2 poems by DarkMatter – The Feminist Wire

2 poems by DarkMatter

the bible belt

by Alok Vaid-Menon

i am back in my hometown when i receive the news that Leelah, a 17 year old trans woman in ohio, committed suicide by walking in front of a truck.
the article refers to her by her birth name and gender
and i remember that “rest in peace”
is a luxury only afforded to bodies
whose violence ends with death.

i am sitting in the waiting room to see a chiropractor
ostensibly to diagnose the chronic back pain that i have developed this past year
but judging from the middle age women in the waiting room
i think this is also a place to be touched
to experience the intimacy of taking off stranger
and letting a man touch you
as if he cares

you see,
in this town certain acts of transgression are permissible
when they are covered by health insurance or
have a bible quote to justify them
(is there a difference?)

this past year i have publically started identifying as trans.
my doctor does not know this. but my mother does.
though, if she could use denial as a pronoun for me she would.

earlier today my grandmother tells me that young boys like me
aren’t supposed to have so much pain in our bodies.
in other words, we are not supposed to be hurt
apparently we are only supposed to do the hurting.

we live in a small town in texas
which means that there are crosses hanging on every wall of the doctors office
and bible verses in fonts like comic sans and impact used un-ironically
and i think to my self how remarkable it is
that one symbol can mean such different things for two people
their clipart, my cliché
their birth certificate, our search warrant
our femininity, their ridicule
their cross, my classmate ashley

in tenth grade tells me that i will rot in a pit of burning sulfur if i do not embrace jesus christ

there are not many things the people
where i’m from tend to be right about
but i think she was about this one:
signed sincerely: me,
the flaming faggot from texas

the doctor traces the muscles in my back
he asks me if i had an accident
he needs an explanation of how it is possible for something
to feel so irrevocably broken and yet
still somehow work

it would seem that my doctor thinks of pain as an exception.

what a privilege it is to navigate the world like that
as if pain is something you can pinpoint and eliminate
not the only thing that reminds you that you have a body
to begin with.

this is the town where i attempt suicide at thirteen.
i did not have the language for it at the time,
it was a tightness in this chest,
a tinge in this voice
a belt around my neck

there was no language for why.
there was just this body
and His religion
and this bible belt around my neck

and i did not know what i was doing
but i knew why i was doing it
and that




sometimes i miss that sense of conviction.

these days i have all of the theory to explain
how this doctor and this god and this town
made this body find dysphoria

made that dysphoria find hand
made that hand find belt
made that belt find …

but i don’t have that closure that comes
from listening to your body like that
because i had to put mine on mute
to keep that bible belt down
around my waste
and not my neck

these days i have all the theory
to know why they would have called this a ‘suicide’ and not a ‘murder’
to rinse their own hands and crosses of the blood
as if we hate ourselves because it is our choice and not theirs
as if we kill ourselves because we wanted to and not because they told us to
as if we were not following their prophesy
on our knees,
in His name


. . .

doctor the only accident in my life was when they
proclaimed me both ‘boy’ and ‘brown’ at my birth
and i have been trying to recover from ever since
the thing about this body is that you will use words
‘anxiety’ and ‘pressure’ to diagnose this pain
instead of ‘race’ and ‘gender’ and all of the other words
that never made it into your bibles or medical textbooks
these diagnoses i wear like commandments on my back
since a man who looked just like you
told my mother i was born and

forgot to mention that he also prescribed my death

how it’s often not about the accident, the slur, the punch, the suicide
as of violence, as if trauma, as if gender
is an episode that starts and stops,
it doesn’t work like that.
and it never stops.
most of the time it is dull, quiet, and normal
it sinks into us so deeply that sometimes
we cannot tell the difference between our
depression and our oppression

between our violence and our gender
between our sin and our color

between god’s word and our self hatred

i am in pain not because of an accident,
but because of the norm,
do you understand?
her death was not an accident
is in the norm
do you understand?
we are not broken
we working the way we were told to
do you understand?

. . .

i tell the doctor that i slipped and fell
for the same reason i let my mother use the wrong pronouns
the same way i tell people that i’m happier now because i moved away from that small town
the same way so many of us learned to play pretend as children
and never stopped

because it hurts less
and sometimes

that’s enough to survive.


fairy tale

by Janani Balasubramanian


Sometimes I dream about breaking up with you;

other times I dream about you meeting my parents.

One is a dream, and the other is probably a nightmare,

and sometimes they switch places.


Last week you asked me if the gift I gave you meant goodbye.

At some point I lied.


But certain lies keep the world oiled.

Like in the beginning, there was violence,

then the word came to smooth it over.


babies come from the sky.


Abraham Lincoln abolished slavery.


nuclear disarmament.

Cage-free eggs.

This isn’t goodbye.


When the goodbyes and lies are over,

at the end of the world,

we’ll all drink weak tea

and play truth or truth

and tear each other open.


The truth is, I lose at crosswords all the time:

four letters, across, creates happiness.



The truth is, when other people speak

of healing and happiness ask me

if I’ve tried yoga I tell them

I can only use a bandaid

if I understand why I am bleeding.

Does that make sense?

It might not even be my blood.

This is the way of things.


Sometimes, I panic when I look at sunsets,

like I loved the sky so much I tore it open

and then it bled.


This is the way of things.

This is how love works.

The pilgrims loved the land

so they stole it.

We loved Brooklyn

so we gentrified it.

Our parents loved us

and they messed us up.

I learned to love my body

and then I took a needle to it.


The truth is:

I hope one of us gets swallowed by a whale

and lives out our years digesting its loneliness,

and I hope the other dies quickly.

I hope the ending is very obvious and dramatic

like a bad opera.

I wish we were living in a bible verse.

Maybe this is capitalism and patriarchy speaking,

and maybe it’s me,

afraid that we will be obsolete before my Macbook.


Either way, I am asking

if you will tear up the sunset with me

so we can never say it fell apart

or that we were painfully ordinary

or that one day

you rode the express train a little farther

and never came back

or that one day

we lived in different cities

and I forgot to pick up the phone.


Let’s do it tonight:

while the sky feels raw,

and your hands still know how to lock into mine

for the tearing.


The truth is:

The story of sex is one of failure and absence.

The night we made love.

The years we spend unmaking it.

Every other night.


The truth is:

I have this dream where I bleed to shreds,

and this nightmare where you sew me back together,

and sometimes we switch places.


The truth is:

Holding you in my arms

reminds me of dying.


The truth is:

Your whole body feels like an argument.


The truth is:

Eventually we will tie up affection

and spray paint it absence,

whether for plague or depression or time and tiredness.


The truth is:

I will not die without you.


The truth is:

I am terrible at titles

and worse at endings.


The truth is:

However radical the love is,

it will sink.

There will just be no papers.

There will be no words at all, no meaning, no gravestone.


The truth is:

One day you’ll walk up to me

in a crowded room

and shake my hand.

It will be polite and clean.

You will say it was good to see me.

The truth is:

A few months later

we’ll have lunch

in another crowded room.

The end.



southerngirlAlok Vaid-Menon is a transfeminine South Asian writer, performance artist, and community organizer based in New York City. Their creative and political work grapples with questions of power, trauma, diaspora, race, and desire. Alok is currently on tour with DarkMatter, a trans South Asian poetry collaboration. You can read more of their work at





jananiJanani Balasubramanian is a trans South Asian artivist-techie and one half of the poetry duo DarkMatter.  Their creative work deals broadly with themes of empire, desire, ancestry, microflora, apocalypse, and the Future.  Janani’s currently working on a novel, H, and a comic book, SHY.  You can read more at