Everyone was so happy. I was miserable.
If I had to trace my genesis as an asexual trans woman, I’d say that the Radical Faerie commune was my stomping ground. It was fall, and I was in Short Mountain, Tennessee, clutching a hot pink cupcake box filled to the brim with spray-painted tennis balls meant to represent my archenemy’s testicles. He would end up being the last man I ever loved as a homosexual. Dried leaves crunched beneath my friend Huff’s feet as I heaved tennis balls at a nearby oak tree.
“So, did everyone like your dildo-themed ‘Passion of the Christ’ performance art tableau at the bathhouse?” Huff asked. I shrugged and kept chucking gold-flecked tennis ball testicles down the woodsy ravine.
Here I am, dressed to the gills in a spandex dress decorated with a solar system print, a wavy collarbone-grazing pink wig puffing out the sides of a mirrored drag-queen mask I bought at Walmart for $19.42. I was well on my way to becoming the asexual trans woman of my Republican parents’ worst nightmares.
I myself had never wanted to go to a hypersexual genderqueer commune, but when I was gay and in my twenties, this possibility had figured into my social network. It was a space for me to find my vocabulary as a woman. On the opposite end of the spectrum, it was also a place where the notions of gay, white male beauty standards underlined my internal feminine struggle.
My first visit consisted of a series of deeply stoned experiences, one in which I ended up accidentally urinating all over my transgender friend’s tent. I was quite high to counteract the social anxiety of being around a bunch of naked gay men for an entire week. In my mind’s eye, I likened this camping experience to that Oprah episode in which she roughed it in the wilderness with Gayle King.
Because this was billed as a liberating experience without the watchful eye of my evangelical relatives, I had packed my Jenna Jameson plastic titty case in an attempt to waddle around the property with pornified molds of gel-cushioned breasts. Once the drum circle started, I was alone in my friend’s tent with several dime bags of weed. By 2:56 a.m. I had finished smoking all of the weedand had to use the bathroom. A bad situation.
Once I realized the tent zippers were stuck, I decided to pee in my Jenna Jameson breast mold case (Plan B). “She’ll never be the wiser,” I had thought to myself. I had planned to urinate, drink some herbal tea, and fall asleep on a pile of mangy dresses from the Salvation Army. But when I reached to close the Jenna Jameson titty case, I ended up spilling the whole damn thing on the dress pile.“You better just crumple up into a ball in the corner and pray to God she doesn’t notice in the morning,” I said to myself.
Under normal circumstances, I’d attempt to find some Ajax and a sponge. I’d smoked several bags of weed, though, so I just crumpled up into the fetal position and draped the silicone titties over my chest as a makeshift blanket. When morning finally arrived, my trans friend peeked her head back in the tent and spotted the titty case drenched in urine. The jig was up. She didn’t talk to me for an entire week.
I made brief appearances at other Radical Faeries’ commune gatherings, including its affiliate Ida, which became scenes of further public humiliation. There was the time I tumbled down a wooden staircase and crashed headfirst into a birdlike effigy in the middle of an orgy. There was the time I accidentally ingested ketamine and woke up in a field clutching a dog bowl with a spiked collar dangling around my neck.
In his 2015 undercover commune profile for The New York Times Magazine, author Alex Halberstadt noted my cursory presence with the following quip: “A solitary visitor sat on a log, wearing a T-shirt with a portrait of Oprah Winfrey.”
My animosity was getting the best of me. I was competing with my unrequited love interest to attract the commune’s gay white male gaze. In a sea of well-oiled abs and feathered haircuts, I was the one who donned an Oprah Winfrey T-shirt, mostly while clutching a baroque pearl necklace that reminded me of my dead grandmother.
My sexual boycott had a wounded edge. As a multiple rape survivor, there’s a certain power in evolving into a matronly “cat lady” stereotype. It was almost a forbidden act in a sexually charged environment.
To further escape from my painful reality, I started venturing into the commune’s ramshackle cottage filled to the brim with glittery kiki queens and pansexual forest sprites. Dubbed the Trans Shack in loose nomenclature, it was here that my freedom as a woman started to become a new reality. So I holed up in the Trans Shack and wasted entire afternoons searching for this phantom woman. She kind of looked like me, but her face was hardened.
I started going back to the commune to catch a glimpse of this phantom woman in the broken Venetian mirror. Whether or not the outside world-at-large believed she was there, I carried her around like a seedling.
Hope was a fragile and slippery thing. A fleeting glimpse of the woman I wanted to become sometimes carried me through entire years. For an uncomfortable two-year period, I had to live between those two gendered worlds, building defenses to protect that fleeting reflection. My truth lay somewhere in that cracked cabin mirror.
Winter Breedlove is a freelance journalist who has interviewed musicians for Rolling Stone, NPR.org, American Songwriter, The Advocate, the Nashville Scene and Y’all magazine. Last year, she became the first transgender Diversity Scholar at the Nashville Entrepreneur Center.