On Girls Living Inside the Bodies of Boys
An introduction for Soz’s book of poems Masculinity Digs a Grave Over My Body.
Last year, Soz, (that’s not their real name) contacted me from India and asked me to write an introduction to their book of poems, Masculinity Digs a Grave Over My Body. Soz is perhaps a closeted trans women, I’m not sure the decision has been made, yet. Regardless, I read the poems, raw and visceral and full of life. This introduction for their book was the result.
When I was three or four years old, my mother took me with her to the department stores where she shopped. There were circular racks of women’s nightgowns, the gauzy nylon concoctions of the era. I recall running into the racks, moving though the layers of soft pastel colored gowns, lost in the enfolding pleasure. I also distinctly recall thinking, “At my age I can do this and no one will mind. But pretty soon, I’ll have to stop.”
That I understood the rules for boys as early as age four has remained a source of wonder for me. How is it that even the littlest of boys, barely out of diapers, already understand the rules of gender? Though I think we all have it, this extremely early awareness of the rules is something few of us will ever mark and later recall. You have to be breaking a big rule to mark clearly in your little child’s mind this kind of awareness. You have to be messing with gender.
Soz’s poems are steeped in the anguish of what happens when boys arrive at that place called “I’ll have to stop.” They arrive at one such defining moment when they are no longer so little, and then there is a second time, when their bodies go through the change, become covered in hair, when their physicality betrays their more feminine aspirations. In that moment, boys like Soz confront a choice. To choose a feminine name and a feminine performance or not. To come out of the closet and fight that battle to shift and play with gender or to stay closeted and leverage what Soz calls “the privilege our identities condemn us to enjoy.”
Soz is young. Their poems are the work of someone who is still constructing who they are. As such, what Soz writes is raw, sexual, challenging and deeply self-referential. Their work is the mirror searching for courage, seeking the curve of the feminine along the silhouette of the masculine, searching for the pieces of fragmented identity among the errors and failings of being male and female.
If you have ever wondered about the deeply personal dialogue for girls who happen to show up in boy’s bodies, Soz shows us what this liminal space can sound like. Even now, as I write girl and boy, and boy and girl, I reinforce the painful gender binary under which we all struggle to find authentic expressions of self. We can’t help it. The bloody and relentless programming that gender is a binary runs so deep. It results in a sense of being out of place, yes, and of being under immense pressure, as if the sky is always pressing down on us all. There is the overbearing arc of culture and the warnings that go with it, constant reminders of the gender rules that can get you killed.
But there is also something else. A relentless impatience, as if something precious is slipping away, something there in the shame of a boy, gliding his mother’s clothes across his body in secret. There is the pain of what is missing. Perhaps a lingering sense of the very earliest days, when we didn’t yet know what we are. When we were still free of gender and identity and shame.
Some day, boys and girls who flow to meet in the middle ground of gender will see their own kind of personhood reflected in those around them, validated by daily life. On the streets and in the bars, these human beings will popularize their own aesthetic, their own way of shimmering in the world. The public performance of gender fluidity will be universal, accepted and admired and so, as normative as the cartoon caricatures of the gender binaries we now extol. In a world like that, Soz and millions of others can stop beating themselves up.
That world, though emerging, has not yet arrived. And so, in the meantime, Soz will write poems.
Mark Greene, New York City
You can order Soz is Burning’s Masculinity Digs a Grave Over My Body at Amazon.