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Art by ROB BALSEWICH

LINER NOTES FROM A TRANS KID

by JAQ BRODY

       Hello.
       You’re reading this undergrad art journal. You’re reading a college journal, and it’s been a long day—a long year, even, already—and you’re sort of bored, sort of dozing off, and then— the word "You" makes you snap up and pay attention.
       You. Wait. Me?

       You’re less bored now. This text is weird, and you don’t know if you like it, but you’re definitely not bored. You’ve read a lot— you don’t make it to Journal Twenty Twenty without reading until your eyes swell like water balloons that have grown ripe with summer heat—but you haven’t read this before. Okay. That’s something.
       Hello.
       It’s the context that matters. A trash bag floating in the wind is only art if someone takes a picture of it. An upside-down urinal signed “R. Mutt” only becomes important when Marcel Duchamp resigns from the Society of Independent Artists because they won’t put his toilet in a museum. The context is this: a coworker, who you want to like, says his favorite author is Hemingway.

       That’s not the point, you say, frustrated. You like fragile masculinity within the context of trench warfare just as much as the next man. But you like Yann Martel, too. Rupi Kaur. You mentioned liking Rupi Kaur in a poetry workshop once and your head-up-his-ass graduate-student teacher rolled his eyes.
Who’s your favorite author? Asks your co-worker. You tell him and he snickers. 

 

       Your favorite author is Brandon Sanderson. You’ve never read Alcatraz vs the Evil Librarians, though, which is apparently his best book. Though you’ve never read his best book, you used to stand in the mirror and quote Alcatraz’ fiery love interest, Bastille, until your tongue sparked like a rocket.
       Your favorite author is Kurt Vonnegut, right? Let’s get unstuck in time.

 

       You don’t go for that small talk nonsense on dating apps. You prefer to meet people the old-fashioned way, but when you’re bored (are you bored?) or lonely, you’ll start swiping. An ex took your profile pic. But you chose your opening line, something to start a conversation, something designed to show your intellect and to test others’.

       Hey sexy. What’s your favorite word?
       Shitwad, he says, the boy you later fall in love with. It’s a pedestrian response. Plebian. This won’t go beyond a hook-up, you think.
       Who’s your favorite author? He asks.
       David Foster Wallace. You’re surprised at the question, but you don’t have to think about the answer. Infinite Jest is the best book ever written.
       Not bad, he says. Have you seen This Is Water?
       This is water, you think, reading along in Journal Twenty-Twenty about events that never happened to you. This is water. It’s the context that matters.

       You type until your fingers blister. Your favorite author, Stephen King, writes six pages a day and so will you, which is why the homework is boring—you have so many other things to do. You have blisters to pop. At least when you have to read Hemingway you’re learning how to write. What are you learning from this shit?
       This is water, and it’s the context that matters. Ernest Hemingway is taught at every university and he earned that. They all earned that—Steinbeck, Melville, London. They’re all great authors. That’s not the context. The context is that you’re in a graduate-level writer’s workshop where everyone has read until their eyes swell like water balloons and every man who names his favorite author names another man. A white man. A straight, cis, white man.
       Your name is Balyena, and you live in the sea. The old man— not Hemingway’s man, but Hemingway—tells you about his rival. His prissy, unsatisfied, unsatisfying rival. Who’s a homosexual. But he has a wife, you might argue. Nonsense, says Ernest.
       But does he like men? You ask. Your tail thuds through the tide like a landmine.
       Ernest reaches up to touch the brittle hide of your massive belly. Well he certainly doesn’t fuck his wife.
       Ernest, you want to say, there is more to sexuality than fucking one’s wife. And there should certainly be more to one’s wife than fucking. Ernest doesn’t listen, because you are half out of the water. This is water. He submerges his head, somehow still shouting.

 

       But let’s say that, in this context, we’re being very gener- ous and count F. Scott Fitzgerald as not entirely a straight cis white man. You didn’t learn about his sexuality when you read The Great Gatsby in high school, and if anyone brought up Nick and Jay’s inherent homoeroticism, you treated it with a passing interest, or worse, a dismissal. They didn’t tell you Shakespeare was bisexual, either, and though they couldn’t hide Oscar Wilde’s absurd flamboyance and literal sodomy trial, they did focus more on the woman Dorian killed than on Basil’s hopeless infatuation.
       You are on your first date with the boy you later fall in love with and you’re wondering why no one else ever told you that Shakespeare wrote Sonnet XX about the Earl of Pembroke. You’re thinking that you don’t mind gay men, just men who act gay—this is why you so deeply identify with Hemingway’s heteronormative sense of masculinity. But then the boy you’ve just started to fall in love with moves on to a different Ernest, and his importance, the importance of being earnest, and for the first time your favorite author is not a straight cis white man, but the man in front of you.

       At this point you’re angry. At this point you’re a gay cis white man and you’re angry that, except for in the single diversity class you had to take to graduate, four out of five of the authors you were told to read were exactly like you but straight and the other one was Jane Austen. And you didn’t even like Jane Austen.
       You’re going to flip your shit when I tell you about Alice Walker.

       At first, you don’t believe the boy you’re barely in love with when he says his favorite author is Angie Sage. She writes middle-grade books. She writes about the seventh son of a seventh son and his princess sister.
       They’re good books, he says. You should read them.
       They’re for children.
       So? So was Huck Finn. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. The Little Prince.
       If you’re angry, especially if you’re straight or white or cis
or rich or worship the same god as everyone you know, go read Claudia Rankine’s Citizen and maybe you’ll calm down.
      Or maybe you’ll get angrier. Good. Be angry. Tell someone why you’re angry. As the not-male, not-white Zora Neale Hurston once said, “If you’re silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.”
       Tell someone why you’re angry. Then tell someone about your favorite author who is not a straight cis white man. Write down your favorite Rumi quote and pin it to your mirror. Add a reminder on your phone to read a lesbian romance novel. Pledge to study Baldwin.

       You’re at dinner with the woman you’re so desperately in love with, and you’re trying to learn, and you ask if she’ll recommend you a book to read about women like her.

       Trans women, she asks. Or chicana?
       Both. Either.
       She shakes her head. I can’t recommend you a book. There 
aren’t any.
       It doesn’t have to be classic literature, you say.
       She shakes her head again. There aren’t any. I mean, there are 
some YA books with trans kids. But they’re mostly white. And even those are about being trans. Would you like it if every book with a cis man was about a man being cis?

        You think she’s wrong, don’t you? You think there must be a book, one book, that talks about a trans woman whose trans-ness is not the point.

       Look it up. Your phone is right here. Google books with trans women and tell me what you find.

       There could be something, someday.

       Your name is Balyena and you’re proud of your name. You’re proud to disrupt the water. When you beach yourself, you do it on purpose. Ernest and David and Jack all stabbed their carotid with a ballpoint and bled out on the page, but they died to end their world and you die to save it.

       Your name is Balyena and you’re proud to disrupt the water. You write until your fingers blister. You write about a trans man and a gay woman and a brown trans gay woman so that the next trans kid doesn’t have to beach themself beneath Hemingway’s bleeding fingers. You write, and it saves the world.

JAQ BRODY has been writing since the age of eleven and pursued a double major in Creative Writing and History from the University of Colorado Boulder. Their work has been featured in literary journals including Voice of Eve, Random Sample, and Light and Dark. Jaq typically focuses on LGBTQ themes and interpersonal relationships while making use of lyrical language. “Liner Notes from a Trans Kid” is dedicated to their brother, Sinjin, for contributing to a better world.

ROB BALSEWICH was a senior at CU Boulder studying Studio Arts and Psychology. When he's not playing the drums in a live band, Rob makes art about color, multisensory experience, and self-portraiture, among other things. Rob most often works with acrylic, graphite, light, and digital mediums.

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