M.J. Dossey (Greensboro, NC)

they’re all laughing.

i can hear them laughing. every last one of them is laughing, rolling in peals of laughter while i sit there, watching, mouth agape, hands clenched into fists so tight that i’m not sure blood even runs there anymore.

i am only an audience member and yet they laugh at me.

the actors spread their legs, exaggerate voices and mannerisms, and talk about sex changes. they talk about a sex change operation as if it is an adult film or flavored condom—something to “spice it up” in the bedroom. they are beings made of sex and abomination and god, i can’t see, i can’t breathe, i am the butt of another joke for another cisgender audience and i can’t take it anymore.

a man comes onstage wearing a dress and they guffaw. a trans woman trips on her high heels and they cackle. a trans man packs his underwear with a banana and they roar. i watch helplessly as the stage and screen take my identity and turn it into a clown costume, something with no real significance besides being the punchline to a cheap and derogatory joke.

do they not know i am watching them?

do they not know that i can see?

did they see me crying into my hands after the performance? did they see me hugging my transgender friend, holding her to my chest and gripping her shirt and telling her that it wasn’t fair, it wasn’t fair that WE were ALWAYS the sideshow attractions to be laughed at. did they see my fear when i heard the laughter of an ever-more-menacing audience? did they see me almost vomit in the bushes outside afterwards as my anger grew into a panic attack that, six hours later, i can’t come down from?

do they even know that i exist?

i know i am not voiceless, but in that moment, my mouth was taped. i know i am not weak, but in that moment, my arms were restrained.

they take our lives and identities and turn them into jokes for their audiences, and in the same breath they will say that an honest story of a transgender or gay or otherwise queer life is “pandering.”

when have we ever been real people to them?

when have we ever been a real community?

when have we ever been human?

they are all laughing and the tears are blurring my eyes and i hate crying in public, i hate people feeling sorry for me, i hate feeling like a child. but there’s nothing else i can do.

i go outside and i press my face into my hands and i sob. they are still laughing. they will always be laughing.

i am exhausted.

when do we get a moment to breathe?

where is the luxury of easy sleep?

why is our identity less important than their jeers, their snickers, their violence?

we are exhausted.

i refuse to be a punchline.

but they don’t hear my refusal. their laughter covers up the quiet echoing of my “please, please, no.

not now.

i’m exhausted.