It’s May 2021. I’m two weeks past my second Pfizer dose and, like an adolescent puppy, I am ready for the dog park. My dog park is a series of shitty bars and restaurants inside a four-block radius in downtown Gainesville, Florida.
I mean, it used to be. But the economics of the pandemic and the politics of the university has brought all the student drinking down here and dispersed our once dense community geographically. But there’s one bar left. The last smoking bar in downtown, it’s been here for 48 years and it’s the busiest it’s ever been. There’s nothing obviously special about this place—its tiled cathedral ceiling browned by decades of Terry Crews’ cigarette smoke and its floor, for some baffling reason, carpeted. But everyone who works here likes it enough to hang out after they’re off, which is increasingly rare downtown. And it’s here that I find signs of life in our reeling community—young trans and gender nonconforming people I’ve never seen before.
It’s also summer 2014. I’m sitting on a coffee shop patio. I’ve cut out of work at my grown-up job to smoke cigarettes and play Settlers of Catan with my new tattooed friends. There’s a woman sitting at the table. She’s a trans woman making no effort to pass and she’s beautiful. Everyone at the table genders her correctly. And then she gets up to use the bathroom. A tension grips my chest as I brace for the transmisogyny that surfs the wake of every trans person I’ve encountered. But there isn’t any. Everyone carries on, genders her effortlessly even in her absence. My chest relaxes. I feel, for the first time in my life, safe.
Now it’s June 2021. My relationship is over. I politely tell my partner that I set an unsustainable expectation of availability during the pandemic. But I’m also reading about attachment styles. I learn I have the anxious-avoidant style which is objectively the worst one. It means I crave affection and attention but recoil from intimacy. It sounds like the narcissism my conversion therapist told me was responsible for my transsexuality a decade ago. I wonder if I’m recoiling from this relationship. I also think about the only relationships I’ve really thrived in—those with people who are about to move away. My Bushwick friend says I soothe the chaos—a deeply rooted tree is the safest harbor in a storm. But I wonder what I get out of them—if I seek these relationships because I am comforted by the predetermined terminus, the temporal boundary beyond which I’m guaranteed my re-independence.
It’s summer 2018. I am recovering from one of those fleeting relationships at the craft cocktail bar. Outside, a group of younger queer folks shares drinks. They are the cycle behind me—showing up about three years after I did—and they are an explosive mosaic of radiant communists. My ego wants to take credit for making this yuppie bar a trans bar. But when the agender metal drummer tending the bar unleashes a stoic rage on some techie who has just said something transphobic, I remember that this community was not created, only found.
Now it’s July 2021. I’m fresh out of money. A few months of binge socializing does that. I’m stretching rice and beans so I can get a few beers at night. I go foraging with a friend then collapse on their couch. They were one of those relationships with the nearly-departed and now they have moved back. It’s the first time someone has. I don’t know what to do with my hands so I snap my thumbs against my middle fingers in quick succession. Maybe my anxious-avoidant attachment style is terrified by the prospect of interminable commitment. I explain that in any future relationship, I will require enough space to be devoted, first and foremost, to the community.
Like a few weeks later when I’m sitting outside the taco restaurant with a friend whose partner has died. I have to sit here, to hold space for them, to cry with and for them, to pour the love that I had for their partner into them, because I don’t know what else to do with the grief at having lost a trans woman who I met as a tender egg, who was sitting at that patio table in 2018, who I should have protected. And later, in the middle of the night, I have to lay flat beneath the widest live oak tree in town with a different friend as they work through an anxiety attack until the tension is broken by a friendly neighbor who tries to sell us drugs, so then we laugh and then we hug.
And when I say “I have to” here I don’t mean out of a sense of obligation. “I have to” because they’ve done the same for me, yes. But also because I’m chasing the feeling that comes a week later when that same anxious friend swaggers up to the bar with a tall, beautiful, wavy-haired self-identified enby a few years their junior. And the feeling drizzles like honey as we sit and chat. The zoomer enby is looking at my friend with admiring wonder. It’s a look I recognize as the one that same friend directed toward me beneath the oak tree a week prior. And seeing the look inherited fills my belly with this warm knowledge of the cycles of the community—of its maturation into self-perpetuation—of matriarchal completion. This community is a wildfire and whether I set it myself or stoked it is irrelevant now because it has, at last, grown out of anybody’s control. And for a moment, it feels like every particle in my body could accelerate out into the local universe, dissolve into everything, and I could sublimely cease. But then my beer is empty, so I get up and I go inside and I fetch another.