Fear and No Fear
I am sixty-one years old. I’ve been telling everyone all week that love has to be twinned with action. And so, I acted at the launch for the anthology “Boobs” on Saturday night.
“I want to talk about the Pulse nightclub massacre. The queer community is reeling from these homophobic and racist attacks. 102 people have been shot, their names publicly listed online even though many of them have been living closeted in fear of coming out.
Which is effectively painting a target on their shirts.
Please join me in mourning this hate. I could spend a long time talking to you about while this slaughter belongs to queers of colour, particularly the Latinx community, it touches all queers, but I have an essay here on my blog that does that and little time tonight. But please stand with Orlando and say so on your social media and reach out to soothe a queer friend. As Holly Near sang in It Could Have Been Me:
You can’t bury youth, my friends, youth grows the whole world round.
To which I might add: You can’t bury queers my friend, queers grow the whole world round.
But I also want to tell you about this piece I’m going to read, which is quite short. It is, regrettably, a true story of the young me trying to come to grips with and fight back against misogyny and, even then, transphobia. For all that fierce summer I refused to wear a shirt because boys didn’t have to.
I never dared fight back again.
The event I wrote about for the anthology “Boobs” from Caitlin Press was a highly traumatic event for me because although I didn’t know any of these dads who stopped by our corn stand, I knew their children—went to school with them, played with them. These men were coming home from work in Hamilton, ON, to the safe homogenized suburb of Ancaster to lead their homogenized Disney happily-ever-after lives, but they felt so aggrieved by a little 7 year old child without a shirt that they felt it was okay to be assholes.
It cowed me back into shirts. I don’t know if anyone else even noticed, but I noticed, and I never stopped noticing.
More than those dads wanted the sex they oozed that afternoon, they wanted to push me back into line—the line being the script written from the womb for girls and women—and they succeeded. That was the exact moment that my defiance and grit drained out of my foot. The grit and defiance I have worked with limited success to get back.
I am here to say that however our bodies are displayed, whatever clothing we do or do not wear, ever, is nobody’s business. It does not invite salaciousness. It does not invite rape. It does not invite anything but respect as another mammal in this teetering world. Our bodies, and indeed our boobs, if we have them or we’ve chosen to have top surgery, if we are breastfeeding in public, if we’ve had breast cancer and lumpectomies or mastectomies or reconstructions without nipples, if we are tatted or scarred, are not yours—are never yours–to ogle and comment on.
Those 54 years ago, I caved. I put my shirt back on. And never took it off in public again, not even at Pride.
Tonight, at 61 years of age, I’m finally, in rage and defiance of the events this week that seek to tell us we can only be small and vulnerable and scared, not brave and huge and celebratory, am stripping it off.”
we sold corn from a card table at the end of the driveway
a man snapped out of his car like a measuring tape in a tie wrenched
from his neck top button undone sweat stains under his armpits
i refused to wear a shirt because it was unfair
he said, you sure you want to show off your knobs, girly?
i looked down at my knobs, across at my brother’s identical knobs
working out the difference
he said, you go to church yesterday, honey? did you pray for forgiveness?
he bought five ears, revved away but
another dad squealed in to take his place
long appreciative wolf whistle
exhibiting your titties today?
give you a dime to turn around and pull down your shorts
mister, i said, do you want corn?
he bought seven ears and tooled away in a caddy
a new man slid in, sweat beading his forehead
he said, what you sellin’, sweetheart? sure it’s corn on the cob?
i looked down at tassels ejecting from the ear so soft
said how many you want mister?
he said i want to shuck every last one hard and fast
his tongue came out pink and thick
like he needed a salt lick
i said 5 for 25 cents
green leaves and corn silk
dark yellow niblets
he grinned and leaned over, flicked my nipple
he said, i will give you 50 cents if you sit in my car
voice hollow my brother said, 25 cents mister, take them all
you can have them we don’t want them
he took the corn and he was gone, turquoise fins waving blue plumes laying rubber
you only get 5 cents said my brother cause you’re a girl
i get half i said
nu-uh he said
uh-huh i said i thought of how many wagon wheels i could get for half of seventy-five cents
which didn’t divide: eight
i thought of how many wagon wheels I could get with a nickel: one
he said just put on a shirt