I’ve been reading some great queer lit lately — the powerful classic Stone Butch Blues by longtime activist Leslie Feinberg, the lighthearted romp Choir Boy by Charlie Anders (author of The Lazy Crossdresser), and Sexual Metamorphosis: An Anthology of Transsexual Memoirs, edited by Jonathan Ames. It’s been fun but I’m not sure where to go from here; I may just have to re-read Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, yet again. I did try to read The Line of Beauty, in part since it’d won a Booker, but just couldn’t get into it; I couldn’t relate to any of the characters. Ah, well.
I find this writing on sexuality and gender fascinating — our culture is just beginning to get its collective head around these issues, but it’s got a ways to go. It’s nice to be reminded of all the possible ways to be, even if I don’t see them around me every day.
One passage in particular caught my eye in the aforementioned anthology, which I’ll share with you. It’s about a young trans woman waking up from surgery and seeing her new body for the first time. It’s perhaps not the best way to go about this particular journey of discovery, however. The excerpt is from Aleshia Brevard’s autobiography, The Woman I Was Not Born To Be. Brevard, from small town Arkansas, worked as a drag queen in San Francisco while transitioning. Our story picks up just as she’s regained conciousness in her hospital room, where she’s attended upon by her loving and supportive mother :
I was curious about the appearance of my vagina. I’d never seen one — and now I had my own. In fact, I had a brand-new one! I’d bought the darn thing sight unseen. I wanted to see exactly what it looked like. The day after surgery, I asked for a hand mirror and tenderly positioned myself for my first peek at a vagina. “Good God!” I shrieked. “What have they done to me? This looks like something you’d hang in your smokehouse... after a hog killing.” I’d never seen anything so gross. It was swollen, red, and wrinkled. The wrinkles looked as though they’d been left behind... deliberately. This thing needed to be ironed. Over eleven hours of surgery, pure agony as an aftermath, and I had to be left with a wrinkled vagina? Swelling was expected. I might even accept that it would look a bit beat-up and trampled on — but not like this! This was a disaster! This was no little pink rosebud! This was no delicate scalloped shell from the seashore. This was a red, wrinkled Venus flytrap! I started to cry, which only made matters worse. Mother rang for the nurse. “You’re perfectly normal,” they both assured me. “That’s how you’re supposed to look.” Who did they think they were fooling? I was having none of it. “Like this?” I keened. I’d seen my share of nude female statuary. I hadn’t been totally lacking in pubescent curiosity. I even had a fair idea of a vagina’s function. This wrinkled thing wasn’t going to make it on any countenance. I wanted a neat little split. Something that would translate well in Italian marble or, perhaps, alabaster. I wanted something aesthetically pleasing. This thing had folds! I was suddenly reminded of that unattractive rear view as I herded home the cows. I was truly upset. “We’ll show you,” my mother volunteered. My mother and Westlake Clinic’s change nurse both lifted their skirts, presented me a view of not one but two naturally born vaginas. By golly, they did have folds. There were four outer labial folds on each vagina. Satisfied that I was normal, I drifted off to sleep.
And with that, I return you to your regularly scheduled programming.