Understanding yourself requires, so often, reflective surfaces. Mirrors, rivers, phone screens, puddles on tarmac - to be, one needs to be seen. Harder still is to be when what you are is physically unseen, a mental image only you are privy to, locked in the mind’s eye.For the first eighteen years of my life, I avoided mirrors. Now, since my life and my body are a little different, I no longer have to avoid my reflection. However, I must, and still often do, find myself detached, my world - and myself - placed slightly to the left. Detachment is often necessary for survival. Removing the self from a situation that can cause harm to the body or spirit, physically or emotionally, is a common part of many people’s lives. Whether it be taking a cab home at night or leaving a movie theatre when a film gets a little too graphic, detachment protects and prevents.
However, detaching from art has, and always will be, painful for me. Often, though, it is necessary. I’m talking in particular about representations of trans people in art - whether visual, like film or photography, or text-based, such as prose or poetry. At best, their representation is stereotypical and tired; at worst, entirely transphobic. I won’t deign to name the dozens of works that have insulted and further harmed trans people - especially black trans people and trans women of colour - over the past two, three, four decades. I don’t want to dwell on the failures of cisgender white people. I’m here to talk about how much I love trans poets, and how successful and necessary they are and always will be.
The work of trans poets like Ari Banias, jayy dodd, Jos Charles, Cameron Awkward-Rich, Chase Berggrun, J. Jennifer Espinoza, Yves Olade, Milo Gallagher, Kai Cheng Thom, and Hannah Rego (among a dozen others) offers me much solace. Theirs is the work that I would have benefitted from years ago: work that deals not only with gender and trans identity, but self-expression, trauma, family, love, and even the details of daily life. However, since most of the poets listed above are based in the United States, they seem so close, and yet are still so far: I can’t easily meet any of them in person at any readings or talks they attend. Though I can’t forge a physical community, I remain grateful for my privileged access to an online biosphere, of sorts, where I can see myself and other trans poets like me live and grow and thrive.
However, simply knowing they exist and are writing against the attempts at damming trans voices in writing is often enough for me. The flow may be blocked or forcibly diverged, polluted or otherwise tainted in one way or another, but it will never stop, and for that I am immensely grateful.
Since the need to see a reflection of myself in literature is strong, stronger only now that there are blatant efforts to prevent, police, misrepresent, and/or remove trans people from their own ways of storytelling. I write poems for, first and foremost, myself - I bring into existence the poems that I did not see when I was younger and needed them most. Sharing them, however, makes it less about me and more about what I am to other people: a trans person whose work adds to the ever-growing list of trans poets writing today, whose existence and effort could and hopefully will inspire a young trans person to write against the dam and damning they might be up facing. That, of course, is how I got here, writing this for you today.
Terrence Abrahams lives and writes quietly in Toronto. His work has been a part of Hobart, Peach Mag, the Puritan, and many gendered mothers, among others. He hopes you’re having a good day.