My navel piercing was exhilarating. I got it the last time I was in Miami, surrounded by my Miami friends who had no idea why I’d just signed up for such a feminine-coded body modification. Having friends there made the event exciting; having Ania made it safe. I faced the needle with enough nervousness that I had to fill out the “I’m the right age” form twice.
Ania has a picture of the face I made when it went in. I’m not sharing it.
Afterward, though? The soreness commingled with a heady endorphin rush that I should have expected but most definitely did not. I was giddy with delight. If we weren’t already at our financial limit, I might have signed up for another piercing then and there, in that euphoric haze. I’m looking forward to that feeling again.
Most of it was physiological, the well-known head trip of predicted pain turning to pleasure that undergirds the runner’s high and sadism/masochism play alike. I gained a new understanding of what other people get out of those experiences in the aftermath of my own encounter with the piercing needle. But there was something else there, too.
In a big way, transition is about taking control: of one’s body, of one’s lifestyle, of one’s own mind. It is not a coincidence that many of unrecognized-transness’s comorbidities are things like eating disorders, self-harm, and bigorexia. When our bodies betray us and our lives spiral out of our hands, we face the crushing need to re-establish some measure of power over ourselves, however destructive. We are our bodies, and flesh that refuses to honor its position in that compact is a nightmare whose shriek for resolution is the continuous background noise of our lives, to be quieted in any and every way available.
After almost thirty years of this body only pretending to recognize its owner, I’m ready to finish bringing it to heel.
I didn’t get my ears pierced that day in Miami, because I needed to keep my piercing adventure secret from my parents. But I want to. I’ve received earrings as gifts and I want to use them. My fashion skills ache for this new challenge. This feminine milestone most girls around here claim in childhood, I will attain as an adult: one more signal to the world that this is real, this is me, and I am not looking back. I have no plans for more piercings after that, however exhilarating that first one was. I have enough medical procedures in my future that keeping my metal collection easily removed is a priority, and enough sensory sensitivity in various other likely piercing sites to not want to take chances with them. The prospect of my recurring respiratory infections and allergies interacting with a nose piercing is not something I wish to cultivate. So I’m sticking with ears.
The mark I intend to leave on this brainholster is rather more literal. I’ve got tattoos on my mind. I will etch onto this magnificent new skin the reality of my ownership. I will carry messages for myself and others about who I am, what brings me joy, and what I need to hear to get through the day…once I can come up with hundreds of dollars I can afford to spend on ink instead of rent.
More symbolically, the coquí is symbolic of my tangled relationship with my heritage. One of Puerto Rico’s national myths is the idea that the coquí is so tightly associated with its home island that it pines away in sadness when removed from it, and dies before even reaching another island by boat. For so do we all desire La Isla Bonita, that it wounds us to be away. In reality, however, it’s not totally clear that E. coqui is indeed restricted to Puerto Rico, and other Eleutherodactylus frogs are definitely found elsewhere in the Caribbean. More to the point, the coquí actually handles transplantation so well that it has become invasive in Hawaii and other islands with similar climates, and is the subject of ongoing eradication campaigns to keep it from wrecking the local ecology. My parents disowned me and, thereby, painfully exiled from the place I used to call home, but the joke’s on them: I will do better away than I ever did there, and the hills and mountains will resound with the beauty that they denied themselves by forcing me away.
One last piece I have considered is based on one of my favorite examples of Steven Universe fan art, seen here. It’s hardly surprising that this particular autistic trans woman sees a lot of herself in Pearl, given how my circle of friends argues with itself over which of us is more Pearl than the others. Pearl begins by breaking free from intensely restrictive expectations in her original home culture and helping found a group intent on remaking he race’s social order in more egalitarian terms. She struggles to articulate her emotional needs, insists on neatness and order in her surroundings, faces many ordinary situations with anxious confusion, and has emotional reactions that make sense to her but seem wildly inappropriate to others. She is tormented by feelings of inadequacy related to her failure to live up to her original designated role and to the departure from her life of people on whom she was emotionally dependent. Despite this, she has developed great skill with machines, become the knowledge base of her team, and honed combat skills to rival the career soldiers in her midst.
And we both need the same reminder, more often than either of us is willing to admit: I am enough.
That one’s going on a forearm.
I don’t anticipate having the funds to even start on this body-modification adventure anytime soon. There are far more immediate priorities ahead of me, mostly related to making sure I am employed by the end of next month and that we don’t start missing payments, keeping me from spending anywhere near as much on me as I would like.
But it’s on the agenda, for a more replete time when continuing my journey into myself isn’t such an impossible luxury.