In October 2016, I was invited to take part in If Your Body Could Talk – an evening of performances answering the question, “If your body could talk, what would it say?” If Your Body Could Talk was part of a larger series of events entitled “Unsilencing Anatomies,” based on Monica Ong’s book of the same name.
Many thanks to Kristen Nelson and T.C. Tolbert for the invitation.
If it is safe for you to do so, and if it won’t make it difficult for you to understand me, please close your eyes.
if your body could talk
t,o,u,c,h,i,n,g is a 1968 experimental film by Paul Sharits. As multicolor treatments flash – faster than I can count – across a close-up of the blank face of the artist, a voice repeats the same line over and over but I don’t hear the same line over and over. I hear multiple lines:
this girl i just brought
this drawing is straw
it would seem impossible for one phrase – or maybe word – to be misheard as so many things but the acoustic signal is fractured
no fracture is trauma
it is disjointed?
bending, touching, putting pressure on. the sounds I hear in the video put pressure on my body unevenly. The voice rambles through my outer ear and raps its fingers across my eardrum, shaking an assortment of tiny bones and fluid bodies inside my skull. A voice is always multiple. Many frequencies, many waves, many touches. The sounds map themselves out onto my cochlea. My brain reads the map and tries to make sense of it
where did you come from?
The e-mail came from Kristen and T.C., who told us that the objective of these performances was to ‘sensitize the audience to the burden of pain and suffering on bodies and their relief.’ It is very chic nowadays to tell of trans bodies
on the street
in the television
living, miss thing
unwanted by the cops
working with the cops
to make them
Have you ever heard a trans body speak while it’s still alive? There is a myth, an urban legend that a trans woman can only speak after transitioning three times
Into a corpse
Into a shrine
It’s a myth, because trans bodies are always talking. Just because you don’t notice something doesn’t mean it’s not happening.
The word ‘sensitize’ comes from two parts: ‘sens’ and ‘itize.’ I love ‘itize’ because it turns good nouns into verbs. Monstrous grammars, sideshow syntax. It’s very chic to argue that ‘sense’ was always a verb, never a noun, but I don’t care to be chic nowadays, darling, so let’s treat it as a noun.
To sensitize is to
give you sense?
If ‘problematize’ means to make something a problem and ‘fantasize’ means to make up a fantasy then surely ‘sensitize’ means to make you into a sense, to make you up into a sense.
Touching me through you.
There are two sides to touching. When my body speaks, a series of signals travel down from my brain and tell my intercostal muscles to pull apart my ribcage, thereby sucking air inward. My arytenoids, little cartileges in my throat pull my vocal folds shut like a glistening velvet curtain. Beneath them is pressure. The curtains pull apart slightly and shake as air escapes my lungs. They dance rhythmically. Pharynx, velum, uvula, palate, alveolar ridge, tongue, lips, teeth – these parts of my mouth reach out and touch the emerging sound, making the dance polyrhythmic. The sound leaving my body is an energized touch, capable of touching and responding to touch. Sound enters your ear and touches you, senses you
Are you getting a sense?
If I am going to make you into a sense of bodies
then I need you to know you are not separate from the bodies around you. When I speak, I am reaching into you, shaking parts of you, triggering washes and waterfalls of chemicals across your body.
When you speak, you press up against my skin and move the hairs on my arm imperceptibly. But just because you don’t notice something doesn’t mean it’s not happening.
I don’t know if I can give you a sense, if I can help you sense the burden and pain of other bodies. I don’t trust that this is touching you. But just because you don’t notice something doesn’t mean it’s not happening.