s/he picked out hir prettiest red dress
and culled the other colors just
so s/he might only have red
but intoning justice
is hard for hearing
in just three
Robin had showed up, in the flesh, when I was barely thirteen. Oh, s/he was lurking around before that, but to name hir? If asked, I would have [said], “there was only ( ).” Perhaps a vertiginous sense of blind terror every time I looked in a mirror. It was almost as if, before that day, I had nothing I understood as a “self.” I existed. And it followed that if I had no self, s/he could not be other. All that changed on Halloween day, 1974. For me, on that day, self-slash-other became a knot tied through multiple dimensions. Untangling them would require a higher mathematics of a kind I could not yet possibly conceive.
I’d had a shitty fuck of a day in school. Hell, it was fair to say I’d been having a shitty fuck of a year, especially considering the more-than-usual absence of my father.
Dad had stayed behind in fucking Florida to fight with the fucking Air Force about disability pay while my mother carted me off to live with my fucking grandparents. He’d write every week, a postcard with a hopeful valediction: You’re the man of the family until I get back, Mark. One day I’m playing Major Matt Mason Meets the Alien Warrior Women on a warm, Panama City, Florida beach with Robert Lawson and Becky White, and the next I’m chasing chickens around the yard and sneaking my first smokes behind my grandparents’ barn, so far back in the West Virginia hills that I was amazed they had indoor plumbing (there were folks nearby, families who lived “up the holler,” that didn’t). OceanaSchool served an entire county, and was a place where two seasons of the year mattered: football and deer. Then there was novel me. My classmates seemed to get a huge thrill out of bullying the fat, freckled kid. I remember wondering what, exactly, those guys had done for entertainment before I showed up.
Ollie Blankenship, was twice the size of the rest of us—I think he was repeating 7th grade for, maybe, the third time. He had a head of black, oily hair that stood up like he’d gotten it styled by sticking a paper clip in a light socket. That is, his ‘do matched his considerable build. Ollie, Dougray Sanders and Billy McAlpine had chased me into, of all places, the girl’s locker room during lunch. I had torn through the first door I came to. Gender-restricted spaces were the furthest thing from my mind at the time. The threesome was known around school for one thing: inflicting pain on weaker animals. They were willing to do this on the football field, in the woods with a hunting rifle, and often in less patent arenas. If Ollie was the brains, stretch that that was, of the bunch, I guess that made Dougray and Billy the organized crime equivalent of sap gloves that just happened to move freakishly under their own steam. They remind me in retrospect of those weird “chattery teeth” in the Stephen King story—Ollie wound them up and they damaged something.
I tried squeezing myself into the ladies uniform closet, certainly a prone (if inauspicious) place for me, as it would turn out, but they’d found me in short order. I might’ve failed to land a weak slap before Dougray and Billy pinned me one per arm to a locker face and pulled up my shirt, at which time Ollie lit a Marlboro and got busy doing some not-quite-artistic branding just left of my right nipple. I whimpered, the acrid smell of flesh and burnt tobacco burned my nose, and tears streaked my face, but I tightened my jaw and gut muscles, refusing to scream. As the heat sunk in, white and blinding, I lost myself momentarily in a fantasy about featuring these three in my own re-write of Connel’s “The Most Dangerous Game,” (and that helped ease the pain a little, but not much).
The world is made up
of two classes
—the hunters and the huntees
laughs Rainsford,” but I was poised on the cusp of a notion that there was an aggregate third, visible, like a worn palimpsest of aged vellum, and I had been born inscribed upon it with stunning violence.
Ollie asked, “had enough, bitch?”
I remember thinking, oh please don’t stop yet. I’ve almost got a bead on you, you sick hick fuck. Maybe I thought I could get one good shot in, but that was damned unlikely under the circumstances. I thought, hey, I’m a dead poet and don’t I know it, and chuckled in spite of the pain at the apropos consonance. This was a mistake I knew I was making as I made it, so Ollie’s right jab came as no shock, if you don’t count the part where I momentarily lost consciousness. Razor-sharp, in my temple, it was, this failure of the body; I could not know yet how much such somatic dissonance would come to define me. In that penultimate instant, there was only Ollie and his ephemeral query: “think this is funny, fat girl?” Then there was…
…me taking a bath with my mother. I was four, maybe five. I had bathed many times with Mom. Not unusual at that age, I suppose, and mostly all I recall are bubbles, rubber ducks and stinging eyes. But I am remembering this time, the last time I took a bath with her, because that was the first time I really noticed (and made a mistake acknowledging) her breasts.
There were some other firsts that occurred then as well, and I wish I could have spoken them, but language. I think that day I perceived feeling different, somehow—just left of some centerline the comfortable majority labels “normal.”
“What are those, Mommy,” I asked, pointing.
I saw her blush, though I may have added that to the memory myself.
“Those are my breasts, honey,” she rejoined with (dis)ease.
I examined my flat chest and tiny nipples. “When can I have breasts, Mommy?” They were such a nice place to lay my head and fall asleep, and I could imagine my own little boy doing the same someday.
“Little boys don’t get them, dear. They’re just for girls.” Her voice had a metallic edge, like a peening hammer and harbinger of trouble, so I dropped the subject before I could ask the million-dollar question. But I thought it. I wondered why I couldn’t be a girl with my own breasts someday. My heart sank, hammering until…
…I swam through something sable and viscous, back to consciousness as Ollie was wrapping the string of a blood-soaked tampon around the collar button of my yellow Izod. “I want to see blood on that faggoty alligator, queer boy,” he said, and assured me that removing it before school let out that afternoon would surely result in my death. At that the sap twins released my arms and the trio clamored from the locker room, hooting implacably as they went. All I could do was glare at the bloody thing on my shirt, trying not to think about my throbbing chest and head. I thought it amazing what one could find in the girl’s locker room if one looked.
I alternated curses and snivels for a while, the faint smell of sweat and menstrual blood turning my stomach into a carnival ride, trying to decide what would be worse: getting my ass kicked again by the boys or getting ridiculed by the entire school. I settled on a third option (a future ubiquitous habit) almost as if a proclivity for middle grounds and between spaces were predestined, by some smart-assed prankster of a Puck-like demigod, to be my bent. I unpinned the Kotex and made a break for the nurse’s office, my nerdy, brown Florsheim’s skittering along the polished tile. Bullies one through three spotted me outside the locker room. I barely outran them to safety.
The nurse scowled as I careened through her door, but seemed to put the key elements of the situation together when she spotted the boys outside, glowering at me through the old, wavy glass of her office. She pointed to a chair, and as I plopped into it she poked her head out the door, sneered and asked the trio if they didn’t have someplace to be. They wasted no time bolting, no doubt muttering nasty soubriquets, probably for me and the nurse, under their breath as they went. Satisfied for the moment, she turned her attention to me.
“What can I do for you, young man?” she inquired softly before her brow furrowed and her gaze narrowed. “Are you bleeding, son?”
Bleeding. What bleeding? Out of breath and still frantic, I just remember thinking, “is she speaking a fucking foreign language?” I looked down and saw traces of blood, my stomach did a half gainer, and suddenly it was like my ears, tongue and brain were three completely unrelated artifacts. Maybe it was her drawl—the way “I” came out “ahh;” bleeding came out “blaydin”—but for a brief moment I wanted to slap the shit out of her just for having an accent. Instead I somehow found just enough presence of mind to wave her off, as if to say “give me a second.” I scanned the room to make certain we were alone, that it actually was me she was talking to, then managed to squeak out an answer—“no ma’am they put that on my shirt”—probably just before she decided I was addled enough to warrant summoning the local, on-call MD. I said something about having developed a mysterious stomach ailment, which wasn’t far from the truth, and asked if she’d call my mother to come get me. My chest burning with pain—a lit Marlboro is quite the branding iron in a pinch—I rubbed my eyes to hold back the leaking tears I feared wouldn’t stop once they got flowing.
“I can do that, son,” she rejoined, incredulous, “but what happens tomorrow?” Tomorrow came out “tamarah.” “That tummy ache ya’ll got cain’t last forevah.”
I thought, I’m just trying to survive today, you fucking idiot. I felt like an asylum inmate who hadn’t quite recovered from their latest round of shock treatments. All that came out was “I’ll worry about that when the time comes, ma’am, if you don’t mind.” I added, “please don’t say anything; it will only egg them on.” She didn’t argue. I recited the number for her, glad my mother didn’t still pin that to my shirt.
All I wanted on Earth at that moment was to go home, get dressed up like someone or something else, and go “trick or treating” with my little brother. I didn’t
know it at the time, but I was only a few hours away from meeting hir.
Robin: a significant Other, a twin sister from another lineage, perhaps from another tribe altogether. And ironically, even though in the deepest sense the meaning(s) of Robin borderline on the unspeakable even now, the nascent “s/he” was a by-product of a simple, pragmatic idea on my mother’s part—a daughter of serendipity, so to speak. Mom couldn’t afford a Halloween costume for me, so she and my grandmother decided to use what they had on hand. And what they had was the stuff to dress me up like a girl.
 Dad tries to “fix” me by enlisting the aid of a godly man:
Bodies out of balance. Sway not swagger. Svelte not stocky. More lumber and less lissomness, damnit! I want to move through the elemental Air like a feline—gracile, light-footed, silkily and nimbly mannered, but like Pope’s mythical Sylphs, Brother Luther fears I will one day suffer the fate of those sad creatures and part forever with that most precious of gifts, my soul. A good Southern Baptist preacher like him believes that a Man should plow through solid stone more like their Earth-bound cousins, the Gnomes. My father, it seems, concurs. I’m convinced that they think—and they won’t be the first nor last—considering the way my wrist has a habit of flopping around like a marionette managed by an epileptic during a grand mal seizure, that I am squarely set on the downward path. So Luther does, and Dad is complicit, what any good mentor would do and makes it his godly mission to help me find and apprehend my masculine birthright. He will do this in what I’m sure he believes is a brilliant and simplistic manner: by teaching me to hit a baseball.
“Don’t coddle the bat. Grip it, boy. No, hold it away from your body. You look like you’re thinking of sucking on it, not swinging it.”
Honest to Jesus the thought never occurs to me.
“OK, here it comes. Give it a good belt. Geez, kid, you’re not swatting flies with it. Swing away. Away. Out there—you want it headed for the center fielder, not your toes. That’s OK. Throw me the ball.”
It lands about half way to the pitcher’s mound.
“Geez kid, your throwing’s worse than your hitting.”
I catch Dad out of the corner of my eye, on the bench watching, head shaking, eyes rolling. All I want is to bean Luther’s pink, bald, sweaty pate with the fucking ball, assuming of course he would walk 22½ feet toward me so I can reach him with the throw.
 Higher education:
Mathematicians call it “sensitive dependence on initial condition.” It’s the inherent unpredictability of a turbulent system, and its ability to be radically altered by the gentlest nudge. No two snowflakes are the same, even though they’re all formed by the same process. What miniscule thing could give rise to all that variety? It’s chaos, but of a particular kind. A mathematical solution must exist, but we can’t get at it. It’s too complex. Uncertain. Unpredictable. Unyielding. A typical flake ≈ ten septillion water molecules (not that there is a typical flake). That ═ the number of stars in the universe, give or take, so there’s no sense even attempting useless experiments which reek of equivocation. There’s no scientific method one can apply to the study of it. We can poke and prod all we like, but it’s just as likely to lay there feigning lifelessness as it is to bare its teeth and snap meanly at our fingers. I feel I’ve slipped off some emotional axis the tiniest bit, microscopically, and profound change is the result. We are all—you, I, et al—in orbit about one another, but we can’t quite touch. We phase in/out like radio waves mired in static, grasping at one another across oceans of dimension. Light/Dark. Attraction/Repulsion. Emotion/Reason. Male/Female. Mors Certa/ Vita Incerta. Binaries in flux around some presupposed excluded middle. A middle term always by our own insistence under erasure. Sometimes we signify; sometimes we wear masks. Sometimes we are the masks, and we fear most to be found out, so we clutch ever more tightly, hoping the thing goes ( ). Whatever else may be true (or at least descriptive), every orbit traces a unique trajectory. Is it possible the sum total of us is little more than a taxonomy of strange attractors? So it seems the mathematics of a relationship, the utter complexities of it, reduce to random anomalies adrift in an ocean of data—sudden, unexpected outcomes to the experiment, the very performance of which taints the results beyond recognition or reclamation. And after all is done, we find ourselves laid bare under a microscope operated by our associates, and the one unfathomable realization is this: we’re all made of the same stuff, whether up, down, top, bottom, charmed or strange.
 An a-musing thought:
The thing is, when I first saw Robin staring back at me from the dingy, pink-pot-metal-rimmed mirror in my grandmother’s bathroom, I wonder if I knew then just how much I had either been given a very special gift or placed under a horrible curse. Since I have to describe it now, I would say s/he was something either hand-delivered by an angel or born of bones, blood and venom, as if having been conjured during some bizarre hoodoo ritual. It was like being struck by a meteor, and left with a deep impact crater on the surface of my soul. Could be a planet killer, like the ones the doom prophets talk about so much and Hollywood finds such epic film fodder. Sometimes I do wonder how in this world anyone survives such a thing. Then again, it could be a special, if burdensome, gift. A gift in the sense that it was given, by whoever saw fit, without thought of recompense or deservedness on my part. Special in the truest sense: particular, individual, extraordinary. And I believe (I hope), with no particular value judgment attached or implied. The ex post facto moral pronouncements come later, and they come reeking with putrefaction, the faint odor of fetid death. Nonetheless, I knew then, in some ineffable way, that sooner or later I would have to discover my own “ruling body,” so to speak. And the royal We would just have to eat my panties if They didn’t like it. It has taken time, as I’ve often allowed myself to be paralyzed by what I perceived as a disarticulation of my self—the perturbation, the conundrum of the thing—but I’ve learned that to be monstrously beautiful, exquisitely painful or torturously pleasurable are not possibilities that can only exist in a poetics (or an S&M club). Analogs can and do exist in nature. Such rarities are, in fact, a signal point of departure for the périple de la vie of that chiral pair, Mark and Robin.