Creative Nonfiction: Experimentation by Shaemus Spencer

Photo by Elia Pellegrini

It didn’t have to mean anything. That was the best part. We could stay up all night together, and in the morning at school we didn’t have to acknowledge each other. We did, of course, because we were young and queer and had the same secret. But we weren’t together or anything like that. Huddled in the hallway before first period we shared a pair of headphones, heads held close enough that the soft tips stayed in our ears while we blasted the newest AFI album. We were almost invisible, just two girls giggling. Isn’t that what girls are supposed to do together?

It happened so quickly that I can’t remember who told who first, who leaned in and said, “I’m a trans man,” and who responded, but it doesn’t matter now. What I remember is the taste of ripe fruit. The smell of juniper and cheap clove cigarettes. I remember my face being held by soft brown hands, likely the real reason we stayed quiet in our small town. I remember that when we took off our binders, we weren’t lesser.

I had no doubts about the things we did while the house slept. In my bed, we were not men or women. We were curiosity. We were skin and hips and lips brushing the curve of a back. I’d pinch half a Xanax from my mom’s cabinet to steady my hands. I wanted to feel a different kind of trembling. The minute we heard lights clicking off in faraway rooms, we were connected. This was back before we had metal posts in our lips, so the only tugging was intentional, playful. When we rested, back curled against chest, we talked about the pop-punk bands we loved. We wrote together, stories in which we were twenty-two, handsome, and slim. Stories in which we were men who loved other men. Inevitably I’d close my laptop and wind my way back across the bed. How many times did we wake up tangled? How often did we fail to sleep at all, choosing instead to lie naked until the world was light again?

We said nothing about love because there was none. Not that we lacked emotion, but we never pretended that anything we did was more than a longing for touch. We both believed the changes we’d make to our bodies would soon make us unlovable. Who would want someone with a full beard and the body of a woman? Who would want to touch us without violence? It seemed impossible when we were just coming out, still figuring out what the world would do with us.

But maybe there was love. Maybe there was love as a kind of celebration. It was enough for us that we were alive in a place that did not want us, enough that we had found one other person to hold in a town that was hostile toward us, enough that in my house we were safe. When I left town, I didn’t grieve the loss because we knew there was an expiration date. I can still remember the last time we kissed, my face held gently, carefully shaped fingernails pressing into my cheeks. Part of me is still there, young and cared for unconditionally, watching the sun come up.

Shaemus Spencer (they/them) is a transgender writer and animator. They live in Thomas, West Virginia.

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