Gender transition is a strange thing sometimes. The world does not just change in its way towards you, but how you interact with the world. How people treat you. The assumptions that are made. What we are expected to wear. What becomes taboo.
Before transition, I was a fetish model. In a corset I was 5’11” 38DD-28-42. Dramatic, fabulous. One of the things I loved about being a fetish model was that custom corsets were a business expense, as were seamed stockings, lingerie, and MAC makeup.
“We are each born naked,” as RuPaul once said, “the rest is drag.” I embraced it on the job, even amid my own conflicting experience with my body. My breasts were a strange dialogue in dissonance. Tools for capitalism and consumerism, coercion and oppression, bound in one bra. Strapped behind a binder I danced with how I could live with them, pushed up high I wondered how I couldn’t. For me, gender dysphoria and body dysmorphia were not constant, they came in waves, came in and out like the tide. One day in the mirror I saw a sculpture I could decorate, another day a heavy weight that dragged me down.
Combined with weight issues, stories of body value, my body was a blessing and a curse. At swinger’s clubs and play parties alike I was a taste that did not appeal to everyone, unless I was in full fashion and the spectacle of desire was painted across me. My eroticism was performance art.
My eroticism is performance art. Nine and a half years after the start of my medicalized transition, the performance art resurfaced in its glory this weekend. One of my custom made corsets made a reappearance, a piece I have worn since transition, but then it was worn in a place anchored in masculine power. This was femme. Power femme. Performance art femme. All holding my power as man, femme, other, all.
If gender is a palate of paints, we each transform our lives one stroke at a time. Power suit, fancy dress, slacks and tie. Mini-skirt, kilt, biker shorts. Beach shorts, baggy jeans, fabulous Sunday hat. Realism and surreal abound in this world of fashion, with expectations and tropes being standard issue. Dadaist presentations appearing like glittering, confusing, gems in the art gallery of culture.
An evening of fashion, taken to extremes, becomes a scene in and of itself. I slipped into a tight spandex catsuit first, snug encasement wrapping around my skin and cutting off direct contact. Then the corset went on, being pulled further and further tight. Naiia helped with the past inch, knee in my back in a collaborative effort to take me into the body transformation. Transfiguration and metamorphosis.
My daily trouser size is a 33. The corset closes at 28”. Strong upper body swoops down and flares back out at hips. Long legs stretch and move, flex and shift. The second layer of bondage in place, I prep myself with as close to a full breath as I could take. 4” platforms, 6+” total, sit before me. I perch down, and one at a time, my feet become hooves. I become an icon of absurd flesh, alien shapes and swoops. 6’3” now, I watch door frames, walking slowly down the hall, one up in a manicured pose to keep my balance. The pose looks crafted, but it serves purpose. It looks crafted, because the bondage scene in and of itself is crafted.
Wandering for a while, step at a time. Each step is a point of awareness. It is a game of balance, a predicament scene. Posing for photos, alongside the wonderful Mistress Simone, the artist asks me to crouch down. I quake, subtly shaking, hoping that the images will wrap before my calves give up. Flashing back to yester years, I recall the absurdity of the porn industry. “Can you hold that” may sound like a reasonable request, but when backs are arched and legs are spread, bodies shaped and hot lights casting down, it never is so simple.
Making my way back to the play spaces, I look around. Bodies move, ropes fly, whips dance in the night. Winter Wickedness, hosted by AIS, is welcome to all ages and body shapes, a cross-section of Ohio and beyond. I smile as a couple passes by who I heard earlier that day, describing a Sybian in the best way possible:
- “This one says ‘Free Sybian Rides for the Ladies Tonight.’”
- “What is a Sybian again?”
- “You know, the thing you hate. That thing that makes people cum. That thing that shakes the floor around it like you’re at a Nelly concert.”
In the rope room, music pounding, someone is coiling up their rope, and I prep to take the station. Setting down my feathered satchel, I fish out my suspension ring and strap, and can’t quite reach the point up top. I am restrained in movement. I cannot safely climb, cannot bend in those ways to get up. A bystander offers to monkey up the bars for me, and drops the ring down. It is like someone in a hogtie being offered a straw to drink the water, an appreciated small gesture that makes a world of difference.
Black rope over black and green, I close my eyes and weave with the beat. On my knees I sway, move into myself, let the room melt away. Bind myself in my next layer of restraint. Catsuit to corset to heels to hip harness. I weave and pull and check my work. I weave and pull and check my work. Carabiners to lift line to carabiner to carabiner to carabiner to hand and… pull. 4 to 1 ratio hand over hand, I lift, pull, breathe in with compressed lungs.
The weight shifts, flipping upside down. I hang loose, feeling the tightness, the lightness, the weight. I slip on a blindfold, and feel through it all. Pose after pose I twist until my body finds its way to an inverted lotus, bringing my platform-clad feet up onto my thighs and binding them up towards my waist. Behind my back, I fold my arms into a reverse prayer, finger tips up between my shoulder blades.
Hang. Fly. Dive through the pain and dizziness, back to the lines that tether up, ground back down through an aperture of strength. My thighs awaken and ankles burn, and I pull them loose, flipping my form up into a hangman pose, one ankle up in the air and the other one folded back, a pose that is one of my defaults. I am the journey through the arcana. I know the times I have held this before.
Eventually, my body tells me that being upside down is not an option any more, my compressed organs rebelling in consideration of if food will stay down. I reach my fingers to the lines and release, inch by inch coming back down. I let the ropes dangle down as they drape across my face, feeling the texture wave through me, textures on my lips, textures on my brow. My fingers know how to release the lines on my hips by braille.
Twisting my form, I let the ropes wrap around my neck, tight enough to feel, loose enough to cause no harm, untied to not constrict, even if I fell. Lines untied, the ropes surround me like the messiness of a life, tendrils like cords from our spirit. With a soft moan I pick up the dangling lines, pull them together into one heavy bundle, and wrap them around my eyes. Tie off. Pull.
My head has limited movement now. Balanced on my knees I have one foot in each direction, pressure on my face each time I sway. Find loose ends, shift, untie, hand over hand I raise my arms and dance with the ropes as I bind them. I am still bound, catsuit, corset, heels, face. Overhand, overhand, loop, tie. Take me back to my place of waiting, cry the ropes. Bundle me back in.
Finally, I do the same with the blindfold rope. It slips out of the top carabiner like a lover pulling out.
Ropes back in my satchel, I move into conversation. Queer smiles and grins from being seen, I am taken in by peers who are strangers, strangers who are peers. We watch their friend contorted and connecting while discussing glitter. These are the way of things in a world of surreality. I find myself woven like a tale from Comte de Lautréamont, shark lovers and the heaps upon which God is enthroned. I become the paintings of Leonora Carrington, the dream résumé of a curious mind, the exquisite corpse of the collected viewers of my form. Those who see me paint a story, stroke at a time, and I become more than the sum total of their viewing eye. Another facet of the face called I AM.
Dizziness fading and stomach settled, I make my way back to the social area. Conversations bring me back to the present day, dancing back into realism. We speak of age gaps, college programs, desire, and experience. Faces come and go, until an old friend and I begin to speak and the years rush back. Once again I am a 22-year-old woman fulfilling her fantasies, fantasies of being a boy. Genital forms confuse themselves in language except for mouths and quarters that stay locked into place, as I lick my lips and laugh in turn.
Gender is not straight forward. It is a rambling journey through what is myself and what was fantasy, a creation for the consuming eye. As he recounts tales I ponder the differences of viewpoints. When two people walk side by side through the woods with a camera, their rolls of film will hold different images. One roots and water falls, one sky and their partner on the path. Both are true. A complexity of this thing called “truth.” I hear his words and smile. I remember my truth, share the tale, and dance through memory and back again.
I am still bound. Finally, 4 hours since the final cinch, I loosen the knot. Loosen one inch, breathe. Let it rest, my lungs opening, my stomach finding its natural position. Another inch, my back pops as it twists around for the first time in hours. Another inch and open, shoes having been kicked off thirty minutes earlier.
Endurance bondage. Not unlike enduring a skin that is uncomfortable, and yet gives profound pleasure.
Being a female fetish model was beautiful and empowering. It was uncomfortable, and at times outright painful, and I could not slip it off. Slipping it off I slip back towards the me of my daily presentation. I slip back to another side of I AM. By the time I go to bed, it is 4am, having connected with friends old and new, hearing stories and seeing how bonds between people are woven by the intimacy of tales in the air. Let me learn you, the world says in my ear, and I will reflect back the art of your spirit. I will be the voyeur at the gallery called YOU, and I will honor you with my gaze. You bless me with this gift of you.
Gender, bondage, art, connection. They all become one.
We all become one.
Back in my room, the last layer sheds from my serpent skin. Bare flesh, free of performance, free of gender, free of restraint, free. I pause in the stillness and there is nothing. Perfect peace in nothing. A moment later my bladder informs me that there is a reality to repeat. Before enlightenment, chop water, carry wood. After enlightenment, chop water, carry wood. Bodies can be like that I think.
Gender is a bondage that ties tight around me some days. Other days it is lines caressing my face as I wind the rest up in my hands. Some of it is in the background of a quality tale between friends and strangers alike. Let us pick up our paints and craft our canvas with eyes wide open, or if our eyes be closed, with hungry lips and waiting fingers, ready for our truth.