You suspect the roommate I bring home
for Thanksgiving is someone I want around
for Christmas too so you say, if you’re gay I’ll kill myself.
You suspect after I break up with her and stupidly
fall in love again that it isn’t just a phase
so you say, I love you, still.
You don’t like the new last name I take on with my once-wife,
changing the one word we once shared that paints our history in one thick line
but you say, I accept you, no matter what.
I come to the kitchen after getting dressed for a wedding
in a gray tie and suspenders, a pressed shirt,
worried you’ll notice everything is from the men’s section,
or that I feel more at home in them than the kitchen you shred
potato pancakes by hand. You walk over to me slowly.
I get ready for you to say something I will try hard to forget, but instead
you silently untwist my suspenders, hold my shoulders for a beat
after and say you look handsome, understanding somehow
I wouldn’t want you to call me pretty or beautiful
though you’ve called me that since. I wonder if this
is the moment to say words like top surgery and hormones
and will you still introduce me to your relatives.
My ex pretended to understand everything you did not, didn’t need
me to translate my pronouns into a different language until the day
I told her my most faceted stone of a secret.
We were at our favorite neighborhood restaurant,
the one we’ve cried at and made up in, ate bread pudding like
it didn’t make our stomachs hurt and she tried,
I think, not to cry as I told her I might be somewhere
on the trans spectrum but she cried anyways, maybe hoped
I would shovel this secret stone into a tiny pocket I forgot
I owned. She had said forever,
no matter what, in all the ways you’ll change
but acceptance isn’t cursive on a piece
of beautiful turquoise paper to rewrite and rewrite again,
it isn’t dreaming about how life might be easier if only, just,
it isn’t being myself only one piece at a time.
You knew, I think, when I asked you to stop calling me daughter and explaining
that I didn’t want you to call me son that I wasn’t joking. You knew, I think,
that Google Translate couldn’t help this time.
Still, you say the right things, like I’m sorry, I love you, I will try,
and I’m trying my hardest to let that be enough
until you can bring me home to your Korean Catholic cousins, and not say
this is my daughter or my girl but say, this is my Noah
and be able to hold all the silence that will follow.
So, you’re telling me that because I have boobs but
am wearing boxers your scanner tells you I might
be carrying a bomb in my pants as in fuse
of a penis as in you need to grope me, as you say,
with the back of your hands up and across both
my butt and groin, all the way up my thighs,
front and back, rimming my waistband twice as
a supervisor watches, giving me the option
to do this in private or right here next to the bin
of half-drunk liquids, lighters, and one
lonely orange. How does TSA decide whether to hit pink
or blue for the body scanner? Is it your hair, your chest,
the latest episode of Love is Blind? This is why
I don’t blame myself for wanting to run
my hand across loud stubble, to make sure my ass cheeks
know only the hands of people I choose instead
of the world letting me know my body
isn’t mine and I will not cry as they don’t hold back
even though I wore my shortest boxers and pants
that don’t bunch and dare be too unlady-like for the god
that is this scanner and I will not say thank you
when they’re done, swiping my hands and scanning
that too as if an attempt against dysphoria
automatically means red and I will not cry
I will not say thank you I will not
Noah Arhm Choi is the author of Cut to Bloom, the winner of the 2019 Write Bloody Prize. They received an MFA in poetry from Sarah Lawrence College and their work appears in Barrow Street, Blackbird, the Massachusetts Review, Pleiades, Split this Rock, and others. Noah was shortlisted for the Poetry International Prize and received the 2021 Ellen Conroy Kennedy Poetry Prize, along with fellowships from Kundiman, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, and the Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing. They work as the director of the Progressive Teaching Institute and associate director of DEI at a school in New York City. For more information, visit noaharhmchoi.com.
• Photo by Savannah Lauren