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Original Essays

Transcendental Ticcing

by Myriam Gurba
  1. Dahlia Season: Stories and a Novella
    $15.95 New Trade Paper add to wishlist

Dahlia Season, my collection of short stories and a novella, is full of trannies. They serve as my tales' crushes. Heroes. Bit players. Saviors. They take the landscape of gender and reinvent it. Their bodies are battlegrounds and playgrounds. Just like mine has been.

Dahlia Season honors the butch skater who, due to curvy hips, has to work with a lower center of gravity to pop her skateboard up off the sidewalk and land a gnarly trick. The wannabe Chicana fag who plays off her smooth cheeks like she's a chico with a baby face. The carnie tomboy who grows up hollering on the midway. Unlike lots of tranny depictions, mine are neither pathetic nor tragic. Neither are they monstrous. They are, however, fierce. Because the trans people I have known are soldiers against convention who slay it with a wink and a smile.

I thank my cousin, Whisper, for my first trans muse. Whisper's mom sent her to stay with us the summer before I started high school. My aunt wanted us to reform her daughter, a spunky gangbanger with dangerous green eyes. A couple of weeks in our podunk California town was supposed to do the trick, break the rapture that the criminal lifestyle held her in.

I was cool with Whisper. And more importantly, Whisper was cool with me. She accepted my quirks. My non-stop cleaning and arranging. The constant finger movements. Fidgets. Rapid-fire eye-blinks. I didn't know why I moved so much. I wouldn't discover till years later that I had a condition with a fancy French name.

One afternoon, I brought Whisper with me over to a neighbor's house. The neighbor was a Teutonic-looking white girl who enjoyed picking on me. My quirks made it so easy. So did my inability to hide that I was in love. With her. With every girl. I was always trying to kiss them. White girls in my neighborhood. Brown girls at school. Black girls. Any girl.

In her bedroom, the white girl teased me as I flipped through her latest issue of Seventeen magazine. "Put that down," she taunted. "That's like a porno for you."

I blushed deep.

Sitting quietly in the corner, Whisper watched my embarrassment. In an even and sure voice, she began to tell a story. It was about a homeboy born a homegirl. "Everyone gives him respect," said Whisper, emphasizing the word respect, and she explained that he was treated like a man because he knew how to be one. It had nothing to do with what was between his legs. He earned his masculine respect and props by being a loyal homie. He earned the love of "fine ass rucas."

The white girl sneered. Her braces glimmered. I turned away from her. And looked at my hands.

The streets of LA gobbled up Whisper before I ever got the chance to personally thank her for the homeboy's story. I carried that moment in the white girl's bedroom with me for years, though, and wanted to enshrine it. Whisper's storytelling took what could've left a bruise on my soul and replaced it with comfort. She gave me something beautiful. A legend. Hope. Every time I think of that sadistic white girl, I also think of the homeboy. And smile.

I hope Dahlia Season accomplishes what Whisper did. In writing it, I wanted to take bruises, burns, and scars and turn them into something pretty. Funny. Witty if possible. I appointed myself the ethnographer for members of a club who qualify with their ability to answer "yes" to any of the following questions:

Does your mind have a mind of its own?

Does your body disobey you often?

Do your mind and body ever gang up, bully you, and make you plea for mercy?

I can answer "yes" to all three of these questions because of the neurological conditions that reside in my brain and express their symptoms through my body, Tourette's Syndrome and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.

Tourette's is a tic disorder. My parents mistook my first symptoms for nervous habits, bad ones I was developing to expend the surplus energy I seemed both gifted and cursed with. I talked, talked, talked impulsively. Constantly touched my head, hair, and face. Scrunched my nose and pursed my lips and cracked my jaw. I flared my nostrils like a dragon and sniffed, and when I was alone in my bedroom, I squealed and moaned. I couldn't help the barnyard noises that emerged from me, and after making like Miss Piggy's cousins, I usually felt relief, the kind you enjoy after a nice, long pee.


The annoying thoughts were worse. They hopped on my brain like invisible fleas, making my psyche itch the same way my body literally does before ticcing. I'd try to scratch or slap the pesky tickles by doing rituals or following rules I made up, but no matter how hard I worked, the itching always returned. More powerfully after it boomeranged back, too. OCD and Tourette's are my gruesome twosome, neurologically funky Siamese twins that doctors refer to as "comorbid disorders." The really lucky get a trifecta. OCD, Tourette's, and ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder).

It makes sense that because of my conditions, the stories I relate to most are gender outlaws'. I especially appreciate the lore of adult transmen who, as little tomboys, expected they'd grow the body parts that would enable them to get wives with bras and periods and soft voices. At eleven and twelve, their nightmare descended. Instead of tics or obsessions, their horror came in the form of a swelling chest and bloodied underwear and a never expanding Adam's apple. Transpeople know better than anyone the heartbreak of being betrayed by your own mind and body, your own mind and body having the power to imprison you if you let them.

My title novella takes a stab at answering these questions: "How does a girl with Tourette's and OCD launch a prison break? Does she slip through the bars, fight her way out with guns blasting, or learn that the best thing to do is sit and make her cell pretty?" I can't tell you what happens, that would be giving it away for free, but I can tell you this much: Desiree Garcia, my main character, takes her cue from trans people. Whether at war with their bodies or establishing a gentle truce, they teach what it means to transcend flesh and blood through their most unruly flesh and blood. They wear their uniqueness in the most physical way, just like I do when I do people the honor of watching me shudder, moan, and stomp my feet. spacer

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