Section: Arts

Lars Horn talks trans embodiment, sea creatures at reading

On the afternoon of Feb. 15, Kenyon welcomed Lars Horn to campus. Horn is the award-winning author of Voice of the Fish: A Lyric Essay, a groundbreaking work of creative nonfiction that explores the transgender experience, and an adjunct assistant professor of creative writing at Columbia University. At 5 p.m. in the Community Foundation Theater, an eager crowd listened as MJ Farrell ’24 introduced Horn and their various accolades. Farrell spoke briefly about the personal impact that Horn’s writing has had on him as someone growing up transmasculine. “I have particularly resonated with Horn’s search for vocabulary of corporeal experience,” he said. “I felt seen by their refractive literature about not only the body but gender as a watery thing.”

Following this brief introduction, Horn took to the podium, where they were met with enthusiastic applause. Horn read two abridged pieces from Voice of the Fish, explaining that they would start with a sad one and then move on to a funny one.

The first piece that Horn read was “What Manner of Land,” an essay that they wrote in the aftermath of a brutal physical assault. The essay’s braided format beautifully weaves together seemingly disjointed threads; the story of their assault and recovery process is broken up by Horn’s poetry and excerpts from texts such as “The Epic of Gilgamesh” and the Book of Genesis. The essay has a powerful message about forgiveness and the importance of moving forward in spite of hardships. “I hope he has help,” Horn said, reading from a passage about the man who assaulted them, “that he no longer feels compelled to harm someone, harm himself.”

Horn then read their essay “My Mother Photographs Me in a Bath of Dead Squid,” a much lighter and more humorous piece. “My mother always wanted me to look dead,” they began, pausing to let the audience laugh. They continued reading, detailing their unorthodox relationship with their mother, a queer artist who used her only child as a model for various photoshoots. Horn described posing beside severed salmon heads, lying in a tentacle-filled bathtub and painfully modeling for a full-body cast. The essay emphasized how, as strange as this relationship might seem to outsiders, their mother was the only person who truly understood them and loved them unconditionally.

After Horn finished reading, the second half of the event was devoted to questions. One student asked how Horn’s work as a translator informed their approach to writing. “It’s definitely affected it in lots of different ways,” Horn replied. They described how learning foreign languages gave them a deeper understanding of English grammar and helped them broaden their vocabulary. “Also it opens you up to how stories are told in different cultures,” they added. “What does story look like? What does nonfiction look like in those other languages?”

Another student asked about the intersections between identifying as a writer and identifying as queer. “I’ve never been asked that. It’s like I’m in therapy,” Horn joked. They answered slowly, thinking through the question as they spoke.

“I mean, I’ve always been queer,” they began, “but I’ve not always been a writer. I’m not one of those insufferable children who was like, ‘I know what I want to be.’” As such, they explained, they are unable to view their writing outside of the lens of their queerness. On the other hand, they feel that being a writer has helped them better understand their queerness by giving them the language to express theories of trans embodiment. 

There was room for lightheartedness amid the more serious questions. “What would you say is the aquatic organism that speaks to you the most?” one student asked.

“I like that question,” Horn said. “I’ve got a real soft spot for sturgeon.”

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