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Gender Keeps Me Awake at Night

“What body shame taught her to hate, she taught herself to love through the magic of a new story. We have the power to change the narrative of body shame […] We are the authors of our own lives.” –Sonya Renee Taylor, The Body is Not An Apology: The Power of Radical Self-Love

Because I like to live in lies, I undress beside other men

at the gym as though no one has ever raped me.

David Shields said art is the lie that tells the truth but I like the way truth

will slip into lies so it can become art too.

I wear flip flops in the showers as though my feet are not dainty

or my ankles streaked razor-white from my self-pity years.

I bruise my breasts into a binder almost every day

and I’m still not sure if I truly, truly want them mastectomied away.

There is an art to wearing your truth with the right clothes, the carrying of weight,

incisions, needles, and love.

Truth is I can’t remember every time I’ve been assaulted

any more than every time I’ve moved my husband’s shoes.

Maybe I shouldn’t be changing

next to other men.

Sometimes I like to writhe into a dress, unbind my chest, and don a pink

face mask as though I really am the woman we mistook me for.

I’m not sure if I want to remember how these knotted, red streaks

came to be etched within the folds of my labia.

Gender is an art I wear and I don’t understand

how no one else appreciates the brushstrokes of this performance.

I salivate so sharply for respect, I want to feign a mortal wound at the bruising

of my name or pronouns even though it hurts.

I shouldn’t have to use a female restroom, protected by a pink mask,

so I can finally pee.

I sometimes wonder if other survivors also count oral rape

as rape, or if I’m being a drama king.

Every time I touch a brush to fresh canvas, I feel a piece of what he did to me

lose the dirt and grip of its colors.

I think I deserve to change or pee beside other men and women

and people.

Truth is life is lighter or heavier depending on which direction

you bend or break the truth of your life story.

I resent public private spaces for forcing me into a gender

to which I’ll never know how much I still belong.

I have a penis now, kind of, but it doesn’t pee

because I don’t want the meta or phallo surgeries.

Maybe we should never have been separated by gender

or wrenched its corset strings so tightly.

In a way I almost think oral rape is worse;

I’ll never forget the taste of his weekly bitterness.

Art drains something from me too, a leech

pulling the bad spirits from my grinding teeth.

In a restroom of only stalls no one can see anyone anyway

unless they break the law, so what’s the big deal?

Let’s be real, some men do spit out laws and slither into private places

but they’ve never worn a dress to do it.

My double mastectomy is next week, I’ve been waiting a year

and I’m still relabeling my gender identity.

Sometimes I think gender is the truth

that tells art how to lie.

I want to scream the breasts right off my chest

and I’ve already bought a breastplate of fake tits to replace them.

Sometimes I think the worst part

was that I never felt much pain in my body, that I remember.

The only gender I’ve ever seen art wear is lies that identify as truths

and with the right tale, its dysphoria can be beautiful too.

The last time I was raped, I was fifteen and I hate

that it was the best orgasm of my life.

I let other people make excuses and I accept them completely

so why can’t I do the same for me?

This poem was a finalist for the Steve Kowit Poetry Prize and published in the San Diego Poetry Annual, 2021


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