“The men’s bathroom is down the hall,” I hear, and let it drift into the babble that is all the conversation that doesn’t pertain to me. I walk toward the bathroom.
“Hey kid!” A voice is shouting from behind me, and there are feet running. I turn around, and my initial reaction is one of immediate and total embarrassed and shame. (Why is that my first response? I keep wondering.)
“Are you a boy?” The person asks, her face scrunched up, peering deeply into mine, trying to push me into one box or another. I don’t see, but I do feel, the people around us.
I close in on myself, shrugging my hunched shoulders. “No?” I mumble.
She lets me use the bathroom. I would have held it, I want to tell her, but I couldn’t. In middle school I never drank water so I would never have to use public restrooms.
Two nights prior I was alone in the woods. It was so dark and the rain beat down against my car. River and I were sharing my always-deflating NeoAir and never-large-enough down quilt. Before I scooped her up and quieted her trembles with my warmth, I squatted down in the dirt by my car and peed.
There were no eyes to judge the dirt I chose. The trees, whipping far above me in the storm, didn’t question my gender. And even River, a sentient being, doesn’t care at all what my body is like, except for it must be with her.
So here it is.
Here is my body. It is yours to comment on. It is yours to stare at. It is yours to legislate. It is yours to wonder about. It is yours to fetishize. It is yours to judge. It is yours to cut. It is yours to medicate. It is yours to hate. It is yours to fear. It is yours to kill. It is yours.
But when I am outside, when all the world leaves and it is just me alone in the woods, it is all mine. When I am outdoors I am in awe of my body. I worship every inch of my feet that take me so far, every new hair that springs up from the strange chemical reactions in my body, every muscle that stands up proud to take me further than my mind thinks I can go.
I don’t think about gender when I’m in the woods. I don’t think about gender when I am alone. I don’t think about gender in any moment where there aren’t people. But then, when there are, gender appears too.
I spent the long weekend with only River on the Oregon Coast. We walked along the beach, each lost in our own thoughts, discovering the world around us alone, together. The break of the waves was the breath of the earth herself, in and out, rhythmic, soothing, safe. I placed my head on top of the sound, and let the motion of her chest rock me to sleep.