False Memories

I have a very distinct memory of reading a text or hearing a conversation or receiving instructions that if one walked around the mugumo tree backward seven times, one’s sex would change.

The sharpness of the instructions is modulated by the fuzziness of the context, a fuzziness that makes me doubt the sharpness of the instructions. That I remember receiving them on the cusp of puberty induces me to believe in a queer ancestral memory, as though I chanced upon rituals secreted in hidden places, in trees, in the grass, in rocks, on the wind.

I have, in the years since, tried to trace a textual origin for this memory, with no success. That I cannot find a source speaks, I think, not to my abysmal research skills, nor to my admittedly limited access to certain Kenyan sources, but to a necessary myth-making, an attempt to suture histories and traditions, to embed in and extend from there to here, here to there, who I was with who I was becoming.

This process of constructing what Audre Lorde aptly terms a biomythography explains, in part, the intricate relationship between history and memory, the porous border between fact and fiction, the ability of the imagination to bridge what one is with what one desires.

Increasingly, I am drawn to thinking more about this bridge between what one is and what one desires. This formulation sounds incomplete, as the more common formulation is “what one is and what one desires to be.” I truncate the common formulation to emphasize how desire creates un-anticipated futures and alliances.

One desires not just for oneself but also for others. To wish another good is one of the great lessons of Christianity, and one that I carry with me. And the challenge of doing so is recognizing how that wish re-aligns one’s own priorities, re-orients one in unexpected ways. (I am thinking more about orientation these days due to Sara Ahmed’s work.)

To orient and re-orient is also, to return to my opening, to traverse that fragile boundary between memory and fantasy, myth and reality, to seek in one’s imagined past resources for an unfolding present.