Kirby shares “It’s Queer to Have a Body,” an excerpt from their forthcoming essay collection POETRY IS QUEER (Palimpsest Press, 2021).
It’s Queer to Have a Body
I wouldn’t be the person I am, I wouldn’t understand what I understand, were it not for certain books. I’m thinking of the great question of nineteenth-century Russian literature: how should one live? A novel worth reading is an education of the heart. It enlarges your sense of human possibility, of what human nature is, of what happens in the world. It’s a creator of inwardness. —Susan Sontag
It started with a single line
Pictured, a single line drawing suggests a male torso etched in every fantasy I’ve had since puberty. [Kirby, This Is Where I Get Off, p20]
Why this line, this angle, and not a curve?
Somewhere I had read that’s what some researcher found, that the homosexual mind preferred angles over curves.
Could be true. I’ve always admired a good angle shot.
Mind you this bunch mostly set out to ‘cure’ the mo out of homo. The o so fine scholar Martin Duberman covers that terrain in but one of his excellent memoirs, Cures.
My saving grace, I never, never trusted the question to begin with. “Why do you think you’re homosexual?” “What made you homosexual?” “If you could be straight, would you?”
I never heard a single non-gay person ask that very same question about their straight selves.
“Ewww, what do you do in bed?”
‘O darlin’, I don’t do anything in bed but sleep.”
No, never trusted that question, not one bit. Wise body.
That’s what I learned to trust, my body. My innate, intimate wisdom.
The most barbarous of our maladies is to despise our being. —Montaigne
Trust isn’t something you think about. Not a faulty belief, not stinking thinking.
It’s what you know to be true, a place of knowing, your “gut.”
Being able-bodied, when I go to sit, stand, or walk, I trust where my feet meet ground, my body is there to support me. It’s not something I think about. I know enough to trust this is so.
Of course I can fuck it up, fall down, learn to get back up. Continue.
Somehow my body won out, I knew I wasn’t wrong for being gay.
But, like you, I certainly have suffered my share of being wronged. It was a seismic shift not to thumb the scale. Do that for them.
The real funny thing is, like most [white Christian] Americans in the midwest, of course they thought theirs was/is the only way to live, to see things.
I do not envy their glasses. I trust what I know, and it’s not pretty. Never has been.
Not that I’m ‘better’ but I’ve learned to be ruthless with my conditioners. Done my trench work.
To be homosexual [in America] is to have learned to resist one particularly powerful form of societal conditioning. Some of us take that lesson much further, questioning all manner of conditioned behaviour. Unfortunately, being gay or HIV+ guarantees nothing about one’s readiness to shed conditioned thoughts. Consider how many gay men continue to whine about the display of flesh at pride celebrations. Their letters of complaint appear in gay papers and in the mainstream media. Why must we show our dark side to the world, they ask. Maybe these people miss the point because it’s so simple: some of us have no respect for societal taboos about nudity and sexual expression. We feel that a society that cannot accept a naked human being walking down the street is rotten to the core. —Tom Ace, Diseased Pariah News, No. 8.
The only life I’m interested in begins and ends with my body.
If the concept of God has any validity or any use, it can only be to make us larger, freer, and more loving. If God cannot do this, then it is time we got rid of Him. —James Baldwin
The first third of my life, I was raised to be straight in a straight world, and there lies my deepest sorrow.
That I had more lived experience not being straight, than being gay, being non-binary, painful years of severe self-hatred and fear.
And, it’s not that it “gets better,” all by itself. Fuck that noise.
Oh, life is bitter / Ever since another god has harnessed us to his cross! —Arthur Rimbaud
Darlin’s, some things, I would say most things, aren’t meant for others to decide [and, believe me, given the chance, they will, State. Authority. Some god.] .
You’re not ‘reduced for a quick sale,’ nor are you ‘up for grabs.’
Some things, someone, must be claimed.
I don’t have to like everything about my body, or my story, and both are intimately, undeniably mine.
Is it that easy?
Not always easy, simple.
I find life exceedingly less pleasurable without my body.
And, this lifetime, my lifetime, I’m only going to experience life [that I know of] in this queer body of mine.
Grasp the good fortune that the ground on which you stand cannot be any bigger than the two feet planted on it. —Franz Kafka
Your body is yours, the ground where you stand, your ground. This includes your voice (also entirely physical). You have a say as long as you own what is yours, Your voice, your body.
You can always fuck it up, make a mess of it, be your brilliant self continuously refining what’s yours. You can always make another choice.
Always, always place yourself in a position of choice.
May not be your first, or even second, choice. But, make it yours.
There’s a quick and easy way to practice this (as I do to this day).
Whenever I find myself caught up/stewing in some stinking thinking (“darlin’ you’ve had a mind fart, open a window”) I ask myself two things:
“Darlin’ where are your feet?” and when seated,
“Darlin’ do you feel your ass in this chair?”
I know where my feet and ass are, I am.
And I’m more/other than any stinking thinking I can come up with.
If you’re gonna stew, make certain it’s not only edible, but delicious.
Free bodies are free to be themselves. That’s liberation.
My body responds in kind. Enjoys the roominess.
I didn’t learn any of this being straight. And this is as queersplaining as I get.
We have reason to believe that man first walked upright to free his hands for masturbation. —Lily Tomlin
An interviewer once asked what made the biggest difference, the greatest learning/change in my life, which I heard as what makes Kirby, Kirby.
“I no longer go for my jugular.”
It’s never that serious—to cut myself off, to treat myself so harshly—and at that time mostly for others who don’t care to begin with.
“I increased my arsenal from just a machete or sharp variations, to include a feather-duster ...
Kirby, the feather duster is all that’s required here, not the machete, that can stay on the wall.”
“A pink feather-duster.”
Now, she owns a Dyson.
Our true birthplace is that in which we cast for the first time an intelligent eye on ourselves. My first homelands were my books. —Marguerite Yourcenar
Desire’s not a thought either. That’s all body baby!
What informs that desire? Shapes? Arouses? Turns on/off?
There’s the play. The wonderment. The mystery. The delight.
Information. in/form. form = body
How do our bodies inform us? Body of knowledge. Trust what I [physically] know.
So much splaining. Everyone trying to figure it out. Which usually ends up trying. Trying is its own activity. It feels like doing something, but it’s only trying. So much extraneous energies wasted. The place of indecision, hovering, trying to get it right.
Replace the word try with choose.
No, don’t try replacing the word, choose. Test it out. Take your gay self for a spin.
This is what I’m choosing sets things in motion. No longer trying.
Don’t take my word for it, I’m just a faggot poet.
Wait, how do you know you’re straight? You don’t try to be straight. Do you? Maybe you do. Have fun with that!
I never imagined sex with a vulva person until I went harness shopping [for a friend].
Nothing less than brilliant. Always more you, never less.
That would be like my butcher trying to take a few slices of bacon off the weighted scale, [NEV-VAH!!!] my reaction is to chop their hand off, my response,
“O no, darlin’, it can go over a little.”
Always more. You can always reshape, reconfigure once you know what more is.
That’s the truly great thing about having a body. Capacity.
My body informs me, enough plenty full. Floor ceiling ground.
It’s never unilateral.
How does your body get your attention?
Like most, pain. When something’s wrong.
You may choose to extend the menu.
My body loves being included in my choice-making.
“Wait, darlin’ are you sure we can do this? You’re already operating over capacity?”
Maybe something a lil more respectful, kin to my skin. Wise body.
“Attention must be paid.” Listen, confer with yourself, your body.
Every breath is a resurrection. —Gregory Orr
It takes no breath to react.
It takes at least two breaths to respond.
It’s never unilateral.
The majority never make it past reactive mode.
It’s a queer thing to have/own a body. Against the norm.
I’m not talking about wellness, fuck those “O, I thought I might be good to myself,” niceties.
I’m inviting you to step into the power that is your body, your voice. Yours.
Her reasons are really quite selfish. She’s tired of puniness.
She’s tired of people residing in stagnant piss puddles as though they were fortresses to be defended.
As though that’s who they are.
My worry is not the absence of presence in writing but the presence of absence in presence. —Charles Bernstein
Darlin’s, you already cut a fine figure. It’s called your body.
I truly don’t care what kind of body, what kinda shape you’re in, I care about one thing and one thing only.
That you’re here.
From the head down [or neck up] you may think you don’t matter, that ‘it’ shouldn’t matter, that you don’t want to be here.
From the ground up, you entirely matter.
“It really doesn’t matter that you’re queer, does it?, I mean you’re other things as well, right?” People who don’t want to hear about your queer life all the time when we live in “their straight world” 100% of the time.
I’ve had to translate straight life for 60+ years now, even in gay bars, queer spaces. Now, given the choice, I don't bother to try.
I assume everyone is queer unless they inform me otherwise.
I can always hear no. It helps to make an informed choice.
Maybe it’s not about figuring things out, but a matter of figuring yourself in [the picture of your own life]. You’re already out just by being here.
Throw on some Go-Gos. Deee-lite. Prince. Aretha. Go figure, go!
I didn’t learn any of this being straight. Mine is not a straight body. This body is Triple Grade-AAA queer.
Queer: a person who self-proclaims the authority of their own body in defiance of church and state.
Yes, I’m asking you to become a sex radical. It’s the best sort of radical to be. Because when you get more information about your own sexuality, the quality of your life improves immediately. When you free your body from the invisible control of church and state, you not only challenge some of the most evil authoritarian institutions in the world, you have more fun and better orgasms. —Pat [now Patrick] Califia, Forbidden Passages: Writings Banned in Canada
It’s taken me a lifetime to become this pretty, and I’m mining my queer riches. Still.
Do yourself a favour, read Betty Dodson, Liberating Masturbation, Sex for One, better still, view her jaw-dropping life-changing, video, Self-loving. I have never before witnessed, experienced bodies fully in their power. Thank me later.
“Such a brave and lovely act it is to let the body celebrate.” —Tom Spanbauer, In the City of Shy Hunters
My absolute favourite thing about being queer is a predilection I’ve cultivated towards pleasure.
With the greatest enthusiasm, I suggest we embrace the very threatening principle of joy. The poet Audre Lorde once said that sexuality stems from a deep wellspring of joy. Gay people are by definition, and in my experience, joyous people. We have found a way to turn everything into a celebration; in our lives dancing resembles a sacred act. We should not look at this as a sign of moral weakness, as our enemies and the more self-hating among us do; we should consider this gay impulse toward pleasure to be a central part of the gay and lesbian character. The disdain of some gay activists toward what Michael Bronski has termed “the pleasure impulse” reflects our adoption of straight morality’s condescending attitude toward pleasure, joy, and desire. But in gay life pleasure serves a very different role. We do not fear it; we embrace it, ritualize it, and are transformed by its power. —Urvashi Vaid,Virtual Equality
“You’re here for such a short time darlin’s” How many times have we heard this?! Usually from old farts (like my current self) we don’t want to hear from while we're just trying to get it all in this lifetime and carve something of a life for ourselves.
“What do they know?”
I can only tell you, I miss my gay elders, and I still seek them out. In their writings.
It’s largely why I’m so attracted to queer writers journals, diaries, memoirs, [and, at times, interviews/essays]. The question that has always pushed me onward is “How then shall we live?” And for queers, this has always seemed a matter of life and death, all too real to this day, but reading how others have lived creates/points to certain ways, maps, discoveries, directions, permissions, possibilities.
I’m not a stingy queen. If there’s some I know to ease your way, I’ll willingly share.
That oft-used Baldwin quote paraphrased here, “you think you’re the only one, until you read…”
I found it refreshing that virtually every poet/writer had the same concerns about money, the lack thereof, and how they managed.
That it didn’t keep them from living, writing. Travelling. Their dreams.
That living [openly] as queer artists was even possible.
Mostly how queers artists found themselves and each other. And it was usually quite messy and filled with dramas but lo and behold you found ways, even if you’re a young thang in butt-ugly vacant midwest.
Life need not be a story, but it does need to be an adventure. —Douglas Coupland
Usually, it involves a thumping bass, disco ball and lights, fog, fans, tambourines, boots, jeans, and sweat. A smashing outfit.
Darkened cinemas, backrooms, peeps, arcades, flashing marquees, smoke, mirrors, fags, dykes, trans, queers and the lot. Dinner parties in Calgary.
Sometimes, it’s a tent, tied to the rafters of an unfinished upper floor of a house, where this queer spent hours and hours and days reading everything they could about the glamorous life.
Such fortune, the privacy of a tent to discover the wonders.
Everything I ever needed to know about form I learned from Joe Dallesandro.
The simple line. Angle shot.
Why I’m a gayboy.
KIRBY is the author of WHAT DO YOU WANT TO BE CALLED? (Anstruther Press, 2020) THIS IS WHERE I GET OFF (Permanent Sleep Press, 2019) SHE’S HAVING A DORIS DAY (knife | fork | book, 2017). Forthcoming POETRY IS QUEER (Palimpsest, Fall 2021) and NOT YOUR BEST no 2 [Editor, KFB, Fall 2021]. They are the publisher, book fairy at knife | fork | book [Toronto]. jeffkirby.ca
Issue #2 of Send My Love to Anyone
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