|Nebraska Center for Writers|
On the Occasion of Being Mistaken for a Man by Security|
Personnel at Newark International Airport
It’s like being born again, these metal detectors|
are like traveling through the womb, the buzz
goes off to indicate the birth of trouble.
And the gender of trouble matters because
when a woman goes through, Jimmy yells,
“Female Search” and a large woman appears
from behind her security table. So when I walk through
and my wallet chain sets off the womb alert,
I wait. I wait for “Female Search” like I wait for the bus,
that hopeful and expecting look. But Jimmy takes me
himself. Jimmy slides his hands down the length
of my thighs, he pats his palm stiffly against my crotch.
He asks me to remove my boots and jacket.
And so I do. And at first, the woman in me goes unnoticed.
But when I hold my arms straight out
and he traces the outline of my underarms, he makes
that face, the face I’ve seen before,
the “holy-shit-it’s-a-woman” face,
the “pretend-you-don’t-notice-the-tits” face.
Jimmy’s hands change from a tender sweep
to a kind of wiping, like he’s trying to rid my body
of the afterbirth, he is preparing to peal off the skin of my body
as he would the apple he brings to work for break time.
Jimmy stares hard at the metal detector,
with a kind of respect like the arch of it became holy,
transformed me on my walk through.
Jimmy is nervous for the following reasons:
he has just felt the crotch and chest of a woman who he thought was a man,
he can not decide which way he liked her best,
his supervisor might notice he has not yelled “Female Search”
which he knows is grounds for some sort of lawsuit,
he’s angry, his blue uniform makes him angry
so that when he is patting her down now, he does it with force,
he wants her to feel he is stronger than she is,
he wants the metal detector to stop being a gender change machine
from which this woman, who is also me, immerges,
unties her boots slowly, follows all his directions.
And when Jimmy is done, he nods. He wants me
to keep him secret, to pretend neither of us had ever been born.
On the Occasion of Being Mistaken for a Woman|
By a Therapist in the South Hills
Tell me again, she says, how you liked being Hansel
in the sixth grade production of Hansel and Gretel.
She leans in close, you’ve told me how it feels
to be a man, how about how it feels to be a woman?
And I remember how it felt to play the woodcutter’s son,
the tight grip of the suspenders on my shoulders,
Lila Henning’s small hands as she played the role
of my sister, how she pushed Mrs. Gladys,
who played the conspiring candyhouse witch,
into the oven. I was a good Hansel, I practiced
making the disappointed face for the moment
we realize the birds have eaten the breadcrumb trail.
It felt wrong to be a woman, wrong when
the barista at the café says have a nice day
ladies, wrong when my mother calls
my underwear panties, wrong when
my hair is tied in pigtails. I do not speak
the language of women, and the therapist
is trying to unwind me. She thinks, of course
that I must know what it is like, that somewhere,
somewhere deep inside myself, lives the life
of a woman, if I would only let her speak.
I sit still, I sit like Hansel locked in his cage.
The witch, after all, plans on eating him.
If I thought a woman were there, I would go
look for her. I am the kind of man who rescues,
who thinks to leave a failing trail in the forest.
I am the woodcutter’s son, unwanted,
but finally, after a close call with death,
held closely and welcomed home.
when leaving the house as a man
i was sixteen the first time i saw a drag show. it was, as it turned out, my first time in a tie if we
don’t count the endless number of times i tried on my father’s ties in the master bedroom, pulling
each one close to my neck trying to learn how to loop the fabric, how to become a man. here, in
this gay bar off the coast of suburban long island, drag queens called me “handsome,” giggled
when i pulled out their chairs and lit their cigarettes. and when i arrive home late, when i try to
sneak in through the back sliding glass door, my mother sees me in the suit and tie. she, for a
moment, covers her eyes as though i had been naked and not her child. “what are you doing?”
she wants to know. “where could you have gone dressed like that?”