:: Article

A Complete Family / hstry

By Sarah Cavar.

Image by Dimitris Christou via Pixabay

 “[Groups] are collections of individuals who mutually recognize significant areas of shared experience and orientation to common goals. In contrast, membership in a series does not require sharing any attributes, goals, or experience with the other members. The members of a series are unified passively through their actions being constrained and organized by particular structures and constellations of material objects.”

–– Alison Stone, “ On the Genealogy of Women: A Defense of Anti-Essentialism,”  in Third Wave Feminism: A Critical Exploration (2007). [emphasis mine]

#

Blood is a lineage. It begins in the toilet, rings of icing suspended in liquor. When I stand I hear voices outside. Red-brown marks spin and break into the water below me. Maroons.

I waddle aching into bed, wait for him to arrive. He cis, straight, white, male, at least fifty, probably six feet-something with a hanging belly. I am transgender, queer, and barely-twenty. He is my gynecologist.

He grins at me, extends a dry, warm hand. I shake it. Went great!

And it’s –– it’s out?

(He laughs.)

That’s my job. It’s easy with someone like yourself. I think you’re the youngest hysterectomy I’ve ever had.

The following morning I am discharged with my age-restricted scars.

*

For several months after my uterus was removed, I continued to bleed from my vagina. The stitches were dissolving; they said goodbye in crimson streams. The cruel irony taste of this stubborn blood was not lost on me. Still, I was thankful, having heard my whole life that this procedure was unthinkable for a healthy young adult—unthinkable to make my future child not my child, impossible to embody today an already-empty future. In this present-future I am already useless. I am, as Lee Edelman writes, irredeemable.

Hearing again and again the impossibility of the procedure –– the demands, all predicated on health, health, health—I had become intimate with hopelessness. When I received approval for the procedure, I had to teach myself how to want again. Yet in hindsight, I understand: after two years of biomedical regendering—breasts gone, gelled testosterone a daily application—of course I could forfeit my uterus with relative ease. Who wants a mother who is not a mother but a monster? Who wants the deviant to spawn?

I don’t entirely attribute my hysterectomy to trans identity. I believe that “gender dysphoria” is a medico-psychiatric racket, a means of transmuting acute suffering under conditions of biological essentialism into individual fault. Yet I had for years taken extreme measures to cease menstruation, and even before puberty feared and loathed pregnancy. I begged to “get my tubes tied” the moment I learned of the possibility, feeling existential terror at the sight of a rounded belly, a growth hijacking some innocent gut. This growth would then bear my name, doing with my legacy things I would be unable to control.

Even if I were to refuse pregnancy, I would not escape. The uncontrollable detritus in red and brown and black that fell from my crotch each month was a cruel reminder that, even in absence of a fetus, my body was beholden to the notion of one, a someday I was destined to visit.

#

 I bleed in the aftermath of my incisions. I imagine the blood to be my womb’s final salvo, the chaos of fireworks preceding that final explosion and the long black afterward. My body is saying goodbye on the icy toilet seat while my mind is elsewhere, woozy from the painkillers and the folk songs in my headphones. A thin line of blackened goo stretches from paper corner to opposite corner, evacuating momentarily onto my forefinger. I say goodbye to future. Goodbye to period promise. An organ to waste.

#

The first time, I was at my grandmother’s house. I spent the bulk of my childhood there, walking the same hall my father and late uncle had, passing several generations of family photos mounted on the violet wall. It was July in her tiny teal bathroom that day, I sat on the toilet with her dusty Weight Watchers branded scale beneath my feet. On her counter, decade-old lipsticks and powders and nail polish bottles crusty with disuse stood like little armies. I could see her backyard through her tiny right-hand windows, hear birds whooping between the branches.

I heard myself scream at the sight of blood in my underwear. I did not assume that I was dying. I knew the truth to be far worse. I screamed like the little girls in the movies and heard my grandmother’s house shoes nearing the bathroom.

My grandmother, grandfather and I had been about to drive to a restaurant so expensive that its menus (chalkboards held aloft by slim blonde servers in understated makeup) had no listed prices. My grandparents reveled in this sense of prestige; this restaurant on its great expanse of land, its farm whose silhouette gave way only to field and sky. I would steal sips of my grandmother’s vermouth cassis. I took bites of warm, buttersoft crackers that melted on my tongue. The pear soup came with a dollop of cream at the center, which I broke with my spoon into tart bits amid a sea of sweetness. I tried capers for the first time that day. And I tried my best to ignore the sticky wings between my thighs.

We all made a point of forgetting the period while eating. I chewed half-successfully to drown out the thought of it, lapping the dregs of rosemary fried potato from my teeth. Just hours ago, I had screamed as if strangled, and my grandmother had found me with my summer dress hiked up and underwear around my knees.

Oh, Sarah. Welcome to the club.
I will never have babies. You say that now.
I am never going to get pregnant. You will
want to, given time. No. Sarah, do you understand
how to use the wings?

Finally I told her to leave the room, wrangling my vagina, this traitorous beast. I forced against it a long white strip of unknown origin. She so badly wanted great-grandchildren; blood relations. I am going to adopt, I told her. It’s not the same as when they come from you, she said, just wait. What she meant was: it’s not the same as when they come from me.

On the way home, my grandmother sent my grandfather into CVS for maxi pads. He emerged with a bag of (he mumbled) female products, along with several hasty packages of Reece’s Peanut Butter Cups. Outside the car, he smoked, ate two cups, crumpled the wrapper and began to drive.

#

My mother accompanied me to the hospital on the day of my hysterectomy, performed exactly one week after my twentieth birthday. Before that, we almost never spoke of matters situated below the waist. She always seemed unfettered by the brutal sensitivity to which I was beholden, a placidity I hoped to imitate. When my grandparents brought me home that day with a box of pads beneath my arm, I told her in an even voice, I got my period today.

Oh, she said, and with impossible gentleness, asked, Is everything okay?

My grandparents assured her that all was, indeed, okay, and said goodbye. They disappeared out the sliding glass door. I watched their headlights drift out of sight once, and then again, until I found I could no longer hold my tears.

That night, I followed her around the house, half-blinded by tears, the whole house turning to soup that dripped from my cheeks to the round of my chin. She begged me to stop. I did not stop, because this was my future; the future assaulted my body and left an aching wound too deep to touch. I cried as if damned, because I was. I had been damned by no-one, by everyone, yet was without a single person to punish but my own damned body. I threw myself upon my mother’s bed, staring at the loud black paint beside her bedside table. GIRL’S ROCK! I had mispainted on the walls half a life before. Sic, I thought, feeling sick.

All I wanted at that moment was not to see but climb beneath my mother’s skin—become not a woman, not a girl, but the thing beforehand. To be unmarked, unheeded, unbodied.

#

I did not consider the existential ramifications of my sterility until nine months after the procedure was done, when I remembered that I am an only child, and my paternal grandparents’ only heir. My father’s brother, whose picture dotted the photo-covered walls, died a decade prior with no children. I will never have biological siblings. Someday I will be the last living Cavar. I was a final girl, left to tell the story. But then I, too, would die, and my family would be moot.

At seventeen, I had told my grandparents I was a lesbian. My then-partner, not a girl but assumed-to-be, would attend my upcoming high school graduation. My grandfather’s heart cracked with pity, even worse than hatred. Sara Ahmed (2010) speaks of homophobia grounded in the fear of a miserable future, a push to heterosexuality in ostensible service to a child’s future happiness. Likewise my grandfather grieved for me, believing I would never know the love and acceptance a heterosexual might. My grandmother, meanwhile, grieved for the child that would not come. I was growing out of the family. My future took a slant they could not follow.

My grandparents know now that I am, as I describe to them, gender-neutral. They know nothing of my surgeries, nothing of my unproductive sex. Lately they have been speaking only of the past to me. I reminisce with them. I play the icing in its liquor bath, floating frozen in its shape.

#

When I apply the new pad, the blood comes out between my fingers. It’s past midnight. My mother and the night nurse chat blearily outside. I stare at my body beneath the fluorescent light, dry and limp as a half-inflated doll, red, band-aid-sized scars dotting my stomach and hip. A hair-thin needle hangs intimate inside my elbow, piercing a raised blue vein whose immediate surroundings glow red with irritation. It has only been three or four hours since the last pad change, and again, the white between my legs is rich with blood. Heavy. I sneeze hard and feel it fall; blackened slime hits the bowl like sick. It feels so real my stomach lurches, the twisting core-pain so familiar I gasp. In my head I hear my grandmother’s voice: Wrap the sticky parts around the other side so that it doesn’t slip from underneath.

 Back in bed, I fidget carefully for fear of leakage. At the feel of another dam giving way to blood, I squeeze my eyes shut and try to laugh at the irony. Here was my heaviest period, unleashed in final protest against the uterus that isn’t. My period, a foray into Baudrilliard’s hyper-reality. The simulated-organ clenches and releases, pain a singular line from my vagina deep into my stomach, twisting like an arm-burn.

I ask my mom for Ibuprofen, carrying on the act. She rings the nurse, who asks about my pain. I tell her, nothing I’m not used to, with a sad half-smile. My pain soon abates and I try to sleep until the next of her thirty-minute rounds.

#

 My last period, which should be called my final period, which should not be called a period at all, happened in the springtime. One day, I spotted brown on the thin liner stuck inside my briefs, and then I never did again. I did not know at the time that this would be the end, did not mark the date or time. Without ceremony, it was simply over. My last blood became my final blood, every passing day a closing possibility. The three small scars that mark the procedure–– one on my hip, one on my lower stomach, and one hidden at the root of my belly-button—have since faded into near-invisibility.

There is something poetic in scarring the site of the umbilical cord. I deny the very people whose (re)productive efforts rendered me possible; upended the dynasty whose heterosexual whiteness brought them from poverty to vermouth and priceless menus. This, and the refrain: all we want is for you, someday, to do better than us. This is why we have you. When you’re a parent, you will want the same for your children. Now my children die in the biohazard bin. My children are medical waste. My children, like all children, are not children but misplaced possibilities.

I think often about the difference between “last” and “final,” the way that “last” can be Novocain for existential dread. “Last” was recent blood, was when was your last period and is there any chance you might be pregnant? I was only the most recent of a coming-many, an Atlas to my family tree, the most recent of my bodies. “Last girl Cavar” was bestowed upon me with pride and anxiety. In this instance, the girl is merely the promise of a woman who will make more, more, more. The girl is not an affinity but an obligation.

I am not a girl but I am the final. I tell the story of a family history that will soon end. Without intending to, I have ended history: severing it and slowly, painfully, excreting what remains.

#

[from: scraps sheet]

NOTES –– ESSAY ENDING:

[…] marking up the white page, leaking (silver “linings”?) onto it, in furious flushes and over in loo[ps?]
Perhaps last is simply the resting of a burden, only to be
drug up once more.                             Perhaps, then, final
just the broken promise of a last. Final ––  end of history, of a story
I did not know I was telling
        (a story I today remake in text?) (body/text)
Toilet bowl: clear, white, absence cuts into presence
        but the irony is im leaking, birthing in my way. here im leaking […] im still
.         leaking onto white

###

Notes:
My opening quotation comes from Stone, Alison. “On the Genealogy of Women: A Defence of Anti-Essentialism.” Third Wave Feminism, 2004. doi:10.1057/9780230523173_8.

I very much enjoy Ann Reardon, the incredible baker behind the popular YouTube channel “How To Cook That,” for her insightful and entertaining baking videos. In this case. I owe my knowledge of suspending frosting in alcohol to her video on creating chocolate dessert garnishes. [Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bgqOn_mAwsY, 0:52-1:37]

My comments on homophobia grounded projections of queer unhappiness and non-futurity are indebted to Ahmed, Sara. “Happy Objects.” The Affect Theory Reader, edited by M Gregg and G J Seigworth, Duke University Press, 2010, pp. 29–51.

My discussion on the refusal of reproductive futurity, and of children as symbols of hetero-familial continuation, are grounded in Edelman, Lee. No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive. Duke University Press, 2007.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sarah Cavar is a student and writer of ambiguous gender. A 2020 graduate of Mount Holyoke College and rising cultural studies PhD. Student at UC Davis, they study trans disabled digital cultures and the politics of diagnosis. They are lead author of Trans Bodies, Trans Selves, 2nd. ed (2021) chapter on the intersection of trans and disabled identity. Cavar’s writing has appeared or is forthcoming in The Offing, Electric Literature, Reflex Fiction, and elsewhere. They blog at sarahcavar.wordpress.com and reluctantly tweet @cavarsarah.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Monday, May 4th, 2020.