ode to Chella Man and Leo Sheng

by Qin Qin


When you said that your top surgery scars completed your body,  I smiled to myself because, yes, our bodies are precious  maps; sagging, traumatized things.   I want to congratulate you on playing an Asian trans man with a real love interest, even though he deserved more  than being just  a lovesick background  character with America’s go-to Chinese actress  as his apologetically, transphobic  Asian mom. Do you also fear  your beautiful name is leading you further away  from your birth mom? Or that she won’t ever  be able to find you because you believed  you deserve a body full of joy? I’ve been meaning  to introduce myself to you for a few months now,  but I don’t know how to order  my labels because I don’t know  which ones are most important or endangered. I found  another person who’s like us,  but I think I scared them off  with my questions, so I  apologize. You see, you’re the closest thing I have to genuine representation. Not  the kind that’s obsessed  with hyper-sexualizing Asian masculinity, but the kind that understands  our bodies  are conditional, our being here  in the US  is conditional. The second  or third time I told my mom I'm neither a man  nor a woman, she stared at my chest; eyes  raping nipples, like she was entitled to my milk and uterus.  How long did it take for your moms to realize that you're more than a plaything undeserving  of its own anger and confusion  of allegiances? The first  or second time I told my mom I wanted  to become Xavier Qin, she demanded  I stay  as [deadname]. To survive an obligatory body.  Last spring, my fingers almost refracted yellow puss, in- congruency. I didn't know the precipice could be so  delicious; I’ll call it  worthiness.   Lately, I’ve been thinking about dis- emboweling  a poem I dedicated to people like us and recited in high school where  the right to exist  was transactional. Queers owed them loudness,   trans folx owed them  androgyny. and ________ owed them  silence.How did you convince  the greedy that your body wasn’t one  that they could pathologize,  whiten for themselves? Born with a black birth- mark beneath my right eye, my otherness was measured by my ugliness. If not  makeup from beauty  or assault, I was a creature  unforgiven  for being here in the US. Chella, I let them steal my darkness. I let them take away the only thing I thought I had left of my birth mom: her gift. I’m not proud to be an American, for my citizenship was born  from her grief. What I mean is: is love enough  to justify  my colonization? Ten days before I started hormones, I had a dream that my birth aunt had come to visit me  in Minnesota. We stood in my parents’ bedroom;  I was near the porch door and she was in mom’s  spot. Her hair was up  in a claw clip and she was beautiful, in her forties.  We visited my lower school where she or my mom introduced her  as my birth mother’s sister. I was found  with scars on my right cheek as if my birth family’s attempts  to remove  my birthmark. Sometimes, I wish I was born as a bare- faced, beautiful, boy. But isn’t beauty just another  body currency? Recently,  I promised myself that if my blackness ever grows back,  I’m keeping it. I’m asymmetrical because I always forget  what I look like. Or is it the other  way around? This is how I became aversive  to naming things. People like us  have always found  home in scars, dis-embodiment. Did you discover consent when you became Leo Sheng? So far, three people have asked what my deadname is; I refused to betroth them with the power to destroy because I already fear those who keep it  alive  in their memories as a slur.   The greatest gifts I’ve ever given my mom are these last  few months in which I’ve let her claim me as her dead daughter.   The last  time Qin was third in line to the throne, a literal  erasure. Did your moms love you cautiously, knowing you’d always  return  to your ancestors?   Are you staying  humble  in your sunlit  skin?   Is your body a farewell,  or an overture  of grief?  My deadname is a white heirloom, so yes, I’m branded.



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