Literature Poetry Zoë Johnson


Zoë Johnson

I dunno

When I talk about my gender, I always end up leaning s i d e w a y s
My vertebrae begin to bend into
              the shape of the word sorta

See, I’ve been trying to solve the equation
Of internal chickness and dude-ittude for years
But when I try plotting the data points the graphs end up in
              the shape of the word sorta

When I talk about my gender I start breathing out things like
              boy-adjacent and
              a few miles outside of
I try giving directions to the intersection where
My gender was last seen

When I talk about my gender, words teeter and trip;
              face-plant hard against the backs of my teeth like
              they’ve never worn high heels before
Words scuffle out in shy, halting fits like
              they aren’t quite used to the way wearing a packer
              changes their gait and stride

When I talk about my gender, there are things like bowties and
              flower crowns and
              baseball tees and
              talking about a dick I don’t have
              but don’t think I really need to have?
              but sometimes feel like I want to have?
I don’t know
Give me some lace and leg hair

When I talk about my gender I start spitting up phrases like
              fae prince and flower boi
              Maybe lesbian space pirate?
              Half-baked nonbinary fever dream?
Who really knows

I think I wanna be some kinda
Genderqueer Oscar Wilde
With all the hair ribbons and buttonhole flowers
With the quick wit
And unabashed disdain for heterosexuals

When I talk about my gender, it’s funny ‘cus
No matter who I date or fuck, it’s gay as hell
Hey cutie, tell me your safewords
I wanna be your every
              unholy cross-dressing Rocky Horror Picture Show genderfucked fantasy
              of handcuffs and a strap-on, babe

I want to call you “sweetheart”
              and kiss you on the cheek,
Want to meet your parents wearing
A respectable button down shirt

When I talk about my gender, I make it rain
With documents asking me to check “male” or “female”
If you’ll direct your attention to subsection C,
You’ll see that the applicant has written beside the boxes
(in alternating Sharpie and gel pen):
              horrifically inconsistent

I’m the Queen of the Inbetweens
The Prince of Ecstatic Tangles of Labels
Call me your Patron Saint of Book-Gutter Genders

Long live the Queer!

Hand me a sword, mon cherie
I’m about to knight each and every unshaven face wearing lipstick tonight

‘Cha’boy is just out here
Hula-hooping in every venn-diagram you can put in front of me


Zoë Johnson is a non-binary writer from mid-Michigan. They are Anishinaabe, of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa, and a current MFA fiction student at the Institute of American Indian Arts. Their work was shortlisted for PRISM International’s 2019 Prize for Short Fiction, a finalist for the 2018 Lascaux Review Prize in Short Fiction, and two of their poems were finalists in Public Poetry’s 2019 contest. They have been published in PULP Literature, Sonora Review Online, and are forthcoming in the 2019 Lascaux Prize Anthology, and second edition of “Trans Bodies, Trans Selves” from Oxford University Press.