Exploring Gender – a true story


Family Discount Train Ticket, USA 1984

I try talking the travel agent

into selling me a family discount train ticket

What about sisters? I insist. Sisters are family.

No, she retorts. Man and Wife. Only man and wife.

 Stalking back up the Bronx Street

with the family discount in my pocket

I have to break it to you

now one of us has to be the man.

What? you exclaim.

I can be the man, I reply.

You shake your head.

It’s decided. I become an East Coast Bohemian

sporting red plastic cat-eye glasses

two-inch stacked heels

hair swirled up, splash of lipstick, stack of books.

You dress up like a stodgy, well-educated Kenyan

Nehru jacket, thick glasses, cropped Afro.

We fake it from New York to Chicago.

You keep a growl plastered to your face.

I smile like an elite

know-it-all, possessive, protective wife.

Enjoying the backstory

I created for our cross-country gender performance

I proudly show our husband&wife ticket

to each conductor at every stop.

We are north of Kenosha

heading into Milwaukee

last leg of the journey home

when the conductor eyes us suspiciously.

He opens his mouth to question me

but before he can speak

I shoot up teetering on both heels

ready to make a scene.

You cringe pretending to sleep.

I hiss, You got a problem?

I am ready to slap him.

He hands me back our ticket

moves to the next passenger

I look around the train car

memorizing faces

so I can point later:

You were there and did nothing

when they stripped us to inspect our female genitalia

and threw us from the train.

We make it home. We make it

knowing not everybody does.

Note: Image is entitled, Acolo, encaustic & collage on paper, from Romanian artist Victor Brauner. I photographed it last month at the Chicago Art Museum. This image expresses how I sometimes feel about being my gender.

3 thoughts on “Exploring Gender – a true story

  1. great poem…you and Onde have certainly gotten yourselves into many discordant situations during the course of you long love …. Thats a great painting by the way. I had many reservations (different from yours ) about being a woman but once I was living in New York City during the 60’s I started to enjoy my femininity. And I do now because inwardly I am androgynous xo alicia


    • Exactly – we are embodied spirits! Yes, this poem-story also captures the early 1980s in which the gay-hate was whipped up to a very high frequency under the Reagan administration – it was the beginning of the AIDS epidemic (the disease was originally called GRIDS (Gay-Related Immune Deficiency Syndrome) by the Reagan leadership, and we suffered many expressions of hatred by very ordinary people that would not be common now. Times have changed. And my experience of being embodied has also changed. I love the pointy breasts, the fish back, the strong hands, the baby in the womb, the grinning dog with his big balls and unsheathed penis riding on her head. I love the color and complexity of this image.


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