a bland, timid, or ineffectual person easily dominated
from Caspar Milquetoast, character in H.T. Webster’s
The Timid Soul comic strip, 1924 to 1931
and later, Milquetoast the cockroach, purple crossdressing character in
Berkeley Breathed’s comic strips Bloom County and Outland, 1980 to 1995
And now, this.
When Milquetoast became a cockroach, he lost his mustache. He tried fulfilling this lack of apparent gender with a penchant for what he and many others understood as crossdressing, in a wig and an ugly green dress, but this became an occasional activity: the Christmas special, big fights or fancy dinners with Opus the penguin.
When Milquetoast was a man with a name given and not received, he longed for the silent middle syllable to assert itself in conversation. When given the opportunity, he pronounced it as the Spanish what or the English wuh? When folks called for Milktoast like a menu item, he asked quietly What toast? and then accepted the menu item.
When Milquetoast is dressed up, he likes the way he is treated as dainty, fragile. Opus wears Milquetoast on his arm as easily as he wears his briefs or his masculinity. Milquetoast likes the way the others look at him as vermin to be toyed with, hunted, caught. When Milquetoast is dressed for an evening out, The Poet is an asshat and refuses to change his pronouns, says he likes the gender for the wrong episodic reasons, though what does ze really know about Milquetoast.
Milquetoast became aware of the politics of sex when he began dressing up with the wig and the dress. Crossdressing from what? He heard the whispers around town. How do you sex a cockroach? They said these things into one another’s ears. The Poet Human offered, something about the wing length. He twitched his antennae beneath the blond curls, stood straighter to emphasize his cleavage, expose his clavicle—did he have a clavicle?—as he passed them by, his wings—did he have wings?—uncomfortably exposed.
Milquetoast became aware of the politics of language around the time he became aware of the politics of sex. He was a cockroach for fuck’s sake—he could not escape the terminology of sex, drugs, and rock & roll. He felt most conscious of his crotch when he wore the dress. He felt neutral when nude and purple, not-gendered. This was the source of the mystery after all—how do you sex a cockroach how do you sex a cockroach how do you sex a cock—
—But that was his own question. Opus was a standard distant beloved best friend nemesis character. Opus was baffling. Milquetoast thrilled from imagining their wings brushing, from remembering his feet on Opus’s shoulder like a Jiminy Cricket messiah figure, his curls glowing this close to the light.
The Poet in hir search for a new name that doesn’t make hir shudder in gender discomfort considers Milquetoast because of hir stubborn fondness for the letter M, because of the transmogrification inherent in man to cockroach to cockroach in dress, in becoming the other, and another. Ze, too, would like to pronounce the what syllable.
This idea makes Milquetoast the cockroach shudder and bristle. The memory of Milquetoast the man has milktoast drippings in his chin gristle. Later, The Poet Milquetoast asks quietly, what toast? but is soon answering to milktoast and speaking the silent syllable hirself. Listening to this, Milquetoast the cockroach stomps an enormous high heel on the table and asks, twat toast? The Memory of Milquetoast the Man wipes his chin on his shirttail, refuses the menu item.
What Toast? was previously published in Gargoyle.
M. Mack is a genderqueer poet, editor, and fiber artist in Virginia. Ze is the author of the chapbooks Traveling (Hyacinth Girl Press, 2015) and Imaginary Kansas (dancing girl press, 2015). Ze is a founding co-editor of Gazing Grain Press. Find hir at: mxmack.com.