Out of Water

I am a clownfish. I told Aggie this when we met and again after our mothers set us up and she tried to put me in a hot air balloon on an otherwise bland double date.

She didn’t do her research.

“Those them cute ones in the tank at the Chinese restaurant?” she’d said, mimicking some southern belle and winking.

Today, August 21, 1963, she thinks she’s done better with a canoe trip and picnic along Lake Huron. Only we’re in Ontario and she’s packed “fresh” lobster. I wonder how long she’s had it in the basket.

I wish I could have breasts like hers, I think, standing on the beach with my hands shoved deep in my corduroys while she putters around in a yellow bikini and whisks out a table cloth. We need the music from Bewitched. I’d like to try twirling a parasol right now, anything but those fishing poles and the heavy paddles. Man, I’d do anything to get my hands on a perky cross-your-heart bra. For myself.

She lays the pieces of coral crustacean out like surgical tools. I play with a tail and she’s already licking her fingers, gabbing about her friends’ engagements and her progress with tennis and angel food cakes. The sand and everything is too white.

“The girls, you know, they all think you’re a little on the feminine side, can you believe it? But me, I just say, well ladies I like a clean and tidy man. I mean I’m clean and tidy. You must like that about me.”

Under her Rita Hayworth coiffed bangs, she stares over at me before tossing her head to the side, laughing. I feel sick, catching a faint whiff of ammonia from the lobster mixed with the wet algae smell.

The sun is blistering my shoulders and there’s sand in between my molars but I can’t go anywhere because my mother’s already asking too many questions and looking too worried when she catches me with her Chatelaine. It’s just her and I, now that Dad hightailed it to Florida for another woman—the fishing capital of the world, don’t you know it—and she said she wants a new, normal life carved out of the ripples he left. I don’t know how normal can manifest in something like moving water.

Aggie doesn’t seem to mind my inaction when it comes romance. Or conversation. And I know I’m going to have to keep it up and marry this girl who fed lobster to a clownfish and thinks something like blue and pink come from separate oceans.

Maybe one day I can explain about the clownfish.


Renée Francoeur is a 28 year-old Canadian journalist. By day she writes for contractors and by night she blogs, paints nudes and writes poetry.

She won third prize for the 2016 Women Inspirational Poetry Contest. She’s also written for Standard Criteria and Squawk Back and been published in Three Line Poetry and Poetry Quarterly. She is currently working on a chapbook about the intersection of broken heartedness, rebirth and geography.

She loves coconut coffee porter, wild buffalo, striving to bring gender and minority issues to the forefront, old tombstones, baking strange recipes (kale cake anyone?) and sustainable, GMO-free agricultural endeavours.

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The Strange Comfort

I can’t stop gaping at my sent messages. The number seems to rise without a reply every day these days. I look back at some of the older messages wondering when I made that first introduction. I spot some messages dating back a few weeks ago and even more still a few months ago. I look at my dating inbox to see if I missed any replies. I never have. I don’t think that I will, either.

I go hunting for new dates anyway because I hope that I will spot someone who I have not assaulted with my genuine nature. The browse page fills up with so many familiar profiles; I feel like an expert on every one of them. I know that Tommy corrected a spelling mistake on his page a few days ago. One that he had up there for years. I know that George updated his favorite books after I suggested a few to him because one of my suggestions appears there. Still, I hunt for someone new.

Maybe it’s because I am desperately hunting that I don’t hear the beep. It’s an earcon that tells people that they have a new message. When I look at my inbox, though, again…there’s an unread message. It’s from a guy I messaged months ago.

“Hi!” it reads, perhaps with a sigh, perhaps not. “I’m Jamie. I’m sorry it took so long to get back to you, but I was debating if we were going to be a good fit, even.”

I value his honesty more than anything, and I begin to compose a novel about how I don’t know what I am even looking for anymore because people are afraid of genuine behavior. So, if he didn’t want to date me, go out with me, or even talk to me, that I’d appreciated it if he just blocked me and moved on because all I want at this very moment is a hug and for someone to tell me I am special, even if it’s not true.

His reply comes back quick as a flash. He says he values my honesty. He says he doesn’t get a lot of replies because of his height; he is six foot six and his skin. Apparently, he’s black. I guess I will just have to take him at face value.

We continue to send novels to each other. I tell him about the dance party I attended where I swung my hips with such vigor that a hurricane manifested in downtown Chicago. He explains he missed the disaster because Netflix kept his attention that night. He was watching House of Cards. We reveal how lonely we are and how we have nothing in common with one another. He hates intellectual conversation and loves small talk, and I don’t understand his love of bugs and ants. He doesn’t like my voice, and I don’t like his. Still, we pour our hearts out to each other on the phone and through email.

Neither of us knows why.

Soon after a heated exchange over the phone, one afternoon, I ask him if he can come over and we could argue in person about something. To some people, this seems wildly bizarre, but I have always been a blue traffic light in a world of green and red traffic lights. Nothing is normal to me anymore. When he says that he will visit me in my apartment, I am elated, not terrified that a man who towers over me is going to be in my apartment all alone. My blue traffic signal can’t stop pulsating with anticipation.

He arrives at nine that night and bends over to hug me. Even though I can’t see him or what he looks like online, I picture him as a Denzel Washington clone. His height doesn’t quite fit my mental image, but I figure adding a pink traffic signal to my arsenal won’t hurt the economy any more than normal people will.

When he sits on my bed, the mattress sinks a little. Even when I sit on his lap, I still must look up at his voice to face him.

We start off by talking about our dating accounts. As we talk, we realize that we may not like each other in the slightest, but we are both in the same boat. We are lonely outcasts in our own gaggle of brothers who want a lot of things like; for example, love, marriage rights, and someone who’s true to who they are. I wish  they knew how to say all they want is someone who you can have sex with and never look back. As we talk, we become even more heartbroken and emotional and worried.

His arms shake as his voice trembles with the desperate cry for answers that I am sure we all asked ourselves at some point, “Is there someone out there for me?”

“I have no freaking idea,” I say and hug him back. We hold each other, and we wish the world was better about being honest. We argue about what honesty is. We argue about other gay men. Even though we are not getting along, we need each other, just for tonight. I take his face in my hands and gaze up at his heavy breathing. We continue to hold each other until, finally, his annoying voice and loving embrace steps towards my apartment door. Before he leaves, though, I grab his arm to say a final goodbye. Something weird blurts out of my mouth instead.

“We just can’t give up,” I say. I tell him that there’s someone out there for everybody, even weirdoes like us.

“I hope you’re right.” He says.

“I hope so too,” I answer. I don’t know how loudly our weirdly colored hearts are beating at this moment, but I’d like to hope that someone, somewhere, notices they exist.


Robert Kingett is a bestselling author and award winning journalist who just can’t stop pouring his personal life onto a screen. While most admired for his personal essays, human stories, boldly told, and short memoirs, he also covers various beats, such as satire, politics, crime, travel, food and drink, and entertainment. He is a dating advice columnist and actively campaigns to make the world a better place for disabled people as well as other minority voices. His website is www.blindjournalist.wordpress.com

Deconstructing a Conversation With an Emotionally Abusive Ex

Deconstructing a Conversation With an Emotionally Abusive Ex

Or

“Trans Guys Can Be Assholes to Each Other Too”

When my ex and I were dating, I came to realize that he looked different to me when he was being, as I like to describe it now, a douchecanoe.

I do not mean that I saw him through a different light; I mean that his physical expressions were a tell. His eyes would glaze over as if he were shutting down, shutting himself off from me. His whole face would seem to sag and shift, morphing into a poorly constructed mask. It was different from his pain and grief, different from his boredom, and certainly different from his happiness.

After eight months of radio silence, he wants to talk. We meet at a coffee shop and he walks straight back to the table without ordering. He sits down and when he opens his mouth, I see it in his eyes and the set of his jaw: he’s about to be a dick, again.

He says: “First, I recognize that I hurt you. I am sorry for that. I am sorry that you were hurt, but I do not regret the actions.”

“A general piece of advice: Be wary of anyone who apologizes for your feelings and not for their actions.”

A general piece of advice: Be wary of anyone who apologizes for your feelings and not for their actions.

I don’t truly remember what his second point was because I was busy sighing to myself for having agreed to meet with him, but he says: “Third, you crossed a serious line with me.”

He pauses and I meet his glazed eyes and hear my heart starting to thud. I remember how long it took me to reconcile his behavior for what it was. I remember the months of not knowing what exactly I was apologizing for, just that everything was wrong and I didn’t know how to fix it and I thought it all must be my fault because he was good and I was bad. I remember the supernova inside my chest when things had started going wrong between us.

He continues: “You tried to talk to me when I told you I didn’t want to talk. That’s not okay.”

Let me present a scenario: Say that someone who I am in a relationship with punches me in the face. I’m shocked. I don’t understand why or where this came from or what I did. I know in the back of my mind that it’s not okay, but I love this person, and I think “There must be an explanation.”

So I try to ask. Maybe I’m even shocked enough that I can’t ask at first, that it’s not until I’m crying on a bus the next day that I realize something was wrong about what happened. I ask them to help me understand what happened, what I did, why they did this, and they tell me they don’t want to talk about it right then. And maybe I let them get away with that for awhile before I bring it up again, or maybe I push. Either way, they never give me an explanation. The next time they punch me in the face, I ask again. I think, “I just need help understanding. It’s okay. It’s okay, I just need their perspective.”

This time, they tell me they’re not in the mood to talk at all and put me through a week of silence. When we speak again, I’m so relieved to be talking to them that I don’t bring it up at all. If I did, they might withdraw again and ignore me entirely. I’m hurt and confused and I don’t know what to do.

Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

“I’ve promised myself two things about this meeting: I am not going to apologize and I am not going to argue.”

He sits there after he says this and I almost want to laugh at him. It isn’t funny, but it’s ludicrous. I take a deep breath. I’ve promised myself two things about this meeting: I am not going to apologize and I am not going to argue.

I say: “Interesting apology.”

I take another breath and I consider the argument, consider trying to make him see. But I don’t need him to see. I don’t need anything from him. “I’m not going to argue with you. I recognize that you live in a very different reality from mine, and at this point in my life I don’t think it would do me any good to try and get you to understand my reality.”

He huffs something and I repeat: “I’m not going to argue with you.”

He says: “But you’re not going to talk to me either.”

I say: “At this point, talking to you would be arguing with you.”

He tips himself back in his chair and mutters “Nor are you going to apologize, apparently.”

Scenario: Someone I’m dating punches me in the face, then asks me to apologize for my reaction.

Okay, Dick Cheney. Sorry you shot me.

“Scenario: Someone I’m dating punches me in the face, then asks me to apologize for my reaction.

Okay, Dick Cheney. Sorry you shot me.”

I’m not sure if I laugh out loud, but a tiny spark of morbid enjoyment has grown up inside of me. He has no power over me anymore. I might be imagining it, but it seems to me as if he’s realizing this and he doesn’t like it.

I say: “Well, considering your apology wasn’t particularly apologetic, no, I don’t really feel the need to at this point.”

He asks me what my reality is, even though I’ve just said I’m not going to try and explain it to him. Here he is, asking me for something that uncannily resembles that which so offended him eight months ago.

I tell him that the universe is a strange place. I tell him how it was weird timing to hear from him because I had just finished writing an article about our relationship, an article about emotional abuse and empathy. I don’t give him details, just the broad concepts.

He says: “Can you recognize that you did things that hurt me, too?”

This guts me. I’ve spent all this time trying to accept his behavior as abusive. I’ve thought a lot about what it would take to make him see that, and how I wish he would open his eyes enough to try to see my experience. How to talk to him about what he did without his immediate response being defensive rejection.

So how can I justify my own immediate defensiveness? What if I’m wrong and he’s on the other side of this table, thinking about how he spent six months trying and failing to justify my actions until he was forced to form the words “emotional abuse” and slap them across his memories of me?

I feel the apology lick up my throat and I clamp it down hard. Later, I will spend the next three days asking myself “Why is this different? Do I believe in my experiences? Is this all a continuation of the invalidation in our relationship? Did he want me to apologize for my actions when he couldn’t apologize for his?” but for now:

I will not apologize and I will not argue.

I say: “…Sure. Yes. Our relationship was toxic and I recognize that it wasn’t good for you either.”

He huffs some more and pivots back to the article. He says: “I’m really pissed off that you used me as research without my permission.”

I say: “Well, it’s not about you. It’s about my experiences in our relationship. And those experiences belong to me as much as to you.”

He says: “It’s really hard for me to see you as human when you’re like this.”

I can’t help it. This conversation is ridiculous. “As opposed to what? A frog?”

He says: “When you’re sitting there, diagnosing me.”

More deep, deep breaths.

I facilitate a support group and in that space we talk a lot about “I” statements. I think about reframing this for him. That what I hear is not him accusing me of not being human, but of him feeling that I am not thinking of him as human.

I say: “Remember, when we were dating, and I would try to ask you about things that were going on with us? And I wouldn’t try to assume, but I was just trying to ask, and you would get really upset and accuse me of trying to tell you what you were thinking or feeling? You’re kind of doing that right now.”

He ignores this. He says: “If I could go back… I should have left sooner.”

I don’t need him to see. I say: “Yes. I shouldn’t have stayed.”

He says: “I tried to make you see that I believe relationships happen if they’re supposed to happen, when they’re supposed to happen, and you can’t force them. It’s clear that you were more in-love with me than I was ever going to be with you –“

I finally let out the incredulous laugh that’s been building since this conversation started. “Again, with the assuming feelings thing.”

He looks startled, but he keeps going. He says: “I’m going off of the patterns that I had seen from you, and you just kept wanting to rehash conversations and it felt like nothing was ever over. And I tried every way of saying that I believe relationships just are, they just happen.”

Again, why did I keep asking about being punched? Why couldn’t I accept things as resolved after days or weeks of silent treatment? Why couldn’t I see that if a relationship wasn’t perfect on its own with absolutely no effort or emotional labor, then it was never going to work?

Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

I say: “I’m not going to argue with you.”

“I could have given in and told him I was sorry that I hurt him, but not for my actions. Except that is not a real apology, and it goes against my principles to give false apologies.”

There’s more. He keeps talking and I keep telling him that I’m not going to argue. I’m proud of myself for more or less sticking to my resolve. I could have given in and told him I was sorry that I hurt him, but not for my actions. Except that is not a real apology, and it goes against my principles to give false apologies.

The truth is that I never wanted to hurt him, and I’m sure that I did. I realized while we were still dating that he lives in a very different reality from mine, but I imagine that reality is as real to him as my own is to me. I could analyze his accusations as projections, as with the reframing of “seeing me as human,” but whatever happens in his reality happens. And in the context of it, he has to do what is before him to do. I can’t change that, but I won’t give in to it.

When he leaves abruptly, on his way out he says: “If you see me around, you can say hi.”

Before this meeting, the last time I saw him was at Pride, two months after we broke up. I waved and he couldn’t even acknowledge me, except to glare. But he’s out the door now and I don’t call after him.

Another piece of general advice: You don’t owe toxic people anything. Not apologies. Not explanations. Not the time of day.


Gideon C. Elliott is a Seattle-based queer trans man whose previous written work has been mostly academic in nature. He has an essay published in Manifest: Transitional Wisdom on Male Privilege edited by Meghan Kohrer and Zander Keig and spends some time writing bad poetry about the state of our political environment. When not at work, he can usually be found volunteering or in a park crying over other people’s dogs. You can contact him at gideoncelliott@gmail.com or follow him on instagram: @theimmortaljellyfish.

The Confused Conspirator

Many things are ironic in my life. Situational irony is smacking me in the face as I listen to George sitting across from me babbling about his love of oil and cars. I can’t stop tuning him out and thinking that I told myself, many times over, that I’d never lose all of my vision. I don’t know what he’s doing here because he said he would never date a bookworm. I’m in shock because he’s been fine with it up until now. Then again, every stance he has taken or opinion he has spewed has been the polar opposite of what he told me this morning. I wonder if his name is even George.

My profile is splattered with sentences about how many audio books I consume on a weekly basis and my love of sentences, words, and publishing. I told George that I love books when he first messaged me on the website. He said, as I am sure he tells everyone, even his unknowing friends, that it’s “definitely no problem because he’s open minded.”

“So guess what?” he rambles, a word which here means: fires off without any regard to the other person’s thoughts or feelings about the presidential election, a topic he was just spitting about.

“Guess what! I haven’t read a book in over ten years!”

“Really?” I ask, in utter awe, a phrase which here means: completely proud to be anyone other than this forty-year-old overachiever.

“Yeah!” he cheers, “I feel great! I don’t have any bias because of my choice, you know? Reading is for the people who just want portable ways to be brainwashed.”

I stare at the spot where his booming voice is rocketing from. Even though I can’t see anymore, I can tell a few things. He’s spitting as he talks. I feel small droplets pelting me in the face every time he utters a vowel. He’s shoveling chicken into his mouth. I can smell the hot sauce as it smacks my face. He loves to talk about himself. And, lastly, he can’t keep one detail about himself consistent. I wonder if he even read my words or if he just guessed my sentences. I decide to try to reason with him.

“I know you don’t like to read,” I begin, “But, I have to wonder, did you even read my profile, did you even look at the messages you were sending me on the dating site?”

“Oh! Those?” he snorts. This time carrot-flavored spit peppers my face. My stomach churns. “Well, see, I thought you weren’t serious about any of that. I thought you were writing them journalisms because you wanted to weed out all of the stupid people who like to be brainwashed by words on a page or a screen. Now, me, I’m a free thinker. I haven’t been brainwashed at all. Hell, I don’t even know what the word ‘conspiracy’ means, for example. Who makes up these definitions anyway? The media and books tell us how we should think, but they don’t help us think. You feel me?”

I stare in bewilderment, a word which here means: eager to brainwash him with the definition of the word ‘stupid’ instead. “But, see… that’s just paranoid thinking. People read for all kinds of different reasons. To be entertained. To be informed. To explore different worlds. To learn something new about an old event. There’s more than one kind of book and there’s more than one kind of writing.”

I can feel his eyes staring at me with confusion. He seems like he’s having trouble processing what I just said.

“I don’t get why people read. I don’t get why people read the media or books. It’s all portable hypnotizing devices anyway.” He adds, as if to add insult to injury, “It’s such a shame you participate in that brainwashing process. You seem like a really sweet and nice and caring fellow. I mean, here you are, cute as a button, and you are one of them media people that tells the public what to think and how to believe. The corruption has reached you!”

Even though I have only been sitting here for ten minutes I want to flee, a word which here means: scream and run away. I smile, stand up, and pop my cane out. I take a deep breath to prepare for the scream of a lifetime, when he drops a bombshell.

“I love movies though!” he says. “Maybe I can show you some good movies that will make you read less.”

A few minutes later I am figuratively running as fast as I can to the nearest library. I want to apologize to the structure. I want to let the building know that I will literally never speak to George again. I feel relieved when I reach the library. I pick up a few classic audio books from their shelves and stroke their spines tenderly, a phrase which here means: supporting all the writers rolling over in their graves who are begging for a reproduction license requirement.


Robert Kingett is a bestselling author and award winning journalist who just can’t stop pouring his personal life onto a screen. While most admired for his personal essays, human stories, boldly told, and short memoirs, he also covers various beats, such as satire, politics, crime, travel, food and drink, and entertainment. He is a dating advice columnist and actively campaigns to make the world a better place for disabled people as well as other minority voices. His website is www.blindjournalist.wordpress.com