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SWAMP RAIL PUSSY

SWAMP RAIL PUSSY

SWAMP RAIL PUSSY

SWAMP RAIL PUSSY

SWAMP RAIL PUSSY

SWAMP RAIL PUSSY

SWAMP RAIL PUSSY

SWAMP RAIL PUSSY

SWAMP RAIL PUSSY

SWAMP RAIL PUSSY

SWAMP RAIL PUSSY

SWAMP RAIL PUSSY

Fran O'Farrell

My body is naked, laid back in bridge pose with my feet tucked under. I feel bound and plump and uncomfortable. Bright, blood-red light thrums inside my skin in sharp lines and sparks. Straining. Warm train tunnel wind blows my stale hair soft. I look from a place that is not my head to see my head craning down past my tight, soft stomach to the light between my legs. Behind my scrotum is a waiting possibility, smiling, hungry. 

 

-o-

 

I know that a thousand years ago Berlin was a swamp. I know that a hundred years ago a trans girl could show up to Magnus Hirschfeld’s Institut für Sexualwissenschaft on the banks of the Spree river and he would tell her who she should know and what bars she’d have fun at. The Institute employed five maids, all of them trans women. One of the Institute’s surgeons, Levy-Lenz, writes that he went down into the kitchen after work to find them all together, “peacefully knitting and sewing and singing old folk-songs.” One of them, Dörchen Richter, had the first recorded vaginoplasty at the Institute in 1931. Another, Toni Ebel, was an artist who donated paintings to help fund treatment. Her surgeries were completed in 1931 as well. Imagine the two of them stuck in bed, healing together, joyously recovering from the unimaginable. 

 

Finding the Institute in person is a struggle, as it was attacked by Nazi students early in 1933, then bombed into oblivion by the end of the war. The Haus der Kulturen der Welt stands now where some of the Institute was, so I walk there from Brandenburger Tor. I feel fierce glimmers of historical imagination, turns and walkway edges that might be familiar, demarcations of space that must’ve been important to someone once. I smell rain and fried potatoes, wafting out of a long-gone kitchen. The sound of a pile-driver pulls me northwest, past a circus closed for the winter. I climb onto the balcony of the HKW, where I wandered on a sunny October day with the only German trans girl I’d managed to meet. Shortly after I got here in September, I installed Bumble, hoping to find other trans people to ground me after uprooting from the ones I’d come to know in Idaho. After a few weeks of messages we bridged into reality with a coffee date in Moabit, north of the river that zigzags through the city. We meandered along it for a while. She had only been on hormones for just under a year and didn’t know any other trans people here either. We approached the HKW from the west. A rumble drew us up the stairs, and we stood a while, watching people fiddle with a speaker system and some strange instruments. Behind us at ground level was a large patch of grass. Neither of us noticed. 

 

Now, in late-January, the weather is typical: wet, just on the edge of rain. My glasses are misted and the greens go vivid myrtle and emerald. The balcony is empty, the planters pushed all to one side. Chairs are tied up and leafy displays are stowed behind the covered bar. A couple is kissing behind a building, visible only from my perspective. The stairs down to the patch of grass are lightly mossed, half-closed for the season. Finally, through the bushes below I spy a thick column of metal—I recognize it from a Wikipedia photo. The thing I was looking for. The only material trace of what this place was. 

 

The memorial is shaped a bit like a lectern. An engraved steel slab sits diagonally recessed in a square column of rusted iron. It stands in a small embankment from the main walkway, fenced off from above and below, and as I slip through the bushes I feel a pillar of longing and separation go through me. I sit to eat my bread on the sloping wooden bench, olived-over from damp disuse. The fences look temporary, but they must’ve been there at least since all the leaves fell, their concrete weights covered. The ground is an overgrown mess. The stony steps and cobbles seem to all be heaving slowly upward, like a monstrous swell lumbering awake from below.

 

-o-

 

I know that there is a deep and vital spirit calling to me here in Berlin. Most of the time it sounds far away, but often it feels like the two of us are pressed against either side of a thin permeable membrane. 

 

Before coming here I was living in the rolling plains of middle Idaho, and the rural north of that state had been my home for most of the time since 2003. So, I was a little scared of the metropolis. I’d spent a lifetime rooting into my countryside idyll, only to have Berlin surprise me with its green vivacity, its grasses still a rich jade or shamrock in wintertime and its bricks bubbling up with bryophytes at every opportunity. It all feels on the verge of being overrun! I’ve found abandoned escalators caked up with robust moss growth and one night I saw a dozen rabbits frolicking behind a library. Honestly, I think I love it here. I want to call it harmony, but I think it’s the tenacity of the marsh. A perpetual mist hangs in the air: On a sunny day, when the streets line up, the haze holds the light still: hovering, humid, humming, ethereal.  

 

I stand over a different memorial in the Opernplatz—a pavement-level window peering into a room of empty white bookcases—where the Institute’s library was dragged to be burned on that night in early May, 1933. More than twenty thousand books, journals, photographs, and ephemera were destroyed, not counting lives. Dörchen Richter was likely killed in the attack. My whole body aches. There is an infinite depth and wealth of trans lives across time, but still so many worlds are snatched from us. 

 

I know that right now there are tens of thousands of trans people in this city and I am sitting on the Hirschfeld bench alone. I am not a part of this place. I am just a visitor waiting to return in July to the familiarity of my US apocalypse. A year ago I was miserable, and I believed the built world that surrounded me would not last my lifetime. But I was excited too. I sunk my arm into the thick gel of time. I felt my fingers brush against something old and wretched. It quivered, shocked by my touch. It was—must still be—a soft and loving thing. It wants us happy, really.

 

-o-

 

After dark, I am standing on the platform in Zeesen at the southeastern edge of the city, staring out at the point where I know the train will appear. The light flickers slowly on and off above me. The meandering starts of a strong wind knocks drops out of the trees, twinkling down onto the leaf litter. The air is cold and damp in my nose. An announcement says the train is ten minutes late. My eyes adjust to see the stars behind the drifting silver-lit clouds, but I can’t find the moon. My sight tunnels, every twitch a shimmering after-image.

 

A few days earlier on the opposite edge of the city, I visited a swampland preserve in Lübars, a half-hour transit from where I’m living. The old cobbled streets gave way to a dirt path leading down a gentle hill, brown-gold fields stretching out to the right. I met disobedient dogs and tired horses resting in the mud, smelling like hay and manure. There were boardwalks over sections of dark water, with big sheets of half-melted paper-thin ice just under the surface, held up from underneath by wide, flat bubbles. A tickle of the world-change-feeling: “It really is too warm for January here, isn’t it?” Like a slow, knowing head nod, the swamp responded by spilling a thawed stream across the trail leading out. The edges of a deep wet crevice seeped through the leather of my boots. I might’ve been able to leap the gap, but if I fell in, could I get out? Or would it swallow me? 

 

I’ve chosen to fixate on the trains in Berlin because I find comfort in their roaring industrial certainty. They make a messy promise of reliable knowledge. I assemble a layered video collage of signal boxes and blinking lights, timetables and switch rails. But the promise is a tease. I know that becoming known so often leads to obliteration, and that threat lingers like fibrous mold at the edge of my transit thoughts. A primordial memory shifts: me as a young girl sitting on her feet in a stolen white dress, wrapped in a whole living miniature of the rail system. It shocks and pinches, smelling like iron and powdered dirt.  

 

The conscious acknowledgment of wanting bottom surgery is a clear-headed desire for destruction and reconstruction. It is a choice that builds conviction after a “what if?” then a “why not?” It is an attempt to resolve an unknowability.

 

I have to remind myself that my desire for obliteration has a focus. I’ve identified which structures built on top of me need to be demolished to clear the way for growth. I want to make way for that subterranean monster I know lives inside me, to join the ones I’ve known in mine and others’ lives. What will she tell me when she comes to the surface? How much will her shape change when I decide and arrive at my surgical specificities? Will she be part colon or will my cock be reclaimed as constitutive material? I’m glad to have options and to be able to make informed decisions, but I’m still figuring out what exactly I want to become. 

 

Finally, the triangle of lights emerges from the woods. In the quiet, the approach makes the rails hum like a choir, and I wonder what it would feel like to touch that vibration. The lights roar past me and I board.

 

I find myself eventually underground in the train car, craning my neck and squinting my eyes, trying to make out the shape and texture of the tunnels. The double pane windows deny me, going one-way against the darkness, and all I see is myself looking out. And the people behind me. And myself looking out again in the opposite window’s reflection of this window I’m looking out of. And the people behind me again. 

 

I tell myself I love the little ego slip-away when the tight-against-itself crowd bumps together at the jolts. Yet, these people don’t feel close. I help a woman carry her stroller up and down the stairs to an underground station, but I don’t feel like I can even say “you’re welcome” properly. A girl sits across from me with long brown hair and big boots and wide shoulders, and I try to communicate something across the divide, but what can I do? A wrinkled stranger in tight pants with salt-and-pepper hair tumbling down out of a beanie passes me on the street, and I wonder if they are a history I might find myself in, or someone I am on my way to being. How do you ask a question like that?

 

-o-

 

Back on the bench at the memorial, joggers go by, cis pairs banter, and my sad tears swell into fury again. I wander through the Tiergarten and spit up at the statues of Men and Women who couldn’t have cared less about how important that patch of grass was. The golden pristine victory column glowers down at me, surrounded by warlords and conquerors. Google maps points me to the wrong stop, and I watch my bus circle the roundabout then leave me behind. 

 

But the ground is there to hold me. The sky is as gray as ever, but littering the edge of every pathway are pops of bright little viridian dicots. The film of sickly mint colored foam on the garden’s pools does a friendly hiss and slides across the surface. A few scraps of worn orange cling to the otherwise barren oaks and beeches. There are crumpled stands of some unfamiliar evergreen, a tsuga cultivar maybe. Certainly not in my Flora of the Pacific Northwest. The online dichotomous keys are no help. A plucked sprig rests in my pocket as I rail home underground, sleepy, optimistic. 

 

Right now, I am having a hard time, but I feel my future self smiling back at me. I feel so much love for the ugly, confused person I was six years ago, before hormones, and in sending that out I am reminded of a comfort I felt back then. My hope comes from a kind of inevitability, not in the liberal, bending-towards-justice sense, but more like how you can’t escape the honest truth of compost. My hope comes from a feeling that I’m doing something ancient, holy. I don’t know exactly where I’m going, but I’ve got a dappled, fluttery image of a life I might inhabit. Maybe I’m getting there.

 

At home, I soak in warm water and darkness, in and out of consciousness. I get out and get off. Industrial buzzing, breath and muscles held tight like a stone half-sunk, the only way I can anymore. On top of my duvet, I let air filter back into my body. The fading light comes in through the window over the bed and I luxuriate until I decide it’s time to make dinner. Maybe eggs, or potato soup.  

 

I wait for spring, hoping eagerly for wet blossoms and clarity.

Fran O'Farrell is a transsexual with too few hands for how many honey pots she'd like them in. She's currently babysitting in Berlin, but soon she'll move to Minneapolis and hopefully do something that pays better. This is her first publication. Find more info in her digital hermitage: https://fofarrell.neocities.org/.​

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