boy/girl/ghost by torrin a. greathouse / TAR Chapbook Series / 2nd edition reissue 2019
It may be impossible to track down an old quote I once read, somewhere, concerning The Matrix as a transgender allegory. I am reminded that the phrase I am searching for concerning a crisp concept of “pointless self immolation” may have simply disappeared into the churning electronic sea of human creation. Or perhaps it never existed at all and was merely some invention of my mind when I required such a metaphor for my own transition. However, regardless of its questioned existence, the quotation leads to what can frequently be a core trans struggle: to cleanse without utter desecration; to learn how to control our own burnings as we make room for new growth. When torrin a. greathouse makes clear in “Exorcism With Sage & Holy Water” that “we burn / the lilac black, imagine this a cleansing”, the weight of our cultural, trans narrative speaks against her.
There is admittance that this is a strange way to begin to review a chapbook. But we must first understand that for such a very long time trans people have had to make the same awful choice as is ultimately presented to the protagonist in The Matrix: continue to struggle, perhaps forever and near certainly in the face of overwhelming opposition, or to burn up in one last burst of ultimate, and pointless, suffering which will wipe the slate clean in cyclical defeat.
torrin a. greathouse’s boy/girl/ghost is more than a mediation on bodies and personhood. This chapbook exists as an active effort to change and shift the very narrative of existential grief which permeates much of the public’s informative understanding of the trans experience. If greathouse’s first chapbook, there is a case that i am, stands as an effort to understand and find comfort with questions surrounding identity and transness, boy/girl/ghost seeks to strike so much further into territory that demonstrates the evolution and outward trajectory brought about by an embrace of what comes after.
boy/girl/ghost is a book that could only possibly come after the initial act of surviving, and it is dedicated as such, by name, to every trans person ever killed, a wall of names that is both woefully incomplete and also far too long already. As she ends her long and heart-heavy dedication it reads,
“& all those who have gone unnamed or unreported & all of those who have been erased in their death & all of us still living & a future where there will be no more names to add to this list.”
This space of afterness can be a shock. Such as when there is astonishment that “[& this is a strangely bloodless thing]” which is hidden and shuffled into grammatical purgatory by its simple inclusion between two brackets. As the book traces itself through questions concerning boys, girls, ghosts, bodies, non-bodies & lovers & family, it always dwells within a space where transcendance becomes an act of memory. How an inebriated father has been transformed becoming “wind or lightbulbs”, a transformation that can only exist in the after. In “Quantum Elegy” greathouse intones with naked simplicity that, “i write about you, but only in the past / tense.”
The chapbook slows from the concerns of family, self and body into a flourishing apologia detailing how “boy becomes first | man then woman | then wound” or ghost or, previously, “anything / but son”. It is easy to see this as the progression of negatives. But it is the possibility of striking out wrong answers and becoming not just what we believe to be strengths, but collections of small comfort where comfort never was before. We rarely see this comfort for what it is, the process of (to steal a term from Religious Studies) becoming a real person.
When amongst the last lines of the chapbook you hear that “i tattoo compass roses / on my knees & i am always blooming” this is a quintessential expression of this afterness. Perhaps this is what it means to be convinced that one is not a ghost—to be able to bloom; or how ceasing to be is not required to “disappear” as it may have been before. For every trans metaphor which concerns itself with change, there are countless others we can easily overlook which deeply penetrate into difficult questions of what begins to happen in the after.