Liminal is one of those words I never used very much until I started doing independent scholarship. It’s not just just that a lot of the work I do addresses, on some level, liminal space, it’s that it’s just one of those words academics really like. It’s a pretty way to talk about a whole bunch of different things that fall into a bunch of different categories, including the magical, the complex, and the vague.
But liminal was never a word that I felt like I owned particularly, until my friend AnnaLinden responded to a few of my posts back on LiveJournal with a certain intensity about the intensity with which I inhabit liminal spaces. It was pleasing to me, because it meant that I and the way I experience the world was being heard. But at the same time, why call it liminal? It was just my life, happening at the moment in an ugly New York winter, and not some existence in the mists of faerie.
But yesterday it occurred to me that this January 9 was the first time in years no one had wished me a happy birthday or given me an odd trinket for a lonely boy. See, my birthday’s in October. But Severus Snape’s is January 9, and among my friends that’s a thing that stuck with me for years. Because of course it was always sort of a joke. But it was also always a recognition: of childhood ostracism I still struggled with, of desires beyond my class and ken, of chin-length black hair and a body too thin. Of a particular relationship with filth. And of the way I’ve always looked to books to save me. So my unbirthday always felt a little bit like love.
When I talk about character and creation and writing and liminal spaces, I like to talk about Anne Rice. Lestat has been real for her in some way that I could try to explain or analyze for you, but that wouldn’t be very effectively. We’d digress into a critique of the work (“she may be channeling a real 300-year-old vampire, but he still needs a damn editor”) or, more unfortunately for the point I’m slowly getting to, an analysis of her mental health. The point is Anne Rice wrote some books about a vampire and she’s described the experience in interviews as him dictating his words to her; she has described the time she spends with him; she has described him as a real and true thing.
I read Interview with a Vampire and The Vampire Lestat as a tween and young teen, and they were books that meant a tremendous amount to me. They said that my intense emotionality, and my intense sentimentality, were not, as my parents reasonably frustrated by an odd and artistic teen girl said, lies. They were not manipulations. They were just how I experienced the world. So Lestat wasn’t just Anne Rice’s friend, he was mine too. Before I told other people to be grand, I would lay in bed at night and feel Lestat’s fingers brushing the hair from my face as he whispered to me to never, ever let anyone shut me up. He’s been gone from me for decades now, but I always remember my friends.
The thing about the liminal world, at least for me, is that it’s not a space defined by the things it represents a border between. It is not about whether Anne Rice channels a 300-year-old vampire or not. It is not about either/or. Rather, the liminal world is, as far as I can tell, the country of yes.
It is the place where when people ask if I am a boy or a girl, I can say yes. It is the place where when I fly alone I am still squeezing someone’s hand when the plane takes off. It is the place where I don’t dress up in certain costumes at cons anymore because the wounds I bear in those other lives have become too private. It is the place where I can feel the absence of people who never were. It is the place where I do not always remember, or have to remember, to speak in the third person about characters I’ve played on stage or written in stories. It is the place where my hand gestures shift when I’ve spent days deep in something I’m writing in a way that tells my friends I am not just me. It is a place of signs and signifiers that leads us, not back out of the mists, but further in, to whatever the mists are guarding.
Without the liminal world, time runs in order, stories only happen to other people, and I struggle, desperately, to be here now as fantasy and personal narrative threaten to call me away from stuff like work and laundry and remembering to eat dinner. But the liminal world, no matter how disconcerting or how much it seems like just play to folks that don’t also have this particular experience of desire, allows me to be present, both here and in the other spaces I have used to build myself.
The liminal world allows me to say yes and to slay dragons and not to fail at being a girl or a boy or a hero or a villain, because in the liminal space which is here and now and far away, I am only one thing, and it small and perfect, and it is yes.