2.5 mg) This is not a tale of transformation, nor of trauma. The past and future keep splitting away, like cloven wood. Even the present—that urgent word, a disheveled storm—can’t be counted, not in terms of changes. There is no imago to labor towards. Change is only an amplitude, a thrumming tenor. Estradiol will not cure me: if I pick out bras, and don makeup, and shape kisses in the mirror, these aren’t proof of feminization – that is, of a developing womanhood, a blossoming, as though I were a teenager or a seahorse. I sing, but not in melodies. I am mere fire; watch me blot.
5 mg) To medicate oneself is to slide from one state to another, illness to health, to become. We’re so given to narrative. Language itself is linear: it marches, sentence to sentence, not at all bashful, and even its circumlocutions eventually pare down to points. Narrative demands pricks of blood, a radical visibility. Can I preserve my interiority? I seek nothing, demand nothing, have nothing in mind; any trajectory is acceptable. I wish to escape manhood, yes, but only into the mist. Wanderlust is itself a destination. I reject change in the mortal sense. But don’t mistake me for an angel, however—eternal and impartial, given to pronouncements—because how could I cope with perfection?
7.5 mg) The opposite of male is not female. One doesn’t dwindle to the other. How to resist linearity? A pornographic ethos may be in order, repetitive and cruel. I won’t speak in terms of scenes: I choose collage, instead, which better evades clarification. I wake beside a windowsill. Autumn spills about. Round leaves swim on the sidewalk, orange and purple and white, the color of candles. Newspapers contort in the rain. Cigarettes chill and curl. Pedestrians, sullen, frown and lick their lips—burning alive, each of them, flushed with unworkable passion. Feathers drop like gifts from the silken sky, anointing us, but they can’t staunch our lust.
10 mg) Desire is a terrible word, with undertones of violence. I hate to want; I hate to want men, to be burned by their fingertips and chapped lips and the rough fire of their throat, to recede into the furnace of them and melt entirely. Desire is an unseemly roar; how can whole subcultures have burgeoned from something so facile? A man, many-limbed, pushes me into his closet. I bump against the coat hangers and they clatter. He looks at me with such naked thirst that it invites embarrassment, because what am I but a body, a freak in situ? Inside me beats nothing but malaise.
12.5 mg) Another language—another grammar, in which verbs don’t serve as fulcrums—might solve the issue of inevitability. In my first tongue, slippery Korean, verbs are placed last, and neither subject nor object are mandatory, emphasizing process over decision. Also, the coincidences: the word death resembles desert, coma resembles lake, breath resembles forest, the topography of trifling puns, a play that supplants identification. However, there’s no word for transgender; it must be imported. It’s for the best, I think: without signifiers, I rely on metaphors and crises. Queerness is the first stirring of a vast disquiet in the culture, in language itself.
15 mg) My favorite poet is Larkin. His appeal is obvious: informal but considered, not a songstress but a bridesmaid, a faint merging. Larkin has the presence of leaves on the ground. I position him as feminine—dressing him in brown camisoles and modest earrings, clasping his hands on his lap, propping him askew beside a seaside window, perusing a paperback, conscious of all that untamed water. I sit him before a mirror and apply lipstick like a watercolor, the hue of furthest clouds, of coffee in the evening. How much of the world can I pervert, I wonder; how much can be coerced into happiness?
17.5 mg) I push a pill out of its disposable casing. Plastic crinkles. I roll the tablet in my hand like a mooncalf. It catches on each line of my palm, as if courting destiny. Estrogen: my daily hope, slimmed into a gesture. Estradiol is measured in half-milligrams. It resembles every other pill, pleasantly anonymous. I swallow it while looking at my Mark Rothko print: a writhing corpse of paint, hovering frantically on the canvas, embodying, in his words, ecstasy, tragedy, and doom. I hunt for frailty in quotations and in ellipses. I’ve become fearful of words, symbols, covetous glass. I eat my sentences and choke.
20 mg) Hair, everywhere—on the back of my hands, my knuckles, choking my pores. My brain sends a message to my penis and it fills with blood. In this broad-shouldered nation, this domain of elephants, I am the disquiet of a provisional citizen. I wish to join the wolves, streaming across the dark. Pessoa pushed disquiet like a currency, but he had the Atlantic to argue against. I have no such foil; what is the opposite of palpability? I am the world at the wrong scale, a master eisegesist. Only dream can garb me.
22.5 mg) My car is missing a seatbelt. I drive about, seeking the thunder that must be somewhere in the world. I instruct myself: “If you’ve never ached from wonder—if you’ve never plucked the sun with your teeth, or beheld a star in a teardrop—don’t dismay, because Creation itself is provisional, a mere perturbation. If you want to vanish—not as a directive, but a rambling, as idle as an unnumbered calendar – remember that life is but vaudeville, whose figures jump on and off the stage. Watch the hawks tumble, motes in the reach.”
25 mg) Landscape lends itself to collage. Cardiovascular cities, many-spined, million-muscled. Avenues are named, here, rather than numbered, signaling clutter. The sky is an acetone gradient. Alders line up with the dignity of soldiers. A country is capsizing, somewhere; politics has the ghost truth of a dream. I drive and drive and the car thrums reassuringly. I merge onto the highway, headed nowhere. The horizon arcs in every direction. I examine the sunset for blemishes, as though it were diseased. In the rearview mirror, acne cuts up my face. Is this a response to estradiol, or a personal failure? The dusk strikes my cheeks with giant solar fire.
27.5 mg) I picture myself rising, like dough. I touch my breasts every day. They aren’t yet visible under my shirt, if they ever will be. What to call them: buds, candles, ruins? There’s no proper term, not yet. Month three on estradiol—a concession to continuity. My penis is remaindered, scheduled for a recall. Impotence is pristine. If only the rest of me would comply! My clothes are ill-fitting, slanted at the collar—but better to stay oblique, I think, tilted, to let rain slide away. I brush away my remonstrations and they rake me like insects.
30 mg) But language may act as wardrobe, sometimes, and words as sequins; the proper word disguises better than any number of pads and bandages. I dress myself in ivory and smoke. I hang blood on my eyelashes and pin Disputations to my ears. Gnarled tooth; wild fly. Confused clown. My countenance makes a rictus, a smile that speaks in a devil’s idiom. Will my body accommodate me so well? Might it serve as dictionary? In the aerie of me, girded by owls, a mechanism mobilizes a million confused molecules into the pennant of a tear. Solemn and demure, in the shape of an angel.
32.5 mg) Angels play a role in my cosmology—that is, they’re a popular metaphor. They crowd my fictions, as saviors, administrators, or, in this case, janitors; they’re candid and impersonal, loving imperiously. My most recent short story involves an angel, who fled to South Korea to receive plastic surgery—to become uglier, that is, to become human. The corollary to angels are deviants, those who balk at the regular order, foremost among them Lucifer. I’m not quite a deviant—I don’t have the nerve—but I exhibit the right lowly characteristics, namely self-immolation.
35 mg) A razor has many uses. Pain is more pleasant, or at least more reliable, than aesthetics. I cut myself on the forearm. Bird conspires with thorn, and I preside over the resultant slaughter. The point is Carnival, or ritual, drawing wreckage’s sigil, disaster’s pattern. What I seek is nothing, the vacancy within bodies, within words. The edit assembles story. Nothing (n.): the plaster in between moments. A genre of omission. To cut is to harden the presence of nothing, to banish the mended and the mere. Can one define the imperceptible?
37.5 mg) I treat my bookshelf as a womb, but it can barely hold me. I write, but only in riddles. Art strains under me. An heir to the floating world, I know every delight but touch. Fire is but ardor and ambiguity, mere affection, not at all real. The bonfire is my personal motif, a patois, a shared vernacular between me and the present. My throat overflows with lilacs.
40 mg) The essay can’t contain so much uncertainty, given the didacticism the form demands, but neither can poetry, which degrades too often into mere fixation, a mania for image. Must I work towards the median, emerging from the bog onto the marbled shore, desolate but hopeful? How derivate; how vulnerable to sentiment. I prefer the deep. I speak in fragments, but not in the hope that they’ll add up to glass. I leap from note to note in my ersatz aria. My only companion is the present tense, the ceaseless raveling—the sea, without memory or augury, in which wind and wave are one. All waves should billow forever, refusing to extinguish and roaming the uninterrupted Earth.
42.5 mg) My tongue crumbles into foliage. Distraction crowds my mouth like black hard buds. Forgive me, once more, for my insufficiency with language. An aria is a verbal equivalent of a traipsing, a refusal. But, let us turn. Winter gleams joyfully. Wind kicks up leaves. The blinds are blue, signaling rain; rain will drape the world and warm even its most desolate corner. Birds hang in the firmament, awash in dream light. The sun is a giant amnion, pulsing with new promise. My emergent ghost talks to me, with me, as me. I try to speak.
If writing defies “common sense,” if it seems to go against traditional modes of thought, norms, and histories, the idea of that common sense no longer makes sense, or might make sense if we’re allowed to reinvent ourselves. That’s what I’m looking at with the literacy narrative. I want to hear yours: when you first “clicked” with a language, whatever it is; why you questioned the modes of your Englishes; how you wrote “poetry,” but looked at it again and called it “lyric essay.” I want to see your literacy narrative in its scholarly, creative, and hybrid forms. Send your literacy narratives to Sylvia Chan at email@example.com. Stay tuned for more literacy narratives from yours truly and others.