And Now, This Body

A flock of geese migrate south, November 18, 2018, Jo Zimny CC.

And now, this body.
One hand on the chest. One hand on the belly.
Remember to breathe.
And now, this body.

To the reader: this piece is part essay, part prayer, part litany . . . I invite you to read it in a spirit of active participation. As you reach each of the refrains in italics, I invite you to pause and (as you feel comfortable) find a physical point of connection with your own body – to breathe, to listen to your own body, to notice.

***

Dear God . . . I’ve struggled to write this essay. I’ve procrastinated, multiple times. I keep waiting for the world to settle a bit, so that I can make sense of this swirl of events, of violences and resistances and deaths and resurrections and cries from the bodies of people and the bodies of communities. I find myself losing my ground, unsure how to even locate myself in this moment.

And then, You remind me. An intuition.

And now, this body.
One hand on the chest. One hand on the belly.
Remember to breathe.
And now, this body.

I slow down. I breathe . . . a bit shallowly into my chest, but with patience, my breath deepens a little. And I remember my body as teacher. Sam Dylan Finch reminds me in “Capture bonding: How I both need and grieve my gender transition,” on the blog Let’s Queer Things Up! that “the truth of transition, they will tell you, is that it is pure and unadulterated joy and discovery. It makes for a touching story, to be sure. But quietly, I hold the space for something more – the messy reality that mingling with that joy is also raw and relentless grief, a letting go that too many of us struggle to make sense of.”
My transition is a far cry from the tidy before-and-after narratives we see in our popular media. For me, it’s non-linear and has involved a series of discoveries, deaths, and sparks of life . . . of paring down to the bare bones of what is most vital, necessary, and lifegiving.

And now, this body.
One hand on the chest. One hand on the belly.
Remember to breathe.
And now, this body.

But not just my body. I remember what our trans bodies teach us in the face of unimaginable violence. The Sylvia Rivera Law Project reminds me of the disproportionate levels of poverty, homelessness, incarceration, and deportation that trans people experience and of how deeply intertwined these forces are. The news reminds me that the U.S. government has recently rescinded healthcare civil rights for trans folks, many of whom are at heightened risk of COVID-19.

And yet, trans folks know what it is to summon deep resilience in the face of these systems that seem designed to erase, to deny, to forget, to eradicate. I remember getting arrested alongside Sylvia Rivera while we engaged in civil disobedience protesting religious homophobia. I remember lessons she taught me about tenacity and perseverance and not giving up, even in the face of her own death. I remember the quieter ways she taught the young genderqueer-lesbian-that-I-was how to begin to move into his transness. It took me another 25 years, Sylvia, but I got here. A death? A rebirth? A building on many deaths over time? New life emerging?

And now, this body.
One hand on the chest. One hand on the belly.
Remember to breathe.
Remember –

But wait.
But wait.
Is breathing now a privilege reserved for those of us who are white?
Black lives crying out over and over that they can’t breathe.

They can’t breathe.

How do I respond? How do I move to action while also feeling deeply into this moment, into these centuries of moments, into the recognition that Black trans lives, and especially Black trans women’s lives, are particularly precarious? How do I respond when I feel overwhelmed by how much I need to learn, to listen, to do better, to . . . to . . .

And again, an intuition – but perhaps this time with a slightly different inflection.

And now, this body.

Yes . . . this body . . . this white, trans body with its complex positionality in our current climate . . . this body has work to do. And now, this body. Stepping into, leaning into the discomfort of that learning and listening, because to not do so is to be complicit in the death-dealing system of white supremacy.

All of this . . . all of this requires me to sink deeper. To listen to my body, to my world, to You. And again, I hear a reminder that brings clarity.

And now, this body.
One hand on the chest. One hand on the belly.
Remember to breathe.
And now, this body.

This body. This moment. This time. Breathing deeply, listening deeply, and responding deeply.

And you, my reader? What joys do you bring to this moment? What griefs? What deaths are you navigating in your own life? In our world? How might your own body be a source of wisdom and resilience and tenacity? Even in the face of death?

And now, this body.
One hand on the chest. One hand on the belly.
Remember to breathe.
And now, this body.

Amen.

Kerr Mesner is a queer/trans theologian, a theatre performer/educator, a college professor, and an activist.

Issue 58

This article first appeared in Geez magazine Issue 58, Fall 2020, Breath & Bone.

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