By Kathryn Queirolo
Preface: Between 2012 and 2015 I was in a toxic relationship with someone I considered a friend. Between 2014 and 2015 I was subjected by this person to sexual abuse. This is a letter to that person. But, as is so often the case with stories of trans/queer survival, this is not a clean story, does not fit the traditional narratives we have inherited for talking about sexual assault. In this letter is an exploration of the confusion of intimacy and domination between queer and straight people. For the past two years, I have been struggling to come to terms with my feelings surrounding this time in my life. Please practice self-love while reading this letter.
You are a thief. You took what was not yours. I was sleeping, and you stole that sleep from me. I don’t sleep anymore because of you. I haven’t slept now for more than two years, and now I am tired. When I am tired, I think; when I think, I commit my thoughts to ink and flesh.
I remember that night I didn’t dream of anything. I always dream. Even now that I don’t sleep, I persist in dreaming. My dreams are a part of my body. I am my dreams. Ego somnium ergo sum.
I remember I was confused, frightened, mortified, immobilized, immaterialized, literally suspended between worlds, captured, that is, held in forced repose; inside-out, once again, literally, the inversion of corporeal experience: what you touched was not flesh but Spirit—you trespassed on holy ground, gazed upon the visage of God, and saw what was not yours to see. That is, you sinned.
You fetishized my queerness. My non-conformity. But, then, I fetishized your straightness. With you each gendered moment was a site of confusion, advance and retreat. But the longer we were exposed to each other, the more natural this relationship of toxic symbiosis seemed—and the more deep in each of us the rot set. Do you even know you were the first person I told I was trans? Do you know how vulnerable I am in that moment? How I re-live, re-play, and re-verse that moment each day anew, with each contortion of my body, with each word I speak, tumbling back toward depravity, abomination, repentance, forgiveness, repetition, infinity, over and again? Do you know how your unwavering confidence in affirming me in that moment still gives me the strength to face the world, despite what was to come later? I doubt it means so much to you. But to me in that time, that moment was everything.
I remember the time we were walking down the street and that woman, margarita in hand, shouted at us: “faggots!” and how, stopping, you were confounded, for once without words, entered into a space where, for all your vacuous vernacular verbosity, you were unable to respond with even so much as a dismissal. Here, for once, you were the one who was immobilized, mortified, de-mobilized. And do you remember how I thanked that woman for the compliment? Because in that moment, all I wanted was for you to be a faggot like me. You said you weren’t. I knew that, somewhere, you were, but that place was not here. Not in this life.
Looking back, it was always obvious, how our mutual dependence on the depravity of the other was an impossible friendship bound to end in certain death on the Day of Judgment. Likewise, it was always obvious that you were not quite what you said you were. That is, you played The Fool in every circumstance, but more likely you were Death before there was dying. I remember that one time, when I had known you for eight months, and you were drunk, we were all so drunk—there were bottles of cinnamon whiskey everywhere, there was marijuana scattered on every surface, and you were the most far gone. There were six of us in that room, and there were three beds. Another faggot, one dear to my heart, was in that room, lying on the mattress, and you literally jumped on top of him and called out, yes you said this, you said that you “wanted to get it in, right then,” and I remember how alarmed I was—shamefully, not because of the danger to which you exposed another faggot, but, more shamefully still, because, in that moment, I would have been the one to let you in. Who even am I anymore?
That moment passed with you being thrown to the ground. Still more shamefully, the rest of us in the room did nothing. You got away with it because all of us let you get away with it. We allowed that to happen.
I don’t know why I stayed beside you for four more years after that. I should have had you cut off. Eventually, I did have you extirpated. That is, eventually, you left. No, you ran. From me. From what I said, from what I would say, from who I would tell. You grew rightfully afraid of me, afraid of who I am without sleep, of the spell under which we placed each other, an enchantment persisting in its musicality for nearly half a decade; you grew afraid of yourself, of what you had done, of what you would (continue) to/in do(ing), if you were to stay.
Because you (again, a thief) could only run lest, like Prometheus, I had you chained to a rock, there to have your flesh eaten anew each day; lest you, like Tantalus, be restrained, in sight of all your pleasures, out of reach of the All, left in forbidden chastity for all of time. Perpetually—that is, without end, not even to terminate after the end of the world, nor by the will of God.
I honestly don’t remember how it started. I remember only how it ended: with me, in a hospital. Deranged. Beyond the world. Actively dissociating, praying for floridity, chanting Hail Mary’s with furious desperation, crying out for repentance, asking only for forgiveness for myself for willing what I had willed, for not turning you away sooner, for the things you would surely do to others because I was too weak to stop you, myself. That’s what I thought at the time, at least. I ended in Purgatory, that is, a place on Earth outside of the reach of magic – the place where I turned away from sleep forever, where Hypnos left me, alone forevermore, where I sat for ten days thinking of nothing but you, and how I for so long failed to stop you. In that place beyond magic, I learned who you were. You never spoke to me again. It was your fault, but—and here there is still more shame—I am still most upset that you never said good-bye.
That night when I was sleeping you came into my room and you entered my bed. The door to my room did not lock, and everyone in the house knew that. Your room was across the hall from mine. I awoke in the early morning, not to see you, but to feel you in/on me, that is, I awoke to find that my body was not my own, that it had been taken, that you would steal by deception and force what I would have given freely if for that it had been asked after.
I remember that you smelled like smoke and marijuana.
Your hands, between, and you, inside, and myself, well, a misnomer, after all, because, in that moment, “my” “self” was quite precisely not my own, and, well, regardless, I was outside, that is, spinning both inward and downward, upside-down in time but also—quite precisely—trapped in space.
That morning you made a deal with a demon. That morning I made a deal with an Angel. That morning, I lost something, something that you stole, something that then you lost yourself. Or maybe you destroyed it. Or sold it. I sometimes wonder for what. The thought passes. Regardless, now it is gone, and it cannot come back. It is beyond the reach of my magic.
I remember that I realized—quite quickly, mind you—what was happening, and rather than throw you out of my room, that is, rather than exorcise the demon with which you contracted from my temple, I fled—I ran, I left, I remember, then, that I sat for three hours on the porch, doing nothing but smoking cigarettes for one-eighth of a day, waiting for someone else to wake up, to ask if I was okay, so that I could tell them, no, I was not.
Eventually it was your girlfriend who was the first person to see me. I wondered then if you had ever done this to her, or if this was a special treatment you reserved for faggots. The thought passes. I told her what happened—well, not exactly, I modified the story—I told her when I woke up you were in my bed, and I remember what she said. She said that it was funny, that you must have just sleepwalked, and I remember then that, holding back tears, I laughed with her, lighting another cigarette. In that moment, I didn’t know who I was anymore. I’m not that girl.
I thought it would end with that. That thought was naive. You returned, night after night, or, more precisely, morning after morning, and then you began to make recordings. I sometimes let myself wonder how many there are, if they still exist, and what you did with them.
I remember you got a job that summer working for a Republican in Congress. Silly faggot (because, yes, truly, at this point, you are one of us): Don’t you know who we are, and that to them, we’re all the same? That you can’t escape this, you can’t run from it, you can’t run from yourself, you can only pray that you will be transformed? That you can only transform yourself? I remember that you said you wanted to see a world without prisons. I sometimes wonder if you hold out hope for abolition because you wanted to see liberation, or, be liberated yourself from the implications of your conquests. I let the thought pass.
You returned and returned and each time I surrendered, confounded by the confusion of intimacy and domination at play in the encounter of antiqueer subjection evinced between cotton sheets. I didn’t know how to say no to you. I didn’t have a door that would lock.
There was one time when I said no, when I refused you, when I turned you away, when I shunned your inebriated advance. The next day, you locked yourself in your room, refused food and blasted Death Grips so loudly it could be heard halfway down the block. I remember that day the other people in the house expressed concern for your well-being. Several thought that you were entering a major depressive episode. I remember being jealous that nobody seemed concerned about mine.
The doctrine of the immortality of the soul teaches that there is a part of each of us beyond the reach of the world, outside of flux, liberated from the torments of the body; that, upon our death, this soul shall inhabit a paradise, that those who are righteous shall inherit all, or otherwise that all of us shall be returned to a new body. This double doctrine of the soul promises protection from physical pain, teaches that whenever flesh is torn, that each time blood is spilled, that each time there is a trespass against the body, this part of us remains, impassive, noble and resplendent in innocence, cast into depravity only through the primal sin of the Fall, destined for redemption at the end of time.
This doctrine is a lie. The soul can be hurt, can be damaged, can be torn asunder, can be wounded. The soul can be racked, can be cracked open, can be subjected to every form of debasement and abuse; the soul can be defiled, the soul can be amputated, the soul can be tortured by the pain of the flesh. The soul can be crucified, and not just once, but over and over and over again. The body, the mind, and the soul are not separate entities; the body, the mind, and the soul are not sovereign and independent of each other; the soul is not impassive, and can know humiliation; the mind is not mere cognition, but can be corrupted by trespasses against the body; and the body is a physical gateway to both, the instrument through which Spirit plays, manifests, and dreams, a talisman which, if scratched, cannot be restored, only transformed, through the magical and miraculous intervention of the ritual of resurrection. To survive, we learn to bring ourselves back from death, sometimes more than once; sometimes, more than once in a lifetime; too often, more frequently than once in a day. To cut into the soul of another being is to transgress against the order of nature. To rend Spirit is to do injury—permanent injury—not just to the individual over whom you exercise domination, but against Creation, a crime against Being itself that cries out for reparation.
And though the soul can be defiled, wounded, killed—murdered—it can be regenerated and renewed, through the miracle of Second Birth, and, though never restored to its preoccidendarian state, can be resurrected, honored, and glorified, through rituals older than humanity, by forces more impersonal and arcane than for which the dimensions of language permit description. To come to love yourself in the space held open by Spirit after the theft of your soul is to give birth to yourself, to resurrect yourself, to return yourself to the world from the place of damnation, that is, desolation, that is, isolation, that is, alone-ness, ontological separation, that is, loneliness from God, that is, absolute singularity in relation to the social relations that give Life. Though you can resurrect yourself, to be returned to life from the space of death requires a World to inhabit, space through which to flow. We, as creatures of Spirit, require embrace in order to live. To persist in damnation is death unending. To persist outside of love is an impossibility.
Our friendship was toxic from the beginning. It eventually reached the point of mortal peril. Here, both of our souls were in danger. I am convinced, though the unfortunate manner by which your love was expressed was through the sins of theft and domination, that in your heart, what you were doing was an act of love. I do not believe that you were just taking what was within reach; I refuse to believe that everything was an act, that your whole being was pure masquerade. I think I know you better than that. The point here is not that I have romanticized the abuse to which you subjected me. The point is that there are different kinds of love. That love can be toxic, and that, in a world structurally designed, at the level of Creation, to make innocent contact—that is, reciprocal embrace in the zone of unconditionality—between our kinds—that is, between the queer and the straight—impossible, the best that you could manage was to conjure a demon to obsess me, and to, through this goëtic maneuver, touch upon the infinity that is my Spirit, and, with the impress of soft violence, between velvets and pillows, experience that infinity for yourself.
You were always enigmatic, but beneath that veneer of undecidability, you were just a confused and frightened boy. You were the definition of a person unready to be an adult. So was I. Now I am a shadow. I dwell between realms. I see between lines now, speak with the dead, drink a poultice I make for myself each day, clothe myself in gender to forget what has happened, to wear what has happened to me on my sleeve each day, all in order to unlive what you put me through, not once, but so many times that I lost count. Though I no longer sleep, I have become the Queen of the Dawn. Behold now the glory of my resurrection, and be blinded by the shine of my splendor. Repent and you shall be forgiven. But not by me. I possess not the sovereign grace of the Lord. Continue in silence, on this path of desolation and sin, and you shall surely be cast out of Heaven. I still pray for your soul, that you may know resurrection, that you may be healed of the transgressions that have surely been done against you, your flesh, your mind, your soul, and that you may be reconciled with the Spirit of Creation. You, always abundant with the enthusiasm of a youth you never left, must surrender yourself to the alchemy of love, and, from the pile of ashes that is your soul, furnish gold, or else be abandoned. There was a time when I would have helped you. But that time is long passed.