On Unruly Bodies and Otherness: The inspiration for 'Hairsbreadth.'

I hate myself.

Let me be more specific. I hate my physical body. 

I’m too short. Standing at 5’1.5 I’ve been called Gary Coleman and Webster, shrimp, Napoleon, shorty, and midget. I’ve been ignored, not taken seriously, and even had people cancel dates upon learning my height.

I’m too fat. On my frame, 150 lbs makes me look like the mayor of Munchkinland. My tummy has stretch-marks and I have gynecomastia—more commonly known as “man boobs.” I avoid looking at my body in a mirror and my silhouette embarrasses me. My odd shape makes clothes shopping a herculean effort.

The skin around my eyes is dark and burned looking. I look like a raccoon, my dark brown eyes set deep within a charred ring.

I think of myself as a troll, a hobbit, an imp.

Then there’s my voice. It’s deep, but femme. I’m always mistaken for a woman on the phone, and many people, upon meeting me, assume I’m gay. Which, of course, is true and yet another thing I struggle with. (In the ever-changing gay male classification system, I am uncategorizable. Not Wolf, Otter, Twink. Not Daddy, or Bear).

There are days when I wish that were like Doro, the mindforce character in Octavia E Butler’s Patternmaster series. Like Doro, I would surf from body to body, trying on new physicalities like new clothes.

The black body is heavily policed. We are the wrong color. The wrong shape. Our lips are too big. Our buttocks too voluptuous. Our blackness is fetishized, criminalized, and pathologized.  

Sarah Baartman, exploited as the Hottentot Venus

Black hair, in particular, is demonized. The adjectives used to describe it—coarse, nappy, wooly, kinky, wiry—are in stark contrast to the way white hair is described. White women have silky tresses, fountains and plumes and cascades of follicles in a spectrum of color. Natural black hairstyles are treated as punchlines. A thousand Halloween costumes feature non-black people in dreadlock or Afro wigs. Black hair has to be tamed, chemically altered, woven with extensions, hidden by wigs. Students are suspended from school for wearing unprocessed hair. Boys are ‘Sideshow Bob,’ and girls and women are deemed unprofessional or unfeminine, and unkempt. My relationship with my hair goes through phases. Sometimes, I hate it. And sometimes, I love it. 

Unfortunately, some of the policing of black physicality comes from within the black community. Some of the most vicious takedowns of black presentation comes from other black people. Colorism, and passing are very much alive and active.

Hairsbreadth, the novel-in-progress that will be serialized by Broken Eye Books (and eventually turned in a printed book), asks the question: What if the very thing we’re castigated for—our blackness—was instead the source of great power? The character Zelda came to me with her deep dark skin and ‘unruly’ hair that could heal and destroy, create wonder and horror, and begged me to tell her story. The story is borne out of the chthonic crucible of self hatred and a colonized mind. It’s a way to cast off toxic ideas, and honor the beauty of idiosyncrasy and otherness. 

The first chapter, “Girl, Uprooted” is available if you subscribe to the Patreon

Behind the Fiction: Siouxsie and the Banshees’ “The Sweetest Chill”

 

Calling you, tears thaw my sleep

Wanting you, this hoary web is weaved

From this strange confusion

Grows a perverse communication

It enthralls me and coils me around

—“The Sweetest Chill,” by Siouxsie and the Banshees

Siouxsie_&_the_Banshees-Tinderbox

“Liturgy of Ice,”  dark, queer take on “The Snow Queen,” was partially inspired by the song “The Sweetest Chill” by Goth Ice Queen Siouxsie Sioux. It’s a beautifully unsettling ballad of romantic obsession, full of wintry images.

Music, of course, is one of my major obsessions, and my love for it spills over into my fiction. The first Variation took its title from Bat for Lashes first album, “Fur & Gold.”

 

Nina Simone/Zoe Coalrose

Fellow college alum Michael Dorfman pointed me to this fascinating 2010 article written by Joe Hagan about the mercurial Nina Simone. The article, entitled I Wish I Knew How To Be Free, uses Simone’s secret diary entries to cast light upon this talented but troubled woman.

simone

Struggles with her identity, her marriage, her career and her sexuality are all revealed. It’s heart-breaking and illuminating.

Coalrose, one of my stories in my forthcoming collection is about a character loosely based on Simone. Zoe Coalrose is a kind of dark muse to the marginalized in magical realist/historical piece.