Erin O'daniel is a writer, artist and gender expansive womxn living in Duluth, Minnesota

Eco Boundaries

As spring blooms and summer bites, I’m reading three books-  She He They Me: For the Sisters, Misters, and Binary Resisters by Dr. Robyn Ryle, a choose your own adventure about gender identity,  Bowlaway by Elizabeth McCracken, and The Book of Delights by Ross Gay. All three engage re-imagined worlds while decorating the pages with queer definitions .

“Ego boundaries” (def. - distinctions that make sense of where the self starts and the rest of the world begins) was one definition I read over and over. Dr Ryle writes here around essentialism,

Ego boundaries are something most of us have to learn, because babies aren’t born with the innate ability to differentiate between themselves and the outside world. Many folks socialized as female develop weaker ego boundaries- often less able to draw a line between where one starts and the rest of the world (especially humans, also animals and objects) ends. In other words, some [womxn] might find it easier to empathize with other people and/or queer their realities.

McCracken uses her main character Bertha Truitt to queerly (used here in 20th century New England way) expand boundaries too. Truitt, the creator of candlepin bowling and owner of her own alley, is described in opening pages,

What she wanted was a kind of greatness women were not allowed. If allowed a small measure of it, they had to forsake love. She forsook nothing.

Reading about desire and limitation refocused (in a springish way) this blog, intentionally titled Sex in My City (SiMC). I rediscovered why I’m writing about the sexual climate of northern Minnesota. As everything around us thaws and greens, my intimate boundaries queer themselves up. In 2019, I’ve watched my physical/mental/emotional patterns closely sensing a freshness in how I engage intersections of internal and external after 2018, a brutish baseline mammogram of a year full of death and loss of love, left me at zero.

I see ego boundaries in myself, clear delineations of where I start and the world begins, where my heart bleeds and where it clots. After I was kayoed by 2018, I blindly walked old and new paths. Similar to the statements Dr. Ryle ends every chapter with to guide readers (“You’re socialized as a girl, GO TO 37” or “Your gender assignment is female or feminine, GO TO 24”), my sense of self came from multiple opportunities to lean into queer sorrow.

Winter 2019 allowed me to continue to explore dark alongside light and dig into thousands of pages of art. With book after book read, and page after page written, my edges blended and redefined themselves. Who I am became distinct again as temperatures plunged and ice+snow covered our small-ish city. Now with summer, everything explodes and love becomes an anthology of faces and hearts and hands that have filled me. I can identify again with how McCracken’s main character falls in love,

I am a cave, happy to be a cave and many loves are swung lanterns come to light me up.

This metaphor alongside the social science Ryle shares about gender is crowding my head. Ego and eco boundaries (def. - recognizing the limitations and freedoms of the world I live in at specific times of the year) are also explored in Book of Delights. Gay quotes a student, “What if we joined our wildnernesses?” and goes on to write

Sit with that for a minute. That the body, the life, might carry a wilderness, an unexplored territory, and that yours and mine might somewhere, somehow meet. Might, even, join. And what if that wilderness- perhaps the densest wild in there- thickets, bogs, swamps, uncrossable ravines and rivers-  is our sorrow?

Eco boundaries, joined and separate wildernesses, are real for folx in northern Minnesota. We live in a spacious yet three season place. Love can stretch up the shore of our bigLake one season then be limited by weather and schedules the next. Where do I end, where does the world begin when we winter versus when folx forget about ice and fall out of their shells? How do I make sense of my thawing body, a desiring of everything past and present?

When love shifts, the actual boundaries provide space and time to heal, walk away and reform the distinctions of self. I start here on wide open water and she begins at a sharp river. Our seasons do the same. Eco boundaries, defined by states of soil and surface water, create space between self, intimacy, joy, old+new grief, and the world.

Yesterday my dog Bat and I hiked in Hartley. We grinned as the muddy ground sucked at our shoes/paws. Thawed dirt expanded and contracted. Square feet of path collapsed under my weight. It was an adventurous walk full of unexpected holes.

With the mention of mud, Ross Gay continues,

It astonishes me sometimes- no, often- how every person I get to know- everyone, regardless of everything, by which I mean everything- lives with some profound personal sorrow. Not to mention the existential sorrow we all might be afflicted with, which is that we, and what we love, will soon be annihilated. Which sounds more dramatic than it might. Let me just say dead. Is this, sorrow, of which our impending being no more might be the foundation, the great wilderness? Is sorrow the great wild? And if it is- and if we join them- your wild to mine-what’s that? For joining, too, is a kind of annihilation. What if we joined our sorrows, I’m saying. I’m saying; What if that is joy?

Love and gender are the frozen then thawing then muddy then green knowing/unknowing where I begin and the world ends, a constantly shifting ground underneath my feet. My body rides the mud, slips sideways while simultaneously craving solid soil.

Eco boundaries, blurring of self and season, myself and other, what lies between joy and sorrow, show what my heart is capable and incapable of. Eco boundaries, growth into ourselves and the expanding world, take us beyond the binaried loop (as sad as Dr Ryle’s chapter that ends with “you’re born into a culture with just two genders, GO TO 13”) and allow us to queer our worlds.

Queer Duluth Love Letter

Queer Intimacy w/ Place (expanded)-Wildness