By H. Melt, $10; Haymarket; 28 pages
On My Way to Liberation, by H. Melt, is a chapbook-length preview of their forthcoming book There Are Trans People Here from Haymarket Books.
In just 16 short poems and a page-long introduction, Melt approaches the insidious problem of gender misrecognition and microagressions from many directions, in numerous settings. Their poems oscillate between straightforward testimonials of firsthand experiences and provocative lyric poems that juxtapose reality with possibility.
The first poem, "Trans Lit Is Bullshit," immediately smashes expectations and meets all readers where they are: picking up a book of poems by a trans person, approaching trans lit for the first time or for the thousandth. The refrain "I want trans lit…" reveals H. Melt's motivations for writing, but also calls out to anyone and everyone to rethink their own relationship to trans lit: how ( and if ) they write it, consume it, and circulate it.
Melt's introduction states, "I yearn for trans spaces within the cis world and try to imagine living outside of it." Most of the early poems end with a point of misrecognition or deliberate ignorance for the reader to linger on in the shoes of a transgendered person, giving cis readers a taste of the emotional burden these lapses create. Later poems end with affirming messages to trans people who've lived these situations. The final poems begin to outline fundamental changes that would enable non cis-normative life: a city "Where there are/no borders between/who we were and who we are/Becoming." The speaker is not asking for a specific set of conditions, but re-tracing social situations to highlight where trans identities are being rejected by cis people and opening up ways to recognize and appreciate them, always upholding freedom over restraint.
The speaker/poet teases out interactions with all different kinds of people: strangers and family, cis people and other trans people, friends and celebrities. One source of cognitive dissonance is detailed in the introduction: "I am in the strange position of being an openly trans writer while simultaneously not being recognized as a trans person on a daily basis." The speaker can walk away from a stranger's verbal assault "trying to forget / what will die / in a few days / time," but deadnaming and misgendering by family members is much more difficult to resolve. No single solution is going to improve trans visibility and liberationmisrecognition occurs on many different levels, for many reasons.
The title comes in at the final poem, the point where the speaker leaves the reader. Without retelling the whole story ( this book needs to be read slowly, experienced line by line ), if both parties have succeeded, the speaker and the reader have renewed senses of their quests concerning trans literature and recognition. Both have been re-contextualized in history and in the contemporary climate of social justice; they have an understanding, but the work remains of making it manifest in their lives off the page.