Each Gutsy Redecorated Cell: Wren Hanks’s The Rise of Genderqueer
Marginalized people are tasked with living in a society that wants them dead; and genderqueer/trans folks in particular have shockingly high rates of suicide and suicidal ideation. WrenHanks’s response to this reality is as radical as it is effective—pillaging the language of those who seek to dehumanize him and refashioning it into a glorious declaration of vitality and tenderness. Then, having shattered society’s warped mirror, Hanks is able to reflect trans life in all its cacophonous glory.
Hanks responds to would-be oppressors in a voice that’s both playful and incisive, asking in “Dear Daddy Pence, meet me at Olive Garden,” “how long it’s been / really / since one look / at a man’s / brought your pulse up.” There’s catharsis in this reversal, and strength in embracing and flexing the outsized power homophobes ascribe to queer folks, as in “Dear Daddy Pence, A List of My Luminous Indiscretions,” where Hanks asserts, “Daddy, I’m coming / for your daughters / I’m coming for your sons / coming for the dog-whistle genders / in between.”
The collection’s long, titular poem takes a similar tack, repurposing the literal language of dehumanization in the form of the hate group Family Research Council’s “Understanding and Responding to the Transgender Movement,” and stitching it together with an article about bacteria in corpses by Peter Andrey Smith. This allows for reclamation in engaging with the Council’s language of fear and bursting it apart from the inside, asking, “walk with me into the garden shine like a ribbon snake,” and musing, “If I were Adam I’d be so afraid of these divisions.” There’s humor here too in moments like, “Two psychologically healthy people holding each other close / thinking we, in all of nature, are simple.”
Tender and brutal, luminous and dark, raucous and gutting, Hanks’ poems are so alive that you can almost hear their heartbeat. The true gift of this collection, however, is its deep vulnerability. When the world is set on your destruction, it’s a marvel to stay soft, to be present in a body you’re constantly told is an abomination, and that’s exactly what Hanks does with poems like “The Ghost Incites a Genderqueer Pledge of Allegiance,” where “I place my hand on my bound chest, pledge allegiance to the rashes and the scales, the fold and petal.” This language of the natural world runs through the entire collection, and it’s radical in the face of a narrative that trans bodies are unnatural or a rejection of nature. In “Spring Tells Me,” the speaker asserts, “One day I will not hate myself for being a man.” In fact, Hanks takes it a step further, declaring in “The Rise of Genderqueer (Addendum 1), “I am nature, walking past your mirror, / glory hanging from each gutsyredecorated cell.” This is a glorious and gutsy collection that reclaims the trans body and the self from narratives that would seek to demean and destroy it, and it’s a gift to all of us in the search for liberation.
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