When I was eleven I dyed one strand of my hair blue – bright blue, like a pure cerulean sea. I’d been begging my parents since six years old, and my resolution rewarded me; six years passed and slowly my hair was saturated in sapphire. Its blue burrowed deep into my scalp and I felt it grow. I was bewitched. I would take baths just to submerge myself in water with open eyes and watch as my hair swirled around me like tendrils, tentative to touch.
When I was eighteen I realised I had a crush on a girl. It crystallised as I drove down the M4, thinking about a party from over the weekend. Thinking about a girl. About her silken skin gliding over mine, her arms bracing my waist, heat from her touch seeping into my skin and soaking my bones. About how strange was this deluge of thoughts about her, about how she flooded my senses until I was suffocating and I remember pulling over and having a panic attack—
cold sweat dripping down my body
bubbling blood as fire flows in my veins
drowning in air grasping at breath
skin bluer than water
I felt like dying
I was raised to understand there were no limitations to love. From my earliest age, I knew unconditional, bottomless love; I knew whoever I loved, I’d be loved by my family. The anxiety storming my mind was personal; a deep reservoir of internalised homophobia was roiling inside me, ready to burst. And it would continue to swell, and swell, and swell, because not long after I was shut away—my world distilled into an LED screen.
There is a peculiar loneliness that springs from a lack of experience, from vicarious living through screens and dreams. I am isolated from myself, wading through thick liquid thoughts that slip through my fingers. I feel afloat on a raft of unknowing, I feel tempestuous and rough-hewn—like whoever made me also didn’t know who I’d love. I feel I need the touch, love, heart of a girl to understand. And right now, I am stagnant.
do you know what happens to stagnant water?
it becomes dangerous, infected,
underneath its glassy surface it festers
unbroken by motion, I see my
reflection mirrored, a serene facade
yet I was myself split open
by her. not undisturbed,
I was underpowered and overwhelmed.
overcompensating? (or overthinking)
all certainty sadistically slipping away
black ink dripping sinks into blank paper
in stark definition, but rigid, unyielding
I write – I am bisexual, I am nonbinary
but it is a scarlet stain that scours the page
because the dual sides of clarity are sharp
it cuts both ways
this water is menacing because it is restrained
it is not meant to be placid, but gushing
rushing over sand and rock, spraying
and dashing and surging and hissing.
it is meant to be alive. effervescent.
yet, we are stagnant.
When I was nineteen, I dyed my hair purple – a sweet purple, like lilac petals. I’d not forsaken blue, but heartbreaks and heartaches made it too vivid for me; I needed something blurred. That year, my best friend cut my hair. I sat in my living room and watched as hair fell like purple rain to the floor, and I was a cloud growing light after a storm.
There are things in the world that elude us – the universe, the ocean, time – hidden depths we’ll never dive to, complexities beyond our understanding. But humans are calibrated to compartmentalise, for communication and control. Labels are tools we use to categorise an otherwise impermeable world. Labels are ways of fitting indefinite objects into boxes of best fit, but it is cramped and smothering and I can’t—
breathe easy, I breathe—easy—
a drumming fills my ears
pounding, I am submerged
but if I breathe, if I swallow air
fill my lungs with it
it will drown the echoes out
Now I am freshly twenty, and I know there are words for the waves of cresting ineffability I feel about gender. That same isolation that created stagnation has removed the surveillance that dictated my life as “woman”. The constant effluent of gendered norms is now a trickle, easily dammed, and as time ran on I stopped performing. I felt hushed. I felt liminal. Free.
think of me like the ocean’s waves,
eternally oscillating, ebbing and flowing
prismatic shades of green, blue, purple—
endlessly singular yet unchanging
or the salty breeze sweeping a cliff’s edge
bearing the echoes of the ocean as
waves smash upon jagged rocks like
hapless sailors to a siren’s call
think of me like a dewy sunrise
icy wind caressing your cheek
as granules of sand cling to sticky skin
even as you wade, deeper, chasing the sun
think of me like the ocean.