Who Really Gets to Make the Rules?

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In this poignant personal essay at Barrelhouse, Berry Grass examines the barriers we build around our true selves and the ones that others erect for us.

I used to be literally afraid to wear the clothing I loved the most. I looked at every shirt or pair of sneakers as if it had hit points, like in a video game. Each time I wore a piece I could practically see that item’s hit points drop. I was afraid of deterioration, afraid of losing this thing I treasured. I could never get myself to understand that if lock the item away, refuse its use, that I’ve already lost it.

I’ve come to see the ritual power of memory in objects. I maybe knew this power all along but denied it. Internalized something or other. I scribble notes on old notepads from Grandpa Carver’s workplace, Mission Clay Pipes. I kept a few of my Grandma & Grandpa Grass’ salt and pepper shakers from being sold in auction.

I listen to pagan black metal bands and Eastern Orthodox liturgical black metal bands and I light candles and I palm my mom’s turquoise bracelet. I’ve been wearing turquoise socks and I’ve installed a ring of turquoise gems in my pierced septum, to honor my mother. In the interest of full disclosure, this is the real reason I haven’t been writing lately: my mom passed away in summer 2016 from breast cancer that had metastasized to her lungs. She knew me. She did. And this is such cliché – perfectly rendered for the Hallmark Christmas ornaments my mom collected – but her passing, everyone’s passing, trvly helped me to realize that life is short/live how you want to live/live laugh love/etc. I watch this candle melt down, making itself gone. I fill grandpa’s notepads with ritual writing, knowing one day there will be no more notepads. I wear the clothes I love instead of saving them for some never to come day of open gates. I learn to harmonize memory and loss.

Also, I’ve been taking hormones. I’m medically transitioning. I’ve known for decades that I wanted a certain kind of body and that I wanted to be read a certain way. I just never let myself think I deserved to have it. The queer gatekeepers in my life wanted me to be a woman, which shut me off from realizing I kind of am one. The Metalheads wanted me to wear denim, a battle jacket some of them called it, and I resisted because I wasn’t them. But they were wrong about the trvth. And I was wrong to think I wasn’t in a battle. Because my body is not fixed in place. This denim jacket fades & wears & the patches accrue & nothing is being preserved here. I am not an archive. I am authentically alive. I can be a trans woman from the rural Midwest, and I can wear this denim jacket, and even in doing so I can still, in the words of Philadelphia poet Elizabeth Baber, “fuck the gatekeeper AND the gate.” I can stitch together the only kind of authenticity that matters: rivets and selvedge and frayed fabric. The tangible. The woven.

Read the essay