a literary journal published by the Black Earth Institute dedicated to re-forging the links between art and spirit, earth and society
I want to be the kind of man whose voice is a flute. I want a flute-voice, splashing bright notes onto the world.
I’m only 17. And I haven’t told anyone. Yet.
Birth, she, he. That’s three. Three parts to a flute, and three parts to me.
Birth: beginning, the mouthpiece. Where Spirit’s breath comes through, the Mighty Wind.
Next: the girl-role I’ve played since birth. 17 years I’ve been her.
The third section of a flute’s called the “foot joint.” It fits the middle joint easy as the future fits to now.
The man I want to be is the third and last piece of me. Each section set in place to make me an instrument.
We sang about this in Mass. I used to go every Sunday with Grammy June, when I was small and she was alive. Lord, make me an instrument.
Mass helped me learn about the man I want to be. But I never told anyone.
My other grammy, who’s still alive, is a 1970s dyke. She calls herself “a 1970s radical feminist lesbian.” But I like the word “dyke.”
“Lesbian” sounds like the word that would happen if the words “lisp” and “jelly bean” had a baby.
She asked me why I felt I had to use that term when describing her. I said: “I like the word ‘dyke’ because ‘y’s being ‘i’s are cool.”
She accepted my reasoning. I know, because she told me. “I accept your reasoning. I’m not especially overjoyed by it, but I accept this is how you’ll refer to me.”
Will she accept my reasoning when I ask her to call me “he”?
She says women who have “so-called transitions” are “denying the expansiveness of womanhood.” They “hurt” her. Because, she says, being a woman is almost limitless, and she fought to make it that way.
Womanhood is as large as the earth itself, to her.
Who could deny the earth?
But men are almost limitless, too, like space is—full of planets, and filaments, dark matter, and stars.
That’s who I am. That’s how God made me.
And I haven’t told anyone. Yet.
When my parents split up, my Grammy June had been dead a year. My other grammy kind of bent down over me. She arced her life over mine. I was four. She’s been that way ever since.
I lost a married parental set, but I gained grandmother-time. An even trade.
She goes by Diana. The huntress. I call her Diana-nana. She doesn’t mind.
I act open around her, but there’s so much I haven’t told her.
Like how I love the way so many men have great posture! They kick up a cartoon cloud of confidence around themselves, and it moves where they move.
I’m not made for the tight-wound, ground-down world of women.
I want to be the kind of man who stands tall, in a comfortable way.
I want the comfort that comes off men in waves when they’re around other men they like, and I want to be the kind of man men like to talk to. A man they can say things to, things they’d otherwise only say to themselves.
I’ve been to mountain lakes so high and cold they’re perfectly clear even 30 feet down, surface to bed, like looking through glass. That’s the kind of man I want to be.
The kind of man whose heart can reflect an entire sky, and draw a forest’s worth of animals to drink.
But I will always have a secret, won’t I? Will my lake ever be completely clear? Will other men be able to tell who I was? Will I always draw up that ripple and shift inside men, that she-people do?
Maybe. Or maybe I can pass. I’ve been practicing. My favorite thing to do is shove my hands in my jeans pockets down to the knuckles, then half-fold my palms and relax my arms in a loose bend. I know how far to tug a ball cap down so the lip just kisses the place where my ears join my skull.
And I’m white, so I have a shot at being “regular.”
But the other kind of man I want to be is trickier.
I want bread to become body in my hands. I want to turn wine into blood.
And I’ve never told anyone.
Diana-nana says the Catholic church is an engine of patriarchal oppression, although she likes some of the things the new pope says about helping refugees and the poor.
This same pope says, “The young need to be helped to accept their own body as it was created.”
Everyone’s body was created between 6 and 10 pounds and mushy. Without glasses, earrings, braces, makeup, clothes. Are there papal decrees against these?
But I feel like I can dance around all that dogma, with my flute self, my clear lake self.
Yup. I want to be the dad in a cap and a robe-clad priest. But priests are allowed to wear ballcaps and jeans! And people call them father anyway, so.
I know, I know. When’s the Church ever going to ordain transgender men? Who knows? That’s God’s problem.
What I do know is I’ve known since I can remember knowing. I am a boy. I will be a man. I’m mountain-lake clear on this.
Confused? Lying to myself? Out to hurt women who call themselves butch? That’s not how I see the man I want to be. That’s not how I see me.
Take the earth, for example. Nature’s in constant transition!
Along the arroyo right now, summer cottonwood leaves twist on their stems all morning, clapping. One day they’ll tear away, and fall. And where they fall off, leaf buds will form, tiny and hard, to wait out winter.
I have overwintered Diana’s scorn. I’ve held myself tight and sealed, under bark.
Not telling anyone about the man I want to be. Until now.
Maria Melendez Kelson writes crime fiction, short stories, magazine features, literary essays and poetry. Her mystery novel-in-progress won the inaugural Eleanor Taylor Bland Crime Fiction Writers of Color Award from Sisters in Crime. Her poetry and prose appear in Poetry, Orion, Ms., Flash Fiction Magazine, and numerous anthologies. Author of two poetry collections (as Maria Melendez) published by University of Arizona Press, her books have been finalists for the PEN Center USA Literary Award and the Colorado Book Award. Both received Honorable Mention at the International Latino Book Awards. The Santa Fe Art Institute selected her for a sponsored residency in 2018 to create work on the theme of Equal Justice.