Edited by Andrea Spofford | Barry Kitterman | Amy Wright
The Body of Ice
THE BODY OF ICE
Ice sculptures hang from the ceiling of the exhibit. They are all casts of the human form; a cavity that features absence, cleared of its mess of organ and tissue and blood. The body is rendered as order, proving the molds untrue.
There are two types of surgery: large breasted or small. He undergoes the large, or what is called liptical-incision double mastectomy with free nipple and areola grafting. It happens like this: there is a long horizontal incision at the top of the chest and the whole breast is removed. Liposuction follows, to remove all the girl girth that lives under that skin. A circular portion of the areola measuring 25–30 millimeters in diameter is taken—this is to reflect the accurate size of a male’s. The nipple is secured in the center of the areola graph and the patient is then erected into a sitting position so the surgeon can determine where the nipple should go: for men, low on the chest and lateral, not high and central. All of this happens, and then, on the other side, all of this happens again. Great care is taken to ensure the nipples align.
The other kind of surgery is for the small-breasted. This is the surgery she would undergo if she wanted to transition like him. It involves using what is called the cookie-cutter method: the outer rim of the areola is removed but the nipple stays in place. Then the pulpy mass is cut out and discarded, and a purse-string suture is used to pull the outer skin back to the areola like a draw-string bag.
The ice chests are displayed in a line, such that they occupy only one side of the space. On the other side, a series of studio lamps are perched toward the ice, shining light on the suspended sculptures so that the white wall behind them displays each molds’ shadow. The exhibit has been titled, The Chest Garden.
EXCERPT FROM THE ICE SCULPTOR'S INTERVIEW WITH COLD ART QUARTERLY
I learned that he was binding when he was still a she. He had always been larger than me, thicker at the core on a bone-level, and we were wrestling in the living room. When I pressed my hands against his back to support myself from going down, I felt the fabric of his binding slicing into the flesh of his top. Your bras are too tight, I said after he pinned me. He rose then, extended his hand to help me up. No they are not, he said. I remember his response because he did not use a contraction, which struck me as odd at the time. It is my first memory of language management, a method of speech we would soon learn was a necessary pillar of transition. It was the beginning of learning that language is a device which we are able to carefully harness and control; that when we speak we assess context and make decisions that influence how what we say is received and in this way, voice, like the body, is something we dress.
SPEECH GOES PASSIVE
Families faced with transition learn to adopt passive voice. Or some edition of it; for example, “She told me not to bother her” becomes “I was told to leave.” Often, it takes time to modify the thought so that there are no pronouns before speaking and for this reason discussion becomes permeated with thick and empty moments; idea escapes the mouth through exhausted stutter. Theorists of voice underscore that speech is bound to its temporality; therefore we cannot retract what is said. Text, however, can be undone as it is a medium concerned primarily with space.
After the chest wounds heal, if desired, minor additional surgeries can be undertaken for patients who are unsatisfied with the work. The medical term for such surgeries is revision.
EXCERPT FROM THE ICE SCULPTOR'S INTERVIEW WITH THE WEEKLY MELT
Our mother writes me an email every morning, time stamped before 6am. She lives in a place that stays cold for most of the year and so finds time to share her daily goings-on. Transition for her happens as a decision—one morning I discover she has chosen to use the pronoun he. Because I have access only to the published missive—because I do not have a record of her keystrokes as she drafted the lines—I do not know how this decision was made. I see a version of my mother drafting the message using she, then watching as her left ring finger casually fails to prompt the presence of an s. I see her watching the cursor blink and then thinking of the child she raised, skinned knees, cropped hair, bad words, as she moves back through the message, scanning for the shes to amputate.
Or I see her sitting down with her coffee while the dark of early morning hovers over her home to find herself knowing this will be the day she gains a son. This will be the day a son is gained.
HOW TO TELL
There are two methods of disclosure: evolution and moment of reveal. In evolution, the subject is not informed, but gathers knowledge slowly—first there is the muscle mass’s increase, then the drop in voice. The face begins to grow long, delicate hairs distributed sparsely at the chin. The curves of the torso and hips shift into vertical
lines. Over months or years the knowledge of such change settles in the subject’s mind. It is a glacial moving. It is equal in scope to melting ice.
The other method involves overt disclosure, like turning on a light.
EXCERPT FROM THE ICE SCULPTOR'S INTERVIEW WITH HARD WATER
My mother’s left hand ring finger never wore a ring. This is because the knuckle that adheres the digit to her hand does not live where it should. In effect, the finger is as short as her pinky, and when she makes a fist, there is an interruption in the order of the four raised knuckles, a valley next to the last where a hill should be.
The faulty scaffolding beneath might be anticipation made manifest, a future-tense indication of the complex work that finger would have to undertake. It would prohibit her from wearing a wedding ring until she didn’t want to anymore. It would need to adopt a memory to avoid pressing down when my mother communicates anything about my brother through keypad and screen.
In the end, the way we wield language is not unlike sculpting—it is always an ivasive operation.
THE DUMB NIPPLE
Because removal of the breasts is deemed a major surgical event, often the subject is overcome with emotion because the body has endured a trauma. This involves physical output that is uncharacteristic for the patient. In his case, it was long periods of weeping for what reason he did not know. In his case, only holding his hand very tightly could make the sessions cease.
In the large-breasted surgery, because the nipple is removed entirely, the patient seldom recovers feeling. Therefore, when it is cold, the nipple will not contract and harden, but sit dumbly and unchanging in its soft, wide state.
EXCERPT FROM THE ICE SCULPTOR'S ARS GLACIERUM ON THE CHEST GARDEN
The light that makes the ice sculptures form shadows also expedites their end because light and heat cannot be divorced. The ice decomposes until all that is left are the thin wires that were used to hold the sculptures in the air. The room is now without shadow. The room stands chestless. The floor is a sea of what was.
THINGS HE WILL ALWAYS BE SELF-CONSCIOUS OF
The length of his eyelashes. The stretch marks along his hips. The under-standard size of his hands.
TRANSCRIPT OF A PHONE CALL FROM THE ICE SCULPTOR'S MOTHER TO THE ICE SCULPTOR
Mother: You understand you’re outing him everywhere.
Ice Sculptor: Maybe he shouldn’t want so much to be in.
EXCERPT FROM THE ICE SCULPTOR'S INTERVIEW WITH FROZEN FRIEZE
Say the ice is a garden. In this case, the prosthetic is defined by amputation, by cutting and discarding what might function perfectly well in order to permit future growth.
Now say the ice is a chest.
THE SCAR OF THE SCREEN
Only once did the ice sculptor’s mother commit a transgression in text. In a message a two years after his chest surgery, the mother forgets to proofread and a blunder lives in the center of the second paragraph
EXCERPT FROM THE ICE SCULPTOR'S INTERVIEW WITH COLD CARVE
In the end, he told me he was glad his boobs were so big. In the small-breasted surgery, there is risk that the nipple will not take.
In the method he did not undergo, sometimes there is rejection of the nipple.
PULL QUOTE ON THE FRONT PAGE OF SCULPTOR REGARDING THE OPENING OF THE CHEST GARDEN
When ice decays we call it melt. I can’t think of anything else that is not deemed dirty after it dies.
CAPTION OF A PHOTO OF HIM POST-OP, SENT TO HER IN THE MAIL
The white paste is scar serum. You have to heat it like wax to apply. They say if I use it now, in five years when I’m shirtless at the beach, with all my chest hair, no one will be able to tell.
SIGN ON THE DOOR OF HER BEDROOM YEARS AGO, WHEN THE ICE SCULPTOR STILL HAD A SISTER
My family and I moved from North Carolina to Tennessee and into a world of confusing adolescent needs and expectation. The prepubescent eleven-year-old girls I left were still trying to decide whether it was time to wear deodorant. Here, in a suburb of Memphis, the girls were already shaving their legs and priming and concealing, risking the tender parts of their necks to create corkscrews that framed their faces.continue reading >