Badly Licked Bear

I identify as a threat.

(It’s Not Just A Meme)

A 2023 Prism Commission, Aferro Publication No. 42

St. Sebastian by Raphael, oil on wood, ca. 1501-02

I identify as a threat.

(It’s Not Just A Meme)

My pronouns are Here/Forever

To the point: Heteropatriarchal powers, the dominant powers on this Earth, hate and fear Queer, transgender and 3rd-gender people because, if not structurally oppressed, we are capable of the most powerful, defining characteristic of our species: intergenerational knowledge transfer. If not structurally oppressed, by laws, by violence and child abuse, by bigotry that keeps food out of our mouths or healthcare from our bodies and our families, we are capable of the same intergenerational knowledge transfer that defines all human cultures.

Why are transgender children and their families the target of violence and hate, now?

Trans children – trans families – are the target of violence and hate because trans children demonstrate that our nature is essential to our individual being and that nature informs a culture that is real and that has values – values that differ from the values of the people who would rather those children die than reach the age of adulthood.

Transgender people in the United States used to die young, nameless, and alone.

This was systemic oppression working as intended. The lives of transgender people, who make up a percentage of population that we will never have a voting majority or any vehicle of inherent power within modern, representative democracy, were such statistical outliers that our extinguishment was almost an afterthought of how power has organized itself in the modern, settler colonial, nation state.

As outliers even within the big umbrella of the 2SLGBTQAI+ demographic, so long as that entire demographic was oppressed, our oppression was essentially guaranteed.

Within modernity and postmodernity, famous transgender people were novelties, not threats, and run-of-the-mill transgender people were classified as mentally ill. Those with access to capital could transition and live as eccentrics, those without capital vanished into the gristmill of history. A small number of entertainers survived at the margins, serving exclusively Queer audiences. Most recently, the transgender and Queer communities were decimated by HIV/AIDS, a pandemic that our oppressors thought of as a genocide of convenience, a contaminant among contaminants, impurity to punish the impure.

There are almost no transgender political or military or intellectual leaders to be found across centuries of systemic oppression. We have not only faced the eradication of our ability to transmit knowledge and culture from one generation to the next within our own cultures, but we have had no position to have an influence on the cultures our cultures live alongside and within.

If our recovery of a capacity for intergenerational knowledge transfer threatens the order of things, it is specifically because our cultures, fully realized and sustained, do have powerful influences over the cultures that have historically systematically oppressed us.

We have been mined for culture, sure. We have been allowed to exist only so long as we designed their clothes, guided their dances, sang their songs, made them laugh, but only so long as we remained in the closet and the shadows, at the threat of violence. By demanding autonomy over our own lives and our own bodies, we threaten their control over everyone’s lives, and so, they threaten our lives.

There is almost no written historical record of our place in society or our power in human culture, just as the unwritten histories of Indigenous people have been rendered largely invisible outside of our communities by genocide and the lack of place for oral and storytelling histories in the Internet Era.

Before the modern experience of transgender life among settler colonials, this country was built on the genocide of Indigenous people – the destruction of not just individual bodies, but of the culture those bodies carried from generation-to-generation – including alternate constructions of gender in which transgender, intersex, and 3rd-gender persons had defined roles in society and names and a place in language.

Before they did this to us, they did this to themselves. If you are not an Indigenous person, that is someone whose ancestors brought you forth to survive the colonial era, reach deep, deep, deep into yourself and feel for the ancestors that have been denied to you.

Language is the carrier bag of culture. It allows our awesome and terrible gift of abstract thought to be given from body to body, from parent to child, from teacher to student, from Elder to youth, and from ancestor to descendant.

Language is everything – how many of us were called “It” as a child, at the very moment our gender started to blossom and reveal itself? This linguistic assault, which often accompanies physical assault, renders us outside the realm of human existence, subhuman, objectified, degraded, reduced to the same linguistic category as a can of cat food or an easy chair…or toilet tissue, something to soil and drown and make disappear into darkness.

Transgender and Queer people now not only survive long enough to pass culture from generation to generation, there are now enough of us to do it. There are enough of us to have differing and even opposing opinions and politics on our nature as transgender and Queer people. We are capable of that vulnerability now, even as we pass through a time so dangerous as to bring our nervous systems to a screeching halt, while those not in our community go about their everyday lives, our concerns and fears disturbingly invisible.

Just over 500 years ago, at the birth of modernity and capitalism and colonialism, transgender, 3rd gender, and Queer people walked through a different fire, one that left a scorched earth where our cities stood and made burial pits of our families.

I am a creature of the land, because my ancestors burned, mutilated, and murdered bodies lay restless in the land, beneath my feet, blood long ago feeding the soil of prairie and forest and field. I am a creature of the air, because the ashes of my incinerated ancestors waft through the air, restless on the wind, falling to earth and, dry in hot summers, rising again, passing over my body – passing in and then out again as I breathe. I am a creature of the waters, because groundwater has carried trace remains of my ancestors to my lips.

For those of us whose ancestors are within us and who carried us here to the present – their future – we know what it is to live in the post-apocalypse. We were born into it, we see the Golden Arches and the flags of nation states for the barren wasteland they represent. We gaze sadly upon maps and hunger to caress the scars left on the land left by borders. We look up to the traveling light of space stations and satellites and see a future where no creature lives but whatever is left to declare itself posthuman, encased in metal sarcophagi, terribly alone and afraid – Alone and afraid of fire.

We are creatures of fire because fire cannot destroy that which is fire, and Queer and transgender people are a fire that can never be put out.

Even in the darkest times, our coals smolder in the primordial wetness of the human cell, warm and waiting for air in which to ignite and light up the darkness.

We feel danger all around, and see the danger that our oppressors have brought to all of us and to themselves most of all, but the lesson of that fire is that we are a fire that can never be extinguished. Our nature is as much a part of human DNA and RNA as the nature of our cisgender and heterosexual counterparts. We are always here, as those of us who were cast out by our families or who lived with their hatreds know, they carry our blood forward, just as we now have started to carry our cultures forward.

So, while there are voices in and outside of our community who speak that the current attempts to enact a new genocide upon transgender people first and Queer people next is a political distraction from the desperate need for this country to enact gun control, to provide universal healthcare, or to fix a broken and predatory educational system, I do not agree, and that’s fine. We have enough community and enough culture that we can have a turbulent and dynamic political life. Turbulence is tide, and tide is life and time. We have enough culture that we can fight for the social necessities for all people at the same time we demand liberation for ourselves and for others.

No one is free until everyone is free. No one is healthy until everyone has health care. No one is safe until guns are controlled. No one is educated until education is free for everyone.

This is what I believe: I believe that transgender and Queer people have our own cultures. I believe we can and should pass those cultures from one generation to the next. I believe this obligation to become ancestors who are not cut down before their time threatens the order of things as desired by our oppressors.

I identify as a threat.

I identify as a threat to the order of things, an order gone horribly wrong, an order that will destroy all life on this Earth out of fear if that order is not disrupted, broken, and held with forgiveness and love, as one loves a child who does not understand why they are in pain.

Our oppressors know that if they do not break us now, in the most genocidal manner they can get away with – we all know they would line us up and shoot us in the back of the head, one by one, if they could get away with it – we will not be broken as we were five centuries ago, and that their ancestors’ genocides, the genocides that made their lives easy and comfortable and put food on their table and sheltered them at the price of our blood, will be revealed for the failures they were.

That is the truth – they failed to exterminate us. And, having failed in our extermination, like Wile E. Coyote, if at first they don’t succeed… try, try again….

My pronouns are here/forever.

* * * * *

(In the spirit of yesterdays)

Yesterday, I was at Dyke Day, the only Pride event in which I annually, ritualistically take part. I host a blanket. I gather my family, and I cook food and serve drinks to any and all guests. I invite and hold space for my Elders. I meet strangers and feed them. I watch my culture walk all around, strutting and strolling and beautiful. Unexpected paths cross.

Yesterday, I was holding a toddler, who is like all toddlers.

When I was a very, very rowdy adolescent, I would get suspended from school, usually for fighting, and I would walk the dusty horse paths and hidden canyon trails from the school that had suspended me to the daycare where my adoptive mother worked as an aide. There I would wrangle toddlers for a couple of days until I was allowed back into the chain-link fence-world of American education.

Toddlers represent our infinite potential, and the discovery of our ability to take action in this world. They require patience and love. Toddlers are…ridiculous and enlightening and enviable, carelessly caring and curious about everything that falls into their field of vision or their sticky grip.

Toddlers remind us of the other side of our mortality that we don’t think about often enough as we grow distracted by our struggle with death and ego.

The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence blessing for children ends thusly: “…stay curious.”

When you’re transgender, you have weird moments where your changing body shocks and surprises you. I distinctly remember the first time I opened a car door into my right boob, getting into a car at 7th and Broadway in Downtown LA, across from Clifton’s Cafeteria. And I will probably never forget the first time a toddler reached for that same boob, in that way toddlers do to strangers, hungry for that first knowledge of intergenerational transfer – the first lesson in what makes us human.

I do not know if I ever put my own mouth to a breast as an infant or a toddler. I was severed from the body of my mother at birth and passed into the house of a family to which I could never relate. I attended their religious schools and could not find my reflection in their god, a god whose everlasting covenant I will bear, in puzzlement and pain, until I die.

I don’t like to imagine that I was held in my mother’s arms and then taken away. It’s easier to imagine that I was pulled out of her and we never even said hello or goodbye.

As an infant with no breast to call home, I was allergic to formula – my body rejected it. So, instead, I was raised on goat’s milk. Later, living on a farm in college, I found milking goats and cooking with their milk a very comforting and meditative place. I love goats. I have an affinity for climbing and jumping on and up things, especially rocks, one that I desperately fear will leave me as my body moves towards its conclusion. I feel kinship with goats – I feel kinship with a lot of beings that aren’t the family that bought me and brought me into their strange and alienating home.

When you’re Queer and transgender and have no family, it is terribly lonely and you are vulnerable in all sorts of ways. You come into the world naked and crying and covered in viscera and that doesn’t really change, even as you are clothed and soothed and bathed, not even when you learn to do those things for yourself.

When you’re Queer and/or transgender and you realize that every Queer person and every transgender person is kin, because the linguistic root of “Queer” is likely the German “quer,” which means “crosswise” or  “diagonally,” or from the Low German “queer,” which means “oblique” or “off-center.” You realize that family is not something that descends from above, but that moves in all directions, that flows to fill vessels, even and maybe especially queer-shaped ones.

Family can skip generations. Family can find you.

My Queer family is a vessel the size of an ocean.

My pronouns are Here/Forever.