Updated: Jun 8, 2022
by Kidd Williams
The question should have been easy to answer. Instead, I sat frozen in the Colgate University library, surrounded by thousands of books.
In retrospect, I had my answer, I just didn't want to admit it. This was the late spring of 2013, two years before I amassed enough bravery to accept both that I was transgender, and that I needed to transition.
I was participating in the Colgate Writers Conference, an annual series of week-long workshops and retreats for writers. I used part of the day to read and research the poetry and lit. crit. books in the university's massive library, and the rest to write and attend craft talks.
What I had copied and was staring at, all morning, was the suggestion from another poet on how to improve poem writing: "Ask yourself, 'What are you leaving out, or even excluding, from your poems?'"
I was stuck because I knew that what I was leaving out of my poems was any suggestion of the feelings I had about being more female than male.
Pre-transition, I never was super masculine. I was one of those fellows who everyone said was "gentle," "not like other guys," or "in touch with his feminine side." (This feeds into too many stereotypes, but it was common for me to hear.)
When I was very young (as I related in the last post), I felt disconnected from my body. I still did – but, after puberty I had also started to feel confused. Though it didn't come up all the time, I had just accepted that, this lifetime, gender was going to be something ponderous and uncomfortable, like a chronic pain. I should have been born female, I knew, but (so I believed) there was nothing to be done about it.
Those feelings I had – the daydreams, imaginations, longings – I pushed away. Other LGBTQ+ people experience this about their gender identities or sexual orientations. The term for it is being "in the closet," a metaphorical place where uncomfortable truths can be shoved out of sight, even from ourselves.
(This, incidentally, is exactly why LGBTQ+ people need Pride Month, which has found a home during each June. These closets are constructed of shame and denial, and pride is an effective remedy for this. Pride is also a way of showing other, still-closeted people, that closets can be opened or torn down.)
It was still too early for my own closet-opening at the time, but the force of the poet's suggestion lingered. I realized that, just as I'd closeted those feelings and policed myself against displaying overtly feminine behaviors, I also had excluded feminine perspectives from my poetry.
Sometimes they would peek out. Looking back at this pre-transition poem, I see what I was really writing about:
“A Story You Shouldn't Know”
What you shouldn't know is that, minutes after
you were born, your mother birthed your twin, but
she was asleep, and it somehow made off in the dark
to grow up unloved.
This twin lived in the sewer, picking twigs from its hair
as you played kickball with Kim and Rusty
in the street. And when you stood on the grate,
it almost thought to stretch and touch your ankle.
It followed you through the years, but
no college for it, no wife, no job, no pets,
just the damp muck and the things we've
all thrown away and don't think about again.
Try not to know the end: cold winter after leaves are gone,
after snow falls on shoveled snow, when your twin arrives
to chuckle a fingernail against the downstairs window,
where you wake, and one dog is missing.
This was one of a trend of my poems from then about something hidden, something important waiting to happen. (Can other LGBTQ+ people also find evidence of when their own closets started to disintegrate? I'd love to know!)
Two things happened after I recovered from reading that poetry-writing suggestion.
First, I decided to relax more, to start to let in other energies. The "main characters" or narrative voices in my poems changed. In retrospect, I see now that they were me, peeking out from the closet not as unconsciously-underground monsters, but as wonderful women and girls:
“Glides Smoothly for Effortless Writing”
(ad copy on the wrapping of a
cheap pen at the grocery store)
If only you could fix that, little pen.
If only I could pay your $3.99, open you, put you
to paper, and find your slogan true: that it
now was effortless — that, after all this time,
the problem was really to write letters smoothly,
and not, say, one of selecting words, or staying
on topic, or locating the right simile, all of which now
are as hard as shepherding a group of third-graders
through a museum field trip. If only the only
solution were to glide your tip over paper like
a figure-skater's blade over treacherous ice —
that is, ice marred by grooves and divots
of all the hacks who came before, but now
smoothed by your ministrations so that
I skate faster and faster in widening circles,
wind streaming through my almost-cobweb costume,
legs pumping and preparing to leap in a
dazzling axel that will make a little girl gasp the way
that none of the museum's art did earlier, so that she
clutches tighter the wrapped roses she has brought,
ready to throw them down on the exacting ice
for me, just for me.
(Included in "From the Finger Lakes: A Poetry Anthology" by Peter Fortunato and Jack Hopper, editors, Cayuga Lake Books, Ithaca NY, p. 188. ISBN: 978-1-68111-143-8.)
The other change was that I chose a pen-name. Already I'd had difficulties using my given name in the context of submitting writing for publication. (A last name as common as "Williams" means that many good artists have already staked a claim using almost every other first name around!) Also, my newer writing just seemed to lean between the boundaries of male and female, and I didn't want my given name to tip the scales either way for readers or reviewers. I picked out "Kidd," a more gender-neutral name, and one that had fewer other incarnations showing up in Google searches. Both its gender neutrality and its uniqueness felt right. Starting in late 2013, I submitted all my writing, and all my music and performing work, under the name "Kidd Williams."
I still use that name to this day, because Kidd started to get published and promoted. So, Kidd I stay, in the artistic community.
But coming around to creating Kidd and those more honest, faithful poems was yet another contributing factor that poetry-writing had towards my personal coming-out process.
About the Author
Kidd Williams is the publishing and performing name of Joy Williams, a trans woman poet and musician in Bath, NY. Her work has appeared throughout the Finger Lakes and Southern Tier in numerous regional anthologies, and has been exhibited in juried art shows as well as displayed in outdoor parks through the City of Elmira's "Poetry Posts" projects. She has also been a featured performing artist, including as an invited poet reading on stage at Corning PRIDE 2019. She and her wife, Tara, have lived in Bath almost forever, with many companion animals that sport fur or scales.