PROLOGUE

First there was an atom, a disease, a pervert, a planet, a valley. Then there were moon people, who were neither man nor woman. They were happy and powerful, and so God said, “I have a plan which will diminish their strength...I will cut them in two and this will have the advantage of making them more profitable to us.”

And now we must rid ourselves of Two. It was born from a mean god, and still belongs to him.

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WEE BABY MOON 1

Wee baby moon
In the morning sky

Your mother and sister
Are going to die

To the east is pink
To the west is night

Wee baby moon
All alone in the light

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ONE GIRL ABOVE, ONE GIRL BELOW

Is this the first time
I’ve ever felt love

One girl below
One girl above

Is this more than
I knew I could know

One girl above
One girl below

I still feel shame
From head to toe

One girl above
One girl below

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YOUR FRIEND IS DEAD (POEM)

Your friend is dead
She’s done and gone

No one cares
You’re the only one

Take off your clothes
Paint yourself white

Run through the city
In the middle of the night

Climb high as you can
Until you fall

Slam your body
Against every wall

Your friend is dead
She’s done and gone

No one cares
You’re the only one

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YOUR FRIEND IS DEAD (STORY)

Two years ago I met someone in Rhode Island whose best friend had died when they were fifteen. These friends grew up in Taunton, Massachusetts, a small city where there used to be factories and now there isn’t a lot of work. These friends were bad kids, which means that they got into trouble and that adults didn’t think they were worth very much. After her friend died, when she was deep in a heartbreak and a mourning that felt all her own, she went out into Taunton in the middle of the night and covered her body with white paint. She ran around the city slamming her painted body against the sides of buildings, climbing up telephone poles, and rolling around on the pavement. The last time she’d been in Taunton, the white body-prints were still there. I was struck by her desire to materialize the presence of someone who risked being forgotten.

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GAYLE'S POEM

It’s true that I told a lie
I told it again and again

I always wished to be a boy
I pretended to be a man

As a child I wasn’t happy
I didn’t like being a girl

The only time I felt content
Was in my own make-believe world

With age I grew more lonely
I was so utterly sad

I lived at the bottom of a lie
This lie had turned me bad

I didn’t just want to look like a man
I wanted to be loved as one, too

I wanted to hold a girl at night
Be craved in a way that felt true

I looked for a brand new woman
One who hadn’t seen me grow

I found her in a different city
A place where I was not known

When I went I wore a bandage
Pulled tight around my chest

I said she couldn’t touch me
Darkness was where I felt best

We made love with the lights off
She asked to feel my skin

I tied her hands to the bedpost
I begged her to let me in

Though I was keeping a secret
from a girl I wished to love

I felt some calm for the first time
looking down at her from above

She asked, again, to see my face
To look into my eyes

She asked, again, to see my face
I hid her from my lies

She asked, again, to see my face
She soon began to cry

She asked, again, to see my face
I forgot I’d told a lie

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PHOEBE (STORY)

My friend Paul gave me a book called Phoebe. It’s the story of one person’s process of becoming Phoebe. She self-published the book in 1967. She was born on a farm in Georgia and told she was a boy, which never felt right. People called her a sissy and a faggot. When she was fourteen, she read a magazine article about a "transsexual” and knew what she needed to do to be who she was. She became fixated on surgery. She lived in isolation until she was twenty-six, working as a telephone operator and writing hundreds of letters to surgeons, psychologists, and politicians asking them to help her. At twenty-seven she made her away to San Diego, and walked across the border to Tijuana. She lay in a hospital bed for three weeks after surgery, then returned to Georgia as Phoebe. She saw surgery as the point of, and only possibility for, transformation. She lived her life before it “waiting to be.” She hid herself from public life until she felt she “really was.” The refrain of the book is, “All I ever wanted was to become myself.”

We’re told that vanity is a fixation with the surface, rather than the depth. Of course, in this world, the surface and the depth are never distinct, and are always simultaneously felt and dreamed. At times I am ashamed of my own vanity—if vanity is how much thought and feeling I direct towards my own surface. But how could I not be vain as I do the work of imagining who I am? How could I not be vain as I do the work of becoming myself? Phoebe demonstrates that “becoming” is as great a project as “making.” Getting to be Phoebe took everything that Phoebe had. There was no ambition outside of becoming, no being outside of that ambition.

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MY WORK IS TO BECOME (PHOEBE’S POEM)

All I ever wanted
Was to be myself

To become
Who I knew
I should be

All I ever wanted
Was to be myself

To feel like
A woman
That was me

I had no room left
For other dreams

This one
was far
too great

I had no room left
For other dreams

It’s hard
To bear
The weight

People may think
I’m a shallow girl

That in my heart
I am only vain

People may think
I’m a shallow girl

If they don’t know
The depth of this pain

All I ever wanted
Was to be myself

To look
and feel
As one

Oh all I ever wanted
was to be myself

My work
Is to
Become

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THERE'S ALWAYS ME

Dear sweet mother
No one wants your heart

The less you sell
the more worthless your art

If you get desperate
There’s always me

I’m younger than you
Could ever be

If you get desperate
There’s always me

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I STILL WANT TO SING

Well I may be old
But I still want to sing

I still want to
Make you cry

Well I may be old
But I still want to sing

I still don’t
Want to die

There may be things
I don’t understand

About the words
You think are true

But I’ve sung about loss
With a mic in my hand

And I know
That what’s old
Is still new

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_

I'm certain that prisons are a terrible idea, and even more terrible in practice. They are evil and cruel. They only make sense if the desired outcome is to steal people's lives.

They are outdated, victorian, and gothic. They are no different than trying to teach a child a lesson by locking them in a cupboard for two hours. I've never been benefitted by punishment in my life, and people who claim they have are traumatized. We are all participating in a myth and mass distortion wherein we think it's reasonable to respond to infinite behaviors, most of which are a product of necessity, by locking humans up in cages and not allowing them go outside...let alone have sex, cook their own food, take a walk in the forest, or go to a party. Someone harms themselves or another person and culture says "you never get to see the ocean again...you have to spend your life in a concrete box. you never get to be in a crowded room in the middle of the night, with loud music playing, feeling turned on by the people around you." You never get to touch the side of a horse's face again, drive over a bridge again, ride a train again, get a blow job in the sunlight again, go to the grocery store again, smoke a cigarette alone on a bench again, eat a rotisserie chicken and drink tequila in a dirty park again.

I know this sounds like a saccharine plea, but it matters more than anything else. I'm using simple language because this is a very simple truth. I'm wielding cliches of freedom, happiness, and pleasure because joy is often quotidian, and it is being taken. This premise is utterly corrosive and it is eating away at everyone, even the people who are not thinking about it.

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VINES 1

Little white house
swallowed up by vines

How many girls
Are trapped inside

I could stop by
And knock on the door

But the girls might think
They deserve something more

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MY ONLY BROTHER

My only brother

The other son
of my mother

Your body is broken
It is not fair

But can you recall
The smell of her hair

My only brother

The other son
of my mother

Where have you gone
Oh where, oh where

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_

I spent a night in LA, last autumn, with a friend whose mind has certain heightened levels of awareness, what some people call schizophrenia. They had just made it across the country, to the Venice Boardwalk, hitchhiking with their cat. In a Colorado town near a military base, they had to leave a punk house in the middle of the night because they felt like there were bodies buried in the backyard. Then, leaving town in a truck, they were convinced that all the death had climbed into their suitcase, which they threw out the window. On the Venice boardwalk, my friend met other people with heightened awareness who had also come to the ocean to feel free on one side.

My friend acknowledged that it isn’t always easy having this awareness. They are training themselves to control it better, to be less porous and to turn the dial up or down depending. Otherwise it would be intolerable, since the violence is everywhere and in everything, both acute and diffuse.

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BODIES OUT BACK

The boys have buried
Bodies out back

I saw with my own mind’s eye

The boys are bad
The graves are fresh

My mind would never lie

I know this house
Is built on death

I know but I don’t know why

I know but I don’t know why

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SAMUEL'S POEM

I love each and every one of you
I keep a running list of names

I have cherished little boys
and taken pleasure in their games

I have been to many cities
In search of foreign truths

But I always chase what’s pretty
and when done right it feels brand new

I love each and every one of you
behold the love-light in my eyes

Just because I long for youth
Does not mean I am not wise

I am a channel to a harbor
And so as such I’m on the way

You see I always fall in love
And so as such you must not stay

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A WORLD WITHOUT PRISON

A world without AIDS
A world without prison

Tell me your wish
Show me your vision

It's true that your dreams
Will never come true

It's true that with time
I'll forget about you

But since we are here
Having sex in this bed

As long as we're here
While others are dead

Tell me your wish
Show me your vision

A world without AIDS
A world without prison

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_

Kings, heroes, love, God, success, ordinance, conquest, property, Man, honor, progress, rules, reason, leaders, courage, virtue, punishment, law.

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KING'S POEM

Love belongs to us
those meant to be alive

Love belongs to us
those men fit to survive

Love is what we say
when we know who we must kill

Love is what we say
when we enforce our will

Love is how we learn
to tell animal from man

Love is how we learn
who cannot think and who can

Love is why we’re able
to take what we deserve

Love is why we’re able
To conquer and be served

Love belongs to us
the rightful kings of this earth

Love belongs to us
it’s been inside us since birth

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NO BEGINNING, NO END

There is a man with no beginning
There is a man with no end

He is the axis
We are spinning
He is distance with no edge

There is a man with no beginning
There is a man with no end

He is everything
We are of him
He is time without death

There is a man with no beginning
There is a man with no end

He will survive us
we are dying

There is a man
With no end

You are over
before you started

There is a man
With no end

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VINES 3

I know that my house
Is covered in vines

I’m afraid to look
So I stay inside

I feel them growing
The long green vines

The longer they get
The more I hide

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SAINT’S POEM (MARSHA’S POEM, FOR REINA)

If I wanted to be a saint
I would have died for our sins

Honey, I would be a zombie
I’d have turned my sisters in

If I wanted to be a saint
I would sleep when it was dark

I’d be a loyal to the law
Not the queens in the park

If I wanted to be a saint
I’d just prey to the pigs

I’d say, “Yes, Mr. Officer,”
Not “Fuck you, that’s my wig.”

If I wanted to be a saint
I’d just give ‘em my damn clothes

Instead I’ll throw them in the hudson
toss daddy neptune my panty hoes

I’m not sayin’ that it’s easy
To shine, to love, to twirl

I’m not sayin’ it don’t hurt
To be awake in this world

But the river keeps on flowing
The water’s cool, deep, and blue

The river keeps on glowing
Shining light right back at you

So stay awake my darlings
Cuz It’s all we’ve got to do

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I'M FREE

I’m free
I’m free
On a plane in the sky

I’m free
I’m free
I’m way up high

You’re stuck
You’re stuck
Please don’t cry

I’m free
I’m free
I don’t ask why

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DIM YOUNG STAR

Dim young star
In a big open sky

You won’t shine far
You are where you’ll die

Dim young light
In a big open sky

You’ll never shine bright
There’s no reason to try

Dim young star
In a big open sky

You won’t shine far
Because light is a lie

Oh, dim young star
In a big, bright sky

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THE FOOL

I am the fool
Yes, I am the fool

I will always
Come when you call

Whomever you harm
It isn’t your fault

You never asked
To be born at all

I am the fool
Yes, I am the fool

You can tell me
What’s been done to you

Whomever you harm
It isn’t your fault

I believe that
All your pain is true

Some think evil
And cruelty exist

That they are born
In the heart of man

But I the fool
I do not agree

I do not blame
And never can

Oh I the fool
I’ll hold your hand

I do not blame
And never can

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YOU’RE ALL I WANT, YOU’RE ALL I NEED

If all we had
Were just this room

We’d never
See the light

If all we had
Were just this room

We’d live an
Endless night

If this were life
I’d be content

To just be
Seen by you

If this were life
I’d be content

To only
See you, too

So if they come
To take me away

Please know
I wanted to stay

If they come
And take me away

Just know
I wanted to stay

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WEE BABY MOON 3

Wee baby moon
In the dark with the stars

Do you like being famous
Even when it’s hard?

Wee baby moon
In the dark with the stars

Do you ever feel ugly
Being watched from afar?

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WHY AM I VALUABLE? (SPEECH AT AN ART FAIR)

Some things about me are that I’m white, that I have relatively famous parents, and that my sister is a celebrity. I also have a vagina, which makes people think I’m a woman. I have an intimate relationship with a black trans activist, Reina, who by being in a public collaborative relationship with me validates my perspective and—despite my whiteness, my class, and my proximity to fame—makes my critique of power seem legitimate in ways it otherwise might not. In other words, as a commodity, I have power through my associations with social capital; in addition, I hold a set of marginalized identities which give me intellectual authority and increased use-value in contexts seeking "diversity."

I was paid $500 to speak on this panel, which is very little money compared to what the objects in at this fair sell for, but a lot of money for a 23 year-old gender-nonconforming person to get paid for sitting on a stage for an hour.

So, in the eyes of this market, the market meaning this system of evaluation, those are the reasons I’m valuable. This is why I’m valuable, and that’s how valuable I am.

And, of course, because this is the system we live in, because this is the system in which I came to know myself, sometimes it feels good to be valuable. Sometimes it feels good to be told I’m valuable, to believe that I’m special.

But this type of validation—validation through systems of evaluation, through the lens of power, through the lens of markets—is not the same as feeling known, and not the same as being loved.

It’s very different than when someone—a loved one, even a stranger—reflects something back at me that feels like the core of who I am rather than the sum of my evaluated parts.

Like last month, in Los Angeles, at a bar in the valley, when an older trans woman I didn’t know touched the side of my face and told me I was a pretty baby boy; or when someone I desire touches the back of my neck.

Of course, these moments of feeling seen are not always outside the systems through which our value is assessed and appraised. Like I said, this is the system we live in, and this is the system in which we come to know ourselves. This is the system in which we’re trying to be loved.

Sometimes a beautiful woman wants me—maybe she likes that from certain angles I look like a boy, that I’m sweet and honest, well-spoken and self-aware; maybe she also likes that I am the way I am despite, or even because of, my proximity to power, to money, and to fame. And maybe she tells me she wants me, and I sense the many reasons, but it still feels good and I want to be wanted.

So, again, the ways in which we are evaluated are not always separate from the ways we might want to be seen. How could they be? There is no purity in capitalism, as Reina taught me, no purity in this culture of assessment and evaluation.

And in this culture, it’s real to wonder, “Why am I valuable?” Valuable, as in evaluated; valuable, as in deemed valuable. And it’s real to ask what about being evaluated, what about being deemed valuable, makes people think they feel good, makes people want to continue being deemed valuable.

From having grown up surrounded by artists, I know what it does to their sense of self-worth to have themselves—their work—evaluated, priced, and consumed in a competitive monetary market. It becomes harder and harder to distinguish between yourself, your “work,” and the ways that you are evaluated.

From being close to fame, I know that—in some capacity—fame harms everyone. I know that fame isolates those who hold it, that fame pains those who long for it.

People like to complain about art fairs: they like to complain about the blatant economy of buying and selling, and the social life that exists around it, or because of it. But I think this fair lays bare an economy of competitive evaluation, of pricing, selling, and buying, of social life through inclusion and exclusion. I think it lays bare the many ways that people try to fill the big holes in their hearts that result from and, in turn, reproduce this kind of economy.

I wonder if the artists here, maybe some of you in the audience, feel like being recognized—your work being recognized as valuable, through praise or press or money—makes you feel like you yourself are worth more. And I wonder if, whether or not you’d like to admit it, being priced and sold, having your work sell well or not sell well at all, has affected your sense of your own worth more than you’d like. I wonder if you’re jealous of other artists, who sell more or sell better, who are more known, more recognized, more appreciated.

If there are dealers and collectors in the audience, I wonder how selling art and buying art makes you feel about your own worth. Does it make you feel less boring, more relevant, more powerful, more attractive? Do you feel some shame about the fact that you sell or buy, instead of make? Do you wish more people knew your name? Do you wish more people loved you or wanted you?

I don’t ask these question because I hold judgement, or because I think that you should be judged. I ask because I think that these emotions are the logical result of a culture that breaks us down and assesses us, makes us feel like we’re worth more if we’re powerful, if we’re rich, if we’re known; a culture that makes us feel like we’ll be loved more if we have those things, and if we are those things.

So if the question is, “Why am I valuable?” I wonder what different answers we might get if we asked ourselves, “Who do I want to be?” and “How do I want to be loved?”

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Colophon

thefool.us
By Grace Dunham

Developed by Jodie LA, built on Kirby
Cover art by Carroll Dunham
Designed by Tiffany Malakooti

Published by Curse of Cherifa Press, New York

All text copyright © 2016 Grace Dunham

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