Asterisk Not Obelisk

2001 obelisk at sunrise
I’d like to share an interesting example of trans social histories and the subjective nature of “stories” that I participated in a few days ago, after posting something on Facebook.

I came out as trans nearly 5 years ago now, and I joined a big online trans forum (which I ended up as a mod on for a while, until the forum infighting made me run for cover – but that’s another story).

There was a nasty phenomenon going on all of the time that I was there, of (mainly) trans women who’d had, or intended to have, surgery thinking of themselves as the “TrueTrans™” people, and making a distinction between being transsexual (which they thought of as “really trans”) and transgender (which they treated as “the lower classes”).

In response to that hierarchical nonsense, the label trans* (with an asterisk) started being used by people, who meant by it specifically “trans+whatever (-gender, -sexual, whatever, none) is simply trans and simply valid – nobody gets to police anyone else’s identity or labels anyway, but surgery is no yardstick of the validity of someone’s transness.” So having been a part of that movement, I associate trans* with equality as well as inclusivity.

Meanwhile, it turns out that in other trans circles and communities, trans* got coined too, but with several different and competing meanings and intents, all of which were different from the meaning/intent we were using. And now there’s been a strong backlash against using trans*, because for many people it has apparently come to represent the exact opposite of what it meant to us. To those people, it means “trans people are the TrueTrans™ people, and everyone else is merely trans*” – or/and it’s come to mean somehow that the voices of white, entitled transmasculine people are heard at the expense of everyone else (this is what I’m being told, anyway).

So I innocently used the phrase “supporting trans* young people” in a post the other day, and got strafed by someone for whom this is a slur. We sort of discussed the matter, I did some reading up (this, and this, and by way of balance this), and I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m no longer going to use I still can’t decide whether I’m going to stop using the asterisk, since though it means something really positive to me and a load of people, there are another load of people out there who feel very disenfranchised by it.

Actually, I’d be very content for trans to become the default term, if it meant we moved on from transgender/transsexual (and that godsawful “transgendered” that people use sometimes) altogether (and all together). Shortening of terms is a good sign of cultural assimilation, according to sociolinguistics.

I’m also fascinated by how each group of us had no idea that trans* meant anything different to other people from what we were used to it meaning, and how easy it is to assume that “my/our story” must be the “true story”.

End of ramble.

Edited to add: An interesting thought just struck me: to those of us with a computing background, the asterisk very much symbolises inclusivity, as it means “anything at all can go here” – whereas for non-computery folk and/or academics, the asterisk perhaps implies “not important enough to include in the main text, but worthy of a footnote”. I’d never even considered the possible differences in asterisk-affect.

The discussion in that fb thread continues, and it’s clear that there are as many people who value the asterisk as there are those who cringe at it. Perhaps it’s time for trans[*] – or for a new word.

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Abstention

[Trigger Warning: medical squicky stuff, sexual abuse references]

This may be uncomfortable reading, but it will be very honest. I’m currently on antibiotics that mess with my mood, so this may also be more dark than it’s meant to be. End of warning.

Three times a day, I have a routine to go through, post-surgery. This involves dilating my neovagina with a narrow stent (a.k.a. a dilator), and then a fatter one, for ten minutes each. The stent in this case is a clear, colourless plastic dildoid thing with a tapered front end, sort of like a giant blunt pencil.

There’s more to this: I have to get set up, which takes about ten minutes (sterile wipes, baby changing mat to lie on, bowl of warm water with antibacterial stuff in, towel, water-based gel, paper kitchen towels — then clean everywhere crotch-related, before dilation). Then after the dilating, I tidy up, and then douche with warm water with iodine stuff in it (after next week, this will just be warm water), clean the stents and douche, dry myself carefully. The whole thing takes about an hour. I listen to music on random shuffle whilst doing the dilating.

So that’s the practical aspect. What I wanted to write about here, though, is the emotional aspect.

It’s been hard to admit this to myself before yesterday, but going through this routine is quite distressing, and I feel resistance to doing it. Yes, this is just partly because I’m still very tired from the surgery, and it’s quite an effort to go through all this (which includes walking down and up a flight of stairs twice each time, as my bathroom is downstairs). But it’s also for two other reasons.

The first is that inserting a stent into what is still essentially a healing wound is uncomfortable, and sometimes painful — and is therefore an abuse penetration trigger. This is hard to bear. Since yesterday, when I let it be true and was lying here with my stent inserted, sobbing my heart out, I was able to embrace the experience, and say to myself “Know this: if you so desire, nobody else is ever going to penetrate you again, ever. This hole is not for that purpose, unless you choose it to be so at some point. That power is solely yours.” Since this, today dilation has been easier, something has shifted, I’m not fighting myself.

The second reason, though, is just plain sorrow. When I was in my teens, I read Triton by Samuel Delany, in which someone in the far future (and on the moon Triton, natch) goes through a complete male-to-female body change (including gene manipulation) in under half an hour, and walks out sore, but essentially completely healed. That’s always been my dream, I suppose, but what I’m going through is a much more involved and medicalised experience, with pain and slow healing. But the worst part, the saddest part, is that every time I dilate, I’m reminded that because of a quirk of fate and prenatal hormones (or whatever the fuck made this happen), here I am trying on a daily basis to persuade my body not to heal up this artificial hole that I’ve had to have sculpted, because my body came out wrong.

I have something which, a few months from now when all the mad swelling has gone down, will pretty closely resemble a vagina, and that’s amazing. But it’s also an artifice that in many ways will never behave like a real vagina, and my body will require (less and less constant, it’s true) persuasion for the rest of my life to keep it how it should be.

Let me be clear: I’m really happy to have this, my body feels much more congruous and complete than it ever has, but I’ll always have to live with that sorrow too. So it is. I expect as we become more accustomed to each other, and all the healing happens, and I can live more normally and not spend three hours of every day persuading my body not to reject its new configuration, I will feel much more ease around all this. I’ll probably eventually forget about it for stretches of time, and that’ll be good. I just want to honour, right now, what I’m feeling right now about it — because the Post-Op Transwoman Bible™ says Thou Shalt Only Be Seen To Rejoice, and I want all my voices to be heard.

Oh, and fuckin’ antibiotics, if I never have to take them again it’ll be too soon.

By the way, the stent is named after some dentist who invented them. I was expecting some connexion with Stentor, the mythical singer who died after losing a singing competition with Hermes. But I like that abstention has “stent” in it, since it reflects my inner desire to abstain from dilation, and my need to let these stentorian voices sing out and be appreciated.

It amazes and amazes me, how over and over I have to discover that so much of my experienced pain is coming from resisting being conscious of uncomfortable feelings, whether physical or emotional. Let’s be soft out there, folks.

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Endless

[Trigger Warning: there will be some surgical talk here!]

Well, three weeks ago, after a wait of around 30 years, I had my Genital Repurposing Surgery, as I’ve come to call it… I should explain (since this has already been misunderstood by one person) that by this I don’t mean “I intend to employ my genitalia for different sexual purposes now” — since this has never had anything to do with sex. What I mean is that no, my pre-existing genitalia were (mostly) not “cut off”, but simply repurposed — or, as I’m also enjoying saying: upcycled :D. Or in fact, to employ a fun meme, basically my penis got divided by zero…

I’ve been back home for two weeks now, and am slowly finding myself able to move around more — though walking feels like I’m waiting to give birth to a pangolin, it’s definitely doable in short bursts now. I’ve been a little unlucky with some popped sutures, which are going to make healing a slightly more lengthy and involved process, but on the whole I’ve come out if this very well so far. This is the part I’d been waiting for, really; as a non-gendered trans* female, dysphoria has always been about the anatomy for me, more than anything else.

There are a few things I’d like to say, at this point. Some gratitude stuff, for a start. I’m incredibly grateful to live in a country where it’s legal to be trans*, where we have explicit rights, where our medical needs (if we have them, and within certain still rather gender-binary blinkers) are understood and met. My transition was paid for by the NHS, mostly, and that made it possible where it otherwise wouldn’t have been. This surgery took only 2 hours. Extraordinary — this makes it more ordinary, somehow, in a good way. So I’m very grateful to the surgeon and his crack team (heh) for keeping the whole thing as minimum-impact as possible, and to the nursing team who looked after me for the week afterwards, including through a tricky moment when things went a bit wrong.

What the hell, details: after one’s neovagina has been constructed, it is packed for a few days to let it “set” in its new shape, before being unpacked and then regularly dilated instead. For reasons nobody could understand (this had never happened before), my packing came out — so they had to repack it. If you want to know what that was like (I was conscious but on laughing gas for this), imagine trying to stuff a futon into a wine bottle. That’s the closest I can get to describing the experience.

Okay, you can uncross your legs now, no more medical detail. I’d just like to finish up the gratitude part by mentioning my fab girlfriend, who was with me when I had the surgery; my lovely visitors; my friend who drove me home after and stayed the night, and went shopping for me the next day. And myself: I spent two months before the surgery getting what exercise I could, and that’s been making a huge difference to how my recovery is going now, especially in terms if my core muscles.

So that’s all that. What I wanted to also write about, is what this does and doesn’t mean. In the minds of many people (including many trans* people), this must mean I’ve reached my goal, and it’s all over now. But I don’t consider my surgery to be the “end” of my transition. Actually, I have no idea when that will be, or even whether it will be. For a start, pragmatically I have major surgery to recover from, before my upcycled anatomy feels like simply a familiar part if me, rather than a medicalised and painful and puzzling new piece of kit. But seriously, I suspect I will spend the rest of my life still transitioning, discovering what difference this really makes to my experience of myself, and to other people’s experience of me too.

And there’s still way too much emphasis in trans* culture and in the media (and, I have to say, in the healthcare system too) on surgery being the City of Oz of transition. Listen: only some people who identify as trans* go through any obvious transition (and that need not cross any conventionally recognised sex/gender borders anyway), and only some people who transition want surgery to be part of that. I’m sick of the “hierarchy” of non-op < pre-op < post-op that you find on so many trans* forums, for example.

Oh, and I'm so tired of people (and once again, many of the culprits are in the healthcare posse) assuming that once I've recovered from surgery, I'll basically "get well sexually" and stop identifying as more or less asexual. Stop pathologising asexuality, it's so patronising! It's as bad as being a non-theist stuck among smug Christians.

So there it is: as part of my ongoing transition, I've had this surgery, and on it all still goes. Mainly, I look forward to being able to dance again, and releasing this pangolin into the wild.

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Iatrogenocide

I’ve been meaning to write this for a while (excuse the absence of apt and pretty pictures, I’m still flat on my back in hospital, writing this on a wee tablet thingy).

I had a very difficult three months earlier this year, and the fault lies largely at the feet of medication. I spent over a year on Tramadol (an opiate) for pain, whilst waiting for surgery to fix my dodgy urethra, and then spent two months at the start of this year coming off the Tramadol, post-surgery. That all went fine, until I actually stopped taking it altogether – at which point I spent a month having my body flail about uncontrollably every night, like a puppet with St Vitus’ Dance.

And then I was in the run-up to my genital upcycling surgery, and was anxious about getting anxious, since the Tramadol had actually helped with my PTSS symptoms, so I was persuaded to go onto Sertraline (aka Zoloft, Lustral). This is when the hell began. Two months of terror and anxiety and barely being able to go outside the flat. I assumed that this had been caused by a transphobic incident in the town where I live, so it took me two months to listen to my intuition and stop taking the Sertaline – at which point I got better practically overnight.

No more SSRIs for me.

*****

While I’m here, I’ll mention that I’m now halfway through the EMDR therapy (for my PTSS) that I spent 3 years trying to get access to – and it is so worth it. It’s been a very shamanic journey experience for me, and I’ve had some very powerful encounters – especially with the six-year-old girl me, who is ballsy as hell, and who publicly goes by the name Celestine (no kidding – but she has a secret name too).

*****

Anyway, here I am, flat on my back in hospital, and somewhere under all that swaddling is a set of female genitalia that I have yet to see. But my brain still thinks I have the Previous Occupant down there, so it’s going to be a fascinating opportunity to observe how the physical senses are mind-made (or mind-interpreted, anyway). I’ve had arousing thoughts a couple of times, just to see what that felt like, and my brain thinks I have a hard-on. Watch and learn, brain!

Gender’s Game

rainbow-cloud(Hello, I’m back…)

Mm, been a bit of an “interesting” few months, I was very much under the thumb of opiates whilst awaiting what was actually fairly low-level surgery, and couldn’t think straight enough to post.

But trala, here I am, had me little surgery, and then spent two months coming off a maximum dose of opiates (Tramadol) – high dose because it shouldn’t have taken almost a year to get that surgery, and opiates stop working after a wee while and you have to keep upping the dose. So yes, two months reducing the dose and coming off them, and then… WHAM! as soon as I actually stopped taking them, this last month has been a hell of involuntary muscle spasms and cramps in my arms and legs, and not a lot of sleep. Trala.

But this isn’t about that, this is about this.

Oh, wait, before I got to this, there’s that, which that is about, which is that it turns out that Tramadol (and probably other opiates too) are a pretty good cushion against PTSS symptoms. So I’m now living without that net for the first time in a year, and it’s a bit of a bugger. But I’d rather be me off drugs than on them, if I have the choice.

Anyway, this.

As you will know, if you’d been reading my blog-things (and can remember that far back, after such a long lacuna), I’ve been describing my gender identity as an archipelago of different gender-qualities (woman, androgyne, trans man, other) in the greater sea of me.

Well, it’s become recently apparent that this was just a convenient lie. Convenient because with what I was going through (MTF transition, PTSS, chronic pain, etc.) I needed the majority of people in my life to think they knew where I was and who I was and not just stare at me and say “Uh?” So for the sake of all that, and for self-pretection, it seemed true to me at the time; but it ain’t so.

What’s so? The actual truth (for now, for me, at any rate) is that gender makes no sense to me at all. I’m going through an MTF transition because my somatopsyche knows it’s female, and my body needs to get with the programme. But when I really think about gender (and I can actually do that, now that my brain is no longer opiated), it just does literally seem like a mere game. From culture to culture, from subculture to subculture, we’re told from birth “this is how people with these genitalia behave and see themselves, and this is how people with these genitalia behave and see themselves – and no, there’s no Other, just those two.” Well okay, there are cultures tucked away on the planet that allow for more options, but they’re still fairly limited and constructed around the binary Girl/Boy paradigm, generally speaking (so in some places you get to be The Other One, you get to be Both, but there isn’t really anywhere where you get to be Neither – apart from Nepal).

I look at my sense of identity, and I can’t see anything coherent or concrete that looks like what people call gender. All I can see in me (and in everyone else, is how it seems to me) is a vast array of human qualities with the borders between them blurred and edgeless – and then each culture (each subculture) corrals them into sets and says “You be woman-qualities, you be man-qualities” (with, generally speaking, an implication of “heterosexual” in those selections).

I hope by now you’ve noticed that I’m careful to say: this is how I’m experiencing it, seeing it. Because I have no idea what’s going on in anyone else’s head. But it feels and seems to me that gender doesn’t exist, it’s just a rule book for a set of games – and that calling myself woman-androgyne-trans man makes about as much sense to me as describing myself to someone as “Well, I’m sort of part boot, part top hat, and part racing car.”

So this is in equal parts bloody amazing and bloody inconvenient. It’s bloody amazing every time I step closer to a real sense of me, and this feels like a big step in that direction: I don’t have a gender identity, I just have a sex identity (female) that belongs to my somatic body-sense, hence transition. It no longer makes sense to call myself transgender, because no gender – in fact, the academic, narrow definition of transsexual would fit me better, if it weren’t such a nasty word (in my view), because I am in fact transitioning due to a body-sex incongruency.

Oh yes, why is it bloody inconvenient? Because I have to explain it to everyone, and it’s going to make how I identify in the future more hard work. Up until now, it would be honest to say that my interest in getting the X option for UK passports was academic, not personal – I could see its value for other people for whom it was a true thing, being neutral or agender. But now I can see an X in my future, and neutral pronouns, and so on, and that’s hard work. I know it is, because I’ve seen my friends working hard who have already come to this conclusion about themselves ahead of me. Ah well.

If I were forced to describe something about me in terms of “gender identity”, I would describe it as a rainbow-coloured cloud. This comes (for me) from an image in Buddhism of the rainbow-coloured cloud as a symbol of the potential out of which everything happens, and keeps happening, and keeps affecting and being affected by everything else (because it’s all intertwangled). And it’s still a game, something that covers up the clear blue sky out of which it arises, and into which it evanesces, all the time.

But since saying that makes people stare at me and say “Uh?”, I’m now inclined, in fields that ask “What is your gender?” to write “post-gender.”

This is a bit of a problem, because it sounds potentially elitist. But I don’t mean it in a Look at me, I’ve seen through this and you haven’t, nyah nyah way.  I simply mean I used until recently to think I had a gender identity, but now I don’t. Go figure. *shrug* And for the same reasons that I don’t like “assuming a position” by calling myself atheist (I prefer non-theist), I don’t like the term agender as a description of me. I’d really just rather avoid the G word altogether.

There you go. Oh, one more piece of news: I’ll be having my, um, Sex Affirmation Surgery (that’ll have to do as a label) on the 6th of May. I’m very excited about this! I get to be as close to female as is possible in this day and age. But as for woman, man, androgyne, etc., I’ve always felt more like a spoonbill than any of those things, so here’s a very lovely spoonbill for you.

Happy new year(s), by the way. Glad to be back.

spoonbill-cropEnvoi: Ooh, cool – in outing myself as post-gender, I’m outing myself for the ninth time!

Remembrance

Bursting Shell, NevinsonFear and Pride are at the root of war.

May there be an end to both, and an end to war.

The consequences of any war so often reverberate down through generations, like an inherited disease – for the families of survivors as much as for families of the fallen.

I’m posting this to remember the fallen in war – the civilians, the ones who chose to fight, and the ones who didn’t choose, but fought anyway – and the ones who chose not to fight, and were slaughtered for that too.

The Parable of the Young Man and the Old

So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,
And took the fire with him, and a knife.
And as they sojourned, both of them together,
Isaac the first-born spake, and said, My Father,
Behold the preparations, fire and iron,
But where the lamb for this burnt-offering?
Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,
And builded parapets the trenches there,
And stretched forth the knife to slay his son.
When lo! an angel called him out of heaven,
Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
Neither do anything to him. Behold,
A ram, caught in a thicket by its horns;
Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.
But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.

– Wilfred Owen

I give it three stars

with-themIn honour of [Inter]national Coming Out Day, which has just gone by, I’m going to out myself for the eighth time.

I’ll cut the preamble waffle I just wrote, and instead state baldly: I am polyamorous. I’ve tried to dodge it, or qualify it, or yes-but-only it… but I am it.

Polyamory means a lot of different things to different people. This is going to be about what it means to me.

I never really and truly came out to myself about this until last week, when I was attempting an exercise I read in the book Aspergirls, by Rudy Simone. She mentions in passing how she decided to write about her ideal partner as if she were already in a relationship with (in this case) him, describing his qualities and what he’s like to be with. And then two weeks after she did this, he popped up in her life out of nowhere, and is still (at time of her book going to press, at any rate) still there.

So I thought, What the hell, I thought. And I started writing my own version of this. Believe it or not, I was originally going to post it as a blog-thing here, before I realised how incredibly revealing and personal it was turning out to be. So you’re not seeing that! But the significant thing for me that I want to write about here is that my ideal partner is partners. Two of them.

I’ve alluded to this before, here, I think (I’ve written about an awful lot of stuff over the last year, and I’m stuffed full of opiates at the moment and can’t remember things I looked up five minutes ago, so if I’m really repeating myself, I’m just going to have to hope you don’t remember either…) Anyway…

Ever since I was about 11 or 12, I’ve had this sense that my ideal loving situation would be to be with two other people. Not in a series of connected relationships, but three people in one relationship, living together, loving together, sleeping together (sometimes, if that works). I remember dreaming about it from when I was that age. And then a few years after that, I started reading the novels of Samuel R Delany, an American SF novelist who was way ahead of his time in terms of exploring variations on The Normal when it came to society – in gender and gender-roles, in sexuality, in relationships.

I read his book Babel-17 and (now I know I’ve written about this before, but what the hell) it was like meeting myself, in some way. The thing I was resonating with so strongly was his description of a type of relationship his people in this novel called a triple. No specific permutation of sexes, the defining characteristic of a triple is that of three people in love with each other, committed to each other. That’s what I really want.

The idea of a triple isn’t mere fiction, a concept – there are plenty of loving triples out there, quietly getting on with their lives together. I have met one or two over the years, and I know of (and know) more through the internet, though none well.

I’ve always shied away from it. And more generally, I’ve always shied away from the fact of my polyamorous nature – probably for the same reasons I’ve shied away from most things that are about my true self, for decades, until in recent years I let go into myself at last. I was brought up to be certain that whatever I did, said, or thought/felt, there must be something wrong with it. This is not an easy infection to shake off, but I’m getting there.

There are, then, two important ways in which I am polyamorous. One of them is the above, and the other is that I’ve always been in love with several people at the same time. I have no idea what it’s like to be any other way. It’s so much a background radiation in my life that it just hasn’t occurred to me to mention it to people when I got involved with them – because up until now, I’d assumed I was content with one partner, and I generally have sort-of been – I would certainly never entertain trying to be with more than one person without everyone’s consent in any case, but it’s never arisen as an issue.

This has sometimes not been a problem at all. But a couple of times it’s been awful. Because for some people who are not polyamorous, there’s no distinction they can make in their minds between loving more than one person at once and “infidelity”. For them, it’s a simple equation: there’s x amount of love in you, and if you love two people, you’re never giving either of them x, so they’re short-changed in love, and you’re somehow cheating on everybody.

I’m pissed off about this. We’re in a culture that only invented Romantic Love less than 1,000 years ago as a Thing, decided it revolved around couples, decided that was somehow “holy”, and so any other permutation is somehow some combination of unhealthy and unholy. People who are not polyamorous are sometimes inclined to assume that polyamorous people have “commitment issues”, because the Normal, Healthy Thing™ is to fall for somebody to the exclusion of everyone else in the cosmos (Hugh Grant can’t be lying to us, right?).

On the other hand, I don’t go with the polyamorous people who think of themselves as “more evolved” than anyone who just falls for one person at a time – either extreme is elitist bolox, really.

But it is amusing (by way of childish revenge) to imagine a cosmos in which it’s the norm to love several people at once, whilst being with one or more partners – and in this cosmos, people who fall for just one other person to the exclusion of everyone else in the cosmos might be seen as infantile, as craving the undivided attention of a parent, as craving to be the very centre of someone else’s universe.

Of course neither is right, because there’s no one thing that’s Normal when it comes to love. You love who you love, willy nilly (soooo much more fun that writing “whether you like it or not”). Sure, there are people who are pathologically unable to make a loving commitment (whether to one or more people), just as there are people who are pathologically unable not to cling onto one other person so tightly that they suffocate.

But in moderation, all these things are normal.

And as a Buddhist, I’m inclined to see the idea of having just one soulmate as a really terrible waste of love, and a terrible invitation to the suffering that’s inherent in monomania. Of course, unrequited love for four people at the same time sucks to the power of… argh!! But I’d still rather that than no love.

I just wanted to get this off my chest today.

Oh, and cosmos, if you’re listening, I’d like to place a formal request:
Two lovely loving androgynous polyamorous partners, gender irrelevant, who love music and wordplay and beauty and dancing and singing and cats, and each other, and me.
[Click Here to Confirm Order]

*****

My title up there (as usual) is a pun of sorts. When I was at college, a lot of years ago, I fell in love with a Hungarian folk song called Ne Aludj El, and learned to sing it, without having any clue as to what it is about. It was only a few years ago, thanks to the internet, that I found a translation of the lyrics and discovered it’s a love song – or more accurately, an end-of-love song, since at the end of the song, the young wife says to her husband “Take back the ring you have given me – the diamond has gone cloudy…” (ouch). But at the beginning of the song, they’re compared to two stars. And I’d like two special stars in my life, though I have a vast galaxy of people that I love. I’d like to be part of a triangle constellation that lights up the night sky. And of course, I give us 3 stars out of 3. Top marks.

Here is that song, as I fell for it all those years ago, sung by Kolinda (I have, I hope, arranged for the track to start at the right place, for your enjoyment – but if this technology fails us, please go to 8:30 for the start of the song):

And here is a photo of Samuel Delany, in grateful thanks for a word for what I want to be a part of. And in awe of his charming smile and glorious imagination and prodigious beard.

samuel-delany