Every Day Life After the Attack, By Jennifer Angelina Petro

Every Day Life

After the Attack

By

Jennifer Angelina Petro

 

 

The day after.

The slipping back

Into your body.

The stepping back

Into your life.

The sitting down

With your perpetrators

At the breakfast table,

In church, at Thanksgiving dinner,

The friends coming over

To play in a house

Where you were pinned down,

The getting up the next morning,

The shutting down

Of what happened,

The pushing it away,

The surviving by vanishing

In plain sight,

The slow forgetting

So that life can go on

Even though the innocence

Of running outside on a long, drifting

Summer’s evening, disappears

Like a firefly in the trees.

The terror burrowing

Into your body, into your spirit,

Into the fabric of your mind,

To be carried with you

The rest of your life, like

A railroad spike in your guts,

That stabs you again and again

When you least expect it—

When a smell, the sound

Of cicadas, the flashback,

The Thanksgiving dinner,

The priest holding up

The Eucharist, triggers it all again—

And you feel like

You’re going to vomit the horrible truth,

And you freeze as you’re walking

To the store, and you shimmer

Out of your body again,

And don’t come back

For hours, and yet, you go about

Your day, a living mist, a disappearing

Person made of sand,

And somehow you manage

To return to your life—

The stain on your soul

Visible in your eyes,

And yet, you move on, you make it,

You survive another wave,

You emerge from the dark waters,

And you stride towards the healing

Into freedom, into the reclaiming

Of your life—the fucking forgiveness

And twisted loyalties, the fucking

It’s a gift, the fucking it was meant

To be, the fucking you somehow

Made it happen or deserved it,

The fucking you will let it

Hold your life hostage anymore,

The wonder of who you are—

A warrior battling every moment

To live, to recover your innocence

From pain’s tangled trees,

Where fireflies still blink, like

Beacons in the night,

Reminding you that you still

Shine.

 

Me, 5th grade, dressed up for a class play.

 

 


 




Thank You, I Want You No More, by Jennifer Angelina

Trigger Warning:  This poem is about deep gender dysphoria.  It contains references to tucking, self abuse, self-mutilation, sexual abuse, rape, and gender reassignment surgery.   It is about my continued effort to sort things out, and to heal.

 

 

 

Thank You, I Want You No More

By

Jennifer Angelina Petro

 

 

me

 

 

Even before the abuse started

I would push you in everyday as far as you could go

And pull the extra skin over you,

Making you disappear;

I would tuck you tightly between my thighs

And hold you there hoping to make it look

Like I had a vagina.

Of course, after they gave me pornography

(Trying to make me a man),

And the other abuses—the assaults, the molestations, the rapes,

I hated you even more.

I abused you and got myself into situations

Where others would abuse you too,

And when I grew pubic hair I would tuck you away

Even more—hoping to make you gone,

I fantasized of removing you myself with a knife.

Yes, years later I got married.  Yes, I sired three children,

Yes I learned, to the best of my ability,

To allow you to feel pleasure—but the line connecting you

With my heart and mind would always trigger

A leaving—a drifting upwards into the ceiling

Or else far back into time, or even deep into utter nothingness.

I know, I know, I hear people say to be grateful for what god gave me,

But I look at you like a deformity—something I was born with—

Like blindness or being unable to walk—something that wasn’t supposed to happen.

Maybe it is possible to give thanks

For one’s handicaps, but I have not yet evolved to that place.

No, I do not hate my sons, or men, or masculinity—

I simply want you gone.

And now, the little blue pills

Are causing you to retreat more and more,

And planning for your surgery is utmost in my mind.

I do not hate the idea of you–it’s just

You were never supposed to be there in the first place.

OK. Thank you.

There, I said it.

Thank you for siring my children, thank you for all the times

You let me pass urine, thank you for all you endured all these years,

And yes, thank you for letting them one day transform you

Into the parts I really want.  Thank you, I want you

No more.

 

 

 

Please help support my Gender Reassignment Surgery.  Thank you.  All my love. <3


A Star is Born–One Way I Know I am Transgender, by Jennifer Angelina Petro

A Star is Born
One Way I Know I am Transgender
By
Jennifer Angelina Petro

me looking up

People ask me a lot: How do you know you’re transgender? How do you know you’re a woman? Sometimes I reply: Well, how do you know your gender identity or your gender preferences? It’s like knowing the color orange is orange—you just know. Other times I wax poetic and answer: How does the bee know it’s a bee, and how does it know to do its honey-making dances? How does spring know its spring and how does it know when to wake up all the flowers and the aforementioned bees? There is, however, no real way to describe the indescribable. Something happened to me recently though that speaks volumes to my own, personal affirmation of my revelation of being a transgender woman—an affirmation that struck me with such intensity that it rocked my world with joy. It’s personal, as I said, but you might relate to some of what I am about to share. My guess is it could apply to many life circumstances, not just being transgender. On a cold winter’s night, as I walked down Chestnut Street in Center City, Philadelphia, I realized the movie had stopped.

 
Ever since I can remember I lived my life as if I were in a movie. Better put—I was the movie. It wasn’t just the sensation of being watched, although that was there, it was also a deep, penetrating awareness that everything I did was fake—fake and acted. I was an actor (I am not going to say “actress” here because growing up I did not know I was female) par excellence. Everything I did, every word I spoke was fiction. And no, I wasn’t a liar in the sense of not speaking the truth. I was being filmed in one long, rambling drama. My life was a movie about an actor—and an actor playing an actor within a movie that was really an unlived life filmed as a movie—sort of like when you hold a mirror up to a mirror and the reflection goes on forever. There was no truth to the story. Everything I did or said was pretend and all of that pretending was being watched by a part of myself that knew somewhere, somehow that what it was seeing, was acting.*

 
I do not suffer from Truman Syndrome, nor am I a victim of derealization, or any other type of schizoid disorder. I am not paranoid. Yes, I suffer from hyper vigilance and PTSD. I didn’t need to learn how to dissociate when I was being beaten or molested. It would just happen. Repeated abuse does that to a soul, to a brain. This sensing I was in a movie was altogether different, and began several years before the sexual abuse. This sensing I was in a movie happened twenty-four-seven. At school, at church, at the toy store, in my room, at dinner, and all throughout my life, from the time I was four, five maybe–I had the unmistakable recognition that I was being filmed. My life was a movie. My life was a lie.

 
Who was filming? Who was behind the camera or in the director’s chair? Everyone. Everyone and no one. And myself. Who was watching, who was the audience? Everyone, no one, and myself. This is hard to put into words, but it was like my own life watched my own life and didn’t know what to do about it or how to stop it, or why it was happening, or what the ending was going to be like, or when. I wasn’t looking for attention, nor was I narcissistic, I wasn’t even delusional. I simply lived in a movie filmed through my own eyes, my own brain, and I hadn’t a clue as to why. It wasn’t like thinking god was watching or Santa Claus. It was more like just walking, following the steps of myself, yet knowing they weren’t mine, knowing they meant nothing. I remember looking down at my feet as I walked and wondering where they were going. I remember looking down as I puffed out my chest because I was obsessed with trying to look tough and “manly.” I didn’t care if god or Santa watched me. I didn’t even care that I was a constant actor. I didn’t know anything else. All I knew was that my everyday life was a fiction, a pseudo- documentary with a subject that didn’t even exist and that no one cared about.

 
My eyes were the camera lenses; my own head both the camera and the screen. The world was the screen too and the camera. Everywhere I walked or stood or ran I was acting, pretending–even while sleeping. It’s no wonder I never had a restful night’s sleep. I was pretending to be asleep as the world snuck into my room and silently gathered around my bed to watch me dreaming of real life.

 
I laughed when I was supposed to. I cried when I was supposed to. I learned how to fish and ride a bike and get angry on cue. I moved from one scene to another never quite feeling like I was in the right one or saying the right lines, but I was there—I showed up. Yet somehow the background and the staging were all wrong; somehow the other people in the movie could never get close enough to me to wonder how I could be there, and yet not be there, all in the same scene. I was being filmed and I was also, somehow, inexplicably covered in a thin film made of dust and shadows.

 
Throughout my movie life, I did what so many other people do with a history of abuse–I turned to addictions—pornography and food mainly. Ever chasing some sort of moment or flash of reality, yet never finding it for more than a fleeting second, and those fleeting seconds were always steeped in shame, ugliness, and remorse.

 
I suppose some people who relate to this experience of sensing being filmed and watched might imagine it must automatically mean they’re transgender. That was only the case in my life. Why you might resort to unconscious hiding in your own life might happen for a myriad of reasons. The only difference perhaps is that I know now that I was hiding, and I know now that I am not.

 
While on some twisted level this survival mechanism was the work of a child-genius attempting to create a world of safety, this being filmed over decades eventually became a burden. I began to sense something wasn’t right, something was being hidden in the process of being filmed. I hadn’t a clue as to what it could be. I kept associating it with my abuse or my shame. However the truth was far more surprising than I could have ever imagined. And the strategy of stepping out of one’s own life by pretending to live it and have it filmed all at the same time eventually lost its efficacy—if there ever was any to lose.

 
And so it went on, year after year. I was filmed on my wedding day, I was filmed pushing my babies around in the stroller, I was filmed while teaching, buying used books and records, I was filmed eating, I was filmed in the bathroom and the shower, I was filmed watching other movies, I was filmed making feeble attempts at playing sports, I was filmed drawing monsters and writing poetry, I was filmed when I learned to drive and bought my first car with my own money, I was filmed as relationship after relationship ended with unexplainable trouble. The burden of being filmed however was simply a weight I had to carry. I knew it was happening but never felt safe to talk about it. To this day I have never mentioned it to any of my therapists that I’ve had over the years.

 
At one point I thought I was being filmed by aliens. Perhaps they had kidnapped me years before and implanted a camera in my eyes to study a human life. Perhaps alien superpowers would eventually show up when I needed them most. Perhaps I had died as a child by getting hit by lightning and this movie of a life was really some sort of ghostly projection I was trapped in until another incarnation came around.

 
Thing is, I got used to it. It just was that way. It never stopped. I lived my life pretending I wasn’t pretending, acting that I wasn’t acting. I was an unreality-show being made into a reality show long before those programs existed. The experience of being filmed and watched was so inwardly part and parcel of who I was, that I never tried to stop it. I figured it was like that for everyone—everyone lived a fake life, everyone was pretending. “All the world’s a stage,” after all. Or worse, we’re all acting on karmic impulses from previous lives and none of us are free. I justified my perceptions of being filmed by blaming it on religion, the government, aliens, ghosts, spirits, elemental beings, devils, angels, and sometimes on the belief that I was an addict.

 
The long and short of it was that I didn’t really exist. I was an imposter pretending to be someone else who was an imposter. And that sensation carried itself through right up to the moment I realized I was transgender, only I was so enraptured by living the truth it took me a few months to notice it was gone.

 
So one night, walking down a poorly ploughed Chestnut Street near 12th street, I suddenly stopped—more like I was halted by some angelic, winged hand trying to get me to notice the fact that I was finally free. I was no longer being filmed. I was no longer pretending. My life was real. The film had dropped like a snake skin. I wasn’t an imposter in my own story. I was real. The filming had stopped. I was walking down the street a transgender woman and I was alive, liberated, present, unafraid of breathing. I was a pure, living soul–pure in the sense of being born, pure in the sense of the dawn, pure in the sense of the moon rising over a silver pond. The movie house was gone. The camera in my head was gone. The ever-present sensation of existing in a false life vanished.

 
I see the movie clearly now—now that it’s over. I see how impossible it was for the little girl to make herself known. I see how the little boy did his best to keep her safe. I see how the rest of the world knew something about me was askew yet didn’t know what to do about it, yet let alone admit I was askew. I see how the abuse only furthered the sensation of being watched and of being unreal. I see how, despite feeling like so much time was wasted, that this was the right moment for the little girl to rise, to grow, to blossom into a woman. The work I had done untangling the abuse and the addictions created a nest of safety for her to grow her wings and eventually to fly. The darkness I had gone through and survived had bloomed entire heavens of wonder. Finally, after all those years, my life shines in truth: I am a woman, a transgender woman of magnificence and power. And I am taking the script I was cast in, and all the costumes and props, and authoring and directing an entirely new story—a true story—an adventure story, a romance of the self, woven with magical realism, a mystery where there is no crime—where the only mystery is: how far will this woman go? It is a story of inspiration and hope, perseverance and courage, and the ability to rejoice in who I am—no matter how I transition or stay the same, no matter what I do or do not do, no matter how my body looks, no matter what anyone says or does. It is an ever unfolding story—it is my story–detailing what happens when a star is born.

 

 

 

___________________________________________________________________________________________

*It behooves me to address those who have known me personally over the years: You were always real. I was the fake one. Your interactions with me mattered and were genuine. My presence however was not there. I tried, but it was like being in a coma with my eyes open. I could see you, think I was communicating, but actually nothing was coming out of my mouth. I couldn’t speak or even move. I love you all for trying to see the real me.

 

 


 

 

 





Living Among Roots and Shadows

Living Among Roots and Shadows
By
Joseph Anthony Petro

 

roots and shadows

 

My soul is caught
Among roots and shadows, like
A piece of silk caught
In the branches of a tree
Or in a bush of thorns.
Still living
My soul,
Blown out
Of its trappings
By so much sorrow,
Remains
Tethered by a thread,
A thread of presence and of hope,
The end of which is wound
Around your outstretched hands,
It streams from the fragrance
Of your spring-blossomed words,
It is spun from the loom
Of your compassion.
And the reason I know this
Is because I stand among roots
And shadows, like
A piece of silk
Caught in the branches
Of a tree or in a bush
Of thorns, and I am still living,
And my soul, blown out
Of its trappings, remains tethered
By a thread of presence and of hope,
The end of which is wound
Around my own hands and streams
From my own spring-blossoming words,
It is spun from a loom of compassion
I built and work at by candlelight
In a moon-drenched room alone. And the reason
I know this is because I weep
Among roots and shadows,
I flail among roots and shadows,
I panic among roots and shadows,
I shake and I scream and I die
A thousand times among roots
And shadows, like a fledging bird
Caught in a storm and is still alive,
My blown out soul tossed
By winds of shame and terror, remains held
Somehow, someway beneath the wings
Of a great and terrible love
That will not let me blow away.
I know this because today I rest
Under the shadow of his wings
And among the roots of her beautiful, all-
Holding earth.

 

 


 

 

 





Growing Down

Growing Down
By
Joseph Anthony Petro

 
Weep tender heart, weep.
Every tear you cry lifts the crushing weight
From your chest and drops away
Chains from your hands and feet
And heart.
You
Did
Nothing
Wrong.
Weep, tender heart, weep.
Hold my hand and dive into the folds
Of the dark waters of your pain.
You will not drown in sorrow;
You will not drown at all.
You will blossom in the depths, like
A manta ray, like a rose of white light, like
A lotus of moonlight with roots of life-giving blood.
Weep, tender heart, weep.
Let your tears become one with the darkness,
Let your tears shed the layers of hatred
For your body, for your existence,
For the false reasons you came to believe you were born.
Release them. Release them and weep,
Weep, tender heart, weep. Know there are many
Weeping with you; there are many blossoming
With you; there are many loving you
Until you can love yourself; so weep
Fierce heart, weep.
And when you surface from the shadows,
Bursting forth with hope, and the earth-given-
Heaven-blessed-moon-drenched desire
For unity, wholeness, and the arms
Of your Beloved, your tears will be tears
Of joy. For you will be free,
And you will be alive, and you will be a child
With the heart of a man.

 

 


 

 

 

 





I’m Not Supposed to Tell You–Original Version

Note:  In the version I published yesterday I felt my usual need to be responsible and hopeful and redemptive for you.  I couldn’t bear to leave you with how I was truly feeling–and that’s not a “bad” thing–that quality I love about myself–most of the time.  Often I do not know where I leave off and you begin and I get confused about my desire to save everyone.  Anywho, the original version of this poem is the one posted today.  The second half that I added yesterday is still true and I am deeply grateful for the hope and love I receive from others.  Today, however, and when this poem was born,  I am in an inner hurricane, and no, I will not hide that today.  Joseph

Special thanks to Mindy for not being afraid.

 

I Am Not Supposed to Tell You
By
Joseph Anthony

 

I am not supposed to tell you
How steeped I am in self-hatred;
How I feel like a sand mandala slowly
Blowing away grain by grain;
This heart you think you know
Is not mine. My heart is an albatross
Lost at the bottom of the sea.
A dark angel shifts heavy, smothering wings
Inside my chest. A wind-tossed night sky
Searching for morning, blankets
My basic, human sense of self.
Breathing
Feels
Wrong.
I am not supposed to tell you that.
I’m supposed to worry about what you
Think of me; what will happen
Now that you know—
I’m not supposed to tell you that either.
You tell me: this too, shall pass.
I am not supposed to tell you:
Those words enter a man’s ears but are heard
By a child’s—a child who hears you
But cannot help looking passed you
At the storm gathering behind you—the one
Unfurling like a monster made of smoke—
The one heading this way.

 

 

 


 

 

 

 





I’m Not Supposed to Tell You

I Am Not Supposed to Tell You
By
Joseph Anthony

 

I am not supposed to tell you
How steeped I am in self-hatred;
How I feel like a sand mandala slowly
Blowing away grain by grain;
This heart you think you know
Is not mine. My heart is an albatross
Lost at the bottom of the sea.
A dark angel shifts heavy, smothering wings
Inside my chest. A wind-tossed night sky
Searching for morning, blankets
My basic, human sense of self.
Breathing
Feels
Wrong.
I am not supposed to tell you that.
I’m supposed to worry about what you
Think of me; what will happen
Now that you know—
I’m not supposed to tell you that either.
You tell me: this too, shall pass.
I am not supposed to tell you:
Those words enter a man’s ears but are heard
By a child’s—a child who hears you
But cannot help looking passed you
At the storm gathering behind you—the one
Unfurling like a monster made of smoke—
The one heading this way.
I am not supposed to tell you any
Of this. But I know you.
You are already diving into the dark waves
With underwater flashlights and lifelines,
You are exorcists of demons—loving
The dark angel until he flies away
To the mountains of God, and turns
Into a baby goat.
You are ushering in the dawn
On strong, generous shoulders,
You are out there patiently collecting bits
Of sand and handing them back
To the mandala-maker,
You are looking in my eyes, you see the reflection
Of the approaching monster and still
You’re reaching out your hand, still
You are standing steady—braced with faith, still
You’re saying, “Dear Heart, it’s true.”

 

 


 





Flood

Flood
By
Joseph Anthony Petro

 

Days, weeks, months, and years
Can go by without a flood. Oh, I know
The river’s there, and the storms,
And the groundwater saturates so much
Of the foundations, but the floods
Are something else entirely.
It’s like this: I wake in the middle of the night
And without warning the water is already
Spilling over my bed, and even as I wipe my eyes
Trying to make sense of what is happening,
I go under–my chest and guts fill with bone-
Crushing pressure; the ceiling disappears and the walls
Close in and there’s nothing but dark water
And a faraway distant night sky—way up there somewhere,
And if I don’t call out for help no lifeline appears,
And the walls close in to the very edges of my bed,
And the water keeps rising and I can’t swim
And I can no longer see and some part of me dies
As the night sky fills my blank, staring eyes.
And then, I am floating, gone, part of the nothingness
That comes with deluges like this.
And little by little, over days, weeks, months, and years
The walls will slip back and the water recede through the cracks
And into the basement and through the ground–
Soaking the surrounding roots. And I will suddenly
Be able to see, and water will gush from my eyes and mouth
And I will gag and cough and grab my stomach and chest
And retch. And somehow, somehow, somehow,
I will step from my bed and it will be morning
And the sun will be shining, and I will begin moving
Through my life, water logged, heart-soddened
With terror, mind drenched with ‘why’
And I will eventually make it, things will dry
As I move in the light, and I will go around
With secret sorrow dripping from my every funny word,
Until days, weeks, months, or years later, there’s another flood
And I will wake in the middle of the night
Water spilling over my bed