My lover says, “tell me a story.”
“What kind of story?”
“A story about magical creatures.”
I think about all the magical creatures that have gone extinct, from this planet and from my life, and I think about hope and I invent something, as I always do, because the world isn’t big enough yet.
“I will tell you about the Carbalomn.”
“What’s a carbalomn?”
I continue to invent: You’ve heard of the caterpillar and how cute it is. And you’ve heard of the butterfly, and how majestic, but the carbalomn is the thing in between the caterpillar and the butterfly.
“I’ve never seen one.”
That’s because they’re usually hidden inside a cocoon. They’re messy. Some would call them ugly, but that’s because we’re not used to looking at the process of transformation. We’re taught to believe we’re either innocent or perfectly formed. Girl or boy. Caterpillar or butterfly. Child or adult. But actually, many of us are the thing in between. Or many of us are all those things all at once.
I came to Nothing But Light as a creature in transformation. And I came to Nothing But Light as a student of Ugly.
When I was young, the culture I grew up in gave me three messages – no one is at fault here – I was given plenty of love too – but this message came along as well. I think it was in the water. I think most of us got some version if it.
1) you’re a girl; 2) in order to be loved and survive as a girl, you have to be beautiful; 3) oops, you’re ugly, well I guess you’d better learn to perform.
And so I did, desperately.
The desperate performance of pretty girlhood and later sexy womanhood is something I have perfected over 34 years, hating it all the way. a different way than by emulating the standard my body would never live up to. Sometimes, I performed so well that I would forget that I was simultaneously feminine-appearing and failing at feminine-appearance, for a few blessed hours, – and then someone would take a picture of me and I would be reminded that by the standards of the message I received growing up, I was unloveable. And damned uncomfortable too.
This is why, my entire life, the best way to destroy my spirit has always been to take a picture of me expecting “pretty girl,” and force me to look back at it. No matter where I am, no matter how many loving people have been around me, no matter what I’ve been doing, pictures of me have always made my soul sink. Just the word “selfie” fills me with terror.
When I came out to myself and others (queer, genderqueer, kinky, artist), I thought I would immediately turn into a butterfly. Instead, I landed in the land of Carbalomn.
When Anastasia asked for subjects, the part of me that came forward is not the part of me that people see from the outside, it’s a reckless brave version of me that thought, “come on, let’s take a picture mid-stride.”
I joined this project because I wanted the courage to look inward into the borderlands of change, between pretty and ugly, girl and boy, fat and thin, transitional and fixed and find my own loving space within those. In watching the series of photographs Anastasia took of me – while making me feel so comfortable, while discussing things I love, like art, while surrounding me with courage and warmth and support – I can see myself dropping an act, going from awkwardly feminine, to awkward, through ugly – and then something else emerges. A new self that is not any of these things, it’s a themself I am still growing into. It’s out of the cocoon.
Now I think I know what ugliness is. Ugliness the word we use for the gap between what we expect and what we see before us. Ugliness is the gap between the limitations of the viewer’s imagination (including mine, whenever I stared at my picture) and the endless variety of beauty in the world. Ugliness is the wrong word for beauty in transformation. Thank you so much for letting me face step out of the cocoon for these pictures!