archival bonding and colliding

As a researcher working through trans histories and pasts, as well as presents/presence and belonging, I am faced with a critical and necessary task: to not apply the concept of transgender to the lives of (gender-shifting) individuals whose narratives, writings, photos and other smudges on the historical record, predate the term itself. This is one of the messy realities of observing/analyzing the past and its affective collisions through a current and rapidly-evolving transgender presence.

When my heart races and I don’t notice it immediately, when my reactions to pieces/fractions/shreds of a queer or trans archive are dispersed across my body, is it because a presence in the past has found its way across an ocean of time to find me, or is it the complete opposite? Is it because part of me gets tired of wishing I had a temporal connection to someone of an earlier time? Michelle Caswell et al. ask, “how can we think about the impact of community archives on members of communities that have been marginalized by mainstream archives” (2016: 57)? Last night while browsing the Digital Transgender Archive (DTA), I answered this question with my body.

Alison Laing Photo Album 1963_001

Alison Laing Looks Onto Lake. 1963. Photo: Unknown. https://www.digitaltransgenderarchive.net/files/0v838057g

First, my strong connection to water. Second, an elder. Third, togetherness. My response reads this glimpse into history as one of visibility, authenticity, fluidity. I could have it all wrong. Still, I am touched. I want to know more about her. I search for anything on Google and discover the work she has done as an educator for trans individuals. I form a bond with another through an artifact.

Caswell et al. put forth the idea of representational belonging: “the ways in which community archives give those left out of mainstream repositories the power and authority to establish and enact their presence in archives in complex, meaningful, and substantive ways” (74).

I feel it.

Reference

Caswell, Michelle., Marika Cifor and Mario H. Ramirez. 2016. “To Suddenly Discover Yourself Existing’: Uncovering the Impact of Community Archives,” In The American Archivist, 79 (1): 56-81. DOI: 10.17723/0360-9081.79.1.56.

collecting: haptic ecologies of kin and kind

2000-2006. As rural children, my peers and I come face to face with all material considered useless and ready to be disposed of, into the ocean: black garbage bags, plastic bottles, oil, old car parts, onion sacks containing corpses of unwanted kittens.

While some of these sink to the bottom of the harbour and stay there, potentially serving as reminders for the times we used to have or possible regrets (all those poor kittens), others float on the surface and are carried away in sweeping movements by the Notre Dame Bay. In good weather, she sends them back mellifluently, maybe hoping we will gather them again and find better ways of dealing with our disposals.

The next year we enter junior high where we have our first critical look at environmental studies. We are taught to get out into nature and take care of our bodies because endorphins make us feel better. We are taught to play our part in keeping our towns clean, and a summer project for students encourages us to pick up litter from ditches. Because we live in the middle of nowhere, our only way to get around is by walking or riding our bikes. Feel good, do good. We get to cash in all the bottles we collect. After all, the best way to engage adolescents in critical environmentalist praxis is through a capitalist promise, no?

Still, after all this learning and all these dollars later, I have been no stranger to spitting out my gum in public or leaving trash behind in places I know I shouldn’t.

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Double exposure from my Holga 135bc. September 2011. Photo: Daze Jefferies.

In his article examining Indigenous perceptions of relationships between humans and nature, Enrique Salmón (2000) asks us to think about the concept of kincentric ecology and to interrogate its unfolding in traditional and vernacular terms and practices.

Do we care enough about our emerging kin? Those life-forms who are coming, and will come, into being as our corporeal holdings rot and take on new forms. In this moment, most of us only think we won’t be returning to the earth in any way. We aren’t thinking about the ways we make, weather, and are in this world together (Neimanis and Walker 2014).

Conjointly, how might we change our everyday actions to better reflect the philosophy that we inhabit the earth with many others (non-human and more-than-human), that we are “sharing breath with our relatives” (Salmón 2000: 1328)?

Putting together the work of Indigenous thought, ecofeminisms, posthumanisms, and art/science/theory collaborations brings to light the cogent need to re/think our haptic relations to kin, what Larissa Lai might call “shreds of the flesh of [our] own kind” (2002: 52). This imagery of and turn to touch/ing can put us face to face with the way we produce sustainable narrative-making with the environment. It is not enough to say that life-forms are made of the same quantum parts. We need to be aware of our intra-active touching with all other lives, recognizing that when we harm them, we harm ourselves. We play a game of Double This, Double That.

In Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene, Donna Haraway imagines an “elsewhere and an elsewhen that was, still is, and might yet be: the Chthulucene” (2016: 31). While some may think that her theorizing comes from an unexpected place (the spider Pimoa cthulhu), its rootedness in nature follows a tradition of particular Indigenous pedagogies (Wildcat 2009; Pierotti 2011; Simpson 2014). Because the spider has been named by humans, yet its eight long feelers embody the tangled and tangling elsewhere/elsewhen Haraway contemplates, her theory is able to come into being through the intra-action of human and non-/more-than-human nature, as the Chthulucene “entangles myriad temporalities and spatialities and myriad intra-active entities-in-assemblages” (2015: 160).

maman

The sculpture Maman (1999) by Louise Bourgeois. I remember seeing it for the first time at the National Gallery of Canada in 2009 and being completely taken aback yet captivated. Photo: Deanna Nichols. https://flic.kr/p/4mrynM

Haraway teaches me that “tentacle comes from the Latin tentaculum, meaning ‘feeler’ and tentare, meaning ‘to feel,” and that “tentacularity is about life lived along lines…not at points, not in spheres” (2016: 31-2). I step out of the book’s pages to catch a glimpse of my own surroundings, to imagine the lines formed in rock by the feelers of the Atlantic Ocean: the way that she has played with this island, forming rugged edges where land touches water in bursts, and at places in the sides of cliffs where that touching never stops, smooth surfaces like innocent skin from “continuous erosion” (Hallett 2010).

These life-forms have been playing with each other for millions of years, and both of them are still here.  Not so long ago, our human kin started to erase many of these lines that guide us: we try to dominate in this game of touching and feeling, we strip away interrelations and exchanges from tentacular powers and forces, from all things. When Haraway says that “maybe, but only maybe, and only with intense commitment and collaborative work and play with other terrans, flourishing for rich multispecies assemblages that include people will be possible,” (2015: 160) she wants us to recognize the harm that cannot be undone, to imagine ways to mend these many forms. She asks us to make our own sacrifices in order to care for our many kinds of kin, our familial/familiar, since “it is high time that feminists exercise leadership in imagination, theory, and action to unravel the ties of both genealogy and kin, and kin and species” (161).

What potential might lie in viewing the natural world, not as “one of wonder, but of familiarity” (Salmón 2000: 1329)? What about the intra-action of both? Is the notion of wonder a key component of imaginative thinking? Can imagination be familiar?

For a moment I imagine myself as Larissa Lai’s hybrid shapeshifter Nu-Wa (fish, snake, human) with her many types of feelers. Nu-Wa shows me her ancient world without touch: “In the beginning there was just me…The materials of life still lay dormant, not yet understanding their profound relationship to one another” (2002: 1). If we do not recognize the critical power of relating to all our multispecies and multiform kin through touch, and if the earth does not use all her tentacles to seek revenge first, maybe in the end we will be like Nu-Wa, alone and unable to feel.

And I will not be ready. Will you?

She might leave me, she might leave you.

She might show you garbage floating on the surface.

She might ask you to imagine, like Stacie Cassarino:

the space between what you deserve
and what you will into this animal world,

knowing you will lose it,
you will float there, hardening (2009: 12).

References

Cassarino, Stacie. 2009. “Kingdom of Glass,” In Zero at the Bone: 11-2. Kalamazoo, Michigan: New Issues Poetry & Prose.

Hallett, Vicki. 2010. “Continuous Erosion: Place and Identity in the Lives of Newfoundland Women,” In Despite this Loss: Essays on Culture, Memory and Identity in Newfoundland and Labrador, eds. Ursula A, Kelly and Elizabeth Yeoman, 74-91. St. John’s: ISER Books.

Haraway, Donna. 2015. “Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Plantationocene, Chthulucene: Making Kin,” In Environmental Humanities, 6: 159-65. http://environmentalhumanities.org/arch/vol6/6.7.pdf.

Haraway, Donna. 2016. Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press.

Lai, Larissa. 2002. Salt Fish Girl: A Novel. Toronto: Dundurn Press.

Neimanis, Astrida., and Rachel Loewen Walker. 2014. “Weathering: Climate Change and the ‘Thick Time’ of Transcorporeality,” in Hypatia, 29 (3): 558-575. DOI: 10.1111/hypa.12064.

Pierotti, Raymond J. 2011. Indigenous Knowledge, Ecology, and Evolutionary Biology: Indigenous Peoples and Politics. New York: Routledge.

Salmón, Enrique. 2000. Kincentric Ecology: Indigenous Perceptions of the Human-Nature Relationship,” In Ecological Applications, 10 (5): 1327-32. https://www.fws.gov/nativeamerican/pdf/tek-salmon-2000.pdf.

Simpson, Leanne Betasamosake. 2014. “Land as pedagogy: Nishnaabeg intelligence and rebellious transformation,” In Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society 3 (3): 1-25. http://decolonization.org/index.php/des/article/view/22170/17985.

Wildcat, Daniel R. 2009. Red Alert!: Saving the Planet with Indigenous Knowledge. Golden, Colorado: Fulcrum Publishing.

© Daze Jefferies (dsj272 @ mun.ca), 2017

help me to name it: self-mythologizing as experiential inquiry

myth:
ic
ology
ologize

I think myth is an overused and misunderstood word. A message that cannot be fully explained. A belief, a story, a legend, a folktale, a poem. A door that blows open, the leaves that fly in. A mess. Something untrue, something to roll your eyes at.

We talk about them all the time.

Through my academic training and prodding away at various texts, I have come to realize this: scholars of symbolic culture have a hard time agreeing about things. Ask a folklorist or cultural anthropologist what exactly it is that they do – what their discipline is about – and you might confuse yourself more than you intend to. But you want to, and you will, absorb something potent about humans studying humans. There is no single nature. We are all doing our own thing the best way we know how – making up definitions, forming arguments – all abandoned, all scattered (Brand 2001: 211).

For my own learning and interactions with Dionne Brand’s A Map to the Door of No Return, for my wayfaring and desire to locate the self in the story, I propose that mythologizing can be concerned with narratives of origin.

Something we see ourselves in.

blog3

My dad on a beach, years before I was born. July 1985. Photo: Roseann Jefferies.

On a visit home at the end of the summer, my dad and I are able to share a few hours together alone at sea. It is a chance to bond, to show each other that there are sparks, a deep love that exists between us. Most of all, this is an opportunity for the both of us to showcase how many exclusive facts about history, culture, and the environment we can throw out in the open. We have always played these games of knowing.

That evening we see whales, drink cans of Coors Light. I visit the place where my ancestors settled after departing England. They settled on the islands because the best fishing grounds were located there. That’s how they survived.

As far as I know, the story of my place-based patrilineality, and my affinity to this island, begins here:

Thomas Jefferies moved to Exploits/Burnt Island from Crewkerne in Somerset, England in the late 1870s. I wonder what his daughters Jemima and Anna-Bella looked like, how they created meaning on a tiny sheltered enclave surrounded by water.

My dad shows me the house they grew up in – now renovated since the island has become a place for doctors and others to keep summer cabins.

ancestor

The Jefferies family lived in the house in the middle. I imagine it was built shortly after arrival, circa 1870. August 2016. Photo: Daze Jefferies.

My self-mythologizing involves this place. I travel here before I know anything about it. Maybe it wasn’t travel at all, I just ended up here. “Ghosts try to step into life,” writes Brand (111). They wanted to show me something. I wanted my dad to take me here. And then after hearing about them I wanted photos of the houses – I didn’t realize the history revealed to me would poke me like a tattoo that I wasn’t ready for.

I am marked, now carrying symbolic history of my family on my skin. “Then there’s the ones we don’t know about. It’s better if we just leave them alone,” my dad says. If I don’t dig down into that forgotten oldness, how will I know what’s waiting for me there? I want to tell my dad that he can’t just bring me to a place and tell me to not search for too much. In this corporeal form, experience is the earth of my autobiographical development. The quest to come into contact with/touch/notice parts of my lineal lore – my inside story – induces me and sets me up to come up short eventually. A game of knowing is never just a game, it is an obligation, and “I can feel a never-going-to-be-sated hunger there” (108).

___________

When we tell a myth about ourselves, we have the flexibility to play with it. A Map to the Door of No Return is a work of self-mythologizing in various ways. Blurring the lines of autoethnography, personal experience narrative, fiction, and theory, Brand takes on the challenge of writing and representing her life through carefully corrugated memories and meditations. However, she argues that “myth is of course seductive, but it needs material power to enforce it” (129). Can’t material power be the human voice? What about something written? If I narrate it, chances are I mean it. Is that not powerful enough?

As much as I learn about maps, I feel like I am traveling through the text with no direction in sight. Can I read it backwards? What about in fragments? Playing with the headings. What am I supposed to know now that I have turned the pages in strange patterns and chapters inside out, now that I have seen where October ends and Finding a Compass begins. My thoughts are supposed to be scattered. Pain of pasts written into present. In the Diaspora, memories of blackness and home disperse across geography and temporality. Brand’s traveling across distance and time incites my own symbolic movement through the text. As she travels, she tells a story about herself. One of great change and searching, of flight. She is constantly moving places.

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View from above. August 2013. Photo: Daze Jefferies.

I choose window seats when I am in air, in transit from place to place. Between bursts of white, I see where the land meets the ocean. Somehow I scrounge up the money to travel or I am offered a vacation. Mythology is also about evolvement – how I got up here from down there. One must think about this horizontally. In my life, the origin of opportunity is intricately connected to grounds of orientation, isopleths of privilege. It’s about ability, access, the site at which I am located. My learning, understanding that “we accumulate information over our lives which bring various things into solidity, into view” (141). It’s about Burnt Island and that white house.

I wish to know more about movement:

The dispersal of my ancestors like capelin in the water. Nobody caught us in a net or picked us up off the beach rocks in the spring, cooked us, ripped our heads off with their teeth. We were able to lay our eggs and get away – the lucky ones – making something of ourselves. Of course almost all capelin die after spawning on the beaches – I am just playing around. In my self-mythologizing, I very well could be a fish. Why can’t it be true? To imagine parts of myself in another, to imagine myself as another.

Transmogrification and transmutability can be principal portions of the way we narrate place, identity, and experience in our lives. Brand’s writing transmogrifies time and place – channeling me through her imagination, memory, and longing of/for oldness and mis/direction. She theorizes a map as “a set of impossibilities, a set of changing locations” (224). As my bearings shift, so do I. My stories too – we have no choice. Self-mythologizing is a game of knowing how well one can narrate the underpinnings of personal experience – how well one is equipped to and for change.

Did my ancestors know where they were going when they ended up here? What tensions did they have about journeying on to new terrain? Did they understand how 146 years of transmutation would make a good story? How far would their spawn swim into the future?

Reference

Brand, Dionne. 2001. A Map to the Door of No Return: Notes on Belonging. Vintage Canada.

 

sketch v

When I find one of Shanawdithit’s archived drawings I experience a necessary discomfort.

I go back to my childhood.

All my young life I hear the mythologizing, how she was the last of the Beothuk people. Ten minutes outside my hometown, the provincial Beothuk Interpretation Centre is a place I visit quite frequently as a child. There’s a walking trail, on which I come across a statue of Shanawdithit and the remnants of a 300-year-old settlement. There are crosses that mark graves. My parents teach me that history shouldn’t have been written “this way.”

shanawdithit-sketch-5-woman-killed-at-exploits-river

“Killing of a Beothuk woman at the Exploits River,” by Shanawdithit, 1829. Centre for Newfoundland Studies, Newfoundland Images. http://collections.mun.ca/cdm/compoundobject/collection/cns_images/id/71/rec/26

From this drawing I read memories, encounters, connections to place. I read loss and resistance. I do not read silence.

I know that mythology is also about evolvement – how we get to here from there.

As she “transferred her talent for constructing detailed patterns on bone and bark to the European medium of paper,” (Polack 2013: para 9) Shanawdithit’s drawings opened up a past that cannot be erased, and none of us can overlook or forget colonial encounters and mediations in Newfoundland and Labrador because of them.

Reference

Polack, Fiona. 2013. “Reading Shanawdithit’s Drawings: Transcultural Texts in the North American Colonial World,” In Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History, 14 (3). DOI: 10.1353/cch.2013.0035.

silky: formlessness/otherness/wetness

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.

mermaid_in_st_johns_harbour

Centre for Newfoundland Studies, Newfoundland Images. http://collections.mun.ca/cdm/singleitem/collection/cns_images/id/0/rec/13

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.

Polybiographic.

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).

And another:

“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).

Echoes:

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?

References

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

slanting: refiguring the stage at the shoreline

Along the coasts of Newfoundland and Labrador, wharves and stages sit at the water’s edge, extending vernacular glimpses into family beginnings and histories, their shifting durability. Pushing itself off land, a wharf has direct contact with the sea, its legs enveloped in water and kelp, surrounded by snails and things that wash ashore. Resting on top of the wharf, the stage is a site of production. Inside, you might find buckets, nets, rubber clothing, and tools to split, clean and salt fish. If you look closer, it will bring to light so much more.

It is a place where hard work happens.
A place of processing and mythologizing.
All at once, it is a place of theorizing.

I am self-aware of this.

Running too fast, my mom had tripped and fallen on our family wharf in the 1960s when she was a child. 30 years later she showed me the spot where it happened, chronicling the torn skin of her knees, how she got “some smack.”

I knew then that our wharf had stories etched into its aging, grey wood. It had weathered decades of water, salt, fish guts, and blood. Stretching out from years gone by, it had given us economic stability, property, and pleasure. It had become polysemic.

What about the stage?

Years and years before my mom made it into the world, my great uncle Tom lived like others in my hometown – inside the stage that he built. I picture it now: crooked walls, painted red and chipped, reeking of oil and gas. Every time I set foot in there for the first 10 years of my life, I would notice what appeared to be fragility. It was slanting and waning. A small wooden box split into two rooms. No electricity. No visible life. I couldn’t imagine surviving in there. Yet, mom and dad told me, “that’s what they had to do back then.”

slanting1

House, Wharf and Stage on Exploits Island. August 2016. Photo: Daze Jefferies.

As I interrogate living histories of this island I call home, I come into contact with dynamic concomitants of rural subjectivity. I always thought they were scars, rough hands, wear and tear. But look, see: you want to show how tough you are without spilling your guts, you want to believe you can master the little nature you know.

I look back, now, to disentangle memories of alkalis, ice pans, and fish inshore and nearshore (McCay 1995: 144). I listen, again, to occupational narratives of women working their bodies to the bone in stages and fish plants. I reimagine jigging fish with my mom, and I feel her tug at my life jacket when I see, once more, the humpback whale moving right below us.

This was growing up.

As a rural trans child, I knew I had a unique history with water. The ocean, that dark blue spirit, guided me back to it/her when I needed healing. To look into it/her, to undo myself and to create myself in an instant (Wang 2010: 270). What was being written in that exchange between element and earthling?

She always told me to go slow.

In doing so I might open up, touch, and recognize the fragments that shaped the women who came before me: splitting and salting (McCay 1995: 147). Coming undone in order to preserve all their/my/your be/longings. Doing what one has to.

Mythologizing.

For moments, there is an opulent eloping, finding pleasure in ritual performance. Disguised visiting, hybridity, fluidity: sometimes men dressed like women, and women dressed like men, not for role reversal, but simply for disguising one’s gender (Palmer 2005: 150).

Splitting.

Would my trans womanhood shake all of that up? Soda, so dauntless – the way it pours out, reaching to distort body shape and size (150). I was rewriting history, becoming active in the politics of the co-operative (McCay 1995: 160) shaping of subjectivities in isolation.

slanting2

Mummers Parade in Bridgeport, Newfoundland. December 2014. Photo: Daze Jefferies.


It doesn’t take long before I break

off into

fr
ag

ments,

& nature breaks its own rules

as tradition beats up
the gender symmetry
my home thinks it knows:

For the first time
I see myself
in bottle caps,

a broom handle

and high heels

(Jefferies 2015: 6-7).

At the same time rurality makes room for me to cross over into occupational and architectural histories in order to make sense of my world, I pry it open and throw back the potential of theorizing trans identity and experience through mummering – performing and materializing through geopolitical drag. Without a language to embrace, a community to hold on to, a history to unravel (though I create them in an instant), I re/configure what I know as durability, I learn to touch its un/steadiness. I perform at a stage different from the one my hometown showed me, and I know that being vulnerable to the process of performance, or privy to its transformative possibilites means full engagement of the body and/in theory (Spry 2011: 165-6).

At a party
across time
and distance,

someone mistakes me
for an archangel (Jefferies 2015: 7).

At the stage I find myself staring out on to saltwater as I watch it move closer to me.

References

Jefferies, Daze. 2015. “Ugly Stick,” In Seesaw with the Spear, 5-7. London: Payhip. PDF e-book.

McCay, Bonnie J. 1995. “Fish Guts, Hair Nets and Unemployment Stamps: Women and Work in Co-operative Fish Plants,” In Their Lives and Times: Women in Newfoundland and Labrador, A Collage, eds. Carmelita McGrath, Barbara Neis, and Marilyn Porter, 144-162. St John’s, NL: Killick Press.

Palmer, Craig T. 2005. “Mummers and Moshers: Two Rituals of Trust in Changing Social Environments,” In Ethnology 44, no. 2: 147-166.

Spry, Tami. 2011. Body, Paper, Stage: Performing Autoethnography. Walnut Creek: Left Coast Press.

Wang, Jackie. 2010. “Hybrid Identity and a Writing of Presence,” In Other Tongues: Mixed‐Race Women Speak Out, eds. Adebe DeRango‐Adem and Andrea Thompson, 270-6. Toronto: Inanna Publications.

© Daze Jefferies (dsj272 @ mun.ca), 2017