3.03 A Series of Treatments

J. Turk

There is a flash of light, then the slap again.

The stinging pulsates, then the next flash, a synthetic shuttering of red light. The smell of burning hair lingers on my upper lip long after we’ve finished the session. The skin of my face and neck sting, the discomfort seemingly unremitting.

It fades though, and in a few weeks we’ll see. It takes awhile to be sure we’ve destroyed the black follicles.

Does it hurt? You want to know. Yes, but hardy enough to stop.

That first morning I woke before you, crawling out of bed to complete my morning routine. The thought of you seeing me more painful than when the filing fell out of my molar and I traced the absence with my tongue.

All to maintain a perfect image.

But you know the effort, the building up of this.

On the phone we discuss the poetics of renaming oneself. I think of Gertrude Stein and her rose. Our conversations are less drifting, more controlled. I know you try to avoid potential offenses and I am guarded, trying to resist the attraction I’ve held towards you. The words like our bodies are all wrong. Was it the words or our wounds we broke open entangling ourselves  on each other’s tongue? You laughed at the uncertainty of what was; I winced weeks later what wasn’t.

The truth is I fell in love with an image—no, it was the words. The exacting of each phrase, sending one another intriguing etymologies in a expansive exchanges that drew me to you. What you said was at once concise, yet rippling.

I spoke to you in subtext.

Early in my transition, so much of what I felt and wanted to express felt impossible. I tried to understand the shifting of my self as an act of translation, moving between words. I wrote in a notebook that life had become a sort of drafting, which rather than continuing to hack away at in edits could be rewritten.

Those first weeks — even now—I carried on my body the words of a former self. It felt at times I was split between two people, the person I was, the body I claimed for myself, and who I had been. Seeing people from my past, meant quickly moving between languages, bridging the gaps in their understanding.

The razor slips in the shower marking my chest, my leg, my face with tiny cuts. Shaving perpetually and always the hair returned. The stubble on my cheeks, a constant reminder.

I picked up a book recommended to me by another writer, it was about understanding the nuanced tension between one’s life and narrative. In one of the essays the author wrote of starting a rose garden. Planting and obsessively researching the history of the various types of bloom, the symbolism. I failed to retain much of the book, reading it despite being frequently distracted. I did remember how a rose was hung above a table where secret information was passed.

I wonder if my body is a rose garden to you now.

It doesn’t take long before I notice the change in my sex drive, the desire so much less than before.

You ask me if everything still works.

Yes, but differently.

I have mostly moved on from thinking of you sexually, the hormones helping me to do what I imagined was impossible. Yes, I don’t desire sex, but intimacy—which you offer in language. On the phone you tell me of poets to read. And I never ask you if you think you could ever want me or if I’m still attractive.

What difference would it make?

Ours was never a physical attraction.

After hanging up with you I turn off my reading light, close my eyes. My screen lights up with another text I ignore and it goes dark.

Another and the flash of light.

I don’t know what to say to you.

I lay back on the sterilized table in her office. Another session. I am ready for the sting, I know what to expect. I can already see areas where the hair has stopped growing. She tells me it’s a series of treatments— I’ll keep coming.

It’ll take time, but eventually we will be able to destroy each follicle.

Yes, we will get the results, but first we must be certain we reach the root.


I watch, rewatch, watch again. Despite the impossibility of any translation, I am uncertain. I search for legible moments, a sense of clarity. Shifting images and sound, a blurring of—what? Voices and murmurs like in an over-crowded room while traveling abroad. But I know this, and in some small way you. I cannot taste it, which is to say I can’t feel it against my own tongue. Transparent moments and then all the transitions between seductive surfaces. Our own desires opaque to us now. Perhaps, it is my own uncertainty, a resistance to what come next, that holds me at a distance from you. I think of how I laid next to him that morning and tried to understand his silence. We get coffee and agree there is always a slippage, a tendency to read only what we wish to hear, in our case see, within the other. I let go of any desire for knowing, of understanding, of clarity and realize this too is my own reflection. I cannot know you, because I am so uncertain of me.
—J. Turk


J. Turk is a writer, performer and transmodal maker exploring intersections of language and bodies, producing works across boundaries of material, platforms, and taste. They consider how bodies form, shift and alter themselves, describing this process as a method of translating physicality. Stitching together histories, they expose the seams and scars of thought. From page to performance, subject to object, J. questions notions of authenticity, self and the perception of "realness". Their work has been exhibited in Chicago, New York, Utah and throughout New England, and recently their first solo exhibition “Unwearable Realities” was seen at AVA Gallery and Arts Center in Lebanon, NH.

Frequently, their projects take the form of installations, accompanied by video works, performances, and artists' book. Their artist book, “Body: a portrait in process” was acquired by the Joan Flasch Artists’ Book Collection, Chicago, IL. They are the author of several artist books, chapbooks, and poetic performances including Transparent Bodies, You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real), New Story and Product of My Misunderstanding.

Performing is a large part of their creative process, J. utilizes these opportunity to explore language through its embodiment.

J. holds their MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.


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