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make it make cents: the token’s cost, on self-reflexive economies

Coin with "USA" imprinted

It is a pleasure to be here. The here being where I am able to relay rhetorical musings & editorial perspectives for a kind of public. The pleasure being mine. It has to be in many regards. I can believe many things about myself & what positions me here. I can believe my editorial work & community biographied elsewhere has helped; my education (though only undergraduate, still enough) the same. I can believe I somehow have worked hard for this opportunity. But this occasion is at worst luck & at best happenstance & still the pleasure I retain from this platform is a product of cost-benefit analysis. While society decides my life’s value arbitrarily, I have to create my own calibration for personal cost. Cost of my time, cost of my intellect, cost of my name — a placeholder for the cost of my body. I say cost & not value because of the implication of agency. The value I make for my selves is immaterial in the industrial context of economy. What’s a salary to a reparation? Still, I have to eat. Still have this Black mouth to feed, this Trans tongue to hydrate, this chronically painful figure to sustain. My most anti-capitalist fantasies are still tweeted from my iPhone, so I have to continue to navigate every economy in which I find myself. I have decided to demand pleasure from them.

Here. Paranoia & imposter syndrome are too easy of concerns to hold anymore. For writers & artists of color, the question of do I deserve? is more often than not: the wrong interrogation. For Black, Indigenous, Immigrant & other Writers of Color, this language was borrowed & broken before we used it to landscape our beings. For Queer & Trans writers, these codes have always been ours to undo & reprogram. The question that we should push in these moments of doubt is how much can I do?. What is possible now that you are anywhere you manifest? This entry point is a much more practical one & positions any-one to find a personal ethic. Too often these questions are navigated in a kind of vacuum. When no one around looks, navigates, fears, celebrates like you, the perspective familiar to any social Token, what keeps you there? What value do you see? Where can you, for a more antagonistic conceit: cash in? What is possible if your labor is serving most others before you? What can you manage?

To be — Token (or a symbolic gesture toward value) has colloquial context for the personal economy of being, deemed both necessary & scarce. I am not implying (Black) Trans folk are scarce—and unfortunately I must indicate we are being killed & dying. I am not implying we do not write poetry & publish books & unfortunately I must acknowledge our voices are still novel in the literary world. Did I mention we are being killed & dying. It is no small thing to be out & Black & Trans & here. Thankfully I’m not the first, but I had to find / am still finding others like me. Scouring these archives for a mirror.

A pleasure — Located between need & want exists a desire to be visible. Make my thirst for mirrors permit a parallel beacon-making. In looking for voices like mine, I felt compelled to fortify my own. Let not another need to scour as far, let not another need to search so desperately. My pleasure is being able to be, here. Here, now, specifically meaning on the platform of The Poetry Foundation. When I look around I do not see many folks like me. I scour the archives for Black writers, for Trans writers & dare I look for the intersection. The pleasure is existing in public dissent from the establishment, while being able to archive even the few thoughts I have, among these communally revered annals. The pleasure is making it seem possible & normal for voices like mine to have this kind of engagement. The pleasure is the other (Black/Queer/ Trans) writers who feel materially close to me, to imagine greater than even this.

It is imperative for me to also note (for my own public consciousness) the timing of this column in the echoes of both the last two years’ VIDA Counts & in the parallel timeline to the now former Trans/GNC Poetry magazine issue. I have documented my thoughts & organized efforts elsewhere. Here, I have to be aware of my value (now explicitly different than cost). There is value in another Trans/GNC byline. I will now be another statistic (those implications are a whole other essay). Regardless, a maxim I hold in complicated closeness: get in where you fit in. This platitude, however, has never been a mantra of settling or complacency. I cannot base my cultural, personal, professional value around the tangible ways people hold me, still because I am kept so well by my community, any other platform I occupy has to offer something comparable. How do I make sense of being here? In crude form, I’d joke about needing to eat. Eating as a placeholder for shelter, water & g-d forbid something just for fun, like getting home at night. Did I mention we are being killed & dying? In truth, I’m here cause I can be. I got to be. Call it steps ordered, blood sweated, or whatever. It is not lost on me, my many importances.

It truly has been a pleasure writing, for you, these varied thoughts strung together by my need to make sense. I consider my still short time & limited experience in this literary world. I consider how our communities are both immensely healing & devastating, isolating. I consider how meaningful this work will be to the folks who need it most. The folk who find themselves mirrored in my voice, in my body. We all have to find ways to sleep at night. Poetry is absolutely one of mine. The possibility for self-making in a world so predicated, glamorizing & vilifying that work. For writers navigating against the barrage of establishment complicity & community timidity, I hope you can find necessary pleasure in your work. In the selves you make. In the value you teach yourself & others to hold.

Lastly, if you are a value-maker, gatekeeper, or person of cultural capital & don’t see your place in this work, it’s on you to compensate, to push for a more just baseline, to rupture the mulling of tradition. Look around your rooms & see how many people look JUST LIKE YOU. How often has this been? You can change it. Even if that means leaving the room (that, too, is another essay).

Originally Published: July 16th, 2018

Literary and performance artist jayy dodd is a blxk trans femme and is the author of the poetry collections The Black Condition ft. Narcissus (Nightboat Books, forthcoming 2019) and Mannish Tongues (Platypus Press, 2017), and the chapbook [sugar in the tank] (Pizza Pi Press, 2016). Their work has been featured in Teen Vogue and Entropy. They are the...