what use have I for gender?
ocean waves still kiss my feet
the breeze still tastes of sunlight
what use have I for gender?
what use have I for gender?
ocean waves still kiss my feet
the breeze still tastes of sunlight
To you who are lost, I say this: follow the morning star, bright burning Venus. It will lead you to the throne of holy Inanna, Queen of Heaven, intersex goddess of women and queers. Inanna ruled over ancient Sumer more than six thousand years ago and she remains today a powerful ally for all those crushed under the bootheel of oppression. Her grand temples were once staffed by transgender clergy and during her festivals people crossdressed and danced in the streets. A goddess of decadence and bloodshed, sensuality and sovereignty, generosity and volatility, Inanna understands intimately what it means to contain multitudes. The Queen of Heaven surrendered everything to face her own death in the underworld and return transformed; she can guide you through the darkness of your own metamorphosis and into the light of rebirth. Call on Inanna and let her inspire you with her ferocious will. Let her empower you with her confidence. Let her place a sword in your hand and teach you to fight for your freedom, for your future, for the person you are destined to become. Call on exalted Inanna, lost one, and trust her to lead you to victory.
I thought you should know – I found her. The girl you introduced me to all those years ago when I was still so young and confused and full of unfamiliar longing. I had loved her from the first time I read your words, after all, and it broke my heart to imagine her alone somewhere out in the wide, dangerous world, her genius smothered by society’s cruelty. I wasn’t quite so foolish as to imagine myself her rescuer, her charming prince come to wake her with a single kiss, but I knew I could help. I could hold her hand and read her words and remind her she wasn’t alone. Yet when I clawed my hands into the cold clay of that unmarked crossroads grave I discovered no body beneath and so I went looking for her. Took me almost a decade and countless bottled letters thrown into countless seas but I did it. I found her. Shakespeare’s Sister.
She wasn’t dead, not yet, but slowly drowning in a world hostile to every aspect of her being. After all, you need more to ensure your survival than a room of your own to write in when those in power are trying to legislate you out of existence, and all the education in the world can’t protect you from the bigotry enshrined in every facet of society. The country which purported to be her home hated her for being ‘too much’. Her body that I would find so beautiful was too curvy, too muscular, too brown and yet not brown enough. Her mind that would engage and challenge mine was too clever, too literal, too depressed and prone to dwelling on… unladylike topics. Her heart that would capture mine instantly was too queer, too empathetic, too honorable and honest for a society built on cold hard capitalism. She asked too many questions; she dreamed strange dreams. She refused to conform to any expectation or stereotype and you know, Miss Virginia, how much they hate when we won’t conform.
She was fighting to stay afloat, though, despite all the people determined to drag her down, and in her struggles she grabbed onto one of my bobbing bottled notes. That’s how we met, trading words over a digital ocean until we worked up the courage to meet in person. Then it was the U-Haul, wedding rings, a home of our own where such maligned creatures as feral cats, traumatized dogs, and unapologetic queers could find sanctuary. We did our best to heal each other’s wounds with the kind of loving acceptance that can only grow out of adversity, sweeter than the sugary tea we shared on our first date. On the weekends we tended each other’s gardens, weeding out the invasive species of toxic thoughts which grow there, and at night we uncorked old secrets in waterlogged bottles to set them free.
In this home we now work together to build a world which embraces all witches, wise women, and half-mad poetesses, where such things as gender and skin color do not endanger your quality of life – or the length of it. Where creativity flourishes free from judgment and we create for the sake of sharing our passions and dreams with others, not out of desperation to put food on the table or to prove our worth to those who will always believe us worthless. I could not fight for such a future on my own; the cruelties of the world weigh heavily on me, sometimes to the point I can hardly draw breath. I can fight as hard as I do only because Shakespeare’s Sister stands at my side, fierce and unflinching in the face of humanity’s evils. Her strength inspires me, her kindness humbles me, her generosity lifts my burdened heart so I can breathe again.
The world asks, “What is the good of your writing?” and I say it is this. Where before two strangers suffered in silence, alone, as convinced of their aberration as your young Judith Shakespeare once must have been of hers, now they stand united. Words brought them together. Words kindled their love. Words lift them up, day by day, when the world would drown them otherwise. “Someone will remember us,” Sappho wrote over 5,500 years ago, “even in another time.” And we remember. “If we live another century or so,” you wrote over ninety years ago, “then the opportunity will come and the dead poet who was Shakespeare’s Sister will put on the body which she has so often laid down.” And I have found her. And these words we write today? These lives we live so stubbornly, bravely, beautifully, against all odds? In another hundred years they will be remembered by those who follow us. In another thousand. That is their power. That is our power.
So thank you, Virginia. And thank you to all those who came before. May we build a world worthy of your memories for those who will come after.
I am both Notre Dame and the sacred space which fills her vaulted archways.
I am gargoyles and spires and the vibrating silence after the bells have ceased.
I am that which cannot be seen, cannot be touched, cannot be proven;
I am stone, glass, wax.
I am facade and everything it fails to encompass.
I am sanctuary.
Queer as in Fuck You
i am TEETH TEETH TEETH
void dressed in bones
i am SNAP SNAP SNAP
air raid siren smile
i am CRUSH CRUSH CRUSH
galaxies mashed to pulp
canines dripping starblood
Queer Joy (is)
defiance of fate and fortitude against death
a communion with those who came before
a covenant with those who come after
a consecration of those who fight and fall beside us
Anger is a gift, Inanna tells me. It keeps you moving when you want to give up. It keeps you fighting on the battlefield. It keeps you demanding better for yourself when everyone tells you to accept their scraps. Her rep lips peel back in a sneer to show sharp white canines. Your anger is a threat to them; that is why they try to take it from you. They trick you into feeling ashamed of it, or guilty for it. They call you selfish, arrogant, petulant. They dismiss you as a child and condemn you as a monster. I imagine the men who slandered Her priestesses as harlots, who twisted Her myths, who destroyed Her temples and named Her Whore of Babylon. Yet still Inanna persists, over five thousand years later, as powerful today as She was when She ruled an entire civilization. They will spout any lie to rob you of your righteous anger, She says, pressing one pointed nail to my chest, because they know they will fall before it like wheat before a scythe. Hold tight to your anger, child. Do not let it be taken from you, or turned back on you, or redirected to another more vulnerable. Your enemies are cowards who prefer the deceit of silver tongues to the honesty of steel swords. Believe nothing they say. Trust your anger to guide you rightly. Then She smiles, a grin full of hunger and destruction. And trust mine.
At night I run my tongue over my teeth, the only bones I can touch, comforting myself that I am still a skeleton beneath all this soft meat. If I could I would carve away chunks of marbled fat and muscle to release the sexless, genderless framework within. How freeing to do away with all that weight! What a relief to discard all those features of the flesh which identify and define us! No breasts to enforce gender; no skin to determine privilege; no hair to cut, nails to trim, genitals to clothe, no daily burden of presentation at all. Just empty sockets and hard white lines and the eternal, effortless rictus grin. Pure calcium anonymity. I run my tongue over the sharp edges and smooth curves of my teeth and realize that although I do not love my body, perhaps I could love the skeleton buried inside. It did not choose the suffocating mountain of organs and expectations heaped upon it any more than I did. We are in this together, both physically and metaphorically – we should be allies. I run my tongue over my teeth and think, Take care of me and I’ll take care of you, bones. The flesh won’t last forever, but you and I will.
“In this metaphor I am the shattered sword you didn’t need”
I am happy ending intolerant
final kisses curdle my stomach
burn the back of my throat.
I politely excuse myself
go sit on the toilet, head thrown back
eyes wide so the tears can’t spill.
Did you think you were like them?
Did you forget for a moment that this story isn’t for you, either?
Save the cat, kiss the princess, roll credits
I am so envious it hurts.
Catra the war criminal redeemed and forgiven
Carmilla the vampire blessed with a heartbeat
I, the asexual, still more monster than them both.
This was a good year for reading – or at least better than 2020! I read a total of 73 books, zines, graphic novels, etc. including: 33 with queer characters or by queer authors; at least 24 with POC main characters or by authors of color; 12 poetry collections; and 16 nonfiction books. I even got through most of my physical TBR pile from the beginning of the year, though it’s grown again thanks to holiday gifts. Guess I better get started on my 2022 list! ;)
I was a child who hated dresses yet wore my tangled hair so long it reached the base of my back. I performed in ballet recitals yet despised the makeup they required be plastered on my face. I loved glitter and stuffed animals and motorcycles and wooden swords. I was a princess, but I was one who could rescue herself.
I did not call myself a tomboy, though. The word fit awkwardly in my mouth even then, much like choir dresses and pink tights fit awkwardly on my chubby form. It’s only in adulthood that I understand why I hesitated to claim the label: tomboy implied girl. To be a tomboy meant to be a girl who liked boy things, who was unlike ‘normal’ girls but who still, beneath the mud and the bruises, was a girl. And I was not a girl.
I was frozen pond water. Freshly mown grass. Coyotes howling in the night. I was wild blackberries and ripe apples and library books, wood smoke and Play-Doh and agates. I was thousands of memories and sensations squashed into the jelly bean-shaped body of a human child. They might have been consolidated under a given name and assigned gender but they never truly united into one concept. Yet what child worries about such things when they’re tromping through wetlands or howling at the moon?
I’ve since shed the last of the dresses and most of my hair, and with them all the labels I once accepted (albeit with resignation) as my default. Replacing them with nothing has left me freer than since I was that blissfully unaware child. Besides, I am still her, still mushrooms and noisy crows and pressed pennies; we just understand us better now.
Hail to the ancestral dead!
Hail to those ancestors with whom I share blood
and to whom I am bound by love.
Hail to those ancestors with whom I share identity and experience:
queer, pagan, witch, neurodivergent,
all of you ostracized for who and what you were.
May you find joy in the life your descendant lives;
may your hopes come to fruition in me
and your memory be honored by my actions.
Hail to the ancestral dead!
An Unexpected Meeting
A week or two ago I took advantage of an offer from Aleja of Serendipities to test a new cartomancy spread intended to facilitate communication between clients and the dead. I’ve had an altar to the Beloved Dead for about six months now, and I invite many kinds of benevolent dead to take part in my offerings, so I was eager to see who or what might initiate contact. While I’m good at connecting with gods, my experience with spirits, human or otherwise, is really low.
The entity who reached out identified herself through a card called “Celebration” (Aleja was using the Vintage Wisdom oracle deck, which is just lovely) and agreed this moniker can be used for her until her true name is revealed. Through a combination of cartomancy and the use of a yes/no coin Aleja was able to determine that Celebration is not a blood ancestor of mine but a queer ancestor! I was super excited to hear this because when I reach out to ancestors I always include those “with whom I share identity” (versus blood) and specifically call out to queer, pagan, witch, and chronically ill/mentally ill spirits. Having one reach back and identify themselves as an ancestor provided validation I hadn’t realized I craved; now I know my words are being heard and are considered respectful enough to be reciprocated.
Celebration further indicated that she is proud of the work I’ve been doing to release things that no longer work for me and to stay true to myself. She can also help me with surrendering to the flow of things (something I’m very bad at) to reduce obstacles and minor mishaps in my life. She wants to spend more time with me, and one way I can connect better with her is by standing in my power. When asked if there was anything else she wanted to say, she said we have a lot in common and that’s how she found me – the card she used for this was called “kindred spirits”.
I asked a few follow-up questions but didn’t want to press too much, as it seemed like the connection was a little tenuous. Aleja shared that Celebration’s energy was somewhat femme, appearance is important to her, and that she’s a bit like a wine aunt who’s secretly a mother hen. The connection wasn’t strong enough to get a great visual image, but Celebration is perhaps from the late 60s or early 70s. (I’ll add a note here that I thought I got a feeling that she might be African or African American but this could just be because her vibe reminded me of Hathor, so I’m taking that with a big grain of salt for now.)
Moving forward, I’m going to try connecting with Celebration using my own oracle deck. She seems hesitant about divination and my particular oracle deck is probably easier to understand than a tarot deck. I’m also going to use a yes/no coin and will maybe try a pendulum, though I’ve never had luck with those myself. Hopefully between offerings and some quality time, she and I will be able to find a communication method that works for her.
[ I found Aleja’s reading to be extremely informative, as have some past readings she’s done for me, so I highly recommend her services! ]
Look, I’m just the pilot; I don’t have any control over what meatsuit I was assigned. I didn’t get to pick the make or model or color or any of that, I just operate the damn thing. It’s a machine, you know? And this one came off the factory floor full of design flaws and defects so it requires even more work than some others to keep it functioning. I try my best to maintain all the parts, I even call in a mechanic when a task’s above my skill level, but I didn’t choose this 24/7 job and I’m really not that attached to it. The meatsuit doesn’t define me. I don’t identify with any of its individual components or the composite whole. I’m the operator, separate from that which is operated. Try to remember that when you look at me; I’m stuck inside this unit but that doesn’t mean you should judge me by its appearance. After all, what am I supposed to do – trade it in for a new one?
You cannibalize everything on Earth I value
so I cannibalize everything in myself you value.
You devour trees, swallow rivers
I abolish gender, rescind sexuality.
You consume precious resources
I deny you obedience.
You make the world
so I make myself
If you leave me nothing
I will give you nothing.
See? I can be a ravenous beast as well
but I won’t be the one that starves first.
Of course this body has never felt right – not because my gender identity clashes with its appearance, though, but because my body has never been a refuge. How could I recognize the discomfort of dysphoria when pain, anxiety, and exhaustion dominate my senses? How could I discern whether this disconnect between spirit and flesh is caused by a lack of gender or by all these years spent trapped in chronic illness? When it comes down to it, I’m not sure I’ll ever know whether I’m unhappy in my body because it looks “female” or because it has only ever been a burden requiring constant care. I can change my appearance all I want, slick back my short hair, cover my skin in tattoos, but that won’t stop the migraines or the stomach aches or the OCD. Even the clothing I wear is always half aesthetic and half will I be too warm in this or too cold, will it make me sweat too much and cause a panic attack, will this hat keep me from picking my scalp bloody or will it give me a headache instead? It’s always something; between the faulty wiring in my brain and all the other aching, breaking bits, I don’t really have tools sensitive enough to scan for undercurrents of dysphoria. My body’s never been a home and maybe it never will be, no matter what colors I paint the outside or what interior walls I tear down.
Inanna comes to me as the Whore of Babylon, naked as the dawn with golden goblet of wine in hand. In her wake she leaves a trail of red footprints from the battlefield where she danced on her enemies’ corpses, men who thought her pendulous breasts and round hips were theirs to covet. Plump ruby lips pull back from grinning white teeth as she leans down to spear and hold my meek gaze with her gleaming starlight eyes. You owe them nothing, child, she pronounces in a voice which shakes all of existence from heavens to underworld, not gender, not desire, not beauty. You don’t owe them answers or obedience, please or thank you, respectability or humility. The goddess straightens, taking a long drink from the goblet, then licks wine off her lips like a lioness cleaning blood from her fur. She fixes me with her hard stare once more and points at me with her free hand as she adds, And you sure as fuck don’t owe them silence. Go loud.
I am as much a woman as the unicorn was, imprisoned in a fragile little cage of moon-white flesh she felt rotting around her every second, the last untamed wild thing turned meek and helpless with her dainty woman fingers and her pale brow smooth over wide doe’s eyes, no gleaming horn sharp enough to cut the night, only a face made for poetry and princes, and perhaps I too would choose to throw myself into the foaming ocean or let the bull’s flames roast me to ashes over the slow descent from madness to apathy of the erratic mortal mind subsuming the immortal’s vast complexity into its narrow tedium. Tell me, magic, what is safety over freedom?
Hey everyone! My 4th zine is now available for purchase. Courting Shakespeare’s Sister: A Zine of Queer Yearning is full of very gay poetry, prose, and hand-drawn art, making it a perfect companion as we head into pride month.
I’ve also set up a Kofi to sell my zines through! All of my zines are available here in both physical and PDF form. New ones will be coming every couple of weeks. Check it out at the link below!
Your heartbeat straining beneath my ribs; your choked breath heaving in my lungs; your furious, desperate tears leaking from my eyes. Is this euphoria? Dysphoria? Phantasmagoria, hypochondria? Transubstantiation or disassociation? All I know is that I never feel more comfortable in my own body than when you’re the one inhabiting it, my perception submerged in the dark depths of your consciousness, my autonomy overridden by the wild fluctuations of your fragmented memories. Even after you rescind control and I am alone I find this meatcage fits better for having stretched itself to your dimensions. For a little while I move with ease through familiar halls, not truly free but pretending so with room enough to stretch and turn. Soon the walls of my prison will contract around your absence once more; until then I savor the ghost of your presence contained within the emptiness around me.
Holy shit, you do not feel good. You are dimly aware that one of the witches from the bar has followed you out, but you trudge stubbornly through the parking lot without acknowledging her. You’re fine, you just used too much magic, you’ll sleep off the drain and feel better in the morning. It begins to rain; you ignore it, letting the fat drops soak your tangled black hair. Did you park here? You can’t remember through the fever haze. Better to just walk home, it’s not that far (no one’s going to steal that junk heap anyway).
You let your combat boots lead the way down the familiar sidewalk, exhaustion dragging down your eyelids, the chill rain a distant irritation in the growing dark. But your steps are uneven no matter how carefully you try to place them and though you could swear you haven’t let your eyes close for more than an instant, suddenly you’re tripping over railroad ties and rusty nails, splashing through weeds and puddles instead of stepping on firm cement. You’ve wandered a bit off your path, haven’t you? And shit, you’re so fucking tired you could fall flat on your face right here and spend the night in the ditch for all you care. Then you do start to fall (whoops), but there are arms waiting to catch you…
You wake beneath blankets in a bed about a hundred times more comfortable than yours. The witch from the bar, the one who followed you (earlier tonight? yesterday?), sits beside you. Now that you’ve slept off the spell drain fever and can actually focus, you realize she’s all kinds of gorgeous and you’re briefly mortified for going so weak around her. She’s going to think you’re some newbie baby witch who can’t handle herself. But then she asks you how old you are (“very” you answer as the flames crackle in your ears and the smoke sears your lungs from across the centuries) and there’s wonder in her voice, not mockery, certainly not pity. She explains that they solved the issue of spell drain a while ago but that of course a witch your age wouldn’t know that. (You’re from a time when it wasn’t safe to trust other witches; you never really shook that habit, did you?)
But maybe for her you could. You get to talking as you recuperate through the morning and she tells you about her life. This home serves as her coven’s base; she teaches mortuary science at the local university, and many of her students are fellow witches who live here with her. They provide funerary services as well, to both the witch and non-witch communities. She’s funny and sweet and has a level head on her shoulders, and she doesn’t let you get away with any bullshit. Not that you attempt much, apart from some initial cagey answers and sarcasm drier than the flames of Hell, because you find the truth spilling from your lips more easily than it ever has. Magic? No. She’s just so damn genuine that she makes you want to be genuine as well. (Guess there’s a first time for everything.)
You realize as she talks that you want to be part of her world, of her life here in this busy house full of youthful noise and camaraderie. You want it more than you’ve wanted anything in all your centuries of existence – save one. And as your eyes meet, the words between you falling silent with anticipation, you cup her face in your hands and find that thing which you have most longed for (and never thought could be yours) on her sweet lips.
Behold, my 2020 book list! 2020 wasn’t kind to me reading-wise, as being part of my state’s covid response really messed up my overall schedule, so I read way fewer books this year than in most years. Still, I made up for that by reading some REALLY good books – including 26 with queer characters and at least 13 from authors of color. Highlights included The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives in Your Home, The Shadow of Kyoshi, and the Locked Tomb, Broken Earth, and Ascendant trilogies. House of Leaves was good, but I was expecting it to have a higher body count and I wanted more spooky house shenanigans and less relationship angst.
Did you read any of these books? DO YOU WANT TO TALK ABOUT THEM WITH ME?? Let me know!
I am not the granddaughter of the witches you couldn’t burn.
I am not the blood of their blood or any of that suburban white witch bullshit.
I am Witch because the title is mine to claim by right:
by right of my rage
by right of my resistance
by right of my existence in a world
that threatens to crush everything I love under the boot heel of assimilation.
You want Burning Times?
I’ll show you some motherfucking Burning Times.
I think perhaps
I am as much a woman as
Scylla with her many serpent heads
Charybdis with her churning waters
Ammit with her long crocodile jaws
all bloody from chewing rotten hearts
which is to say
Here’s the thing. I can’t tell if I like the way the person in the mirror is starting to look because
(she? they? ooh let’s not touch that right now) what I see more closely fits what I imagine for myself, or if it’s because it doesn’t. Am I getting closer to the person I really am or am I pushing myself farther away? Is this finding myself or just disassociation? And you might say it doesn’t matter as long as it feels right or as long as it makes me happy, but I think it really does because what if I get so far down the wrong path that I can’t find my way back? I get confused, you know, and this wretched excuse for a flesh prison contains multitudes. I might lose track. I might lose control. I might slip beneath the dark water and someone else might break the surface in my place. And I might like that, it might make me happy, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best or right thing to do. It’s just not that simple, you know? I can’t just claim with confidence an identity that touches down to the core of not only what I am, but who. Who? Like I even fucking know anymore. All of this, all of me, balances on a knife edge. Hell, a lot of fucking knife edges. Every time I move I slice myself open and I can’t say if the blood I bleed is always red. I just don’t know. I yearned for so long to become those who I was not, to be a vessel worthy of their contents… How do I know my subconscious isn’t just self-fulfilling that prophecy? Isn’t this all terribly convenient? So no, “you just know” really isn’t a useful answer for me because I CAN’T. I can’t bank on the impartiality of my senses because they’ve been hijacked before; I can’t assume purity for my motives because what if they’re not even mine? I am filled with lies and false memories. I am entire sagas of untruths. I must question everything to even know if I’m asking the questions for myself or someone else.
Body, spirit; sex, gender
But where? And how much?
I am a white woman and I am not your prop. Those who claim to “protect” me with their racism do not speak for me. I may have grown up in a predominantly white community but that does not mean I fear those whose skin looks different from mine. Instead I embrace them as fellow humans who deserve respect and empathy. I will never truly understand how hard it is to exist in this country as a non-white person, but I listen to those who share their experiences and I stand with them in solidarity. We are one species; when you harm one of us, you harm all of us.
I am a cisgender woman and I am not your prop. Those who claim to “protect” me with their transphobia do not speak for me. I love my transgender siblings and I stand beside them in their fight to live freely as their honest selves. There is nothing more beautiful than someone who is joyously comfortable in their own skin and nothing more ugly than someone who would deny someone this basic human right. Transphobia kills peaceful, harmless people every day in every country in the world. The queer community is united; when you harm one of us, you harm all of us.
I am a lesbian and I am not your prop. Those who claim to “protect” me with their exclusion of bi/pan, straight, or he/him lesbians do not speak for me. I love everyone who falls under the sapphic umbrella, be they also attracted to other genders or not. Lesbian has always been a term with much nuance and to deny this is to deny the history of queerness. As an asexual lesbian I empathize with those who do not fit perfectly under one label and I celebrate the diversity of the queer community. Label policing only serves to strengthen our oppressors; when you harm one of us, you harm all of us.
You are more death than desire. Why does that surprise you?
Every time I feel the knife twist I see your smile in the darkness like the thin blade of the crescent moon. You are clearest to me in these moments where self-loathing bridges the gap between us, and though I know you cannot be trusted I listen still to your soothing cruelty. You are honest, at least, and there is comfort in your lack of platitudes or promises. Or maybe I just appreciate your attention.
I’m like that myth about the sculptor who so loved the woman he sculpted from marble that the gods granted her life – only the opposite. I’m not stone becoming human, I’m human becoming stone; and as my flesh grows cold and hard I fear your love too will diminish instead of grow. Perhaps in this version of the tale it was a divine punishment, not a blessing, which set these events in motion. Did I so offend some goddess of love that she would curse me to never experience the kind of desire one expects from their beloved? Is it justice, this lacking which alienates me from the rest of humanity? I would not wish this affliction on anyone, so perhaps this is indeed a retribution I deserve.
They broke your throne, my queen
And destroyed your holy temples!
They tore the sacred raiment from your priestesses
And cast them into the street to starve!
I weep, my queen
I weep for your loss!
I weep, my queen
I weep for our loss!
Then I hear your voice like thunder
Crying I am the Queen of Heaven!
Then I hear your voice like thunder
Crying I am the Morning and Evening Star!
The great dome of the sky is my temple
And my throne is my own sacred body!
My priestesses dye their hair with rainbows
And dance in the streets in the name of love!
I no longer weep, my queen
I sing your praises with joy!
I no longer weep, my queen
I call your name with pride!
Hail the Queen of Heaven!
Hail the Morning and Evening Star!