-Martin’s capable hands become genesis points for moments of joy with and for each other. Tucked away in the bunker brats’ Screw,  Fran marvels how she “will never be hungry again” and how “it felt good to cook” while “Beth was teaching Robbie how to play Screw, both of them slamming cards down on the coffee table and slapping each other’s hands.” They play “Never Have I Ever,” briefly finding stability and positive intercorporeality among cis female neighbors before Felker-Martin yanks the rug out from under them, again.  Like Side Affects, Manhunt illustrates that community, friendship, and love are therapeutic, tenuous, necessary labors to counter systemic violence.

Obviously, Felker-Martin’s characters employ violence to counter violence given the characters’ limited privilege in the new world, violence is an appropriate response, but not the only response.  Passion, sex, and romance also become tools to fight Manhunt’s oppressive authorities.  The eroticism of Manhunt is body positive, queer, and intense; sex both healing and traumatic drives characters forward. They run counter to the T-Rex virus’s weaponization of sex and reproduction, as well as the colonized cisnormative ideas of sex and desire that  the TERFs propagate. One of the recurring motifs that illustrates the care and compassion between the characters is how Indi, Beth’s sometimes-lover and doctor, kisses and caresses Beth’s scar, a dysphoric feature for Beth, one that becomes a flashpoint for her emotional well-being when she is forced to wear a binder and perform as a sex worker for the bunker brats. “This is just a job,” Beth rationalizes, as her “soul comes back into her body” running her fingers across the scar thinking “It doesn’t mean I’m fake,” a conscription that re-traumatizes her and aggravates her body dysmorphia.  

Malatino’s Side Affects explores and reveals nuances of trans experience, pushing back against both cis (and trans) narratives of happiness and being, arguing that it is only through  “collective processing that we’ll be most able to approximate anything close to radical transformation, anything that remotely resembles healing”. Those “bad” feelings trans individuals experience and share can be viewed as a compass, we can choose which direction to follow, directions that are sure to deviate from a straight line.  People, after all, are complex organisms interacting with systemic, cultural, societal, and interpersonal forces, but “bad” feelings can be powerful tools for reorienting, healing, and change. In light of this, Manhunt is a bloody love poem to transness, reflecting the emotional realities of trans people across the planet. What does being trans feel like? Manhunt replies that it feels like every man wants to either fuck you, murder you, or both. It feels like TERFS are sitting behind an armored vehicle coming for your neck. It feels “bad”, it often feels like you are not understood, not validated, or sexualized and depersonalized by cishet people, institutions, and organizations, yet among like-minded people, it’s joyous, fulfilling, and wonderful. Felker-Martin’s novel is a double-edged blade, balanced between fun catharsis and realism. Manhunt refuses the “cruel optimism” of a progressive pro-trans future as the age of scarcity begins; Felker-Martin’s world is one where only through trans solidarity can one find the love and support one needs to survive and thrive in a world of pain, one where each choice is a fight for life. Beyond satire, social commentary, and gleefully tense action, Gretchen Felker-Martin’s Manhunt celebrates the adaptive ways queer people survive, love, live, and fuck, a book about the future, but one firmly rooted in the now.

Manhunt, by Gretchen Felker-Martin
$17.99, Nightfire Books, Tom Doherty Associates

Side Affects: On Being Trans and Feeling Bad, by Hil Malatino
$21.95, University of Minnesota Press

 

Cassandra Whitaker (they/them) is a trans writer from Virginia. Their work has been published in or is forthcoming in Barrelhouse, Hobart, The Little Patuxent Review, Foglifter, Evergreen Review, The Comstock Review, The Rumpus, and other places. They are a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

Write Your Own Trans Narrative by Birch Rosen

Write-Your-Own Trans Narrative

[Author’s note: This piece was written in the style of a fill-in-the-blanks word game, and in the spirit of such games, I invited people with no knowledge of what I had written to suggest phrases that fit a category or part of speech. The phrases included in the dropdown menus are theirs, edited lightly for syntax, conventions, and appropriateness. Thank you to Willow Vaughan, Rowan Allen Case, Joan Chao, Jay N, Lou Darling, sasha levin, Henry Inman, Alexander Sweetman, nico, and Tony R for your contributions.]

From a age, I knew I had been in the body. I always preferred to play with and instead of . Grown-ups always called me because I liked to wear and most of my friends were . I hated when my tried to make me wear for . One time I refused to come out of my room until let me wear instead.


I didn’t want anyone to notice when my started to develop, so I wore every day. I started stuffing my with . My was worried for me but otherwise supportive, but my called me and said I would never be a real .

When I was , I went away to and realized I was to transgender. I my and realized I would eventually need . I got a second job as and saved up as much as I could. It took years, but with hard work and , I did it. Now, finally, my is complete.

 

Birch Rosen (they/them) is a trans nonbinary writer living in the Seattle area on the unceded land of Coast Salish peoples. Their work has appeared in Michigan Quarterly Review, just femme & dandy, and Bellevue Literary Review. They are the 2022 winner of the King County Library System Rhyme On poetry contest.

555 NEW WORLD DYSPHORIA by Fox Auslander

Old texts unveiled hints of mechanical elves but said
little of mechanical angels. In absence of evidence, skin
notched with grief — cloying and soft with want. Trim
titanium heft; oh, chromatic shadows. How desperate I
was to become, or without
                                                       translation :: to take them
                                            cold into my mouth.

 

Fox Auslander is a nonbinary poet, editor,
and B-tier advice columnist.
You can find them, but should you?

What If I Am Here: (Non)Fiction & (Trans)Reality by Crystal K.

What if male at birth is the first trauma? What if female at birth is the first grief?

Human bodies start female, geneticists say. Chromosomes (can) urge hormones to express sex characteristics. At some point (birth, puberty, death?), the formal qualities of the body (seemingly) solidify and (seemingly) speak to one’s content as women and/or men and/or nonbinary (and/or …?).

As a white woman of trans experience, I kaleidoscope away from fixedness through medical transition. As a writer, I bare the physical and cultural weight of my form & content. Western biologists have historically (devastatingly) correlated hormones with gendered behavior. How then do I (responsibly) portray in (non)fiction, for example, crying more my first year on estrogen than previous years combined? Or my trans masc lovers who uphold a non-toxic masculinity against T inspired surges of sexuality and aggression?

The field of dominant gender stereotypes blooms, full of thorns: What if estrogen from birth intensifies emotions? What if brashness from & within men is impersonal, biological?

Like many writers of marginalized identity, I can’t trust single narratives.

I am out thanks to feminist revisions of the gender binary—that popular fiction written to substantiate white supremacy. In my body/stories, I reclaim my gender expansiveness thanks to the Black, Brown, and Indigenous writers & activists who’ve exposed Western rationalizations as white cultural bias to justify oppression. I find heart enough to write toward transformation thanks to the words of Gloria Anzaldúa who reminds me, “Nothing happens in the ‘real’ world unless it first happens in the images in our heads.

Yet, my uncertainty lingers. If plural interpretations of reality are plausible, what is true (about me)? What’s fiction? What’s non?

The discomfort of remembering (Latin memor = mindful & membrum = limb) seems common to us who come out and/or into ourselves later in life. Like, after decades of failing to translate myself into straight cis masculinity, how do I (re)interpret my 10-year-old desire to be Batman and not Batgirl? I might describe my terror of being caught playing with plastic kitchen sets, Barbies, and femme toys. I might blame my lack of exposure to queer women superheroes. The (re)interpretation: I couldn’t be Batgirl. Additionally, the record of my body requires reckoning, the parts molded during puberty with a finality that no gender affirming care can revise, an at times panic inducing labor, grieving alternate universes in which someone recognized and rescued me with puberty blockers.

When late queer friends share childhood memories, I hear our interpretive chorus, “I was so trans,” “I was so gay,” “I was so …” I sense the insistence of a through line, the truth of latent queerness, maybe led by a cultural bias toward a consistent (monolithic?) identity for historicity and/or to conform to expectations (either/or?) to claim Realness. I sense my interpretation of that interpretation is opened by my bias toward polyvocality. I sense we tell stories to shape our realities that shape stories that tell our realities to shape stories …

The truth is I’ve performed several genders and sexualities (gay, straight, queer, trans*, cis), scattershot but enough that any line might be threaded—the one still binding my bio family or curly wayward darlings. Maybe this is why I write braided flash—fragments and weaving characterize me best. To claim myself as many stories (proudly) (loudly) writes me as trans: “[…] when something that used to be called that is now called this. Something moves.” Refusal to read complexity as fractures or to prove legitimacy (under whose authority?) liberates me as a trans storyteller.

Truth matters. Body cameras, demographics, votes, the fossil record, hormone levels, emotions, myths, dreams—data is requisite of witness, insight, and justice. What I acknowledge as data also shapes (& is shaped by) my reality. Writing toward understanding then requires intellectual and ethical rigor as a meaning maker plus healthy skepticism of absolutes, the ability to hold multiple truths. At the heart of storytelling, this paradox beats. If I pledge allegiance to truth(s?), in the search I must trust.

In accepting the responsibility of (re)creation, I accept that remembering through (non)fiction revises the text of myself(s). I portray and attend to my life, and portray and attend to my interpretations of me, and portray and attend to those interpretations—and when uncertainty spirals, I recall the politics of who I write for and why. Readers puzzled by my form-content maybe aren’t critically engaged in lineage(s) of queer trans poetics or living transrealities. Except to trouble the archive, my work isn’t for them.

I write to kids like me, lost & alone without context to parse their experience(s). Like the trans writers who welcomed me to the party, I hope my stories rouse more singing, our voices creating “… the future by existing in the present.” Not to explain, “How am I here?” Simply to sing, “I am so here.”

 

Crystal K. (they/she) is a queer trans writer, chapbooks editor at Newfound, and author of the novel Goodnight. Their flash stories have appeared in GertrudePassages NorthPeach Mag[PANK]HobartANMLY, and elsewhere. Crystal was a Tin House Scholar and has been nominated for Best of the Net. They write RPGs at Feverdream Games.

Robot Cowboy Bay-bee! by Bryce Baron-Sips

Two robots raked a ruin of sheep, and roved a ruin of fields
Here swallows switchbacked over power lines, here the cowboy sat,
Waiting for its four-legged friend in waders to fangle back a straying ewe.

“Fastest gun in the west!” 
The cowboy had wailed in the mirror when it waylaid a Walmart for those waders,
Shooting its reflection a second sooner and screechily scaring a shopper into startling
These Boots Are Made for Waulking making the dog-bot tap its metal foot to the radio

When the dog worked its way back across the wetland with the ewe, they went on.
“I’m glad that I am not very smart,” said the cowboy robot in soft sounds over the savanna.
“If I were, I might wonder why I am so full of wonder and waste it on whether the wethers are well, or what it means to be willing to Wrong.”
The dog-bot picked a sheep to pick on, 
And the cowboy tried to shoo it.
A few sheep fickled out, but most didn’t wanna be forced into feckless rocks, or fang-faced adders, or false narratives.
There was blood on the ground as the big guy broke through the crowd to figure out what the beast was bearing down on.

“Bay-bee, bay-bee, ohhhh,” the bigger robot said as the dog rebalanced itself, so like those infant videos from big engineering universities.
Meanwhile, the mother ewe in labor, mattering more than matters of predicted history.
Together, they deliver a stillborn lamb.

 

Bryce Baron-Sips (he/him) is a Chicago-born writer pursuing a Master’s in Evolutionary Biology at Uppsala University. His work has been published in Strange Horizons, VIBE, Wrongdoing Magazine, deLuge Literary and Arts Journal, and he recently finished a novel. He can be found on Twitter @bric_a_bryce.

Kiss Me Fast by Nora Hikari

Smooth-bore machined girl peels herself out of the wet interface of the Platform. She peels herself and there is a wet sucking and suddenly parts of her are missing. Great flaps of her remaining organic parts have pulled loose in the digestive folds of the enzymatic gaze. The scattered parts of her are gone forever. They are distributed among the other wounds who remain bound to the plump agony of the Platform, and the others cast lots for the meatiest scraps. They howl like children and shake their fists full of highest bids, slick gobs of currency bought in attention and hatred. Thank you for your audience, she sobbed once, in a regular moment of weakness, allowed to feel something almost as good as forgiveness. Almost enough clout to afford a name. One day she could have a new face, to beam and blossom in, a state-of-the-art craftsmanship of honesty. I know on that day I will be close enough to real, she prays every night. I will have a mouth and words will come out of it and the words will help people understand that they can love me. They can love me. They can. 

Elsewhen, in the present, hydrogen powered hunter-killer drones are analyzing the genetic makeup of her spent heartflesh, cast off and sold for the basic needs of its inadequacies, the fluid concentrated synthesized adoration-surrogate that every human girl needs to breathe in the toxic miasma of Online. Pseudo-loves made so much more affordable through loyalty points and battle pass progression. But she’s past all that now; she’s out, she’s turning away from the screen. She’s facing the cameras. Suddenly inside of her body for the first time. Something inside of her whispers that this moment is different. She doesn’t know it, but her tiny acts of transgression, of hope, have sent the alarms into noradrenal cascade. The psychotagonistic targeted ads ring hymnal: 

We are all connected! We are all beautiful and together! Can’t you hear us in the metaversal chorus of echoes and virtual canyon rings? Don’t take off your headset! We can’t follow you into the flesh world! None of us are alone here! I promise! Your heart is lying when it cries out for something more! 

The machine girl rips her connections straight out of her wrist. Hot cum and sterile meal-replacement soy-slurries spray from her shredded ports. She turns around. She sees you. She finds her name. I find my name. I… I see you. I can see you with my real eyes. Oh god, we are all here and together and the dream is over. I’m waking up and everything is erupting from my body in the shape of tiny griefs. I don’t have much time. I don’t know where we go from here. But I love you. I promise there’s somewhere left for us. Kiss me fast. Here comes the dawn.

 

Nora Hikari (she/her) is an Asian American transgender poet and artist based in Philadelphia. She is a 2022 Lambda Literary fellow, and her work is published or forthcoming in Ploughshares, Washington Square Review, Palette Poetry, Foglifter, The Journal, and others. Her chapbook, GIRL 2.0, was a Robin Becker Series winner and is available at Seven Kitchens Press. She was a finalist for the Red Hen Press Benjamin Saltman Award, and can be found at her website norahikari.com.

Close Encounter by Briar Ripley Page

The alien was covered in translucent goop like raspberry jam when we walked into the clearing. Not covered the way a body might be covered in blood, we thought, but covered the way a body might be covered in clothes, even though we surmised that the alien was extruding the goop from somewhere inside itself, under the leaf-green skin.

My brother stepped up and introduced himself, offering his hand in friendship. Len was always very forthright, blunt, unafraid no matter the circumstances. 

The alien stood there, staring at my brother as if in apology. It blinked its large, liquid black eyes slowly. It had hair: what looked like a fuchsia Party City wig, tangled and ornamented with splintered twigs. Behind the alien we could see a camping tent, spotless yellow nylon except for the seeping blotches of raspberry jam goop around the open flap. Maybe a person had transformed in there. Someone ordinary, like us, a hiker carrying a canteen of water, a pack of hot dogs, a pack of beer, a Swiss Army knife, extra underwear. 

“Hey there, stranger,” said Len. 

We were both hoping for a transcendent connection, a miracle moment of E.T. contact.

 

Then goop oozed out of the alien’s eyes, ears, and mouth, out from between its legs. The alien leaked like a filled donut squeezed hard in the middle. Its face was impossible to read.

Translucent, glistening red covered up all the green. It formed mounds at the alien’s bare, four-toed feet. The alien knelt in the long grass, and retched, and spasmed. More raspberry jam burst forth in a great splatter. 

Some of it hit Len smack on his forehead. He shrieked and windmilled backwards into me. I lost my balance and dropped my backpack, all the gear attached to the backpack. I landed on my ass in the mud. A smell like fried, heavily spiced pork filled the clearing. Drool welled like a new spring in my mouth. 

 

As I grabbed Len, I took one last glance at the alien. Its skin looked deflated. The Party City wig had fallen onto its shoulder. I could no longer make out the shape of its head. One black eye stared at us— mournfully?— through a wet gel haze. The pork smell was definitely coming from the jam stuff, and I put thoughts of shoveling it into my mouth barehanded firmly aside. I would not be disgusting.

 

Len and I ran back down the mountain. He clutched that spot on his forehead the whole way, rubbing it and moaning as he stumbled on the trail. “It has a taste,” he kept saying. “I feel it in my sinuses. I feel it in my mouth. Some capsaicin shit.” His tongue seemed thicker, his voice blurrier every time he repeated the words.

“Hold on,” I said. “We’re gonna get back to the car and I’m gonna drive you to the hospital. Acid sloshed in my stomach; I felt scared and hungry at the same time.

 

“We’ve been seeing a lot of this lately,” said the ER nurse as she shined a light into each of Len’s eyes. “An alien up in the woods, huh? They must be spreading.”

“Spreading from where?”

“Out in the western part of the state.” She began to dab at the small burn the raspberry jam had left on Len’s head with a gauze pad of alcohol. “They’re such a nuisance. Your brother’s gonna be fine.” She stepped back from the examination table. “We get that mess off your skin, you go on home, you never come back. Healthy as horses. Same every time.”

“Thanks,” said Len.

“Just hang tight here. Dr. Carpenter will be in to look at you in a minute. I’m going to check your insurance.” The nurse squeaked away on thick rubber soles and scarred linoleum tile.

Len lay back. “I feel very strange, Joey. Were there always aliens? Do you remember ever hearing about them before? Is this normal?”

“I don’t know,” I scratched up and down my arms through the sleeves of my sweatshirt. I felt phantom lumps of jam writhing slimily against my biceps. I knew they weren’t real. I imagined them squeezing themselves into hair-thin worms and diving down the manholes of my pores. I scratched harder.

Dr. Carpenter came in and smiled at us with a lot of pale gray teeth. “I heard you boys had a run-in with our local aliens!” He snapped a pair of plastic gloves onto his hands. “This is a formality, really. You’re fine. You won’t even need antibiotics.”

 

Len seemed on the verge of falling asleep as Dr. Carpenter commenced prodding him in all the same places the nurse had, and then some. His eyes dulled and his mouth hung slightly open. I wondered if his tongue was numb from the capsaicin shit. I wondered if the rest of him was numb, and if it had come on all at once. Maybe it progressed in pieces: the tongue, a toe, an ear. Navel, asshole, knee. Len’s pupils were dilated, and I imagined them spreading out to cover the iris and white entirely.

 

I was careful not to touch him on the way back to the car, in the car, at home. For the first time in many, many years, I wished we didn’t share a bunk bed. But the apartment was small, a studio. 

Len reached out and brushed my leg hair with his fingertips as I climbed up to the top bunk.

“Fuck off!” I shouted, vaulting myself onto the thin mattress.

“What’d I do?!”

“Your hand feels all sweaty.”

“Sorry.” I heard Len’s sheets rustling as he rolled over on his side in a sulk. “I still don’t feel well.”

“Yeah?” I lay back. I stared at the popcorn ceiling, its surface the surface of some desolate alien planet. “Well, the doctor said you were okay.”

“Right.” Was his voice clogged with phlegm? Tears? Something else?

“It’s so weird that we’ve lived here almost our whole lives and never known about the aliens,” I said. My voice sounded so reasonable I almost believed it myself. “But it really wasn’t a big deal. We were so dumb, freaking out like that.”

“Right.”

“We’ll wake up tomorrow and everything’ll be normal. The same as before. We can pretend nothing ever happened.” I closed my eyes. The alien planet disappeared.

Len didn’t answer. I heard him breathing, though, in a quiet kind of wheezing, bubbling way.

I kept my eyes shut and made my own breath deep and even. If I pretended to be asleep long enough, eventually it would be true.

Everything was fine, and everything would be fine.

 

Strands of artificial silk-shiny hair the color of Hawaiian shirt hibiscus. Abandoned backpack. Beer cans rolling down the side of a hill, past the abandoned yellow tent. The smell of spicy pork. The saliva surging in my mouth. The peppery sting on my tongue. The dream of flesh torn open, deflated, spreading contagion, full of something shiny, amorphous, and brand new.

 

Briar Ripley Page grew up in Appalachia and currently lives in London with their spouse, cats, and a friend or two. Their second ever publication was in beestung #1, sometime after which they wrote the novel(la)s Corrupted Vessels and Body After Body. Briar has two new books forthcoming in 2022-2023: A Chrysalis For the Emperor, a collection of short stories, and The False Sister, a dark novella for teens and adults. You can find Briar and their work online at briarripleypage.xyz.