Notes to the reader
This essay is in/direct queer/d conversation with Kin-as-Ethics: experiments in un/authorised queer essay practice, by Peta Murray and Francesca Rendle-Short. You may read their piece first, but it is not necessary. You can begin here and then move over there. If it pleases you more, feel free to open the essays in two different browser tabs and click back and forth to experience reading in-between.
While I did indeed write these sections in order, as with their piece, the reader need feel no obligation to read anything in a particular order or keep paragraphs or indeed sentences intact.
As I begin to write kin and ethics no one writes to me. It’s a day or so into 2022 and the Omicron variant blazes across the globe and the containers that I so wanted to hold – physical distancing, vaccinations, testing kits – seem to be more porous than ever. I am so grateful for so much, but I just keep wondering: Is this moment more like an encounter with a mirage (seeing something that isn’t there) or black ice (not seeing the thing that is)? I think about the fact that, though separated by thousands of miles, we are connected via a shared history of colonialism waged on the banks of shores of narratives that live on undercurrents rife with racism and hatred. Anti-social media swollen with misogyny and ableism and trans&homophobic languagings. How do we make sense of all of this senselessness? Perhaps kin-as-ethics offer us a way to write as rite toward what’s right. Righting ourselves through a practice of queer(ing) writing. Rite-ing ourselves with play.
Let this, then, be my love letter to your collaboratively written essay. An antiphonically responsive gifting that is more for me than for you. In savoring and communing with your writings, I transform my writing into salve. Called to kin(d)-read word-balming, I respond by writing in-kind. Iterative instances as-love echoing over-across this-our space-time.
I re-watch a lecture by Hil Malatino in which he chats with Ann Cvetkovich and Jules Gill-Petersen about his new book Trans Care, a short work that expands and extends Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha’s concept of the care web, ‘a crip-femme reworking of the integral anarchist concept of mutual aid.’ Defined by folx like Dean Spade, mutual aid is an action-based political solidarity of people who pool, amplify, and share resources to address the material needs of the most vulnerable in a community. Mutual aid depends upon care webs which exist at the interpersonal level and not only include material and physical support but also the affective, emotional, psychic, and spiritual sustenance that we all need not just to survive, but to thrive. Care webs in our culture often centre and reinforce the importance of familial connection. However, we know well that trans and queer folx have historically been excluded, shunned, and otherwise cut off from traditional family support. We have been left to care for and with our own::ourselves. As a result, Malatino explains that understanding how trans care works involves ‘decentering the family and beginning, instead, from the many-gendered, radically inventive, and really, really exhausted weavers of our webs of care.’
Even though I enjoyed and found valuable the discussion when I first watched the video about a year ago, it bothered me that Malatino referred to this as a ‘baby book’. I heard this comment as self-deprecation, a diminishment of his effort and potential impact of the work. Just because it’s small doesn’t mean it’s infantile, I thought. This time around, I heard and felt the sentiment as a kin-as-ethical observation offered with kind-hearted cooing. What if we think about this wee book of Hal’s as a constellation of ideas-as-progeny? What might happen if I accept my trans&queer responsibility to nurture and take care of-for-with his emergent visions as intellectual generosity, threads by which we might together weave wonderous fabrics Wilde-by-design?
adrienne marie brown introduces me to Alexis Pauline Gumbs who introduces me to Pauli Murray, a civil rights activist, poet, writer, lawyer, co-founder of the National Organization of Women, and the first black woman to be ordained as an Episcopal priest. The accomplishments and impact revealed in the documentary, My Name is Pauli Murray, are so astounding I suddenly have a deep desire to see Murray’s astrological chart. What natal signatures might be there in support of the fact that this person got five degrees from some of the most prestigious colleges and universities in the United States? Are there any planet placements or aspects that might suggest why Murray sought testosterone as a young person (always denied by doctors) and legally changed their name (from Pauline) and embraced an identity as a woman as she aged? What stars aligned for this human to come to the planet as a person about whom it feels both accurate and right for me to write that they were friends with Eleanor Roosevelt and that she was on a first-name basis with Ruth Bader Ginsberg?
In thinking about Pauli Murray, I become aware that I am writing in conversation with Peta Murray. I am suddenly struck by the sense that somehow they are connected via a trans*continental queer care web. Shall I think of this as a constellation? A rhizome? Is it the entrance and exit that matter here? Or perhaps an energetic sculpture in which through relationship we might all become art? These are not simple computations, logically traceable degrees of separation. The kin-as-ethic connection between P.(auli) Murray and P.(eta) Murray feels mercurial, having to do with the unpredictability of liquid metal as daily communications; the wizardry of rhetorical translation and gender trick-or-treatery; unicorn mysticism and both/and bods. Through meditation I alchemize they/them in(to) a queries for me&you: What magic is waiting for the queer person who remakes themselves as they age? What might transpire if we kin-as-ethically flex, flow, flutter – dare I say ‘elder-flower’ – into a great not-knowing, rather than spending any time lodging more solidly into what (we think) we (ought to) know?
17 (i.e. the 7th prime number)
I think of my pathos through sparks and gym. Or maybe I mean bark and Gwyn? Possibly lark and gin? Another way might be this: Am I, a white, aging, queer, trans non-binary, transgenre writer a pitiable figure, someone who might encourage anOther to be deeply moved upon first sight? Experience tells me my presence would sooner evoke anger – possibly rage – caused by confusion in being unable to place me securely and confidently into one of two institutionalized gender boxes. I worry that I (r)evoke emotional connections with anyone who can’t-not-not see themselves in me. Might we locate a different sort of gaydar? A way to tell when there may be kin-as-ethic dangers ahead? I think it’s possible once we more fully understand that kin-as-ethics also concern themselves with the workin’ werk of how a body persuades.
6.022 x 1023
Audre Lorde tells us that, ‘The erotic is a resource within each of us that lies in a deeply female and spiritual plane, firmly rooted in the power of our unexpressed or unrecognized feelings.’ In ZAMI, her biomythography, Lorde offers us a scene in which she’s overcome with bodily understanding of the erotic. She’s menstruated for the first time and her mother has asked her to prepare some ingredients for dinner which has her grinding ingredients – garlic, spices, herbs – with a mortar and pestle. She has done this many times before, but this time she becomes lost in the process, feeling her way into the doing as a pulsing from hand to stomach to clitoris to armpit to ribs to spine as the aggressive process of pounding which she had been taught morphs into a smoother, rhythmic, pleasurable, circular motion; fingers curved around the pestle as hips press against the sink. The erotic written through the body pressing an outline of the unexpressed and unrecognized explosive joy.
Avogardo’s number allows us to calculate the molecular weight of a substance to compare one thing to another in terms of any number of teeny tiny elements – electrons, atoms, molecules. After spending a couple of weeks trying to explain how the mole allows us to more easily deal with these ‘really big numbers,’ my grade 11 chemistry teacher confuses the hell out of me with a quiz that requires that we not only calculate moles, but rabbits, otters, and deer. Years later, I discover that mole is a delicious sauce in Mexican cuisine that might have anywhere between 100 and 300 ingredients including things like chilis, fruits, nuts, seeds, spices, and chocolate. There are countless ways to combine ingredients. Colours can be nearly black, brown, red, pink, green, white and can be paired with a wide range of proteins including, but not limited to scallops, shrimp, fish, chicken, turkey, duck, pork, beef, lamb. So, then, all the moles provide lessons in how to calculate the erotic pleasure in the possibility, proliferation, iteration, summation, and circulation of languaging. Connective computations conducted by writing in and through our bodies, between and through spirit(ed) wor(l)ds.
I come back to the point, to the doing, to the application of ideas, processual thoughts and method the long way round by way of thinking about mathematics as language. Signs and symbols and meanings parallel to speech that pulse as a series of nodes. Noting what may stand in for what, what might exponentially expand when we refigure the subject, when we prepositionally substitute. When my relationships might be ever in transition as I move them from above to around; into, below, upon, and through.
Consider this: Five factorial is both 128 and the number five exclaimed. It is both the number of ounces in a gallon of milk and the child at their birthday party beaming with delight able to answer that ever-predictable question with a fully extended hand: This old! Fully extended hands that hold remind me of my hands that held the hands of three other humans now grown. Three who were born of two different wombs, two different seed-givers. If we were to figure in terms of individual humans with respect to years, we might say there’s a rough calculation of 3! x 23 x 27 x 32 ways for them to refer to themselves and me and their relationships with and to each other. Ex: 3! x 1 x 6 x 10 = queer spawn*.
* A term eldest child once used more than twenty years ago to explain who they were in relationship to the world.
Oh, also the funny thing that happens when we mishear one word or phrase in place of another. You know what I’m talking about, like when for years I thought Manfred Mann was talking about being ‘wrapped up like a douche,’ rather than ‘revved up like a deuce.’ In 1954, Sylvia Wright dubbed this phenomenon of mishearing lines of poetry or a song and substituting words one knows for the actual line a mondegreen. The mishearing happened to her as a child when she’d listen to her mother recite ‘The Bonny Earl of Murray,’ (ah! Yet another Murray!) and hear ‘layd him on the green’ as ‘Lady Mondegreen’. As is the case here, the substitution not only makes sense, but it can often be a better – read more interesting and entertaining – version than the original.
A few weeks ago, during our nightly cocktail hour, my partner tells me about a telephone call with her mother in which the mother recounted her visit to a physician who described a possible medical procedure to relieve her back pain called radiofrequency ablation, a non-surgical process of using heat to burn a nerve so it no longer registers pain. Every time my partner says ablation, I hear oblation. Not just the word, but my own understanding of the word which comes from having sung Edward Baristow’s 1906 anthem hundreds of times over the course of a decade while I was a chorister in an Anglican choir. My partner is giggling about the actual meaning of the word ablation – the removal of something by an erosive process – and I have the choral lines in my head on repeat wondering how this process could possibly be a way to provide ‘Food to the faithful’. My search is in earnest. What, pray tell, could possibly be the connection between my experience as a chorister and this minimally invasive medical miracle? How wonderful subsequently to learn that rhizotomy (the other term for radiofrequency ablation), does indeed strive to allow all mortal flesh to keep silent by cutting the nerve at its root. All-aid-TO-ya! Kin-as-ethics as ablative oblation, an offering to god* as a removal of my both psychic and physical pain. Chance and change as catalysts for linguistic play!
Learning that you have been learning Auslan and Gaelic helps me imagine – by your generous prompting! – the possibility for a language that brings together the gestural, the mathematical, and the ground. A queer Esperanto with a grammar – learnable in less than an hour one! – expressed through the iterative repetition of sin-tactical e/motions that never repeat, a phenomenological calculation of the power of the erotic in queer time and space. Queespanto? Queeranto? Gleesando? Whatever it is, I know in my heart-and-soul it will be developed by and through the life-breath of and with/in dance. Not all or any dance, of course, but the dancing queers do, both in critical mass as well as free radical raves of one. Not only the dance that happens in a club with other queers, but all manner of fleshly expression that invites twirling, whirling, dipping, spinning, sliding, striding, and vogueing as syntactical strategies for re-familiarizing spoken and unspoken connections with and to queer desire. Dance that happens regardless of physical ability, in any culture and any time zone across the globe. Exuberant corporeal expression that transforms familial rejection, cultural discrimination, and social exclusion experienced by individual queer and trans folx into the ecstatic discovery of one’s body as home.
I have been reading Where doors are closed to me, I open new ones, by Jonah Welch, Care Of, by Ivan Coyote, and per your brilliant suggestion, All the Beginnings, by Quinn Eades. A ‘pocket grimoire’ by a trans wizard, a book of letters by a trans storyteller, and a ‘queer autobiography of the body’ by a trans poet. I am consulting these texts as if they were oracles, trying to figure out how I’ve gotten to a place where I am experiencing coming out as trans both as the first and the zillionth time in my life.
Claiming new pronouns – they/them/theirs – and directly asking colleagues to use them is part of it. Having top surgery and legally changing my name is part of it, too. But there’s something else at work here as I grapple with new questions about my own relationship to a body that has always been mine, to a self that has ‘always-already’ (courtesy Eades) been both present and dormant for years. How is it I had forgotten that I first claimed I was genderqueer and transgender in a publication in 2009, the same one that marks me as Ames in print for the first time? What does it mean that I had the same tingly numbing sensation flowing down my arms into the tips of both pinkie fingers when I admitted out loud in 1994 that I am erotically, sexually attracted to women that I had in 2015 when I found myself sitting topless in a plastic surgeon’s office for a consult on alignment surgery? Why was I simultaneously terrified and relieved when five years later the same surgeon recognized me – You’re a professor, right? – when I returned to go through with the procedure? How do I start listening differently to what my body has always been saying, telling me? Where and how do I start writing about these experiences when all sense of linear time has been revised into a return, gone retrograde, taken form as a loop? How do we practice the ethics of coming into honest relationship – becoming kind/red with ourselves?
Jonah Welch divines: ‘Non-binary people walk a sacred path. In our bodies we bear a limitless potential for change. We distill out what is true. We congeal and ferment and calcify the essence of things. We explore the dark places where no one has been, candles held aloft to bring back knowledge that benefits not only our human kin, but our relationship with the earth and all its beasts and waters, mountains and plants.’
Ivan tells me: ‘Maybe the point of writing it all down is not necessarily just so the next generations will find these words and read them and be convinced of anything, other than the fact that I existed. Maybe when I am dust I will have let go of this need to explain anything, or be understood by anyone.’
Quinn writes: ‘If “[t]his practice of writing is the inventing of life”, then I want to say this: writing the body is inventing the body. It is the refusal of all the ways we are taught not to speak about what lies beneath this boundary made of skin. Poiesis and praxis: production and action. And in between? In between is life, chora, breath, the sound of my name on your tongue: this corporeal text.’
Perhaps we may be able to lean into the ‘in between’ by returning to the words we have written before, all the ways we’ve made material bodies that exist both on and off the page. What Ames c. 2009 has to offer Ames c. 2022: ‘I have used many different labels to describe myself in the past 10 years: sister, lesbian, mother, partner, daughter. We all have this multiple subjectivity to deal with. We are often both daughter and mother, fulfilling two sides of a binary at the same time. But, even so, these cultural positions are understood as discrete; they don’t specifically overlap. What happens, then, when you call yourself, as I do, transgender, or genderqueer? What happens when you don’t fit into specific boxes so neatly, when you’re a girl-boy, a momma-daddy? What issues or problems does this pose? Does it really pose any problems at all, or is it all in your interpretation, your translation? I am never just the 1 or the 0. I am always the binary code in total.’
I am poiesis and praxis: poetry and magic. I am ever-never finished and always-already complete.
What there is to relish in the closing of any love letter is the way it feels to write toward an imagined recipient with whom you are connecting in this-now which also exists in a parallel there-then. An imagined I for an I for an eye, for an aye, for an islet, for an inlet leading to a shared and sacred transubstantive creative imagination of folding and unfurling these responses into yours.
What there is to relish as I stare out at gently falling snow, is an image of meeting the first grandchild not yet born. She (as has been announced by her parents) will appear sometime near the end of March. What do you want to be called? her parents ask. ‘Poppy’, I say. ‘I will be Poppy.’ Poppy for my own Pop-pop who I will always adore for starting stories about his own childhood, ‘When I was a little girl…’. Poppy for the vivid red flower signifying both death and rebirth, as well as the crepe paper versions that my Pop-pop would hang from his rearview mirror twice a year after donating to the Veterans of foreign wars. Poppy that reverberates with the endearment of papi, and the sensation of being springy and bouncy and ready for fun. Poppy as kin, as one-of-a-kin/d, as committed to sharing care as a foundation of queer ethics dedicated to expanding our conception of family blood.
I imagine myself becoming Poppy, a long process that begins when I first hold this wee babe and whisper softly a solemn vow: Welcome to the world new one. Allow me to introduce myself. I am your Poppy. Your Mommy and Daddy are here to care for you, to take care of you. And, I know they will. But, I am your Poppy. I am here to take care with you, to learn about who you are and what you love so that I may share and delight in the wild wonders of whoever it is you are in order to do whatever I can to help you ‘become’ in this world.
When I imagine myself whispering to this child, I am your Poppy, I am committing myself to a relationship of care with them as well as ‘with the earth and all its beasts and waters, mountains and plants.’
When I imagine myself signing cards and letters to this child, with all my love, Your Poppy, I am writing myself into a future where I have “let go of this need to explain anything or be understood by anyone.”
When I first hear you declare, This is my Poppy!, I will transmogrify yet again through “the sound of my name on your tongue.” I will have birthed a new self: as dust, as dancing, as corporeal text.
This is part of a series of essays co-commissioned by the SRB and non/fictionLab for a series titled Rewriting Kinship . ‘Kin-As-Ethics, Too!’ is a companion piece to ‘Kin-As-Ethics’ by Peta Murray and Francesca Rendle-Short.
Archive of Recorded Church Music. (26 July 2017), Let all mortal flesh (Edward Bairstow): Winchester Cathedral Choir 1991 (David Hill),, YouTube.
Cohen, Julie and Betsy West. (2021), My Name is Pauli Murray.
Coyote, Ivan. (2021), Care Of: Letters, Connections and Cures, McClelland & Stewart.
Eades, Quinn. (2015), All the Beginnings: a queer autobiography of the body, North Melbourne: Tantanoola.
Esperanto. (25 January 2022), Wikipedia.
Hawkins, Ames. (2009), ‘Manifesting New Media Writerly Processes One Really Bad Flash Piece at a Time,’ in Cheryl Ball and Jim Kalambach (eds), Reading and Writing New Media, 19-32, Hampton Press.
Lorde, Audre. ‘Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power,’ in Sister Outsider, 53-59, Berkeley: Crossing Press.
—. (1982), ZAMI, A New Spelling of My Name: a biomythography, Berkeley: Crossing Press.
Malatino, Hil. (2020), Trans Care, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Murray, Peta. (2017), Essayesque Dismemoir: w/rites of elder-flowering, [Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation], RMIT University.
Mondegreen. (18 January 2022), Wikipedia.
Welch, Jonah. (2021), Where doors are closed to me, I open new ones. A pocket grimoire for the modern trans wizard. Jonah Welch, September 2021.