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Alex Marzano-Lesnevich

Alex Marzano-Lesnevich

They // Them // Theirs

[ID: A white, transmasculine, nonbinary person with short, dark hair stands against a shingled wall. Their arms are crossed, and they wear a white shirt, black-and-white tie, and black leather jacket. Bubbles float through the picture; one hovers over their Adam’s apple.]

Portrait photo by Beowulf Sheehan.

Writer
Portland, ME
2023 USA Fellow

This award was generously supported by the Barr Foundation.
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Alex Marzano-Lesnevich is the author of The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir, which received a Lambda Literary Award, the Chautauqua Prize, the Grand Prix des Lectrices Elle, the Prix des libraires du Quebec, and the Prix France Inter-JDD. It was translated into eleven languages and is in development with HBO. Marzano-Lesnevich has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Eccles Centre at the British Library, the Heinrich Böll Foundation, the Rona Jaffe Foundation, and the Maine Arts Commission, among other honors. They have received residency fellowships to MacDowell, Yaddo, Civitella Ranieri in Italy, and Dora Maar in France. Their essays and journalism have been published in The New York Times, Harper’s Magazine, Agni, Elle France, and have been included in Best American Essays 2020 and 2022. Educated at Harvard Law School and former faculty at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and Bowdoin College, they have given talks on social justice matters in a wide range of venues, including at an NGO addressing public policy education in Phnom Penh; the HM Prison Thameside in London; and the 7th World Congress Against the Death Penalty in Brussels. In fall 2023, they will become the Rogers Chair of Creative Nonfiction at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. Their second book, Both and Neither, will be a gender-and-genre-bending blend of memoir, history, trans re-imaginings, and international road trip about life beyond the binary. It is forthcoming from Doubleday and publishers internationally.

alex-marzano-lesnevich.com

[Excerpt]

“Futurity”

7. Futurity, noun: yes, alright, future time, the sense that there will be a future. The very thing we are all trying to hold onto, as we wait for it to arrive. The projected shape that future makes. The shadow (or light?) it casts over the present.

But also: futurity, noun: a race for two-year-old horses, into which they are entered before they are born.

8. As a metaphor for gender, maybe that’s a little obvious. But also: futurities offer some of the richest prizes in horse racing.

9. From the windows of my study, I can see the largest hospital in Maine. By law the ambulances must turn off their sirens this close, and so periodically when I look up from my desk now, two months into the at-home time, I see silent flashing lights. After a few days of this constant screaming silent alarm, and of the helicopters that land on the hospital roof at all hours, their thrum so loud as to consume me in the beat of metal wings, I write a prayer with a blue Sharpie onto a purple index card and thumbtack it to the wall between the two windows, right in my line of sight: May they be safe. May they be happy. May they be healthy. May they live with ease.

10. When we learn that men are dying at an exponentially higher rate than women from this virus, a friend asks me if I’ll keep taking testosterone. I mutter something about how, well, I’m not going to go off a drug without medical advice, and my doctor has other things on her mind right now.

That answer, I know, is bullshit. One of the purported benefits of the daily gel I use, versus a weekly shot, is that its progress is slow, and each day I must choose to apply it, must reaffirm my choice of who I am, of who I am transforming to visibly be. I could choose no.

What I really mean, but don’t say, is that men have shorter life expectancies, more heart attacks, higher rates of dementia, and that I already knew all that. The trade-off did occur to me.

But I do ask the doctor if I will lose my hair.

That’s what Rogaine’s for, she says. It’s not a reason not to live your life.

Obviously, I want to live my life. I’d just like to live it with hair.

11. Here is how, researchers say, we slot one another into genders with a glance: the shape of the hairline, the shape of the eye socket, the ratio of hip to waist, the shape of the jawline, the shape of the chest. Clothing, hair length, manner of standing. Where fat is distributed. Quickness to smile.

You Can Tell by the Nose: the title of a 1995 study.

We look for patterns. We look for what we know how to see.

And I get that with the bodily factors, I’m talking about sex, not gender.

But what I am really speaking of is how people perceive. The slotting, the conflation, that happens the instant they perceive.

That instant’s what I keep thinking about. Just an instant—but in it, a whole narrative (my life) unfurls.

12. Imagine the horse’s owner perusing the pages of racing magazines, loading websites late at night in an office tucked in beside the tack room in a stable, the smell of sweat and dirt thick over the printouts of lineages that litter the desk. Perhaps there is a cup of coffee beside them. Perhaps a pregnant mare whinnies from down a long line of stalls, pacing before settling into her bed of hay. The owner sips from the coffee, clicks the mouse to scroll down the page, searches the list of the races in several years’ time. (You have pictured the owner either male or female; which? Doesn’t matter, the owner is not the one we care about here, but—which?)

Shadows pool around the blue light of the laptop. At the foal’s birth, and then regularly thereafter, there will be fees to pay for each race in anticipation of when the horse will be ready. There must be a budget, calendars to be planned, a choice of projections in which to invest, the mapping out of finances and a life.

13. Imagine, too, that equine fetus, long limbs folded beneath it, not yet ready to run; tiny hooves still soft and shredded, not yet hardened by the pounding of movement; how now it rests and grows curled in the warm wet womb for eleven months. The owner clicks and sips and allots money and decides which racing ovals will inscribe its future path, where bets will be placed, where its hardened hooves will someday run. I have a twin brother. We had a triplet sister, a sister in chromosomes at least. She would die too young for any of us to know anything about her, so here is what little we knew; the blue eyes of a baby, tiny like us and like us premature, girl.

One of each, and me.

Two girls and a boy! the announcement.

At eight, I became aware I wasn’t a girl.