"Sometimes people ask me when I knew I was transgender," said spoken word poet Ollie Renee Schminkey during a recent performance of their poem, "Boobs."
"They ask me if I feel like I was born in the wrong body. As if gender is that simple. As if my body is a pair of handcuffs chaining me to housewife, to mother, to woman. I am not trapped in my body. I am trapped in other people's perceptions of my body."
Schminkey's powerful performance expresses the complexities of identifying with oneself and one's gender, especially when that person doesn't feel binary gender is an inevitability.
Schminkey (who uses plural pronouns) notes, "I am not trapped in my body," yet they continue with the line, "My body is something I can only love from afar." There is a schism in this feeling of embodiness: "It is death by way of choking.... And I don’t want to hate my body for this. My body is not wrong. The way people talk about my body is wrong. But my body is the only thing I can change."
Trans narratives, even when presented as spoken word poetry, are ripe with these seeming contradictions — but the fact is the body can and does feel many, even contradicting, emotions at once.
Schminkey, who is the director of the Macalester Poetry Slam, loves the boobs of others ("I am a certified boob enthusiast!"), but hates their own. As described in the poem, Schminkey feels completely dissociated from an anatomical aspect that feels as strange as "a misplaced sex organ." It's as if, Schminkey jokes, "You had a penis growing from you elbow." It would feel foreign, even glaring in its foreignness, fetishized by all who could see it: "You'd probably want to cut it off."
It's important to note that this is not about being "born into the wrong body," rather, the poem is an ode to anyone who feels "born into a world that doesn't know what [their] body means." In this context of the trans experience, the desire for top surgery, Schminkey explains, is one born out of a feeling of being "unsafe" in one's body.
And it is this conflict, this complexity, that Schminkey betrays perfectly in "Boobs."