Commarrah Bashar—a Black, trans-nonbinary, actrix, activist, writer, and ritual-performance-art maker—shares a meditation on transgenderspiritual embodiment and the possibility-impossibility of forming oneself with awareness, but without language.
“I am to my beloved, my beloved is to me.”Song of Songs
A few nights ago, I Dream. I walk barefoot, over rocks and twigs through the silence of our mountain woods. We’re looking at the trees for options. Trees feel so good when I’m awake and they’re witnessing me. I honor them, so in Dream, they give me what I need to love my waking life: trans medicine. What my Landcestor itself doesn’t give me straight from the dirt, they give me the joy of plucking from the trees. They know I love the selection process. When awake, I don’t usually recall what we chose in the way that has been reduced to the word memory and its associates. My spirit holds it, slow release inoculating me throughout the day against the viral harshness of cis-generated reality. I’ve been so many times slowly building up that immunity in my subtle body. It’s been hard to do it because we don’t have most of the words. But they’ve taught me not everything needs to be named for me to know how it’s called. This Time is different. This Time is special. I know from the intention in my walking that I’m remembering. I know this time that when I wake up, I’ll be able to frame what I find.
What white culture might call “my art” comes through a filter of regular ritual-keeping, learning, and seeking hygienic ancestors. The contact must be kept clean. You can’t just call to any ancestor, like you can’t just call anyone into your quarantine space. Calling to those ancestors who’ve done the work on the other side, leaving behind the antiBlacktransphobia of their time is washing my hands for 30+ seconds. I spend time learning and becoming a better vessel for the art as testimony—a mask I put on. I am this art to protect myself and it also protects you, even though you can’t perceive me doing all of it. But hygienic doesn’t mean without risk. This is a complex form of engagement and I’ve almost died because of it. They took me right out of consciousness in a room full of people. I came back with less holding back my transness in ways I can’t articulate yet and maybe never will. We don’t have most of the words.
My artistic process has entirely shifted because of my ancestor relationship. My artistic process is my ancestor relationship. My ancestor relationship is my transness. My art is trans. It’s all trans medicine. If you felt that inside you—maybe it made you euphoric and/or scared you because it made you feel alive, in your body—you’re somewhere trans. If you didn’t, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re not. Even if you aren’t trans, your ancestors are, especially if you’re Black. All Black ancestors are queer-trans. Sometimes, you’re just not ready for revelation. That’s how my art goes. In its making, it often orients me in the direction of my transness and heals me as it positions me. It knows transness even before I do. When I’ve resisted, I’ve referred to it as outing me. Sometimes, I’m just not ready for revelation.
The writing especially scares me. When it’s done passing through me and I take a break, I come back to pieces I don’t recognize. I come back to wholes I can barely comprehend. I’m working on addressing the absolute terror I feel as antiBlacktransphobia. The tightness in my chest I know to be the grip of White supremacy’s myth of individual excellence. The lure of a solo-driven narrative as the better option just because it’s more familiar. Animate lie that stands ready and waiting at the edges of my perception to drag me down. So I hold with the fear of the unfamiliar. What’s hard about healing is learning to be who you are, when who you are is not the symptoms. AntiBlacktransphobia is not just its crimes, whiteness will not be repaid in accordance with its transgressions, and you are not just symptoms. I am not just my fear.
I don’t know what it means to decolonize myself or my art because the root and center of the word is “colonize”. I don’t know how to reindigenize myself or my art because I’m not sure what’s indigenous to me. And even if I did, the tools of my ancestors may not even work for us, being alive in me now. I don’t have answers, just questions that keep adjusting my movement. If colonization hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t be here. So if I can’t wish it never happened, what repair can I be? I ask them aloud while walking toward the self-love inherent in standing before the unrecognizable version of me. I embrace them as I perceive them, even if I can’t understand what I perceive. The fear of that self may never leave me, but I can put it in remission. When I do, it’s revelation.
I walk for some Time with them into the night without fear. I am remembering I am special. That I see in the Night. That I see in the Darkness. They love that about me. All of a sudden, I meet a cedar. I am with the cedar. The cedar surrounds me with its branches, bursting forth with rich green blue scales, bathing in me as I spill over it. I touch its fruit before I even see it. A soft blue velvet pouch with gold stitching. I’m feeling warm immediacy in my heart. I know this is for me and I have a name in every world for this medicine, this act of transDevotion that will change me irrevocably. Unbinding of binary, the generational fruit overwhelms me. I pluck it and I’m smiling from between my eyes to my fingertips. The cedar is smiles too.
This piece is part of the series by guest editor Juleana Enright.