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Third Gender (A Poem)

Third Gender


I remember when I turned my last skirt into a tablecloth
because I only wanted to be one gender now
and it was not girl. I remember when everything changed–
I turned the tablecloth back into a skirt.
The red purse was the last present
my mother ever gave me. I hid it
under the bed
and then I got sober
and she went into a coma. It was easier
to look like a girl when I went back to Virginia.
The neighbors liked me with long hair.
The purse was actually pretty
and had good pockets. I carried it
to the hospital every day.
When I was 17 I wrote a short story
about castrating cucumbers
after cars of drunk men threw packs
of playing cards at me, queen of hearts
ace of spades, they swerved
directly at me         2 AM             screamed
at my tits. When I cut
all my hair off 2 days later
I felt hideous and proud
properly gay and partly invisible
no one screaming now but my mom.
They called me Sinead O’Connor
they called me G.I. Jane
they called me crazy and called me sir
when I shaved my head in a foreign country.
Small children asked if I was a boy or girl
the men shouted out shop windows
to ask where my hair was. Finally
I gave up and told them I sold it
to buy my plane ticket home.
They stopped asking why I wasn’t married.
They stopped asking me anything at all.
We had gone to my mother’s favorite restaurant
drunk enough wine to be pleasant.
We were supposed to be celebrating something.
When we got home she burst into tears
all over the kitchen counter. All she was thinking
at dinner that night was she hoped
everyone thought I’d had chemotherapy
and that’s why I had no hair.
He told me I’d always had a lot of third gender energy
before I knew what that meant. He thought
it was a compliment. I thought
I was an alien. I don’t remember
another word he said. I remember going home
putting on a black dress
and trying to be beautiful.
Now my lover tells me I am handsome and she tells me
I am pretty. Sometimes
I open my ribs for her.
I bought a black tuxedo vest
on eBay. It has one rhinestone button.
I will wear it. She will wear a short skirt
and a flower in her hair. She calls me
her ex-boyfriend and she calls me a zebra
she squeals when she discovers
my underwear is covered in hearts.


Jacks McNamara is a queer writer, artist, activist, educator, performer, and somatic healing practitioner living in Oakland, CA. Jacks is the co-founder of The Icarus Project, a radical mental health support network and media project by and for people living with the dangerous gifts that our society commonly labels as “mental illness,” and the subject of the poetic documentary film Crooked Beauty. In 2012 Jacks was selected as a Lambda literary fellow, and their first book of poetry, Inbetweenland was released by Deviant Type Press in 2013.

This post appears as part of June’s series, “Sex, Gender, Power”: a systemic take on the Third Precept of Buddhist ethics.  BPF’s year-long curriculum, The System Stinks, brings spiritual activists together to explore the Five Precepts on a collective, social level.

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