from Gender/Genre by Erin Bertram

 

the experience of a gendered psychic disposition or cultural identity is considered an achievement

—Judith Butler

 

The body wants what it wants. Isn’t that true? Isn’t that how the story goes? Close your eyes—picture the look of me kissing your quiet eyes.

She is a rocky shore of smooth, fist-sized stones where salt licks the land. Or is she fire instead, lit from within, me staring dumbstruck at the low glow. What embers remain when the campfire of the body dies out? Thunder. Lightning. A tarpaulin calm draping everything with rain.

What hot coals hiss as the sky breaks open upon them?

*

When categorizing American buffalo, some biologists have referred to them in threes: northern plains bison, woods bison, & southern plains bison. These megafauna used to roam the grasslands in herds, walking many miles a day & braying under the high noon sun, or bedding down together for coverage amid spindrift & high winds.

Their migration paths toward feeding grounds, watering holes, & salt licks, guided by nothing but instinct, lessened the burden for innumerable pioneers after them.

So many giant hooves pounding a path toward the ocean.

*

“It is on a threshold, at the edge, where we are most able to alter our understanding of the world and of our own lives in it.”

*

Deconstruction is not synonymous with destruction…. The deconstruction of a text does not proceed by random doubt or arbitrary subversion, but with the careful teasing out of warring forces of signification within the text itself. If anything is destroyed in a deconstructive reading, it is not the text, but the claim to unequivocal domination of one mode of signifying over another.”

*

A student of mine writes about roller derby, bipolar, possibly being bisexual, & Derrida’s concept of différance. Only after re-reading her essay for the third time, late at night when I can’t sleep, does it dawn on me that the look of my name (Erin) vs. the sound of my name (// Aaron) is a prime example of différance.

Within a binary system, one component tends to defer to the other.

Within a binary system, one component tends to differ, to defer.

Within a binary system.

While the written may be prized over the spoken, I hold the dual iterations of my name close to my chest, warm & breathing.

*

“‘technologies of the self’ […] basically refers to ways in which people put forward, and police, their ‘selves’ in society; and ways in which they are enabled or constrained in their use of different techniques by available discourses.”

*

And yet the occasional stall at the end of the hall—a tiny room with no windows, a mirror above the sink, light reflecting off the cool clean surfaces, & a door that locks behind me.

Only one way in & only one way out.

On the door hangs a sign, sometimes plastic, sometimes bearing the smudges of printer ink, & often with a line drawn neatly down the middle: he? on the left, she? on the right, & me, standing straight, stiff as a board, standing upright between them.

*

“Woman like a man, like a man

Like a woman like a man, woman like a man”

*

“Each month, we release at least one new Box of Awesome. It’s a limited edition collection of products packaged together—in a box. Each box is built around a specific story or theme—our goal is to introduce men to something new. We rigorously test all of the items we put into a box to ensure they are top quality and remarkable. You can check out boxes which are currently available here, and see past boxes from our archive here.”

*

I wanted to join the monthly men’s-themed-box subscription club because I like the themes they offer: Savor, Concentrate, Chill, Bloom, Getaway. Each box contains a few items to facilitate a given experience, like wine-tasting or weekend travel. This month it’s a scrimshaw pocket-knife kit. I plan to etch & ink a bison on it, whose migration trails carved some of the earliest known paths into the American wilderness.

I now realize I also wanted to join the club because a box will arrive once a month—a box intended for men—with my name on it.

*

Threshold – The origins of this Old English word are not known, though it is believed to be related to Old English ‘threscan,’ from which we get the words thresh, meaning ‘to separate seed from (a harvested plant) using a machine or tool’ and ‘thrash,’ meaning, among other things ‘to beat soundly with or as if with a stick or whip.’”

*

“It all goes back to the 18th century. While spending long stretches out at sea, bored whaling crews began scratching intricate designs into whale teeth and walrus tusks as a way to pass the time between active hunts. Pioneers and foot soldiers then picked up the tradition when those sailors got back on land; the rest, as they say, is history.”

*

When I went “say yes to the vest” shopping, for my wedding, with my mother & my aunt, they didn’t scoff at the name I gave our department store adventure. Instead, they followed me to the Mens section, asked which size vests I was looking for—not in hushed tones, I noticed, but tones suggesting they were with me, they were trying. When I told them I needed a M, maybe an L, they held out a few vests for my approval—mostly patterned or colorful, not exactly my style—but I tried them on anyway.

And when they came with me to the Womens dressing room, which put my mother at ease, they stood outside the slatted door & waited. They waited for me to let them in. I stood in that tiny room alone, nineteen Mens vests hanging on the metal hooks in the wall. I stood in front of the too-close mirror, the beige carpet lacking padding, the fluorescent light above vaguely flickering.

Each time, I buttoned the buttons down to my waist, leaving the final one below open because of my hips. Each time, I turned around & looked myself in the eye. I saw the way the vest hung on the form that I was given.

 

_____________________________

Note: Portions of this text were adapted from Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble, Barbara Johnson’s The Critical Difference, Bespoke Post’s website, Damien Rice’s “Woman Like a Man,” Gregory Orr’s Poetry and Survival, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, and the Michel Foucault entry on Theory.org.uk.

 


Erin M. Bertram is the author of thirteen chapbooks, including the lyric hybrid texts from The Vanishing of Camille Claudel (Seven Kitchens Press, 2016) and Relief Map, a winner of C&R Press’s 2016 Summer Tide Pool Chapbook Competition.

​They are a doctoral candidate in Creative Writing at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where they ​volunteer with the LGBTQA+ Resource Center and will be a​ ​​Maude Hammond Fling Fellow during the 2017-18 academic year.