The Nudity of Non-Conformity: A Reflection on a Semester of Living in a Queer Body in a Space that Claims to Be Queer-Friendly

Dani James

Photos by Caridad Cruz; Lighting by Grace Lopez

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Before we begin, it is in my interest to inform you: I do not have a penis.

There is a very good reason why my Tinder bio mentions the fact that I am a transgender man above any details concerning the nitty-gritty particularities of my personality. I would much rather have the majority of cisgender straight girls swipe left on me based on their assumptions of what unholy organ exists in my pants than to ever have to utter the above statement while being undressed.

If I do not wear my identity on my sleeve, walk around with a flashing, blinking neon sign reading WARNING NOT A REAL MAN, I am a trap. Queer quicksand wherein you will sink if you are not immediately granted knowledge of what does or does not protrude from my groin.  

For all of September I wear my binder tightly wrapped around my Double D’s whenever I go out. The odds are stacked against me, I think. My chances of being perceived as a man are quite low.  

Introducing yourself as Daniel, here that’ll give you +10.

Being 5’2”, ouch, that’s probably -20.

Having bigger breasts than many of the womxn I’m interested in, that one’s quite the hit -25.

That hourglass figure I spent years allowing myself to love…

Okay, let’s just quit while we’re behind.

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Father; stretch my hands, though you have continually ignored the prayers I uttered on my knees beside my bed. To wake up as I believed I was meant to have been originally crafted was all I asked for, yet my childish thoughts echoed back to me; without fail, there was never a response.

I have long since given up on the idea of a benevolent God in the sky granting wishes to poor little “girls” dreaming of skinning knees with little boys. Despite this, my freshman year of college I reached towards the heavens, my hopeful, pleading face and the curves of my nude frame aglow in the luminescence of David Machado’s ‘18 photoshoot lights.  

Before the shoot, he showed me his vision of a senior art thesis capturing sexualized queer men in traditionally religious contexts. He then left the room as I unravelled myself to a point far more exposed than I had ever been with an intimate partner. With the eyes and camera lens of a stranger trained on me, I had never felt more willing to arrange the composition of my unadulterated form for the eye of my beholder.    

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The month of October brings with it a harvest of queer companionship I had never before been afforded. I arrive at a hospitable party surrounded by queer friends in a favorite yellow t-shirt of mine, just loose enough to show only the crest of the hills that lie underneath its thread-bear fabric. I dance to slow French songs, understanding the language well enough to know the singer is in love but not so much as to know whether she is broken or putting herself back together. As the song fades, the tall girl whose waist lies under my palm decides to pipe-up and let me know that she only tends to go for boys.

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Halloweekend approaches faster than I am able to prepare for and, at the last minute, I raid my best friend’s closet and come out in a costume: myself, but queer-er. In a bright-red mesh top, combat boots that stomp with my every step, a black-studded vest and dark lipstick all but washed away completely by the end of the night, I take to Fountain Street with the goal in mind to confuse and intrigue the heterosexual, cisgender masses.

Yes, honey. I am still a man. Yes, honey. You will see me in class Monday morning. No, honey. I only wish I was going to look like this Monday morning.

I wonder, where are my greetings of YAS QUEEN? Or are those only reserved for your cis white “gay best friends”? Instead, I get an unwanted yet unresisted arm around my shoulders, a hand on my breast, a drink that makes my head fuzzy and pushes my vision inwards like a memory foam mattress. I get a voice that says he has never had a Danny before except he says it like Dani—like I am not a man—and I can tell.  

I manage to stumble back to my room, leaning all of my short frame on the weight of what had happened for support. I ripped off the clothes I swore never belonged on this body in the first place and collapsed on my bed in a t-shirt so loose that no discernible peaks rose into view over the cloud-white fabric, even as my chest ballooned with strained breaths.

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It takes me until the first week of December to go back out in lipstick. In a rosy warm queer space, I sat making a choker reading PRETTY BOY, running a new tally in my head:

Introducing myself as Danny or Dani? Figure out which; I don’t care.

Short as hell, straining the muscles in my neck to stare you down as you learn to open your mind enough to acclimate to my pronouns passing my merlot-colored lips.

Shaped like an hourglass, with the sands running out on your transphobic standards of what it means for me to be beautiful.

My muscles need not harden; my face need not sprout rough hairs. I do not need to stand on a box behind the podium I now step up to, just to be heard as I clear my throat of all that has choked me up, kept me from yelling “he” when I heard “she”. A scalpel does not have to dissect me, spill my blood, fold open my insides for me to be handsome.  

I will not water myself down to appeal to your dull, desensitized taste buds. My own eyes shine when I see myself in the mirror and I no longer crave the pity I once saw in yours.

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We trans, nonbinary, and queer individuals do not need to shrink or grow to fit the straight, cis molds you have stamped out for us. We seep into the cracks chiseled into your stone society decades before we were even terms in the dictionary. And once there, we harden; the pressure of our burgeoning causes you to fracture.  

We are not a presence to be deterred by poking and prodding, by whispering and screaming, by stepping on and stomping down. Press your molds and watch the majority happily sink into them. Just don’t be surprised when a few come out that aren’t up to factory standards.  

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