…and you here finally, looking like all the best days of summer, sprawled like tangled laundry on the bed, cupping the tail of your boihawk, and chattering in giggles about the ache of the life you re-gendered.
Go back. Go back. Go over it.
You were just four years-old when they made you put that t-shirt back on. It was one of those choking summers when the humidity grabs you in June and doesn’t let go until October. Every day was a different chapter on suffocation, Mom in the backyard relieving the flowers with a hose and Dad sweating his free days out under the Volvo. You sprinted between packs of shirtless boys. It was a boy’s world, and you exploded your lungs to keep up. Get it! Catch it! Throw it to first! When it wasn’t headed your way (which was almost every hit because they put you in far right field where the ninnies go) you picked dandelions and tried to dye your chin yellow. Summers in the suburbs droned on like AM radios, scattered between mixed signals and yearning. You wanted some kool-aid. You wanted some UV. You wanted the forgiveness of a neon-blue pool. And so you tore your t-shirt to the grass. It was then that they first came for you, told you to cover what you didn’t have and didn’t know was inescapable.
Crowned in the shame of all good little girls. Their truth, not yours. Never yours. It was always: cross those legs, put on that dress, brush out that hair, sit up, stop chewing on your nails, eat slower… and later… don’t put out, you have to put out, leave your hair to grow out, stop eating, put on some damn make-up, wear something tighter.
I was 237 miles south of you, we were strangers, and they were telling me the same thing.
Go back. Go back. Go over it.
I noticed “you” on the El train, drunk just before sunrise, frowning into the digits of your phone, avoiding my eyes, and looking rough. I had been searching Chicago’s empty streets, the winking stoplights like warning signs, and trying to figure out if I should be scared to walk home alone in a tie. There were so many things I’d have liked to ask you, but when I looked your way, you turned towards the window.
I met “you” last summer outside a dance party in Brooklyn. You sported a ponytail and skin three shades darker than mine. I wanted to tell you that you needn’t shake my hand so hard or apologize when you join conversations between me and another femme-appearing person. You told me I looked good, but not in that way.
“You” took me on a date last January. Your short black hair had been spiked solid and obscure pop music swam out of the windows of your silver two-door. You picked me up at my house, held open the restaurant door, and paid for all four beers. Don’t worry about it, you said to me. You take care of your ladies. And I guess I was one of them. But I wasn’t, was I?
But you’re here now- on drunken curbsides and in hush-lit back rooms, my tie in your incessant tug, your hair in tufts between my fingers. I call you faggot. I call you brotherlover. You push breath into my ears, jeans into my jeans, teeth into my sighing neck. You ask and undress, ask again.
I stop you. Look at me, brother. I am you: gendershit, cut from the same cloth. And you nod.
Brotherboi, you look fucking good. You make me stop before the mirror. I test myself against yourself. And this is how we compete and know each other and hate and become what we tell women we are not- dumb fucking men.
Three cheers for self-sufficiency: I work three jobs, live and hunger at minimum wage, walk myself home, wake up to my own alarm, cook what I eat, wash what I wear, write what I need to read, get myself off, refill my subway card, visit my parents on Sundays, scrub the shower, and shake out the sheets. This tune is as interesting as a bowl of cereal.
Go Back. Go Back. Go over it.
Brotherboi, it is our ferocity. It is your heart. It is that unshakable goodness that our clothing, our swaggers, our flat response, our need to maintain something invulnerable would mask. And still we know better.
Because we are sisters- gender jokes told around the same campfire.
Now, I take you, with shaking palm and shame-bent back, in too many layers of clothing for summer nights. I take you in sweat and shudders, with arms that do not yet understand how to hold you. Back, back, over it. I take you in, ready to love us.