A Process of Abstraction

J. Mcmillon

photo of paint brushes

"Have I a body or have I none? Am I who I am or am I not?"
Cold Mountain, by Charles Frazier

A few minutes after the alarm clock’s wail shuffles you out of bed, shaking the folds of silence like some new-born creation, tangible and fleshy, you stand before yourself in the reflection on the window, the morning sun your personal spotlight. You are naked and nervous, a tender sore two days from blistering – if you could only live forever in the land you leave behind on your pillow! Yes, you are raw and sore with an indignant anger because you go through this every morning. On a daily basis you face the biological construct surrounding your existence. This body, this tangible extension, and its gender is how the world knows you, determines how they categorize and relate/respond to you. Yet this fleshy statistic is a mere scratch, a faint sheen covering a deep well; and the gender dwelling in those depths does not match what society sees. So it is that every morning you wrestle with your 'true-you', the bodiless sentience who no one will every truly know, and place it inside of the folds, seams, buttons and buckles that will make you presentable to students and instructors on campus, to the neighbors, store clerks – to the world. You suffer through a process of abstraction. Trying to find the perfect consolation prize; something for society and their grave markers; and a little something for yourself.

Find the contour! With eyes and fingers for pencils, you begin abstracting yourself ever so gently from the object on the glass like a careful physician removing life from a womb. Ignore the biological outline and whisper your true name; understanding that the form offered to you in this world will never really do. Knowing, too, that you have the right to choose. You are, in all honesty, eternal, nameless, and formless; a pumping breath of red, an inhale of green, a throbbing purple, a glow of orange – now an exhale of yellow. Yes, the pencils probe, extracting you, a prism, a whirlpool of hues, and begins dressing you for another lonesome day, pre-planned by your chromosomes.

There are times when you regret, and down right loath having read of Descartes and those other philosophers who encouraged the acts of questioning and investigation. Perhaps it would have been better just accepting reality as it flows before your eyes, yet never questioning the perceptions is dangerous. You know this. Yet most of the people around you are guilty of that crime. So were you once upon a time. You were told your name, how you should dress, what you should feel, the principles and ideas to believe in, and your gender; and you believed and accommodated. You were a blank canvas and their marks and renderings became the painting, the portrait you beheld in your mind's eye. Yet somehow it would not rest comfortably upon the wall. It always hung crooked, as if in response to your defiant behavior. According to gender, society expected you to act 'this way', play with 'these toys', not 'those', and to dress 'like the others'. All of 'the others' behave themselves, why can't you? The face you beheld in mirrors, window panes and swimming pools was different from the portrait that your family and society had given you.

Is it loneliness or solitude that finally made you a gender-rebel? Solitude! Now that is enough to leave you enraged and crazy. Forget all of the sophisticated, conceited rhetoric! You don’t want to be alone all of the time but the population of the world, the masses, stand and adhere to the genders pre-set on the grave markers that were placed by their cradles, their play-pens, their school lockers and their careers; and they, blind, refusing to learn Braille, dwell oh so willingly in a potter’s field of genders, a death you have rejected. Turning your back on that pale horse means a life of standing alone by windows, singing under statues, mixing private pigments that display your contempt of gender-oriented norms and mores with harsh, precise layers. The resulting isolation and misunderstanding that your critique generates means falling in lust with dim café corners, giving that deviant word ‘love’ the middle finger while lying for the swiftest, safest ounce of sex to ever rise from ghetto stairwells. Rejecting that deadly gender-conformity in order to touch, to understand and to accept your perfect body means just this: facing your reflection in the only raiment you can ever honestly call your own, while caressing its boundaries as plainly, as bravely as perhaps Descartes before his fireplace, firm in his belief that the extensions around him were not what they appeared to be simply because the world said they were, embarking on an investigation of the senses, abstracting form from name, seeking their true definition. He did this only a few times. You must do this daily.

So now unclothed, exposed, you skinny-dip into the falling, vertical horizon of your clothes; disappearing into a streaky field of twilight browns and deceiving denim. The browns of your flesh carry the tone of every intoxicating spice to ever touch the lips of starving families under freeways, and the ripening fields of grain grown for the comfort of any belly that will have them. These are secondary fruits born on the confusing palettes of starving painters too poor, too proud and ignorant for invitations to join secret societies and feast upon the sweat and fears of the impoverished. Yes these browns draping the contour of your existence on this earthly plain are the stumbling, staggering steps of dope fiends hypnotized by sleepy opiate storms in homeless shelters, cluttered with tombstones and rusty shopping carts.

Over those tender, throbbing hues you clothe yourself in a durable denim that laughs and cries over your despair while draping you in a mask that helps passing. Yes the clothes you choose this morning will slim your frame up here, make a bulge down there, guarantee a fatter check from the labor pools, the right to walk unharmed through dark streets and questionable alleyways. You mix-match and cross gender-designated clothes, matching as best as they possibly can your interior-exterior sketches the world calls 'gender'.

Oh! If gender were the perfect maid making all of your desires come true! What fantasies s/he could fulfill breaking thrones and shattering stereotypes… but that is not possible. So you do the best you can. At least, at least you are not a thief, stealing, preying upon someone else’s troubling existence. How many times have you spied gender-conformists hiding behind solemn faces and polite smiles, ignorant of their own desolation? Guilty of conspiracy to commit sabotage by never questioning their own neutral eternity dwelling inside temporary vessels marked 'male' and 'female'; urns that will one day shatter, slowly decomposing beneath the earth, becoming "the culinary delights of telestial worms." Until then they live life happy, ignorant, care-free and never alone in crowds.

You trade it all in for a stronger say about your place on the canvas of the world. Re-rendering the basic line quality and texture of your outer borders to better describe your internal composition. While they will never completely satisfy, these threads and fibers better represent what you feel inside – What?! What?! Name these moods churning deep down, in that endless, spiraling, neutral spring!

Suddenly, frustrated, you snatch off the clothes, searching madly for better garments to cover your colors. There, black jeans and a black sweater. Slowly, fingers trembling like lovers after seeking all night in vain to please one another, you sit on the edge of the bed, light a cigarette… and a wash of passions float up from the life, the town you left sleeping on your pillow; a world that talks to you of the streets of protection, the fields of choice and understanding, the roof tops and spires of hope and determination; and of the river of wisdom running all through it. The only people in that village are a man and a woman stalking the water’s edge: their portraits are the river's liquid, shifting surface (forever changing). Their clothes - huh! - the curling mist of pastel dust blowing from the ruined grave stones they shattered in last night’s dreams. They are the brush strokes rippling inside of you, not one or two, but an entire world of them. Yet at times it seems they inhabit a universe

Again you stand in the spotlight on the window, reassigning your choice of palette and material and smile. You have done for yourself what no one else can do: deviantly abstracting and blurring the edges of conformity. Cross-dressing your reality to better fit the tender neutral soul and inner-vision regardless of what the world may say. Satisfied, you step outside, defying the world, embracing a stronger day.