I’m eight years old and I’m shucking corn on the sun-splashed patio. I’ve just learned how to clench my pudgy fists and snap off the stem, dig my ragged nails under the whisper-rough leaves and unfurl what’s underneath.
Mother scoops up the naked corn to boil in her big corn pot. I watch the waxy kernels plump and swell to starch-soaked sweetness, and have the urge to plunge my fingers in.
I’m eight years old and my aunt gives me a book called ‘Dangerous Book For Girls’, and I understand all at once that gender is a peril so I make myself a double agent, creeping through the underbrush in black wool tights, whispering intel to a cardboard walkie-talkie with no one on the other end.
No one knows my real name, not unless they can read the Morse code I scratch into the corn husks before they’re buried in mulch, or hear the words I smuggle into the rolling boil of the pot, and I am gleeful, I am undetected, I’ve Flat-Stanley-ed myself into two dimensions, superspy in thorn-torn thighs, chewing garden mint like tobacco in gangster movies, or scaling trees like skyscrapers, and womanhood can catch me if it can, because mother, I’m on the run.
The Dangerous Book for Girls says spies in World War Two carried a cyanide capsule threaded round their neck, which they would chew if they were captured till their limbs stilled and they bubbled at the mouth. I touch the necklace my grandma gave me for Christmas and wonder, absentmindedly, what it would be like to want to die, and I
wrote my will when I was four. I wrote my will when I was four, which should have been a warning sign, but it was simple, harmless, really. Scrawled hastily, decoded, on Winnie the Pooh stationery: Dear God, I want to be buried, not burned.
Dear God, tuck me soft under the compost. Dear God, let my soft tissues simmer and bubble and seep into the earth. Dear God, let something grow from me.
Gender is a masquerade, is an evening charade, is a code name. I’m far too young to watch James Bond but Mother puts it on at Christmas anyways and femme fatales stalk my screen, blow poison kisses, turn stiletto heels into stiletto knives, and the message is clear.
I’m fifteen and I kiss two boys at a party and keep my eyes open the whole time. I’m sixteen, and I laugh drunkenly when a man grabs my ass in a chicken shop. I’m seventeen, and there are worse stories I could tell. Gender as trauma and defense mechanism both. We don’t live in a house with a porch anymore, and I don’t shuck corn anymore, that’s for little hands speckled with nail polish and invisible ink, but I’m still a spy of sorts.
I’m eighteen and womanhood fits me like an outer husk, half-rotting, that I tried to fling from the patio long ago. I’m eighteen and my mother doesn’t know my real name but it’s not a game, gender is a no-man’s-land and I’m sick of being undercover,
and I want to scream at the boiling, starch-soaked sky:
unhusk me, motherfucker
pop my tits like kernels of uncooked corn,Mother,
dig your dirty thumbnail under my skin,
don’t flinch if I bleed, just like everything else,
infection can always be covered or shed,
boil me to a pulp in your big corn pot,
motherfucker, I changed my mind, I want to be burned.