I keep returning to the crab’s five-time emergence on this planet: the fact that five distinct communities of organisms have responded to forces internal and external by evolving the form of a hardened shell, side-stepping legs, and habitual hiding. I have an affinity for these creatures; I was born when the crab constellation was rising over the eastern horizon and share some of their qualities. I’m comfortable in the water but I’m content to keep my shell, to skirt sidewise around the fact, and to hide in the safety of my home.
My sense of self has been porous lately—the last 27 years—and I get lost between what seems natural for others and what’s natural for me. I’m noticing this confusion particularly around intimacy and gender. (Ah, my loves!) Relationships and sex most reliably send me into an anxiety spiral, my heart beating out why doesn’t this work for me if it works for others. The other fish swim so gracefully, eyes blank and fins ablaze, but I’m slipping back beneath the seaweed putting off vulnerability and connection for another day.
People like me have always been around—I know this because I exist. In Leslie Steinberg’s Stone Butch Blues I’m consoled by her query of a crow: “’Crow, are you boy or girl?’ ‘Caw, caw!’ …Nature held me close and seemed to find no fault with me.” Or Orlando’s androgynous solidarity, “’I have found my mate,’ she murmured. ‘It is the moor. I am nature’s bride…’” (Virginia Woolf1) Gender crustaceans have always been around, we seem to find solace alone and in nature, and still we emerge.
I wish it were easier to hold steadfast to this truth. I write about it now, but the emotional reality of my rightful inheritance is easy to lose sight of. I deserve to exist as I am and to find what is natural.
I’m fond of Octavia Butler’s idea of god as change: to worship god is to play an active role in evolution, to bring consciousness to what emerges. This sounds like a weighty responsibility, but the burden is heaviest for me when I forget the calling is simply to attend to the natural. I can let go of this doesn’t work for me, instead orienting myself towards this feels right, allowing the crab of my own design to take hold.
Should nature need a crab it will emerge. Butler’s god pairs well with adrienne maree brown’s Emergent Strategy, a reminder that emergence doesn’t care for plans or strategies. Live in the body, be true to your senses, and the rest will follow.
Though I feel it comes naturally, the point I’m skirting around is that my authentic evolution is not easy for me. Reality weighs heavy on all of us, and grief is palpable in my community right now. The weight begs for something new but it can also cause fractures, terminal breaks. Outside a person is screaming into the falling snow and their voice is echoing back from the train bridge. It’s a painful conversation to hear, but perhaps there is catharsis in it for them. Maybe this letter serves the same purpose for me as their unsettling monologue—shells to guard our salty porous flesh.
I’m sidestepping here and don’t have a clear line of sight to where I’m headed. I want to make sense of it but today there is only uncertainty. What I do know is this: I want to remain supple and sensitive, attentive to my heart and what it tells me. I want your isolation to border mine, and in the Venn diagram of us to find what needs to emerge right now.
Perhaps we can be a crab community together? I hope you’ll write back.
1I’m repeating what I’ve said before, but it’s a crab worth repeating.