:explicit : Exposure : exhibit :
warning: mature and immature themes
I have survived. It is my birthday on September 18th. I celebrate by giving gifts, by burdening you. One for every year, and I’s been an embarrassing number of years. I'm posting 36 pictures over the month of September, 2017. I'm also blogging, fortunately or unfortunately, about what that is like. This is the most solo of solo projects. I'm trying to break some spells, here, folks. Here are some nudes, some birthday suits, some moods to match, whether you want them or not.
this was the picture i took that made me think, "i should do a series of nudes." This is me with the skeletal draft of my novel completed, this is me alive, alone, knowing that i get to do my work.
Of course it was easier and harder than i planned, making a series. Harder to break out of the same few ideas that i always have, of how my body is. Grotesque. And easier. Possible. Always there. Undestroyed.
I injured my leg badly, and i was getting better (pictured here) then fucked it up worse on my birthday, on the 18th. And i am watching how the dialogue with the body changes easily and FAST. I took these pictures two days before i reinsured myself. I was like "fine, i'll try to take some sexy ones." Because trying to take non-sexy/non-objectifying nudes was making me feel mournful. Making me aware of the transparent box i live inside of that tells other people to leave me alone. And now? I'd planned one more shoot to finish out the series and i don't even know that i can do it. I don't even know that i want to stay with the project of documenting my body when i am in this pain, all the time, which is a reminder that i am safer than many of my people and still not safe.
Recently I was talking to a friend, a man, (cis, straight, smart, a survivor of some violences, someone who has always been kind to me) and he said that he has never felt hatred for his body. This is a wild, wild statement. I remember when I started doing psych evals at my last big boy job, how part of it was a suicidality screening. And there are people who, asked if they are thinking of suicide, will say, “No, I love myself.” This is similarly, just, disorienting. I mean, I am glad for you, but. Who? What? Who are you?
There are people who just, uh, enjoy these images? and I feel I should say again that I hate them. I make them so that I can tolerate hating them, I make them so that I can get them away from me. I am making them because I am still alive and I have made a choice every day for a long time, not to vanish or make myself invisible. Even when being visible is dangerous, even when it feels like a violence or threat I’m visiting on those around me. Because the truth is that to try to disappear is worse. To try to disappear abandons not only myself but the other people who have stories that move alongside my story.
Insofar as these images are an act of spite, let me just say how delighted i am with the menstrual chapter, here. The person who hated my body the hardest and closest and longest would be, like, completely revolted by them. Whereas the child that man was abusing would have at least thought i had a cool haircut and been charmed by the blood. I have always been into blood. I wouldn't recognize myself. I didn't see it coming.
I have been thinking a lot about digital transplants (people my age) and digital natives—people who have had access to virtual spaces and ways to express themselves in those spaces their whole lives. I think about it in terms of boundaries and addiction and tolerance. For those keeping track at home, I had deactivated all social media for a few weeks before I came back with the deliberate project of posting lots of nudes. When I talk about having an addiction-prone or compulsive nature, my father (when we’re talking, when I try to talk to him) laughs at me, at the idea of having a nature at all as some sort of wrongheadedly western, demeaning attitude towards the self. Which it might be, but I still have to admit to it. I still have to be evidence based. There doesn’t seem, for me, to be a point of casual/occasional use.
I know what you’re thinking. That I’m like a young able bodied white person who doesn’t face that many obstacles in terms of state-sanctioned and/or perpetrated violence or harassment or employment and so, shut up. You have a point. I just don’t have anything else, you know, I just don’t have anything else to work with, so I don’t have much recourse. It’s just one story.
Returning to this idea, my martial arts friend's idea about women not allowing themselves to be strong and men not allowing themselves to be beautiful, if i'm going to say something about transfemmes and their relationship to beauty (as i did, a little while ago) i should also say something about transmasc folx and our relationship to strength. We are bad at it, i think. I think there is a predictable toxic masculinity/misogyny thing that can happen (sort of compounded, because the misogyny is wedded to a femme phobia which is related to something internalized, to a womanhood the world tried to impress on us.) But even those of us who reject that often end up in an area that i just can't stand. When we are like, "I'm a man but i'm cute, i'm laggy, i'm nonthreatening." I mean, ANYTHING is better than conventional masculinity, right, and so it is preferable as a position. But it's also so awkward, so duplicitous, also, because it is a refusal to own our power but we still have our power. We still move in cis hetero spaces with relative ease, compared to femmes. We still face less violence. We are still orienting the arc of our lives in a way that makes sense according to a patriarchal power structure, and that can never be as threatening or radical or transformative as a transfeminine trajectory. And that brings us into power which is in part very sinister, very attached to oppression. But you know what? I am still conferred that power if i wear a floral print shirt and paint my nails or not. I don't get to deflect it with little symbolic aesthetic gestures. The discomfort with beauty i was describing, a while ago when i was talking about watching that transwoman sing is matched by a discomfort with power, among trans boys, is what i am saying. I am saying i find the whole thing hard to watch, especially the mirror.
One of the things that compels me to stay engaged with this project is just thinking about how much my trashest trash ex would hate it. He spent years instilling this feeling in me, that i should disappear. It still feels like a decent argument, really, a lot of the time. Like a good cause of action, disappearance. So maybe that makes this worth doing, because it's the opposite of that.
Part of my intention was to have these not be particularly sexual/sexualized images, but if i'm not putting that on, if i'm not protected by trying to organize by energy around the erotic, i really really hate them, tbh. I am not sure what to do? If i keep with the exercise as conceived/designed and see what's on the other side of this feeling or if i reroute.
I didn’t think that having a book would phase me at all, but once I had one I realized that it really is strange, as someone who was really primarily a performer, to make work and know it's going to live outside of me. You won't get to walk around offering context for it or apologizing or keeping it away from your mom. Sorry mom. But part of my story is that my body and images of it have been taken from me. Like, my whole adult life, there has been an avatar of me out there, doing things that I didn't mean or didn't want. And so now, making these, at least if it's wrong, it's my wrong thing. At least if it hurts me I'm hurting myself.
Maybe you know that I was in an abusive relationship for several years as a young person. Part of that relationship is that he created and published images of my body on a membership website. And he never paid me. I mean, I loved him. And he stole the image of my body and sold it. I think about that less than I think about his campaign against my body in reality, at the time, how I was unattractive unless I was doing and wearing and being exactly what he wanted, while he was also sleeping with people who he gave a great deal more leeway, comparatively. I mean, we’re all in this world where men just get away with everything they can, right? Let me say again that I worked for him, a lot, and he never paid me. Never. My understanding is that he makes all his money from the business he started with my exposed body and unpaid work. Last I knew he lives on a lake.
I’ll talk for a second about beauty. When I get called beautiful, (and I know, I should just get into a fucking gratitude practice with it and stop being such a pill, I’m in a process, ok?) this is what I hear:
“I see that you are doing something difficult and I want to support you even though I also need to make it clear that I am not attracted to you in anything but the very most abstracted far-flung aesthetic non-actionable sense.”
“Congratulations to me for being openminded enough to perceive that you could be attractive.”
I mean, at least when someone yells derisive shit at me while I’m walking down the street, I know what is going on. I know that there is an erotic energy that I am pulling out of them and they are enraged by that energy and trying to police it. I am way more disoriented by non-inclusion-inclusion tactics like being told I am beautiful by people who don’t exactly mean what they are saying.
I’m clearly having some resentments, right? Some emotional refuse that I know I need to get clear. I’m writing this from inside of my loneliest year (so far!)
The last person I was physical with was so beautiful. It is ridiculous, It’s excessive. And I think it has functioned mostly to make her life very difficult. I kept wanting to say it to her, and it was like, “great, let me tell you about how your skin is poison. Like you don’t already know.”
There are some rules. No makeup (possible exception if i end up clowning, but you know what i mean, no glamour.) No filters. No retouches of the body but i can do ones of the setting. They're all auto timer selfies, it's something i'm working on alone. I'm trying not to even really use accessories because then it becomes a body accessorized, then i'm hiding behind the object. Maybe flamboyant gestures also act as accessories in that way, though. Maybe there is no real way to create an image of the body and remain with it's truth. Maybe blood is an accessory, too.
When i'm shooting these in public or semi-public spaces i am of course a little afraid of humiliation or violence, but i am much more concerned really with being violent myself. I am much more concerned with my body being traumatic for the person who encounters it. One of the first times i was in new york there was a guy passed out on the ground on a subway platform and his pants were semi removed and i remember the little interruption in my brain, the disruption and fear, just in encountering this guy who was unconscious and so def not threatening. It wasn't that different from he ways i've felt when someone has purposefully exposed themselves, when it has been an act of aggression. (I didn't realize how these ones were really going to look.)
When I was doing martial arts, my martial-arts-bestie was talking to me about people's fighting and he said "the women won't let themselves be strong and the men won't let themselves be beautiful." // I went to see a trans femme pop singer a while ago. And I was watching her (was I attracted to her? Yes duh inexorably but I don't think that's the point.) It was like the moments when she wanted to be beautiful were coming through her and she had to distort them, had to make a face or drop her voice a register or something to pull away from it, like she didn't want to be accused of trying to be beautiful, like the idea of trying and failing was unendurable. I think I also do that, is what I'm saying. Or maybe I do that and she doesn't, I was just seeing what I felt like seeing.
I am thinking about the image divorced from content. About the vanity, the narcissism, implied in taking pictures of myself, and how that is partly why but not entirely why. Every time I post something where I am visible I know it’s ugly. I think something bad is going to happen. I do it to test my theories. I do it to see if the universe is safe.
I think a lot about the argument that not wanting to be with trans people sexually is a manifestation of transphobia, and like, yes, but who has agency over their transphobia? Who has agency over what they have internalized? Who has access to work on that cultural trauma and get through it and come to a more open, tender place? Not everyone. Not everyone gets to do that. Often, encountering me clothed, people mistake me for a trans woman, and I think that is great. I love that. I think that my trans sistren are the most gorgeous and brilliant and energetically magnetic and sexiest people on the planet. Except, except, in the moment of them realizing their mistake, they are realizing that I am penisless, and they then (often) experience a sharp dip in their sexual interest. I mean, I’m lucky. Usually someone figures out the facts of my anatomy and there is an awk little walkback. Not trans panic. Not a gun.