But you don’t look sick. But I saw you running yesterday. But you look so strong. Can you help me carry this desk up those three flights of stairs? Will you move that table to the other side of the room, please? But you are so tall. But you are so butch. Will you help me move this weekend? Carry those boxes of books over to the other building, please. You just need to do more yoga. Have you tried Thai Chi? My back use to hurt all the time too, but then I started on this new diet, I swear it will save your life.
My bones whisper. They do not yell. Except in my own ear. Throbbing in minor dislocations that scream severe. Sometimes they are more discreet even with me. Tricking me into thinking I can run 5k or stretch into that yoga pose I’ve not been able to safely do for years. The next day I cannot stand upright. The x-ray technician tries to push my right hip and left ribs together. Refusing to accept that I cannot physically comply with her demand to “stand up straight!”
Testosterone. Low dose. Micro micro dose. Not to transition. But to live.
Yesterday I hiked ten miles. The day before that I danced my ass off to music my neighbors could hear. Today my femur sits forward inside my hipbone causing my back to twist and my body to whimper. Everyday my body is covered in oils, cremes, and menthol rubs meant to calm the squalling muscles. Every second my hands feel like they are simultaneously asleep and on fire, sometimes they feel like electricity is coursing through them. At night my legs kick and shake against my will. On occasion my left eye twitches as every cell rages for my attention.
But I don’t look disabled. Most days I can walk, even run. My body is only twisted in deformity about once a month, at which point my chiropractor and physical therapist work to twist me back into shape. At which point you will not see my pain. At which point I will again appear normal to you. At which point you will ask me to do the thing I shouldn’t do, but probably will, because I like feeling strong even when I am not. Especially when I am not.
Strength is something I’ve had to pretend at for my entire life. A toddler in overalls pulling on the cord of the lawn mower sitting in a pasture of southern red clay, I have always been queer. Visibly so. My body screams it. Out loud. Everyone sees it. Long before I had language my body betrayed my butch edge. Tall, athletic, tree climbing, football playing, machine fixing, leg spreading, masculine walking, stern butch boy boldly proclaiming the queerness of my sex and gender.
People who built their lives on top of that red southern clay had no use for the audacity of my queerness. I never fit inside their tiny underground sheds; the only places queerness was allowed. I never had “roommates,” or “best friends.” I had lovers who loved me as loudly as my body echoed across the holler. I stared down the barrel of a gun and stood beside my home burned to ash by a moonshine relative. Butch the word he used to build himself up taller in front of the court, thinking that word could harm me. That’s my word, forever has been. The sound of it on his lips did cut, but only to shape my will and determination into braver muscle.
Strength is the only way toward survival when your body is so powerful it threatens. Little boys who have tied their soul to their masculinity quiver at the sight of such as me. They pull out their guns, their back up source of power, to show me their position on top. What they don’t realize is that I’ve always known just how to top from the bottom. All marginal peoples do. We must. Our breath depends on it.
So as my bones scream, my muscles twist, and my hands and feet attempt to electrocute themselves out of commission I continue to carry those desks, heft those books, and climb those stairs. Recently, as I have reached perimenopause, my hormones have betrayed my survival strategy. Each month as my hormones drop my body contorts, leaving me immobile and powerless. Screaming so loudly the neighbors can see. You no longer ask me to lift that table up those stairs.
I was diagnosed with hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (hEDS) this year. I was also put on hormone treatment. Testosterone. Low dose. Micro micro dose. Not to transition. But to live. To remain mobile. I have so many feelings about this decision. My body needs help. My joints need stronger muscles to hold them in place. My mind seems to love this stuff. All they tell you is to look out for aggression.
I’ve been taking the cream for nearly a year. No screaming changes, only stronger muscles, less twisting, and calm inside my brain. I’m taking very low doses. I’ve just increased and moved to injections. I’m terrified. I wish I were taking none. I wish I were taking more. So perhaps the middle is just right.
My gender has never been a question mark. I’ve never been held captive by closets. Boys in middle school called me dyke. My conservative upbringing meant that I didn’t know the word. I thought it was a microscopically less elementary word for cooties. By the time high school rolled around I’d finally defined the words meant to shame me out of existence. When a group of older dykes invited me to their softball game, they warned me that they were all queer. I responded, “Me too.” They said, “Cool, we didn’t know if you knew.” They’d pegged me from the moment they saw me.
I didn’t always have the language, but I always had the knowing. I have a picture of a shirtless four-year-old little butch boy surrounded by balls, trucks, and books. I remember crushing on the cute girls in my kindergarten class and roughhousing with the boys. The neighbor boys told me I couldn’t play without my shirt because I was a girl. I assured them I was a boy. Tomboy. Sure. But so much more.
The truth is that I have never been male or female. I hate being called sir or ma’am. I’ve rarely been called ma’am, but my skin burns when I am equally misidentified as sir. I’ve never felt more seen, and more importantly relaxed, as when someone correctly uses singular they pronouns to identify me. Binary systems are the devil of transphobia. The devil whispering in my kneecaps about what each shot in the ass means.
I am the clown fish, seahorse, butterfly, lobster, the yellow-bellied water snake, yew tree, the common reed frog, the banana slug, coral, bush tomatoe, cardinal, hawkfish, seabass, copperhead, bearded dragon, green sea turtle, and striped maple. I am nature. I move between and beyond gender. A shapeshifter. Edgewalker. A non-binary queer animal guaranteeing diversity for my species. The number one factor of species success is diversity. You’re welcome.
Testosterone. I don’t want to share this secret. I don’t want to talk to you about this choice. I want to lock it up in the closet. I want to live in a hole I’ve always lived miles away from. Suddenly the dark coolness of the tight musky walls feels very romantic. To wrap myself in the cool dark earth of hiding, or is it germinating? I want to hide this away because the devil is screaming in my elbows. The pain that comes from each subluxation telling me I am more other than I know. This medicine that builds me up while scare crowing my brain to straw. Shhhhh. Don’t tell anyone. It’s still fresh and new. A babe, not yet ready for the noise of the world.
Testosterone. The erasure of my identifiable queerness, the loss of my transparent transness terrifies me. I remind myself it is only a micro dose. It is only for my body. It is only so I can stay mobile. It is medicine. It is life. Hormones are natural. They are trees, grass, moss, fish, wolves, cats, magpies, seaweed, squash, corn, nuts, and apples. Everything that breathes is built by this medicine. Yes, Eve, I will bite into this apple and be made strong.
Just like the words of this story, I am hybrid. Always. They. Them. Their. Animal, plant, mystery. Yes, we share DNA. We are genetically related. We are one and the same only different. Genetic diversity the most important factor in species success. I am the web, the mitochondria, the mycelium, the queer sexual magic of blending hormones. Testosterone. This natural body building hormone taking me home to the hybridity of my blood.
This medicine allowing me to move. To build the necessary muscle to stay fluid. To transgress narrow fields of vision. To breathe across the borders of illusion. To dance in the ecstasy of a chemical body.
I judge myself. Guilty. Of what? No answer. No precedent. Only this spine staying in place. Only this ankle holding strong. Only this neck aligned. Only this hip holding me up. Only my mind knowing the calm of presence. Only this desire to dance. Only this longing for sex. Only this ability to laugh through my bones.
All they tell you is to look out for aggression. I’ve searched every corner. All I find is relief. All I find is softness. All I find is my wild animal self. I look in the mirror and pray my face holds its shape.
Blue is a queer scientist and storyteller with an Appalachian drawl. They are dedicated to “Writing the Rites to Right the Story” of marginal human and non-human animal cultures. They graduated with their MFA from Goddard College. Currently, Blue is a doctoral candidate at the Union Institute and University. Their research is focused on the link between environmentalism and social justice, and the power of storytelling to create justice for all peoples, animals, and the natural environment. Their writing can be found in Sinister Wisdom, The Pitkin Review, Womonwrites, Unchaste, and other anthologies. Blue’s hybrid memoir Chroma, Honey, and Cornbread is in search of a publisher. Follow them on Instagram @bluerites for more word and image fragments.