Warning: This poem contains intense and controversial topics. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. It includes blustery weather, a rude lesbian, an intolerant QUILTBAG Club, tentative sexual identities, which are challenged in rude ways, gatekeeping, orientation policing, disrespect of asexuality as a concept, vulgar language, oblique reference to past sexual assault, awkward interactions between Shiv and Stan and Lawrence, intolerance of superpowers, awkward photography, calling Heron as a nuclear option, anxiety around angry people, confusion, and other challenges. If these are sensitive issues for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.
"As Gatekeeper to Your Life"
[Saturday, October 3, 2015]
The Old Market was bustling,
tables and trucks full of tomatoes,
potatoes, peppers, and onions.
There was no corn worth having,
but an abundance of colorful squash.
Shiv ordered a few bushels of
carnival squash, because people
loved the splash of orange, green,
and cream even if it tasted the same
as an ordinary acorn squash did.
He chuckled. Maybe he'd draw
a mask on one and make it into
a super-squash for the menu.
Inspired, he rooted through
the truck until he found one
that looked about right and
took a picture for reference.
The next had purple potatoes,
which Shiv ordered because
it never hurt to eat the rainbow.
The kale was pathetic, but
the beet greens looked good,
so he chose some of those too.
As Shiv turned the corner,
a gust of chill wind blew
in his face, mussing his hair
and making him shiver.
He zipped up the hoodie,
that Heron had given him,
which was mostly black and
gray with a few wide stripes of
purple and white here and there.
It was the only hand-me-down
that Shiv could remember liking.
The wind was whipping at the booths,
too, making the pretty paper streamers
and signs flap until they threatened to tear.
This whole row was mostly crafters
and political shit, more vulnerable
to the weather than vegetables.
Shiv grabbed the sign for
the nearest booth, which was
selling linen fabric, and held it
so the vendor could tape it down.
Beside him a black girl caught
the streamers that had come loose
and fastened them back in place.
"Thanks for helping," she said.
"I buy a lot of stuff here."
Shiv stroked a bolt of
black cloth, its crosshatch
dancing under his fingers.
"I can see why," he said.
"Yeah, I like that one for
making tablecloths and
cushion covers," she said
as they moved down the row.
The booth for the QUILTBAG Club
had a rainbow of crepe paper that
was now a large wad of knots.
As they untangled it, the woman
working the booth said, "Hi, I'm
Simone and I'm a lesbian."
"I'm Shiv, and I'm
asexual ... ish," he said.
"Me too," said the black girl.
"I think. My name is Kodee."
"That's hardly a thing," Simone said.
"Screw you too," Shiv snapped
as he turned to glare at her.
"No, I don't do men,"
Simone said coldly.
"Thank fuck," Shiv said.
"I am so not interested."
Simone rolled her eyes
at him. "Really there are only
three sexualities: heterosexual,
homosexual, and bisexual. Asexual
is something people invented so
they could feel special."
"Tell that to my cousin,"
Shiv drawled. "He's
been ace his whole life."
"There's way too many labels,"
Simone said as she sat down.
"Why can't we all be human?"
"Because some people aren't,
duh," said Shiv. "Haven't you
heard of animal soups, or primals?
Or the whole Maldivian Navy?"
The latter of which was also
sorta part of his family, but he
wasn't getting into that here.
"We're human, though,"
Simone said. "Asexuals are
just immature. It's a phase people
sometimes go through when they
can't accept being gay or lesbian.
Eventually they grow out of it."
Shiv winced at her words.
The one person he'd had
anything like a relationship with
had been Gray, but that didn't
make him gay, did it? They
didn't fuck, and besides, Gray
described himself as heterosexual.
"I'm not a big fan of labels either,"
Kodee said. "I just know I'm
not into men or women, so
asexual seems to fit better
than anything else. I don't
know, maybe I will find
another term someday."
"Same here," Shiv said.
"It's not exact, but it works."
Or at least, anything closer
creeped him the fuck out.
"Well then, you're not really
asexual anyway, you're just
questioning," Simone said.
"Lady, I have fucked around
enough to know that I don't like it,
even when I had sex on purpose."
Shiv said. "There is absolutely
no question about that."
"Is there a problem?"
said someone new.
Shiv turned around,
and stifled a groan.
Stan and Lawrence
weren't in uniform, but
that didn't mean they
wouldn't still meddle.
"Our argument is none
of your business," he said.
"We'd be happy to help,"
Lawrence said. "We've
had some ... less than
savory experiences with
the QUILTBAG Club ourselves."
"Yeah, they're supposed to be
more inclusive than they
actually are," Stan said.
"Beat it, Reindeer Games,"
Simone said with a sneer.
Just like that, Shiv
was so done with this.
"Welp, time to call backup."
"Don't drag your boss
into this," Stan warned.
"We do not need this
turning into a street fight."
"Oh, I'm nowhere near
that good of a mood today,"
Shiv growled, taking out
his phone. "You'll just have
to pretend this is a red one."
"What?" Stan said, baffled,
but Lawrence said, "Oh, no--"
"Yep, nuclear option," Shiv said,
turning it on the girl at the booth.
"Say cheese, cuntface!" He snapped
a picture, typed in a quick caption --
She said ace is just a phase.
Then he sent the message.
Next he tossed the phone to
Lawrence. "Now shoot us."
Brazenly Shiv turned his back
on the still-fuming dyke and
stepped closer to the black girl.
He stared right at the camera
as Lawrence took the picture,
striving to 'shout with his face'
as Heron had once put it.
When Shiv got the phone back,
he typed, Said me & her weren't
ace enough, then sent it.
Crossed in the mail, he
got a reply that simply read,
Do I need to come deal with it?
Yes, please, Shiv replied,
tacking on the address.
"If you're asking someone
to file a complaint for you,
will they even get here before
the market closes?" Simone said.
Shiv laughed in her face. "He knows
more teleporters than I could count.
After what you said, I give it less than
ten minutes." Then he remembered
how Heron had gone ballistic over
people picking on Mallory. "Well,
maybe more like five minutes."
Definitely time to be elsewhere.
Shiv sidled away from her.
"And you're just going
to walk away?" Stan said.
"Yeah, I called in an air strike,
I really don't want to be here
when it lands," Shiv said,
moving briskly along.
Curious, Kodee followed.
"You don't like the person
you called for backup?"
"I like him fine, but after
what I sent, he's gonna be
pissed," Shiv said. "I don't
want to be at ground zero.
I just want to make sure she
doesn't get away with that shit."
"Yeah, I'm with Shiv," said Lawrence.
"Let's get while the getting's good."
He wasn't entirely stupid, even if he
had gone back to his asshole boyfriend.
Lawrence even pulled Stan away
in the direction of a food booth,
but Kodee stuck around.
"You, um, sound like
you know more about
this stuff than I do,"
Kodee said softly.
"I guess," Shiv said
with a shrug. "It's more
like I hang out with folks
who do. And I don't like
pushy people either."
"She wasn't very nice,"
said Kodee. "I thought
QUILTBAG was supportive."
"Some of them are," Shiv said.
"The local one? Not so much."
Behind them he heard
the sharp sound of a teleport
and then the whip-crack
of Heron's voice.
"Turn here," Shiv said,
cornering at speed.
"That sounded like
trouble," Kodee said.
"Yep, but not for us,"
Shiv said. "I just don't like
being around people when
they get mad. Heron will
make sure she doesn't
get away with that crap.
She ain't the ace police."
Kodee giggled. "There's
a silly image," she said.
"I'm imagining one of
those Officer Bears,
but with a labrys axe."
That made Shiv laugh too.
"Yeah, but it's still true. Nobody
can understand your orientation
but you. It's not up to them."
"And if I don't understand it
either?" Kodee asked.
"Then you don't," Shiv said.
"That still doesn't mean anyone
else knows it better than you.
This shit is confusing sometimes."
"Yeah, it is," Kodee said.
"I don't like gatekeepers."
"It's like this -- you have to be
your own gatekeeper," Shiv said.
"What do you mean?" Kodee said.
"Your job is to be you, which includes
being the winner in everything you do right,
the loser in everything you do wrong, and
the one person on Earth who has to live with
every choice you make," Shiv explained.
"As gatekeeper to your life, you’re it."
"I like that," Kodee said. "But what
does it have to do with being asexual?
If that's even what we really are.
I mean, I think I am, but it's murky."
"So's life," Shiv said, thinking back
to what Heron had told him about it.
"Look, it doesn't matter what you 'are'
as a label. Do you wanna fuck?"
She wrinkled her nose. "Ew. No."
"Good, 'cause me neither," Shiv said.
"If you don't have pants feelings and
asexual seems like a decent fit, then
ace is what you are today. It doesn't
matter what you were last year or next.
It matters how you feel right now,
and that's all up to you to tell."
"So, ace," Kodee said. "Cool.
I like that better than the stuff in
the books. Where'd you hear it?"
"From someone who's been living it
longer than I've even known it had
a name, and who's better at words
than I ever will be," Shiv said.
"Voice of experience," Kodee said.
"Okay, that holds weight with me."
Shiv saw another food booth ahead
and said, "Hey, you wanna get lunch?
I'm basically done with shopping."
"Yeah, me too," Kodee said.
"We could maybe sit and talk?"
"That's what I was thinking,"
Shiv said. "I can give you
a website, too. It's got
some good stuff on it."
The Soup to Nuts site had
whole sections on orientation
and gender identity, of course.
Halley had done the agender page,
and Heron had done the asexual page.
Shiv had thought "My gender is cactus"
was so funny he'd drawn a cartoon of it,
and they'd actually put that on the page.
He might not know what he was doing
with this, but he was sure of one thing:
The Finns knew what they were doing.
* * *
This poem is long, so the notes appear separately.