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  • Writer's picturelainie magidsohn

This body is invisible



From a very young age, maybe four or five years old, I remember feeling like I could never just slip quietly into a room unnoticed.  So I had to spend a lot of time preparing before stepping into any new room.  Tall for my age, with dark hair and dark eyes in a ballet class filled with petite blondes.  Smart and philosophical in classrooms full of kids who didn’t care about school.  Shy and careful on playgrounds full of  runners and jumpers and screamers.  

What should I wear to blend in?  What will I say when the inevitable comments come about how tall I’ve gotten?  What will I do to just be invisible?


Can you see me? Can you see how different I am?  I feel so different but this seems to have no value.  Please don’t look at me.  Please see me.


⚪️


I become who my mother sees.  Good girl.  Mature.  Big sister.  Helpful.  So sensitive.  Over-sensitive.


Maybe if I become who she thinks she sees then she’ll actually see me.

I don’t notice, though, because she is a good mother.  She does everything Dr Spock, the parenting guru for the entire baby boom generation, says to do.  She takes me to ballet lessons.  She makes my clothes.  She throws birthday parties with hand-painted donkeys to pin the tail on, and homemade cakes decorated to look like merry-go-rounds.  


She stands in the background and smiles at my ballet recitals.  She never hits, but purses her lips and says “I’m very disappointed in you.”  I don’t know what I did that was so disappointing, but I do know that her disappointment was a fate worse than death.  She’s barely there, so keeping her present feels essential and tenuous.  She’s barely there so her disappointment might take her all the way away.  She’s barely there because the Nazis took her parents again and again and again until she could no longer connect.  Until she was barely there.  Until she couldn’t let herself be seen.  Until she was invisible.


⚪️


High school.  I keep getting taller.  And smarter.  And more sensitive.  And we didn’t have nearly enough money for me to ever dream of fitting in with my upper middle class Jewish peers.  So I stop trying.  If I couldn’t fit in I’d stand out.  With a hippie fashion sense long after hippie was a thing.  Ponchos and sandals and dangly silver earrings and black eyeliner.  And, briefly, herbal cigarettes, even though they make me feel nauseous, but because people ‘need a smoke’ to help them relax, so maybe someone will see me smoking and see me as someone who needs something.


(But I still buy shoes a half size too small to make my feet look smaller, and cut the heels down to make me look shorter.)


My grandmother says that the way I dress makes me look like I do drugs.  Isn’t it good enough that I don’t do drugs? No.  What they see matters.  Good.  See me.  See me?  I’m someone you think is fucked up and does drugs.  Half right is good enough for now.  Half right is still half visible. 


⚪️


I’m still not visible in the way that makes me real.  The way my dead father looked at me, saw me, appreciated me, enjoyed me.  Then died.


⚪️


I’m still not visible in the way that makes me real.  The way I see men look at women in movies.  The way I crave to be seen. To be desired.


I don’t have boyfriends.  I’m too tall.  My nose is too big.  My breasts are too small. I’m too smart.  And too stupid. I don’t know how to flirt and play games.  


My mother tells me that one day a man will appreciate me because I will need someone older because I’m so mature and boys are immature.  It will have to be someone older. So when the high school English teacher and the university Sociology professor proposition me I figure my mother was right.  


And a handful of years later after that I’m with a man thirteen years older than me, planning my life, trying to be who he wants me to be.  Trying and failing.  And still.  Waiting to be seen.


He doesn’t see me.  He sees something called potential. I don’t know exactly what that means or how I achieve it.  But I do know it means he doesn’t see me.  So I erase me and try and fail to live up to my potential so I can be seen.


⚪️


The first woman I ever fall in love with has beautiful golden eyes.  I know this because we spend hours — truly, hours — holding each others gaze.  I love her, but it’s possible I love being seen by her even more.  We stare and stare and stare.  I believe I could disappear into her eyes.  Drown in them.  Orgasm from those eyes alone.


The magic of being seen is addictive and I upend my life and the lives of everyone in my family just to have my fix.  This is the movies come to life.  And the poems and the songs and there is no way I could go back to being invisible.


But at some point you have to tear your eyes and bodies apart and go out into the world to get groceries and the like.  I walk hand in hand with my lover and the old feelings of being visible and wrong come racing back.  She is small and round and feminine and beautiful with golden skin and curls and flowing scarves.  She has a voice like honey, wears rich colours, and smells of patchouli.


(Oh but she can also pour concrete and muck out a horse’s stall in a skirt. Capable.  Competent.  Smart.  Political. Stunning.  Transgressive.  Macho femme.)


Next to her I feel it again.  Too tall.  Too bony.  Hideous. Wrong. Ugly.  She wants to see all of me but I feel too much like a golem. Shut it down.


⚪️


I have always loved femininity.  Whenever I had a new babysitter, all I wanted to know was whether they had long hair.  And since it was the early seventies and our babysitters were my father’s art students, they all had long hair, regardless of gender.  So when they arrived I’d sit them down on the floor in front of me and brush and brush and brush their hair.  This was beauty.


I have always loved my femininity.  Ballet costumes.  Halloween ball gowns.  Jewellery.  Makeup.  Collar bones.  Shaved legs. Lesbians didn’t do ballet.


I have come out into a moment when “dyke” has been reclaimed, but must only look a certain way.  Plaid shirts.  Combat boots. Body hair.  Claim your woman-ness loudly but don’t be too feminine.  


⚪️


My mom tells me that when she and my dad go to parties, the women all end up in one room and the men end up in another room and she always prefers to be in the room with the men because the conversations are so much more interesting.  


Don’t be like those vapid women who care too much and talk too much about frivolous things like other people, and fashion, and men.


Lesbians didn’t do ballet.  If you bought into conventional representations of femininity you were clearly not a good feminist.  And definitely not a good lesbian.  Did this just mean I was still going to have to try living up to someone else’s idea of potential?  

What happens when two femmes become lovers?  Who is the lover and who is the beloved?  Who gets to be the pretty one?


⚪️


So I start dating butches.


This seem like the best of both worlds to me.  I like the binary.  I like being the only one clearly occupying the position of the femme, the pretty one, the beloved, the girl.  It feels powerful  My femininity is energizing.  Not only does it make me feel sexy for the first time in my life, but I also get the thrill of knowing the I am the one who is able to justify my butch’s existence.  Being out in the world on the arm of a hot butch is the best kind of visibility I’ve known yet.  


You look at her and think she’s the wrong kind of woman.  Bent.  But guess what?  She has me, in my short, tight dress…and you don’t!


I’m sexy.  I’m desirable.  And I matter to someone else’s existence.


I read books with titles like “The Femme Mystique” and “Brazen Femme”.  I’m looking for my kind.  I’m looking for myself.  But I’m not…quite…there.  I don’t feel like I possess any sort of mystique.  And I certainly don’t feel brazen.  I’m not doing this right.  I’m too normal.  I’m too mainstream.  I’m too mom.


⚪️


I dance.


I always have dance.  The same beauty and expressiveness I’ve always had in my body.  But dance is also one of the things that blocked me from seeing my own queerness for so long.  Ballerinas aren’t lesbians.  Lesbians aren’t ballerinas.


Every year on my birthday I blow out candles and wish to “be a dancer”.  I crave a life of dance.


I’m fourteen and the ballet teacher tells me I am too tall to ever  be a professional dancer.

So I quit.


⚪️


I hate “wife”.  And “housewife”.  And “just a mom”.  But I decide that at least if I am these things with a woman partner, “wife” and “mom” become transgressive.


When I’m picking up or dropping off at school, when I am grocery shopping, I know I am again invisible.  Just another salt and pepper haired, more or less middle aged, makeupless woman doing what is expected.  A two dimensional, walking stereotype.  


But it’s ok, because I know I’m not doing all of this for a man.  I’m doing it consciously, with my female partner.  I am different.  We are different.  We are shaking up your play group or drop in or parent-teacher meeting.  We are visible.


⚪️

I dance.


Modern and jazz and folk and contemporary.  And much later, dipping a pink slippered toe back into ballet.  It feels wrong.  It doesn’t fit this body.


My mother sees me perform.  Modern and jazz and folk and contemporary…and a bit of ballet.  “Oh!” she says, “I can see that ballet is where you really shine.”


I am furious.  How could she not see how awkwardly I wear ballet?


She only sees the part of me that she understands.  She only sees the parts of me that are like her.  She only sees what she expects to see.


Is this what everyone does?


⚪️


One night, after the children have gone to bed, my partner brings the word transition into our lives.  He’s trans.  The woman I married as soon as same sex marriage was legalized is no more.


The name I loved went away.  The voice I loved went away.  The breasts I loved went away.

For about two years, the only thing we talk about when we weren’t meeting the needs of the kids, is transness.  And I decide that I will be the best partner of a trans person ever!  We would beat the odds of divorce when a partner transitions.  We would be the poster couple for successful trans life.


⚪️


Eventually the dust settles. The kids and family and workplace all adjust.  We start being able to talk about other things again.  Our marriage is succeeding.


And once again, I am invisible.


The more visible he becomes as male, the more he passes, the more I fade.  Once again, just the wife of a man.  From the outside we look like just another straight couple.  I love him.  I love how much of me he has seen. But I hate this.


My world gets smaller and smaller.  I don’t have the patience to spend time with people who can’t see me.  And I don’t have the energy to keep explaining who I am.


The concise narrative goes like this: He transitions.  She’s still a lesbian.  She needs to have sex with women.  Voila! Open relationship.


I never anticipate that polyamory will provide me with the most valuable coming out yet.  I learn that I have and elastic heart, able to expand to take on more and more love — more and more loves.


When I was pregnant with my second child I spent hours in terror.  How would I possibly be able to love another baby as much as I loved the first?  The one who cracked open a whole new chamber of my heart.


Then she came and a new space opened up.  And when the third came, and then the fourth, there was more space still.  I discovered I had a magical expanding heart.


Why didn’t I figure this out sooner?  I have been blessed with beloved, intimate friends, one never taking the place of another.


Oh, but throwing bodies into the mix is different — isn’t it? Is it? Why is it? 


It isn’t.


My body is not a separate entity from the part of me that loves and connects.  My heart is part of my body.  I am this body.  My emotions, my history, my spirit — they all live in my cells, my muscles, my bones.  I am indivisible.  My body loves.  My body craves to be seen.


⚪️


I was never a fan of unsolicited male attention.  Cat calls, comments, strangers assuming my body is an invitation.


But there’s part of me that notices they don’t happen anymore.  There is a part of me that’s sad.  I’m not visible as an object of desire anymore.


Instead I get Maam’ed.  Because that is what you say to women with gray hair, and lines, and sagging breasts and asses.  These are not fuckable women.  They are your mother.  The madonna and the whore continue to live in completely separate houses.  You can live in one or the other but not both.


⚪️


I dance.  


I dance naked in front of a camera.  I dance with rolls and dimpled flesh.  I edit and filter just enough so that it won’t be deemed pornographic and pulled off of social media.  


See this?  This is me.


⚪️


My lover and I walk, hand in hand, along a busy, trendy, downtown street. She is tall and beautiful and femme and I fell like together we are the most striking couple in the world.  

I notice the subtle double takes from the pedestrians passing us.  Yes, we are two women.  This is a visibility that I have hungered for.  See me.  See us. We are gorgeous.  You can’t take your eyes off of us.


We go to a restaurant.  We gaze into each other’s eyes.  We touch over the table.  With her I feel desire and desired, lover and beloved.  She sees parts of me that no one has ever seen before.   The entryway to her own new chamber in my heart is bedecked with fairy lights. I love us.


We can’t get close enough to each other.  This is a love story told by bodies.  Over dessert she moves over to sit beside me on the bench.  When our server brings the bill she says, “You two are so cute!”  She’s young enough to be my kid.  What does she see in these two “cute” old women?


She asks how long we’ve been together.  She asks how we met. Her shift must be nearly over.


We catch each other’s eyes before we answer.  Does she think that before we came to the restaurant I brushed and curled your hair? Does she know that you climbed onto the back of my motorcycle and held my breast as I drove? Does she imagine that before we left the house I had my mouth between your legs and my fingers inside of you? Could she suspect how you pushed me down on the bed and put your had over my mouth? Can she hear the sounds of our cries?


⚪️


I am a vast canvas.  A collage made up of a multitude of pieces contributed by everyone who has ever looked at me.  My lovers, my partners, my children, my friends, my parents.  Audiences, teachers, strangers catcalling or doing a double take on the street.  


You have all seen different parts of me.  You have pasted me together out of large and small pieces of coloured paper, and pressed flowers, and hair ribbons, and tulle.  You have painted me with smears of lipstick and brightly coloured nail polish and wax crayons.  You have sculpted me and danced with me and forged my body into wholeness.  


You are my compound eyes.  You have made me visible.

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