the first time i showed Sherman’s self-portraits in a classroom, one man got so angry he walked out and never came back. it was the idea that you could read a person visually that upset him, feeling, perhaps for the first time, a little too seen.
like me at thirteen when Michael S. told me i walked like a boy. from his stance, an insult. from mine, a revelation: my body had been talking behind my back, writing the wrong words in my wake. i’d never thought about how boys walked before, how they too had a wrong way.
i’d only learned my role: to put on all my girlsuits. i tried them one after the next, a way of never getting used to. like iridescent makeup and skinny eyebrows. like JNCOs and gauged piercings. like spiky chokers and purple lipstick. like barbed wire tattoos. like Sherman’s pose here, bronzed arms stiffly crossed under breasts, neck craned sideways, hair tumbled down chest. a Glamour Shots pose. her pursed smile says nobody’s buying it. self as storefront window.
i had my picture taken just like this in eighth grade. it was my hot–girl photo: overglossed lips, curling iron coils, and a white bra strap you can barely make out beneath my cream sweater, just a little too loosely knit. under a gauzy filter, the acne on my cheeks almost passes for rouge, the indirect gaze almost virginal. when men said i looked too old to be thirteen, i learned it meant they had another role for me.
i once met a woman who said, let me take in all your details, and then read them off, smiling as her eyes moved around my body: jean jacket, black nails, turquoise ring. i watched her own hand as it hovered: delicate fingers, nails short and bare. one silver ring. let me because it was an exchange, a gifting.
you know, i felt good when he said it—Michael S. like there was still a part of me i couldn’t fit into the suit. a part that, until then, had moved through the world like the one doing the looking.
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