• Kidd Williams

Writing and Identity

By Kidd Williams


Who we are can be described in many ways, usually falling within descriptions of relationships ("son," "student," "wife"), characteristics ("tall," "brown-eyed," "nice"), or groups ("American," "gay," "over fifty"). Our Selves (big S) are largely defined by not just our choices, but our uses of these adjectives and nouns, meaning that our personalities become explorable through language.

How lucky for us writers!

But not just writers. Part of PRIDE, for LGBTQ+ people is accepting, then celebrating, certain adjectives for identity that we may have avoided before. Maybe we avoided them through internalized prejudice, and maybe through fear, and maybe because even just admitting them, let alone accepting them, would mean we would have to change an otherwise settled life. For example, it's been for only seven years that I could accept – then proclaim – the identity of "trans woman." I was 49 then, and just realizing that I was actually transgender – and would have to do something about it.

The truth is, being trans showed up in personal peculiarities long before I had a name for it. Unlike other, more self-aware people, I didn't realize as a child that I "was really a girl/woman" or "my gender didn't fit my body," or even that the strangeness I felt about, and within, myself was related to gender at all. Instead, I just seemed to have a facility for imagining what things were like for other people, or from other perspectives. I didn't really feel that I had an actual body in this actual world, but instead was like a camera inside a robot, watching yet somehow apart from it all.

Not feeling anything certain about myself helped my imagination roam, and this showed up first in writing. In first or second grade, I wrote my first poem. I remember writing it on those old pulpy sheets of paper that had two solid, blue lines with a dotted line between them to make sure that the lines and curls of the letters touched one or the other to make straight, readable words.

At the time, I was absorbed by outer space and astronomy. The Apollo moon missions had always been in the news. (An early memory is being awakened by my parents to watch Neil Armstrong's first moon-step on our little, black-and-white TV.) I absorbed everything about the space program and planets, moons, stars, nebulae, that I could. From a short, illustrated children's book called "Space," I learned that the nearest star to us after our own sun, called Alpha Centauri, was four light-years away. That meant (the book said) that light, the fastest thing there was, took four years to reach us from it. That was more than half my life, then – serious stuff. And the next nearest stars after that were even farther away. Space was big, big, big.

So I wrote my poem, imagining myself as that star and what it would be like to be so isolated. It went:

"The Star"

I am a star.

I am alone

in the vast, dark, cold reaches of space.

Will you be my friend?

I am nearly positive I lifted "vast, dark, cold reaches of space" from the book (the words described the situation perfectly, so why should I change them? I'd thought then), but the rest was mine. I handed it in to the teacher.

The reception wasn't what I expected. The teacher, and my parents, who'd been brought in, seemed very anxious to be sure that I didn't feel friendless or depressed. Hardly! I had plenty of friends. I was just trying to describe what a star would feel like, I told them. What I didn't realize was that this very ability, to imagine and write from the vantage of others, came not just from being a writer, but from being less fixed in the certainty of my own identity than I could have been.

I wasn't imagining myself as an astronaut: I was a destination.

This disembodied feeling persisted, and I continued, for decades, to explore it through poetry. Pre-transition, some of what I thought were my best poems came from letting a poem's narrator be not me, but someone or something else, just as I had with "The Star." For instance, in a playful mood in the '90s, I wrote "Fire Babies":

Fire keeps the rust off, mother used to say.

She'd take those black things from the stove, whatever

they were called, and set them out flat and

straight, and lay us beside. She'd take

fire and wrap us in its thin sheets,

and tuck the corners in.

And in those days, we didn't used to talk so

much. It was enough to lie there in the stove,

with the cornbread bubbling under us,

wrapped in fire blankets, keeping the rust off,

and thinking of those things we'd burn

when we'd wake, and be all grown up.


(Originally included in the exhibition, "Fire in the Gallery," put on by the ARTS Council of the Southern Finger Lakes, 2015.)

On the face of it? Ridiculous.

Fire as an entity – as a child, of other fire? An oven as its nursery? But I loved the playfulness of it, the warped perspective, the uncertainty of meaning that could be jocular or menacing. Little did I know that this kind of experimentation in words and perspective, which had been a defense against knowing myself better, could also, finally, lead me to my truest self.

In this June series of posts I've graciously been asked to write, I'll explore more what it meant to awaken, and to burn. And I'll also help chart the huge path that poetry cleared for my own LGBTQ+ journey of self-discovery.


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.


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