Tavi Gerstle, Oberlin College


“Hey baby, did it hurt when you fell out of heaven?”
No, motherfucker, it hurt when they cut off my wings.

You want to know what hurt me? Clothing hurt me, fabric rough against my soft skin.

Food hurt me, heavy food of the earth
dead flesh of beasts and plants, all of it tasting like dirt
filling up my tender throat
heavy, earthen,
choking me.

You want to know what hurt? Domestication hurt.
Feminization hurt. Normalization hurt.
It hurt when they pinned my fluttering arms to my sides and said
“Kid stop flapping your hands. You’re not a bird. You’re not flying anywhere.”

It hurt the first time they separated us, boys on this side and girls on the other
and I felt my spine try to separate, vertebrae wrenched in opposite directions.
In that moment, I knew how Adam felt when G-d split them into him and her.

You want to hear about pain?
Puberty hit me like a train running over a maiden tied to the tracks.
I mean, puberty hit me like a man who would tie someone to train tracks
would hit, closed fist, going for the pain.
A one-two sucker punch, first to my ribs (broken when I was fourteen, when I tried to bind down my chest with duct tape)
then, when I doubled over, to the face. Leave me black-eyed, bloody-nosed.

What hurt: the appearance of little black hairs poking through my skin
like worms from the mud after rain.
I used to rip them out one by one and I always ended up
tearing skin. I think I meant to tear skin. I think I wanted
to rip off my skin, really.

Also: the appearance of lumps on my chest, painful
soft, heavy, peat moss soaked with rain water.
So heavy every night I felt them pressing down on me, constricting my lungs.
So heavy I thought I would suffocate.

Do you want to know what hurts, really?
Most days I hate my body.
Most days I feel like I should have been ten feet tall, a thousand eyes all over my body, going all around, like a wheel, never ending.
Most days I wish I could have been living fire, too hot to touch too bright to behold, six wings on my back. Most days I wish I had been
anything but small and weak and flesh.
Most days I think that “trans” is just another word for
“changeling” is just another word for
“android” is just another word for
is just another word for
I want out this body. Any way possible.

And you know what hurts? When guys like you yell at me on the streets
or beckon me like a dog or wink at me in cafes.
When you say “gorgeous” when you say “you’re just who I’ve been looking for”
when you say “hey girl” and I want to scream
“No I’m not” and
“creating you was G-d’s only mistake” and
“I’m not here for you” and
“I am too holy for your touch your sight your anything.”

Anyway, did it hurt? Yes, I guess so. Yes, it hurt. Yes, it’s still hurting.

Tavi Gerstle is a second year creative writing student at Oberlin College. They have been writing since they were a child, but they have never been published before.