À La Carte: Second Wedding

[creative nonfiction]

I made it a self-promise to never come out to my parents that I am transgender-non-binary. Their prejudices distanced me from the definition of family I could have confided in. I didn’t give myself a closet to do so with; it was chock full of my mother’s hoarding paranoia—that were it not for her vigilance in keeping everything we ever owned, memories would literally dissipate from her skull. We were people who never talked about “topics.” We were people who cinched our mouths tight. We were people arrogant of our own loneliness. There are a few times where my father huddled words behind what he spoke. He is a person who declares. I am a person who suggests. Together though, we are people who do not know what it means to be human, to be pushed against a breaking point. We didn’t talk about what it was to never uproot a boy, to stagnate in self-confinement with God and His many clones. I never grew up anywhere else: my parents never moved, and we should have; my parents never tried anything new, no new churches or restaurants or perspectives, and we should have; my parents never divorced, and they should have.

There is a particular pressure within holding one’s hand. For years, I resorted to prayer-pose, latticed fingers, nettled into a ball of tight skin everywhere I went to balance disquiet on my wrists like sawhorses. I reconciled gender dysphoria into my fingertips for almost two decades until I could give a name to it. I did not know how to love. I was not taught it. I was not taken to a seminar where a pamphlet and keynote speaker addressed the panorama of influences in, what I called then, my body. Rather, I witnessed obligatory love, my parents skirting around the hem of hate so they wouldn’t have to commit the sin of divorce. They wouldn’t have to deal with the impracticality of separation. Staying together (still) was more logical. I was given formulas and normatives on how my body should act and be. It was easy to believe love as a blissful kind of terror.

The aforementioned me hated, and still hates, the facets of being a man. Being asexual with unattended gender dysphoria, I never thought of burying a name I thought had full-blooded life. I was already so separate from myself. Though the meaning of my name is “unwavering protector,” I have never been strong for anyone. I never believed my name should be in reference to myself.

Ever since I can remember, my mother gave my life to Jesus. My father pocketed morals and knew when to dredge them out in specks of lint. I will never say I was not loved. I am loved. To an extent, we all are.

However, the behaviors and events shaping the way I grew up determined a mold of what was to come. It wasn’t that I couldn’t come out, but rather wouldnt. I do not feel a capability, or rather, necessity, to love. We don’t need to love anyone—romantically, sexually, platonically. Love is too tedious a thing to grant a name to.

Names are a dying breed of how we cultivate legacy. They are the first flawed standard from birth to live by. I have sold the broken crown of my name to God so I might parent a new name within and without my body. There is no name I have left to give to the world. No altar, no praise, no self coddled with a purpose to carve into the husk of God. My hands were always empty, and they have no purpose other than to be.

My dysphoria—I might call it unkempt—was like nurturing tonsillitis in the throat. Much like having dysphagia, where one can’t swallow easily, or always bearing the sensation of something in my chest. Once, my body weaved into a dress, a skirt, make-up, and I haven’t been able to retrieve that embodiment since. To have been outlined in fabric, to see a second body beneath my own. In rebuttal to that instance, I bought men’s clothes that were more form-fitting, skinny jeans to accentuate curves I didn’t have, to soften the geometry of a manhood I abhorred. Sweaters could hide broad shoulders. Growing out my nails couldn’t hide their grime. I was born with my mother’s metabolism, a jagged skeleton framed in guilt. No bone of contention hooked to another.

For many with the mental instability that gender dysphoria totes about, there are no mountains or forests to debate the philosophy of who we are. I’ve long since given up on recognizing my consciousness and myself as one and the same. They are not. My body, which cannot be named, balances my consciousness on the pedestal of neck where my head should be. My consciousness, which wants to give everything a name, wonders what lingers beneath it. My body is haunting itself at all times. I have dreams that are neither sweet nor nightmare of the woman behind the hoods of my eyelids. I see her and think of the miscarried daughter my parents had before me. I wanted to be her. My blame, which ricocheted from my parents to God to the blood in my body, should not be rested on the deadname she could never live out. But goddamnit, my heart wants to blame her.

My father, now in the failing years of his marriage, knows his breaking point, but disregards it every time. My mother smokes out her lungs to dissuade herself from acknowledging the death of her love. I do not think my family knows how to talk without belligerence behind the lilt of their jaws. We are the kind of people who do not deserve to love. I want to place a bouquet of flowers I cannot name in my mouth. I want to give myself something: a gift, a dowry, wrenched from within my non-existent, unnecessary womb. I want to have a second wedding for the love I never granted myself. I want to bury the names of flowers, wait for their supplication, their burgeoning lush. I want the hair of overgrown thistle to jut from my head and spill in every which wind. I want to purple my hands with the rings of people I will never love and say these, too, are weightless.

Not unlike how my father builds homes, I want to place a hand around an empty space and deliberate a shape. But I do not need to know what my parents will hear when I say a name that is not already on their tongues. They cannot birth what they do not know the brevity of. I will never give them that benefit. There is no doubt.

From Traverse City, MI, Liam Strong is a queer writer and the former Editor-in-Chief of NMC Magazine. Currently, they’re working on their Bachelor’s in English at the University of Wisconsin-Superior while working as an English tutor, as well as a staff writer for White Pine Press, and a music reviewer for Promethean. You can also find their work in Impossible Archetype, Painted Cave, Dunes Review, Monday Night, IDK Magazine, The 3288 Review, The Maynard, Peach Mag, Blue River Review, and Panoply. They have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize in 2019.