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I’m interpreting from English to ASL and vice versa, a black plastic headset covering my ears and a Deaf consumer on the screen in front of me. The consumer requests that I do not announce myself as an interpreter and therefore I don’t. The consumer is borrowing my voice. After a few minutes of interpretation, having noted a gendered incongruence between my voice and the Deaf consumer’s name, the hearing customer service agent on the other end of the call asks for pronouns. After a moment of confusion, the Deaf consumer clarifies, through me, that there is an interpreter on the line, to which the hearing agent, not quite understanding, responds, “Everyone’s different.”
If I had to describe my gender, I might describe it in loops and circuits. I might say that I’m a nonbinary transmasculine transfeminine faggot dyke. Or, in the tradition of something I recently saw online, tweeted out by the poet, Charles Theonia, “a transsexual without direction.” I do not know what I might actually mean by these utterances, but I sense that they are the closest approximation to naming the affective and ontological fields I occupy.
In a 1996 interview, Kate Borstein, sitting elbow to elbow with Leslie Feinberg, defines the term transgender as, “transgressively gendered, that is, any kind of transgression against the mores and codes that would make up gender in this culture.” They continue, donning a bowler hat and pair of fingerless gloves, “Transgender’s just a big ol’ umbrella term that includes just about everyone I know.”
In an attempt to push back against the binary identitarian impulse, I might refer to trans moments. I might say that these trans moments are ubiquitous, are far-reaching, are nodes of gender transgression that populate the quotidian.
The interaction with the customer service agent on the phone simultaneously is and is not a trans moment.
In Crip Theory: Cultural Signs of Queerness and Disability, Robert McRuer refers to “able-bodied” and “heteronormative epiphanies” –– moments in a narrative plotline in which “the behavior audiences have been encouraged to look at slowly disappears, meaning that diagnosis of [the pertinent character’s] condition is no longer relevant.” With this device in hand, an author may render both disabled and queer personages abled and straight, thereby resolving the narrative arc and the forms of inter- and intrapersonal conflict that are written to be directly and intrinsically linked to the character’s disability and queerness.
What if these trans moments are a form of epiphany, pushing toward transgression, quietly resolving the gendered character arc of the subject at hand, this form of epiphany not eradicating one's subjecthood, but bringing it into sharp relief? What if transness, then, is not just something that exists in the body or in one’s sense of self but also as a substance that manifests environmentally, procedurally, in the rapport between all of these things?
While attempting to resist the identitarian impulse, I ultimately begin to feel like a ghost in the void. The slippage is palpable the moment I refuse (just briefly) an identity marker, online or in person.
I grew up a sick child without really knowing it, particularly subject to sprained wrists and ankles. At the age of 13 or so, I underwent a number of MRIs after several bouts of vision loss. At 25, I was finally diagnosed with a connective tissue disorder, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, thereby summing up two and a half decades of disparate medical anomalies. During the year between suspicion and official diagnosis, parallel but largely unrelated to these developments, I began calling myself trans for the first time, thereby pinning down the ghost of my cumulative être. The language that contours my being is the nail, and once I try to remove it, I begin to float up toward the ceiling.
In 2019, I started writing about Publick Universal Friend in an attempt to reconcile the space and (then) the linkages between their illness, their death, and the gender expansivity that would soon follow. I wanted to know how illness informed their gendered self, how death informed it. How illness and transness could be found at the center of one’s spiritual practice and subjecthood. How the Friend’s place in history (and how mine) would influence the ways we are allowed to understand their life now. Could these things be isolated?
Illness and gender (or, more concisely, gender’s subsequent transgression) being so much a part of the human condition, it’s hard to identify the borders which surround the camps of disability and transness. The existence of a standard for nondisabled cishetersexuality suggests that we are not all constantly breaching that threshold, brushing up, time and again, against the epiphanic. The binary between transness and cisness, between disability and nondisabled status, is being maintained only by way of a small handful of arbitrary, fractal, and diaphanous sociocultural conventions, and to suggest that someone can somehow live outside of these things is to suggest that they can somehow live outside of the human condition.
In a physical therapy session, the clinician has me secure a brace around and over my subluxed shoulders to fix them more firmly into place and to slow the erosion of the bones therewithin. In the mirror, the brace resembles a sports bra or a binder stretching across my chest and back. This simultaneously is and is not a trans moment.