infamous and detestable
Source: Indictment of Stanley Wesley, 1893. Courtesy of King County Superior Court.
Maryland, 1902: you were framed from birth. you never had a non-fighting chance [you are a pacifist]. and yet, you find yourself in the following situation: your every breath is effectively criminal, because it sustains you, and every passive moment you spend as a person is a criminal act, because you are a crime.
to solve your predicament do you commit non-crimes, as many as you can, and how do you commit a non-act? so many things are not a crime that you’re constantly doing them and yet that is the active part of yourself while the passive part finds himself struggling to avoid being criminal. what is the opposite of a crime? stopping a crime? kissing a woman?
you will be killed for the crime that you have been committing since the moment you took a screaming breath in your parents’ bedroom, and you were introduced to the world as it was. the men who beat and ultimately murder you — no need to defend themselves, no trial, no police — will not be outwardly sorry. they use dirty words to describe something that, to you, is quite lovely.
you get a cat. you get several plants. the plants will die before the cat does and perhaps they will switch places. life is very queer.
you bring over swinging boys. you bring over quiet boys. you bring loud boys cheerful boys sad boys one boy slits his wrists in your bathroom. you show them your skirts and underwear and for the most part they are apathetic about your collection.
you invite girls, too. you love the girls. you love all of them and that’s your problem, your inability to abstain from the crime of emotion. after the girls, always the boys.
you wander. you bring the cat but leave the plants and lovers.
you find cities and towns. you perhaps are the first to discover each one of them despite the people living there.
you perform as a woman at a bar at night in a town not-big or -small, and you make no money doing it. sometimes the crowd loves you and sometimes the crowd doesn’t care. you’re okay with this because the beauty of innocence is freeing enough to dance its way across the stage; move your hips around and around in a giant circle that encompasses the whole world. to be a woman and to love men is to be innocent. as an act, even a dangerous one funded by the mob in a dirty underground room, you’re free. you grip the criminal in your hands and you swing yourself around.
the Yukon, 1902: in Whitehorse (the capital, and the only city), the North-West Mounted Police took to the ice dressed in blouses and fine gloves, long skirts with padding beneath to enlarge the buttocks. they carried with them their hockey sticks and left the nightsticks on the sidelines. as the Yukon was a very cold place to live, one of the best ways to keep warm was to throw your male body at another male body and wrestle one another to the floor. the floor wasn’t any warmer but with the friction of the fight it did help. usually the police were not called but sometimes they were, and they needed to break up these fights with their own bodies, by throwing themselves into the fold.
on the ice, we must think that the policemen discovered the freedom of the skirts. the frilled caps that served as play kept cold ears warm. movements even in skates were made easier by the air beneath the skirts, the swing of the stick in your hand as you passed the puck along from one to the next.
[Text of first image: IN THE SUPERIOR COURT OF THE STATE OF WASHINGTON
FOR KING COUNTY.
THE STATE OF WASHINGTON,
Stanley Wesley is accused by the Grand Jury of King County, State of Washington by this Indictment of the crime of Sodomy, committed as follows:
That he the said Stanley Wesley in King County, State of Washington on the first day of October, 1893 in and upon this person of one Eddie Kalberg unlawfully, willfully and feloniously did make an assault with intent then and there unlawfully, willfully, and feloniously the said Eddie Kalberg who is a male person, contrary to the order of nature to carnally know and commit on him the said Eddie Kalberg’s person the infamous and detestable crime against nature.
Dated at Seattle in County and State aforesaid this the 5th day of October, 1893.]
Helen Armstrong is a queer writer currently living in Colorado, but soon moving back east to get her MFA in Literary Arts at Brown University. She’s been published or has work forthcoming in Black Warrior Review, Jellyfish Review, Cleaver Magazine, After the Pause, X-R-A-Y, and others. She lives with her girlfriend, her cats Persephone and Calypso, and several dying houseplants. She tweets @hkawrites.
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Art Robert Mapplethorpe / Elvert Barnes CC2.0