BODY // RESISTANCE
EDITOR'S NOTE Dear Reader, Coexist was born in the midst of the pandemic, and I expected VOICE to be the only issue compiled during it. But UNAPOLOGETIC’s development rolled by, and I am writing this editor’s note while the pandemic still rages on. The art showcased within this issue simply exemplifies the incredible resistance of artists during this unprecedented time, and I truly thank them for sharing pieces of themselves through their art and for making UNAPOLOGETIC possible. I would also like to take a moment to thank Coexist’s staff– particularly, my fellow Executive Board member, Anasofia Florez– for their hard work and for truly allowing this issue to come together. As Coexist welcomes a new year, we will be quick to start working on our third issue “RECOVERY,” which will contain themes of mental health, healing, and growth. For the start of our reading period, we will be partnering with The Young Writer’s Initiative to provide an expedited submissions process during their winter 12-hour write-a-thon on January 8th, from 9 am to 9:30 pm. During this period, we will read through, edit, and update you on your submission status within 24-36 hours. For more information, be sure to check out TWYI’s social media accounts. I, and the rest of Coexist’s staff, am beyond excited to see the gorgeous pieces that will be included in our next issue. UNAPOLOGETIC includes themes of self-love, identity, and celebration of self. The pieces included are deeply personal and beautifully explore the dips and intersections of such topics. I hope you enjoy this wonderful collection of work and further support the creatives featured. Happy Holidays, and have a wonderful New Year!
Warmly, Aryana Ramos-Vazquez CEO & Editor-in-Chief of Coexist Literary Magazine
TABLE OF CONTENTS Editor's Note rorschach poker by Reed Shumpert..............................................................3 Days of the Body by Samantha Troper.........................................................4 A Woman’s Resolve by Dylan Murray..........................................................7 Tired / Hope by Josh Pampam .......................................................................11 Confessions of Gender by Dylan Murray...................................................12 To the Unsatisfied Journalist by Sloane Angelou .....................................18 Outlandish Exile by Ray Zhang ...................................................................19
rorschach poker By Reed Shumpert i see your hip bone butterfly wings & i want to raise you, ante up, offer the skin of my body. extra syllables in my last name only add lbs to the scale my mother just bought: fresh & yet to be overused. i am not afraid to die forever finding breast bones in darkness, i am reminded of my own violent eyes, fantasizing about tearing my hip fat & serving it on a platter to be toyed with but not to be eaten.
Days of the Body
(in Eating Disorder Treatment) By Samantha Tropper
First group, first full day in eating disorder residential treatment: a nightmare. The counsellors laid out six long sheets of roll paper on the ground and I knew what was coming. I don’t know what intuitive god placed the idea in my mind but if it was going to be what I thought it was⏤and it was⏤I knew that I was not going to be okay. “Today, you see this sheet on the floor in front of you. I want each of you to draw the outline of your body as you think it is, and then when you are done we will trace your real body on top of it.” NO NO NO
She continued only to be drowned out by mind going Everyone else began to draw, which I couldn’t believe. Marker to paper, lines and everything.
NO NO NO
How could anyone comply with this act of violence? Sat in the middle of my paper, I cried. My ass and legs in criss-crossed position extended over the paper’s side, spilling onto the floor. I knew my body would likely fit inside the page, but the practice was too cruel. It didn’t matter what I drew. The counsellor’s tracing would be larger than my own because scales and clothes and tape measures always suggest larger than my mind does. Notice I didn’t say mirrors. Naked and in front of a mirror: I see curves dipping inward at my torso. The mount at my belly doesn’t appear too large. I can almost be neutral… until a unit of measurement appears. Then everything changes. How can anyone deny reality? 4
This is what I said to the counsellor who pulled me out of the room because my hysterical crying was distracting the other girls. One girl, Kaily, snuck me a look of sympathy on my way out. Her participation felt like betrayal. The counsellor handed me a giant rose quartz. “Study this” she said, and then returned to the other girls. Rose Quartz, the self love rock. How fitting.
11 I finished Day I crying on the floor with the rose quartz lying on top of my belly. I meditated, imagining self-love seeping into my body through the rivers of stretch marks that dance across my stomach fat. I told the counsellor this when she came back and she scolded me, taking the rock away. I suppose commenting on stretch marks is too negative for treatment. When I re-entered the room, I agreed to write what I felt instead of drawing it. Gibberish. Gibberish is what I wrote on the paper. I don’t have it, I couldn’t tell you the words I wrote, I cannot remember the specifics. I can promise there were pathetic poetics. The next day, it was time to trace our own bodies. Disassociated, I allowed the counsellors to trace me. I shouldn’t have. Here is the thing about tracing your hand: if you do it where the pen points inwards and your skin touches the paper, the image is skinny and slender. When you let the pen trace exactly where your skin is in space, it looks a lot different—Fatter. When the counsellor traced my body she did it the first way. Trimming off 1/4 inch of skin and fat from my physique from head to toe. Did she do it to be nice? To prove a point? It was all a lie. It didn’t matter how she traced my body—it could never be an accurate blueprint. Only a scale, or a blackout silhouette photo, perhaps a tape measure round my whole figure would be real. Would be true. Right? 5
On Film By Ashley Nicole
A Woman's Resolve CW: sexual Assault By Dylan Murray
The girl I fell in love with in middle school told me that when she was six years old, she used to watch tv with her cousin every day when he came back from community college classes. He liked cop shows, but he always let her watch SpongeBob. One day, her cousin told her that she needed to play a game with him. He pulled down his pants, made her put her hand on his penis and held her there. “Good girl,” he had said. “Good girl.” She cried when she told me and, together in the otherwise empty girl’s bathroom at lunch, we both missed our next class. When I was in eighth grade, I found out that the girl who had made my life a living hell for the past three years of middle school had been sexually assaulted. She had snuck a boy—blonde, blue-eyed, and 16—into her room. He had told her that she was beautiful. No one had ever thought she was beautiful. He was three years older. He started pulling at her hair and she asked what he was doing. He started pulling down her shirt and she asked him to hold on. With his other hand, he started pulling up her skirt, and she told him to Stop. In our abandoned homeroom, her voice wavered when she explained he kept going anyway. I’ve only ever told my step-grandmother about Jeff. When I did, she leaned over and whispered, “I was raped a week before my wedding day, you know. He held a gun under a paper bag, or maybe it was just his hand, I don’t know, but when he told us to get down on the floor and undress, my roommate and I, we did. I held up my hands and he bound them with our television cord. I waited on the floor as he grabbed pillowcases from our beds to cover our heads with, so we couldn’t see him—isn’t that odd? My roommate was screaming for her fiancé, I think.” I am the direct descendent of Boudica, Queen of the Iceni. For trying to inherit her kingdom to her daughters, around 30 A.D., she was tied to the flogging post and whipped as Roman soldiers razed her whole kingdom to the ground and raped her daughters in front of her. I don’t know what she was thinking when she saw the Roman soldiers tearing the clothes off her daughters like little boys pulling wings off of insects, but I know she screamed.
Boudicca comes from the Gaelic word Boudeg meaning Bringer of Victory. We only know of her through the near-contemporary writing of two Roman historians. One of them recorded a speech that she supposedly gave to her troops, rousing them into battle. Supposedly, the first line of her speech was I am avenging lost freedom, my scourged body, the outraged chastity of my daughters. My homeroom in eighth grade had a meeting about sexual predators, and the girl I loved didn’t understand why being a pedophile was so morally wrong. All through homeroom, she repeated, “But if they love each other, why does age matter? Why does it matter what the law says?” Horrified voices, including those of our teachers, shouted back at her. She ran into the bathroom and locked herself in for the rest of the day. Two weeks later, she told me the story about her cousin. Boudicca’s next words were: Heaven is on the side of a righteous vengeance. The girl who bullied me in middle school was a black belt in martial arts. As the blonde 16year-old fumbled with her skirt, she planted her feet on his chest and sent him flying. She told me he hit his head on the floor and there was a big crack and she thought he had broken his skull and for the first time since he had entered her room all she felt was relief. But his head wasn’t broken, so she took her scissors from her bedside table, pointed them at him, and told him to leave. He did. She pressed charges with the police, but nothing happened, and now they go to the same high school. The final words of Boudicca’s speech went like this: In this battle, you must conquer or die. This is a woman's resolve; as for men, they may live and be slaves. Even after her rapist ran, leaving my grandmother and her roommate naked and tied on their apartment floor, her roommate never stopped crying out for her fiance. My grandmother got up off of the floor, phoned the police, and found clothes for them both. That night, my grandmother told me that her fiance, soon to be her first of three husbands, pulled out his shotgun and told her, “Imma go kill a N****r.” Her rapist had been black, and her fiance had overheard her describing him to the police. My grandmother sighed when she told me this. “There was so much hate in his heart,” she said. “And can you believe I had to be the one to take the gun out of his hand, that I had to be the one comforting him?” My grandmother is not a slave to what happened to her.
111 Jeff rescued Sadie the homeless dog when I found her abandoned on the side of the road. Jeff babysat me and my little sister when my parents were away for work. Jeff put his hands on my swimsuit when there was no one else in the parking lot. He pinched and poked at my breast, leaving grease stains with his sloppy fingerprints. Time stopped moving, my body no longer belonged to me. He said, or moaned really, “You’re so beau’ful now, hon.” There was alcohol on his breath. “You’re a woman now,” he said. Is this what it means to be a woman? When my parents told me Jeff was fired for shouting at one of the little toddlers in the camp I had long since graduated, I said I couldn’t believe it. “It was a long time coming,” my mom replied. “You know, when I was 20-something he tried to kiss me, super drunk of course. I mean, I didn’t say anything obviously, but I swore that if anything like that ever happened to my daughter that I would raise all hell.” “But Jeff did stuff like that to everyone,” I said. “That was just Jeff.” “Uh, that’s assault, dumbass,” my little sister said. “What? No, it’s just Jeff, he was drunk, it didn’t mean anything,” I said. I was 15 at the time, I was a feminist, I knew the textbook definition of sexual assault. But no matter how many stories I heard, I couldn’t accept it could happen to me. “That’s still assault, honey,” Mom said, carefully. I tried to think of another argument, another angle, an explanation that would set everything right, but I was out of words and long since out of logic. The key was right there in front of me in my parent’s concern and my sister’s disbelief. When everything clicked into place, a hot torrent of shame and self loathing washed over me, drowning me. But then, more slowly, there was a budding feeling of relief: finally there was an explanation. The reason I made sure I was never alone with my male teachers all through middle school, the reason I still can’t walk across campus in the dark without a scream locked and loaded: when my 10-year-old body was molested in a parking lot, my voice failed me entirely, and I will never let that happen again. 9
Such is a woman’s resolve. My first draft of this included three additional stories. Somehow over the last five or so years, I’ve become an unwilling collector of them. I’ve known too many assaulted women, and I know the other women will likely be assaulted too. There are also far too many assaulted men and non-binary people who hide because they’re not what people envision as victims of sexual violence—this too is unacceptable. I don't have a solution. But I have experience on how to act when someone shares one of these stories with you: 1. Stay calm. The person who just shared their story with you is feeling a lot of emotions right now, and it is their time and their space to react, not yours. 2. Acknowledge it. Thank the person for sharing their story and for trusting you with it, ask them if they need a moment. 3. Do not try to comfort them with a hug. Someone who relived a traumatic experience of assault may not want your physical comfort right now, and you need to let this person dictate the boundaries for this particular interaction. 4. Ask what you should do. If you’re unsure of what you should be doing at this moment, or what you’re supposed to do now that you have this new information, ask. That being said... 5. Don’t ask more questions about what happened to them. The person who just shared their experience needs to be the one in control of this conversation, once again, this is about them, not you. 6.
Tired / Hope By Josh Pampam
Three months now, I have forgotten how I used to be. My face has been swamped by lines of water collected by my heart every day. Life won't stop to feed me like an ant, while I worked like an elephant. Those we started together, and those I reared from below have all passed, and left me below: Like a ram tied to a tree at a food canteen. At twenty-three, I'm still here, hoping one-day I'll be free from the abounding shame that comes with an unfruitful labor.
11 Alone, I stand on the flat face of my flaw sipping the sweat of complaints walking o'er my skin with my red eyes sitting on my blue face like a ball sitting on a lake. Alone, I stand clasped between the cave of chaos clacking and croaking in my heart. Still, I stand waiting on Him. 11
Confessions of Gender By Dylan Murray Today I want to be pretty like how a boy is pretty. I want long dark eyelashes that brush my cheeks when I blink—I put on a single layer of black eyeliner and a single downward stroke of mascara. I want dark curly hair that looks perfectly unstyled—I put in gel straight out of the shower, relishing twisting fingers through wet hair. I want a nice sweater and a button-up dickie and a cool jacket, the kind of jacket you wrap around your date when they get cold. I want to look tall—platform brown suede shoes from TJ Maxx add 3 inches. I want to look lanky but toned—I roll up the sleeves of the sweater and the jacket to craft biceps. I want my features to be designed on the edge of a razor blade, and I want the contour on my chin to be a 5 o-clock shadow. Today, I put on a binder. I researched prices of female-to-male top surgery and the quickly disappearing list of non-homophobic drug stores that might still give me regular doses of testosterone when I’m 18. Mom implores me to wear the sweaters and the boots and the dickies and the makeup without the binder, and without the impending threat of testosterone. She doesn’t understand, and I don’t blame her. Mom grew up thinking that playing ice hockey was radically unfeminine, but defied gender expectation by making varsity and rocking a killer dress to her debutante ball. For her time, my mother was a Gender Revolutionary. My grandmother grew up in a strict Irish Catholic household, and didn’t understand why my mother had to play sports. Perhaps she even thought her daughter was just doing it for attention. But even she was a Radical: the first woman in her family to go to college. Yet confining daughters to their assigned gender was a legacy passed down along the X-chromosome in my family—one I’m determined to break. Not all days are like today, and that is what is most difficult for my mother to grasp. Some days I put on pink lipstick, wear soft leggings and well-fitted t-shirts, and strap on a push-up 12
bra. For my mother, that means I am a woman. On other days, I wear baggy jeans, binders, dickies, and sweaters from the Marshall’s men’s department. For my mother, that means that I am a confused woman. Maybe I am confused. But you could only call me a woman in the way you would call a cashew a fruit, or Olive Garden a fine Italian dining experience. I am to a woman what a flickering torch in a hurricane is to floodlights. To me, gender is confusing. But I know enough cisgender women to know that they do not bind their chests. They don’t stare at flat chests in fascination bordering exasperated jealousy. They never think to themselves: “my breasts don’t go with my outfit today.” I bind my chest because, though it hurts to breathe, 100 pounds drop from my heart when I look in the mirror. I don’t like talking about gender with people, so I’m writing about it to you. Frankly, the reason is I’ve had some exhausting experiences. Last summer, I told my (now ex) boyfriend that I don’t understand the concept of gender. He responded by citing pseudo-scientific papers from the 1970s—an era when being gay was in the DSM-III—and then called me uneducated. Last term, I asked a peer to introduce himself with his pronouns and he cut me off, explaining I was placing an unfair “imposition” on him, then asked why transgender people couldn’t “just accept their bodies like the rest of us.” My own mother, who I know loves me no matter what and proved that by settling for a pink-haired, genderqueer nerd instead of the varsity, blonde daughter she wanted, thinks this is a phase that I’ll grow out of. It is not. Consider my first bra shopping experience. Imagine a mother, still dressed in her work pantsuit, dragging a resentful, sullen fifth-grader in PJ’s through the isles of Duane Reade at 9 pm on a Wednesday. “All the other girls in your class wear a bra,” the mother says, pushing her child to a selection of bras. The child eyes the leopard print bra, size double G. On the other side of the aisle, there are smaller bras, like miniature pink tank-tops with spaghetti straps. The child thinks, ‘Why do I need to wear a second shirt?’ To them, wearing bras meant growing breasts, and they were perfectly happy with their then-current body. Not wanting to wear a bra in fifth grade doesn’t make me transgender—I don’t even consider myself transgender. For the longest time, the only example I knew of a transgender person was Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs, a serial killer who killed teenage girls and wore a “woman suit” made from their skin. I felt bad for Bill and was told that she was insane. Slowly, as my grandfather taught me to scoff at the idea of transgender men playing sports, I was indoctrinated into thinking of transgender as a synonym for crazy, and I was (fairly) sure I wasn’t crazy. Only as I began to meet not-so-crazy trans kids at my school was my definition of transgender allowed to expand. But like I said, I don’t consider myself transgender. The thought of publicly identifying as transgender, or even non-cisgender, is completely and utterly 13
terrifying; 78% of transgender adults are physically assaulted, 41% of transgender adults attempt suicide, and a transgender adult is four times more likely than the average US citizen to make less than $10,000 a year. Though I know rationally that, just as wearing a bra didn’t make me grow breasts, being transgender doesn’t mean living out those statistics, those are some enormous probabilities on the rest of my life to think about at only 17 years old. I have always been very good at ending narratives because, even when the ending wasn’t a happy one, it was always neat. In a personal essay, there is no way to neatly tie everything all together, because everything is true in the deepest sense of the word: the truth is messy. Instead, I’ll opt to be practical and leave you with a few rules, based on my personal experiences, to keep in mind if you happen to casually meet someone who is not cisgender. 1. Do not guess if someone is transgender. There are about a million ways this can go wrong for you. Even if you’re right, congratulations, you’ve probably ruined a trans person’s day by making them uncomfortable. 2. Always introduce yourself with your pronouns. Even if you use she/her or he/him and you’re pretty sure everyone can guess that, as we’ve just gone over, guessing is bad. This will also make other, non-cisgender people feel more comfortable introducing their pronouns: be an ally. 3. Never introduce your transgender friend as your “transgender friend.” Even if someone is out to you, it doesn’t mean they want everyone to know they are trans. Trans people are also more than their gender identity: they’re not your “trans friend,” they’re your friend. 4. Ask your transgender friend what pronouns and/or name they would like to be called at school or with their family. To a cisgender person who has gone by one name and one set of pronouns their entire life, this may seem trivial, but your friend’s physical safety could be put at risk if you get this wrong, so pay attention. 5. NEVER pressure a trans person to prove their gender identity. Statements such as, “if you’re really a boy, then…” should be avoided at all cost, but if you’ve made it this far down the list, you probably could have guessed that. In general, try to actively remind yourself that trans men, like all men, can be masculine, or feminine, and the same goes for trans women or non-binary people. 6. NEVER pressure a trans person to come out. They know their situation best, and even if you mean to give some thoughtful advice on what you understand about their circumstance, coming out is an incredibly personal and, for a trans person, brave decision that they will make on their terms. 7. NEVER ask a trans person about their genitals. This one should be pretty selfexplanatory, but the media, for some reason, hasn’t gotten a handle on this one. It is no more ok to ask about a trans person’s genitals than it is a cis person.
To The Unsatisfied Journalist How would you like me to begin? Madame, you asked me about what we used to call home and when we told you it no longer exists, it is now constantly shifting, you acted as though we splashed water from the sidewalk against your freshly washed jeans. If our answers about what we tasted, saw, and knew do not satisfy you then maybe we are not the right people to help you quench your curiosity. Go to the officers, they're always armed with unfading patriotism, enough bullets to satisfy you with wrong answers. Though we refused to let your camera lens carry any memories of us, we thought about you today while taking a walk. We thought about what we could have told you in response to your questions about home if you had asked us today—what did having your whole life and family snatched from you feel like, what did leaving home feel like? This is your question. Leaving my homeland felt like leaving my mother's belly, we knew we would never be able to go back there—Not in this lifetime at least. Crossing borders while lingering for some final scent of regret felt like fresh breath, a painful cry, my lungs now strained, our eyes hurt from squinting to see what this
By Sloane Angelou new world held for weeks. We always knew that the killing, arrests, and civil unrest increased. That the day to die or be refused death would come. But no one prepares you for the violence of being born again. No one prepares you for such urgent displacement, not even family members’ suicide notes or hearty sympathetics from strangers like you. This is your answer. You imagine the meaning of what we are suggesting when we say home is no longer a physical location for us. How can it be? We can try to make home out of places, yes, but that is all we can do—try. Home then has become our body. This human body which is remarkably uncomfortable and discomforted, yes, this human body we have learned to settle restlessly in peace. Having my whole life and family snatched from me still feels like bones, blood, flesh, unborn children, fading memories, blistered feet, aches, a burning chest. It feels like being in my body and refusing to die. Having everything snatched and erased from existence overnight feels like staying alive, a long-suffering struggle. We mourn the dead when we should mourn those of us who survived them instead.
On Film By ashley nicole
Outlandish Exile By Ray Zhang Waves of sorrow, wash away footsteps of agony, sea salt burns within cracks of puckered lips. Dreams sweep away with silent waves. A body washes up jawbones thin, bones fragile, skin papery white a child. I lay awake at night to wind spilling secrets. They say we’re lucky, out ran, out swam, out hid, to walk amidst a temple of iridescent flies, dancing in cadence, mocking death. Here, I beg, batter, steal, unrooted from my home, my morals. Survive, a word said so much it becomes a noose around our tongues. It burns traveling down our throats as fingers wrap around fragments of cloth. Remains of an old man’s blanket. Still, they say that we are lucky
Walk the land of the free, fumes of noisome blood, fermented with sweat. Their face implicitly condemns, yet, how much affliction manifests of merciless abandonment, lacerated flesh, tarnished eyes. They do not know, what we yearn for, what ricocheting bullets we out ran, what deep abyss we out swam, what beams of searchlights we out hid. To them, buried within a sea of plastic tents, we are Schrodinger’s human, left dead and alive.