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#michaelswalk week eight: be the change the world wants to see in you

the concept of time is such a crock of shit. what’s two months? really, in the grand scheme of one’s life, how many are going to zero in on an eight-week period and talk about how critical it was to their life’s path? Yet, many people can identify one sweet day that changed their life for good. Two months may not sound like much in the grand scheme of one’s life, but the magnitude of these two for me have altered my belief in what can be bled from every second should you choose to. Obviously one cannot live so intensely at all times, but there’s far more available in a day than you might believe, and I’m letting that knowledge fill me with faith in my potential.

Leaving Seattle was a heart-straining journey, but what lay at the end was so exciting – time with genius and gem, Matt Katz. Matt and I had become friends during the pandemic working on a few fun projects together and his interest in my work floored me back then, especially as I came to know what a brilliant artist he was – producer, composer, songwriter, singer. I’d taken a leap of faith some time ago to see if he would make a years-long dream come true: to give some of my poetry a musical backdrop, like spoken word songs. In the footsteps of my role models Listener and Kae Tempest I believed my writing lent itself to lyric and melody. What Matt made of the first piece I offered him, ‘gxd’ has literally blown my mind and I couldn’t believe I’d be in Portland, working on pieces of sonic poetry together. Time in the studio collaborating with him will remain some of my most precious memories from this trip.

This final week became all about experiencing America through the eyes and in the arms of friends. here’s a little highlight reel:

  • Powell’s City of Books in Portland – thank god I had zero dollarydoos by then so I couldn’t do as much damage as I definitely would have
  • More hang times with the serene Rose Kress and the fantastic Mike Carrigan (someone else I had the honour of collaborating with on his Tori Amos mashup project)
  • Cheeky roadside naps on a 10-hr drive south
  • Dumplings in San Francisco after meeting author Maggie Tokuda-Hall
  • Time with Jordy – the kindhearted, pure-spirited gay cousin I never had – in Fresno, ciggies on the porch and buying my first vinyl (Tyler Childers’ Purgatory)
  • Blowing a packet on tickets to Six Flags for a day of rollercoasters (the Wonder Woman was a standout favourite)
  • Chilling by the pool in LA, riding scooters to West Hollywood for lunch at The Abbey
  • falling in love

On my last day in America, in the midst of all the jubilation, I made a mistake that was critical in the whole story of my time here. I blew it, again, with someone truly important to me, and for all that it was innocent, there have been perhaps too many mistakes made with this person. Time does a great deal for healing, but we need to decide what ‘healed’ actually is before we can hope to feel it – otherwise it just sits as an impossible goal marked by a hope that can’t help us. We have to choose to move forward, write off the losses, wear the errors on our part, and forgive as best we can the errors on theirs. I’ve always been a girl who believed in signs, in “the flow”. I had to face that I was being shown only stop signs in this direction – and this person had been shown them too – and worst of all, I’d been shown them for some time but ignored them. The thing was, as I turned away from the past, heeding all the “wrong way go back” red signals, I reached out to someone and entrusted them with my remorse, my regret, and watched him light my world up in bright green.

We came to America to explore what it means to experience and recover from queer relationship trauma, particularly non-physical forms, and how music plays a part in that. I thought I would be here to witness and support Michael’s discoveries and I’m embarrassed that I was so self-righteous to believe I wouldn’t find my own.

My queer relationship trauma extends from being used as a taboo toy by boys in high school, losing my virginity to my best friend in a painful, deceptive, cruel encounter, followed by a series of people who sexually assaulted me, spiked my drinks, shamed my body, tossed me aside when I wouldn’t fuck them how they wanted or as often as they wanted, even one who used me for emotional infidelity for three years. The rest just didn’t know what to do with me because they came looking for a man and, inexplicably to us both, I wasn’t one. When I finally found womanhood and fell in love, I was so scared to lose it, it made me sick to my stomach. After so much abuse from others, I could only abuse myself with anxious attachment, overthinking, suffocating. A big factor in queer relationship violence is the PTSD from social torture telling us we should take whatever we can get because we’re so unlovable, bottom of the barrel – particularly as trans women. So when that first love’s time ran out, I continued to be harmful in my relationship with myself, which is why I have remained an unsafe person for the man I hoped to evolve from lover to friend. I wish I could have done things differently, better, but I could only have done what I did, being who I was at the time.

Music was key to my suffering, and my recovery. Here’s a relationship tip: if you can’t communicate with your partner through music, then you’ve got a problem. It’s not about taste, it’s about messages and connection. I’ll never enjoy Billie Eilish, I’ll always be grateful for Adele’s 30 being released that week, and a little song called Feathered Indians will play at my wedding someday.

There’s a quote from my favourite film, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, that struck me while I considered what this 8-week epic had to teach me, and would invite me to teach others. “Not everything comes along just when we want it. There are times when choices just have to be made, or you certainly will miss out“. So I chose to willingly love the man I’d fallen in love with. I chose not to strangle or content-mine my relationship. I chose to let “healing” mean taking an even bigger chance with my heart, trusting even deeper in my abilities to thrive against whatever odds.

It’s easy to headline my grand adventure with some babble about finding an amazing guy, but that would be missing the point. Every fantastic and important thing that happened on this trip came not because I tried to fabricate some great memory, but because I stayed open and available to what memories came to me:

  • the girl in Disney World who left her friends and walked over while I was sunning myself waiting for Michael and Teague outside the toilets, told me I was beautiful and she wished she had my confidence
  • the woman who stopped her bike in New York to tell me she’s trans but she hasn’t started her journey yet and doesn’t know if she can, but seeing me made her believe she could be happy because she could see I was
  • the 58 year old man who clocked eyes with me in a Seattle restaurant and came over to tell us he was gay and had just come out to his young niece over dinner, the first family member he’d ever told, and we hugged
  • the guy from Connecticut who drove three hours to Woodstock to spend a night with me and show me how valuable I am, worth showing off and spoiling
  • the gogo dancers at Corner Pocket trading witchy secrets, sensual backrubs and their plans for their futures
  • the Texas bar owner who shared his story from football scholarship screwup to distiller-mixologist and gave us a free bespoke sangria for taking the time to listen to his struggles becoming a father, becoming a business owner as a black man, and finding his passion after losing his dream
  • the man in Los Angeles who took his life, leaping from the rooftop bar where friends and I were having drinks
  • the discreet gay couple we met in the far north of Idaho on a cattle ranch, whom meeting felt like coming home and they told us about the lake at Two Medicine which was so significant to both mine and Michael’s healing journeys, and life decisions to be made when we returned

There is something the world needs from all of us. Not everyone figures out what it is they have to offer, but all of these interactions and the countless more I had while I was away served to energise me toward focusing more on finding the right thing to do and doing it. Being myself, honestly, and letting my sense of yearning and fulfilment read plainly on my face, truly is a political act. American culture is a symptom of a global sickness – an imbalance of vanity, pride and power leading to violence, intolerance and corruption. While the American landscape is incredibly beautiful and nourishing, as is the case for the entire natural world – the human element requires our input.

The significance of Tori Amos on this trip was that Michael listened to her album ‘Scarlet’s Walk’ a great deal through his own relationship abuse, and leaned on his interpretation of the music to get through the tough times. The music on that album also guided Michael out of the relationship when the time finally came that they chose to start healing. But I’m reminded of a Tori story I feel will suffice to sign off on this last #michaelswalk blog, which the fairy-goddess herself recounted in her recent book ‘Resistance’. In the wake of the September 11th terrorist attack that rocked the Western world, it was demanded that the song ‘Imagine’ by John Lennon (among others) be banned from all airplay in the US. The reason for this was thought to be that political powers were not interested in compassion or human union, but wanted to promote patriotism, racism and xenophobia. They knew the power of music. Tori was in New York rehearsing when the attacks happened. She was invited to be the first musical guest to perform on David Letterman some time after the attacks, as there had been a music hiatus on most shows filmed in New York out of solemnity, mourning and respect. Tori played “Time” from her album Strange Little Girls, a cover of Tom Waits. It’s worth a watch, and worth a reminder of what it is we can achieve should we choose to heal, choose to live openly, choose to do more than just what we’re told, more than follow. Choose love.

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