This piece is the sixth installment of a seven-part series, the first five pieces of which you can read here: one; two; three; four; and five. The final installment will be released next week as the decision on the marriage equality survey is announced.
This series gets harder to write as the weeks tread past me. The pain of the last little while becomes a smear compared with Manus, with another black death in custody, with another lone gunman.
I keep doing small things that feel like big things: two weeks ago the sticker on my letterbox; this week going to Hares & Hyenas to buy a rainbow flag which now hangs in Zach and Benji’s window; moving piles of books around to clear surfaces at home; resting in my post-infection fatigue.
I’m judging a non-fiction award and the books keep making me cry. Quick flushes of wet that come at the end of curling in around myself a bit more. I tell myself that thin skin gives me writing, that without it I wouldn’t live in an excess of everything (the smell of new jasmine, a falling child, the slab of corrugated iron that is my back fence screeching in an afternoon wind), but sometimes walking through the world flayed doesn’t seem worth it.
I try not to think about all the ticks being counted at the ABS. About the yes/no (binaries again). I have conversations with friends about whether or not a no would be better. What about the religious exemptions that will get through if it’s yes? And does yes mean we lose most of the people who are currently fighting? Does yes mean everyone lapses back into everything-is-alright mode? We have marriage therefore we’re ok?
Nothing is wrong and everything is wrong. The post-infection fatigue is deeply reminiscent of depression, and I do my best not to conflate the two states. I fall in love with a song—I Found by Amber Run—and listen to it over and over. I turn my fairy lights on and do my best to keep the house clean, the surfaces clear. I stack and restack the books I’m judging on the navy blue trunk that is my coffee table. Yes/no/maybe. Definitely yes. Absolutely no. Fight for this one to go from longlist to shortlist. Then more piles: maybe-yes. Maybe-maybe. Maybe-no. Yes-yes. No-no. So many piles.
I put the song on repeat. I write with the song. The grass in the backyard wants to eat me. The clothesline is empty. The dog keeps trying to steal my toast.
My tinnitus is worse. I can hear it over music and background noise, over the sound of other people’s voices. You ask me to describe it to you but I can’t. It is every sound that is no sound, coming from the inside of me, a high-pitched welt across the eardrum.
It is a Zach and Benji week. Benji, the little one, is especially on edge. He does this thing we call a soccer flop, where the smallest touch from Zach somehow metamorphoses into a king hit, and he throws himself to the floor screaming. Sometimes he does this weird jolting movement while he’s down there, as if he’s being kicked repeatedly. Zach and I do our best not to pay too much attention. I stay as calm as I can, try to be steady while Benji wobbles. Later, in a rare moment of being alone with Zach, he asks,
“Do you think I’m doing the right thing when I ignore him when he’s like that?”
“Sweetie, there’s not much else you can do when he’s like that.”
“I know, I just think,” he pauses and looks at the apricot tree with its yelling birds, “I just think maybe it’s hard having an older brother.” I should have said no, it’s no harder than having a younger brother, but I didn’t. I didn’t know what to say, hearing this aching sentence from my kid who often seems a world away. We sat together on our little wooden bench, watching the birds take beakfuls of hard fruit.
“Anyway, I’m going inside now,” he said and he was gone.
When I came back inside Benji was standing at the fridge looking at a four-year-old photo of the three of us.
“Wow Mama, you look like a completely different person, and much older!” Zach disagrees. I laugh. It’s true. I was coming out of the end of a period of dieting that had left me lollypop headed and anxious. I had just handed in the final draft of my PhD, which became a book, which wrote me to boy, to queer, to trans. So in that photo I am an edge. I remember coming home from that trip and calling a trans friend from a street corner, sobbing under the streetlight.
“I feel like I’m carrying a bomb that’s going to explode my family but if I don’t say anything I’m going to tear apart. What if it’s not true? What if I’m making it up?”
“Quinn you don’t have to worry about any of that right now. Just take it slowly. Lean into it. If it feels right, keep leaning.”
That’s what I’ve been doing ever since – leaning. But it was a bomb. Being trans was a bomb for my lesbian partner of 16 years. It was a bomb for my kids, who have three parents, and who see me and my ex five days each out of fourteen. Less than half their lives. I am with my kids for less than half their lives. I think these things often. Feel irreparably selfish. Unable to say it. So when Benji does his soccer flops I breathe deep into my belly. I stay still so he can rage. I do my best not to project. I tell myself it’s because it’s the end of the school year, it’s because he’s about to turn seven, it’s because…
At school pickup one of Zach’s friends looks up at me and says,
“Quinn! Your beard and moustache are starting to grow!” and it is the dearest thing anyone says to me that day.
I post on Facebook about Benji saying I look different and old. A person I’ve known for most of my adult life comments within minutes:
H Will you always be called
QE •forgets to press reply•
Yes (2 hearts)
H mama by your kids? (sorry for the premature send)
QE Yes 😊 (1 heart from H)
H xxxxx (1 heart from H)
Early on I tried to introduce alternatives. Mamadada? Madda? The kids suggested Maddy and Dumma. I gave up, and I was glad I did. They call me Mama or Mum. They are the only two people in the world that get to call me that, and as long as they’re willing to hold that name for me, I will answer to it.
On Friday night the three of us go to a friend’s place for dinner and a sleepover. The fatigue is making it hard to cook. The fatigue is making it hard to stay awake. These are old friends. We have known each other since before kids, and now our kids are like cousins. We count rainbows on the drive to Fairfield. Benji says he thinks it’s going to be a yes.
“I’ve only seen one no, Mama. It was in black texta across a rainbow poster. But it was only one no, so that’s why it’s going to be a yes, because there are lots and lots of rainbow posters without nos.”
We have a spaghetti feast (pesto, plain butter and cheese, mushroom and leek, bolognaise), and then dessert. When Benji was three he was with these same friends and they had freshly chopped mango with vanilla icecream for dessert. I handed him his little bowl and spoon.
“Thank you for flango and janilla Mama!” he said, and that’s what we still call dessert. I bring the flangoes and some neapolitan icecream. Each kid has a different order. I deliver five bowls to the couch where they’re watching Back to the Future 2 and think they’re ok. They’re all ok. I remind myself that kids live in more than three houses in other parts of the world, that one house with two parents is a script, that my gender is not a bomb.
The kids go to their next house on Sunday morning. They look resigned as they put their seatbelts on. I’m projecting. Am I projecting?
I go inside and look at the piles of washing, the dishes, my unmade bed. I sit down on the couch and call a friend. Cry. Am scared this is depression again. Remind myself that I have fatigue. Remind myself to stay where I am.
I mark a thesis on anxiety and the body. It is wonderful. I pick up another book from the pile, this one on lost children and love. The friend I called earlier comes over to cook me dinner. He brings garlic, olive oil, fresh bread, strong arms to hold me. I keep writing from the brown couch. I play the song. My gender is not a bomb. They’re ok.
Quinn Eades is a trans and queer researcher, writer, and award-winning poet who lectures at La Trobe University. He is the author of all the beginnings: a queer autobiography of the body, and Rallying, and is currently working on a book-length collection of fragments written from the transitioning body, titled Transpositions.