The Piano Teacher: On Grief and Queerness

There’s a certain depth of alienation that no tender force can refute.



here’s a certain depth of alienation that no tender force can refute. You’re not alone, but you’re still too young to realize. You’re 20, you’re broke and lonely. You hang out with friends but sink into yourself waiting for your Alcoholism to pay off. You black out from wine every other night, asking strangers to punch you. You resurface into the gentle melancholy of the Spadina McDonalds and a friend you no longer recognize. You will piece together these fragments one day, but for now you wonder if you’ll ever find a safe place for yourself, inside or outside. Loving yourself takes time. You want to hurt yourself, but you’re tired of being just a subject. You want to hurt as an object. You contradict yourself and that’s exactly why you can’t stand the person you’ve become.

The first time it comes to you naturally. You don’t even notice how you’re deeply sunken into yourself until the pain kicks in. Your new coworkers have invited you in for a drink and you’re sat there shyly rediscovering the same bowl of chocolates every five minutes until the pizza arrives. You sit down and quickly grab a slice of pepperoni pizza with hot oil pooled in the pepperoni. You shove it into your mouth. The pizza is hot but instead of wanting to pull back, your tongue pushes the cheese hard into the roof of your mouth, full force. You let the cheese burn a layer of skin off of the roof of your mouth. You just sit back and “let” it happen, sinking. Your eyes water. Your knees begin to shake from pain but it’s the first thing that has been able to push down the heaviness on your chest in a long while. Your heart is racing. You keep a mental note. This feeling needs to come back.

Let’s say a month later work’s been too repetitive. You’ve left your studies behind. You have no interests. You think you have friends but deep down you don’t really like any of them. You’re convinced nobody likes their friends. You walk to your seventh floor balcony and battle sleep with a late night cigarette. You’re so overworked that you fall asleep, cigarette in hand. The ember grazes your other hand and pulls you awake. Your skin is slightly burnt, but that’s the least of your concerns. Your whole body is shaking because feeling the inflammation pulsate through your red skin awakens an unstoppable force that needs to be fed before it quiets down.

You try to calm down, finish your cigarette and push back against the impulse, but your heart’s pounding. It’s exactly like when your hands grabbed your friend’s cock for the first time on the streets of Tehran. It’s an excitement set ablaze by the fear of the unknown. Scratch that: an excitement fueled further by knowing what’s ahead is not only profoundly wrong for you to explore, but outright dangerous. It’s fear that if you cross this line you’ll be different. Just like your cock: you look into the mirror wondering if you can tell a difference.

You promise yourself you’ll just finish your cigarette and then decide if you’re gonna do it again, but all it does is reduce the fear without quenching your anxiety. When the fear goes away you realize it’s not anxiety, but the purest form of excitement. You light a new cigarette and hover its crimson ember above your hand, moving it around only to realize it burns most when at a quarter inch away from skin. Without thinking, you embrace the ember’s kiss, and as your heart is about to jump out of your chest, you press hard and push your body back into your lawn chair. For the first time in months, the heaviness in your chest disappears. It feels like your first real orgasm.

It becomes complicated from here on. You begin rethinking your body at 20 years old. In retrospect 20 isn’t that old, but you’re rediscovering your skin. The biggest question is whether you hate yourself. You begin finding the words for it. “Masochism” is a strange term. You read “Venus in Furs” and start seeing it everywhere. You watch Polanski’s film on it. You start seeing the name on streetcars: A new theatre show in town. You watch “Sick” and “Love is the Devil.” You go to the Toronto premiere of “The Duke of Burgundy.” You watch “Belle De Jour,” “Last Tango in Paris” (the only one you hate so far). You watch “Maitresse,” discover Gregg Araki but nothing comes close to the book/film combo that become central to your masochism: “The Piano Teacher.” You become fixated on a floating image: a young boi led into music by his fascistic teacher.

“Masochism” becomes a weird question for you, since the very concept that had begun as your greatest point of departure from the world is now being sold to you as a retail product. You’re too young to understand the history of it or any of its nuances. You’re confused but at least you know there is something large you belong to. It pisses you off. You wish you’d have been more special.

It’s not at all sexual at first, but that’s also because you don’t have anyone to have sex with. You’re a pathetic individual obsessed with your own insignificance. You’re unpleasant to be around. It’s January and you start opening your bottles of gin at 9 a.m. You’re on the balcony with B, drinking gin and pushing another cigarette onto your shoulder. She disappears for three days and when she comes back things are different. The cigarette burns make you angry now. There’s no satisfaction that comes from this. B moves in with her new boyfriend. Your only friend is now gone, and she makes sure to let you know how self-destructive you’ve become.

You lock yourself inside the closet and stare at the sliver of light. You’re hungry. You’re overcome by fear. You have a Bad feeling about this.

You’re alone. Your only friends are the three coworkers you drink with at work, just to get through those 12 hour shifts at the restaurant. You know you don’t like yourself. You’ve realized that the enthusiasm of cigarette burns has worn off and your curiosity has proven that you need to construct a new self-system to move forward.

You’re lost. You don’t know how to move forward. You don’t have any friends. Everyone you loved has left. You do the only thing that makes sense to you: you leave home with the sole intention of purchasing “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” by Friedrich Nietzsche. You’ve never read him. You don’t know what the book is about, but somehow you feel philosophy can heal you.

It’s not Nietzsche. It’s not the first or second or third book you buy. It’s how you’ve set out on a journey of self-discovery by seeking philosophy for its true purpose: to build a fresh system of self. You spend your days listening to philosophy podcasts. You begin reading Sade. You begin writing. Language finds you where everyone left you behind.

You begin writing daily on your Facebook. Every other comment says that you’re a great writer. People ask their friends to add you on Facebook just to read your writing. That’s how you get invited to S’s party. You enter, with a freshly shaven head. M has introduced you two and is now sat on her boyfriend’s lap, kissing his neck. 

You begin writing. Language finds you where everyone left you behind.

You talk with S late into the night, and at around 4 a.m., you involuntarily tell a lie: “I was raped at 14 years old.” It bonds you two, but there’s a sense of unease inside you. Why did you tell that lie? Why would anyone lie about being raped? You talk until sunrise and sleep in each other’s arms. As B says the next day, “sounds way better than sex,” but sex comes soon after.

You’re in bed with S. It’s been a few weeks. You’ve slept together a dozen times, but they’ve told you they’ll sleep with others. Today they told you about having sex with someone else before you came over, so you lay down somber on the bed and ask them to hit you. You feel uneasy in your body. You beg them to hit you.

“If you want to use my body to hurt yourself, you’re dead out of luck.”

Something strikes you inside. You run away, wailing like you have never cried in your entire life. You hear yourself from above. It’s a profound grief that is slowly leaving your body. You go to an empty room and hide in the darkness. Your screams into the pillow exponentially increase until they become silent from sheer force. Your chest levitates above your body. It’s not a cure, it’s an exorcism.

The sounds of a North York suburb fade. The sounds of your body give way to the waves crashing into the moss-covered legs of a jetty. You’re 14. The jetty is elevated above the water, covered on either side by cement tetrapods. Only one person can walk on the jetty at one time. You walk for five minutes to the end, listening to “Do You Feel Like We Do” by Peter Frampton on your Nokia N72. When you turn around you see a man approaching you.

S comes in, flooding the room with light. You’re hungry. You’re scared. You had convinced yourself that your rape was a story you made up and were telling people for attention.


It took me about 12 years to finally write this. It went through 10+ versions. Failed poems, failed short stories, failed essays. It had to come out somehow.

In the years since the “realization,” I’ve settled into my body. My queerness led me further into that safe space that I never knew was possible. In Language I found myself and through it I found people that I could be intimate with. Language found me when I most needed it and it put me in the loving hands of queer love.

My queerness led me further into that safe space that I never knew was possible. In Language I found myself and through it I found people that I could be intimate with. 

Submission is a certain poverty of its own. Poverty in a Sufi sense, where the withdrawal can make anything an excess. The subtle accumulation of defense on the skin: against the violence of the beloved: against the threat of withdrawn penetration: the skin itches. This itch is not an allegory, but the flesh SCREAMING to be let free of its tension. Set fire with the tender tip of a finger or … anything else.

Today I look at my body and see a map. There are limbs that I need to activate when I’m detached from my vision of myself. There are people that I trust to alert my limbs. I can push down the darkness in my heart with the fierce care of another individual, following the ritual.

I acquiesce to my lover’s touch, but my submission doesn’t absolve me. This is not an absolution of self, but a silent reverence for the queer abjection of being truly, purely objectified. Where I used to use pain to awaken my selfhood, I now use it to dissolve into insignificance.

I was suffering from profound insignificance.

Now it has become a tool for my greatest pleasure.

The great paradigm shift of thinking of my body queerly has been realizing that every body, no matter the shape, size and ability, is warm to the touch. That every body can help annex this gentle melancholy of what used to be a Friday-Night-McDonalds-Stranger-Admiration into rituals to summon bittersweet memories of loves and lovers, past, present and future, casting knowing glances across the street on a busy summer afternoon.

This gentle (and I repeat a fourth time, GENTLE) sadness of fleeting love and tenderness is the antithesis of a self-hatred I used to live by. Self-loathing stems from rage, and sadness, no matter how intense, is a grand celebration.

I walk the dimly lit streets of Toronto tonight, half-eaten takeout box in hand. I don’t know why, but I decide to take out my earbuds and listen to the streets. Something I’ve never done. I begin walking on College Street in Little Italy. There’s a menswear shop to my right: PASQUALINO. I can hear someone playing piano inside. I’m in a rush, but somehow, I stand there, listening for a while. I notice a man sitting behind an old piano, playing his heart out. He notices me. He bows.

“I’m learning,” I say somehow.

“Come on in. Let me teach you,” and he sits me down, humming tunes as he plays scales an inch away from my head. He reeks of alcohol. His hands glide over my shoulder. His breath sours my nose. I’m tempted to take out my phone and take a video of his beautiful hands, but I stop myself. I’m brimming with muses. With music. My skin comes alive. I’m alive in his hands, in his music.

I submit.

I acquiesce.

I withdraw my phone.

I remove my eyes from the equation.

Let it be fleeting.

Let it be painful.

Let our insignificance set us free from our insides.

About the author

Khashayar “Kess” Mohammadi (They/Them) is a queer, Iranian born, Toronto-based Poet, Writer and Translator. They were shortlisted for the 2021 Austin Clarke poetry prize, 2022’s Arc Poem of the year award, The Malahat Review’s 2023 Open Season awards for poetry and they are the winner of the 2021 Vallum Poetry Prize. They are the author of four poetry chapbooks and three translated poetry chapbooks. They have released two full-length collections of poetry with Gordon Hill Press. Their full-length collaborative poetry manuscript "G" is out with Palimpsest Press Fall 2023, and their full-length collection of experimental dream-poems "Daffod*ls" is out with Pamenar Press.