Class: Physical Education for Dysphoric Skeletons 101
Your name: Befuddled actor. The asshole who holds up the line at airport security. Pallbearer for the memory of the kid who took a shit in the sports closet at your old high school. Skeleton in a haunted house.
Teacher(s): The script you never got for the part you never wanted. A machine. The way a brain counts the screws holding the door in place after staring at them long enough. The space between the skeleton’s splayed phalanges and a child’s question: Did that thing used to be somebody?
On a scale of one to five, how clean/organized was the learning space?
You remember imagining how it all happened. And it did happen; your gym coach found the results of the event during your class period your eighth-grade year. Overnight, a nameless and faceless student had 1. crept into the sports closet 2. closed the door 3. pulled down their pants 4. squatted in the space between the tennis balls and tennis rackets 5. you know. A thought. A sin. White tile turned brown.
What could the teacher have better clarified at the start of the course?
You keep having a dream in which you are an actor in a play you’ve never rehearsed. You’re on a stage; lights are dimmed, the theater heavy with silence. The woman in costume at center stage presses one hand to her chest and extends the other, reaching toward the audience. She weeps as she reaches. She tells the audience that she has lost something. You take a step backward, your brain running circles around you. Is this woman reciting a monologue or a soliloquy? Do you comfort the crying woman? Yell at her? Are you even supposed to be on stage right now? Who is your character, anyway—are you playing a man or a woman? Lover or ghost? Your shoulder brushes the curtain cropping the back of the stage, and you stand still. You look out at the dark, faceless audience. Begging with your eyes. Tell me who I’m supposed to be.
What methods did you use to prepare for class?
In the space behind the stage, you’re dressing not your body but your wounds. You’re slicing calendar dates open with red x’s and stuffing them full of empty stomachs. You’re stitching the wounds back together with the satisfaction of knowing that, for each day you don’t eat, there will be less girl to hate. You fantasize: what would it be like to starve yourself until your body is absent enough for you to disappear behind the props in a haunted house?
Did the teacher ever put you on the spot in a way that made you uncomfortable?
Your invisible audience is full of the type of people who, whenever they see a skeleton, show off by analyzing the skeleton’s bone structure to see what its sex is. They shout up at you when you’re onstage: Show us your pelvis. Show us the structure of your rib cage. Show us what pronouns you use on Facebook. Show us your search history. Show us your mother asking if you’re “turning.” Show yourself turning. Like that, just turn around. Very good. Now tell us again, which one are you?
Did class material overlap with other classes you took/are taking (e.g., history, linguistics, mathematics)?
The “goat tongue” is a form of torture that can be traced back to Ancient Rome. The torturers know: the roughness of a goat tongue > sandpaper. The torturer pours saltwater over the victim’s heel.
Saltwater = wet + cool ÷ [baggy hoodies in hot weather + avoiding (public bathrooms + concerned friends + mirrors) + fantasies of (blade + body)].
A goat licks the saltwater off the heel = a tickle.
Again, the cool water. Another tickle.
And water + tickle + water + tickle until the tickle = the trickle of blood = raw muscle and bone screaming for water + water + water, even if each drop = the promise of more pain = an equation with more variables than constants.
Was the material repetitive/redundant?
Your Internet search history is as follows: depression quiz/am i depressed/do i have anxiety/can i wear a chest binder to the airport/why can’t i wear a chest binder to the airport/does hiding in a closet mean i have anxiety/why do i feel lost/why do i feel separated from myself/what do actor dreams mean/trans quiz/does god hate trans people/does god hate me/does god hate/why do i feel like i am living inside a haunted house/why do i feel/why
Did you feel that the instructor’s method of teaching was effective?
You take physical education again senior year, and you and the coach are the only ones old enough to remember that time some kid took a shit in the sports closet. Instead of talking about it, you run laps around the gym, licking the sweat rimming your lips, goat-tongued discomfort licking the mucosa of your stomach, your pumping blood making you aware of every single part of your body. You can’t stop thinking about that shit in the closet.
Did the teacher pay enough attention to you as an individual?
The summer after gym class, you set off an alarm at the airport while wearing a chest binder. A baby-faced woman holds her arm out for you to stop; a man orders you back into the machine. You get back in and hold your hands up, surrendering to the curved plexiglass and your own distorted reflection for the second time that day. The machine hums. Your toes tingle. The man leans into the machine. How old are you, buddy? he asks. You tell him that you’re eighteen. His face scrunches. Step on out, he says. You step out and glance back at the machine. On the screen, there’s a square over your chest, alerting the TSA agents that something is there that shouldn’t be. You look at the woman, and her baby face looks pained, looks like it’s in the process of growing up too fast. She asks, Which one are you?
On a scale of one to ten, rate your overall experience in this class.
The goat tongue rips the mucosa lining your stomach wide open; you forget her question and remember it again ten times in the space of a second. You wonder if this is an actual question or if you’re dreaming, an actor in a play you’ve never rehearsed. Line. Line. The audience has a face now, and you’re staring at it.
Did the field trip(s) help you understand/broaden your understanding of the class material?
In the haunted house, your skeleton sits against the wall and watches scattered pieces of your body decorate and deteriorate. The slack-jawed zombie across the room holds your brain on a platter, its forehead reflecting the dull shine of the light nudging the edges of the door. Your intestines drape, heavy, over a chair like a wet sweatshirt, like something you might be able to pick up and wear if it ever stops dripping. Far above you, a meat hook pierces your tongue. The hook strings the tongue to the humming ceiling fan, and the tongue rotates, rotates, rotates, waiting for someone to open the door so it can remember how fresh air tastes.
How strongly did the class exercise your critical thinking skills?
The way you count the screws holding the door in place after staring at them long enough. The way you name them. The way you begin to believe that God has named you Adam over the screws, over the door, over the entire closet. Perhaps you are God over the closet. Perhaps you could gain something by giving people a tour. Pass the closet off for a haunted house. You’ve been sitting between the tennis balls and tennis rackets for so long. You’d endure the analyzation for the privilege of having an audience at all. Goat tongue. Goat tongue. Forbidden fruit ripens.
Did the instructor(s) inspire you to take risks to grow as an individual?
Delete your search history. Re-contaminate it with more questions the next day. Tongue scrubs blood from bone. Bare skeleton.
Would you recommend this class to others?
You tell your mom. She cries.
In the space provided below, list any question(s) you had at the beginning of the class that remained unanswered throughout the entirety of the course.
Does the haunted house respect your hours of operation, or do you sit between the props even after the staff leaves and no one is there to ask questions? Could you have cleaned up the shit in the closet without ever leaving the room? How many times do you have to step back in the machine? If you open your mouth, where will the goat tongue go? Are you even supposed to be on stage right now?