– Nonfiction by Dr. Jean Thomas –
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about sunflowers—the kind that kept Van Gogh tethered to his body and that convinced Hannah Gadsby that human connection can shield us from the world’s incessant cruelty.
I think of them often in small moments where isolation gives way to discovery. Just before sunset when I’m watching women whip around a skating rink. The few beats after meeting a soft butch when her partner draws a thumb across her cheek and I watch her eyes flutter shut. The look of wonder in a friend’s eyes when they see their shaved head for the first time. I’ve started to see myself in the sunflowers queer love leaves in plain sight.
For a long time, I felt pressured to link those bright spots with the right descriptions — definitive and unflinching. It’s the pressure a lot of us feel — to declare ourselves into existence before anyone else can define us without our permission. Sometimes that leads to beautiful reclamations and sometimes it forces us to claim spaces we’re not sure we belong inside. I’d like to chase the sunflowers instead; trace my way through fields that haven’t been named yet.
The sunflowers have led me here but I’m still afraid. In my free moments, I keep clicking back to a page splashed with gender bending bodies, pursuing a feeling I can’t quite explain. I want to slip on a chest binder and see how it feels. I can’t bring myself to order one.
I’m afraid that I’ll like it too much — cross over to a world where I can’t forget the euphoria I feel when I’m not fused with femininity. I’m afraid to find that joy and then realize I’ve been living with compromise and pretending it’s good enough.
I’m angry I’ve gone this long without knowing that I may not be fully woman or that my idea of woman stretches outside feminine expressions. I’m angry I’ve lived so much life without really living inside myself. I’ve spent so much time surviving in reaction to the world that I’m just now discovering how I was meant to feel. I’m scared that how I feel inside will invite more scrutiny and more surviving. I’ve been surviving so long and I’m not sure I can live that way anymore. But maybe, just maybe, that’s the whole point: to confront the not knowing to see where it carries me.
Sometimes I want to be called they. Sometimes I’m afraid of how good it feels and what that joy will mean for me. Sometimes I want to leave womanhood behind and sometimes I don’t know who I am without it.
I’m meant to find something here, in the sunflowers the world kept me from. I was never supposed to see myself in their expansiveness. I was never supposed to discover masculinity re-imagined. So I’ll linger, now, until I’m ready to leave my love letters out in the open. Someday another one of us will need them.
About the Author – Dr. Jean Thomas
Dr. Jean Thomas is a registered clinical psychologist by day and a feminist writer by night. Along with Literature for the Revolution™, they have a lifetime love of spoken word poets — with special affection for Andrea Gibson and Danez Smith. Dr. Thomas’s work appears in the anthology Bible Belt Queers. These days you can find them re-reading Alexander Chee in their LA abode — a former safe haven that is now, for better or worse, run by a 4-year-old tuxedo cat named Hazel.
Did you like this story by Dr. Jean Thomas? Then you might also like:
Pieces of You
Gelato and Frost
One Cut at a Time