My search for trans histories in Newfoundland runs rampant. Something like yearning, reaching, performing. I look for them in the dark, shifting narratives, water. I imagine them as a means to cope with isolation, splitting, the abyss. To keep myself afloat.
I feel something similar to Dionne Brand when she remembers how the ocean surrounding her island home laid at her feet “a sense of leavings and arrivals” (2001: 74). As I have grown on this island, I have watched the ocean carry things away: men from my hometown, kelp, fish heads, plastic bags. Most of the men came back, the sea didn’t swallow them. It was generous when it wanted to be. Somehow I knew my body was connected to water and earth, its materiality climbing over land and seascapes. Years later I would find out that we were all made of the same stuff.
I saw myself in them.
I talked to them.
I learned from others.
As a researcher, interviews and oral history sessions are my main methods of inquiry. Even so, my background in folkloristics has further enlivened a relationship with archives. A few weeks ago, I was fumbling through Memorial University’s Digital Archives Initiative when I happened upon a photograph that has sent me flying through erased and imagined histories, trying to make sense of my present – remembering how I got, and stand, here at this location – while writing myself into the past. In this way, I have felt the rush of temporalities meeting and touching. I have understood, again, how “memory is a research project, an archive (‘a referral to birth’) of connected pasts and others” (Hall 2008: 238).
The photo and the weight it carries meet me at this point in my life without warning. From here I am unfixed and transfixed, locating the scattered (wayfaring) parts of my corporeality I know as hybrid. I am not made one way so I cannot think one way. Like Barbara Bridger, “I am the opposite of single-minded, I work constantly with fragments” (2009: 344). And at once these fragments lay bare: foremothers, hair like silk, fish scales.
The ocean was generous once more.
I am putting forth the potential to observe trans womanhood in Newfoundland as viscous and amorphous – a collection of representations between colonizer and colonized, between human and other than human, between material and discursive, between water and earth, liquid and solid. I see the mermaid as a maternal prototype for trans women working through the thickness and wetness of hybrid identity and corporeality on this island.
In order to work through this idea, I am combing over seven years of intimate movement / transition / turning. A personal archive of my transition(ing). I am simultaneously traveling through histories of mermaids and selkies, writing our lives coactively: “writing which is constant annotation, writing which takes place in the spaces between, writing over the lines, round the edges, in the interstices” (Bridger 2009: 346).
Liquid into liquid,
we resist emulsion.
Must be written together.
M/other and child.
I mull over John Hall’s belief that,
any genealogy that is also in part autobiographical is both an inquiry into and an act of specific ontology: this is who I am and this is how I know it. It is I who speaks thus, with all these others lined up behind and around me, including all those others who are part of the temporal ensemble of my I-through-time and of those various sets to whom I can belong as ‘we’ (2008: 232).
How convenient to jump into the archive, uncovering something precious that can force me to think through moving/mutant bodies.
Yet, I stumble upon and ask this question, once more, 22 years later:
“For who is it in these times who feels dislocated/placeless/invaded?” (Massey 1994: 165).
“What does a genealogy ‘do’? Is ‘we’ both an augmentation of ‘I’ and a way past it?” (Hall 2008: 233).
Like my graduate research, this theory materializes out of a personal quest to tie together trans affect, resistance and histories specific to this island. In many ways, it is about kinship. In Splittings, Adrienne Rich asks, “does the infant memorize the body of the mother and create her in absence?” (1974: 76). Am I doing this too? Naming the mermaid as mother, as the root, and route back home. One more: “Does the bed of the stream once diverted, mourning, remember wetness?” (76). How can I be sure? How far back can I reach into my “ancestral hybrid zone” (Lexer and Stotling 2011: 3702) before I come into contact with something I don’t want to know? Should I want to know it?
There is an ache that pushes itself out of genealogical research, especially the metaphorical kind. One comes face to face with borders, ends, locations and relations that wear away. One recognizes “contiguity,” and all things “esoteric…disparate…peripatetic” (Mac Cormack 2003: 59). Yet, if I see parts of myself in the mermaid, I must know how she makes sacrifices, how she is “willing to pay the price and endure the pain of knives and swords for a body that matches the internal identity she claims” (Spencer 2013: 117). I must be comfortable with piercing movements through history, learning to view “movement as a place itself so no motion is homeless” (Mac Cormack 2003: 28).
This is what I’ve wanted. To have a glimpse of, and to touch ambiguity. Marika Cifor writes, “archival touches should be unavoidably intimate, provoking difficult and celebratory experiences and feelings reflective of the intimate and sometimes painful history and memory that made us who we are” (2015: 647). It is performative and unforeseen, “forming a queer connection that transcends normative bounds of space and time, changes both the artifact and me” (Cifor 2015: 648). Think about what happens in the process of revisiting. Think widely, through mutations.
As I continue to look at this photo, I shift locations, from island to ocean: each time I make this trip, I get the queer idea that this is what is waiting at the end of time (Hoagland 2013: 50).
once a selkie has returned to the sea, it will be seven years before he or she is seen again (Heddle 2016: 2).
I started claiming my womanhood seven years ago. Can you see me?
Brand, Dionne. 2001. A Map to the Door of No Return: Notes on Belonging. Vintage Canada.
Bridger, Barbara. 2009. “Writing Across the Borders of the Self,” In European Journal of Women’s Studies, 16 (4): 337–52. DOI: 10.1177/1350506809342613
Cifor, Marika. 2015. “Presence, Absence, and Victoria’s Hair: Examining Affect and Embodiment in Trans Archives,” In TSQ, 2 (4): 645-9. DOI: 10.1215/23289252-3151565
Hall, John. 2008. “Karen Mac Cormack’s Implexures: An Implicated Reading’,” In Antiphonies: Essays on Women’s Experimental Poetries in Canada, ed. Nate Dorward, 227-47. Ontario: Willowdale.
Heddle, Donna. 2016. “Selkies, Sex, and the Supernatural,” In The Bottle Imp, 20: 1-3. http://asls.arts.gla.ac.uk/SWE/TBI/TBIIssue20/Heddle.html
Hoagland, Tony. 2013. “Crossing Water,” In Ploughshares, 39 (1): 50-1. DOI: 10.1353/plo.2013.0059
Lexer, C. & K. N. Stotling. 2011. “Tracing the recombination and colonization history of hybrid species in space and time,” In Molecular Ecology, 20: 3701-4. DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-294X.2011.05246.x
Mac Cormack, Karen. 2003. Implexures. Sheffield, UK: West House Books.
Massey, Doreen. 1994. Space, Place, and Gender. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Rich, Adrienne. 1974/1993. “Splittings,” In Adrienne Rich’s poetry and prose: poems, prose, reviews, and criticism. 2nd edition, eds. Barbara Charlesworth Gelpi and Albert Gelpi, 76-7. New York: W. W. Norton.
Spencer, Leland G. 2013. “Performing Transgender Identity in The Little Mermaid: From Andersen to Disney,” In Communication Studies, 65 (1):112-27. DOI: 10.1080/10510974.2013.832691
© Daze Jefferies (dsj272 @ mun.ca), 2017