Robert Arthur Reeves
February 22, 2017
Written in Albuquerque (Terrace SE), February 2005: for Jones Wright Pegram, my maternal grandfather, and spoken in my mother’s voice. Several details are fictionalized: she trained as a psychologist, not a medical doctor, for instance, and I don’t know for certain that Jones was ever pastor of a church; but this is mostly an accurate depiction of their relationship. Published in my books If I Could Be the Stone and Wings of the Gray Moon, and in the local zine Central Avenue.
We are a big enough family
to do most things, except become smaller.
The old man in this bed swordfighting the air,
backing off from its assault,
has been various smooth and harsh things to many of us
and now is various things inside,
something about the kidneys giving way,
holes melted in the stomach by a lifespan’s sour mind.
He wakes panting and the eyes wheeling wall to wall
and croaks dreams: he’s driving
up to a red light he knows means stop
for everyone but him, the cars ahead
like a clotted passing train, his shoe on the gas.
He’s a bird looking a mile down into streets like a machine,
city streets they must be (the man’s never seen the city),
some crazy-stacked overpass maze, but then oh!
he’s a man not a bird, and that wakes him.
I am his eldest daughter,
which hasn’t been good for anyone.
His church was the kind where only the walls are nude,
the pewbacks level as farmer’s rows
or his back, marching after the team, his
back to the bed, the last pulpit.
I wanted curves and dark cups, bewilderments of hillsides.
I guessed the plainness of things was fooling.
I had fox’s nose and ears.
A good farmer has nothing for a fox but a gun.
There was enough father in him that he broke his on his knee
and didn’t reload. Once it sank in
that God meant a fictitious nuisance to me,
that I would only lay my faith in what I could rub myself against,
the further steps were gentler: med school
in the fellowship of niggers (at least a doctor
you could avoid calling Mister), my flight
to the perverse Yankee states,
my children doomed to be smaller than their cousins.
I don’t know why I’m sitting here
unless to honor the way he sat and never spoke
well or ill of me, in the uncomprehending rocker
and the Bible at his eyes.
A mere thing to give
but in this bed years ago he must’ve given mere things to my mother
from his lean fierce shanks to start the multitude of us,
And this was his love,
that bare no-comment, and now these hurtling dreams,
his breaths feinting at him and
closing in, closing in.
February 19, 2017
Written in Albuquerque (Terrace SE), November 2004. Published in my books If I Could Be the Stone and Wings of the Gray Moon. Against the…
February 15, 2017
Written in Albuquerque (Terrace SE), August 2004: addressed to Leora Byrne. Published in my books If I Could Be the Stone and Wings of the…
February 12, 2017
Written in Albuquerque (Terrace SE), April 2004. This poem makes more than a small homage to Eliot’s “Prufrock.” Jessica Posniak (now Jess Lionne) thought “faintkneed…
More posts by Robert Arthur Reeves
February 13, 2017
Yesterday, on the way to a nonbinary and gender nonconforming art event (where I got to do a bit of art modeling for the first time in 15 years), I had the urge to make an attempt (not my first) to clarify my gender identity and general thoughts on gender/sex in (I hope) simple, direct prose. Later in this post I'll share a new poem and talk about some others that deal with being transgender, and how they do and don't communicate identity.
The most descriptive single word for my gender is "nonbinary." Before I start unpacking that term, l should clarify that I'm speaking of gender as distinct from physiological sex. (The Genderbread Person is still my favorite breakdown of the distinctions between gender identity, gender expression and biological sex.)
Those who've read Courting Hunger will know what reproductive function I've played. Sex can be divided into a binary of "maleness" and "femaleness," but that doesn't mean we're all ones or zeroes (intersex people excepted, or forgotten, or denied). It means we're each composed of both ones and zeroes. Most of us are either a lot of ones and a few zeroes or a lot of zeros and a few ones, but to be something of both is the norm. Most of us don't know exactly what our individual proportions are. We have not, perhaps, tested our chromosomes or hormone levels.
And that ratio of zeroes and ones changes throughout our lives. I have to wonder, does a person really have the same sex before, during and after so dramatic a change as puberty? Is the male/female binary really the most meaningful way to categorize sex? Are the deliberate ways we moderate our sexes less real than the automatic ones? I have taken hormones and had surgery that altered my sexual characteristics because I'm transgender. Others undertake those actions for a variety of reasons—menopause, fertility, sterility, virility, cancer. Does the motivation make the change less meaningful to the person living through it?
However we divide it, physiological sex isn't simple, and neither is gender, with its additional complications of social and personal definition. When I say I'm nonbinary, I mean that I reject the notion that anyone's maleness and femaleness has to define who they are—at least, no more than the many subsets of human physiology by which no one defines their identity—and that I will not passively allow socially defined and enforced gender to determine who I am or how I define others. I also mean I am not a boy or a girl, a woman or a man, a he or a she.
My transgender-related poems tend to focus on specific moments rather than broader questions of identity, and I suspect that might make my gender identity unclear to those who know it only through my poetry.
The only poem in god-chaser that deals with being transgender is "in transit," which tells the story of my quest for testosterone 20 years ago. It is explicitly nonbinary—"I just couldn’t find the none-of-the-above box under 'sex'"—though actually at that time I thought that not being a woman meant being a man (a temporary mistake, like the brief period during adolescence when I tried to be a girl). I added that line to the poem because Bob suggested it ought to be clearer what my present conception of my gender is, and accomplishing that without disrupting the immediacy of the poem was more important to me than historical precision.
Courting Hunger includes several transgender-related poems. "Before I heard of transgender" describes how at age 4, the gender identity declarations of my fellow toddlers prompted me to consider my own gender and to conclude that I wasn't a boy or a girl, though I also knew what others would say I was, and how I tried to find a way to express that. "Compassion," "Rites of Passage," "Original Cum" and "Pinocchio" describe experiences around the time I was taking testosterone. I worry that the lines in "Pinocchio"—"Was that the night I knew / I didn’t want to be a real boy?"—might confuse readers, but I hope it's clear that "real boy" has a narrow contextual meaning. It may not be also clear that the rejection of masculine identity was in addition to, not instead of, the earlier rejection of feminine identity. I hope, at least, that poems appearing later in the book—"Coming out" and "Don't say 'transgender'"—make it clear that "Pinocchio" doesn't signify the end of my transgender identity. "Don't say 'transgender'" gives a conjectural account of my plans for top surgery, based on the sort of hurdles others have had to face, which bears no resemblance to how the actual surgery worked out, which was a good deal better. So far, this new poem is the only one which makes reference to the actual surgery:
The Truth #81
The one who thinks she’s a little girl
confronts me by the sinks
as I close the door on sunlight.
She sets her lips in grim pout, folds slender
arms about her chest, indignant at
the man in the women’s portapotty.
Perhaps seeing the ends of mastectomy
scars snaking from beneath the hems
of an orange tank and under my arms,
her mother apologizes for her. But
the one who thinks she’s a little girl
isn’t wrong about me, and I prefer
the honest asshole a child can be.
I'm trying to hint at "nonbinary" here, but I'm not sure if I've succeeded. "Consumers," appearing in the chapbook Call Me Crazy, also hints. A recent poem included in my last post, "The Welcoming Committee," deals broadly with the idea of gender role enforcement.
The books mentioned here are available through the Books page in print and/or as free ebooks.
December 4, 2016
Since moving from sunny Albuquerque to soggy Bremerton, Bob and I found reading we both like quite a bit at the Hugo House in Seattle,…
October 6, 2016
For a while, my standard bio has included "writer, artist, Maude activist and novice game-maker" and omitted the rest of my potential laundry list of…
August 23, 2016
It took us a while to get the captions right, but the video from our last New Mexico reading is finally ready! Meanwhile, I'm loving…
More posts by Sari Krosinsky
Share this page: