i am learning not to be alone. kinship is a practice: it is performed through repeated actions. is it queer to be alone? is not the same question as, is being queer lonely? but i might be forgiven for not knowing the difference. my language has no word for queer; in a world divided into relative and stranger, inawemaagan and meyaagizid, i am strange kin. estranged kin.
webs are for spiders, electric veins, and musty corners of family trees. where did anishinaabe people learn the first straight line? there is no aadizookaan that tells the origin of hate but some of my aunties have made it their spirit guide anyway.
ruth landes met ojibwe lesbians and never knew it. according to the laws of anthropology, other-than-human beings can be kin, but we are still waiting for an answer on transsexuals, ozaawindib be damned. i should have been born with wings if i wanted to be respected, but translation can’t save me now. even if i still want to believe it could.
only the sick ask for new names, and a gender dysphoria diagnosis doesn’t count. i am afraid of silence and sticks and the corners of women’s eyes, so i say nothing and live with it. wishing my wings would grow in soon, black as the night. wondering when my clan will come to save me. knowing only that the ojibwe word for salvation means love, love, love.
duality is binary with an ndn heart. between two spirits i’m caught like nanabush between two trees, watching wolves eat what’s meant for me while i go hungry. i was given to the upper world at birth but the bottom of the lake beckons and i am not very good at resisting. i sew loon colors on my skirts as though i am not destined to meet the water only in predatory dives, as though i’m not actually terrified of what lies beneath those shining surfaces. i’ve memorized all the words for waves in the ojibwe people’s dictionary and it has brought me no closer to wetting my toes. plus, half the time i’m not even sure i want to wear the skirt.
what do you do when you’re eternally the chrysalis. when you’re in a world that thinks cat is the opposite of dog and you are some kind of possibly flightless bird. when you’re surrounded by people who think decolonizing means being lynxes and wolves instead and you just want to blow up the whole damn thing but you can’t say that out loud because then you’re some kind of colonized hackjob who’s out to destroy your own traditions. i’ve been wondering.
i’ve stopped saying the word “traditional” because i no longer know what it means and maybe never did. you should, too.
i became an adult the day i discovered that alphabets lie. catching wind in their inky sails, they hide the mobile flesh of contracting lungs that makes breath sacred. for many years i read silently, stressed syllables in disarray. the lie inside of me.
these days i breathe too shallow. chest constricted, air moving past teeth, gumbs, palate, brushing larynx against the grain like history. this is the price we pay for ourselves: constructing voice boxes out of cigarette smoke and gravel.
the movement of air from places of high to low pressure is a migration story, the chronicle of breath one of expulsion. i study birds in order to learn how to cope with this knowledge. their songs, which even alphabets cannot apprehend, are the trail markers that teach me the meaning of exile.
she is a single puff locked up in three marks we call letters while we pretend they exist in the same realm as the gods of the four winds. pronouns are not inherently divine but we worship them all the same; they are needy little fuckers so we feed them often, a human sacrifice outlawed by no government.
i’ve learned women’s songs and men’s songs and water songs and tobacco songs and still i have not found a voice made of something other than sorrow. i’ve made ribbon skirts and ribbon shirts and discovered the ungendered truth of a well-sewn moccasin. these days i find myself wondering, when i’m asked my name at the end of the world, will the answer stick in my throat or will i want to pronounce it after all. will my clan be enough to keep my thunderer’s wings beating through all those years.
lift is holy and eagles know it. spirals are just circles that have learned the way out. up. i’m spinning on my heels right now but one day i’ll break the cycle and it’s gonna be glorious. like lungs expanding into empty space. like phonemes unlocked from dusty scripts. and we’ll finally find out if reversing a lie is how you know the truth.
This piece is part of a collection of works by trans and queer Indigenous writers and artists. Explore the rest of the feature: