Resistance

Resistance

The girl by the lake
wears her silence like a long white linen dress
with a red stain where the heart should be

When they took her to the prison to serve her time
she slipped between the bars
with a knife made from a sharpened whisper

She said to me, I don’t belong here
but they rebuilt my history
from the colours of the rust on the van abandoned by the road

where two men took me and asked me for my mouth
and the moisture of the voice that pauses like a river in between

They bound my wrists with the undersides of light,
the shadows that move from their skin like frayed ropes

I bound their hands with the chords in my throat
but they slipped away so easily. And so for a while
I believed it was because I am not strong enough

But when they held me against the dirt
I kept the sky up with my bare knees
And I found a kind of grounding
in falling through the throat of time
and remembering where my mother stood
in a similar field on the other side of the world
sewing songs between the shadows of black birds
in a language made of broken light and bare shoulders

She braced the wind against her closed fists

So when they hold me, and I am told
that girls like me ask for what is given
I collect the silhouettes of ravens that move between
the broken shapes of abandoned engines
and I wait patiently until the moment
that time thaws like the river in spring

© Allison Ursula Smith

Piano Birds

Piano Birds

You kept your old lover like a childhood crucifix
She is there on the windowsill of the empty room
I feel her shadow whenever my hand
walks the sorrows of the road that winds between your ribs
up to your neck

The first time you kissed me, you bruised my mouth
with your mouth. In the morning my lower lip
was the colour of spilled ink. Still, I swallowed all my words
like the sea swallowed the initials you left in the sand

That same night you pretended to catch the yellow street light
in your palms. We watched it spreading across the drafting table
of your hands. When you touched me, I could feel
you blueprint of light. Your beams of light

You shivered like the wrinkles in white bedsheets
that you lifted once, twice in the air to spread
smoothly, gracefully over the bed
as I counted all the freckles on your arms
the constellations that shift with your horizon

When I looked away, I noticed the birds
that glanced into your bedroom from the trees outside,
their single eyes like drops of rain

Black birds: the small creatures you carved into the side
of your parents’ piano when you were six years old
with a knife from a drawer
that you were not supposed to be able to reach

Breathing deeply, you hit the flats and sharps of my rib cage
with clumsy fingers. As you reach for the wand of the blinds
behind my head, you bend to kiss my eyelids, one and then the other
Magpies, your eyes say. Twin magpies in a nest of sounds
scavenging the bodies of memories

© Allison Ursula Smith

Transphobia and the Bathroom Question

Transphobia and the Bathroom Question:
Or, What’s Really Lurking in Your Public Washroom

transally
I am writing this piece because lately a few self-identified progressive folks I know have brought up the bathroom question with me. I suppose it is because I’m doing a project at work with a strong LGBTQ-inclusivity component. This project makes me really, really happy. It fills my heart. And so I talk about these issues a lot when I’m out with friends.

The notorious bathroom question, if you don’t know of it, asks whether trans folks should get to use the bathroom that fits their gender identity. In other words, should a trans man be entitled to use the men’s washroom? And should a trans woman be entitled to use the women’s washroom?

The answer I always want to give is this:

“Who are we to question someone’s gender? They’ve undoubtedly spent years thinking about it, feeling it, and, regardless of to what extent they’ve felt comfortable expressing it, living it as well. And so they probably know a hell of a lot more about it than we do.”

But I don’t say these words. Because honestly, I am still consistently surprised when the bathroom question comes up among my peer group. It shocks me, and this shock silences me. And, much as I love all-encompassing moments of silence, these are not the silences I want to curl up inside.

I want to note that I’m writing this piece from a position of privilege. I’m a cisgender woman. What this means, if you’re not familiar with the language, is that the sex I was assigned at birth matches the gender with which I identify. In addition to being a cisgender woman, I’m also quite feminine-presenting. And so I’ve never had anyone question my choice of bathroom. I’ve never been threatened with hateful words or subject to violence because someone in a public washroom is uncomfortable with my gender expression. But this violence and these threats happen.

The bathroom question is often brought up by opponents of trans rights who claim that allowing trans women to use women’s washrooms would create danger for cisgender women. One example of the many iterations of this logic was in 2012 when Calgary Member of Parliament Rob Anders adamantly opposed Bill C279, a private member’s bill which would add gender identity and gender expression as protected grounds in the Canadian Human Rights Act and hate crime section of the Canadian Criminal Code. Anders described the bill as the “bathroom bill” and suggested that its purpose was to give trans women (whom he purposely misgendered as men) access to women’s washrooms.

I am quite familiar with the bathroom question as raised by people like Anders. In reality, in such a context it tends to be posited as more of a statement or as a moral truth rather than as a question.

But of late, the bathroom question has been expressed to me by friends over casual coffee through this sort of sentiment: “I don’t mind trans women. In fact, I support their right to express themselves and dress as they like. But I wouldn’t want one in a bathroom with me.” Or, “Trans rights are great, but won’t this mean that a man could sneak into the ladies’ room?”

To which I want to reply:

Seriously, my friend? That logic has all of the beauty, strength, and resilience of that wad of toilet paper that got stuck to the heel of my shoe when I was out on a date that time. Please. Let’s step back and think this one over. If a creepy man really gets his kicks from creeping on women doing their private ladybusiness and is willing to dress himself as a woman just to sneak into the ladies’ loo to do so, one has to wonder about his sense of efficiency because he really hasn’t done a good cost-benefit analysis. There are far simpler, much less involved ways to be creepy to women, such as yelling at them from the comfort of one’s truck window. And there will always be conveniently placed dark alleyways and the shadowed corners in bars for him to make use of. Letting trans women use women’s restrooms is not going to suddenly unleash a deluge of creepers being creepers. They already do this quite well and in locations better suited to their convenience.

So instead let’s do a cost-benefit analysis of our own. If there really are men out there who are willing to go to the lengths of misrepresenting themselves and dressing in drag just to sneak into bathrooms and be menacing to women, is this vague possibility worth the cost of discarding the basic right of trans people to go out in public and feel safe when they need to pee?

Are we as a culture really going to let the spectre of a hypothetical boogeyman guide us? Are we really going to let it justify our fear of and cruelty toward a group of people who have been overwhelmingly marginalized, debased, degraded, and even murdered just for being who they are? Have you seen the stats about murder and suicide rates in the trans community? There are some here and here.

I will never understand why we as feminists, as progressives, and as supposed allies, would ever present the bathroom question as if it has any answer other than this answer:

“You know. You, whoever you are, you know your gender. You know, or maybe you are discovering it as you go, which is great too. But you – YOU – know who you are better than I do. So please use the bathroom that makes you comfortable and that best suits your needs. And I, for my part, will do whatever I should do to make that space comfortable for you. By which I mean this: I will not perpetuate transphobia. By which I mean, I will not ogle you while you’re just trying to do your business, I will not objectify you by judging your body, I will not inappropriately ponder the body parts you have under your clothes, I will not yell at you or say hurtful words, I will not act in such a way so as to make you feel small and vulnerable. In other words, I will not be that predator that we as a culture say we are so afraid of.”

Because maybe, just maybe, that predator has been living among us all along – we who are so averse to compassion, we who are so afraid of the Other, we who are so afraid of disrupting the status quo that, through both our actions and inaction, we participate in the suffering of other human beings.

Transphobia is the real predator that we should fear and that we should want out of our public restrooms. But let me tell you, it’s a serious goddamn lurker. Sometimes it hides in the shadows, and sometimes it presents itself in broad daylight. It’s at our windows, in our schools, in our laws, in our statements, in our silence, and also in the stall next to us. It’s in our minds and in our hearts. It’s in my heart. Because we are all immersed in a sea of transphobic tropes and assumptions that do not loosen their hold easily.

I dislike toilet paper on my shoe when I’m a date. I dislike human suffering even more.

I’ve seen the wounds of transphobia in the eyes of people I love and it makes me ache.

I try to be a good ally, but I have made presumptions that I regret. I have said things I never should have said. And I’ve been quiet at moments when there is so much that needs to be said.

So, this is my vow that I will speak up from now on in those moments of shocked silence when someone brings up the bathroom question. I promise I will do this. I will speak back to those who want to present transphobia as a safety measure instead of the injustice that it is. I will keeping writing things, making art, and fostering kindness in my own way. I will keep my heart and mind open, because I still have so much to learn from the world. And, because there is so much to learn, I will never stop asking questions.

But not that question. That one about the bathroom. I’m going to do my part to flush that one out to sea.

© Allison Ursula Smith


I’ve written about transphobia before in the context of Canadian law and prison policy. You can read my article “Stories of 0s: Transgender Women, Monstrous Bodies, and the Canadian Prison System” here.

Flutter

Flutter

We watched birds’ feathers fall down from the trees
with the dried remains of lilacs. Kneeling beside you
I found the skeleton of a crow wedged in ice

Leave it, you said, for someone to find a thousand years from now
when our world is gone. Then they will know
that everything we said tonight was only made of hollow bones

We drove for hours. Our thoughts were insects in the headlights
of the cars behind us. Somewhere along the I-93
there is a tree with branches outlined by snow

Split down the middle like two inverted lungs
I used it to breathe when you pulled away from me
and left me by the side of the road

You sent me love letters like signatures on declarations of war
The ache of your pen cut through to the table beneath
But you never broke the skin. And you never
asked me for the hours I spent waiting

Still, I believed you when you said
that time moves like a child through a library
sometimes fascinated, sometimes
pulling on our sleeves in boredom
asking us when we will be leaving

The women I know sit around a fire
The feet of their crossed legs flutter like moths
They gave away their old names
and watched them burn into ash under a veil of smoke,
their eyelashes moving like hail marys

I tried for a different fate. Not to give my vow
like a cigarette passed around at a party
that you went to when you were twelve years old
that you drew in through your mouth
but didn’t breathe in too deeply
whose substance you held
in that long slow pause behind closed teeth

© Allison Ursula Smith

Heart of a Soldier

And now the latest installment of my silly romance novel rewrites, in which I rewrite the plot synopsis of romance novels based solely on the cover image and title. Older ones are here and here. As always, I find these books at the local grocery store. This one is called “Heart of a Soldier.” Here we go:

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Mister Hoofytoes, with his white mane like beautifully frayed kleenex forgotten in pockets of sweaters run through the dryer, was not your average horse. With his subtle smile and a perfectly coiffed goatee too sultry to show on a book cover, Mister Hoofytoes rivaled Ryan Gosling with his delicately masculine allure.

Like Ryan Gosling, Mister Hoofytoes looked incredibly gorgeous and yet somehow approachable while wearing tan sweater-vests. Like Ryan Gosling, Mister Hoofytoes was a passable cellist.

And, also like Ryan Gosling, Mister Hoofytoes was one of two characters in an epic tale of romance that would be remembered throughout the ages. (Alas, unlike Ryan Gosling, Mr. Hoofytoes would never win four Teen Choice Awards, because the world is cruel).

The lady love in Mister Hoofytoes’ epic romance was Catherine.

Catherine was a 26-year old farmgirl with a penchant for lilac blouses that looked awkward when paired with the cowboy boots of which she was so fond. Catherine had named Mister Hoofytoes when she was six years old, and had loved him ever since.

Catherine would ride atop Mister Hoofytoes every morning. She knew Mister Hoofytoes’ shoe size. She knew he liked his oats scattered like bits of fairydust. She knew the way he loved to stand behind appropriately placed men so as to majestically appear as if he only had one back leg.

But Catherine did not know Mister Hoofytoes’ secret.

Mister Hoofytoes had the heart of a soldier. Quite literally. One summer morning, while galloping through a dew-glazed meadow, Mister Hoofytoes jumped over an enticingly high cluster of parsley, sage, and rosemary. While midair, Mister Hoofytoes fell into a temporal rift and wound up in the distant future in a war-torn earth ravaged by hellhounds and hazardous cybernetic spider overlords.

Trapped in this futuristic land for ten years, Mister Hoofytoes befriended the enigmatic ukulele-playing Gordon, who was a soldier in the resistance. Gordon taught Mister Hoofytoes how to fly a fighter plane powered by cold fusion and dreams. Gordon taught Mister Hoofytoes how to fool hovergrenades using light refracted from well posed, steely cheekbones. And, knowing how Mister Hoofytoes pined for Catherine and the charming way she scattered oats, Gordon taught Mister Hoofytoes the importance of not giving up on love.

When Gordon was shot down by a passing arachno-tank, he bestowed upon Mr. Hoofytoes a gift that would make him remember these lessons forever – his bionic heart, the heart of a soldier. After Gordon took his final breath, cybercardiologists transplanted the heart into Mister Hoofytoes’ chest, thus giving him both human emotions and the ability to travel through time using temporal cyberfusion and wishes.

When Mister Hoofytoes returned to his longed-for farm, he saw Catherine there, her hair blowing in the wind with the fervour of burlap. A sub-par human man stood beside her wearing an unsettlingly plain white t-shirt. In that instant, Mister Hoofytoes vowed he would woo Catherine away to be his own, as both fate and Gordon had decreed.

The next time Catherine sat atop Hoofytoes, her legs awkwardly held to one side, surely she would begin to sense the loud mechanical whirr of true love. Even though he could not speak to her, surely with time she would realize that Mister Hoofytoes’ chest was bursting with deep emotion – and with the heavily distended, cybertronic heart of a soldier.

Jennifer

Jennifer

Woman
on the subway
trying not to cry
or breathe too loudly,
eyes as patient as
a box of matches
Beside a man
with pale legs
and a smile like
a rip in the wallpaper
Your hands are starfish
breathing above water
and the closing doors
at the next station
are the sound of the waves
that stroked your ankles
when you chased the shadows of gulls
into the sea
when you were only
five years old

© Allison Ursula Smith

Rust

Rust

You fade like red in the light of the morning
You become the colour of rust
You begin to match the truck in the yard
abandoned and free to do its own bidding

You gave me your name and your business card
You wanted a life that was full of beginnings
You wanted a sky that was empty of warnings
You wanted a heart made harder by lust

You asked me to take your name and your pain
And baptismal waters made sacred by sinning:
Your ocean was placid, you needed my thrust,
You wanted the red of a sailor’s morning

You wandered between our bed and the cold waves
You asked me if I would continue adorning
your neck with fine beads like the night of our wedding,
the sweat that unwinds between mountains of dust

You gave me your ride and I gave you my trust
I opened my heart wide instead of spreading
My legs were held tightly against my chest, my hands
Were gripping your wrists and your lists of demands

© Allison Ursula Smith