by Cal Brantley
Mural from Austin, TX, USA, April 2023
Why does the LGBTQ+ community unify the most during queer/transphobic tragedy or political attacks? It is true that life is unfortunately nasty, brutish, and short for too many trans siblings around the world–but too often, our arguments for trans rights are framed only around alleviating our suffering.
Trans suicide and murder rates. Gender dysphoria. Life-saving gender-affirming treatment. Youth homelessness. TERFism. Pronoun semantics and bathroom debates.
These are important realities that demand our reflection, but what about the joys of being transgender? There is so much trans love and pride that goes unnoticed. It angers me that we equate transness with sadness; with being stuck in a “wrong body.” I was not born in the wrong body; I was born in a trans, genderqueer body, and that is beautiful.
I read the first poem, “An ode to trans bodies”, at a pro-Stonewall demonstration on LSE’s campus on January 26, 2023. This was in response to LSE’s transphobic decision to withdraw from Stonewall. I read this on a freezing morning outside LSE’s Centre Building, with the words “QUEER NO FEAR” written across my bare chest.
I wrote the second poem, “A letter to Louisiana (and other small town) queer and trans youth,” for my inner child; to the closeted person I was a decade ago. I wish I could give that person a hug and promise them everything will be okay – that it is not myself, but society that is diseased. I hope you enjoy these poems evoking the immaculate realities I want to see in our queer, trans futures.
Art at Queer Britain, London, March 2023
An ode to trans bodies
Because when they told us
we’d fall in love someday,
they never meant with ourselves.
I would weep together with a trans guy onstage at a dive bar hugging bare chest to bare chest for the first time in public
they never told me I would buzzcut a friend’s head on a Brooklyn fire escape,
pierce my own nose in the bathroom during COVID
or take my parents to a drag show.
I wish someone had told me
will become everywhere
family will become everyone
and queerness will never go extinct
I am the remnants of transcestors before me
cycling into my bones, dust to dust, ashes to ashes
and from the centrifuge I float
into the ether
the macrocosm of my own androgyne galaxy
limitless beyond my two legs
but binary bipeds
They are scared.
They should be scared.
We are another life forward
a better life forward.
They try to stifle our love and joy
they violate and criminalize us
And politicize us
But our bodies are not political
they are simply not yours.
After pride month we lower the flags
But the fags remain
I have two footlong scars, armpit to sternum and back to armpit
That signify where I end and others begin
and you may divert your eyes at the beach or swimming pool
try to push aside your discomfort
But I fought for
This life, this body,
My own internal weaponization
Pitting flesh against mind against heart
Against a world that cannot understand
Beyond the binary of self and society.
Where you see imperfection
I see resistance
Imperfect bodies are divine
Imperfect bodies are daily existence.
My body is exactly as intended
I am exactly as intended
I am transcendent
every scar, every freckle, every coarse hair
Our bodies are a record of survival
always advancing, discovering
and to be seen as we are
is to be boundless
A letter to Louisiana (and other small town) queer and trans youth:
I want to wrap you gently
in Spanish moss, swaddled,
and let you wade out into the gentle waves
on the Mandeville lakefront,
joy overtaking you like gentle tides,
Queerness lapping at our feet
on this dizzyingly hot summer’s day.
We lie down under the magnolia tree,
etched into my ribs in black ink like
your head resting on my flat chest.
Do not fear
the black garter snake slithering through
the grass; its long stripes welcome us
in continuum. We have been the enemy
but this is no Devil, no poison,
just peace. Gender indeterminate, it creeps
between our toes,
so we can
worry not what lies between our legs.
Louisiana youth, I want to protect you,
Save you, keep you safe.
I fear I cannot.
I fear I have abandoned you.
Abandoned myself, age fourteen,
When all I really needed was a therapist
(or a girl to kiss me on the mouth.)
Life is transient but I cannot melt
down the clock hands, perhaps you too
must wait your turn. We reverse the years
to the time I slept on the floor in the closet
Even in my heaviest dreams,
I was straight and
knew no other
But there Is an Other in the world,
another life, another light,
that waits beyond the shores
A Joy you will feel with her,
Hands around Theirs
Like a potter at the wheel
Peeling crawfish, telling jokes,
drinking beer. We have
on our side.
Cal Brantley (they/she/he) is an MSc student in International Migration and Public Policy. Their research focuses on trans and queer migrant experiences, specifically with regard to public health issues and gender-affirming healthcare. Cal is a southern, queer American who comes to London via Boston, where he worked in care coordination and housing for HIV+ communities, plus volunteered with immigration and reproductive justice initiatives. She also loves exploring queer London and finding new iced coffee spots around the city.