The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Dear Herculine by Aaron Apps

This selection, chosen by Managing Editor Krista Cox, is from Dear Herculine by Aaron Apps, released by Ahsahta Press. This book is a hybrid epistolary memoir addressed to Herculine Barbin, the 19th-century French intersexual whose memoirs were discovered and republished by Michel Foucault.

Dear Herculine,

A Letter Concerning the Layering of Shame Onto Shame

            Layers. Layers are preferable. All through my body I’m full of a deep animal shame, which runs right up through my choice of clothing like rain water through a stalk of yellow wheat. I avoid removing my clothes in public settings at all costs. I check who is in the bathroom before I go to make sure that no one sees that I never use the urinals. I’m always already in the toilet stalls sitting to pee. I’m 14. I’m hermaphroditic. I try to avoid going to the same bathroom twice, and I always wear a loose button-up shirt to cover over the shape of my androgynous, fattened body parts.

            Knit sweaters.
            Loose shirts.
            Layers are preferable. I layer the space between others and myself as I proceed through my days, making sure that the façade of my gender is never broken. A stiff bubble of clothing over a stiff bubble of flesh. I layer my clothing to make sure that my innermost secrets remain my innermost secrets, inaccessible secrets impastoed into the skin below my shirt rind. I layer my clothing and I layer myself—a creature-thing hiding below a verdant wilderness—below the layers, helpless prey.

            Layers. I wear layers over my layers. And I always worry about being seen naked, about being seen in a different gender than the one I assume out of the two “given” options. I don’t trust the options, but I tuck myself into one for comfort. I always puff myself up, masculinize my ideas, and tumble like a sac of embodied testosterone and swelling muscle.
            Layers. And masculine contortions. And I did these muscular movements even before I injected myself with hormones. The idea of being masculine is as strong, no stronger, than the chemical implications of a needle full of bovine testicle juice pulled full to the .7 line and stuck right in the leg and the vigorous physical weeding of energy, red skin, pimples, and hair loss that spreads out of from that sharp pain.
            I inject myself weekly, a pulsing bubble of oil and hormones in my leg.

            But the bubble, the abstract idea, the sphere, of masculine came even before the injections.
            The actual goings and comings of masculinity are a vast and impenetrable rhetoric, a comfort, a thing I embody, a set of practices that still deeply comforts me as I proceed through the world the way mud proceeds through a mudslide. I am, I am in the world like mud laid over mud. Physical, dirty, catastrophic on a small scale. Yet below the movement of my masculinity resides a confusion, a confusion that encloses me against the outside. The confusion tightens below my skin like a vise, so I keep that confusion hidden below layer upon layer of clothing and shame. Clothing, shame, and all the borders I draw between myself and others using the objects and words that shape rooms. Clay against clay, Pay-Doh against Play-Doh, and the bad blood bubbling its black black between the borders.

Aaron Apps is the author of INTERSEX (Tarpaulin Sky Press, 2015) and DEAR HERCULINE, winner of the 2014 Sawtooth Poetry Prize from Ahsahta Press. He is currently a doctoral student in English Literature at Brown University where he studies poetry and poetics, sexual somatechnics, animacy, hybrid forms, and the history of intersex literature. His writing has appeared in numerous journals, including Pleiades, LIT, Washington Square Review, Puerto del Sol, Columbia Poetry Review, and Blackbird.


Leave a Reply