The Infinite is Everywhere and Cheap


The essay was originally accepted by Chestnut Review but was withdrawn by the author in protest.

In the 90s, Faust, aka Bard Eithun, a member of the early Norwegian black metal scene, stabbed a gay man thirty-seven times. Though Faust later said this murder was not driven by the fact the man had propositioned him but was instead motivated by unresolved rage, it is difficult not to see a relationship between Faust’s attack and his victim’s sexuality, given the homophobia and misogyny that characterized black metal. 

Across the ocean in New York City, Michael Alig and the largely queer club kid scene had entered mainstream discourse. Two years prior to the Norwegian murder, Alig and those at the top of the Club Kid scene, including RuPaul, appeared on Geraldo Rivera — piping their scene into homes across the country.

Early in my transition, I went to a nude beach with my partners. Adamska, my ex-boyfriend, was healing from top surgery, and I had doubled my estradiol intake to 4 mg per day. I watched them wade into the water with Rowen, my partner. I felt like I was seeing them for the first time.

Some transgirls ran into the water behind them. I sat on the shore in a way that hid my genitals.

I jokingly convince Rowen that we both need to suffer. We rent Party Monster. Macaulay Culkin plays Michael Alig, and Seth Green plays James St. James. Both are upstaged by Marilyn Manson who plays Christina Superstar, who the real James St. James described as “an abomination of nature.”

Halfway through, Rowen asks if it was the same Culkin who played Euronymous in the film based on the early Norwegian black metal scene, Lords of Chaos.

The Club Kids were New York socialites, famous for being famous. They threw outlandish parties. Their dress landed somewhere between avant–garde fashion and trashcan cosplay. They rejected protestant work ethic to worship pure decadence and pleasure. Without them, we wouldn’t have Paris Hilton. Or Kim Petras. 

The Club Kids satirized the party-goers of Andy Warhol’s Superstars. They made their own costumes, which became more and more absurd. In doing so, their community centered around a void — a not-to-be. 

This sense of not-to-be is what cis-gendered people often don’t understand about transitioning. Their discourse around our bodies, where we are allowed to exist, hinges on the idea that we are men and women who want to be the opposite. If they would talk to one trans person, they may realize that passing, a desire not shared by all trans people, is not about being cis-gender. 

Despite the ideological faults, so much of being trans, for me and others, is about inhabiting a non-being in terms of a binary, normative gender.

In early 1996, Michael Alig and his roommate killed another Club Kid, Andre “Angel” Melendez. In 1997, Alig would plead guilty and be sentenced to ten to twenty years in prison.

A little over ten years after Alig was sentenced, New York-based black metal act, Liturgy, released its first EP. Led by Haela Ravenna Hunt-Hendrix, the band’s music escapes traditionally-defined black metal — drawing inspiration from opera, avant-garde composition, and electronic music.

In 2020, Hunt-Hendrix came out as trans. She has said that her music comes from a feminine heart, that her previous “male mask” only distorted its transmission. 

Before we break up, Adamska and I spend an evening at a graveyard. They’ve recently fucked several other trans people. They tell me how I need to sleep with another transfemme person. “It’s thrilling to touch a body that is changing like yours.”

Months after this, I finally do.

During a period of depression, I grew out my beard. I felt if I looked masculine, maybe I would be masculine, maybe I would be allowed all the privileges of that gender — or at least the privileges for those born into that gender. Then, I would feel like a boy naturally and the turmoil within me would stop.

A member of my PhD cohort told me my beard was the most feminine beard she’d ever seen. She didn’t mean its fullness or coarseness. She elaborated that the way it moved, the way it held my face was what made it femme. 

That Halloween, I borrowed a friend’s dress and attended a party as a sexy werewolf. I watched the other party-goers act as their costumes: someone was Maleficent, another was a Tenenbaum, a couple came as a vampire bride and her newly deceased husband. I got to be myself.

Years before I start medically transitioning, I talk with Rowen about pronouns. I had wanted to use they/them for a while, but I was afraid to tell them. They are more than supportive. During our conversation, I tell them I don’t believe I’ve “earned” she/her pronouns yet. Neither of us understands what I mean really but figure it has to do with being opposed to masculinity. 

I confess to a friend that I’m not delusional, that I know I look like a werewolf, gesturing to my facial hair, my chest hair sprouting over my collar. I keep my legs crossed. I do not know the word “dysphoria” yet. I only know how I feel — that being a man is something I never was or will be. My friend doesn’t prod any further. A few years later, they start transitioning.

The problem with negative capability is that Keats never defined it properly. Generally, it’s described as the ability to sit with uncertainty in an artwork, to be okay with asking a yes-or-no question and being answered with an echo. To possess negative capability, a person must shift from a “to be” into “being,” that is a continuous unfolding.

Neither Lords of Chaos nor Party Monster are imbued with negative capability. The films try to extrapolate some narrative meaning from both social scenes. While both incorporate uncertainty — what drove Alig to murder? why did Euronymous photograph the corpse of Mayhem’s vocalist, Dead, after his suicide? — neither creates a large enough uncertainty to prompt reflection.

Early black metal had its fair share of ideological confusion — most notably its rejection of Christianity and acceptance of fascism. Some could argue that by adopting fascism and Norwegian folk music traditions, these musicians were commenting on Norway’s denial that it, as a country, had Nazi sympathies. Maybe these arguments are truthful. 

However, aligning oneself, one’s art, with fascism removes any sort of negative capability; instead it makes any statement align with white supremacist, queerphobic, misogynistic hate that masquerades as power. 

As estrogen changed my body and my relationship to others, I found myself more interested in experiencing the void of transness, a type of gendered negative capability. I am a woman, but I recognize my experience of womanness is vastly different than many other women. In this difference, it’s apparent that gender, as a category, is a type of non-being; both man and woman represent a collection of contradictions.

When I think of forced retransitioning due to bans on gender-affirming care and other legislation that directly and indirectly target trans people, I have no fear about being forced to be a cis-gendered man. That will never be a reality. I will continue to be trans without hormones, without surgeries, without recognition of my pronouns and chosen name.

My ex-boyfriend texts me to say that I am eternally a student. “It’s kinda cringe tbh.”

I go on a date with a transwoman. We make out for quite a while in her apartment. I think about Adamska — their rightness about how thrilling the experience is. She is the first binary-gendered partner I’ve had in almost a decade.

I used to think my ex said “thrilling” because the two of our transitions would align perfectly. I would mention my dysphorias, and she would feel them too. This is not it at all. The thrill comes from doubling our queerness, an opposition of all normativities.

In the essay “We Are All Non-Binary,” the author, Kadji Amin, argues that in being oppositional to cis-normativity, gender queerness (including both non-binary and trans identities as well as their intersections) has inadvertently centralized cis-genderedness and marginalized queerness. While Amin does go on to say this is ultimately bad for queer people, the basic tenant is productive. I am trans because I am not cis-gendered and never will be.

Rory Culkin, Macaulay’s youngest brother, plays Euronymous in Lords of Chaos. In it, he hunches over Dead’s corpse, rearranges some of the scene and snaps a photo — which would, in real life, become the cover of Mayhem’s The Dawn of the Black Hearts, a bootleg album of live recordings.

Rory started his acting career by playing younger versions of his brothers’ characters. While Rory Culkin has since landed roles in major releases, he has not seen the success of his eldest brother. Perhaps he, too, felt like a bootleg, an altered death scene. Maybe Macaulay’s shadow was a type of corpse paint he could never remove, or the stubble that shouts he/him above my Kate Spade blouse.

As laser hair removal and estrogen soften my features and give me a curvier body, I glimpse the depths of the dysphoria I felt: for my thick brow, my adam’s apple, my wide chin. I tried my whole adult life to accept these features. I also felt anxiety over my girldick. It was simultaneously too large and too small for my comfort. The bulge it created was a continuous source of embarrassment.

If my face was a mask stuck to my face, then my girldick was a strap-on I could never remove. And both were the shadows of masculinity I could never shake.

After seven months on hormones, I booked a therapist appointment to obtain a letter of support for facial feminization surgeries and vaginoplasty. I told the therapist my anxieties as they related to the DSM V definitions of gender dysphoria. I also told them that I love being trans and having a body that has known, to some extent, multiple worlds and the flux between them. 

“How will you feel when your body more closely aligns to cis-gendered expectations?” my therapist prodded. 

Gaahl, who fronted Golgoroth among other black metal bands, came out 16 years after Faust murdered a gay man in Lillehammer. I often showed my students the Vice documentary in which Gaahl’s only response to the interviewer’s request to be guided to the “right questions” was to stare silently into the camera for nearly two and a half minutes. I told them it was about listening to their sources.

Twelve years after Gaahl told the world he is gay, two musicologists published an article called “Gaahl — Monster or Postmodern Prometheus?: Masculinity, Class, and Norwegian Black Metal.” They argue, in part, that Gaahl’s vocal style conveys a powerful but untraditional masculinity — they say he sounds inhuman.

The writers don’t consider other options within the spectrum of gender performance. They, too, reference the Vice documentary. They argue that Gaahl’s silence is masculine without fulfilling the audience’s expectations.

In my Grindr bio, I say I am a trans creature. In my bathroom, I stare at my body in silence. I guide myself to the right questions.

I take the transwoman I’ve been seeing to a poetry reading. It’s her first one, and stylistically she fits right in. I’m wearing fishnets, extravagant eyeshadow, a mesh jacket that seems to be straight out of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. I don’t look like I belong.

Afterwards, we make out and grind against each other. I’ve told her about my bottom dysphoria, and she’s said she’s accepted her body. I feel her harden against me. I feel my body do the same. I take my top off. I leave my skirt on. I ask if I could go down on her, but she politely declines.

We make out for a while longer. I try not to feel unattractive, but, because my genitalia disgusts me, I can’t help but fixate on them. My parts feel wrong for the type of intimacy I believe she wants. This woman is a lesbian, and I am not. 

Though the Club Kids sought to not be — whether the being was centered around Andy Warhol’s scene or NYC’s self-serious straights — they eventually came into themselves. The Club Kid style had its set of essences — bright colors, an eye for camp, a full-throttle dive into concept. If a Club Kid wanted to look like a hot mess, then by god they were the most lavish hot mess you would ever see.

Likewise, whether by choice or circumstance, black metal’s recording style was to make the already harsh music even more unlistenable. Washed out drums, distorted guitars, threadbare bass, and vocals that were more texture than anything else — the wall of sound these elements made envelopes you.

In each scene’s respective style, a type of negative capability. Because both black metal and the Club Kids crystallized certain aspects of a style and exaggerated them, they threw off the certainty that comes from balance, which is just another term for tradition.

And is not uncertainty another term for queerness? In the dark, clutching a familiar body part from a different perspective.

To be black metal, you have to let go of the separation between vibrations — to feel the genre’s continuous open strumming and ceaseless blast beat. To be a Club Kid, you have to see the unresolved nature of social constructs like gender.

And to be trans, as I understand myself to be trans, you don’t need any medical treatment, although it may help with dysphoria; you just need to not be cis-gendered.

This is the argument I make to myself after my gender care specialist assigned to me by my insurance explains that I will need to wait two more months before she can submit the authorization paperwork for any surgery I’d want. I then will have to wait eight weeks to eighteen months to get surgeries. 

I know this will resolve, but what am I to do with the uncertainty I feel now? I sit in my car and turn the volume all the way up. 

I add progesterone to my hormone regimen, and my horniness increases exponentially. I finally have sex with the person I’ve been seeing. I live my slut fantasty as I ride and go down on her. Our girldicks rub against each other, a pleasure I’ve dreamt about for years. She comes; I don’t.

Naked together, I see for the first time how we measure up. My girldick is a hulking mass. Maybe if I were a cis-man this would be a point of pride. On this woman’s bed, I fixate on it like a terrifying shadow. I dry up completely.

We cuddle, and this woman tells me how much she loves women. It’s endearing, but in the moment I don’t feel like a woman. My breasts have grown; I have hips for the first time; my body hair is thinning. And yet my genitals negate these developments almost entirely for me — a negation of the negation of the maleness I was born into.  

Liturgy’s Hunt-Hendrix wrote a manifesto called “Transcendental Black Metal: A Vision of Apocalyptic Humanism” around 2015. Among other things, the manifesto speaks about the burst beat, an alternative to black metal’s blast beat, as the true sound of transcendental black metal. Whereas the blast beat is static and eternal, the burst beat transitions, phases, ebbs and flows.

I reread the manifesto in a grocery store parking lot after the initial giddiness of HRT had worn off. I looked up to see another transfemme walking to their car. How Hunt-Hendrix describes the burst beat, it is difficult not to make a connection to transitioning. Euphoria and dysphoria’s phases, the days of feeling femme without qualification and the days of feeling like a man in a dress, the lack of staticity in my understanding of myself.

Towards the end, the manifesto claims the infinite is everywhere and cheap, that the finite is rare and “peculiar to humankind. Finitude means confronting what is present at hand authentically and doing what is honest… The finite is born, strives, and dies.” 

Weeks later, I talked with my dad about how I will be forever transitioning, but how in that endlessness there is a finitude to each moment. This is the ultimate form of negative capability.

My disgust begins with my genitals and moves into my brain. My inability to accept my girldick, I sometimes argue, is ingrained TERF logic. 

Both my parents only refer to me by my dead name. In my publication lists, too, my dead name is everywhere. Spam refers to me by it. I joke it is my undead name.

Dead doesn’t have a dead name. The black metal vocalist has a dying name, one that outlived his birthname. Same with Euronymous and Varg. Likewise, the club kids often had chosen names. From quaint to absurd — Julie Jewels, Walt Paper, Richie Rich, JennyTalia. 

The act of choosing a name, artistically or in response to transitioning, is to create uncertainty for others and for oneself. There are days I wake up with my dead name echoing in my brain. There are days Rivka feels like she’s been inside me all my life.

After they come back from the water, Adamska and I argue about what is weird and what is eerie in Mark Fisher’s The Weird and The Eerie. In some ways, the conversation is didactic. In other ways, it is existential. We both look at a word and see multiple meanings. We look in the mirror and see multiple people.

I think about their body in those moments. How masculine they appear to me. I think about their professors who never changed their ways of addressing them from when they arrived to their program as a “she.”

Now, I think about their absence, the first break-up I’ve experienced as an out trans person, as an estrogen-dominant person. I listen to a song and cry. When it ends, I play it again and cry some more. Months after our breakup, Adamska tells me they listened to Svartmalm, my favorite black metal band, repeatedly.

I have an idea for a couple-themed outfit with the transwoman who now says we are girlfriends. She owns a riding crop, tight pants, boots, and a blazer. I say she should dress up as a jockey, and I could be her horse. I tease my hair into a mane, devise a bridle-like headpiece, and wear my heelless heels that look like hooves. Only later do I realize the dysphoria-inducing joke at the center of this idea. 

At work, I explain to a coworker what a dangling modifier is syntactically. It occurs when an introductory phrase modifies something other than the subject. All day, I walk around with a physical dangling modifier I can’t edit away.

I don’t know how I will feel when my body more closely aligns to cis-gendered expectations. My therapist assigns me a book on somatic practices to help me connect with the sensations inside me. The book details how to strengthen your awareness of your physical body. I get stuck. I do not want to perceive my body but be in it. 

I see how cis-men look at me in public spaces. How their faces rotate from interest to disgust to arousal and confusion. I like it. It turns me on. In these moments, I am not alone in my lack of certainty.

Haela Ravenna Hunt-Hendrix is just about the most transfemme name I can imagine. But in it, there is a trace of her dead name, a smidge of eternity within the finite.

My dad calls me just to ask about my chosen name, Rivka. I tell him it is the Hebraic form of Rebecca. He says okay and moves on to talk about fences and contractors. Though the call lasts only 10 minutes, a sweet bit of finitude.

My girlfriend fucks someone new almost every other night. When we go out, people compliment my looks, but it seems like no one is interested in fucking me. Early in our relationship, my ex told me they felt they had crossed a line in their transition — they no longer had the desire-capital they had in girl-mode, despite strangers approaching them constantly. I now know what they mean. 

At the nude beach, a few people were drinking near Rowen and Adamska. Throughout the day, into the evening, their intoxication grew louder. One time, deep in my closet, I talked with a colleague about hangovers. I said the hangover is a part of the intoxication not a side effect.

The same could be said about the murders in Norway and NYC. And maybe negative capability is an inextricable part of transitioning.

That day at the nude beach, our clothes were piled on one side of the beach blanket. They were all black. It was difficult to tell which article belonged to whom.

Rap Rights

Hip Hop was my first love, and it didn’t love me back.

Excerpt from Love the World or Get Killed Trying

I am preparing myself for the act of shaking hands with Sólheimajökull, 36.8 degrees °C greeting freezing, as the bus drives through a landscape of lush hills filled with grass and sheep who won’t become meat-market fashion victims if I have a say in the matter, which I don’t.