Together We Will Rise: A Personal Narrative on the Park City Women’s March

by Amanda Steele

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I woke up that morning at 6 a.m. Pulled on boots, layers of pants, scarves, gloves, and looked out the window to inches of fresh snow. A quick search online let me know that Parley’s Canyon would be treacherous in these conditions, and I wavered about whether or not to chance it. At risk of sounding melodramatic, it felt like a turning point for me. Was I going to turn back when things were difficult? Would snow and icy roads deter me from coming together with millions of women across the world to march for equality and rights for all people? The air seemed to buzz with a collective energy, and I knew I would regret it if I didn’t even try. Deciding that I could always turn back if the roads were too bad, I zipped up my coat and headed out the door, a makeshift sign that read “Together We Will Rise” in my hand.

The slow-crawling, barely-moving drive to Park City seemed a metaphor for the state of women’s, and other minority groups’, rights in our country. An uphill battle, slow moving, where little progress seemed to be made. Danger was also involved. Toyota Camrys, Dodge pickups, and Walmart semi-trucks dotted the side of the road as emergency vehicles came to their rescue. Traffic was heavy, and there was bodily risk for all of us—just as those with bodies outside the norm. The bodies of women, people of color, queer people, disabled people, DAPL protestors, etc. are at risk as things stand now in our country. Even more with the inauguration of Trump.

Nearly three hours later, I found a place to park amongst the thousands of people gathered for both the Sundance Film Festival and the Women’s March and grabbed a bus to Main Street where the march would begin. Hundreds of us jogged excitedly to the start of the march that was already beginning to make its way from the Wasatch Brewery. I had made it just in time.

The snow was still coming down in soft, large flakes as I joined the throng. Signs held aloft with phrases such as, “my body, my choice,” “how long must women wait for equality,” and my personal favorite “a woman’s place is in the resistance” among others. There were children, men, celebrities, locals, and lots of women and queer folk. Accompanying us was a peaceful but determined quality to the atmosphere.

The rally afterwards was overflowing into the streets. People climbed up onto snowbanks to get a better view over the sea of pink hats and cardboard signs that were now a bit droopy from all the snow. We were Queens in the North. Winter was here, and nothing was going to keep us from the fight. Despite the stress of getting here, I was happy I had made it. It is hard to describe knowing that you are surrounded by thousands of other people who care about equality just like you and knowing that millions of other women around the world were marching that same day. It truly did feel historic, and I am proud that I pushed through social anxiety, dangerous roads, and crowded buses to show my support.

For me, marching represents a personal commitment to put my words into actions. To become involved in my community and state government and organize with others in my area to create change. To agitate, to protest, to show up. I’ve always been the sort to focus my energy into writing, art, or changing the minds of those around me, and while those are important things, sometimes we all need to be willing to do more.

I was also made aware that even for all the positive aspects of the march there is much work to be done. I had the privilege of never feeling the necessity and urgency of showing up to a protest or march before Trump’s election. Many people have been showing up and fighting long before me because they had no choice. They have always been at risk. These marches were mainly centered on the issues of white women, and the chants could at times be too focused on a gender binary. We need to continue to recognize privilege and get out of the way for people of color, nonbinary people, and other groups that often get pushed aside so that white, cisgendered bodies are the most visible. I, and other white women, need to show up to marches for Black Lives Matter, need to speak up and say that vaginas don’t make a woman. As with all social movements, we need to be continually checking our privilege and critiquing ourselves. We need to celebrate our victories but keep striving to do better.

In the end, I came to the march because I decided enough is enough. It is time for all of us to call our congress people, show up to protests, organize together, and end complacency. For ourselves and even more so for others with less privilege than our own. When I look back on this weekend, one that will be talked about for years to come, I want to be remembered as someone who stood up. Someone who was willing to do hard things because they were the right things. Someone who didn’t sit complacently by and let others do the work for me. May we all continue fighting the good fight and be a little braver and bolder during the oncoming years. May we keep each other safe and keep showing up. If we do that, we can keep the tide of nationalist, bigoted beliefs at bay.

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16142996_10154733640881815_8309407749215901025_nAmanda Steele is a feminist killjoy and bisexual woman living in Sandy, UT. She is a recent graduate of Utah Valley University with a degree in creative writing and a gender studies minor. Amanda has been published in peculiar, along with multiple other Utah-based publications such as Touchstones, Rock Canyon Poets community publication, and Intersections along with online journals including wordhaus. In the past, she has served as an associate editor for Essais and prose editor for Touchstones, both student publications. She is currently applying to graduate school in gender studies and loves to mix her love of activism with her love of writing and fandom.

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I Don’t Want a Penis Anymore—Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Commit to Change

by Aubrey Kesler

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Talking about gender dysphoria is like trying to drive a nail through a plume of smoke. I’ve often said that I am a goddess of love and beauty born into the body of a Greek hero. The world sees the hero and expects one thing of him, but the goddess feels another way. She can’t imagine leading the Argonauts or slaying Medusa. Instead, she seeks the golden bangles and flowing dresses that will express who she is inside, but realizes that the world expects her to don the helmet and breastplate like the other men. Can you imagine how ridiculous a towering man with the strength of an ox would look in a dress?

When I was young I ventured out into the wide, psychotic bazaar of the internet in search of people who felt like I did. I found forums, I found news articles, and I found other goddesses who had shirked the expectations of society and cashed in their breastplates for bangles. But when anyone tries to wear makeup for the first time it is hardly ever a success story, and that’s what I found when I entered these forums. It was such a mix of emotions, because on one hand I found my tribe, but on the other hand this tribe confirmed everything I had felt about myself: I am different. The beauty I sought was about nine feet beyond the furthest reach of my desperate fingertips.

I will never be beautiful. Look at this body! How can I make this figure appear feminine? If I dress like a woman, I’ll be a hiss and a byword—the joke of songs and movies—and whispers will rise up like a chorus in the wake of my presence.

Thoughts such as these ran through my head in the dark hours of the night. In those moments I made a decision that would affect me for the rest of my life: I will tell no one. God gave me this struggle so that I can overcome it and return to Him with honor.

You must know that I was raised in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and this is the purpose of life that’s given to you: put on blinders to “The World,” read your scriptures, follow the commandments, and march on in a single file line. I mean no disrespect to anyone who currently practices the faith—I have met many with the milk of human kindness flowing in their veins—but it’s truly a restrictive lifestyle. There’s a list of things you must believe and it is not open for debate. If you are different than what is binary (male or female, Priesthood or Relief Society—no in between), then the doctrine will not allow you to come to terms with the true person you are beneath the masterwork of pulleys, levers, and chemical compounds that is built around your soul. That is the predicament that all queer-identifying people find themselves in when it comes to the LDS faith. Boys wear ties and girls wear dresses.

So I soldiered on in the breastplate and helmet like I was expected to do, and deposited Aubrey the goddess into a prison cell in the darkest corner of my heart. Perhaps my angst and self-loathing were the echoes of her cries for freedom. After years of confinement her shouts finally climbed the stone staircase and reached the ears of the scared, insecure person who sat on the throne of my mind. I left the Church in 2014, and in 2016 I talked to my wife about dressing in drag so I could express the femininity inside of me. I was twenty-eight years old and had wasted eighteen years acting out a role whose lines I could hardly read from the script. In today’s gun-riddled society, eighteen years is all the lifetime that some people get to live.

I talked to my wife about cross-dressing or doing drag once or twice a month, and she said that this would be something we could try and make work. I immediately began looking through Pinterest for dresses that I’d always wanted to wear. I told people at work in special confidence, and even telling one person made me feel so powerful. All it took was a moment of holding the scepter for Aubrey to assume control of the legions and the senate; Derick, that scared fool of a ruler, knew that his time on the throne was at an end.

I came home after a long day of work and my wife knew something was wrong. I had a glass of whiskey in hand and was watching the TV like I wished life could be as simple as all the stupid sitcoms: beginning, crisis, punch line, resolution, and the credits. She asked me how I was doing and I lied. She knew—she always did—because she had a way of reading me and telling me what the next three paragraphs of my emotions said. I took a sip and told the truth.

“I don’t think a weekend here or there will be enough.” I was still staring at the TV. It was all flashes of color and light to me.

“Do you want to be a woman?” She was afraid of the answer because she probably already knew it—she just had to hear it.

“Yes.”

“So you want to cut your penis off and live the rest of your life as a woman?”

Another sip and another slide deeper into the Jacuzzi of truth.

“Yes.”

With that single word Derick abdicated the throne. His statue in the square was toppled, and Aubrey’s banner was raised around the capitol. The next day we called our friends and family and told them that we were getting a divorce and that I would be transitioning to live life as a woman.

Keep in mind that at this point I had no idea how beautiful or hideous I would look as a woman. I only had in my hands the smallest, most potent kernel of truth, and it was one that I had always known and poured over in fascinated horror: I AM a woman inside and I must live that way even if I look like Fiona the ogre.

The next day I went out and expanded my already extensive makeup collection (I did theatrical and cinematic makeup as a hobby which I had planned on making a career) and did myself up as Aubrey for the first time in my life. I’m lucky in that I already had the skills of a practiced makeup artist when I did this. I’m so vain and self-possessed that I shudder to think what the outcome would have been if I had botched together a makeup look and thrown on a $15 Halloween wig. I might have backed out.

When I was finished, I looked in the mirror and saw the goddess shining through my features.

I am Aubrey Marie Kesler, the heiress who has come to power after twenty-eight dark and dreadful years of captivity. If my frame is large, it’s only because so much soul cannot dwell in a smaller tabernacle. Someday I will have breast implants and sometime after that I will undergo Sex Reassignment Surgery and will have a fully functioning vagina. I say this boldly because I’m not afraid of this anymore.

If you are reading this and you are in doubt about yourself, do something about it. Do it now. Do not waste another day in unhappiness when you could be spending your time sailing into the golden horizon of the future. Do not be so concerned with beauty standards, as I was, that you let time blow your years away like so many leaves in a cold wind. You are beautiful for who you are and who you get to become. God didn’t make a mistake when He poured me into a body and He did not make a mistake when He did the same for you. Learn what He wants you to learn by developing who you are and finding ways to help others to whom he has given a similar quest as your own.

It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.

That’s such a cliché my fingers hurt just typing it.

But it’s true.

 

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Aubrey Marie Kesler is a trans woman who dwells in Utah and spends her days living out the wildest daydreams she never thought could come true. Her identity is rather nebulous and unexplored at this point, but the few constellations she can point out are shaped around aspirations of a career in beauty, art, writing and anything that has to do with creation. The nearer she gets to the stars ahead, the brighter they sparkle in her eyes.

She writes the blog The Life of Aubrey where a version of this post originates under the title “Continuing the Tale.”

http://transaubreygirl.blogspot.com/2017/01/continuing-tale.html

My Label is Aaron

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by Aaron Gates

As people, we often like to put ourselves into categories. As writers, we tend to do the same thing. We say things like, “I’m a fiction writer” or “I’m a poet” or, if you’re me, “I’m, like, kind of a poet, I mean, I like to write poetry, but I don’t know if I’m a poet, exactly . . .” And, well, all dear-god-am-I-really-a-writer issues aside, what I’m trying to get at is that often we limit ourselves as we seek to define ourselves. We forget the complicated nature of things, of humans, as we try to classify what we do and who we are. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Labels and classifications can help us find the next book we want to read, the next TV show we want to watch. Labels can also help us find support groups, communities, friends who have had similar life experiences.

Recently we’ve seen a movement to break away from labels that are too broad within the queer community. The queer community has had the label of “Gay,” “LGB,” LGBT,” and “LGBTQIA+,” to name a few. People are moving more and more to show the diverse parts of their identities. Gay, bisexual, transgender, genderqueer, asexual, demisexual, biromantic, and others. This movement to encompass all the diversity of someone’s identity is what led us to use the term “queer” as an umbrella term here at peculiar. We want to represent the deep diversity in every writer and artist, and in the queer community.

What does this have to do with writing and creating? I think it’s important that as we create, we acknowledge ourselves and the history we bring to our creative process. When I traveled back to my parents’ home for the holidays this year, I was reminded of how much I have changed from the shy little boy who grew up in the backwoods of Pennsylvania. Now, this was nothing new to me. Ever since I came out, I’ve worked to become more of who I feel I really am. I’ve worked to let more parts of my personality out that I was ashamed of or hid while I was in the closet. I felt that process meant I needed to change a lot. And maybe it did. But somewhere along the way, I pushed a lot of my past away. Maybe it was from painful memories, maybe it was from a loss of ideals and connections that were held in my youth. I don’t know. But either way, I focused more on my now.

Buy my past is part of who I am. And as I’ve worked more on my writing, I’ve realized more and more that there are parts of me that don’t make sense if I don’t accept every history I have. As I came home for the holidays, I remembered again that no matter what, there will always be a part of me that grew up walking through the forest, playing in crick beds, going to church, and so many other things. As much as I come home and see that I don’t really fit in my hometown the way I used to, I still come home and feel a connection.

I believe that for us as writers, artists, creators, we have to accept every part of us, whether we like it or not, to find our truth. We are complicated, with a million different facets to our personalities, to our experiences. But if we do not acknowledge these parts, accept them, celebrate or learn from them, we are cutting off a part of who we are. We are denying it. We can’t love ourselves if we don’t even fully acknowledge who that person is to be loved.

So, for the new year, I hope everyone can work to explore their own identities, to question why they dislike any part of who they are, and to see themselves more fully. We are so much more than any list of labels in our lives. And I hope we can apply this to our creative processes. Learn from other techniques. If you write prose, study poetic tools of assonance, repetition, concrete imagery. If you write poetry, learn how prose writers craft their work through scenes, outlining, rhetorical situations. Learn how artists create their works through layering, perspective, focus. Learn how writers use words to frame, to build, to create ambiguity or paradox. And through this process, I promise, you will become more skilled in what you create. But, perhaps more importantly, you will learn more about what you have in common with those around you than what your differences are. You will understand more what it means to be human.

As always, give love.

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Aaron Gates is a Utah Valley University graduate, having majored in Writing Studies. He is Co-Editor-in-Chief of peculiar and has also served as Editor-in-Chief of Intersections, Tech Editor of Touchstones, and a senior editor for Essais, all student publications. His poetry has been published in Warp and Weave and Touchstones. Aaron has an unhealthy obsession with Channing Tatum, Calvin and Hobbes, and Thai food; he and The Walking Dead are currently seeing other people.