Some years ago trans man Aaron Raz Link wrote about the joy of feeling free in one's room, by oneself, and the challenge of maintaining this sense around others. After chewing on this dilemma for long enough, I have decided to stop giving a sh*t. I am coming out of my room and you, the world, and I will find a way to deal with each other.
Alfter bei Bonn, 27/1/23
I am visiting Frida in the Rheintal, the valley of the river that accompanied me when I was little, shuttling between the Netherlands and Germany. We know each other from doing drag in Berlin, which is why I still refer to them as Frida rather than Arthur, the name they go by in most of the rest of life. The sky has bright patches, whiteyellow in a sea of violetgray. We're out on a walk in the woods, a real walk, not going somewhere and coming back the same way, but moving out and taking the risk of getting lost, trusting that somehow we will find a new way home. It has been a while since I enjoyed venturing into the world like this.
We start in the village, up a street in a German middleclass residential area. The field we cross to get to Frida's art school is being prepared for development. Last year, when I came to visit first, it still had a nice footpath running through it. Now, Frida is about to finish their studies at Alanus Hochschule, an anthroposophical institution that my half-sister attended many decades ago. I recognise the architecture from my primary Waldorf school back in the days. A lot of wood, rounded corners, unusual angles, and pastel colours. It is quiet, project time, no classes going on. Only three German girls smoking a cigarette outside a wood workshop.
Behind the buildings starts a forest, and I am on the lookout for snowdrops. It is around the time of Imbolc now, right between winter solstice and spring equinox. In the Celtic tradition, it marks the beginning of spring, when the juices in the plants start to flow again and it won't be long until the first lambs are born. The last bit of yesterday's snow is melting away between the beeches and birches, excited bird voices all around. The beech trees hold on to their leaves longest – even in January they still serve a warm orange glow that goes excellently with Frida's pluche coat and glittery scarf. I'm being the monochrome contrast in my all black outfit, loving how the fake fur collar of my Neukölln boy jacket is keeping me warm in these damp four degrees above zero. Two queers on a countryside stroll, greeting lone elderly men in outdoor clothes in passing, some greet back but not all.
Back in Frida's WG Zimmer I look at the pictures I took out there, in the landscape of my childhood. Wooded hills with fields and the blue valley in the distance. That blue of distance you need a lot of space for to see, as once pointed out to me by researchers of the world Rebecca Solnit and Goethe – space I don't have in Berlin. Fachwerkhäuser (apparently called half-timbered houses in English architecture speak) like the one I grew up in, constructed of un-straight thick wooden beams painted black, the structure in between filled with a weaving of willow branches covered in loam – local sticky soil – and painted white. A farm with a huge rounded gate, with two wooden doors that probably used to swing open to let through carts and horses. Today a police officer drives by down the winding narrow street in an electrical one-person vehicle that makes soft high-pitched noises. “It definitely takes the teeth away”, Frida notes.
Sitting in this room here in Alfter, I feel like I am in a bubble of Berlin carried to Nordrhein-Westfalen, containing a person who already picked up bubble aspects from California and New York before arriving to Europe. The clothes rack with a mix of extravagant fabrics and colours. NTS radio in the background. A print on the wall of queers around the Kitkat pool by trans artist Rory Midhani. Hatred of Capitalism published by Semiotexte, so it must be good. Restored original 1920s glass bead tassels – a curious present from a friend of Frida's mum. For me, this place combines two kinds of familiarity – one that speaks to my distant childhood self and one that speaks to current me. It feels reassuring that they can coexist.
I light the candles on the table, a bonfire at my impromptu writing station. All I need now is my laptop and someone who wants to host me. I love this holiday, leaving my home and breaking out of my routines. It seems like a small thing, but to overrule my self-imposed restrictions means trusting that wherever I go, I will be able to maintain my sense of integrity and feel safe enough – even in my red sweatpants that I would have never worn out in the past. I am about ready to work with whatever comes my way, taking that old world and turning it into something new, from the inside, where else is the material for this creative transformation gonna come from. A card on my toilet wall has been whispering at me for a while: Da draußen gibt es eine ganze Welt – there is a whole world out there. This time of melting snow and first flowers emerging may be just right to let go of the safety ties, entrust more freedom to myself, and make a fresh appearance.