I have always been aware of the slight curvature in my back. It’s not so much because of the fact that it’s visibly there (though it does occasionally, and totally besides my will, materialise a slight hunchback). It’s more to do with what I recall was my first experience of registering that there was a fault with my body. That at some point something had gone wrong and my genetic fabric had started to reveal its least desirable gifts. When I was diagnosed with very mild scoliosis I was barely a teenager, but by then I already felt incredibly insecure about my physical being. The doctor assured my mum that there was not a huge amount to really worry about. It was not bad enough to have to submit myself to operations, correcting apparatuses and the regimented exercise plans that often followed. Still, it was almost as if I craved those things, almost as if I wanted to go through the pain ritual, if anything to convince myself that what was wrong with me could be made right. The doctor did recommend that I take up swimming, which I completely ignored. As if swimming could do anything for me at all.
Around the same time there was a girl at school that had started to wear a cumbersome medical brace. I made a point to be friends with her, not because I felt pity or empathy, for she had started to be made fun of by kids at school, but because I was fascinated by the mechanical extension to her body. I learnt, once I braved speaking to her, that she had also been recently diagnosed withscoliosis. She had a very pronounced curvature at two different points in her spine. This had meant that she needed to have an operation, which then led to the prescription of this device that propped her back upright 24/7.
One day, not long after we had began hanging out during school lunch breaks, we went to the girls toilets and locked ourselves in one of the cubicles. She immediately took her tops off so I could I see the full extent of her body.
The brace, a hollow plastic carcass made to look like the colour of her skin, wrapped itself around her stomach and continued all the way up her back. A metal plank with soft padding (sort of like the one you use to apply concealer with) forced the device straight, and by extension her back. She let me touch it. Then she started taking it off –so I could see it better, she said.
Upon revealing her back I noticed the marks of the operation. They looked as if holes had been drilled directly into her body and had managed to heal, only the pink, fleshy bumps giving them away now. And then her pale white skin, almost like alabaster, so tight and clean that it looked like it had never been exposed to human touch before.
The experience of seeing her like this was surprisingly fulfilling. But there was no further intention that was to be sought from her in her semi-naked position. She picked up that my interest was not in her at least not in the way other boys would have wanted to see her. But then I realised that was not perhaps what she wanted either. For though she knew I didn’t want her, she still turned around for me to notice her tiny, uncovered breasts with pointy nipples that had become hard in the cold and damp cubicle. Standing in front of me, she placed my hands on the perforated skin of her back, where I traced the pattern of her spine. My touch was medical, my fingers a tool. I had no attraction or desire for her, and yet I knew she was beautiful. I admired her body and fetished the mechanics involved in its functioning, seeing our mutual fault as a sort of advantage, as an extension of what made us alive and fragile human beings.
After that we didn’t speak much about what had happened in the cubicle, but it was almost as if we had reached some sort of consensus that what at first felt debilitating, lessening and shameful was now a prop, a difference, a mode of being resistant and of bearing strength.
Our spines’ inability to be straight was a kind of intuition –one that would serve as the grounds for our friendship, for our togetherness in a common struggle. At the time, I did not know that this feeling would extend beyond my spine to my entire being. Our bodies were bent, curved, arched, but we moved them with pride.
Eliel Jones is a (queer) critic, writer and curator based in London, UK. He has written about contemporary art and performance for Frieze, Artforum, The Guardian, Elephant, MAP, Mousse, Flash Art, and elsewhere.
Richard Porter is an artist and found of Pilot Press, a queer publisher of art and writing. He is currently in his final year of the MFA in Fine Art at Goldsmiths College.
Jared Buckhiester (b. 1977) is an artist based in New York City.
Images: (banner artwork) He Can Work It Out (detail), 2005, graphite and ink on paper, by Jared Buckhiester; Razor Clam With Painkillers, 2018, glazed stoneware, by Richard Porter.
Minor Literature[s] and Richard Porter would like to acknowledge the entire list of contributors:
Clay AD, Alex Margo Arden, Lucy Bird, Nick Blackburn, Jared Buckhiester, Harry Burgess, Oisin Byrne, Stephen Carruthers, Paul Coombs, Lara Alonso Corona, Charlotte Cullen, Genie Dallaway, Carl Ferrero, Liv Fontaine, Willie Gurner, Bonnie Hancell, JD Howse, Deming Huang, Andrew Hibbard, Derek Jarman, Paul P. and G.B. Jones, Eliel Jones, Matthew Kinlin, Natasha Lall, Yvonne Litschel, Mary Manning, D. Mortimer, Luke Nichols, Kathy Pendrill, Richard Porter, Steven Pottle, Daniel Rampulla, Cornelis Rijneveld, Megan Rose, Guy Rugeroni, Olivia Scott-Berry, Tai Shani, Andrew Sim, Mimei Thompson, Tyfoid, Mark Walton, Robert Whitehead, Sam Williams, David Wojnarowicz, Ian Wooldridge