I’ve been working on these poems for a while, and I believe the time has come to let them go. To celebrate my 30th birthday, I give you Thegenderlessegg. Enjoy!
I’ve been working on these poems for a while, and I believe the time has come to let them go. To celebrate my 30th birthday, I give you Thegenderlessegg. Enjoy!
On the way to the shop, the sexless child, like any sexless child, fell from the sky in the village of grandma and into the arms of an overweight priest who tried drowning the sexless child in abnormal water. On the way to the shop, the child fell on knees and elbows, breaking the skin. That’s when the child acquired a gender. The sexful child became he.
Such joy. A boy to carry the name on his shoulders. A name like a dead body.
Wait. Or perhaps some internal animal, eager to come out, tricked the child into falling on his knees and elbows to make the blood come out. It was the devil that the overweight priest tried to wash away with the abnormal water. The blood came out, first shyly then stubbornly, like a playmate who refuses to leave. The child ran back home crying and the child’s father suggested he wash his wounds with soap. The mother disagreed and instead placed the child on her extended legs, rocking him from side to side until the pain subsided, so that the child faced the womb and go back the way he came.
But the child did not know how to get back.
The child had to wait for the wounds to heal. The skin around the wounds turned hard, then brown. The child looked forward to peeling off the hardened brown skin and so, to make the time pass, he played on soft grass, and read books on a blanket in the garden. The child used to look at the sky and think of it as the glass belly of a bottle. Then the day would finally come, when the brown hardened skin revealed the pink fragile skin beneath, the incarnation of an embarrassing kiss or of violence discovered at a later date. That other skin would harden, again, and fall, again, imperceptibly.
The child was an animal. Really.
Not unlike any other animal in the schoolyard, but somewhat different, more like a frown on an adult woman’s face when she sees horse shit on the side of the road. Indeed, more like a fart that everyone heard. This animal broke a sweat every time he masturbated.
[The shape of the sky is the shape of your life]
The houses were the same. They were painted differently, according to the taste and financial means of the owner, but they had the same look. Two big rooms with small windows. A kitchen, at the back of the house, to be used only during rough winters. The kitchens had slanted ceilings. A storage room that housed fruit and was dark enough for monsters to live in it. And an attic, where clothes were hanged to dry during the winter.
In those houses they slept, and fucked, and ate their lunches and every other meal.
The blue blue sky so unavailable. The grass, our grass, on late November mornings like hair parted to the side. Those mornings like the amber droppings of cherry trees. The ground beneath their feet so sterile that the neighbors’ grapes were sweeter. The cherry trees refused to grow and only gave them limited access to their fruit. Some rituals had not been performed properly, the ground too young to give birth to anything appealing except perhaps for the children who needed to be kept away from harm. The world beyond the front gate so evil the children had to jump over the fence and endure the bruises that flowered between their thighs. The bruises that mother would discover when she washed them on Wednesday and then on Saturday.
The trees fell from the sky like strands of hair. Grandma brushed her hair in the morning, the hair she dyed only just above the forehead, the side of the head that was most visible from under her headscarf.
The trees the children climbed to steal fruit or simply to bypass fences. Cherry trees were particularly precious. Old men guarded them with sticks and stones and if you dared to steal the fruit you ended up with a good beating.
The hair at the bottom of the sink. The hair mother found on dad’s clothes asking whose hair it was. This is not my hair. My hair is not as long as that. The condoms that mother found in father’s winter coat. About which we heard but hadn’t heard.
In winter, mother smoked by the stove, the smoke getting sucked into the puzzled mouth of the stove. She was trying to get father’s attention and she threw a box of matches at him. The box flew through the room and hit father in the groin and when the children were not looking, father made a face, and in that face the child saw their adolescence, and how adults were not the adults of books or the adults they saw on TV. These were not the adults who set on voyages not knowing where they went to seek cure for obscure illnesses. These parents were the parents who were content with what little they had.
The rooms had to be big enough to accommodate numerous families. To save on firewood, large families could crowd in one of the rooms. Most often, the other room was used as storage. And Christmas trees. Since Christmas trees had bars of chocolate on them, besides the twinkling lights and other merry paraphernalia, they had to be kept in cold rooms. Not because of the temperature, of course, the chocolate bars didn’t melt easily, but because the children had to be kept away. The tree was there for the pictures. Which we took with large woolen caps on our heads and heavy sweaters that were as itchy as they looked. We didn’t go in there. We just knew we had a Christmas tree in a part of the house that was inaccessible to us.
The other room was also where the good clothes were stored. People and clothes had to be separated that way. Clothes needed their intimacy as well. Grandpa’s heavy leather jackets were particularly shy. Like distant relatives, they were brought into the habitable room only on the nights preceding special events. Such as going to church. And like distant relatives they brought with them a smell of their own. The smell did not conceptually belong to grandpa. His heavy leather jacket, the suede kind on the outside, with white sheep hair on the inside, occasionally smelt of aftershave and deodorant. That wasn’t grandpa’s smell. His smell was that of chewed and digested grass and hay. His smell was that of sheep. Little lambs, that were sometimes brought in the house during cold winter nights. We visited them in their shed and took the smell with us. We didn’t mind it, of course, we knew no other, better, smells.
What did you expect? We were used to seeing our own shit, and that of the others in the household, steaming in the outdoor toilet on cold winter mornings. If you had to take a dump late at night or, even worse, in the middle of the night, well, good luck to you, my friend. No matter how well you dressed to withstand the thermal shock of going out at night after spending hours in an overheated room, your balls suffered nonetheless. You had to pull your pants down. In a tiny wooden shed where even your breath turned to steam. Constipation was a drag from so many points of view. You gave up easily because of the cold. Your ass froze. And sometimes a rat would appear and drown in your own shit-and-piss.
The houses were all the same.
Sad mothers grew up in them. At dinner, the men in them ate their souls and they grew like skyscrapers. They grew to become big strong men, so strong that even their convictions grew stronger in time. Their heads turned hard.
I rarely put things on my head. My head is big enough. If I put things on my head, such as a cap or a hood, my head is bound to look bigger. Hence disgusting. Nobody wants to feel like that about their heads. Unless there’s something going on in your head, unless your head is messed up and the only thing that can make it right is reprogramming, the traditional brainwash, mental shampooing. Use a soft piece of cloth for the eyes, you don’t want to scratch those LEDs, miss the high definition.
But when I do put things on my head, and then take them off, I need time to realize there’s nothing on my head. I put my hands over my hand to tell my brain there’s actually nothing there. My brain eventually gets it. My head is really free and surprisingly small, less disgusting.
When I was little a log fell on my head. I started running home the moment it happened. The other kids stopped me and told me to calm down. My head was alright, they said, and they put their hands around my face. My brain understood it was still in one piece. It was a big log. If I were to put my fingers hands around it my fingers wouldn’t touch. Not even close. I knew the log was going to fall on my head so I stood underneath it, to see how it felt.
When the log fell the pain at the top of my head told me to stand my ground. It was the full stop at the beginning of every sentence. My feet dug into the ground and since then I’ve been swimming in the dirt. The other kids didn’t want me to tell. They encouraged me to stand under the log and see it fall on my head.
The log was part of a homemade contraption, engineered by the grandfather of my cousin who wasn’t actually my cousin but it was nice to think of her as cousin. We had a swing made of wrought iron and the cousin got really jealous and she told her grandpa she wanted one as well. He put the log in between two trees and tied a thick string to it in the shape of a swing. A wooden board with two half holes at each end made sitting on the swing comfortable enough to satisfy the whims of a little girl. If you swung long enough the log would rotate until it fell out.
Nothing happened, except for the swimming-in-the-dirt thing. My head got bigger because of that realization. My ears got big as well, to fit the size of the head.
‘Your head is so big,’ my cousin’s granny said, ‘you have the ears of a donkey, and your brother’s life will amount to nothing.’
‘You stay away from her,’ my cousin’s grandpa said, ‘go home and leave her alone.’ He was trimming the trees on the street and I was just a little boy. I took my oversized head and went home, which was not very far away because we were neighbors.
On the train, on my way to work, much later on, I thought of what I saw that day while returning home. I saw mountains growing on the inside, their snowy peaks like those of homemade bread, then breath in between them, porous shame, like that of broken shoes.
A big head should house many things, even the unnecessary. But it cannot remember what happened to the toy stolen but not really stolen from grandma’s house. The grandmother on the father’s side had a house unlike our own, and in it there was a room that had no power outlets and no lights, no heating implements. The father’s twin brother and his wife slept in there even during the winter. They warmed the pillows and the covers before going to bed. They tucked themselves under the heated sheets and they slept.
In the house there were toys very different from our own and one of the cousins insisted I hide one of them under the shirt and take it home. But then, a couple of hundred feet from the house the toy disappeared.
I expected, even after reality set in and I finally got home, the toy to fall from my shirt and reveal itself.
How could a head so big forget about the toy?
‘Your head is so big,’ a classmate told me in high school. I moved to one of the other beds in the room. Where else could I tuck my head, renounce this huge house of dreams?
My father’s car got a remake and was painted in a putrid red, the color and the texture of overly matured grapefruits. The underweight neighbor whose husband lost his mind came and marveled at it the day after it was brought in from the repair shop. She must have marveled at how much money went into that paint. At times I went in the car to listen to music on the radio. The car then became a big pair of headphones. I listened to Hotel California without knowing what it was or why the musicians had decided to dedicate the song to a hotel.
The backseat was the most fascinating part of the car because that is where the goodies used to sit. Bananas mostly, chocolate, and yogurt. When the backseat was empty it was a disappointment. It happened one of my birthdays when father didn’t bring anything in the backseat. I was showered with gifts a couple of days before my birthday but that didn’t matter. Those gifts didn’t count. I wanted that game console that resembled a computer keyboard. I could write on it. Play word games. Which I didn’t play in fact, because they were boring. But just having the possibility to play that kind of games made my desires go mad.
I was around my school in the afternoon and I saw my father’s car returning home and he stopped and I got in and the backseat was so empty I wanted to cry.
At home I sat on the front steps of the house and acted real sad.
I told my father about the game console and he assured me that it was coming in the next couple of days. My father, the traitor, the unloving father.
A reading by the author:
We were in bed watching TV when we heard the loud knock on the front door. I slept in the same room with grandma and grandpa because, even at that age, I was still afraid of the monsters lurking behind the curtains at night. Grandma stood up from the bed, her white nightgown sweeping the floor, to see who it was. People in the village did not disturb their neighbors after dark unless it was an emergency. Darkness and bad news came together as if the bad news waited for the night to come in order to enter our houses. Nighttime was when fevers went up or hearts failed or stomachs burned.
There was a woman at the door. I overheard her voice, just slightly above that of the politicians complaining and arguing on TV. Then, grandma came back into the room, her hair disheveled, her head looking smaller without the flowered headscarf she usually wore throughout the day, her face unreadable in the light of the TV. She said my brother tried to commit suicide by jumping into the well of the dispensary. The woman told her that she had gone out to the well to bring in some water and there he was, climbing through the ornate wooden frame, on the verge of depriving us of his life. The woman pulled him back and he cussed at her as if she had interrupted some sort of arduous activity that required his undivided attention.
He ran away and some of the people in the village had gone after him. Grandma got dressed but grandpa did not move. He’s stupid, grandpa said, stupid to even think of doing that. I got up and dressed as well and we got out into the summer air of such sickly blue I expected to see steam coming out of my mouth. We met my brother and the woman who had stopped him where the sidewalk narrowed to make way for a patch of asymmetrical grass, by the house of the man who drowned illegitimate puppies with institutional heedlessness. And my brother seemed so small in a t-shirt whose color resembled the steam that refused to come out of my mouth.
Grandma’s robust thighs moved swiftly towards him to cover the last few feet that separated us. In her flight she cooed over my brother as if to let him know that he could have missed all this, all this love she had for him. I said something as well, something akin to the things I told him when he wasn’t doing the chores he had been assigned by mother. We brought him back home, grandma pulling him to her bosom, and put him to sleep. I did not see him look at us because I did not dare look at him, as if the suicidal gesture itself, covered in tiny black feathers, had acquired a life of its own and rolled its eyes under grandma’s heavy arm.
Rumor had it he had done it for a girl. She was a city girl and he had been dating her for a while when he saw her get into the car of another man who was much older than the both of them. You don’t do that for a woman, grandpa said, that’s stupid. When grandpa said it I thought of how grandma had to cross a river in order to marry him and how in the eyes of the villagers she had been as foreign and as subversive as a woman coming from another country. Women did that for you, they were the ones transgressing. Men had to wait and wave from the opposite shore of the river.
Brother broke up with the city girl.
But then the voices in those rumors changed and the rumors changed as well. And then it was my fault. Because the younger child always gets the spotlight while the older child had to step back and gradually recede into the darkness of the stage. I wasn’t asked to do the heavy work in the field. I was the studious one who merited the pats on the back and the congratulatory tones from the adults sitting around their coffee mugs in the afternoon when the sun was pleasant enough to permit such indulgence. My hands were soft and free of any signs of hard work. I was the one who always colored within the lines, who stayed home, who did not engage in self-destructive activities such as going to the village discotheque and getting beaten up by a bunch of drunks.
I was the one who chose the easy way out.
A reading by the author:
I switched places and felt my fingernails heavy with color, as if they were conscious. I thought of touching my hair but then remembered the amount of work I had put into it and decided not to do that. Not that he cared, anyways, but it was part of my orchestrated composure. I mean, the guy was talking about his dick all the time, as if his dick was a god. He didn’t mention it casually, his dick was part of an art project. Naturally, I felt curious about the project, because then I knew it was his dick and some woman’s vagina that were featured in the collage. I hoped he would invite me to see it and deep down I knew that he would, because that’s what he was like. I could see it from the moment I had met him, at the bookshop, where I was fishing for an art album for a friend of mine. That’s when he closed in on me and the lights in the room suddenly dimmed, literally, he was towering above me, blocking the light. He said something about the art album I was looking at and I thought he was in fact talking to somebody else, so I didn’t look up. He repeated it and the way he said it seemed to dig into the texture of the day, pulling it, the way you would pull at a sweater when you take it out of the dryer. The way you would crush the fabric between your fingers to test it, to make it feel worn down. I looked up and around his head I could see a halo of stray hairs and fluorescent light.
He told me he was an artist. I didn’t feel like standing up from where I was crouching, the art album still in my hands, opened at page eighty-six. The page showed a black and white photograph of a woman’s bare thighs. It wasn’t sexually explicit. The photograph was an accumulation of curved lines to the point where you couldn’t tell whether it was a woman being photographed or an accretion of dark pigments materializing out of the latte-colored background. You couldn’t tell what color the background was, but the way the whiteness fermented underneath the surface of the photo made me think of pastel colors and milk foam. His hair was unwashed and tied into a ponytail and I felt sorry for him but I had gone for so long without human touch that he seemed human enough to me. I stood up, eventually, I must have, and I was able to look at him better, but for the rest of our time together, in the bookshop and here in the teashop, I felt as little as the woman in the photograph. An accretion of black pigments that turned out to be a woman. And he turned out to be a man. And what should a man and woman do except look for each other?
He followed me around, he stood behind me in line. He boasted about a book he had found, which was some rare book and he had had the luck to find that rarity at discount price. I thought of telling him that he hadn’t been lucky, that in fact the bookstore must have lowered the price because nobody was willing to buy the book. I did not tell him that because I thought he would leave and never come back and I wanted to feel desired. We exchanged phone numbers and he promised to call me. On the subway, while I held the art album close to my chest the way girls in American high school movies did, I thought of how badly I wanted to get rid of the album, about how the woman in the picture was always going to remind me of him, and the way he towered over me as if he was entitled to do it, as if he had a right to be the way he was. I thought of the looks we exchanged at the counter when I caught him staring at my ass. I felt this tiny black hole open up just beneath my stomach when he smiled boyishly at me after I caught him staring.
And there was that stare again, on the subway, lustfully vacant but filled with the intent of a child who thinks that if he stares long enough and intensely enough at a toy in a toy store the toy will eventually become his. But there was that dying light in the sky again and I looked at it and caught it vibrating along with the vibrations of the subway. We will collide, I thought, myself and the men around me because that is what we expect of each other. And there we were, colliding over our drinks, stubbornly believing that what was happening on the inside were private matters, believing we could abscond with our thoughts, hide them well enough to be able to say that we didn’t mean what we’ve just said. And here was his face, this fishnet of human emotions, contracting with the waves going beneath and over it. When I asked him about the ratio of the photographs of his art project something got caught in the fishnet, something as undesirable as a sea creature that doesn’t count in the final weigh in and has to be thrown back into the sea. I did my best to feign domesticity as if the feelings in his face went unnoticed. They had to go unnoticed because when I saw him waiting in front of the teashop he looked like the best version of a man. It wasn’t the long hair, which made him slightly feminine. It wasn’t the beard that appeared white in the sunlight that December morning. It was the way he waited.
I was wearing a pair of brown pants when I went to the dinner, which was a farewell dinner. But I hadn’t dressed for the dinner. I had dressed for the man who was a divorcee and had a daughter who was living with him and had made pasta for dinner. I found out about the daughter, and the son, and the distant wife only after I had sucked him off in the dark, in a forest on the hills, not far from an unfamiliar street. The place was so quiet that when he moved beneath my open mouth his pants made a deafening sound. He told the daughter that he’s not eating the pasta because eating carbs for dinner was bad practice for somebody who worked out at least three times a week and didn’t see that much of a result.
The farewell dinner went rather well, except for the lump in my throat that decided to rise when I started to talk in front of everybody else. Across the table from me sat a young guy, whom I had not met before and who had affable looks and manners. I hoped with all my heart that he would like the brownies I had made specifically for the farewell dinner. I spoke in English to them because that was the language I felt most comfortable with, and they danced around my comfort, being particularly foreign to the language and to my way of speaking it.
I played around, too, trying to impress them with my pronunciation. Though I was already foreign, by default, I made myself even more of an alien by showing visible strain at talking into their own language. The food on the table was layered and we took turns at guessing secret ingredients. I sensed fish in the salad but said nothing about it. I resented not saying it because then, when asked about the secret ingredient in the salad, the cook, another friend of mine, said it was something related to algae.
I couldn’t enjoy the dinner because the divorcee was coming to pick me up at my friends’ place when I was done. For once, I had somebody to think about and expect. They told me I should come later for drinks with the secret friend. I already knew I was not going to come back the moment I told them that we might stop by. In my mind, I tried to see the divorcee with my friends’ eyes and I knew they would disapprove of him. I feared they might tell me he wasn’t good enough, that I deserved better, or that he doesn’t deserve me, because that’s what friends are for, to make you feel better about yourself and worse about the choices you’ve made.
I said goodbye to everyone, including to the cute guy who sat across the table from me, who was definitely not gay but who was ambiguous and handsome enough to be one. It was a warm evening that turned into a sweeter night, just good enough for a walk around the church on the hill. There weren’t that many people around so we might have kissed at the back of the church where the light permitted us to have been just an error in the matrix or an apparition you see with the corner of your eye. We might have kissed again by the rail that stopped visitors from plummeting down the abrupt valley bellow, and I might have been disappointed by it because with every kiss I felt like my feet were moving backwards as if I was a crab taking arms against a harmless but potentially dangerous predator.
We were in the car already when he asked me whether I was still using those dating apps, specifically the one we had met on, and which was specifically a way for men to meet and have sex. He had deleted his account and wanted to know whether I was seeing other guys in the meanwhile. And there it was, I thought, this is it, the guy who is going to take me away from myself and build a safe house along the path, a house no bigger than the car and much more welcoming than the rest of the world. And we weren’t returning to the city on the same road and that road got suddenly so quiet. In that darkness in which we existed only when another car’s lights illuminated us, I asked him whether he wanted me to delete my profile on that dating app. He said he wanted me to do that but he said it only after I had deleted my profile, after I had been asked by the system whether I was sure I wanted to delete my profile. I said yes three times and he said it once, after I had said it three times. It was wedding night, the closest we came to it, and the biggest promise we could make was the promise to keep ourselves to ourselves and not seek each other’s bodies in the bodies of other men.
I asked him where we were going as the road kept getting unfamiliar and he told me not to worry, he was not going to rape me. He took a left in the middle of the road with the familiarity of a man who was returning home to his wife and kids. When the car got silent in the dark and even the small red lights on the dashboard switched off in defeat I told him about the stars above us because somewhere deep down within my guts I believed he turned off the engine so that we could enjoy the quiet of the night and the lack of light pollution. I unbuckled my seatbelt and he started to pull me against him while whispering, a whisper barely audible above the swish of his pants, that I was very beautiful. Sei così bello, he said, and I believed him because I wanted this to be it. I wanted it to be the completed version of a manuscript I had worked on for years. One that would have all the commas and the full stops in place; one without the excessive adverbs and adjectives that every writer feared.
His hand went down my back and strained against my belt. Could you loosen it up a bit? And I did, and my erection suddenly had space to move, and I could see it pushing against the brown pair of paints whenever a car passed down the road and seemed like slowing down. I imagined policemen lighting our faces with flashlights and asking us what exactly we were doing there. I thought of the excuses we would make, the kind of excuses that would be credible only to the minds of children caught red handed with the biscuit jar.
His pants were all I could hear in the silence. They were constantly moving and the sound was one with the sound of my desire. A constant hush to my racing heart and yellow-eyed fears that stood suddenly attentive to the movements of the night like restless rabbits. The pants went all the way down and I couldn’t stop but wonder why he had to do that. It seemed a prodigal gesture that made me think of his ass touching the seat of the car the way I thought of my sweat when we went running together in the park and he brought me home by the same car. He pushed my head against his erection and told me to suck it with a voice I had not heard before, the voice of men in bed, slightly above a whisper but coming from somewhere just bellow the tongue, as lascivious as a tongue click.
I said nothing when he asked me where I would like him to come and he didn’t finish, because my legs were pushing against the floor of the car as if forcing the car to move forward into the sweet darkness, above the city vibrating with knowledge. It was on our way down that he mentioned his wife and kids, his wife’s accidental pregnancy when he was barely eighteen, and the daughter who came in second and was no longer a mistake. I did not look at him on the way down. I paid attention to the trees on the side of the road that seemed like half-raised hands in a mock high-five. I wanted to go back to the farewell dinner where the men were still too ambiguous to be something other than what I wanted them to be.
But before all this, before the dinner and the brown pair of pants, before all of it, I knew we were bound to fail. I was just waiting for the right moment to say it wasn’t working, well after I had realized that it was in fact not working.
I get it. You’re in love. But could you stop kissing and touching in front of everybody else? It makes me uncomfortable. You’re doing it while waiting for the bus. You’re doing it on TV. I get it, really, but this is getting out of hand, because there’s no place where I could hide from you. At times, I feel as if you’re doing it on purpose. As if to spite me.
You’re posting pictures of you two kissing by the sea, by the refrigerator, at dinner. Seriously, it’s like watching a sex scene in a movie on TV while your parents are there, right beside you. You’re kissing in my books, in the TV commercials I see everywhere. How can I even dream of wearing a perfume advertised by a man who makes women fall at his feet? I don’t want the women, I just want the nice perfume. I want men to fall at my feet (yes, while I’m wearing stilettos and leather pants). Don’t you get that? Seriously, stop looking at each other as if you’re telling each other you’re gonna have maddening sex when you get home because I can see it. No, I can’t see you having sex, I don’t even want to, but I can see the look and it makes me nervous. As if I’m the one who’s going to have sex with you.
You’re doing it in the library while I’m studying. It’s distracting, because you’re right there in front of me and my eyes tend to drift, especially when there’s a man and a woman cuddling in front of me. It’s a library, for fuck’s sake. It’s where people go to study. If it was supposed to be something other than a library it would have been called “cuddling room”, or some other straight-sounding vaguely-sexual term you invent for tantric reasons. Yeah, I can see you kissing his neck, because I’m right in front of you. I mean, it’s okay to look at your neighbor’s screen every once in a while on a long flight, because it’s so shiny, and it has moving pictures, but you’re not a movie on a screen on a long haul flight. I can hear the sucking noises while you’re kissing, because it’s a library and it’s very silent inside, because it’s supposed to be like that. Even if I’m trying over here, really trying, to read something I can still hear you.
You got married, well, good for you. I’m really happy for you, and hope it won’t end in self-loathing and divorce. But please stop showing me how happy you are, and what a great smile she has in that custom-fit designer dress (which I would so like to wear at one point in my life), and how playful you men are when your best friend is getting married and you feign pity for him because marriage is like a third job, which mostly the woman will have to take because boys will be boys and they can’t stop playing with their pee-pees in the bathtub.
You got an engagement ring? I’m so happy for you, but could you stop shoving it into my face? If you take away the love what remains of the ring? The money you no longer have, because you gave it away to buy a ring. You just had a baby? No picture of your baby is ever going to wash away the knowledge that when they’re little they vomit, crap the shit out of them all day long, and when they’re fully grown they will hate you for not making them more beautiful, giving them more money, or buying them the latest gadget. Nothing will make me suspend that knowledge, not even intellectual curiosity. Love your children, don’t tell us you love them more than anything else, more than everyone else, because we, the childless, are everyone else.
A side note: your kid is not a genius because he can count to five and open a door all by himself. In fact, you’ll be surprised to know that the great majority of kids at that age can count to five and open doors. Your kid is not special. Dogs are smart, too, you know, and some of them can open doors as well. Dogs should be considered geniuses because they don’t have a brain as complex as that of human beings and they can do all that stuff.
You’re having sex, hey, sex is great. It releases endorphins, and those are fucking good, they make your body tingle and glitter in so many ways. It’s great, I can’t even stress enough how great sex is. When you’re the one doing it, that is, not when you have to listen to people moaning and making the bed groan as if you’ve finally decided to pack up your things and leave the house. Seriously, I can hear everything even though there’s a thick concrete wall between us. I get it, you woke up at four am and your little buddy in the basement felt like it, and your woman was in the mood, too, but do you have to wake me up as well? I can hear you’re really into it, the both of you, the pleasure, it’s almost palpable. But a sound so hegemonic triggers rebelliousness in me.
You’re everywhere I look, and every gesture of yours is a negation of the gestures I would like to be free to perform leisurely, the way you do them. In our beds, the ones that epitomize the only sense of privacy we’ve come to conquer and make our own, we speak your language. You’ve colonized our mouths and the way we look at each other, and in our search to be different from you we’ve lost all sense of purpose. You’ve made us ashamed of who we are because we cannot attain a sense a completion that has always been yours.
So please, whatever you do, whether on the bus, or in the library, think. Think that someone out there is not like you and can never be like you.
A reading by the author:
I used to play with dolls when I was little. And they were always somebody else’s dolls because boys should not play with dolls. When mother or grandmother caught me in the act playing with them I was told, in a half-scornful, half-playful tone that made me cringe with shame, that my pee-pee would magically detach itself from my body. Imagine the dread of a boy child being told he would have to live with the stump of his dick for the rest of his life. When caught in the act I would make the dolls fight because that was what boys do. They make women fight over them.
To begin with, we didn’t have many toys to play with because my family thought of them as a waste of money. We were encouraged to do something else instead. Play with sticks and pretend they are horses. Play outside, for god’s sake, use your imagination. Take the cow for a walk if you have too much time on your hands. Pick some beans. Do your homework. And whenever we admonished our parents for their heartless refusal to buy cool new toys we were consoled and told that, in a distant past (one I have not, up to this day, managed to salvage from the wreck of my childhood memories), we had plenty of toys. We had been so lucky back then, mother would say, as opposed to other children who had had nothing. Allegedly, we even had this fantastic toy bus that had horses riding the wind on the top of it. Fucking horses on the roof of a toy bus. And I was drawn, as if by a magnet, to that image of the toy bus, and imagined how cool it must have been to have that bus to play with. Literally, we must have been the coolest kids on the block. To this day I do not know what color that toy bus was. I often think it was just a figment of my parents’ imagination. The toy they would have liked us to have but never got to actually buying it.
All of those toys got lost due to my parents’ negligence when we moved to grandparents’ house at the countryside. They were all on the moving truck when a thief decided to kidnap them and keep them for himself. The thief’s only ransom was, I believe, the innocent suffering of my brother and I. We were infuriated back then by the thief’s cunning and cruelty and imagined him to be the very incarnation of evil. Because of him, we had been cursed to make do without those toys. And we did our best. We scavenged for toys in the garbage dump behind our house. We played with discarded lighters from a local bar and marveled at the mechanism that made the fire burst and die out. We broke bear bottles by throwing them against the trees. We lit fires and threw pressurized spray tubes in the flames and watched them explode. One time we gathered around a burning plastic barrel and watched it collapse within itself as the fire melted the gray plastic. Then one of the kids pierced it with a tree branch and as the branch flexed it threw molten plastic on my face, around my mouth, leaving red burn marks. As I flew in terror from the still burning barrel I was more afraid of my mother than of the stinging pain. The marks lingered for a couple of days then disappeared.
We climbed trees and ate crab apples. We looked for my uncle’s porn magazines under his bed. My brother started smoking and did his best to mask the smell. We ran away from home to bathe in a nearby river because everybody was doing it. But mostly, I played with dolls. I loved the blonde hair they had and the chemical symmetry of their bodies, their plastic immobility, the limited number of movements their bodies could perform. They had breasts but no nipples and I was totally fine with that. The space between their legs so devoid of any gender signals as if whoever made them stubbornly refused to give them that, afraid that it might corrupt the minds of innocent children. Their septic bodies refused to cater to any kind of sexually charged gaze. Yet, back then, I believe, we were entirely conscious of that absence. At least I felt there was something missing but was too afraid to say it out loud. I was also aware of the missing nipples. I knew perfectly well that girls had nipples too. But despite that knowledge of the missing nipples and genitalia, we were somewhat content with the surface gender markings. The dolls taught us well that it was all about what was on the outside. Womanhood meant having long blonde hair, breasts that protruded only slightly through the diaphanous dresses they wore. Women wore bright colors, they had lipstick-red lips, they had ponytails, they had tea in the afternoon. It was all about their bearing as it was all a bottom-up approach: you put all these characteristics together and what you get in the end is a woman. The technique worked for men as well.
The dolls were not mine because it would have been a sacrilege to have them around the house. I dreaded my brother’s mockery, I feared my mother’s scornful tone. And so I befriended girls instead of boys. They did not laugh at my body, they did not tell me my head was like a giant pumpkin. They seemed to be okay with it. And they had dolls to play with. My best friend was a girl. She was a distant cousin of ours from the city who only came around to spend the summer with her grandparents, who were our neighbors. We played Sailor Moon together and built tents and made mud pies imagining we were making cheese. We watched Art Attack on a German TV channel and tried to use the tricks we were taught by the show’s presenter. And at times, when we were on the rope swing in the backyard, we realized (at least I did) how common our interests were. Sometimes I think that the people who saw us playing together must have imagined us getting married at one point. At other times, considering her parents’ blatant skepticism when they saw me stopping by to ask her out to play, I think those same people also feared that I wasn’t fit for the husband-job thing. I wasn’t, for, now, obvious reasons.
We did get married. My brother performed the ceremony on a summer evening under a cherry tree. We had picked flowers and we had a white gown made out of curtains, and, for some unclear reason, when the ceremony was over I was so ashamed of myself, as if I had trampled over some sort of sacred ground that was off-limits to us children. I was a boy and she was a girl and in this dichotomy the future is always easily foreseeable. All stories ended in that way, with the happily-ever-after that comes with marriage, and there was nothing we could do about it but play our parts. Yet, as time went on I failed to develop any kind of sexual interest either in her or the girls I played with. While the other guys in my alleged group of friends started talking about the pubic hair of girls (for some sick reason, always better when “parted in the middle”), I stuck to my dolls and books. I simply thought that my time would come at one point, and I would wake up one morning unable to think of anything else except the pubic hair of girls, always best when parted in the middle. (I almost laugh as I write this and it’s the kind of laughter that nestles in my chest whenever I hear bullshit. This is all true.)
To drown my post-marital shame I put the gown-wannabe over my head and pretended I was the bride, fooling around. That was not the only time I pretended to be a woman. When I was alone and had nothing else to do I used to go through my mother’s wardrobe and put on her dresses and high heels. I would look at myself in the mirror, sing and laugh, walk in my mother’s shoes, put my hands on my hips the way women did in movies. I put lipstick on because that was the only thing my mother had in terms of make-up. I put all those elements together and for a moment I was a woman, catering to the male gaze in my own childish ways. I imagined myself on stage until at one point, in high-school, I literally was on a stage, blinded by stage lights, wearing women’s clothes. It was a play, of course, but perhaps, deep in the well of my solitude, there was a moment when the boy who was my husband on stage seemed to me more than the empty shell of memorized lines. (He was very cute, by the way, and he was a dancer.) I can still hear the burst of laughter coming from the audience when I entered the stage wearing this huge dress, all glittery and lace, and volume. My voice sounded so removed and distant when it came out through the speakers. But I knew my part well. Put all those elements together, and you’re a woman.
After the show, the girl who had applied the make-up told me, as innocently as she could, that she had forgotten the make-up remover. I washed my face as best as I could but the eyeliner and the powders she had applied were all waterproof and so I had to ride the bus back home with clear traces on my face. I noticed the stares people were giving me but for some reason I chose to ignore them. I was not going to have my big night ruined by them. I floated, crossed my legs while sitting, and dreamily watched the moving world through the windows of the bus. You’re wearing make-up, a man told me later that night, and the words seemed to freeze on the spot, as if the asymmetry of my appearance (a boy wearing make-up) took too much space in his head and he needed to cease all motor functions. I felt powerful. Not because of the make-up, but rather because I had had the courage to get on stage like that. Or perhaps I’m saying this last bit simply because I was ashamed of it, or because I’m still ashamed of it. Boys don’t play with dolls. Boys don’t wear make-up. And when I look at the photo that was taken backstage before the show (me wearing that huge nineteenth-century dress, standing next to my high-school English teacher) I still feel the uncomfortable giddiness triggered by the laughter in the audience. Perhaps that is how acts of courage feel like. You tell me.
In another show, in a different setting and on a different stage, I wore a wig that fell off in the middle of an important scene (when I was confronting the man who was supposed to strangle me in my sickbed). The make-up was minimal but the role fit like a glove, or rather unlike my wig. I was a damsel in distress and there were only two men in the play, both of them helpless and useless. One of them was my absent husband, who was most likely having extramarital sex (I don’t blame him, I was a chubby high-school kid wearing make-up after all), while the other one was my supposed killer. I shot the latter in the end, with a gun I held hidden in the folds of my bathrobe. Imagine the kind of treatment the husband must have gotten upon his return. [wink]
Then I got married again. Somewhere off stage that is, because the play began only where the happily-ever-after started, the honeymoon. Yet, this time I had to play the loving husband and, well, it didn’t go that well, as you can imagine. In the play I was supposed to be this womanizer whose ex-girlfriends showed up at the cabin in the woods where the honeymoon was supposed to happen. Then a woman in labor showed up (the baby was not mine, go figure) and another man, and then some other people I cannot recall right now and it all ended with a big party (and me ironing shirts while Frank Sinatra’s Love and Marriage was playing in the background). It was a comedy, but even in a comedy I could not play the part of the loving husband. I had no attraction towards my wife and I guess that is why marriages fail to work. I tried putting the elements together but the loving husband failed to materialize. I faked it till the end but the faking was transparent, so much so that after the show, when we were given feedback by the jury one of them told me I looked gay. (He even made the voice and the hand thing that were supposed to be the kind of gestures a gay guy makes.) I felt ashamed of myself. Put a failed loving husband together and what you get is a gay man.
It was not the only time I felt ashamed of myself. Once, during a trip in high-school a guy on the bus told me I acted like a girl. You are so girly, he told me and his companions laughed. I only wished to make myself small and disappear from the face of the earth. On another occasion, and in a period in which I had become enamored with Duncan James (the hunk from the English boyband Blue), a classmate loudly commented in front of the whole class on my habit of staring at pictures of him. You like those boys, don’t you, they’re very good-looking, he scorned me. I went all red in the face and told him to leave me alone. I told him they sang beautifully, because in situations like these that was my only exit. Pretend you love the art behind the beautiful face, pretend you admire the work, never the person. Pretend, pretend, pretend. It’s so easy, do it like I do it and before you know it you’ll be a real man. This is what you do: you scratch your balls, you put your hands in your pockets like this, you place your feet like this, firmly into the ground as if the ground beneath your feet belongs to you.
There’s a tiny recorder in your head, taking all of this in, and the words wrap around you the way a rubber band wraps around your finger until it goes blue.
A boy doesn’t talk like that. A boy doesn’t walk like that. A boy shouldn’t like flowers. A boy doesn’t hold his hands like that. Why can’t you just like girls? Have you at least tried it? As if liking girls is just a matter of how you like them. Tall, short, blondes, brunettes, spicy, sweet, take your pick, just don’t stray outside the chalk lines or the lines in the sand. I felt as if I was in one of those video games where there is only one exit and the other doors are closed; as if somewhere along the game I had not made that one thing which would open the door to the next level. I had not collected all the diamonds and the coins and I was stuck there, thinking of restarting the game. Or just quitting the game and be done with it. Because what happens when you are told that you are off, that your body does not correspond with your bearing, is akin to being told that you do not deserve your body, that you’re wasting it in view of something that only goes on in your mind, and is therefore wrong, crazy, sinful, stubborn, a vice, damaging.
Other men should make you sick. Their smell should be repulsive. The very thought of it. You’re in the army now.
Start recording, you’re told. And you listen. Because you want to belong, to be a part of something, to have friends, to be liked. Until your mind becomes a catalogue of gestures and postures. Keep the tone of your voice in check, lower the pitch, baby, let your manliness sing in the ears of your interlocutors, make the world shudder with sexual anticipation at the sound of your voice. Make women wet with your gait. Push your chest forward, spread your legs when you’re on the bus, and when you become impatient with something show them that you are impatient by shaking your feet. Puff, show your jealousy, show them who you are. And somewhere deep within your guts a part of yourself is slowly starving akin to a worker on hunger strike.
This circus training goes a very long way. You become aware of it even in the circles of people who are supposed to understand this, who are supposed to fight alongside you. A couple of days ago, I was asked, rather nonchalantly, by a guy on a dating app, whether I am manly. He’s manly too, he says, but, don’t get him wrong, he has nothing against effeminate guys, in fact, he has a lot of effeminate gay friends (does that ring a bell?). He can’t stand being seen with effeminate guys because that would be akin to wearing yourself on your sleeve and there’s a world of wrongness behind that. He doesn’t exactly say that but that’s exactly what he’s saying. I don’t really understand him, but maybe I do. Maybe I want to tell him that his preference for manly men (whatever that means) is simply a cover-up for the fact that he is uncomfortable with his own homosexuality. There are only so many ways in which a man can wear his make-up. I don’t tell him this, because he’s cute, because I’ve fucked up for so many times that I don’t want to do it again, because he likes my profile. Because, because, because. Because I’m not usually a magnet for guys as cute as him.
He is not alone in this. There’s a long stream of guys who advertise their manliness either by flexing their biceps or by saying it out loud. Manly guy for manly guys. I’m just a simple guy. I’m just a normal guy looking for other normal guys, which is secret code for straight-acting/straight-looking guys, therefore not gay, because being gay is unruly, it’s the drawing a child makes, the one in which people’s heads are too big. I want to tell them, honey baby, you like dick, and no straight-act you put on is going to change that. But I say nothing because sometimes I’m afraid of dying alone. I make brownies instead.
For once, just let it go.
I am feminine, though at times I take pride with myself when other people tell me that they would have never thought I was gay. I hide well, I want to tell them but I don’t. I might move my hands a certain way, with the elegance one rarely sees in other men. I have feminine traits. My doctor once told me I have feminine hips. And no matter what I do, no matter how much I work out, no matter how much muscle mass I put on, there are certain things I cannot change. I have my mother’s face, which at times resembles that of porcelain dolls. As I write this I feel the urge to tone it down and add “but not that much” every time I say I am feminine. And perhaps that is the problem. Perhaps the problem is with all these adjectives.
These are my hands. I can only move them this way. This is the way I speak. These are my hips. This is my face.