This piece is featured in Issue No. 4 Issue IV: A New Hope

Personal Reflection

quiet thoughts

CW: assault, gender-based violence

In the year where so many distractions blinked out of view, I inspect myself with interest. Tiny and self-conscious on the video call, short-tempered in the lineup outside the grocery store. Emphatically lonely, but in the background, relishing deserted hours. Instead of projecting outward to family and friends, my ransacked universe, I’ve gone inside. Inspecting all the little things, and wondering about the different ways to spend a life. Feeling outright curiosity about the future, I watch myself growing strangely giddy in quiet moments, and I have to tell myself to calm down, don’t get so amped up. Drink some tea and chill, it’s all unfolding.

I’ve spent the time wrapping a chatterbox mind around some gunk that was tough to look at head-on in the clutter before. I understand now, for example, about that night with the bartender in Roncesvalles. In a curious way, I wonder if I will see him again, daydreams of getting to explain something important, so that he can understand too.

I was so confused at how I would become fascinated by guys, certain guys. Because it wasn’t attraction, and it sure wasn't that they were particularly interesting or even very nice. I thought it was internalized misogyny, wafting up from its drifts and deep snowbanks heaped inside of me. Pulling me to crave the acceptance of boys even as I wanted to weave my fingers through the hair of a girl, to have her pull me in. 

But then, spectacularly, between novels and podcasts and soaking in a tub until I am corrugated and shivering, something new has bloomed. A Deleuzian crack in the insistent rigidity I reserved for myself, bringing the dawning of the notion that I am allowed to be more. The discovery of an uncanny door ajar that was always sealed, feeling the thrill of excitement, knowing there is uncharted space for me in there. Relief and embarrassment. Why has this taken me so long? Like the first time I kissed Rebecca, that sudden ignition, approval from the universe and from a beautiful girl. I am allowed to do the thing, and no one gets to stop me along the way and demand my reasoning.

But this new room was different still. A radical portal, an opening. It was a clean cut to the tight leash and a mad dash into dazzling freedom. To the bartender in Roncesvalles, I wasn’t drawn to you because I wanted you. You thought I was a girl, and I suppose that is how you treat them. You thought I was junk food. But me, I was hoping that I was your brother and you were mine, I was identifying with you. A little sibling chosen and blessed, invited to hang out with his big brother. 

Lately, I’ve reworked this pull to maleness as reclaiming my boyhood, as if boyhood was this thing that I hadn’t been allowed to have. But I did have it, I just didn’t know how to acknowledge it without language. And yet that night, when I thought I was your brother and you thought I was a girl and we chatted until I was the last patron, I thought I was adding to it, my long-lost boyhood. Making a friend, playground style. And a gift from my new brother, that drink that I never watched you pour. And next I became noodle-limbed and couldn't lift my muddled brain off the concrete, so unsure of what was happening and how it came to be.

I never talked about that night to anyone, waking up in the bushes and the darkness, against that fence near the train tracks. Bare feet cold in the early March air as I tried to find my shoes and wondered where the blood came from. So stupid, righteous voices from my past floated through my head. Never trust a boy that you don't know, not if you’re a girl. Girls can’t.

But I’m not quite a girl. And it never should have happened, even if I was. And it changes nothing, but it lets me understand more, it somehow gives me a vibe of being mostly okay. At least I know why I was there that night, what I was looking for. I trusted my brother and it wasn't my fault. I identified with him, but I can still learn new, better, healing ways of reclaiming my boyhood. Getting to know how to talk about a masculinity I thought I was supposed to be humiliated by. I can breathe in and out and start to articulate now, how when they look at me and say Woman, I wonder who they are talking about. And now the joy of learning that I really like this unfettered person who was always there, just below the surface, bemused and off-center. 

And how did he fare during this pandemic, this social upheaval? My fellow brother, the predatory bartender, how have you been? Out of work for certain, unable to dip your hands into the slippery buckets of libation plied Women and Others, to take your pick. Many have stayed safe I am sure, in that unintended consequence of your bar’s closure. 

I cannot wait to be out in the sunlight, lungs full of air and with tentative baby steps, the sweet allowance of testing the space, non-binary. Not lost in the mire of performance or the anxiety of why am I like this? Just like that first perfect brush with Rebecca, where I was so astounded to find that it all made sense. An open road ahead.

I cannot wait to hug my family and my friends. I feel stronger, and I hope I meet you on the streets one day, my unhappy brother. Unconsciously, I look for you often. Because even if what I remember is mangled and butchered, marinated and dulled in shame, I do remember your face. The face that I was drawn to. Foolishly thinking, there he is. That is the type of man I would like to be. But there are many types of men, many types of people. And I am not like you. But what excitement, what unabashed pleasure. To get to go forth and figure it out in the springtime, with the winter receding behind and the wavelengths telling of better news.

Gillian Bowles

Gillian Bowles is a Toronto-based creator, who has studied film and social service work. You can find them feigning confidence on Instagram @alias_eveline.