Kirya Traber | Astraea Lesbian Writers Fund 2011 Honorable Mention in Poetry

Excerpt of “If This Be Sin”

*Note: Italicized text is from an autobiographical essay by Gladys Bentley, the Harlem Renaissance jazz singer, drag performer, and known lesbian. The essay “I Am A Woman,” was published in Ebony Magazine in 1957, copies of which can be found in the San Francisco GLBT Historical Society Archive.

Women like us
are supposed to be ashamed,
those of us fat and hairy and acne scarred.

We disfigured are supposed to hang our heads,
dress drab and unassuming,
move quickly or slow,
to stay behind,
never look you in the eye, as if to say:
“Don’t worry. I won’t take too much space.
I won’t make you look at me
any longer than you have to.
I’m not asking to be loved,
just left alone.”

The most daring thing I have ever done
was wear a dress with no stockings
and hold my head high enough
to make sure I am fully seen
and take the bus to work

Today I am a woman again through the miracle which took place not only in my mind and heart –– but also in my body –

[Through] the magic of modern medicine--[injections of female hormones] which helped changed my life completely.
I am happily married – and I hope and pray this marriage will last.

* * *

Dear Gladys,
you heavy
you mess of a woman
you laid down your blues on the line.
You wild woman
You devilish boy
You handsome
You daring
You burdened
You colored
You black
You fat
You back entrance
You only one of your kind

All top hat and
and tailor-made
All 400 and some pounds
and down turned grin

How did you ever get
your fingers to fly?

Today I am a woman

single and unaltered
femme and bearded

learning to fill those spaces
I always left open
for another kind of girl—
softer, gentler, more slight in the waist

I’m starting to find myself in the mirror,
deliberate and staring back

Today I make it mine again,
raise up my arms and display myself
all 5’5” and 150lbs,
all fat and curve and facial hair,
all your bad words and defamations

Today I hold out my chest,
shake my hair in all it’s glory,
feel lighter on my feet than I ever have

and wonder what took me
so long
to get here.

© Kirya Traber 2010