On being cowardly & ‘LITANIES TO MY HEAVENLY BROWN BODY’ by Mark Aguhar

Most of us feel heartbroken for the people killed in Orlando, and for the families of those people. I was vacuuming and listening to Dan Savage talk about meeting his husband in a gay club, and his voice kept on cracking. This is a man who in over 500 podcasts I’ve never heard break. As well as sadness, I’ve felt personally shaken by the murders. As though someone has twiddled a dial and my own life has come into focus.

If you’ve read some of my poems, you’ll know I grew up with a transgender father. Dad hid her womanhood until both my sister and I had long left home. The result of Dad having to hide – in the most general terms – was my dysfunctional childhood. I’ve always carried anger about that childhood. I’ve always felt a sense of entitlement, rightly or wrongly, to the chocolate box childhood of white suburbia.

Image: Art Hoe
Image: Art Hoe

On an intellectual level I know that Dad, as a trans woman, wasn’t hiding from me, my sister, or my mother. She was hiding because her identity would not be accepted let alone celebrated. She was hiding because she wanted to lecture at the university, and to provide for her family, and because she’d been taught a deep shame for who she was. After Orlando I started to emotionally understand my Dad’s choices, and to understand they’d become my own choices. I wanted to stand in grief with the LGBT community, but I couldn’t because I was hiding. Over the years I’ve referred to myself as ‘subtly subversive,’ but Orlando has made me realise ‘subtly’ is another word for ‘cowardly.’ As a white woman who appears straight and gender-typical, I’ve never had to say, beyond my close friends and family: I am bisexual. I am non-monogamous. I love both men and women.

As Owen Jones said, ‘This isn’t about me, so let’s just use it as a case study.’ This morning I was reading Olivia Laing’s piece on Orlando and erasure and she said:

You come out and you get pushed back in again. I summarised some of this in my last book, The Lonely City. Later, a journalist interviewing me asked if I’d had “trans pushback” for my comments. For a minute I didn’t know what she meant and then – that familiar, drenching rush of shame – I understood. She meant I wasn’t a real trans person because I wasn’t, as far as she could see, transitioning from one gender to another. We can’t see you, therefore you don’t exist. Straight people erasing queers for not fitting into their assumptions of how things should be. All of this came back to me when I watched the footage of Jones on TV. Forty-nine queer people dead, many of them Latinx, queer people of colour, their sexuality and race erased in an instant. Hardly any wonder Jones walked out. I can’t bear it any more, this arrogant, hateful refusal to see.

Unlike those who died in Orlando, no one tries to kill me. No one denies my existence. No one, that is, apart from myself. The one thing I can do for those who died in Orlando, and those of us who are straight appearing LGBT+ people, is to stop participating in LGBT+ erasure, and to stand up and be seen. It is an almost meaningless gesture in the liberal utopia that is Wellington, but it’s all that I’ve got. It’s what my Dad finally did, and continues to do each day. So this poem by Mark Aguhar, a trans poet of colour who committed suicide at the age of 24, this one’s for my Dad, and for all of those who won’t be erased.

Dad reading to my son over the holidays.
Dad reading to my son over the holidays.

LITANIES TO MY HEAVENLY BROWN BODY

FUCK YOUR WHITENESS
FUCK YOUR BEAUTY
FUCK YOUR CHEST HAIR
FUCK YOUR BEARD
FUCK YOUR PRIVILEGE
FUCK THAT YOU AREN’T MADE TO FEEL SHAME ALWAYS
FUCK YOUR THINNESS
FUCK YOUR MUSCLES
FUCK YOUR ATTRACTIVE FATNESS
FUCK YOUR SHAMING ME FOR NOTHING
FUCK YOUR ACCUSATIONS THAT I PRODUCE SHAME
FUCK YOUR READING ME AS A CARICATURE
FUCK YOUR DESTRUCTION OF MY PERSONHOOD
FUCK YOUR MARGINALIZATION OF MY IDENTITY
FUCK YOUR JUDGING ME FOR SELF CARE
FUCK YOUR ABILITY TO BE ASSERTIVE
FUCK YOUR LACK OF SOCIALIZATION TO BE A SUBMISSIVE
FUCK YOUR ASKING ME TO PRODUCE SAFETY FOR YOU AND NOT MYSELF
FUCK THE AMOUNT OF EFFORT I EXERT TO GET LESS THAN ENOUGH CONSIDERATION
FUCK THAT THE AMOUNT OF SPACE I TAKE UP IN THE WORLD IS CONSTANTLY QUESTIONED
FUCK THAT PEOPLE THINK I’M A SLUT
FUCK THAT YOU CAN DEMAND ATTENTION
FUCK THAT I’M WILLING TO GIVE YOU WHAT I CAN’T HAVE
FUCK THAT YOUR VALUES AND YOUR ACTIONS NEVER MATCH UP WHEN IT COMES TO ME
FUCK THAT I CAN’T EXPECT ANYTHING FROM ANYONE
FUCK THAT THE AMOUNT OF WORK I PUT INTO THE BEAUTY OF MY INTELLECT AND MY TALENT IS STILL NEVER ENOUGH

AMEN

BLESSED ARE THE SISSIES
BLESSED ARE THE BOI DYKES
BLESSED ARE THE PEOPLE OF COLOR MY BELOVED KITH AND KIN
BLESSED ARE THE TRANS
BLESSED ARE THE HIGH FEMMES
BLESSED ARE THE SEX WORKERS
BLESSED ARE THE AUTHENTIC
BLESSED ARE THE DIS-IDENTIFIERS
BLESSED ARE THE GENDER ILLUSIONISTS
BLESSED ARE THE NON-NORMATIVE
BLESSED ARE THE GENDERQUEERS
BLESSED ARE THE KINKSTERS
BLESSED ARE THE DISABLED
BLESSED ARE THE HOT FAT GIRLS
BLESSED ARE THE WEIRDO-QUEERS
BLESSED IS THE SPECTRUM
BLESSED IS CONSENT
BLESSED IS RESPECT
BLESSED ARE THE BELOVED WHO I DIDN’T DESCRIBE, I COULDN’T DESCRIBE, WILL LEARN TO DESCRIBE AND RESPECT AND LOVE

AMEN


2 thoughts on “On being cowardly & ‘LITANIES TO MY HEAVENLY BROWN BODY’ by Mark Aguhar

  1. Thank you, Sarah, for your post. It’s made me think. I am also a “white woman who appears straight and gender-typical” but for many years I was not. For many years I identified as lesbian. There were photos of me in the paper being a lesbian (by which I mean sitting about in Civic Square in my sunglasses going, hello it’s international lesbian day and we are lesbians). I kind of forget that some people don’t know that I used to be a dyke. These days I’d say I’m polysexual – I love a range of genders – but I’m in a long-term, exclusive, monogamous relationship with a very nice chap. I still kind of feel like a lesbian, but hey, it’s complicated. I figure that as long as I still have to come out (and I still have to come out – at work etc) I still stand in grief with the LGBTQI community. And even if I were 100% straight and didn’t have to come out, I would still stand in grief with the LGBTQI community (and many of the folks who came to the candlelight vigil in Frank Kitts Park looked pretty straight and good on them). As long as my close friends are queer (and they’re mostly queer) I still stand in grief. As long as I’m a human being who cares about the rights of every other human on the planet, especially the right to love, I will stand in grief, Thanks for your post.

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