Jersey Cosantino

A Mad Trans Cartography: “I Leave Clues for Myself in the Darkness”

If I want to get through this mad life I’ve realized I have to make tangible maps for myself. I make them in my journals, I write them in the stories I share with friends, I use words and metaphors and parables, and sometimes very concrete reminders that help me stay on the path…I leave clues for myself in the darkness [emphasis added]. Some of them are obvious and clear as day and some of them are written in code, only decipherable when I’m in the head states that need to hear them…Sometimes they are my escape hatches. Sometimes they are safety nets…They hold metaphors and maps we can bring with us into the future (DuBrul, 2013, pp. 4-5).

When mapping the terrain 
of my Mad trans bodymind (Clare, 2017; Price, 2014; Schalk, 2018),
I find myself returning
again and again
to the moments of 
Mad trans embodiment
that feel like temporal and spatial 
un/realities that exist
outside of the realm of time
and space, itself, 
carving ulterior 
through previously
clandestine portals
that manifest within 
the mere millimeters
of separation between
body and essence,
self and not quite self,
a confluence of unselves 
that arises
like the pause between breath
and exhalation,
a juncture that, 
can bring peace when 
one’s awareness is centered there,
this liminal space between beingness
and nothingness,
where the maps of my Mad trans
embodiment begin
and, equally, 
never seem 
to truly

“I leave clues 
          for myself 
                in the darkness” (DuBrul, 2013, p. 4).

Walking home from my advanced doctoral
research methods course last year
where my Mad trans methodologies
and their emanant hauntings
called themselves forth into 
a form and essentiality 
so acutely embodied 
that I dare not ignore,
I paused under the streetlamp
to give my essence - 
this ghostly portent of what 
   existence might be
      when we inhabit the between 
         spaces of here and there,
            somewhere and elsewhere,
               becoming and not yet become - 
a moment to catch up,
hoping that it may finally
choose to reinhabit the corporeal
form of my Mad trans bodymind.
Despite what felt like 
an endless waiting,
this essence that possessed
my consciousness or,
rather, an imprint or trace
of my consciousness,
found home in residing
a half step behind my body,
a watcher, a spectral traveler,

edges soft 

and porous…

            “The edge can be 

         a dangerous place to be - 

      there’s always the possibility 

             of falling 
           off” (DuBrul, 2013, p. 143).
So tangible, so visceral,
I wondered if this essence
of me,
    beside me,
       behind me,
all of me
  and none of me,
could be seen by passersby
in the glow of the streetlight,
or by the fractal luminescence 
emitted by a beingness that,
and contradictorily,
lacked clear shape and form,
known and, 

               Ghost (n.). “It is something that one does not know, precisely, and one does not   
              know if precisely it is, if it exists, if it responds to a name and corresponds to an   
            essence. One does not know: not out of ignorance, but because this non-object, this  
          non-present present, this being-there of an absent or departed one no longer belongs 
          to knowledge. At least no longer to that which one thinks one knows by the name of 
          knowledge…Here is - or rather there is, over there, an unnamea   ble or almost  
           unnameable thing: something between something and someone, anyone or 
           anything” (Derrida, 1994, p. 5). (Yoon & Chen, 2022, pp. 77-78, bolding and italics 
              in original).

Is it the burden of 
one’s apparition
to guide one 
back to the parts
that have been lost,
to the pieces of self
that must have died
along the way? 

“…it will happen again; 

it will be there for you. 

It is waiting for you. 



      expected” (Gordon, 2008, p. 166).

Feeling bodies move past me,
not one making a sound,
no shudders, exclamations,
or frights,
it quickly became clear
that this splitting of self,
this rupture between body 
and essence,
detached           and                          distant,
yet bound by a temporal, 
and metaphysical
was imperceptible to all

but me. 

An eerie calm settled over me…

“The edges all blur - 

             I start dreaming 

         while I’m awake” (DuBrul, 2013, p. 143).

I was now 
moving through this world, 
or pausing as the world
moved through me,
unencumbered by 
the weight of a body,
a complexly fleshy
that had yet to feel
entirely mine,
and sincerely

“the material realm 

           was an illusion” (DuBrul, 2013, p. 143).

Floating through spaciousness,
defying the parameters of 
others’ time,
existing in 
the interwoven
expanse of
and nowheres, 
uncertain what caused
this fracturing,
unsure of the etiology 
of this 

“I cured 


     because there was nothing 

to cure” (Clare, 2017, p. 180),

and with no idea 
how I might return
to myself, 
a single,
coherent whole
that I am unsure 
was ever whole
all along…

“I claim brokenness 

       to make 
      this irrevocable 

    visible” (Clare, 2017, p. 160).

How does one trace the boundaries
of the boundless, 
of that which eludes
naming, categorization,
that seeks to reject 
the ablesanist
white supremacist, colonial,
cisheteropatriarchal expectations 
of “chrononormative time” by 
refusing to be a “static stable subject” (Pyne, 2021, p. 346), 
that queers 
   and trans 
      and Maddens
time and space,
   being and essence,
      existence and emptiness,
               and that which 
                  is still 
                     to come?
If Mad maps help 
“me get back to the place
where I have the feeling
that my body fits well on my soul” (DuBrul, 2013, p. 187, italics in original),
how and where
do I begin 
to chart
and linkages 
from me

to me,

from myself

to my ghosts

who have finally found


       outside of a body

    whose form is still in a state

        of transition,
towards futures 

and imaginaries 



the Mad parts of me
dare to envision as real,
as possible,

as enough?

“I leave clues 

for myself



darkness” (DuBrul, 2013, p. 4).


  1. Ablesanism, a combination of the terms ableism (the privileging of able-bodiedness) and sanism (the privileging of neurotypicality, able-mindedness, and the absence of Madness), is defined as “the stigmatizing and pathologizing ways in which mental illnesses/psychiatric disabilities and developmental disabilities are understood and reified through structures of exclusion, dispossession, incarceration, and death” (Aho, 2017, p. 1).


Aho, T. (2017). Neoliberalism, racial capitalism, rationality, and mental illness Conference handout]. American Sociological Association Conference, Montreal, Quebec.

Clare, E. (2017). Brilliant imperfection: Grappling with cure. Duke University Press.

DuBrul, S. A. (2013). Maps to the other side: The adventures of a bipolar cartographer. Microcosm Publishing.

Price, M. (2014). Mad at school: Rhetorics of mental disability and academic life. The University of Michigan Press.

Pyne, J. (2021). Autistic disruptions, trans temporalities: A narrative ‘trap door’ in time. South Atlantic Quarterly, 120(2), 343-361.

Schalk, S. (2018). Bodyminds reimagined: (Dis)ability, race, and gender in Black Women’s Speculative Fiction. Duke University Press.

Yoon, I. H., & Chen, G. A. (2022). Heeding hauntings in research for mattering. In Tachine, A. R., & Nicolazzo, Z. (Eds), Weaving an otherwise: In-relations methodological practice (pp. 76-91). Stylus Publishing, LLC.

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About the Author

Jersey Cosantino (they/them), a former K-12 educator, is a doctoral candidate in Cultural Foundations of Education at Syracuse University, holding certificates of advanced study in women’s and gender studies and disability studies. A Mad and trans studies scholar and oral historian, Jersey’s research utilizes disability and transformative justice frameworks to center the experiences and subjectivities of Mad, neurodivergent, trans, and gender non-conforming individuals. Jersey identifies as Mad, neurodivergent, queer, trans, and non-binary and is white with education and citizenship privilege. A co-facilitator for SU’s Intergroup Dialogue Program’s course Dialogue on Racism and Anti-Racism, Jersey holds a master’s in education and graduate certificate in mindfulness studies. They are also the co-editor of the International Mad Studies Journal, a consulting editor for the Journal of Queer and Trans Studies in Education, and a former Trans Lifeline call operator.