Ely Shipley

A train arrives at a station. A little boy and a little girl, brother and sister, are seated in a compartment face to face next to the window through which the buildings along the station platform can be seen passing as the train pulls to a stop. "Look," says the brother, "We're at Ladies!" "Imbecile!" replies his sister, "Can't you see we're at Gentlemen?".... For these children, Ladies and Gentlemen will be henceforth two countries toward which each of their souls will strive on divergent wings.1

During recess, she enters the girls' bathroom, notes the older girls around the mirror—more of them than she expects—drops her eyes, slips past them as quickly as she can into a free stall. She hopes they don't see her. But they do. Whispers, laughter.

She squats but can't relieve herself. The tiles are green fake marble, the stall door beige. She suppresses a sigh. She cannot go until the voices quiet. Are they still there? Her bladder opens and her warm stream fills the bowl, until the door opens.

Before she can look up, in one thrust she manages to pull up her pants, slam the door wide, and fly into the frail body of a girl her age. It's the small dirty girl who wears the same clothes every day. She grabs the front of her shirt, a soft flower print with a lace collar. She lifts her from the ground and presses her into the awful green marble wall.

Don't you ever, Don't you ever, she heaves from her clenched chest.

The small dirty girl begins to cry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry I didn't mean to I'm sorry. She feels her hot breath on her knuckles through the thin slit of her tensed mouth. The girl quivers.

Now what? She cannot hit her. She cannot go further. She turns to the mirror where the crowd of older girls—the same ones?—gawk. She wants to hit them. She will hit the girl in order to hit them, make them wince in pain, look away.

They threaten. We're telling! You'd better stop. We're going to tell that you're beating up Angela! Angela, the other girl everyone makes fun of, who comes to school with dirt and grass in her hair, and wears the same clothes every day, the blouse with the flower print and lace collar. She smells like woods, her cheeks scuffed with dirt.

But then it comes. Angela is a girl; they are all girls. They want to know. Why are you in the girls' bathroom? They tell her. You're in the wrong room. Why don't you go to the boys' room?

Earlier that year, the boy from India, who wears a blue suit to school every day, is walking in from the playground, in from recess, after the bell has rung, the bell that signals the time to line up. He walks into the playground gymnastic bars, cuts his skull open. Blood trickles down his white shirt, his blue suit, and he falls backward into the playground sand. She wants to run to him to help, but doesn't know how. She can't move. Quicksand, slow motion movie, she sinks with him.

Why has the world cast this sun here on the blacktop in the middle of the day on the playground of an elementary school? Why has the Indian boy in the blue suit simply walked into the bar? Why didn't he see it? Why has he fallen? Why are they no longer in the green grass with the great white parachute, running beneath it, crouching down while it billows its great cloud body over them? Why are they not laughing together beneath the white sheet in the shady grass at the center of a world somewhere far from here? Why has he fallen at the periphery? Why must he bleed everywhere in the sand all over his white shirt and his blue suit while the teachers run toward him, crowd around him, then send someone for help, the nurse, an ambulance?

He lies in the sand, blood in his hair, and stares blankly up into the sky, into the sun. The white of his eyes, the white of the parachute in the field shivers.

One walks in a daydream and walks into objects and what does one feel? Does one feel pain? Does one feel anything at all? Does one feel the outside trying to get in while one's insides seep out into the playground?

She wants to make the girls bleed. She wants to tear into their stares. She wants to bash their foreheads into the gymnastic bars at recess. She looks into the light brown eyes flecked with red and filling. The dirty girl's chin quivers. Her breath soft, pants against her face, against her fists, pleading.

The boy doesn't return to class that day. The next, he wears a bandage. Then they see the stitches, waxy wires sprouting out from beneath his hair. They sewed his skin back together, like Frankenstein's monster, or Raggedy Andy. But he's from a foreign country, wears strange clothes, doesn't speak their language, no one plays with him or knows his name.


My name is Justin Adkins.2

The bell had rung, the bell that signaled the time to line up
It was clear that it was my turn

I lay in the sand, blood in my hair
I went peacefully
I stared blankly up into the sky, into the sun

He asked what "I had
down there" Blood trickled down

my white shirt, my blue suit
She patted me down
my skull cut open

and proceeded to refer to me as "she"
You're in the wrong

room with 2 cells and a bathroom.
the awful green marble wall

You're in the wrong.
men arrested for a variety of crimes,

some violent. I can't move. handcuffed
my right wrist to a metal handrail. Quicksand,

slow motion movie
I remained

handcuffed to this bar
next to the bathroom for the next 8 hours.

every person had to use the toilet
next to where they had me
locked to the railing.

The smell of urine was so strong
It billowed its great cloud body

over me    She turned my chair
my arm still locked to the railing but now pinned behind my back.

I wore a bandage.
they were bringing in women to use the restroom
and she could not have me watching.

I wore strange clothes.
outside the glass wall    my skull
cut open
they gawked, giggled and stared  

see the stitches
a laugh

waxy wires
beneath my hair   find me
curious and freakish   the white of my eyes

the officers laughed even more
One feels the outside trying to get in

send someone for help,
the nurse, an ambulance I needed

to urinate    I was in danger   the white of

the parachute in the field




1 Jacques Lacan, trans. Bruce Fink, 417, "The Instance of the Letter in the Unconscious," Ecrits, Norton, 2007.

2 Justin Adkins, "Police Mistreatment of a Transgender Man--Brooklyn Bridge Occupy Wall Street Protest Saturday, October 3rd, 2011, 1:39pm," justinadkins.com.




I'm currently working on a series of hybrid style lyric essay/poems that consider oddities and imaginings concerning gender presentation. I'd been collecting notes—from dreams/nightmares, memories, theories, and various "facts"—about bathrooms, specifically as a site of violence for trans people. I came across Justin Adkins' account of his mistreatment by the NYPD after his arrest for participating in the Occupy Wall Street march on the Brooklyn Bridge and felt moved to harmonize.