SYRACUSE, NEW YORK – Forty-six-year-old Caterpillar Carle (stage name: CeeCee) died today in their dressing room at the Sir, J’acuse! underground cabaret-style nightclub where they performed regularly. While the cause of death is still unknown, fellow dancer Brown Bear (who refused to give any but her stage name) said she’d seen “CeeCee just goin into her room like normal.”
Carle was born in Syracuse, but moved away early on in puberty when their parents believed that the the young Carle was gaining too much weight too quickly. Indeed, pictures from Carle’s graphic autobiography (which is rumored to have been ghost written by Alison Bechdel) depict Carle eating fruit as ravenously as candy and sweets. The text above these illustrations reads: “I was very hungry all the time and it wasn’t the last time I would feel that way.”
Though assigned female at birth, when Carle and their parents moved to Germany, they began to move in the Berlin gay club scene where they were exposed not only to sex and sexuality preferences, but where they came to see men and women who acted and presented as other than their apparent gender was “supposed to.” Carle snuck out many nights, dressed in punk clothing and dyed-green hair, green eye-shadow, and green-painted nails. They came to be known for these signature colors.
In 1989, Carle was part of the massive crowd that participated in the tearing down of the Berlin Wall. By then, their signature punk dress rendered them mostly androgynous, especially as with their weight they were able to mask their breasts without needing to resort to binding them (which they had tried to do, according to a scene in their autobiography, and had failed because it was simply too painful). They are in some of the famous photos and video recordings of that day, possible to find amidst the crowds.
It wasn’t until Carle moved to the United States, to New York City, that they began to understand more about gender theory. They became involved in trans activism and were crusaders of the movement towards reclaiming the word “fat” to make it non-derogatory. During the ‘90s, Carle met and consorted with some of the now famous activists of the day: the late Leslie Feinberg, Minnie Bruce Pratt, and Kylar Broadus among others.
Despite their parents’ objections, and later disownment, Carle came out as a transman in the late ‘90s, and had to go through a series of what they described as “humiliating, belittling, and sneering” sessions with two psychiatrists in order to be diagnosed with “true body dysmorphia” (again, from Carle’s autobiography) which allowed them to receive a prescription for ongoing hormone treatment, part of what, for lack of a better term, they described as their medical transition. They also went through the grueling process of finding a surgeon who would perform a mastectomy, and they declared themselves happily breast-free in 2002.
However, as Carle continued to take their testosterone, their weight rose exponentially to the point of ill health. They began to suffer sleep apnea and joint pains. As a result, they had to stop hormone treatment as it was clearly having a damaging effect on their body.
It was after this life-changing news that Carle began to identify as genderqueer or a-gender (they used both terms interchangeable to the chagrin of some) and began using gender-neutral pronouns rather than the early-in-life she/her and the later in life he/him. Carle’s explanation for their renouncement of themselves as a transman in their autobiography is shown in a series of painful illustrations of their body seeming to get wrapped up in a cocoon of words and ideas, lines of theory and quotes from newspaper articles binding them all up into a closed shell from which they couldn’t escape. When coming out as genderqueer and identifying with neither gender in the last panel of the chapter, Carle emerges as a butterfly, free of societal expectations.
Soon after, Carle moved back to their hometown, Syracuse, and became alternately a drag-king and drag-queen for various underground burlesque performances. In recent years, they were the resident performer at Sir, J’accuse! and made their living off their graphic autobiography as well as speaking engagements regarding fat positivity, body and gender theory, and burlesque workshops. “We’ll miss CeeCee,” the club’s owner said tearfully. “They were our crown butterflying jewel.”