The menu consisted of white rice, general tso’s chicken, and double chocolate cake. I had spent most of the day scanning the aisles of Jay’s International grocery store looking for the exact spice and ingredients to make my first Valentine’s Day dinner for my boyfriend Nathan. We had met over brief OKCupid text messages about androids, the ethics of artificial intelligence, and anime. Our first date was over coffee, our second date over Thai food, and from that moment on I don’t think I spent more than one night away from his side during that first year of dating.
Loving as a trans woman in this world is not easy. Trans women loving cis men is not simple. There are many relationships between us that are veiled in secrecy, shame, one night stands, and in the most horrific examples, death and violence. But many of us do find true, honest, healthy, and healing love in our lives. Many of us find this love with many different kinds of partners, chosen bonds of family, and yes, even with a cis het man who loves retro anime, MST3K, and general tso’s chicken.
I wanted this first Valentine’s Day together to be special and from the heart. I didn’t want to compete with the commercialism of the day or the tight dinner reservations, or the Hallmark cards. I wanted to make my lover dinner and I wanted to write him a poem.
Growing up, I never had any real valentines. They were all from my mom and I would watch in jealousy as the other kids fell in and out of puppy love, went on dates, had sex, and got to experience the joys and the heartaches of falling in and out of love.
As an adult, the notion of queer love became even more out of reach. I settled for the idea that I would most likely never find love outside of one night stands and anonymous sex. I held close the concept put forth by queer literary icon Christopher Isherwood that perhaps the highest form of love attainable was the love one could give to a total stranger, that it could be in fact more honest and honorable than domestic love. He wrote this because to him loving and fucking a trick was something akin to the love we all profess and pine for but rarely ever achieve: a fearless love for all humanity.
But love without fear is something hard to find for trans women. But here it was, in the hazel green eyes of this man. And I wanted to celebrate this love, devour it, revel in it, and write about it. I sat down and wrote the first love poem of my life. Titled it love poem no.1, an homage to the femme iconography of Chanel, and a form of reclamation to all the love poems I never received. As we ate dinner together, I handed him the poem. He read it in silence, cried, and we kissed and held each other as if the world finally made sense.
soothed her troubled expression/ for her you listened/ is there any real risk to falling in love?/
if death is a dream/ then she hopes she always wakes up next to you/
light purifies eternal solitudes/ cosmos bleed into your mouth/ where her lips trace each melting memory of every cell/
a void in the soul/
where she let the world rip her apart/ where the smoke billowed and she offered her flesh to idols/
sometimes she fantasized/ that a man/ could miss her/ like in the saddest love songs/
yellow blossoms sprout across the western mountains/ damp meadows soak her body with holy nectars/ like sweet pollen tapered on your neck/
follow the imagination/ to the eye/ of a blue plague/ haunted by your voice whispering to the moon/infecting her skin with/ the joy/ of your virus/ where you held her tears in your bed/ where you caress her breast/ where old wars die/
where she loves you.
/love poem no.1/
But what I forgot in the clouds of this transsexual love dream was that the hurt and the pain and the traumas of our lives did not get erased because we loved each other. The old scars, the voids in the soul, and the pain of our pasts were still there. And as the years progressed together they manifested in their familiar ways. I forgot to tell myself that loving myself was the most important step in loving someone else.
We had three beautiful and dark years together. We fucked and we cried and we screamed and we loved and we healed and we hurt each other. We grappled with mutual substance abuse, his mental illness, my infidelity, and a whole lot of uncertainty. But we also grew up together as we left our twenties, our love inspired me to write some of my most important poems, our love taught us that we were worthy of love, and our love in a way was the first time we felt freedom. I don’t regret falling in love, and I would do it all over again if given the chance. I know I’m not the first nor the last trans woman to feel this kind of love. I know that many of my sisters and my holy mothers could write me under the table on the subject of finding and losing love. And I won’t pretend as if my perspective on what we had is completely objective or even something close to the “truth”. Love creates its own version of truth. It is something that can’t be recorded without the abstract colors of subjectivity and silence and sunsets.
The night I left our apartment I handed him the second love poem of my life.
This is love poem no. 2.
No story worth telling has chapters
It only writes a beginning
And an end
A map our hearts know too well
The same road that led you to me
A mud trench to hell wrapped with mustard gas
Speckles on the goggles a spectrum of compound
Eyes amber and jade and serotonin deficient
You a bullet copper lips and milk neck
Me an empty parking lot full of moth halo gas lights
Ourselves no easy picnic no yellow brick road no sour wedding cake
Ourselves too little some days
Too many needles in the nervous system
Too many drugs on the fiberglass carpet
Too much silence
The voice of Solange reminds me of the first morning driving home from your apt off Jamieson
The sun dripping off my eyelids and your throat imprinted on my cock
Cranes In The Sky
The moment I knew I loved you
Crystal lyrics cut deeper than sabers now
My guilt prostrate before you
Your alabaster jar broken and crumbled by my teeth
A backspace a delete button a wail a gnashing a cleansing a begging
Rewind this tape and scratch subliminal seconds off the timeline
There was no ketamine transcendental breakthrough
There were no monogamous sand terns
There was no molly induced empyreal no healing only sleeping
The irony of listening to Better Off Alone inside a cold brick wall restaurant
Ain’t gonna be no HOW TRANNY GOT HER GROOVE BACK
Ain’t got nothing but spines on my tongue
Thanks for gifting me your loathing rage for the world
Thanks for the leech therapy
Thanks for the amorous amphetamines and the amyl nitrate
Thanks for a magnet on a time bomb
These are the stories we will tell other lovers:
Bugout bags packed with maps flare guns and silicone lube
Dancing under Market Days disco fog wedged inside madness
Blue silence over magnetic holler fields eclipsed by a newborn moon
The juice of watermelons staining taupe sheets
Purple paisley black leather boots android assassins words burning wagons
This love was a pass line on snake eye dice
This love was a black salve dressing for souls
This love was the juncos’ barbwire tightrope
This love was the first time I felt freedom
This love was your amnesia fever dream
Transsexuals perform magic tricks on how to cum
Nipples must crack and bleed for a new autumn
Chrysanthemum blossoms line our ceremonial bed in yellow and white epigraphs:
SOME POEMS ARE WORTH DYING FOR, AND SOME ARE BETTER LEFT UNSAID.
I am center stage sipping whiskey on rocks saddled at tavern bar, a woman sits next to me in wool scarf cocoons, tells me she witnessed you in awe the other night, standing in the silence of my prophecy, and you whispered to her, that I was your girl and that you loved me
But what happens when the vision come true? When night alights on our faces and our cheeks rubbed raw with salt melt together and we cannot hear the words dripping from our lips
Does this cursed gift ash with the wind? Or are these skellet bells that only echo?
Joss Barton is a writer, photographer, journalist, and artist documenting queer and trans* life and love in St. Louis. She was most recently a 2016 fellow at Topside Press’ Writers Workshop for Trans Women Writers and a 2013 Fiction Fellow at the Lambda Literary Foundation’s Emerging LGBT Writers Retreat. She was an exhibition artist for Nine Network’s 2015 Public Media Commons Artist Showcase and is also an alumni of the Regional Arts Commission’s Community Arts Training Institute. Her work has been published by Ethica Press, Vice Magazine, HIV Here & Now, Locsuts: A Post-Queer Nation Zine, and Vetch Poetry: A Transgender Poetry Journal.