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Identity / Nonbinary

The Fourth Monarch: A Journey Through Gender, Sex, and Spirituality

My transition has not been a journey of discovering myself. It has been an awakening to everything that kept me from myself.

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Written by Alaska Skye.

Art by Alaska Skye.

There are four generations of monarch butterflies. The first three hatch, eat, undergo metamorphosis, mate, die. The fourth migrates furthest. The fourth monarch knows that it is the one that flies.

It started with freedom. Never needing to know who I was, I just was, unaware of the prison I had been born into. It comes on gradually; slipping over you, sinking in, until it’s your idea. The smooth legs, red lips, underwire, clothes so tight you can’t breathe, skin raw and irritated from being plucked, powdered, squeezed and hated. I believe that I have always known.

In some parts of me — before language, before conception — I have always known the colours of my soul, as the fourth monarch knows that it is them who will make the migration. My transition has not been a journey of discovering myself. It has been an awakening to everything that kept me from myself. All the little comments, the insidious constructs called gender that hemmed me in. Creating conflict and pain inside me. This world a hellscape for the shape of my spirit. 

“Never needing to know who I was, I just was, unaware of the prison I had been born into.”

I am not fitting myself into the world. I’m not required to change myself to see myself. I must transform the world, pull its barbs from my flesh until I can look through my own eyes, and not the eyes of society. I have no use for the unbearable weight of feminine, masculine, androgynous and their kind; for threefold systems of governance that offered me nothing but exclusion; power or the lack thereof. My body is my own and it will not be a trap. It will not be wrong. That is what the moon taught me when she twisted into my short hair and bent ribs (shapes of a body I tried to change, as I was told I must), and promised me that I could know myself.

I have left the family of womanhood. I have done what I thought was required to don the clothes of boyhood. I have tried to find my place within what I was told made sense. I have swung the binary in my body, brain, and blood, and been left with bitterness. The discomfort surrounds me as gentle violence in confused looks, hurried glances, unsure stumbles over names and pronouns, blatant judgements over the meanings of a flat chest, a pair of eyes rimmed in smoke and shimmer, a short cut being grown out. All of this an endless reminder that I will always be assumed. Demanded. I must prove it to you in ways you understand or it does not exist.

Life as a girl was a fierce ecstasy; as a boy, a public tragedy. Now it is nothing less than a silent scream. Gender has offered me nothing. It has given me shame and loss for worshipping at its scorching altar, so now I give my prayers to the old folk who showed me the truths within myself, leading me back to the freedom of childhood. Unbounded.

But the faith that has filled me with strength cannot encase the world in that same chrysalis to liquify and be reformed. The hair that has grown freely on my head connecting me to the moon, the earth, and the undercurrents of spirit has locked me into an easy perception of femininity. Leaving those around me without doubts that they understand who I am; that I was in a phase, a rebellion, that I have returned to my senses. My connection, love, and passion for my biological body leave me an outcast among the narratives of dysphoria and transition, left to float in a sea of my own stars too afraid or too exhausted to fight for a spotlight that only feels like gawking rather than seeing. 

“I have swung the binary in my body, brain, and blood, and been left with bitterness.”

If only I could show you what letting go looks like. How beautiful the sky is beyond the horizon. How I can love my uterus, fight against the oppressions that having it has exposed me to, and still not have to be a woman or a man, or any gender, or none. I don’t perform my gender with femininity or masculinity, or androgyny. I perform it by rewriting the belief that I must express it to you with concepts you’ve accepted. The wind and the trees, the water and the pagan folks have long since taught me that the tiny human word gender represents a concept far too stereotyped for the expansive universe that lives inside me. The shapes of my biology, my assigned place, and what that is supposed to mean are human constructs for a human world.

I am left here, feet and head on earth with a soul of sky forced to translate the language of my starscape into words too small to describe it. Limited by the meanings, assumptions and oppressions that they have burned into them. Still, let me see if I can make it feel right.

It’s like this: The smell of iron in frigid water under silver light from a full moon in early spring. The wide open sky; night, day, morning, filled with clouds or stars or clear as the alto tones of bells. Filling you until you are the sky, the clouds, stars, clear bells. The shaking heartbreak that turns you inside out with screaming; the most lost you’ve ever felt. The most found. The risk when you jump and relief when you land without a mark. It’s cultural; the hot cedar smell of sauna, the prickle of wool, the lack of family created by emigrating. It is in all of me and I am in all of it; impossible to pull one from the other yet entirely separate. Winter air and summer sun, howling wind and snow. Freedom and falling and singing and shouting. Being understood and understanding. It’s phasal. Steady. It is knowing exactly who you are and it not being enough because knowing that you are the monarch that flies doesn’t mean you can control the wind.


About the Author

Alaska Skye was born at home in Winnipeg, Manitoba on a hot night to four siblings, two parents and a midwife. Growing up in a free spirited family that ended up in a small, conservative Bible Belt town in Southern Manitoba was a lesson in exclusion that has influenced nearly every part of their life. Skye struggled greatly with mental health, a later diagnosed learning disability, sexuality, and gender and turned to their creative and artistic interests to help them understand, express and process their feelings and experiences. Skye uses artistic mediums such as poetic prose, textile arts, and visual arts to explore themes of sexuality, spirituality, gender, mental wellness, culture and community. Their work has appeared in many print anthologies and online magazines over the years including Theories of HER, Pictures + Portraits, and Effervescent Magazine. They currently live in Darlingford MB, fifteen minutes from their hometown of Morden, with their partners, cats, and local spirits. Skye works from home as an artist, homemaker and part of a grassroots Pride organization they founded in 2019 after many years of local activism.

Follow on IG: @becauseofsky


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