In the land of mothballs and clothes hangers

It’s really exhausting being nonbinary, like you’ll go shopping and in the stores the cashiers will say “have a nice day ladies!” But you use up so much energy hating yourself three different ways and the rest of the world at least five, and you get so tired of not saying anything, and of being too scared and polite to say anything. You get tired of forcing yourself not to care.

I realize it could be much worse. That’s where the fear comes from. People say if you want to be out you have to keep coming out day after day, and it’s true. I hide, and berate myself for it, because I don’t have the bravery to invite anything worse. I have a tendency, in my own head at least, toward melodrama; I am a grand tragedy hiding from the presumptive cruelty of the world. In fact I’ve never experienced any of that cruelty because of the circumstances of my birth. I’m uncomfortable in this closet, but I don’t want to leave, and that’s what makes me angry. I’m not fighting at all. I’m tacitly encouraging the status quo because I’m afraid.

This is what occupies my mind in restaurants and clothing stores. It’s a tiring litany, and by now an extremely familiar one, but always I ask myself “is it worth it to correct them?” and always the answer is “no, no, not having to explain is worth more.”
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A Guide for the Purpose of Deterring Unwanted Conversational Partners

Sometimes, someone will wish to talk to you when you do not wish to talk to them. My solution is to be faultlessly polite, evasive, and condescending. A guide for this purpose follows:

1. Answer questions concisely and pointlessly. Reply to the letter of a question rather than the spirit, which will be to make you reveal information about yourself. Volunteer nothing, and provide no hooks on which they can hang another question. If your ambusher is forced continually to jump from topic to topic, they will eventually become too embarrassed to continue.

2. Do not ask any questions of your own. This will convey that you do not care about the answers, or by extension any personal information they might volunteer. Attempt to give the impression that they are not worth your time, and that you are bored. This should work in conjunction with unfailing politeness to make it clear that you are humoring them. You may also wish to evince indifference toward things they profess to enjoy, even if you enjoy them yourself.

3. In improvisational exercises, there is a rule that says you must always reply “yes, and–” to statements and questions, because “no, actually–” stops the scene cold. In this case, the latter is what you want, so employ denials and minor corrections liberally. The more pedantically exact your mien, the more superior you will seem. Feel free to experiment with other techniques such as using better diction and grammar than the other party, having perfect posture, and removing emotion from your face and voice. The less human you are, the more difficult it is to talk to you.

4. Cultivate plausible deniability. Give the other party no opportunity to fault you for rudeness or incorrect opinions (the latter is most easily accomplished by expressing no opinions). Some unsavory conversational partners will attempt to engage you in an argument in order to provoke you into disclosing emotion or personal beliefs; be indifferent. Use the “it’s a free country” defense if necessary. Remember that you do not care how wrong this person’s opinions are because you do not want to associate with them.

5. If all else fails, recruit a friend to discuss something that only the two of you understand and/or care about. Alternately, speak in a foreign language. This can be done via text message if no friends are in physical proximity.

Some of these may also work if you’re being interrogated, but the threat of physical violence makes it pretty difficult to be condescending. If you fear for your safety, I wouldn’t recommend trying to seem superior.

Platte

I live in an apartment complex about half a kilometer from the Platte River, and as Colorado is famously outdoorsy there is an extensive network of bicycle and jogging trails. Quite naturally, there is one along the Platte. It seems extraordinary to me that the city should have spent so much money and effort creating such a place, but the culture of Denver and environs is very much conducive to projects of this type. The Platte trail is a lovely park with many shade trees, the delightful scummy smell peculiar to small rivers, and sunny cottonwood seeds drifting through the air.

Moreover, we passed perhaps hundreds of bicyclists in the ten miles we rode: professionals with slim thighs and advertisement-plastered shirts, the slow but game elderly, whole families matching their pace to young children, and several amputees (one of whom was performing the very exciting feat of bicycling quite fast without legs). Along the trail were gardens, bridges, highway crossings, and several signs for cafés (we are planning this weekend to visit Lucile’s Creole Breakfast Restaurant). At Nixon’s Coffee House, a mere mile from our apartment, several dozen bicyclists sat with their tiny water bottles (sometimes several apiece) and tiny saddle bags, chatting and cooling off over iced coffee.

What really struck me was that here there is a significant, cohesive bicycling culture. I think it does owe largely to Colorado’s cultural tendency to view outdoor activities as preferable, partially owing to its tourism industry, and this in turn is because of its preponderance of mountains and other sorts of gorgeous scenery. I believe it is different in this way from Utah, which suffers from a sad dichotomy: wherever there are great populated areas, there is much less exciting wilderness, and wherever the exciting wilderness is (the south) no settlements are anywhere nearby. Utah’s wilderness is inhospitable, but in Colorado it has been carefully preserved as it was settled. Here, it seems that people make more of an effort to enjoy and be part of nature. In Utah it is a pastime, but here it is just life.

Gilgal

Today Meredith and I visited a reputedly macabre little park called Gilgal–apparently named for the site where the Israelites camped and set up a circle of twelve stones in the Book of Joshua. It is populated by strangely designed statues, sculptures, and carvings with cryptic but apparently explanatory Bible quotes (and one from the Declaration of Independence). The ground is largely covered with paving stones, on which the aforementioned quotes are carved, some of them worn near illegible by decades’ weathering. On the less tabletlike rocks at the base of one of the main installations are numbers that, by careful sleuthwork, we determined refer to the verses of origin of the quotes.

Upon entering the park through an unassuming little woodchipped corridor between two dilapidated houses, the first thing that caught our attention was a large slab of sandstone, carved with the figure of a man holding a sword. His head was replaced by an irregular block cemented on top of the slab. After staring, with no small degree of stupefaction, at this vision for a few seconds, we noticed that the park was really quite lovely, with quite nice landscaping and many lovely flowers.

It is difficult to see in this picture, but in the corner are quote sources BC 1451 Joshua 4-5 and AD Young 1847 McKay 1955. This is because behind the rock there is a small courtyard completely paved with semi-illegible quotes. It has a somewhat sinister effect, being surrounded by so many words with neither commonality nor, apparently, relevance. One of the inscriptions reads, simply and disturbingly, See what God hath done. On the back of the slab is a plaque identifying it as a grave marker for several then-freshly dead people and every one of their ancestors, which really does not help matters very much.

The next thing we noticed was a large and quite pleasant-looking island of sorts, a little hillock of rock surmounted by a tree. I, unable to see from my vantage point the Do Not Climb sign, climbed it to peer through a little rock tunnel, which was much too small for any adult to fit into but which puzzlingly had a path of paving stones all the way through it. When I climbed over the rock through which it was carved, I admit I might have shouted a bit in surprised horror, because when I turned back toward it I saw this:

Even more unsettling, carved on the side of the same rock that faces the path is the following inscription.

Oh / that my words were now written! / on that they were printed in a book! / That they were graven with an iron / pen and lead in the rock for ever! / For I know that my redeemer liveth and that / he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth / And though after my skin worms destroy / this body yet in my flesh shall I see God; / Whom I shal see for myself and mine eyes shall / behold and not another; though my reins / be consumed within me / Job 19 23-27

The rest of the island is only worse. On the south side is a fanlike array of weaponry, mostly spears and guns, with yet more biblical quotes providing cryptic captions. The north side is a slope containing, in sculpture form, most of a dismembered body (out of frame there are two much larger feet of unknown origin)

Beside this there was a large, empty alcove in front of which was carved In memory of the broken flesh / We eat the broken bread […], and nearby After me / cometh a Builder / tell him, / I too have known. With this cryptic message in mind, we visited a shrine to the workmen who built the original Temple (completely unrelated, thus the crypticness); a large stack of blank books and a tall spire made out of concrete; and an arch whose keystone contained the apparently unrelated letters A        O.

There were many other such things: four stone eagles guarding the boundaries of the park; a mansionlike and queerly modern birdhouse; a platform covered in cairns (which Meredith pointed out mark Jewish burial sites); a lot of grainy, overexposed pictures of the construction of the park; and a sphinx with the head of either Joseph Smith or Rowan Atkinson, which I here omit to preserve your peace of mind, Best Beloved.

And then, after puzzling over a carefully but badly rounded boulder with what could have been an umbrella carved into the back, I decided to climb on top of it, and in doing so discovered the most disturbing thing in the park.

Believe me or do not, but this is not the disturbing part. The disturbing part is that they look as if they were meant to fit a human hand, but it didn’t quite work out.

No, I still tell a lie. The disturbing part is that the insides of the holes look charred, which forces me to assume that they were burned into the rock by a humanoid creature with enormous hands.

To go along with this cheerful parting sentiment (here included for your turmoil of mind) there is, near the entrance of the park, a lovely willow tree overhanging a low stone wall, perfect for sitting in the dappled shade at the end of a hot and/or psychically taxing walk in a garden of uncomfortable religious statuary. On this wall is cemented a peculiar trough that both Meredith and I instantly assumed was used primarily for blood sacrifice. My apologies, Best Beloved.