The central tension of Lucas Crawford’s The High Line Scavenger Hunt explores the friction between transgender identity and architecture. He posits that architectural spaces are designed to keep trans bodies out. In this sense, trans bodies are the absent presence within architectural spaces, a presence that “haunts” them. This tension is not new for Crawford, as it is also the basis for his academic monograph titled, Transgender Architectonics (2015).
The collection focuses on the history of the High Line, an elevated train track on the edges of lower Manhattan. Reclaimed as a public park in 2014, the space renders invisible trans history of the adjacent neighbourhoods through an active architectural erasure. Crawford uses his poems to salvage that erased history. For instance, “The Mineshaft” was a “gay men’s kink club” from 1976-1985. The club was “[trans] exclusionary” as the speaker admits that he doesn’t have a “shaft for The Mineshaft” (“The Mineshaft I”) throwing light on trans exclusion within the queer community.
In “The High Line and I Aren’t Men,” the speaker compares the trans male body to the High Line: “We both have repurposed, reused, recycled limbs//We do not play tug-of-war with other men/or with those parts of us…” Crawford interrogates “man” as a category, and asks if “those parts of [men]” are enough to make a person a man. Time here becomes the reference by which “man” and the park can be understood. Both the architectural park as well as the trans male body are “time, absorbed.” The only way to understand the history of the High Line and the body of the speaker is through understanding the historical context (here, “time”) of both spaces: architectural and trans. Crawford inserts the trans male body onto the public space of the reclaimed park to both queer the hypermasculine space of the reclaimed railway as well as make the trans body visible.
Crawford wants to know what it means to place the trans body in history. He queers the heteronormative convention of history through his “Found” poems. In this set of eight poems scattered throughout the three sections and the epilogue, Crawford scavenges for queer bodies in the landscape of the park. In three poems that focus on plant species found in the park, Crawford wonders about names of some of these species that sound “queer” and “like drag names.” The playful nature of these poems culminates in “Found: Queer Urban Superiority Complex,” where he critiques “New York gays” for being at the top of the social queer pyramid through “their status as tastemakers / for the rest of the country.” These “Found” poems juxtaposed with the six “Death Avenue” poems seek to remind the reader that the trans body is most vulnerable to violence and that one can only find them “dead” (“Found: On Not Looking Back”).
Ultimately, the collection comments on loss as a result of gentrification, where the loss is of an already invisible history of trans bodies, excluded from the public domain. Crawford remakes the architectural landscape of the park, as well as the architectural landscape of the trans body, through his poetry, reclaiming the dead and alive alike.
Sanchari Sur (she/they) was a 2018 Lambda Literary Fellow, and a 2019 recipient of a Banff Centre residency (with Electric Literature). Their work can be found in The Unpublished City (2017), PRISM international, Humber Literary Review, Room, and elsewhere. She is a doctoral candidate in English at Wilfrid Laurier University, and the curator/co-founder of Balderdash Reading Series (est. January 2017).
ARC HITS THE HEART HARD.