What it doesn’t feel like: A constant, inherent, unerring wrongness—marrow-deep and strangling like mis-delivered chromosomes tied around my neck. A wrong order, a mistake in the system and I would like to return, make an exchange, get my money back. An item mis-labeled, mis-shelved, mis-stored—there’s a more correct place carved out for it in a psychologist’s waiting room, in a hospital bed, in a different name-different body-different life.
Truth is, I don’t know where this belongs. More and more, I wonder if it’s a false dilemma, if I don’t need a map to where I fit into the world so much as a pickaxe to crack open the world and make it fit me.
What it might feel like: A vicious-hungry rattle in the space between skin and bones that reverberates in unharmonious tones when my internal narration doesn’t match the grooves of the language on other people’s lips. Polite, innocuous pleasantries or broad room-encompassing statements that are Pavlovian rather than consciously planned: Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls—do we cater to the auditorium or to the individual seats within it? Sir’ed and Ma’am’ed into oblivion, and the closest to comfortable I get is in the hesitation, the pause and double take, the hiccup of uncertainty before a choice is made.
How do we build ourselves within an absence, a lack thereof? How can we discover against a void, like reading meaning into a photo negative? Nothing feels entirely right and yet. Nothing feels absolutely wrong. And yet.
I grew up through stories of adventure and journeys and possibilities. It didn’t matter to me then—and it doesn’t matter to me now—from what base the hero had been molded: I saw myself in all of them. Not caveats, no restrictions, no asterisks swapping out stubble for cleavage or petticoats for holsters. I wanted to be as they were—disparate chapters bound into one book, the same view through different facets. A vessel for multitudes.
I grew up and this became an impracticality, an impossibility, and I didn’t understand the why but I understood the necessity for it. I understood that grasping for something I couldn’t even put a name to was fruitless, that the axis is two-dimensional and our coordinates have to land somewhere or risk being ripped apart in the tetherless frontiers of who we are allowed to be.
I grew up to write myself out, to roll myself flat and porous across pages like the ink and the lead and the pixels could track into my skin and reveal solutions to problems not yet fully-formed, proofs to theorems yet unproposed. To pick at the scabs of my past with an internal editor in tow, full of red lines awaiting my review.
And their most pressing comment—triple-underlined and circled for emphasis—remains:
Do we rewrite our histories now, edit back in time to excise the little girl-that-maybe-never-was?
Are they her stories, or mine? Or both?
LEIGH HELLMAN is a queer/asexual and genderqueer writer, originally from the western suburbs of Chicago, and a graduate of the MA Program for Writers at the University of Illinois at Chicago. After gaining the ever-lucrative BA in English, they spent five years living and teaching in South Korea before returning to their native Midwest. Their work has been featured in Hippocampus Magazine, Fulbright Korea Infusion Magazine, and the American Book Review. They have also written for the Gwangju News magazine and the Windy City Times.
This piece is part of a series about the unique experiences in the literary world outside of the binary. As VIDA expands The VIDA Count to include marginalized genders that may not fit neatly into boxes, this series encourages writers to refuse to let our stories be left out as we fight against cispatriarchal discrimination and erasure and imagine what gender equity looks like for us.