Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2022  Vol. 21  No. 1
an online journal of literature and the arts
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When You Put on Your Binder Smelling Like Lavender

is the same day you call yourself by your old pronouns,
as if they were makeup you put on in the dark
or shoes that don’t pinch if you stand still
or the way you pick up the phone using your ex’s last name.

Your mother’s arsenal of gender-neutral words for children
grows each day like tomatoes bursting green in your mouth,
and when you say thank you, she’ll act like it is no big deal, say of course
and erase the months it took to tell her, or how she’s always
the last one to know. You have big plans on how you’ll tell her about top surgery,
how you’ll call it back pain, then in a few months explain
how you’ve been waiting so long, like how you dream
about dancing in a crowded hall when the pandemic breaks.

You search the internet for more musky scents, bergamot and sandalwood,
get annoyed to see lotion gendered, like necklaces and notebooks and
t-shirts and vitamins and camping gear and shampoo and coffee mugs
and you think maybe you should go back to pretending you are fine
with the long hair and the big boobs and pants with fake pockets
like you are watching a butterfly hatch and hoping
it’ll never break its cocoon or know its wings can spread wide
when the big hawk comes or the years
of training yourself to ignore your chest as if
it was a borrowed book, or Tupperware you have
to return to your neighbor, or the stain
on the carpet everyone just walks around.

The real question is, do you wear your binder to the new hairdresser
who is Korean and might look at the picture of the bearded actor you bring in
like it’s kimchi on a hamburger, who might have a store full
of ajummas who will stare and make small efforts to whisper
or she will be like your mom, not understanding you but not hating it,
tilting her head at all she cannot name.

You are either gutting the fish and leaving it for flies
or shoveling the snow off the sidewalk so you can get to your mailbox,
but either way, you need to get your hair cut back from its quarantine shag
so you soothe your dry skin, flatten your chest so you can bear
the mirror, and walk out the door.  

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