butch flight

by sarah cavar

(content warning: this submission contains themes of
cissexism/transphobia and slight reference to medical abuse/assault)

This poem responds to intensifying discourses of violent anti-trans harassment from trans-exclusionary radical feminists, or TERFs, and a rapid “closing-of-the-ranks” among binary trans people who feel that the existence of transgressive trans people threatens their respectability. These groups’ outlandish claims are not simply claims to legitimacy, but claims to territory, both literal and figurative: while ejecting trans women from what are nominally known as “womens’ spaces,” including domestic violence shelters, they stake claim over the bodies of those designated “female” at birth and join the Christian Right in pushing autonomy-stripping legislation. It seems, too, that the trans defect(or) from womanhood is not necessarily safe among fellow-crossers, who have and continue to collaborate with the medical establishment to circumscribe trans possibility.

For all people pursuing gender-affirming surgeries amidst a pandemic, regardless of apparent medical “legitimacy,” the language of “electivity” leaves operation timing perpetually-precarious. This precarity disrupts not only peoples’ everyday lives (days spent waiting for phone calls, tasks deferred by sudden joy/heartbreak, rapid work-rescheduling
— or not — when a new date opens or shuts) but their broader “transition timeline,” a teleology from wrong-to-right-body grafted onto trans narratives for the benefit of the cis medical cartographer.

Given these conditions, I offer a line of (butch) flight that acknowledges the continuing, painful reality of those of us — such as myself — marked both as lesbian-traitors and as wrongfully-trans. In living the anti-gender reality that I do, I hope to map out not a path(ology) to identity, but a trail: something a little more wooded, a little darker, a lot more prone to curves and bumps. One that leaves a trace.

Butches in flight.¹ Butches flying past homeland security. Butches not knowing to rise for the
flag, butches not knowing what it looks like.
The butch fledges. Fledges, as in obsolete
adjectives with large-enough feathers. The butches fly so high so far-fast we² can hardly find
them we can never capture with our eyes the butch bodies flying out of lez(air)space right toward
the troublesome genderqueers transes nonbinaries and oh do we let them go or do we shoot them
down   our own           before they can disappoint us further
Here it is. I am it. I am the butch. I was not a lesbian first. I was trans first, I was nonbinary
(autocorrect: nonlinearly) by fifteen. genderfluid. genderflight         genderfight. Hide behind my
eyeballs in the butches, I man (I mean) butches. Bushes. I mean, all this is real and mine and
instinctual. I mean I can’t s ell butch. oh
In a way we all ought to be genderfluid because that lets us be humble in the face of all the
outside forces we call pathology. I’m genderfluid the way water is fluid. Water is water but there
is no containing it. Can’t get me in your fingers, can’t get your fingers inside me. No stopping
every crack. No fullness to await. I’m genderfluid, rubbing genderfluid in the bathroom
on my back at night, and my back sings to it, and the song’s wintery skinflakes fleet across my

Fleet, as in passing³ rapidly.

Ever since I was little I have wanted |a| dick— right? i mean a mustache — i mean a basketball
— no i mean a ball— or 2 i man — imean a pair⁴

of wings. Or to be a better liar. I want|ed to be a dragon, or something with that sort of power.
Dragons are so like the real thing you can almost believe they were real, once, just something in
excess of lizard, sometimes wearing wings.

Plenty flies. The last scab flies when it’s ready or you pick it to be. It flies downward, which
could be called falling, but if you stare close at the redblack paint chip-like thing as it scuttles
free of living skin you see it makes tiny upward motions with each breath it falls. Rarely is this
slow enough to see

The wings. Fly for forgetting flee.

¹ The specter of “the disappearing butch,” writes Ivan Coyote in Gender Failure, emerges as a figure in the wake of increasing access to medical transition (2017:160).
² According to transmedical narratives, the trans person should indeed “flee” their assigned sexgender, cut off all contact with their past self, deeming that person both antiquated and false.
³ Passing, Passing-Through
       • Passing through one identity on your way to another
       • Being allowed or not allowed to pass through a space
       • Passing-On?
⁴ In this formulation, all trans men would think like paradigmatic trans man and autobiographer Mario Martino, who — upon seeing Christine Jorgenson’s medical transition — longed to follow in her footsteps, writing in Emergence: A Transsexual Autobiography of his longing “leave this girl [that he was perceived as] in Denmark” (E34). Here, he conjures even the image of genuine flight: crossing over-seas and coming back a new man.

[Sarah] Cavar (they/them) is a PhD student in Cultural Studies and Science and Technology Studies at University of California, Davis. They live, work, and study at the nexus of trans disability and Mad studies, and their ongoing research concerns queercrip and transMad digital counterepistemologies as forms of antipsychiatric resistance. Author of two chapbooks, A Hole Walked In (2021) and The Dream Journals (2021), they have had work in Electric Literature, 3:am Magazine, Bitch Magazine, and elsewhere; their scholarly work is forthcoming in Disability Studies Quarterly.