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Beside That River Taking Its First Snowmelt Breath
No one was pretending
Boozhoo, indinawemaaganidog! Aaniin! That is to say hello, all of my relatives! Welcome to another edition of An Irritable Métis. Friends, my initial draft of this newsletter was angry and dark and got angrier and darker. I knew if I kept all that I’d be unhappy and you’d be unhappy and this, with everything awful happening, is no time to heap coal on that energy. So I cut a bunch of bullshit and made my efforts otherwise. Miigwech for bearing with me….
The evening of the final session of my most recent online workshop the plan was to talk about moments when any kind of movement – ours, someone else’s – brought us joy. To help generate ideas, I told the story of a young woman at the gym I saw magnificently dance walking around the indoor track, and how her abandon made me so, so happy. Even now, as I crabbily try and finesse this newsletter into a reasonable semblance of readability1, it makes me smile to think about.
Our discussion that evening happened to come the day after Representative Zooey Zephyr, Montana’s first and only openly transgender lawmaker, who represents a district in Missoula, was barred from speaking on behalf of her constituents against evil legislation aimed at trans children. That led to seven other people being arrested in the aftermath. The entire debacle is an example of the undemocratic cowardice rife in not just Montana’s version of the Republican party, but across the country.
My friend Sarah Capdeville lives in Missoula and was one of the participants in the workshop. I’ve known Sarah for a while now – one of those wonderful relationships that have grown out of the Freeflow community that I appreciate so much – and she is a phenomenal writer. That’s not just me blowing a trumpet for a homie either, as she was just awarded River Teeth's 2022 Literary Nonfiction Book Prize. Her book, Aligning the Glacier's Ghost, will be published by the University of New Mexico Press in spring 2024 and I can’t wait.2
When it came Sarah’s turn to contribute to our workshop discussion, she chose to talk instead about what was going on in Helena. It was deeply personal. It wasn’t joyful but it was necessary. The ensuing discussion was important. At the time we didn’t know what was going to unfold in the coming days, we just knew it would likely get worse. And it did. I was moved by what she had to say and later that evening I messaged her and asked if she would write a few thoughts about it for my newsletter3. She agreed, and here she is:
I was going to write about the rage. About how I almost unshackled white-hot honesty when the employee at Missoula’s Fact & Fiction asked how my day was going. Not great, I wanted to say, because a good friend had just gotten arrested at the Capitol while demanding Rep. Zooey Zephyr be allowed to speak, because the word fascism was looped in overheating neon in my mind. Because I was weary of pretending to be normal.
I was going to write about the rage, the despair that gummed like tar to my breastbone all week. The legislative session was almost over, I realized, but none of this was over. And that was heavy. It was so damn heavy.
And then I watched hundreds of marchers span the entirety of Beartracks Bridge, flags and posters and banners cutting a new horizon against the marble sky. I stood in Caras Park surrounded by the most trans and queer people I’d seen together my [entire] life. My partner flashed their scars and flat chest, not quite three weeks post-op, to friends, and there was no disgust, no hate, only celebration as honeyed as the spring sunshine.
And the rage stopped being a solitary thing. It was a screamed thing, a collective thing, a radical thing, a thing alive and breathing. Just as writing about joy had felt stale and inauthentic earlier that week, writing about my own glinting rage had lost its color, because it was never mine to hold alone. Beside that river taking its first snowmelt breath, no one was pretending. None of this was over. And that was cathartic, catalyzing, joyful, freeing. It was so damn freeing.
Garrett Bucks was at the bridge too and he wrote about it. In fact his three-piece, heartfelt discussion of all of these events is a great place to start in understanding what has gone down in this state. THIS is a good place to start. Everything he links to from there is worth following, particularly if you want to make a DONATION.
I wasn’t at the rally at the bridge. One of the downsides of abandoning social media – or not spending any time downtown anymore – is that I never hear of most things until after they happen, and that’s only if I make a point to check in with my local news headlines. It’s a tradeoff I’m willing to make, frankly. My personal contention is that the continued use of social media is an exercise in surrendering most of one’s agency to people and industries who don’t have our best interests in mind – a literal colonization of the brain, collectively and individually – however one chooses to justify it. I feel we need other systems. But that’s me, and a topic for another newsletter probably best left unwritten too.
Not surprisingly, though, I bet the slam of the gavel that officially announced the denial of Rep. Zephyr’s right to speak on behalf of her constituents hadn’t even stopped reverberating through the statehouse when I got a breathless text from the Montana Democratic Party using what happened as a lever to try and get me to donate. They said, “Chris, we are NOT going to give up on Zooey or any LGBTQ+ Montanans. Please, we can't let Republicans get away with this – would you chip in any amount to stand strong with the Montana legislative Dems?”
Apparently I am on a first name basis with these folks when it comes to asking me for money, but how about breathless alerts about where to show up and when for anything that goes beyond reaching into my wallet? We aren’t going to donate our way out of this hellscape we live in. At least not to establishment drones who stand closer to the problem than the solution. But I donated anyway because I can4 and we need all hands on deck to get through this. It doesn't feel helpful, though. Neither does prayer. But if there is any chance that some divine magnificent consciousness is going to stir from the mud of a riverbank or the duff of a forest or the slickrock of a desert or the tidepool of a coastline as the result of the love in my beseeching – and I believe there is, there always is, such a chance – then I'm going to keep doing it.
I find that cis people can get caught up in memorizing pronouns, instead of seeing the whole person as separate from their assigned gender. Of course we are socialized in a way to see two genders so the pronoun mess up isn’t the craziest thing on Earth. But to me it can also signal not seeing the whole person as non binary, which is different than just memorizing that someone uses they them pronouns. I don’t “use” certain pronouns or “identify” as non binary. I am non binary. And my pronouns are they/them and to those close sometimes he and to those closer he/him girlie.
There was a student this past year in one of my 4th grade poetry classes on the reservation. She was only ever introduced, and referred to, as she/her. But her name, as she chose to be called, was genderless. There was nothing “girly” about her, not in how she chose to show herself to the world nor in her writing.5 On several occasions as class ended and the teacher lined them up, it was “boys in one line, girls in the other” and she always chose to line up with the boys.
When I read Marlee’s quote, it struck me. The entire twelve weeks I felt I’d been seeing this student in a way different from what I was being told she was, possibly different from what she is being told she is. Who knows if I’m right. It’s entirely possible I won’t ever see this person again so who knows how her life will unfold. But I fear for her. Her potential tragic story is the story of everyone directly affected by the cruelty of the kind of legislation happening in Montana and around the country.
All I know is I want her to have a beautiful life. I want my nonbinary friends who get so frustrated by being misgendered because they aren’t being seen to have beautiful lives. I want my friend Sarah and her mighty partner to have beautiful lives. I want you reading this to have a beautiful life. I want All of Us to slow down and see each other so we may all have beautiful lives. It shouldn’t be so fucking hard.
We are all divine spirits on a divine earth, made divine not in spite of, but because of our wild differences. Human and non. All in it together. Beautifully.
The tricky bit here is that some of what I know best are questions — the questions a group needs to reckon with. Identifying and asking the questions doesn't mean I know the answers. In my emotional inquiries, it usually means I feel lost, and longing for a clarity that aligns with my vision of transformation from a rigid, punitive, disconnected society to an adaptive, resilient, and interdependent one.
I feel lost in the questions of how we manage this. How we are going to finally see each other. I struggle to get along with myself. I struggle to SEE myself! No solution is easy. I do know that arguing about the idea of what “the real America” is, as so much of this white noise back and forth is framed as, is like arguing about “the real Middle Earth.” Whatever the outcome, it’s still mostly a fantasy that never actually existed, increasingly so for every step you get away from the straight, white, male ideal that every notion of this malignant sore on the surface of the earth actually represents. Most people aren’t willing to face that. Most people are immersed in the narrative of what this country has never been.
I don’t love Missoula. I don’t love Montana. I don’t love the United States. Those aren’t names to places I am capable of loving anymore, because they represent a system and society that is broken. They represent exclusion. They represent homes for certain people but not for others. They represent a society that creates billionaires while others starve, live without comfort, can’t get the health care they need, or simply can’t live a peaceful life as who they are. What is more unholy than that? Who could possibly love a system like that? I don’t. I don’t think you do either.
Let’s figure out how to change it.
My friend the wonderful Scottish poet greum maol sent me this poem earlier this week. It is about the bullshit coronation that happened over the weekend but it also speaks to … well, everything. I love it. You might too. As I say, over and over: we are all in this together. No gods, no masters.
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Friends, at least my struggles lead to the sentence of the day, which I paused to render thusly: “2023_0509: Frustrated and struggling to wrangle thoughts into words, I watch the motion of the ceiling fan reflected in the curved surface of the spoon I used to eat my peach-flavored yogurt.”
Hurray for Sarah!
Not to blow my own trumpet here either, friends, but this was a paid offer. I was able to pay her decently for her efforts because you folks support me and the work I do here. That is how this works, at least in the little corner I, and a few others, inhabit of this bulging nightmare that Substack is morphing into.
See footnote #1
Don’t come at me, I’m using these bullshit identifiers to make a point, I know girls can express themselves however they want; it’s most of US who are trying to corral them into some ideal of what “girls” and “boys” are supposed to be, look like, aaarrrrghhh!