Something like a year and a half ago my body gave me a wake up call. The message was simple and clear; “You have to stop hating me”. I was pushing, demanding, ignoring, piling. So it needed to be clear. I became sick. I was overseas, and it was hard to breathe. Literally, not metaphorically. I’ve read about people who developed vertigo as they climbed too high and too fast in their careers, and I’ve always gotten strong signals from my body. So I listened, though I haven’t always. My chest rattled, and it was hard to walk across the room. It was Christmas, and I gave myself an extra two hours on top of the three they recommend to make my flight. That’s five in total. Five hours. They need to search your bags and put you through the machines. I needed to walk really slowly and repeat; there’s no rush, you can have whatever you want, there’s no rush. People looked at me, but I was incanting my antidote to denial, shame, fear. My body needed to hear that she was acceptable, even when she was weak, endangered, sick, slow. I have been afraid of not being able to afford what she wants, of feeding her what she wants until she becomes unacceptable. I have been afraid of having such a needy, uncontrollable body. So I have given her less, eking it out. We do this with children, the idea that if we only give them a little bit of what they want, they will learn that they can’t have everything, that there has to be limits. But the body expands and pushes, then, when ignored enough, begins to remove unappreciated privileges and pleasures. It’s always been hard to come, but when it becomes hard to breathe, listening gets easier.
The new deal began with trust. Listening and trust, and acting on whatever I heard, no matter how much I wanted to keep doing the same familiar old things. Survival. Expression. Demanding more.
I’m not even sure she is a her anymore. Like everything else in my life, she is a collection of many. Identities, pronouns, names and genders jostle in an embodied stack of being. They aren’t that interested in whether you use he or she because it’s not so much about the outside world, and you recognise them anyway though you may not have the language to speak to them. But your behaviour shows you see them. They don’t mind, because they are in creative space and they’re quite sure of themselves thanks.
My gender has always been a private thing, like my sexuality, my body, all of my spaces. I like to get to know them myself before I share them with others. I grew up without television, relying instead on books and stories; made up and connected with things in the world. My dad used to walk with me and make up stories about magic trees and people and weave them in with reality or his past; tramps, psychics and foraging. We read books of heroic anti-power adventures where I was everyone. For me, the connection between the physical world and imagination was strong. They affected one another, they created one another. And the other world, the spirit world. I come from lines of psychics stretched through both sides, people who knew when to move, and what you needed, just before you did and it wasn’t too late. Or maybe that’s just listening again. There are some stories I know about my ancestors, and many more I don’t. But it doesn’t matter, because I feel them, and they are real.
I realised that when I am in the studio I never hate my body. She is, they are, we are, allowed. Right from when I first ever had my own space, this was the rule. This is the place where everything is allowed. Noone comes in, and nothing goes out, without my say so. Here I am allowed wrinkles, fear, pain, insecurity, exhaustion, repetition and glory. I am even allowed to not be productive. I am allowed to sleep on the floor. This is a recent development and it’s so much kinder than driving through. I drip, collect, stack. I dance, I am quiet. I keep the door closed. I draw in my underpants. I look into my bright eyes and hold my white and lumpy belly. I grow a cock, compress and release dusty palms. I reach, I fade, I build muscles. I ride. I watch myself try to get born, adding paper for the overflow.
It is something about flesh, and action, and movement, the absence of hate. It is also about the decision not to be looked at, and to claim my space. This one room, I have been lucky enough and stubborn enough to hold on to. For ten years I have had a room of my own. Once it was a paper tent. Once it was a tiny room under the house which still had a toilet in it, but I painted it white. Once it was the realm of a book which I could carry with me. I am an expert at making space, and holding it. I watch the birds and how they do it with their mouths. I grew up near a festival which raised a city in a matter of weeks, then returned it to pasture every year. Temporary, but present.
There are materials everywhere. I have had help. Someone has always bought a drawing at the last minute. One time a guy helped me lift a desk.
The world encroaches, always. It has ways of making you behave. It has walls and they are owned. It has fences and barriers, rules and judgements. It has payments which you make for every space. It has boxes for your body, identity, sexuality. Imagination can replace the entire world. Try to stretch it as far as it will go. And then further. Feed it with pictures and stories. Inventing entirely different value systems, ones which reflect what matters to you. Make up words and practice them. We make them real through repetition. Practice. Your survival depends on it. The survival that is, of the one / s you want to be, the ones which are jostling and asking for a way to speak. The ones who will make you sick if you don’t learn how to listen.
Shame is a key method of control. Also wanting to belong. Also wanting to be loved. What would it be like if everything about you was acceptable?
How long is a piece of string? Once I started untying the knots I found the tangles stretched out and out. There are more lines than I knew in every direction and none of them are straight.
I pull a drawing out of the bin. It is dusty and brokenly, heavily overworked. I use it as an example to myself. How far is too far? What is a good drawing?
It seems to me that there are these two things:
The way I thought it should be / I thought it could be / how I saw it happen before / how all of the others said it would be / the way everyone else was doing it / the way it looked before / what they wanted / what you expected / what I expected / what I wanted / what it should’ve been / what I was working towards / what I thought would happen
The way it is.
You try to change your body
You try to accept your body
This, all bodies have in common, they change. Under your eyes, skin changing, mutable flesh, beautiful flesh. Graspable, feedable, flexible, dryable, stretchable, wrinkling, shinking, sagging, filling busting, beautiful flesh, shifting flesh.
I burn my hand on unexpected steam and it makes me lie down, hand in a bowl of water. It sends messages to my heart which are hot and fearful. It sends messages to my brain which centralise the body, which remind the brain it is part of the body, in service to the body. Put your imagination to use. Imagine the water is cooling and cooling. Body says, your thinking is not helping, the emergency is here, we are racing. I burn my hand and time seems to slow down. The time which is driven by a list; what needs to be done by when by who by when by when.
I see myself trying to get born
In a tangle of limbs, boy ones and girl ones and other
they push first, the many fists, thighs
the parts unformed, the parts unmade
the parts undis / re covered, jostle.
All I know are shoulders and the head kept low
If I can keep it down
I can get on through
Before she sees
The gap closes.