Iowa Writes

MOLLY COON
Hands and Feet


        Between waking up and getting up I found her ribcage, amid lazy groggy strokes; I found the slope of her bones beneath skin stretched smooth and experienced a thrill, only not so ephemeral as that.  A thrill began, a reverberation that moved everything I know an inch.  It jiggled me, jiggles me still.  I felt them, her ribs, over and over, an astonished touching as though my fingers forgot their angle each time.  I didn't know a constant could be so surprising.  Perhaps it's because Ryan's body is not, in general, a constant.  Sometimes his chest broadens and stiffens; other times it demures and I notice the softness of her breasts.  Sometimes he juts his jaw forward and looks down his nose at me with a flash of confidence and nonchalance; other times she closes her eyes in a smile so vulnerable I could caress its courage.  Sometimes her fingers are her fingers and sometimes his fingers are his dick.
        The other day we were at a cafe together working, her hand resting on my leg.  I shifted slightly and she went to pull away but I grabbed her wrist, still reading.
        "What's that?" she asked.
        "Stay."
        "I have to use my hand."
        "I know you do," I grinned, then immediately regretted it.  That he has to use his hand is the reason his confidence occasionally falters and his nonchalance can overcompensate.  That he has to use his hand is the reason his roommate thinks he might like earrings for Christmas instead of a tie; the reason he is always on the edge of anger.  The anger is from other people knowing he wasn't born with a penis and not letting him forget, or even knowing that they should try.  I'm not supposed to be other people.
        "I have to use my hand."
        "I know you do."  I glanced up from my book to read her body for signs of it, anger, or the stiffness of withdrawal, but it wasn't there.  Her shoulders were loose and her jaw soft.  Probably she hadn't minded, but I imagined—I feared—a resigned sadness, because my tease had said implicitly, ". . . how could I forget?"  I am supposed to forget.  I feared, because I hadn't joked out of ignorance.  The ignorant can be educated.  If Ryan were only a lesbian none of this would matter, because lesbians take pride in these things, these things like fucking with fingers.  Ryan is also transgender.

        Between waking up and getting up I found her ribcage, amid lazy groggy strokes; I found the slope of her bones beneath skin stretched smooth and experienced a thrill, only not so ephemeral as that.  A thrill began, a reverberation that moved everything I know an inch.  It jiggled me, jiggles me still.  I felt them, her ribs, over and over, an astonished touching as though my fingers forgot their angle each time.  I didn't know a constant could be so surprising.  Perhaps it's because Ryan's body is not, in general, a constant.  Sometimes his chest broadens and stiffens; other times it demures and I notice the softness of her breasts.  Sometimes he juts his jaw forward and looks down his nose at me with a flash of confidence and nonchalance; other times she closes her eyes in a smile so vulnerable I could caress its courage.  Sometimes her fingers are her fingers and sometimes his fingers are his dick.
        The other day we were at a cafe together working, her hand resting on my leg.  I shifted slightly and she went to pull away but I grabbed her wrist, still reading.
        "What's that?" she asked.
        "Stay."
        "I have to use my hand."
        "I know you do," I grinned, then immediately regretted it.  That he has to use his hand is the reason his confidence occasionally falters and his nonchalance can overcompensate.  That he has to use his hand is the reason his roommate thinks he might like earrings for Christmas instead of a tie; the reason he is always on the edge of anger.  The anger is from other people knowing he wasn't born with a penis and not letting him forget, or even knowing that they should try.  I'm not supposed to be other people.
        "I have to use my hand."
        "I know you do."  I glanced up from my book to read her body for signs of it, anger, or the stiffness of withdrawal, but it wasn't there.  Her shoulders were loose and her jaw soft.  Probably she hadn't minded, but I imagined—I feared—a resigned sadness, because my tease had said implicitly, ". . . how could I forget?"  I am supposed to forget.  I feared, because I hadn't joked out of ignorance.  The ignorant can be educated.  If Ryan were only a lesbian none of this would matter, because lesbians take pride in these things, these things like fucking with fingers.  Ryan is also transgender.
        "What gender do you prefer to be identified as?" a form asked me last week.  "Woman/ womon/ wombmoon," I wrote, only half serious, because realistically the terms are too far associated with the rejection of anything masculine; but they signalled for me the idea that reality is more complex than popular vocabulary allows.  I thought for the thousandth time of the conversation between a friend and me during which I had expressed discomfort with being labelled a woman.  "I could identify as scissgender: put me in a box and I'll cut you."  She had rolled her eyes.  "I won't want to be around you if you're constantly explaining your politics to people when you're not even suffering."
        "I'm like the little mermaid," I could have told her, "with her strange things outside and inside, the whose-its and whats-its, and what-is she?"  We are all like her, perhaps I should have said, curious about the parts of ourselves we might express better onshore, with feet.  We seek to recalibrate the internal and the external by getting a haircut, taking up smoking again, picking a new nickname, or a new pronoun.  We are like her, turning ourselves into verbs and becoming.
        "You represent the pressures that force the little mermaid to choose one or the other, land or sea, when in reality she belongs to both," I would have said.  At the time I was overwhelmed by the idea that she might be right.
        There was a drag show on Saturday night.  Ryan and I decided to attend in our evening best.  I sat at my desk reading while she transitioned to he, then on the side of the bathtub when he decided to let me watch, then at my desk when he changed his mind again.  Clatters of the hand mirror sounded from the bathroom as he propped it in search of the best angle with which to become himself.  He sighed and cursed, spirit gumming snippets of hair to his jawline, thickening his brows.  I pulled up sagging fishnets and wiped under my eyes at the failings of mascara. Gender is uncomfortable.
        That night I sucked Ryan's fingers between his legs and he told me he doesn't know how I make it feel so real.  I was surprised by this belief that it isn't—an indication that I have yet to internalize her/his permanently liminal existence.  I'm not ready to admit I may never.  I don't want to believe there could be a place empathy can't go, an experience empathy can't approximate.  But even here, my groping betrays empathy's limits; approximation is never simultaneous.  That delay in transcription from one body to another is why we are alone.  Empathy is like a curve approaching an asymptote, infinite but never intersecting, forever striving towards something that can't be reached—the impossibility of which is what makes our attempt valuable, what makes it feel so real—our willingness still to search with each other.

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About Iowa Writes

Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.

In November of 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

Iowa City has joined Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia as UNESCO Cities of Literature.

Find out more about submitting by contacting iowa-writes@uiowa.edu


MOLLY COON

Molly Coon is an MFA candidate in the Nonfiction Writing Program at the University of Iowa.

This page was first displayed
on July 08, 2015

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