TC Tolbert Photo by Samuel Ace
by TC Tolbert
I'm on a relatively small plane on my way to Denver. I'm in the window seat. There's no middle, just the guy in the aisle seat whose elbow keeps grazing my arm. We're both white men. He's 6'1, maybe 6'2, muscular. I'm 5'8, 150. He is not unkind. I'm bad at this sort of thing but I'd say he's in the neighborhood of 220 pounds. Right away he put the armrest down and got comfortable. He's sleeping now or trying to. Elbows outnumber armrests. We are close but we are not intimate. Presumably we are meant to negotiate the space.
A few years ago I started a trans awareness project called Made for Flight . I visit classrooms, Gay-Straight Alliances, and youth centers and talk about trans identities, violence, how to be an ally. We make a kite for each trans woman who has been murdered during the year. We walk with those kites during the All Souls Procession (and if you want to join us, we would welcome you - see below). I am constantly saying these words: Two trans women are murdered each month here in the US. A trans woman (usually a trans woman of color who is a sex worker) is murdered every other day worldwide. Does saying this change anything for trans women? What does it mean to be complicit? When Janet Mock says, Every time there's a trans woman of color in the media, she's getting killed. It wrecks our souls. To whom or to what is she pointing? Do the dead women give a goddamn about all of those kites?
It is on the plane that I realize how long it's been since I've felt willingly vulnerable. In "A Brief for the Defense," Jack Gilbert says, "We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure, but not delight." I went to a performance of John Cage's Sonatas and Interludes last night because my heart is absolutely desperate for surprise.
I grew up in a family (and culture) that treated those closest with the most utter contempt. The idea that intimates pose the biggest emotional and physical threat isn't entirely crazy. Statistically speaking, it's like Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler say in Connected, "If you want to know who might take your life, just look at the people around you." Still. These are the same people who are bound to save your life. Although they are undoubtedly related, sometimes I worry much less about politics and hate crimes than I do about what we agree to call love. Self-loathing, continual justification for bad partner behavior, far more struggle than joy. A fear of scarcity. I see it because I know it. An epidemic among women, trans folks, and queers. I'm looking for a new story about love.
I was at a wedding the other day -- a hybrid Jewish and Christian ceremony and the rabbi said that in Jewish tradition the wedding ring is initially placed on the index finger because an artery runs to the tip of the finger we point with -- the one that says "you, this, now, here" -- carrying blood directly from the heart. In this way we reveal more about ourselves by what we point to (or away from) than we ever could by saying how we feel.
I went to the John Cage performance last night for the same reason I get on an airplane instead of driving, which is the same reason I eat in public even though it would cheaper to have the same meal at home. Amy said intimacy isn't about sharing our worst stories, it's about sharing the stories that come up. Julia said Halloween is the only American holiday that depends on interacting with others across (and beyond our own) identity category in an exuberant gesture of good faith. Who are the monsters, really? What do we have to suspend in order to experiment with trust?