There are several ways to tell the difference between a biologically male and female adult skeleton. One of them is the pelvis, which can give more than a 90% degree of accuracy in identification. Throughout sexual maturation, the female pelvis widens to adapt for childbirth and, after 40 begins to narrow. A lifetime of movements out and in. During labour, the sacrum (a kite-shaped bone at the base of the spine) moves backwards to increase the pelvis’s diameter. If born through natural delivery a human is a result of such bones shifting, a kite about to fly.
While some things are inherent, others are formed over time, like learning a language or a lover’s body. The latter is like reading a map. A freckle on the lower lip that emerges when smiling, a shin scarred from falling off a bike, dips and creases that become so familiar you couldn’t imagine your lexicon without these landmarks. As you both grow, the map becomes creased and the landmarks slowly weathered but they are yours. Each road is well-travelled but if you’re lucky, you find surprises now and then. A landscape you’ve been looking at for years moves like a magic eye, revealing details you didn’t know you had missed.
Hip bones are made of three smaller bones called the ischium, ilium and the pubis, which join to form part of the pelvis. Because of the way surrounding bones fit together, women’s hips slant forward. The angle of the femur in the pelvic socket means both bones move along as one, giving women’s hips the appearance of swaying. This motion evokes whispers of sexuality, catcalls and femme fatale seductions.
The inherent can be imperceptible, but other times it’s not. When you inhabit a body for so long, you occasionally forget how it is coded and that, through your habits, you code others as second-nature. Reminders of what we assume to be inherent – or natural – exist in many forms, but can appear in the most incongruent of places. When my girlfriend and I walk together, our coded swaying and uncoded hand-holding can be seen, by some, as incongruent. That’s the reason the man on a bike lingered to tell us angrily that ‘pussy can’t fuck pussy’. He didn’t know that the pelvis is an irregular bone. That it is made up of structures that don’t fit in the other bone categories (flat, short, long), so they made a separate one for it. Not only does it protect organs in the pelvic cavity but doesn’t disintegrate when another same-sexed bone comes into its proximity. But it doesn’t take a doctor to know that last part. We didn’t speak for a short time after he rode on, but could have shared things that would blow his mind.
When compared anatomically, biologically female pelves are wider and shorter than their male counterparts. The ala, or wing of ilium, is the large part of the pelvis that gives it the appearance of a boned butterfly. At the peak of the wing is the iliac crest, a thick curved border that your hands rest on when you place them on your hips.
Home is a place where incongruencies are irrelevant, where codes switch more readily and the body moves with ease in private spaces. Sometimes when I wash up plates and cutlery, you step behind me to grip my hips between your hands and press me into an embrace. It is a place I love being held. Moments where domesticities are interrupted by surprises of warmth. Where the wings of my hips unfold as I arch myself into your arms.
It’s strange, I often think, that the same bones sit within us all. When words, memories and skin fall back, what’s left is indistinguishable to an untrained eye. I think of how many bodies and bones are bruised and broken in places where biological codes impress upon social ones. Where there are much worse things lurking than men on bikes or ones brandishing books saying ‘You know that’s illegal in the Bible?’ How indistinguishable these regulatory systems are from echoes of an archaic past, with bigger books and heavier sentences raining down on bodies that seek to transgress narrow margins and end up creating their own through necessity. How any given street houses all these bodies in motion trying to make meaning, bodies full of the same bones that walk over older bones beneath rubble and soil, down to the core of the earth where thick molten liquid sloshes around in an orb. Which, when you think of it on that level, makes you remember how we are all just organic matter expending time before we ossify, floating on a small rock, in an infinite space full of black holes and sprinklings of stars. It is this temporality that melts out of my mind when you grab my waist and tell me to take the washing-up gloves off.
Jennifer Brough is usually writing, editing or reading. Outside of these wordy pursuits, she is learning Spanish and dreaming of Mexico. Her poems have most recently been published in Pussy Magic, Mookychick and Blanket Sea.