July 6, 2016KR OnlineNonfiction

A Trans Body’s Path in Eight Folds

“Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird! No hungry generations tread thee down.”
     —John Keats “Ode to a Nightingale”

One: right concentration
A trans body sightsees at Carlsbad Caverns. It pays admission and enters the gap-toothed maw. Eyes are open but not working at first, seeing only the green opposite of the hot white outside. Soon, the trans eyes forget the world’s way of seeing in favor of its own vision in the cool balm of dark. It feels a kinship with the stalactites fanging down from the dark ribbed roof, growing and changing ever so slowly, drip by drip. An inch a century if that. The waiting and the long unfolding to become, molecule by molecule. In the yellowing glow of a miner’s headlamp, the trans body spelunks toward nature’s confirmation of the impossible made manifest, and vows to cultivate the patience of a cave.


Two: right action
A trans body visits a lover in a high desert town in the American Southwest. While running—near to panting from altitude—on a community center treadmill, this trans body spots another trans body on an adjacent treadmill two machines over. A wash of warm recognition floods the one at the sight of another. The trans body runs in place and listens to punk rock through headphones while shaping a way to connect with the other trans body. Hello, it imagines saying, me, too. Or: I am your people. Too stiff? Too awkward? I am so happy you and I are here together in this place of all places. How many more of us might be here? Slowing the treadmill down to run-tripping on the flapping black rubber belt, the trans body knows it cannot make any reach toward the other. More likely than a welcomed connection, it could be received as an affront, a highlighting of some failure of detail, or worse, a dangerous positioning of crosshairs on the back of the other. One trans body might go undetected, but two trans bodies begin to shape an identifiable pattern. Two trans bodies dismount treadmills, sweating, alone.


Three: right speech
A trans body meets another trans body for coffee. In the span of drinking a twelve ounce Americano, one trans body is smudged out and rendered invisible by the other. Countless people wield the power to erase a trans body, but nothing wounds to the same extent as when it happens by the hands of another trans body. A trans body rents a place with a friend. The friend leans on the trans body sometimes as if they were spouses or two old trees bordering a field who fell into each other in a windstorm; hard to tell who is holding the other up. The friend sometimes shakes out tired assumptions about “X” or “Y” like wet wash about to be pinned to a line that only extends in two finite directions. One day the friend-spouse directs the trans body to do something in a highly divided public space. When the trans body reminds the housemate-friend why this suggested action would not be ideal, how it would expose, embarrass, or worse—imperil a trans body, the spousemate says: sometimes I forget you are trans, sharp with darts of exasperation like the trans body’s transness is the most difficult thing in the world for the housemate (and friend) to bear, and yet the easiest thing in the world to forget.


Four: right view
A trans body is denoted “A” at birth but by surviving over half a lifetime of social misadventures, zigzagging rat-maze bureaucracy, hustling the system, defying critics and naysayers huddled around smoldering embers of damp fires in all worn camps, performing emotional sorcery, the application of rudimentary medical technology, and a highly-honed ability to charm service workers and gatekeeping personnel at each level of the salt-sea lock, is able to exist in relative comfort as “B.” This trans body’s ability to live as “B” magnetizes to itself praise and blame in equal and alternating currents. This trans body’s comfort in inhabiting “B” does not stand as a referendum on “A,” nor upon A1, A2, A3 . . . B1, B2, . . . nor does it deny the existence of “C.” It simply feels like if it has to choose a climate—say, the sandstone hot dry desert or the gray-green damp pine woods—it chooses woods. The trans body still loves the desert for its own magic light, but a place only feels like home when it is home.


Five: right intention
A trans body telegraphs thinly coded messages out over the wire. The information is everywhere but the connections are fleeting when they are soldered together at all. Birds fly out with destinations imprinted in their minds and scrolls tied to their feet. Sometimes they land and other times never come home to roost, eliciting neither hope nor surprise. They do the work of gossip but are much cuter, albeit in an archaic way. The messenger birds are too troublesome for white urban middle-class young adults to co-opt. Far offshore there are other trans bodies bobbing like tiny ships in blueblack water, their little red lights blinking out: I’m here, I’m here, I’m here. . . . Within the empty shape of a few beats, a slower light arcs out from atop a rocky cliff, slicing the black water apart from the black sky like a cake, its beam refracted through the thick-scaled Fresnel prisms of the lighthouse lamp, in a brief whip and sweep away it answers back: Alone, alone . . . blink, sweep . . . Alone, alone. . . . On land the fallen are called bodies, but at sea the lost are called souls.


Six: right effort
A trans body goes to the low-cost clinic on indigent status and performs a show. The most complex and personal interstices of self and body are reduced to carved primary colored wooden blocks and ABCs. The trans body has been trans longer than the doctor has been a doctor. The teacher pretends to be a student. The trans body is a bad kid in school who says what you want to hear to avoid detention. This trans body trains the doctor to see it as a patient and its need as deserving of care much in the same way wolves once trained humans to see them as dogs.


Seven: right livelihood
A trans body lives and dies a young trans life within the cold blue frame of a screen. Another trans body takes shape in the late afternoon of midlife, confounding those around in concentric ripples that dissipate with distance. Ejected and unwanted; as burnt as toast from the chrome slots of society, a trans body walks a rain-soaked alley bearing a heavy bindle stiff as an exhausting punishment for noncompliance. One trans body bikes the bridge and stops at the midpoint to stare at the river below and listen for the call of sirens, while another trans body’s fist connects with the jaw of a would-be attacker. Another trans body jostles past on a downtown sidewalk, unnoticed, while another stands at a podium, grasping a bronze trophy of recognition. A trans body cradles a child in tender arms. Despair and hope pulse through a trans body in equal measure. Beneath flesh, the bones of the trans body are as likely as the non-trans body to receive the frequency of either vibration—only the path of sound differs.


Eight: right mindfulness
The trans body asks for something so internal and deeply known to be named, something that longs for a witness in the clean light of day. The trans body asks for an expansion of what is perceived to be conceivable, to be included in the taxonomy of the “real.” The human mind often discovers that what we thought to be one thing is indeed another, and that new knowledge is embraced with joy—Pluto is not a planet; we are a galaxy among countless others; we can listen to the sound of a comet streaking a fiery brushstroke across the silence of space; we can measure the code of our DNA against the matrix of the trees. Human hearts and imaginations swell at what is possible. A trans body asks that the wonder of the world contains it within all of the world’s resplendent glory.

Cooper Lee Bombardier is a writer and visual artist based in Portland, Oregon. His work appears in several publications and anthologies, most recently in CutBank, Nailed Magazine, and the forthcoming anthology The Remedy–Essays on Queer Health Issues, (ed. Zena Sharman) from Arsenal Pulp Press. Visit him over at www.cooperleebombardier.com