A Maidenform bra. Was that first wispy thing one of those? Two sort of peach-colored polyester triangles, off-white lace, some foam, a lot of elastic. Bony chest, little bits of flesh like someone poking a stick up under a blanket. The path forking. Before, you were more or less a human, part of Team Human, and now you’re going to be a Lady, which involves elastic, lace, and things poking up into your body. But wait! What about Team Human? I liked that. Oh, you’ll go back there when you’re older. But for now, here’s a Maidenform bra.
Maidenforming. Terraforming the surface of some new planet. Without our helpful bits of elastic, lace, and foam, this body would simply never become habitable for sentient life. Good thing your mother is available to drive you to the specialty children’s store, to root around near but not among the OshKosh B’Goshes, for your first bra.
Love, hate. I love-hate my first bra. It isn’t doing anything for me, and that’s a minus. Itching my back. Binding my proto-nipples. Smoothing the stick-pokes into slightly more rounded mounds. These don’t feel like benefits intended for me. On the other hand, I am wearing a bra! All the benefits of ladyhood are at hand! Soon, I will be negotiating entrance to said bra. I will be enjoying bracing bra-strap thwaps at the hands of my friskier peers. I will be browsing the full range of ill-fitting undergarments available to a person of small breasts and robust rib cage. I will carry on Maidenforming this body, Sluttiforming, Yogaforming, and Bridiforming it, for years.
Actually, when the Bridiforming people tell me in all seriousness that my true bra size is 30DDD, or something equally absurd, I find an ending. I go braless at my wedding. I find anything but sports bras, or what the trade calls "bralettes" (a revolting word, almost as gross as “panties”) unacceptable. I ditch my Target underwires. Every once in a while, an old yearning comes back, and I buy something lacy, full of hooks and stays, wear it twice, roll my eyes at the red welts it leaves on my skin, tuck it back into the drawer, and resume a two-step rotation of comfortable spandex.
An additional, unforeseen advantage of the sports bra: I find having a little extra fabric between my heart chakra and the world helpful. Far from the fetching Maidenform ideal, it's more like something Shantideva forgot to write into the Way of the Bodhisattva. One does not sense that Shantideva spent a lot of time considering the interconnections between underwear and the relentless, industrial-strength longing-machine that is my experience of the Bodhisattva path. Uncover the space on my chest, the bony, inverted triangle between my breasts, and the whole heart-ripping process can get unbearably intense. Better to veil it a bit, to mediate the fire and swords.
Sacred heart of Jesus, of Julie, of us all. My friend just sent me a truth bomb:
my heart is so open
Both. And. This is where we rejoin Team Human, and drop the Maidenform imperative.
I am standing around the campfire in the freezing last night of my counseling residency, with this same friend, who is about to tell me about the first time (but not the last) that his wife turned into Kali, and bit off his head. Then, instead, two more friends come out of the pleasure pavilion, and join us outside. We take turns melting the snow off our shoes, hissing into the hot ring of metal binding the fire. We are a united nations of gender. We are Team Human. We are talking about longing and desire, and how fidelity can’t be enacted by shutting down desire for all but one person, because desire’s not a thing that can be maidenformed like that. It can be squelched. It can be listened to. It can be honed and focused through vows. But there’s not an elastic, foam, lace, and wire contraption known to man that can reason it into some illusion of a permanent, pleasing shape.
I am back home, walking the dogs up the ridge we all love. There, near the place we often call our destination, something breaks through the layers of the Sacred Heart. Strong diagonal slash-marks in the snow, to one side, to the other. To amazement. The enormous owl who watched us one whole afternoon has swept down, beat the snow with her wings, seized what she wanted from the trail, and flown off. I stand within the span of those marks. Winged heart, winged being, heavy feet in boots on snow. I call Chloe, who doesn’t come, and Elliot, who bounds wildly to me, feet spread wide like wings to catch and spring off the snow. Here, now. This multi-part being, woman-formed, owl-formed, pack-formed with her dogs.
I am moving trans-human, shape-shifter. What is the shape of being a dragon – burrowing, barrel-rolling, diving, flaming, nowhere and everywhere in the bones of the world? A human-dragon. Tender, vulnerable, amoral, ancient, wise, and elemental. My friend shows me around the shrine room at the Shambala Center. Magnificent beings shine forth from colored silk – the animal stages of practice, ending with Dragon. Inscrutable, unbound from applause or disapproval, intimately embodied in the way things are. Married to a flying tiger, a portly gentleman sports eyes everywhere – a body that knows all throughout itself. Elliot snarls his fierce rebuttal of some smaller, jingle-belled dog. Seconds later I embrace his ribs, looking down into his inscrutable, untroubled eyes. I did not like that dog, and so I told him to fuck off. Simple.
The dragon isn’t my only memory from Shambhala. There, at the heart of the space, up high on the altar, is a large crystal ball wearing a shower cap. Without it, my friend tells me, the ball would magnify and concentrate the sunlight coming in from the cupola above, inevitably catching the wooden shrine on fire. The showercap is the Maidenform bra of this place, the thing that mediates pure, clear energy into something safe to interact with this world.
A dragon, perpetually consumed in being, self-satisfied, and free of ornament, immolates the concept Maidenform bra before it can even be formed. But we are not all dragon. We are human, and burn easily, setting one another aflame without knowing what we do. In kindness, inscrutable can also mean modest, gentle, equally committed to wild flight as to fleshy concern. Bounded and unbounded, dancing together. What I wish for all beings of all genders: freedom to listen unabashed to the dance that comes roiling and coiling, with love. Protection, courage, and kindness in meeting the strength that runs through us all. The inscrutable undergarments of our choice, now and forever, Amen.
Brand-new! That means: emerged shiny and sparkly from Zeus’ head, or Yasodhara's side, which is, like, 100,000 times less icky than the usual way people show up in the world. Brand-new! No lady parts! No goo! No messy history!
Let's have a parade.
Let's eat chicken wings, and hum the old songs that are forever brand-new.
That brand-new mattress sure is comfortable! Come meet me at that new restaurant on the corner, and then maybe we can go test it out together. Brand-new sex! Yay! Brand-new me! I'll have to make sure and scrub out the bathroom extra, extra well, and check for any unwanted tufts or stains. Brand-new ideas! Out with the old! What’s the old ever done for us, besides sickness, loss, and shame? Bah to the old!
In with big budgets and instant pudding! In with prosthetic everything and cars that drive themselves, so that we can do whatever it is that we do, once things are satisfyingly new, all around.
Let's do this thing!
Let's win once and for all!
Let's break on through to the other side of new!
Here's an app that will show you how.
Here's a brush, and a form, and a box you can click.
Brand-new! Would you like to use that old address? No! Would you like to renew that old subscription? Hell, no! Would you like to plan for when you might, possibly, be less brand-new? Do not offend me, my friend, for such thoughts have zero sparkle, and they emerge from someplace far less appropriate than the unblemished foreheads of our fathers.
Our father, who art brand-new, always and forever!
Our father, who tolerates no loss and no sorrow!
Our father, who smites everything into brand-new ship-shape top condition, now and forever, Amen.
Ah, the foreheads of our fathers! I lose them at my peril.
Do not make me think of the receding hairline of my father, and the way his eyes look tired now, in between sentences, while his smiting is falling apart. Goddamn pharmaceutical companies won’t even cough up the drugs he needs to get rid of those criminals once and for all. Take an axe to them – both the convicts AND the suits. Goddamn transgender intelligence officers. What? Whoever heard of such a thing? How are we supposed to keep things brand-new around here, if we can’t count on men to be men, and drug companies to make their billions?
Don’t talk to me about animals with their legs and chests in traps.
Don’t talk to me about freezing Congolese refugee families with eight children, most of them born in camps.
Don’t talk to me about 15-year-old girls who’ve never seen the inside of a doctor's office, and don’t want their cousin’s baby.
Don’t talk to me about when pipelines fail or trains blow up.
Don’t talk to me about how volunteer church groups, while feel-goody as all get out, can’t do the work a government is supposed to do.
Don’t talk to me about where my brand-new boat came from. I earned it and that’s that.
Don’t talk to me about your weird/lonely/special kid.
Don’t talk to me about who cuts up the steers for my steaks.
Don’t talk to me about the warehouse where you have to wear a respirator to keep from passing out in chickenshit fumes.
Don't talk to me about making another fucking phone call to some answering machine in DC.
Don't talk to me about how my comfort comes at the cost of your mutilation.
Don’t tell me.
Don’t talk to me.
Don’t touch me.
Don’t come any closer.
Don’t forget to clock in.
Don’t forget to bring your ID.
Don’t forget you owe me everything.
Don’t forget, without me you’d be nothing.
Don’t forget who’s boss around here.
Don’t forget it takes years to become an expert, and when you do, there will be some brand-new science you've never heard of.
Don’t forget who’s on the podium.
Don’t forget who built this place.
Don’t forget who keeps things running.
Don’t forget you’re a taker and I am a giver.
Don’t forget the way things work around here.
Don’t forget whose world this is.
Actually, I far prefer Brand Nubian.
I enjoy transferring at some Midwestern airport that’s bristling with red-finned planes, all proudly emblazoned NWA. Did no one think to check? Did someone charismatic think, I wonder if I can set about getting a national airline to rebrand their entire fleet to Niggers With Attitude – and win? Brand-new! Niggers With Attitude on every single uniform lapel, tailfin, and smooth aluminum body. That is the kind of brand-new I can stand with. Like Banksy, inserting that brand-new Abu Ghraib figure into the Florida Disney roller coaster. Like Jenny Holtzer, running ABUSE OF POWER COMES AS NO SURPRISE among the running Dow and NASDAQ numbers in Times Square; or Komar and Melamid doing the same, except with WE BUY AND SELL AMERICAN SOULS.
What we need right now, or at least what I need, is not the kind of brand-new that is busy deodorizing its vagina and burying its war crimes under multiplying brand-new flags. Instead, it is the kind of brand-new that looks right into avoidance, rearranges its molecules, and comes up with startling, inclusive truth. We are all Charlie is easy enough to say, but how about we are all Putin, Trump, Bannon, and Conway? How about, our category errors have gone far enough, and it is time to recognize in ourselves both the very things we loathe, and the solutions to move past them? Our witch-hunts don’t work. Our bullying leads nowhere, whether it comes from the right, or the left. You can make me afraid to say what I think, but you can’t do anything transformative with that fear, and you certainly can’t use it to change what I think.
Brand-new might be: Who are you and where do you hurt? Who are you and what have been your experiences with power and its limits? Where is your map of the world rattling, and who makes you afraid of what? Brand-new might be conversations that skip categories altogether, and go instead to felt experience.
This week, the candidates for City Council in our small town will speak, and since they don't run by party affiliation, I will actually have to go meet them, to find out what they are like. Shocking! I can’t just vote straight down the ticket, as I do in larger elections, because this ticket’s not like that. I have to bestir myself, and go sniff around. Who are you? What do you want to see happen around here? If I try to talk with you about the common good, and how complex that is, how will you respond?
Our neighbor, whose beagle, Junebug, makes ecstatic ground-sniffing sounds in his backyard, has a hand-drawn sign on his lawn, because he’s running for office. One time, he gave me the leaves he'd just raked up, for compost, and later I gave him some of the tomatoes I grew. What would he do with power, if we voted him in? That’s different from voting for a set of brand-new, my-flavor abstractions, isn’t it? He’s a pleasant man who barbecues, and when he and his wife walk Junebug around the neighborhood, that dog often looks as though she’d rather be sniffing dirt.
Brand-new means no map.
Brand-new means doing the awkward work of finding out for yourself, and taking risks.
Brand-new means building tolerance for curiosity, the bright face of not knowing.
Julie Püttgen is an artist, expressive arts therapist, and meditation teacher.