Archive for July, 2009

the grudge

Killing her seemed like a reasonable thing to do. He closed his eyes and imagined various torture sequences, all of them ending in scenes of such utter depravity that he couldn’t help but chuckle.

He sat up, the brown walls of his room greeting him. The clock on his VCR read 2 am. He felt restless. It occurred to him that he could, if he wanted to, walk to her hotel, do the deed and be back home in time to wash up for work. If he really wanted to.

He really wanted to.

Feet slid into runners, hand reached for keys. He collected the knife on the way out. The stark summer night clung moistly to his skin. The streets were empty, mostly, aside from the occasional drunk. Their eyes as he passed them reminded him of forgotten tombstones. He wondered what his eyes looked like.

The hotel clerk was young, red-haired, and barely polite. “It’s late,” he said, “Is she expecting you?”

“It’s early actually,” he’d retorted, “and no she’s not expecting me. But she’ll see me anyway.”

There was an awkward silence as the clerk weighed his options. Finally, he picked up the phone. Dialed her extension.

“I’m sorry, Mrs. P—, for disturbing you…” he began.

She didn’t mention the time. It was disarming, he had to admit, the way she stood there, a look of desperate gratitude etched into her ageing face.

“Don’t cry, mother,” he pleaded. But it was too late. She cried into his shoulder, pulled him closer in search of an embrace. He gently pushed her away.

She invited him in, apologized nervously for the unmade bed, asked him if he would like to sit down. The bathroom. He told her he would be right back.

The cold water trickled down the sink toward its dark center. The water went from transparent to pink to red, then turned black. She called his name, asked if he was alright — he’d been in there so long. Did he want her to order something to drink perhaps, or maybe he was hungry? He blinked. The water was clear again.

His long slender fingers pressed against the sink’s spotless enamel until the skin underneath his nails blanched. The sink cracked and crumbled like stale birthday cake, littered the floor. He reached for the door knob but it broke off in his hand and clanged to the ground.

“Let me out,” he cried. But his voice sounded strange, inhuman. Like a zipper opening and closing. He tried again but what came out was a squeal, like a dog whose tail had been stepped on.

He decided that he was asleep. This comforted him. He settled in the bathtub, rested his head against the wall, waited for his mother to wake him. She would wake him. A mosquito landed on his knee. He flicked it away. The mosquito came back, landed on his hand, stared up at him with familiar eyes.

“Why do you want to kill me?” it said. It sounded just like his mother. He blinked. He wasn’t in the bathroom at all. His mother lay in a pool of blood at his feet. From her stomach protruded a knife-handle. His knife-handle. Her eyes glowed like dying embers. “Why?”

“Because you never loved me,” he sighed. It occurred to him that he sounded like a cliché. He hated sounding like a cliché. But it was too late for self-pity. He had other things to think about. Like that he was feeling nauseous.

The hotel clerk sounded unconvinced. “You stabbed her?”

“Yes, and she needs help. Medical attention.” He tried to sound scared, tried to convey a sense of urgency. It wasn’t working.

He dropped the receiver and headed for the door. It was only a matter of time before they’d stop him. He walked down the stairs into the lobby. The hotel clerk was casually conversing with a newly arrived customer. Had the clerk even bothered to call the police? An ambulance? No matter; he’d done what he could.

He made it home without incident. No one seemed to notice his blood-stained hands and shirt. No one seemed to care. They would come for him tomorrow, surely. But the next day no one came. Nor the day after that.

He began to wonder if he’d dreamed it all. A bad dream. Maybe that’s all it was. No one was hurt. Heck, maybe his mother hadn’t even called him a few days before all of this to tell him she was in town and would he meet her at her hotel. It was the first time they’d spoken in ten years. Maybe they hadn’t spoken at all.

The next day an obituary appeared in the paper. It was his mother’s. No mention of how she died. No mention of him either.

He became terrified of leaving the apartment, of the phone ringing, of the phone not ringing, of being alone in the dark, of walking outside in the light surrounded by the incessant insect-like hum of the city.  He thought of turning himself in but became terrified of police stations.

He no longer slept. And when he did, the night filled with images of giant red mosquitoes perched on his bloodied hands. They stared at him with his mother’s glowing eyes, asking him incessantly why. He was too terrified to reply.


July 28, 2009 at 2:55 am Leave a comment

A walk down memory lane

For those of you curious to know a bit more about me and where I come from, this is an article that I wrote for a local newspaper two years ago. A lot has changed since then — for one thing I’ve had surgery — but the basic views expressed in it remain the same.

Living in Gender’s Grey Zones: One trans man’s choices
(Originally published in Xtra West — May 2007)

Let’s start with the facts: I was born on South African soil and have lived in both Canada and South Africa. My father, now deceased, was a psychiatrist and a devout Christian, my mother a librarian. My family was privileged, upper middle class. I left South Africa when I was 18 to study English and French literature in Canada.

At 24, I decided to begin hormone treatment and live publicly as a man. My family took the news hard. Two years later my father died and I was accused of killing him. Every day I ask myself if it’s been worth it. And every day the answer remains the same. Yes. Absolutely, yes.

That may seem surprising. It may sound crazy. But for me it was a question of life or death.

I knew I couldn’t go on living the life of a woman. It didn’t fit, never had. I hated the way men looked at me. Hated the makeup, the dresses. Hated the bodily changes that puberty brought. I was frightened of the other boys, how they grew bigger, their voices breaking, while my body remained puny, my voice high-pitched.

When my period came, I sunk into a depression so deep I shut myself in my room, lay in bed when I wasn’t at school. Later, I started cutting my wrists, not to kill myself, but to punish my body, the freakish flesh-trap that prevented me from being who I felt myself to be.

When I look into the mirror these days I see a relatively good-looking guy, blue eyes, a goatee, short brown hair. When I strip away the clothes, the picture changes slightly: On my chest, two small breasts, and lower down, well, you figure it out.

In the early days of my transition (ie. dressing and functioning publicly as a man) I had something to prove. I doused myself in Old Spice, compressed my chest so it looked flatter than flat, stuck a cybercock down my pants so people would see the bulge.

I think of this time as my second adolescence. I was trying on the identities available to me on TV, in magazines and at the movies. I was trying them on and they weren’t quite fitting.

I didn’t really know what a transsexual was until I got to university. When I first started reading about it, I felt the same kind of puzzlement I’d felt when I’d heard the term bisexual used for the first time. How could anyone be bisexual, I’d wondered, if you’re not supposed to have sex before marriage and divorce is a sin? I was still attending Sunday school at the time.

The concept of transsexualism caused a different dilemma for me: everybody knows men have penises and women have vaginas. That’s what makes men men and women women. Right? But suddenly I was finding literature that challenged my preconceptions.

Some babies don’t have penises even though their chromosomes are XY. Some women are born with no uterus and internal testes. Suddenly gender wasn’t such a clear-cut thing after all. And what I had between my legs didn’t have to define me.

I made a decision. Once the decision was made everything fell quickly into place. I cut my hair, visited a shrink who diagnosed me with Gender Identity Disorder (high intensity), was referred to an endocrinologist and off I went to the clinic with a testosterone prescription.

When I received my first shot I cried with relief. The cutting stopped, the suicidal thoughts evaporated. Finally, I told myself, I was going to be who I wanted to be. And who I wanted to be, who I felt myself to be on the inside, was a man.

With the help of hormones and sports bras I blend in perfectly. At least when I’m clothed. But, sooner or later, every transsexual is faced with the question of surgery.

I wouldn’t mind getting my breasts lopped off, if only so I can swim in a public swimming pool. I can’t help wondering, though, whether getting surgery isn’t just another way of falling back into somebody else’s notion of who I am or what I should look like. What if not being a woman doesn’t mean I have to be a flat-chested, penis-bearing man? What if I don’t want to deny my history, my body parts, my dual identity?

By virtue of being raised as a girl, maybe I have become something other than either man or woman. Maybe I’ve become a little bit of both.

Until that possibility is publicly recognized, I’m stuck with figuring out how to live in today’s bi-gendered society. One that doesn’t acknowledge shades of grey, even when those shades of grey have existed as long as humankind itself.

God made Eve out of Adam’s rib. Which means the first man contained within him woman. What if the first man of all was trans? Maybe those Sunday school lessons are starting to pay off after all.


To link to the original article, click here

July 25, 2009 at 3:12 am 3 comments

my first Celebration of Light

Celebration of Light 2009

Tonight was Team Canada’s turn; I couldn’t miss that.

I pushed my way onto the Skytrain at the Broadway station. The police roamed the platform; stopped a young man with a metal water bottle, sniffed it, and emptied the contents over the Skytrain tracks. There would be no booze consumed in public tonight. I was relieved I hadn’t thought to bring my “water” bottle.

The weather was perfect. The sky was blue and cloudless; the crowd amazing, covering English Bay like some patchwork quilt. I arrived a half an hour before the show was to start, but already there was barely a bare spot left on the grass. I walked up Beach Drive and found myself a fairly good seat right next to the sidewalk. I figured I’d be able to retreat with relative ease once the last of the fireworks had gone off.

The audience was young and old. Next to me sat a mother and her two small children, the girl holding up her digital camera, armed and ready. To my right sat a young woman sipping Coke from a can, the straw perched between her glossy lips. And behind me sat a frail man from a nearby retirement home, in his scooter, poised at the side of the road.

There were a few false starts. Well, not false exactly – maybe just a few trial shots. Then 10 o’clock arrived (the organizers were remarkably on time). The deejay’s voice bellowed across English Bay, asking us to stand up for the national anthem. “Oh Canada” subsided. The moment had arrived. The sky filled with the thump thump thump of colourful shooting stars. At first it was hard to make out the music, but then “We’re off to see the wizard” started and not even the loudest of bangs could conceal its familiar tune.

The finale was suitably grandiose (boom, boom, BOOM), and in the background “Somewhere over the rainbow” played — which is, like, one of my favourite songs. At the end of it the sky was grey with smoke and the air hung thick with what smelled like pipe tobacco. Mmmm.

Afterward I clambered to my feet and followed the crowd. Somehow I ended up on Denman Street and then walked somewhat circuitously to the Waterfront station. My theory was that by the time I got to the station, the initial throng would’ve dissipated. That and I (ahem) got a little lost. Anyway, I made it to the station only to discover a very looong line-up outside. My heart sank. I fell in line. Surprisingly though it moved quickly and even better was that the train wasn’t all that packed. Even as we passed Burrard and Granville stations, it didn’t get full. Police were everywhere. As were the Skytrain attendants. They’d obviously planned this well. They’d had experience.

That was it, my first Celebration of Light. Next up, South Africa on Saturday.

July 23, 2009 at 7:46 am 11 comments

Underwhelmingly Bruno

Went to see Bruno this hot Saturday afternoon. It was an impulse decision; I was on my way home from buying earphones when I passed by the cinema. It beckoned me, as it had beckoned me for the past few days. This time my resistance crumbled and I entered through the glass doors, climbed the rickety stairs and plopped down in the front row of the balcony.

The lights dimmed, the previews started: Seth Rogen in “Funny People”, and the others, well, now I can’t even remember their names so obviously they made an impression. Finally, Bruno showed up, clean-shaven, his perfectly coiffed, dyed, hair, his fake Austrian accent. All in all, though, as the movie progressed, I couldn’t help feeling, well, underwhelmed. It wasn’t that any of it was particularly disappointing, but the overall effect was less than what I had hoped for.

Don’t get me wrong, I chuckled a few times. Like when Bruno interviewed a Jewish professor and a Palestinian political activist and got confused between hummus and Hamas. Or when he informed a pastor whose aim it is to convert gays that he had really excellent lips for giving head. And I was suitably disgusted when Bruno interviewed mothers and fathers for the chance to have their children appear alongside his “adopted” son in a video and it became glaringly clear that these parents would stop at nothing to get their kids a chance at fame (and money).

But I couldn’t help wondering how many of the situations were mere setups. And what is the point of it all? Is he arguing for gay equality? Hardly. His goal is much simpler: to entertain. To entertain at all cost, even if it gets him into very awkward situations. And there’s a place for that — as attested to by the sheer numbers of people his films seem to draw. But it also feels like he’s grabbing at the dregs here.

Baron Cohen has fashioned himself as a modern day version of Voltaire’s Candide. A fool who through his faux innocence exposes the ignorance, greed and underlying prejudices of a corrupt world. Unfortunately, “Bruno” is less successful at this task than “Borat” was. Why? Because the people Baron Cohen baits are surprisingly tolerant of his antics. Even the Middle Eastern leader of a terrorist organization, who politely but firmly encourages Baron Cohen through a translator to leave after he declares that “King Osama” looks like a “dirty wizard” and should lose the beard.

At the end of the day, the joke kind of feels like it’s on Baron Cohen. He pushes further and further only because people demand it of him. I’ll be interested to see what Baron Cohen plans on doing next. Surely he has reached a level of fame that makes his approach virtually impossible to replicate. What will he do next? That to me is more interesting than the film Bruno turned out to be.

July 19, 2009 at 4:03 am Leave a comment

the heart

not exactly poetry

the heart

red and gooey

and fragile

so freaking fragile

it breaks at every toss and turn

the heart

is a deer that rumbles

through the trees

thinking it can outrun


it can’t

the heart

my heart

is a Rosetta stone

useless unless you know

how to read it

July 15, 2009 at 4:49 am Leave a comment

Why Gender Equality Matters

In 1776, Thomas Jefferson wrote that “all men are created equal” as part of the U.S. Declaration of Independence. This phrase has reverberated through Western culture as perhaps one of the most influential political statements in democratic history. While “men” is today interpreted as meaning “men” and “women” it clearly was not always so. And the Declaration does nothing to include the many who do not comfortably fit in either box.

Women have many more rights in the public sphere today than they had, say, in the middle ages, but men still earn more, rise higher up the corporate ladder and inhabit the majority of political posts. Change, it seems, is slow, even when the group in question consists of close to 50% of the overall population. Imagine, then, how slow change is for those who are in a much smaller minority. Some estimates place transgender people as 1 in 30,000. That’s significantly less than 1% of the overall population.

To some experts, gender is a purely social construct that needs to be abolished altogether for real equality to be established. Others claim that anyone who has ever been in a heterosexual relationship knows that women and men do not think in the same way. Harry Summers, former president of Harvard University, created a furor for claiming that men were inherently more capable at math and science than women. Is gender a social construct that has run its course and now needs to be dismantled? Are differing gender behaviours hard-wired into the brain? Are men and women born or made?

There are many wide-ranging opinions on this question. Ultimately, though, the question becomes irrelevant. While there is as of yet no conclusive scientific explanation for how gender identity is formed, every individual should have the right to determine their own destiny; to realize their own dreams of who they are and want to be — even if that requires breaking open the gender mould. Surely individual happiness should trump established social patterns? Surely we do not all have to be or act the same to be recognized as equal? Difference need not be a curse.

It’s time to update Jefferson’s declaration to: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all persons are created equal.” And, I would add, we are equal regardless of how we choose to dress, who we mingle with, or which label we claim as our own. Equality means having equal access to health care, having equal opportunities for education, employment and housing, and for being recognized as valuable contributors to society regardless of our gender status. For those of us who inhabit the transgender community, as well as those in the queer community at large, equality means being able to wake up in the morning and not fear discovery, rejection or worse.

A community is defined by how it treats its most vulnerable members. What kind of community do we want to live in? And what glory is there in ridiculing or humiliating those who have no real power to fight back? Surely we are better than this.

July 11, 2009 at 7:15 pm Leave a comment

what’s wrong with this picture

a coffee-shop of people

and nobody knows

a coffee-shop full of sweets, coffee-cups

and plastic bottles of water

nobody knows

a coffee-shop full

of verbal (dis)harmonies

a guy with red hair, dyed and shaped

like a mountain on his head

a couple sitting on two chairs

next to each other, two solitudes

a laptop, a cell-phone and the silence

between them

across the room a man in a red ball-cap

chewing gum or something

a barista changing the garbage bag

her white blouse tucked behind a green apron

and under the white blouse, a white bra

and under the white bra—

to the right a man with a grey beard

breathing heavily, no coffee cup in his

hand or next to it, just looking

his hair unwashed and hidden under

a black ball cap, he gives me the

creeps this guy, doesn’t even pretend

to have anything better to do, just

stares and stares, it’s bugging me

it’s bugging me, sitting in my corner

notebook on my lap, pen in my hand

looking, too, only I’m not like him, no,

I pretend I’m not, because I’m no

creep, I’m a poet dammit, I write what

I see. My poetry gives me license, gives

me the right to look left and write

somebody give that creep a pen,

a piece of paper, and a bath

we’d be just the same, looking

looking round the coffee-shop

our faces hidden by our communal coffee-cups

July 5, 2009 at 11:18 pm Leave a comment

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