Looking at young people, so easy and sensual in their own skin, I sometimes try and remember what I was like when I was their age.
Nakedness came difficult to me; skyclad wasn’t something I would ever try. I kept myself covered up; one old friend was surprised she had never seen my genitals, because she had seen almost all of the people she knew for so long. Not mine, though. No bathing suits for me.
I didn’t really have a body, at least not one that I wanted to use and celebrate. Instead, I had a big plastic overcoat, a rubber shell that just never looked like me when I saw myself in the mirror. My trans nature and my skin weren’t really connected.
My body wasn’t really connected to me, at least not in the way that people who show skin today seem to take pleasure though the flesh. I don’t have any experience of being physically intimate in a satisfying way, of being successful at all sexually. I wasn’t vital and exuberant in a way that most find simple, basic, creatural and human. No “Art Mann Presents” moments for me.
“I never went to an orgy,” I joked, “because I was afraid I wouldn’t know the right thing to say.” My sensual relationship has always been inside, with my imagination, and never really with another person, skin to skin.
There is one body, though, that I have valued and treasured through my lifetime. My body of work.
I don’t know many people who regularly refer and link to work they wrote 25 years ago, or even keep a connection with work they did in their teens. I do that all everyday.
For me, though, that line which links my thinking then, my expository prose, and where I am now is vital. I cling to it, a lifeline that connects me with the only thing I have ever been sure in, my thoughts.
This consistency is powerful, allowing me to build a body of work which is integrated, deep with connections. The work becomes pure as the ideas go through the fire again and again, each new experience or input analyzed and tested so I can reshape the whole to more finely represent the world I live in.
It is a lifework of a model, all my sweat, thought and essence poured into it, a finely calibrated tool which lets me swiftly scan any situation and understand it.
I once saw the contents of a Sioux medicine man’s bag, collected by Lewis and Clark, spread out in a glass case at the Harvard Peabody Museum of Ethnography. Long since taken off display out of a delayed cultural respect, the pieces called to me, powerful tools collected by a powerful shaman.
My own tool bag is in my work. It is as arcane and mysterious as those powders, rattles, skulls and other paraphernalia were to me, their effectiveness not being in their presence but rather in the knowledge of their use and the magic they hold.
For most, the writing is a huge pile of words, out of which people can sometimes find a shiny bit that calls to them, is useful in helping understand their situation.
For me, though, the writing is a body of work created through determined and dedicated process, intricate and fine. It isn’t addressed to an audience, though I do share by publishing it, rather it is the manifest vision of the knowledge, understanding and tools that I have shaped inside of me.
My body of work is about the my creation of self, about my attempt to find a way to rescue myself from a place where they wanted to trap me in one world or another. My work is about transformation, the motion of a shaman, rarely enough to fit on a commercial makeover scale, but always with the power to change vision.
I take pleasure in my transformations.
I look quiet and consistent,
but few know how many women there are in me.
— Anaïs Nin
The only way to know the women inside is to engage her body of work, the places where she revealed her magic.
I am immensely proud of my life’s work, of the way it allows me to be present in the moment, shifting frequencies to heal and enlighten. I know why people perceive people like me, those who have gone through the fire, as healers, carrying freedom and insight.
Holding onto that work, though, being held responsible for its preservation and continuation is an enormous block to me. If I am always present as shaman, when am I present as human, living in my skin rather than in my knowledge?
Part of the aging process, of course, is that from the moment you are born your flesh starts to die and your story starts to grow, until the moment your body leaves and only story is left.
Everyone becomes less enfleshed as they age, trading their sensuality for knowledge. I just started that process very early, skipping the whole embodied bit, a loss that one can never really get past.
The bulk of body of my work becomes a not an invitation to human connection, but rather a barrier to it. I have spent my lifetime educating clinical professionals about trans, starting from my teens when I asked help from a youth pastor, and the idea of going to anyone and trying to unpack the body of experience and knowledge that I carry seems more than is possible.
Their instinct will be to take me back to basics, basics that they get, and basics that feel like they dismiss ans invalidate my so, so, so hard won understanding.
My body of work is amazing and powerful, but it is just me dried. Carrying it all inside of me lets me make connections in the moment, pulling tricks from the bag to shift perceptions, but doing that in a way which can’t simply be made fodder for the media machine. I may have the magic, but that magic is challenging in the divine surprises it throws out, impossible to quantify or make nice.
Letting go of my body of work feels impossible, for it is my life’s work. Holding onto it, though, feels like too much, too.
Somewhere under all the wisdom I have gained is there a cute person wanting what she missed in her twenties? Oh, yes. But that time was long ago, and it was well and truly missed, crushed by so many factors. She became a survivor, not a thriver, and so, left me with an enormous and brilliant body of work, not creamy memories that can spark a current affair.
As you get older, you are always all the genders you have ever been, to paraphrase Madeline L’Engle, but the ones you missed out on, well, they are gone forever.
I love my body of work. I am proud to be its creator and its curator.
I hate the fact that I ended up having a body of work and not really an enfleshed life. So many moments spent recovering from abuse and trauma rather than just experiencing connection.
That body of work, well, like so many have said, it should be respected, valued, honored, embraced by a world that needs understanding.
Should, though, is a wasted notion. Shoulda, woulda, coulda; all dead ends, at least in my experience. The way that things happened is the way that they had to happen, even if the result could have changed “if only” this or that had been different; but, of course, it wasn’t different.
Somewhere, in an alternate universe, there is a me who is pretty & loved and who writes lovely stories which amuse and warm hearts. She, though, doesn’t have to carry my body of work like a giant pearl, because she never had to go through the drastic irritation that forced me to create that body of work to keep myself safe and smart.
But I do miss her, I do.
(Just realized that the first post on this blog a decade ago this week was about being valued for what I do rather than who I am. People saw me as a human doing rather than a human being, so obviously, what I ended up with is a body of work.)