Gender and Abject Horror: The Poetic Self

By | 3 February 2024

I recently woke to clothes and sheets drenched in blood. The sun, squeamish, kept its distance as I stripped off and showered. Outside, a glutinous rain fell disinfecting the streets; the bins begged and pleaded; have mercy on us. My periods have been heavy all my life though, until then, I hadn’t bled so profusely in years.

I came out as trans-masculine early in high school – a year or so after my first bleed. Like plenty of other transgender children, contending with the ‘the ungrievable, mortal losses of puberty, the chaos of sexual, emotional, and social impotencies that transness imposes’, I was prone to snarling and biting. Like trans-masculine prose poet Lars Horn, I still sometimes feel my body ‘moves itself – possesses its own will, character, its own thoughts … as other, but also as another. Slightly animal, otherworldly’.

It might seem contradictory, but going through puberty was actually quite subduing, domesticating. I learnt how to repress, how to contain myself and imitate the normative body.

‘What an angel!’ people said.

Female socialisation is a dangerous idea, and I agree it deserves the criticism it receives. However, if you asked me which, of all the seeds my girlhood planted, prospered and persisted, I’d have to say it was the belief that suffering, physical and mental should be sucked up, soaked, sealed – a woman in pain, in grief is histrionic.

When I transitioned and switched from using the women’s bathroom to the men’s, the support of fellow menstruators was severed overnight. While in the women’s, painkillers and pads would be slid under the cubicle door. In the men’s, you could be seeing stars, speaking tongues, you could be spewing blood and still be ridiculed for running out of toilet paper. I pulled myself up by my bootstraps, and tied my raincoat around my waist to hide the crotch stains. Being outed was worse than bleeding out.

Breanne Fahs is a clinical psychologist, professor of humanities at Arizona State University and radical feminist. The Menstruating Male Body collates testimony of the overlap between trans identity and menstrual health. While all menstruators ‘struggle in general with accepting their bodies as ‘leaky’ and ‘viscous’, masculine transgender and intersex individuals must be scrupulous in their endeavors to contain this ‘sex-revealing’ fluid. In order to ‘secure their safety, stay closeted at work or to avoid losing their jobs’, some of her patients regularly leave tampons in for ‘twelve hours at a time’.


Until I was old enough to refuse, I was dragged to church. I went to many churches, I met many people, and never really warmed to them. There was only one woman I really trusted.

Her face was taut and muscular. She wore brown woollen stockings, socks and crocs. Her makeup, alien, uncanny. Her eyeshadow dribbled. She never gossiped, laughed sparingly, and didn’t let me help her with crossword puzzles She never let me hug her- she took blood thinners and bruised just daydreaming of touch.

I sometimes pictured her climbing onto the roof after hours, skinny legs straddling the ridge. I pictured the church as a beast, a beast she could fly away on. Other times, I pictured her as the church itself- as castle, as king, as stone. But up close, she had pores, occluded as they were.

She was a retired janitor and had worked decades in hospitals, food courts and casinos.

‘Kid … I’ve smelt things you’ve only smelt in your nightmares.’

I wondered what I smelled like to her. Could she smell queer undertones, beneath the stench of humanity?

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