What Contents Different Containers Can Hold: An Introduction to the Monthly Lyric Essay – The Feminist Wire

What Contents Different Containers Can Hold: An Introduction to the Monthly Lyric Essay

…with gratitude to Katherine Ferrier and The Architects


“What begins in recognition, –

…ends in obedience.”

Frank Bidart, “By These Waters”


John Cage: It’s lighter than you think.


As a body in a person, as a poet, as these lines in this order – white skin and male passing privilege, breasts I used to bind but no longer want to, soft belly, hips that could easily carry children but never will, facial hair that refuses my jaw while absolutely flourishing on the underside of my chin – I’m continually interested in the architecture we find ourselves in. At what point does construction become didactic? What is the space between container and constraint? What happens when we try, and is it possible, to subtract formula from form?

In Queer Space, Aaron Betsky says, we make and are made by our spaces. In The Architecture of Happiness, Alain de Button says: The significance of architecture is premised on the notion that we are different people in different places and on the conviction that it is architecture’s task to render vivid to us who we might ideally be. I look at my house, my relationships, the things I’m writing, my body. These are synonyms. And I wonder how non-trans people (and other trans people) experience these things. Is your body an architecture? Is your name? What are you constructing now? Can you visit it, and therefore, can you leave?

As part of my participation in the incredible TFW community, I will be writing monthly lyric essays (see “Vena Amoris” in today’s Arts and Culture feature). I’m not a theorist, or rather, critique is just my affection in drag. I am writing my body into existence though not necessarily through content. I’m looking for a textual body expansive (and constrictive) enough to inhabit. I want to live (t)here. For now, I find that space in hybrid forms. Utilizing elements of poetry, research, and personal narrative, I think of these essays as embodied meditative investigations on the trans body – my trans body – and its relationship to architecture, intimacy, and public space. They are, to me, genderqueer bodies, much like my physical genderqueer body – nonlinear, dynamic, a kind of textual bricolage, sometimes awkward or halting, passing as narrative at one turn, then full of ruptures in logic, vulnerable and visible and joyously so.

I not only think of the lyric essay as an assemblage in artistic terms (utilizing some found text and placing it in new contexts) but also as an extrapolation of Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of assemblage and “nomad thought” as open-ended – that parts of one body can be placed in a new body and still function. I’m especially curious about order and organization, when a piece of text is relevant, which component parts impact the entire body. When is the range of motion extended (or impacted) by relationship? What is a component part? What is a (w)hole?

I want to offer a way into this writing, if this is not the kind of writing that you would normally choose to read. The truth is that these pieces are collaborative. I need you to help me make sense of them. This is similar, I think, to how we collaborate to create meaning from each of our gender expressions and identities, trans or not. But public space is often a dangerous place for trans and genderqueer bodies (most specifically and brutally, the bodies of trans women of color): what could be collaboration, or celebration, becomes violence, oppression, and control. My hope is that reading (and writing) these essays is a practice in shifting that dynamic. That we can play, be curious, wander among tangents, delight in the previously undefined, decorate, find connections where they are not obvious, unhinge our expectations, say yes to what we don’t yet know, investigate the relationship between proof and prose.

In this way, I want to celebrate trans and genderqueer bodies – how we pass and sometimes don’t, how we spill over, slip, call out, miss the point. Much like J. Halberstam, I believe failure on one level creates a grammar of possibility on another. But this failure is different, I think (I hope), from being sloppy. Or careless. Or lazy. Lisa Kraus, a dance critic and former dancer with Trisha Brown, says that rigor is no longer about the pointed foot but about the precisely timed collision, the exact harnessing of weight falling through space. These essays, I’m afraid, won’t defend anything or even prove a good point. They’ll bump into things. They might make illegible what was just starting to come into focus. These essays will be rigorous but they will fail, for sure.

One of my mentors, Katherine Ferrier (who was heavily influenced by Brown’s work), says attention is action. She says, with every trust there is an opening. She says, the first thing we have to do is show up.