“Language of Fish”

talk, Uncategorized

Words & Photos by Jenn Endless

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[sek-shoo-al-i-tee] – noun. an organism’s preparedness for engaging in sexual activity


I had elaborate daydreams about running away to the big city or Europe. I couldn’t stay at
home anymore, and the band was bust. Sexuality was an enigmatic thing.


I hoarded money until I had enough to board a plane taking off into the skies towards the wide Atlantic and touched down in Paris seven hours later before transferring to a southbound TGV.

 

I listened to conversations in the carriage as the train approached yellow and violet lights.

 

***


[kweer] – adj. strange or odd from a conventional viewpoint


When I was living in Bordeaux, I wasn’t “out.” I wrote stealth posts in a blog about life there. When you walk through a shop door you say bonjour monsieur, bonjour madame.


I still couldn’t escape a world where “male” and “female” have separate roles.


On the way upstairs to my room in Bordeaux, my landlady says, “you have short hair for a
girl.” I didn’t have an answer, so she asked her next question, “Why don’t you have a
boyfriend?”

 

I didn’t explain that I only like boys sometimes. That long hair was a pain, and I didn’t like
brushing it anyway. I walked up the rest of the stairs to my room and locked the door.


***


[lib-er-uh l] – adj. favorable to progress or reform


Friends in Paris don’t ask intrusive questions. They’re conscious of social space. Life is private in a way that’s denied in all the others places I’ve known. I can be anonymous here.


They say that they’re upset marriage equality hasn’t been ratified in France yet, but Paris is a cosmopolitan city. This isn’t necessarily a liberal viewpoint.


I was staying in Bordeaux, en province, away from the big city.


***


[mar-ij] – noun. interpersonal union


I visit the cathedrals in Bordeaux to walk over the same flagstones as medieval popes. Prayer candles light dark corners when mass is not in session.


A pamphlet says accepting familles non traditionnelles is God’s work, but their lives aren’t sacred. “Marriage equality” is pandering to the liberals, not progress.


My bus is re-routed from the city centre, which is cordoned off by police barricades for a
traditional family rally. un père, une mère, une famille. Kids are marching with their parents.


The French government is wavering on its decision about marriage equality. Church is separate from state, but people go to sermons where priests still preach tradition.


***


[streyt] – without a bend, angle or curve


In high school, I was into a girl from Brazil who said she could make me “feel like a real
woman.” We sent messages back and forth late at night.

 

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I was nervous. Everybody knows everybody, and they have the same Protestant upbringings.


I hung out with boys and tried to convince myself I liked sloppy make-out sessions and
mutilated foreplay, that I believed in their God and the second amendment.


I tried not to notice that I didn’t like kissing these boys, that they used the word “faggot.”


Right before I left town, I typed a message to Veronica from Brazil. I wrote down the b-word. She didn’t respond, but there was the word staring back at me.


***


[lang-gwij] – a body of words and the systems for their use common to a people


Lavender shampoo is in French. Fresh onions are in French. Train tickets are in French


Feminist groups are still fighting the good fight against l’Académie Française. They want la
docteure formally added to their vocabulary because le docteur doesn’t describe their profession.


Words are a breathing creature, and moving from one language to another is not a simple act of translation. Sometimes another language is a better communicator.


***
[kuhl-cher] – a particular form or stage of civilization


Sex shops line the streets in the Pigalle neighborhood of Paris, neon signs blinking.


The Queer Scene isn’t glitter and leather like those in New York City or London. Passersby are subdued.


Maybe they don’t feel the need to be “out.”


Maybe all cultures don’t reject femininity/queerness like they do in the States. Maybe queer people in Paris want to keep their scene to themselves.


A lady waves frantically at me from across the street, “No Pictures.”


***


[jen-der] – a category system of human beings


I sit in a room with paisley walls at night, and the corners are illuminated by a pink lamp. The room leads out onto a balcony and a damp courtyard. Leaves are rotting in February.


I’m reading articles about gender roles & fluid sexuality online. The problem with definitions is that they’re arbitrary. The advantage of language is that it’s malleable and without master.


We share a cup of wine at a café in Toulouse, en terrasse, and he asks me what bands I’m into.


He’s not prepared to hear me say the music industry only wants girls to write about what guys have done to them. We can’t write songs about other girls. We can’t write songs about us.


***


[rayht] – to express or communicate on the surface of some material


In the French film “Tomboy” Mickaël is forced to wear a dress to visit a friend in the apartment downstairs when he’d rather wear shorts.

 

Adèle falls unexplainably in love with blue-haired girl Emma in “Blue is the Warmest Color.”


France ratified marriage equality two years before the US.


French voices helped me find my own language before English ones.


I’m twenty when I move to Chicago, and I am starting the first lines of a poem, a song, a story in a familiar language, an intimate language, an ancient one.

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