I dream of plains of skin; black velvet plains with horizontal perturbed scars when I look at my chest. I dream of a body not yet here. I dream of movement through bodies. Mutilating and cutting to fit me. To mark me. To mark the existence of myself in this body. For this body to be me in flesh.
I dream of the possibility of bodies I have not seen. Gender dysphoria occurs when there is a conflict between the sex you were assigned at birth and your gender. But I am genderless. Formless. Born into a community that sees me wrongly. That looks at the flesh-skin I have and tastes desire in their mouth.
I leave my body when met with men’s desire for my body. Violently repulsed that I escape from this body and their desire and their eyes. When this body grew breasts, I began to leave it. It took time to learn that this body could not survive the blind ejaculation of a man-woman’s mouth-hands. I am used to leaving homes meaning I am used to leaving myself. I am still learning how to not leave myself when in audience. How to stay in this body in a crowd.
I have named myself several times. One of my first names was Dialo. I was named after my grandfather who I was told was a rebel spirit. He died the same week I was born. I didn’t share this name with many people. Even at a young age, I knew not everyone would honor it like they should. Knew that I didn’t want everyone to know the intimate parts of my flesh. It’s not my name anymore.
All the names I’ve had; present, past, future, have all been prophecies. Prophecies of what I was. Windows to what I am. What I would be. What I would do. The first mother I had would talk with pride that one of my names meant ‘the special one’. I dropped all these names when I abandoned her lineage. A need for lives that hadn’t been touched by them. Needing to be something they haven’t touched. I am a prophetic thing that doesn’t like prophecies of myself. Cage-destinies are not for things like me. My gods know this.
When I was still with my first mother, everything I did had to be in alignment with these prophecies. I had to be whatever their interpretation of the prophecies was. I had to be something. But I was who I was. A thing with skin that melted and bubbled from their presence in my life. And they were them. Harm embodied. Cutting scars into my blood. And I ran and ran and ran. Burned everything of them from my skin. They didn’t like when I became a walking prophecy. Hated me for it. I was who I was. They named good. Obedient. But couldn’t stomach a thing like me. And tried to kill me. Over and over. To name me is a privilege. And I revoked theirs. Revoke their sight. Revoke their prophecies. To name me is to know me, is to see me correctly, is to love me. I named myself. Named what I was. I have begun to trust my eyes after I replaced their eyes with my own. I trust my eyes. I name myself. There’s a woman in Nairobi, who calls herself my sister. Says she loves me but doesn’t call me my name. Doesn’t see. Doesn’t remember what I am. Resurrects lives I’ve worked hard to burn from my blood. I leave her. Silently. I have said enough. Too many times.
My body has always been an altar to beauty. Cowrie shells, waist beads, colour. My body holds beauty. A remembrance of beauty. An offering of beauty. I house selves and this body becomes home. Becomes an anchor when I’m untethered born from the violence of leaving lineages and lives. How do I live this life knowing that this body is at the same time mine and its own? How do I honor myself and live in this body? How do I cut it correct and still honor it? How do I honor us both? Is mutilation inherently disrespectful to my body? I ask my body and it tells me to cut, mutilate. It will stay. It is still here. It says I can honor its mutation. I can honor our journey to each other. It is not a loss. It is an exploration and understanding of who I am through marking it. It says yes. We are dedicated to each other. Married to one another. We want to be homes to each other. I want to create altars to my body. The ways it keeps me safe. The way it stays. The way it reminds me. The way it remembers. Its beauty with its black black skin that wears jewels knowing they are same. That stands in its adornment knowing that it is everything. And more.
To me, gender is a performance. An art form you can take up. I play with femininity. My play with femininity connects me to queer ancestors and gives me access to joy. But I am not it. When it stops being play and becomes embodiment, my body thrashes, excreting it from itself. Runs away from itself.
One of the last times I dressed hyper-femme, for a photoshoot, I dissociated from myself. Thrown out of myself, my body. Watched my body from a distance, move. I couldn’t catch up to it. I was watching myself be in this world. Like a nonchalant god separate from tethers. I went a little mad. Yeah, I went a little mad. Was guided gently back into my body by medication. I took a break from self-portraiture after that. Scared to look at myself and go mad again. I am not housed by human womanhood. I am not those people.
Gender dysphoria shows me what I am. Repulsed by what I am not. A map to myself. To what I am. Womanhood always felt like performance. It was taught to me. Enforced. Engrained. Lined onto my skin like plastic skin. What am I without this plastic skin? Genderless. Something moving through embodiment. Practicing ritualistic return to self. Wanting to be a home.
My desire is to oscillate through bodies. To cut my chest flat and move in a body that I don’t run from. To disintegrate a uterus. I want to peel this skin and mold. Mold. Mold. I pull impossibility into being. I pull my body to meet me, in a liminality that calls itself home. Binders and shirts and cowries help me settle into a liminal body that is mine. Nowhere and somewhere and something. I practice averting my curiosity from others’ eyes. I don’t trust human eyes. You wouldn’t too, when what you are is a genderless thing. When you are what you are. And they are who they are. Violent in their seeing. And they unsee and unsee and unsee. Reviled.
When I think of the way governments try to kill things like me, try to take autonomy from our clenched fists, I think about how we survive. How we survive massacres and grief. What keeps us alive and well; our dedication to ourselves. Our ceremonial return to what we are. A knowing that never forgets itself. Remains. And so we do.
A resistance that tells us we should get to live our lives as ourselves and not want to die. And have families that know us and stay. Love holds us on the outskirts and claims us as worthy centres. Resurrects us. Keeps us alive. Remembers.
I have masks I use in this world. Masks as alive as this body. Static. Unchanging. Consistent. And then there are my faces. This is skin. They require no performance. When I am home, my masks and faces melt into one body. Melt into two eyes. They are all alive and real. They all keep me safe. Some faces are tender to touch and I keep them behind my teeth. Tender things untouched by this world. In the end, I am formless, illegible, something and nothing.
Free. Getting freer.