Everything Leaves Its Wound
A Review of Suture: Trauma and Trans Becoming
I was in my 60s and doing long-distance caregiving for both my widowed father and my mentally ill younger sister before I finally, finally, finally gave up hope that my father would ever “see” me. He wasn’t capable of it. I had chased that acknowledgement for so long, it had worn me down. Apparently somewhere in my early childhood I had created a couple theories: one was, if I really, really, really needed them – if, say, I were dying – my parents would finally show up. The second was if I kept trying, eventually I would capture my parents’ attention. Since I clearly kept failing at both efforts, I unconsciously wore away my motivation, energy, and even willingness to live.
KJ Cerankowski is doing similar self-analysis work in Suture: Trauma and Trans Becoming. The book is hard to classify; the back cover calls it a combination of memoir, lyrical essay, and cultural criticism. “Stream of consciousness” might be a more descriptive term. Although there are chapters with titles and themes, topics recur, timelines cross, and even thoughts repeat.
Clearly a major theme is the author’s dance with gender:
“This book is not meant to be one about transition or about testosterone. Rather, it investigates the powers of this strange elixir to not only shape and reshape the body, but also to blast the doors open, to instigate a confrontation with all the parts of one’s being, becoming, and undoing. Which is to say, my time with testosterone has also been my time with pain, illness, and trauma.”
Another major theme is trauma. KJ’s father repeatedly beat them, and KJ was sexually assaulted while still in their teens. These wounds intermingle with two of KJ’s past relationships that ended in the lovers ghosting KJ. This is where much of KJ’s imagery comes in. Wounds are sutured but break open again. People are marked in permanent ways. Wolves and ghosts and monsters are used metaphorically. People fail to see, acknowledge, care:
“Or put even more simply, we might ask, how can one know one is suffering if the figurehead of love does not recognize the suffering? How can one know what one feels when one is having their feelings beaten out of them?”
“When I say, ‘I just wanted her to care,’ what I mean is that I wanted her to show she cared in a way I could recognize. Feeling cared for is exactly what I am craving in the rehearsal of the story. I am searching for enough care to fill the void that formed where the care I needed was not given.”
Chronic pain is addressed, albeit in pieces that are hard to fit together. There’s joint pain revived by an encounter with a racing dog. There’s something happening in the chest, and the vagina has adhesions that must be cut. There is also the pain KJ seeks out: the dominatrix paid to flog them, loving meditations on the pain caused by the testosterone needle, and even an incredibly detailed description of body-focused repetitive behavior disorders (BFRBDs) involving acne.
Where does it all lead? That’s another reason I characterize this book as stream of consciousness; there is no clear end. Instead, KJ says of it:
“I have written here an inquiry into how ghosts – especially the ghosts of trauma – haunt and impress upon the living body, and how our narratives – our tellings and retellings – can heal or suffer or reshape the body in pain, the body abused and traumatized, the body cut and sutured, the body in transition.”
Those still working through their own traumas, their own relationship to gender, or their own experience with wounds and sutures, may find in Suture a kind of fun house mirror, useful for perhaps glimpsing pieces of what’s been hidden.