Yesterday I woke blearily. Tired from late dinner, the failure of ocean sounds to put me out to sleep's sea, the now odd sound of someone at street level shouting. Push the sofa aside and do yoga. Focus on your breathing. Set your intention. Think about your shape. Dust gathers on my toes. What does it mean to relax your shoulders? Poolside in high school, training for some state competition or another, my coach dug his elbow beneath my right scapula to try to disperse the taut bands of pain lodged like little rocks there. Relax he said, then shouted.
Speak to the loss adjuster on the phone. She called me yesterday to tell me she would call me today to take me through the procedure for the call this afternoon. Using 'the magic of technology' to quote the ailing prime minister I am instructed to cast my floorboards direct to her computer using an app called Visual Support. I wonder where in the body this goes.
In the kitchen and hall, smudges spread bruise-like out from nail heads. We noticed without apprehension last year, registered them as nothing more than quirks, like a skirting board thinner at one end than at the other, and quickly forgot. All through the wet winter a layer of water collected in a pool beneath the floorboards. Mould appeared in one corner of our bedroom and then jumped. Behind the mirror, onto our clothes, behind the headboard in the other room. The circles around the nails’ heads grew like ink blooming in water. It wasn't until we vacated the flat for three weeks that I noticed my lungs, how laboured and unsatisfying my breathing had become, like gulping down water that doesn’t quench thirst.
Now, like many of us, I newly exist in a state of elevated corporeal awareness, nothing goes unnoticed. Every sneeze a warning, every cough an alarm—every time I speak to a friend on the phone they say the same. No matter how minor, every symptom portends. But like lots of pre-transition folk, this necessary attentiveness is not uncomplicated.
Dear Adriene, can I set my intention to send all my tension to the bits of my chest I want to be removed? Do kindly let me know! Best wishes, Cornelius
Last month as the NHS mobilised to prioritise crisis care, vital trans healthcare services were some of the first to be indefinitely delayed. Without recourse to healthcare, which is anyway inadequate at best, it’s no wonder some of us want to absent ourselves from our bodies. No pain if you’re not there to feel it, I guess the logic goes. But for a while now I’ve been trying to resist what I see as an understandable but ultimately unhelpful imperative to immateriality. I want to forgo the temptations of disembodiment, this commonly stated desire to dissipate into some nebulous anti-form: mist, clouds, air. To exist as nothing more than a mind.
Life presents so many opportunities to lead us away from the body and I have taken many of them. Discomfited with mine, I’ve tried as best I can to ignore it, starve it, deny it, turn away from it and towards words, film, and miniature worlds of my own making. Few things have brought the dissatisfaction of these endeavours home to me so much as this moment—so much of life collapsed into so few surfaces. A glitchy WhatsApp call on my phone, a furloughed staff Slack group on my computer. Not all its effects are unwelcome. Unable to go outside, only seen from the neck up, I no longer bind as much; there’s space between my ribs again. But many of them are. This level of technological mediation feels like an obstacle to acknowledging my body and its needs, wants, and desires for touch, proximity, scent, sex, whatever. After all, the desire to exist without a body is not only the desire to live without pain but to live without pleasure, too.
Whenever I've been able to concentrate I've dipped in and out of revolutionary, writer, and trans activist Lou Sullivan’s diaries. His entries do document his transition, of course, but unlike the myriad YouTube 6-months on T videos du jour, they also demonstrate a wider life that encompasses cruising, poetry, reading, pleasure, pain, work, and love. Some of its content has been instructive and much of it has turned me on, but nothing has caught like a burr on wool so much as this early statement “I wanna look like what I am but don’t know what someone like me looks like.” To answer this proposition for myself, to find out what someone like me looks like, what changes I want to make to my body, I have to first admit I have one and then to ask it what shape it wants to take.
Header and body image: layer 1 and layer 2 by Klaus