Stepping Stones: An Ode to Gender and Sexuality in Three Parts by Mitch & Angel James

Disguise by Clare Elsaesser
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Stepping Stones:
An Ode to Gender and Sexuality in Three Parts


When you’re little, shoeless,
you want to play with dirt
in dirt. Through hair. Filthy
fingernails. You don’t mind.

You get dolls. Your brother gets
trucks and trains and turtles –
most of those are more fun –
make noise – move on their own.
Your toys are pink.
Even though you like green
and orange.

Pretty soon you’re not allowed
to get dirty anymore.

Pretty soon you’re supposed to be

You get plastic make up
to practice.
You get plastic high heels and
princess dresses so you can
practice with those too.

You are a princess.


Five slits to skin a Channel Cat
Two along its spine
Two behind the gills
One the length of its belly.

One pair of Needle Nose
And elbow grease.

Skin tears off easy as cornhusk
Hangs from the pliers
A raw shroud
Body bag black
Piles on the Funny Pages
Like a sheet.

Fingers petite enough
To pick pennies from floor vents
Shovel warm guts
From severed belly.

Watch the fish mouth contract
Gills flap
Eyes black
A particle of yourself in them
Tail pounding newspaper
Into wrinkles.

“Fish don’t have no feeling,” the man says.

You must believe
Leave your childhood on paper
In a poorly lit garage
Hands capillary red
Too cold to make a fist.


Wait long enough to wear
real make up.

Don’t grow boobs first – but
try not to be the last one either.

No matter what – people will stare.

You’ll probably like boys way sooner
than the boys will like girls.

Wait for them to make the first move.

When they do, don’t act on it.
You’ll turn slut far faster than his
hero reputation will be marred.

Your brother’s allowed out until eleven.
You aren’t allowed out at all.

Cross your legs.


Sixteen years old
Sharing sheets
With claw machine memorabilia
Grimacing animals
Smelling of fair food.

She’s nervous
Not wet.

You’re scared
Half flaccid.

Dick must be big
Must not hurt her
Must not cum too quickly

must be gentle
Must exert power
Exhibit passion
Make her feel special
Must make magic the first time
Must be flawless

Her friends will hear everything
Your person spewed through phone earpieces
Into voice mailboxes

You will equate to the distance
Between two fingertips.

It’s less than both of you anticipated
It’s all your fault.

You leave your boyhood in a black room
Under the gaze of cotton creatures
That will never fail her.


Don’t complain about being oppressed!
You were liberated in the 60s.
Your foremothers burned their bras so you could
buy the lacey expensive ones from
Victoria’s Secret.

You’re allowed to wear jeans.
You’re equal.

Selling yourself for sex isn’t
prostitution. It’s liberating.

You’re a nagging, house-wife,
soccer-mom bitch.

You’re a crazy, feminist,
liberal bitch.

No matter what – you’re a bitch.


Expectations of the Man:

Be something nothing else can be
A bearer of burdens only God could shoulder
Burdens of God and of man.

In public it’s called fucking
No matter what it means personally.

There is no personal
You are not affected.

You are expected to throw a good punch
And if not
You are expected to take one.

To be noble you walk away from a fight
Never back down from a challenge.

A man should throw a punch for his mother
For his woman
Should eat and rest only after his family has.

Expect to starve
To rest very little.

Be expected to die on foreign soil
To die for other countries
To die for your country.

Be expected to die.

You are a fool to fix problems with force
You are weak if you cannot fix problems with your fist.

Be expected to fail often
Never speak of it.

Expect ridicule if you speak of feelings
Expect condemnation if you don’t.

Expect to be judged.

You’ll not fear death.
It is familiar to you
Becomes comfortable
While still having
A box of toys.

The making of a man.


Mitch & Angel James

Mitch James was born and raised in Central Illinois, where he received a BA in English with a minor in Creative Writing from Eastern Illinois University. He received a Masters in Literature from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and has had fiction and poetry published in Decomp, Underground Voices, Kill Author, Digital Americana and Blue Earth Review among others. Mitch is set to graduate with his Ph.D. from the Composition and TESOL program at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, where he’s both an instructor in the English Department and Assistant Coordinator of the English Writing Portfolio Placement Program. Mitch’s latest scholarly article, “Tragedy, Plot, Fiction: A Study of Sameness and How You May Have Been Duped,” was recently published in New Writing: The International Journal for the Practice and Theory of Creative Writing.

Angel James was born and raised in Central Pennsylvania, where she received her BA in English with minors in Music and Philosophy from Lock Haven University. She received a Masters in English from Indiana University of Pennsylvania.