The Gilded Boy (John Bartlett)

Posted on November 3, 2017 by in Out of Limbo

Christ, one minute I’m walking behind Akmal and the next I’m lying on the ground, stunned, covered in dust and blood. His blood.

I never understood why there wasn’t a cloud in the sky when he stepped on that IED and blew away in seconds. How could someone like Akmal disappear so quickly on such a day? I saw worse too, but I can’t talk about that. Funny, I always seemed to have words to say to him when he was nearby, words that burst up from my gut but somehow got stuck in my throat.

I knew Akmal for nearly two years. He was a decent bloke. Unlike our sergeant, who was a real bastard: loud, cocky. You know the type.

‘You boys reckon you’re all heroes don’t you, just coz you wear a uniform and carry an F88 bang stick. You’re just a bunch of fuckin’ fairies. What are you?’

That sort of stuff. He reckoned we should be covering ourselves in ‘golden glory’ instead of sitting around on our arses most of the time. The gold bit got me thinking about what Sister Basil told us at St Brigid’s when I was a kid, the story of the gilded boy.

She told us that hundreds of years ago, at the coronation of one of the popes, a young boy was chosen to play the part of an angel in the pageant. Being selected was the greatest honour she said. So that his appearance would gobsmack all who attended, his naked body was covered from head to foot in gold leaf. He glowed like an angel and people crowded the streets and stretched their necks to catch a glimpse of him.

Akmal was like that for me. I was in awe of him. See, he had this look, and around him I wanted to be reckless, needed danger more than safety. If he’d asked me to get into a car without seat belts and drive at 200 k an hour, I would have done it willingly. He looked out for me though. If I was feeling like shit, he’d just have to say: ‘Hey Johnno, how come you’re cracking the sads?’ and I felt a bit better. There was something between us, something that I couldn’t quite put a name to.

One night Akmal came back to the camp after a patrol. They all looked like they’d seen a ghost, white as a sheet, the whole mob. They’d spent two hours under a mortar attack from the Talib. Later, it must have been the middle of the night, and I was as asleep as any fucker could ever hope to be in the middle of a war, when a hand touched me. It was Akmal. I knew what he wanted and I wanted it too. He slid into the bunk beside me. He was shaking like shit. I just held him ‘til he stopped shaking and we both dozed off for a while. I felt good, needed, for a change; but of course when I woke in the morning he was gone and we never said anything.

You might think that sounds sick, but what would you know? You’re not here, like us. Here in Oruzgan, always hot, dust in your teeth and throat and the air tasting of hot metal and oil. The locals looking at us sideways, saying things we can’t understand while their eyes scream: ‘Get the fuck out of our country’. And who could blame them?

Akmal could even speak a bit of the local’s lingo and that made them look at him differently to the rest of us, like they really trusted him. I tried but couldn’t get my mouth around the words, words that sounded like you were coughing up phlegm. I was just a nineteen year old from Forbes who didn’t finish High School. Jeezus…am I making him sound like some sort of hero? He was to me. And he had a wife and a little boy too. I saw their photo as a screensaver on his laptop.

I’ve still got something of his though. I took it a few months ago and now that there’s nothing left of him, I’m glad I did. I don’t know what came over me. It was night and I was lonely, like always. I pinched a pair of his boxers from his bunk while he was in the shower block. Now whenever I hold them up to my face I can still smell him, sweaty, stale and something else I recognised straight away. So I knew even he got lonely sometimes too like I did.

I didn’t tell you the rest of the golden boy story, did I? People were forced to shield their eyes when the sun flashed off his gold leaf. They loved him, cheered for him, not the pope, dolled up in his robes and crown thing. Then suddenly during the ceremony the boy collapsed and had to be rushed away. He was dead in hours. Sister Basil reckoned it was worth it because he’d shone like God’s angel for those hours. I wasn’t so sure. I’d rather be breathing and home sweet home than being someone’s bloody hero.

If I do get back home and I’ve got the guts I’m gonna go to Newcastle and visit Akmal’s wife and little boy. What am I gonna say when I get there? That we were mates? That we were more than mates but I dunno what it’s called? What the fuck were we? No, I don’t know what I’m gonna say yet, but I know one thing. Every kid needs a golden boy in his life, some sort of hero, especially Akmal’s kid now his old man is gone. Maybe that could be me. Who knows? And I know something else too (I think I’ve finally found the words now): the last thing I ever expected to find in this shithole was love.

 

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John Bartlett’s
non-fiction and essays have been widely published and will be collated into an e-book entitled A Tiny and Brilliant Light to be released in November 2017. He is also the author of two novels, Towards a Distant Sea and Estuary and a collection of short stories, All Mortal Flesh. He blogs regularly at beyondtheestuary.com.

Paper Riddles (Lindsey Danis)

Posted on August 15, 2017 by in Out of Limbo

(Edited by Callie Doyle-Scott)

Freshman year of high school, someone hands me a note and a piece of candy. I eat the candy but puzzle over the note. Really it’s a series of numbers. It doesn’t make any sense. This is how Chris comes into my life: on paper, in riddles.

We attend an elite independent day school in the suburbs of Boston, filled with the entitled children of wealthy parents who all look like they stepped out of a J. Crew catalog, their LL Bean backpacks sagging with calculus problems and irregular French verbs. I’m drawn to glitter eyeshadow, fishnets, and cargo pants rather than khakis and sweater sets. I listen to Tori Amos instead of Dave Matthews Band. These things automatically make me an outsider, and they caught Chris’s attention.

My best friend is a chubby math geek from a trashy suburb. She scribbles and doodles and morphs the numbers on the note into letters by taking the square root of each coded numeral. Decoded, the note says something about coincidence and the colour of my eyes before asking whether I’ve been trying to say something all semester long as we passed in the hallways.

The note is romantic. At least we think it is, blushing and whispering, freshman girls who have never been kissed, but it’s also totally weird since I don’t know the guy who sent it.

We ask around in the hallways. The gay guy I crush on tells me he knows Chris and can pass him a note if I write one. What’s he like? I ask. Since Chris seems to think we have some sort of connection, I want to know.

He’s nice, my crush assures me, showing me Chris’s yearbook photo so I can put a face to the name. With his long hair, pimpled skin, regulation blue blazer and striped tie, Chris looks smart and a little bit feminine. I’m not instantly attracted to him, but I am curious. Plus, the seniors have already left school, getting out a month early for a capstone project. It feels unfair that someone I’ll never see in person gets the last word.

I write something open-ended and teenaged back. Like thanks, and no, and maybe let’s meet for coffee? Only we don’t meet right away. We trade another set of notes, then talk on the phone, and finally decide to get ice cream. He picks me up in a beater car.

Chris is tall and reedy, polite and engaged, but what are we doing? The sheer teenage awkwardness of it all makes me shy, so we fall back on discussing books and music. He orders strawberry ice cream and talks about how excited he is to go to McGill. I tell him about the YMCA trip I’m taking to Israel and Egypt. It feels exciting to be taken seriously by someone who’s a little weird, like me, and who survived my high school. By the time he drops me off, we can’t stop talking. I feel like I’ve known Chris for a long time and that sense of being understood gives me a high beyond mere attraction. Maybe we were cosmically connected, like he thought.

By the time I’m back from the Middle East, he’s at college. We swap massive eight-page letters penned in cramped handwriting. Whenever a new missive arrives, I take it upstairs and savour it, rereading the lines to know everything I can about Chris. When he mentions the Griffin and Sabine series, I special order every book. Scanning the fanciful, lust-filled letters for clues to what is happening, I feel certain this is life-changing.

Meanwhile, I join the gay-straight alliance to spend more time with my crush. He drags me to a citywide meeting and I freeze. It’s great that all these other kids are out and proud, but I’m just here to be an ally. I hang around, keeping my mouth shut, waiting for him to drive me home.

Chris drops out of McGill halfway through freshman year. He moves into his parent’s basement and our letters boomerang closer, until he moves to L.A. for a program in radio or audio, something technical and masculine and almost outmoded. I cannot understand how a smart misfit like him would willingly leave a top-tier university for his parent’s basement. I sink deep into his letters, needing to know what college, what life, will be like for me.

When summer comes again, I decide to go to camp. I offer to help teach fencing because it sounds fun, and I’m bored of the standard arts and crafts activities. I bond with the counselors who teach it, short Jewish women who attend rival Ivy League schools. Halfway through the summer I start arriving early to lessons. I lie on a flat rock beside the dining hall and watch entranced as one dark-haired instructor leads the campers back and forth in the fencer’s crab-like walk. You’re the best assistant, she says one day, her voice velvety in my ear. All the campers love you. They all want to hang out with you instead of fence. You’re so much more useful than the other staff. I am conscious only of her touch on my arm, the sudden nearness of her voice, and an unfamiliar trembling in my stomach.

I seek her out in my free time and memorise the way her hands move to punctuate her thoughts, how saliva collects in the corners of her mouth. I can’t stay away from her and I don’t understand it. But by the end of the summer I have two plans: I’m going to take fencing lessons when I get home, and I’m going to visit her on campus.

In the fall, Chris returns from L.A. and we meet in downtown Boston. He wears a suit and tie, his long hair pulled into a low ponytail. He appears suddenly grown-up in a way that confuses me. His job is mundane and doesn’t suit him, but he seems alright with it. I swallow my disappointment in his humdrum life: wasn’t he capable of so much more? We go another long period without contact.

It’s spring of my junior year. Prom is coming. So are the Indigo Girls, who’ve been a favorite band of mine for years. Taking Chris to the Prom feels like, if not my one shot at a high school romance, then a way to give our story a meaning that eludes. On the phone, I make awkward small talk before blurting out an invite.

No one’s ever invited me to Prom, Chris says. Sure.

We go for pizza. I buy a sparkly blue one-shoulder dress and try to decide how to style my chin-length hair.

A girl from the gay-straight alliance, Susie, finds out I’m going to see the Indigo Girls and offers my friend and me a ride to the show. Susie is a greasy insomniac poet whose older sister is best friends with Chris. We’ve grown friendly from the literary magazine and our connection is confirmed when we realize we’re both toting around The Bell Jar in our L.L. Bean backpacks.

The night of the concert, we huddle in front of the stage and talk until Susie offers me a sip of her Nantucket Nectar. Her petite hand brushes mine as I take the cup and the watermelon-strawberry juice shocks my mouth with its sweetness. I’m knocked off guard by her touch. She steps closer, and everything shifts.

While my head is still spinning, my friend leans over and says to Susie, At school everyone thinks we’re lesbians. But we’re not. They just think that cause we hang out a lot. My friend pulls me toward her. We like boys. Susie looks to me, waiting for a correction. I try to meet her eyes, but can’t say anything.

When the music starts, we crowd close to watch the musicians. There’s a rainbow light display and I point it out. Susie puts her arm around my shoulder and I am rooted to the spot, her skin against mine, suddenly wanting something my brain riots against. I’m drawn back to the fencing instructor and all those afternoons of careful observation. What I wanted then and what I want now crystallises, and a cold fear drowns my longing.

Prom plans are made without my knowledge. Chris’s family has a house on the Cape and we will all be sleeping over afterwards — Chris and I, and Susie and Susie’s date, a girl she’s been seeing from a wealthy western suburb. Chris sits down with my mother and explains how safe we will be and how no one will be drinking. I am left with nothing to do but go along.

I was looking forward to Prom, but when the big night arrives it feels empty. People I don’t like and never talk to mill around in fancy dresses, their shoes discarded under tables. No one eats because they don’t want to look fat. Susie is there with the girl and it isn’t a big deal for anyone, except me. We sit with her friends, who aren’t my friends, and I long for the formal event to be over because I can’t even talk to Chris over the music. I feel alone in the crowd.

I’m relieved when it ends and Chris and I drive down to the Cape. We’ve seen each other so few times that each occasion feels momentous. We lie in the grass and look at the stars, the ocean crashing beneath us as we wait for the others. I feel like I’m supposed to be in love with you or something, Chris says, but I’m not. His words cut to the bone. He’s not. He’s not? What has all of this been for, then? I study the stars as his words float between us, grasping onto the sound of the waves hitting the seawall, desperate for something to steady me.

Susie and her date arrive and we stay up, talking about nonsense. I push away thoughts about what I want, because I’m too nervous to say any of it out loud. Chris and I fall asleep on separate sofas; Susie and her date sleep in the guest room. Later they tell me they left me a bed and I try not to think about them squeezed into one twin together.

Back at school, I feel sick over how cowardly I’ve been. I pour my feelings into poems scribbled in margins during free periods and classes. The words won’t stop coming. A couple of weeks later, I see Susie again when the GSA holds a party to watch the Ellen coming-out episode. My old crush convinces me to read one of my poems. I sputter through an apology of sorts for squirming away from Susie at the concert. I need her to hear this, even if it’s difficult to grab the breath to acknowledge it. Susie sits next to her girlfriend; they hold hands, but her eyes are on me. She comes over afterwards and places a cool hand on mine. I like your poems. Then she too is gone.

Prom was the last time I tried making Chris, and myself, into something we weren’t. My expectations for a traditional high school romance fell apart under the nascent realisation that he could never be the person I really wanted. His rejection stung, but mostly because our relationship had all the trappings of a fairy-tale, so I’d let myself believe we had some cosmic connection, like he’d always said. It was becoming harder for me to ignore the fact that I just wasn’t that kind of girl. Even though his rejection on prom night shook me, I worried more about how things had ended with Susie. More than anything I wished I’d been brave enough to grab her hand when she reached for me, and face what I’d resisted.

 

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Lindsey Danis is a writer living in the Hudson Valley. Her work has appeared most recently in Razor Literary Magazine, Mortar Magazine, and AfterEllen. When not writing, you can find her cooking, hiking, kayaking, and traveling. Find her on Twitter @lindseydanis or at lindseydanis.com.

 

The Chrome Pony (Scout Fisher)

Posted on June 13, 2017 by in Out of Limbo

It’s easy to question your sexuality when you wake up for your morning piss and have to clean the glitter out of your foreskin. Or when sequined dresses give you a hard-on. Mum rang the other day to ask which shade of foundation best matched her peacock blue eyeliner. I told her shell-beige and then redefined my boundaries by masturbating over a Czech gangbang for the next two hours. I cleaned up with a pair of fishnet stockings.

My apartment is a clash between vaudevillian costume warehouse and hipster boutique. Feather boas wrestle with striped cardigans on my shagpile carpet, while in drawers and dressers secret wars are won and lost between fake nails, high heels, powders, lashes, brushes, sponges and ancient aftershave, two-dollar razors and stale socks. My greasy road bike has toe-clips, fixed gears and a shiny blue beehive wig in its basket. A poster of Alfred Kinsey hangs above my bed, his Scale reminding me of my own gradual slide. And then, of course, there is all the glitter.

Glitter spreads through apartments like stars spread through galaxies. It shimmers and glimmers, exposing darkness and foreign spaces. It is infinite. To attempt to rid your house of glitter is futile, there is no team you can call, no special formula sold for $9.95, no predatory species to introduce, all you can do is submit.

The apartment’s air is thick with stale smoke and the sweet smell of unfinished alcohol. I open the window and the room inhales a clean breath of air, and the debauchery and arguments of last night wash out with the breeze onto the street below.

A trail of black ants teems in through the window, persistent little fucks. I track them down the wall and drop to my knees as they traverse the carpet, joining in the search for their destination. They weave through the shagpile forest, then follow invisible chemical trails up a wooden leg and gather in circles on the kitchen table. The small workers harvest the sugary impressions left by overfilled cups and glasses while the bigger ones guard the perimeter of the group.

My phone shakes the table. It’s Lilly.

‘Heya,’ I say.

‘Where are you,’ she demands with a familiar tone that implies culpability; stern, yet with a twang.

‘At home. Where should I be?’

The answer with Lilly is always somewhere else.

‘It’s Saturday, you said you would take Dane to his game.’

‘Oh shit.’ My hand slips from under my head and hits the table, the ants scatter like diamantes. I know nothing about soccer and dread the two hours of forced palaver with the imbecilic soccer Dads. None of which are hot.

‘Why can’t you?’ I ask, as the ants reorganize into their roles.

‘We’ve had this planned for over a week, I have work,’ Lilly forces.

‘The female ant is always the worker, right?’

‘What are you talking about, John?’ I hear concern sink into her voice. ‘Have you been on another bender?’

Lilly jumps between conclusions like a rampant STI. ‘No, the ants are just back again,’ I reply.

‘Okay, well I think the workers are infertile, which means Dane — who is your child in case you’ve forgotten — disproves your “worker” theory. Maybe I’m the queen.’

‘I think I’m more qualified for that role, honey,’ I laugh. Then I become conscious of my finger twirling a strand of hair, and stop.

She laughs too. The shared mirth feels good, another coat of paint on the ugly wallpaper of our past.

‘Well, are you coming or not, kick off is in an hour.’

‘Yeah, yeah, wouldn’t miss it for the world. I can’t have him tonight though. I’ve got a show at the Pony.’

‘Okay, drop him off after.’

‘See you.’ I hang up and silence refills the room. It feels deeper than before, as if our conversation left a vacuum. Even the ants have disappeared; probably back to their nest, sharing the sweet plunder with the colony.

*

My hangover creeps into the silence like a Trojan carrying a pounding headache.

If I’ve got the kid today I’ll need a clear head. His energy is both beautiful and overwhelming. It can get on top of you if you’re not prepared. The cure for any hangover is the three S’s: shit, shower and shave.

To save time I sit on the toilet while I work the electric razor over my chin and neck. Tiny hairs fall onto the porcelain seat, and eventually join the other nondescript scum that lines the floor.

In the shower I turn on both taps and push up against the cold tiles. The gas heater protests with clunks and rattles and then finally acquiesces. Warm water flows through the old iron pipes. The pressure swings between sharp needles and a dribble.

I soak up what water I can, lather soap over my body and face then scrub off last night’s skin. I shed the lipstick and mascara and sticky glue left from fake eyelashes. Pools of pink and blue eye shadow gather around my feet before disappearing through the drain. Manly thoughts resurface in my head.

Once dried, I walk over to the sliding wardrobe to decide the day’s attire. I pull open the male door and grab a pair of light blue jeans, an Adidas polo shirt and my fluoro orange trainers.

Inside my fridge are more condiments than food. In the back I find a Tupperware containing some old dumplings. I eat them while standing, skol a cup of water which tastes like bourbon and descend the two flights of stairs onto the street.

My apartment sits above a second-hand bookstore. It was once quietly dilapidated, another business withering into obsolescence in a town still shuddering after its steel industry collapsed. That was until the owner bought a coffee machine and hired a barista. Now I am forced to push through chairs and tables and people and their breakfasts every time I leave my apartment.

My car is parked in the industrial estate two blocks over. To park on my street now costs two dollars an hour and to acquire a permit from the council is $120. The industrial estate is free. Except for the broken window I had to have repaired last month.

It takes three attempts to turn the engine over and a heavy foot on the accelerator. In the rear vision mirror blue exhaust fumes drift out into the blue sky. The old green Corolla is one of this town’s many failing assets, slowly rolling towards its expiry date.

Lilly lives in the neighbouring suburb. She moved out nearly two years back and took Dane with her. Our break-up was what many would call civilized, though I doubt if that is possible. We smashed things, cried and shouted words that can never be withdrawn. Her name remains on the lease of my apartment and we are comfortable enough to share dresses and makeup, even though she completely lacks style.

I pull into the driveway of her two-bedroom home. A home the same as any other home on the street. White doors, blue roofs, shitty grass and mailboxes constantly full with letters addressed to Mr and Mrs Williams or Petersham or Fitzhenry, notifying them of the contention of their mainstream lives.

The car convulses as it stops. Dane shoots out of nowhere and appears next to my door. He is already dressed in his soccer uniform — blue shorts and blue shirt with a white seven on the back. I think seven is the number worn by his favourite player, some dark-skinned Spanish guy.

Dane looks quite professional in his red leather boots with studs, which I think were an expensive Christmas present, his long socks pulled up over his shin pads. I motion for him to stand back so that he won’t get hit by the door, and when he refuses to move I gently push it into him to create room to climb out.

‘How’s it going kiddo?’ I ask.

‘Dad!’ he shouts, and jumps onto my legs. ‘You’re late.’

‘I know, I’m sorry mate. I got caught in traffic,’ I lie, into his eager blue eyes.

‘That’s okay, kick off isn’t for another hour,’ he says.

I silently curse Lilly for rushing me without reason.

‘Big game today?’ I ask him.

‘Yup, if we win we get a place in the finals.’

‘Woah, that’s great,’ I reply, with as much enthusiasm as I can muster. Being a dad sometimes feels like an unavoidable cliché, just another costume to be worn. Once you have a child you are provided with these scripted conversations — from blockbuster movies, trash books, and other fathers — which, if accurately followed, get you recognized as a good dad.

‘Then you’ll receive a big trophy to add to your collection,’ I say.

‘Mum reckons I might win best and fairest this year,’ Dane replies, while standing on my feet. His studs start digging into my toes, reminding me of bruises left by a pair of red stilettos.

‘Where is your Mum?’ I ask, as I move him onto the grass.

I look up to see Lilly watching me from the doorway.

‘Hey, Lilly.’

‘Your car sounds like a tired prostitute with her last client of the night,’ she says.

‘Yeah, she has nearly earned her retirement,’ I reply.

‘Have you been checking the oil?’ Lilly asks, as she walks over, eyeing the car with a mix of disdain and pity.

‘I’m not really sure how,’ I reply, feeling unsteady as the gender seesaw shifts. Our hug is forced and lifeless, like two plastic dolls jammed together.

‘Well is the “check engine” light on?’ she asks.

‘Look, Lill, I don’t know what that is but I’m sure it’s fine. The car has survived this long.’

‘Well the engine sounds louder than usual. You know if you kept the oil topped up it would survive much longer.’

‘Don’t you have work?’ I protest.

‘Not for twenty minutes, it’s only a half day.’

Based on our stock of old arguments I predict the outcome of the conversation. Lilly turns into a bitch and then I lose, so I hasten the process.

‘Okay, fine, how do you do it?’

Lilly goes back inside to find some oil, leaving me with Dane.

They say kids look like their mums when they’re older and their dads when they’re young, but there’s little similarity between Dane and me. His hair is beach blonde and bounces and curls; mine is stone brown and sits flat against my face. His thin lips share nothing with my full lips. His chin is already more pronounced than my own.

‘So how is school?’ I ask him, reciting the lines.

‘I have three girlfriends,’ he boasts while fetching his soccer ball. He passes it to me.

‘Three, well done, what are their names?’ I ask. I mistime my kick and the ball shoots out onto the road.

He runs after it and passes it back over the gutter in a long arc. His coach claims he has the best leg on his team.

‘Rose, Clare and Stacey,’ he says, ‘but I think three is too many, I need to only have two.’

‘Oh no,’ I say, and kick the ball into the bushes this time, ‘but which girls will you keep?’

A frown creeps into his face. ‘I don’t know, I love them all.’

Lilly returns with a bottle of oil and an old rag. She opens the driver side door and fiddles with something under the steering wheel which causes the bonnet to pop up. Her movements are precise and methodical, as if filling a car with oil was somehow natural for her.

She walks around to the front and says to Dane, ‘Did you tell your dad about father’s day at school, yet?’

‘Not yet’ he replies, then turns to me. ‘Mrs Prior said everyone can bring their dads to school on Father’s Day. Will you come please?’

‘Sure thing,’ I say, with instant regret. I look over to Lilly for consolation but her head is busy under the bonnet.

‘Mrs Prior said our dads can tell the class about their jobs, so I told her my dad is a dancer, and she said she’s very excited to hear about your job.’

Even though I can’t see her, I know Lilly is smiling.

‘Did you tell Mrs Prior what type of dancing Daddy does?’ I ask.

‘No, I thought it would be more fun if it was a surprise,’ Dane says.

‘Alright, well maybe it’s best if we keep that a secret until Daddy decides to tell them, okay?’

‘Okay,’ he replies, and runs over to the bush in search of his ball.

I picture Dixxie Coxx performing for Dane’s grade three class, all dolled up — a sparkling beehive wig, drawn eyebrows and pink blush, my size 11 feet jammed into towering heels to accentuate my otherwise flat and hairy bum, which is barely concealed beneath a red sequin dress — while Mrs Prior, the kids and their stalwart dads, proudly dressed in uniforms of tool belts, police badges, ties and blazers, all shift uncomfortably on small plastic chairs in the dimmed light as I sing a tune from No Doubt, most likely Just a Girl, which I bring to life with a sexy dance routine. Thrusting my manicured hands, gyrating my padded hips, I wink at the neighbours and high-kick the air while wide eyes stare at the flat patch where my dick existed before it was taped between my butt cheeks, and Dane joins in on the chorus — take a good look at me, just your typical prototype — his naivety protecting him from the years of abuse to which he has just been condemned.

I jolt as Lilly slams the hood of the Corolla. ‘Should be alright for a few more months,’ she says, as she rubs her greasy hands on a rag.

‘Thank you,’ I force, shaking off my reverie.

Dane jumps into the car and shuts the door.

‘Guess it’s time to go,’ I say to Lilly as I get ready to leave. ‘I’ll drop him back after the game.’

‘Bye,’ she says.

I turn the ignition expecting a battle, but the car starts first time. I will never let Lilly know that she helped, I think as I reverse out of the driveway and head to the soccer fields.

*

Soccer dads are the bullies of the adult world. Before and after the match they congregate in packs around the canteen, masticating old Chiko Rolls and meaty pies while grumbling nonsense to one another. Phrases like — ‘He’s a good forward, but I think he would play better in midfield’, ‘The wife is giving me the shits at the moment’, or ‘The trip to Bali was nice, though the locals are a bit dodgy’ — get passed around like an old cum rag.

The whistle for kick-off is blown and I congratulate myself on eluding conversation up until now. I pull out a book and hide in its pages among the ambience of shouting dads, referee whistles and panting kids.

*

At half time I see Mick approaching me from the corner of my eye. Mick is the alpha of the soccer dads, a title most likely awarded because he shouts the loudest at his kid.

‘How’s it going, mate?’ he asks as he slaps my shoulder. Mick is one of those men that feels compelled to touch during conversation. The way his wife sulks around the canteen in those desperately low cut tops, it seems like he should spend more time groping her – there are plenty other men that would.

‘Dane is playing a ripper,’ he says.

‘Yeah he’s got a good leg on him.’ I repeat the coach’s phrase.

‘You bet, mate.’ Mick says. ‘You coming to the pub the sarvo?’

It is the soccer dad’s weekly ritual to drink beer at the local RSL after the game while their children eat deep-fried food and play in the playground.

‘I can’t, mate, I’ve got work tonight,’ I say, caught off guard without a prepared excuse, knowing it will lead to…

‘Yeah right, where do you work again?’

To which I respond ‘Oh, just at a club in the city.’ I nearly say honey at the end but cram the word back into my mouth.

‘Alright,’ Mick says, and the sound of the whistle draws him back to his spot on the sideline.

I return to my book.

Dane receives Man of the Match for the “great goal” he scored. He begs to catch a ride home with one of the other parents so he can go to the RSL and get hepatitis from the monkey bars while the dads drink mid-strength beer and argue over the game. The parent — I forget his name — offers to drop Dane at his mum’s afterwards, and I’m happy to oblige, knowing I will need some rest if I’m planning to rock the Pony tonight.

I give Dane a hug goodbye, though he seems distracted, eager to celebrate his success with his teammates. I never understood team sports growing up.

I drive home alone. Smooth jazz drifts out of the radio, bobbing and riffing with rolling patience, like a deep sigh of contentment. My eyelids grow heavy.

I park the car and walk the two blocks in a daze. The people sitting at the benches and tables outside my apartment look much the same as before — coffee, food and boredom — except they are now eating meaty bready things instead of eggs.

I tramp up the stairs to my bed, lie down and pass out.

*

When I wake up, I am disorientated by the darkness. As my brain struggles to identify the time I reach in all directions until my hand finds my phone — 7:00. Fuck.

I draw on that dream of Dixxie performing at Dane’s primary school for inspiration. I tuck my brown hair into the beehive wig and my saggy penis behind my bum (the most action he’s got in weeks). I glue on fake eyelashes that defy gravity. I slide my red sequin dress over padding I tailored out of an old couch cushion. High heels add height and curves. I spread colourful blush, mascara and eye shadow all over my face like a rainbow bukkake. Disguise the man, liberate the diva.

Femininity seeps into my body. My shoulders and neck loosen and my head assumes a bobble. My hands fall at the wrist while one knee bends, pushing out my arse. I stare into the stand-up mirror and my gorgeous eyes flicker back. My glittery lips pout and whisper silent secrets of seduction.

I play my song and go through my routine. My arms flair out with rhythm and cadence, my hips swing and gyrate as I give the air around me an erotic lap dance and a definite hard-on. I become aware of each angle my body creates; like a calligraphy brush, I draw shapes of sex appeal with my reflection.

When the song finishes, I snap back into the moment. My skin tingles as if I’ve had an orgasm. I grab my handbag, blow a kiss to the mirror and my heels echo through the stairwell as I glide down to the street below.

The Chrome Pony is a twenty minute walk from my block. Depending on the time of night, and levels of drunkenness, either whistles or insults spurt out of the gross men I walk by. Some stop to take pictures, others for a phone number.

There was a period when I first started queening, where I drove to work to avoid the harassment. Now I dance in the attention — each passing comment feels like a flash of a fan’s camera, an ode to my rarity. Being straight is easy, but being bent is fun.

There is already a long line zig-zagging between the ropes outside the Pony. The punters are begging for a glimpse of our secret beauties. I sneak around the back into the alley, and hide my nose in my perfumed wrists to avoid the stench of acrid urine. I knock on the door and wait.

Mr. Rogers answers with a hug and kiss on the cheek.

‘Dixxie,’ he shouts. ‘You look fabulous.’

‘Aww, thanks baby,’ I blush, and strut past him into the backroom.

‘Your show starts in ten,’ he says, as he pours me a strong gin and tonic.

He hands the drink to me.

‘There’s a little blonde scout from the Glory here to take you away from me. Don’t get any ideas.’

The Glory is the most prestigious club in town — the Moulin Rouge of drag.

‘A girl?’ I quip, to hide my interest. ‘Since when did a fucking woman scout for drag queens?’

‘Girls can do everything boys can, Dixxie,’ he chides, and walks to the front of house, leaving me alone to prepare for the show.

I hear the crowd cheering for one of the young calves, probably Suzy Xtravaganza or Fanny Balding. They come in dressed as their favourite super-models — Miranda Kerr or Adriana Lima — buying their costumes instead of creating. No feathers or glitter or opulence. Those queens shed their capes for reality, and lose their power along the way.

The applause echoes through the walls and charges my body. From head to toe I can feel the adulation, the people cheering. It’s a physical high, a good high, an addictive high.

Finally I hear my introduction.

‘Ladies and Gentleman, tonight, our featured queen, the sassiest, sexiest, sauciest girl in town, the star rider of the Chrome Pony, and an all round feisty bitch, Dixxie Coxx.’

I channel the most womanly of women. Tina Turner, Coco Chanel and fucking Joan of Arc. I strut out onto the small uneven stage in the old, seedy bar and feel as if I am a princess receiving an Oscar. The lights dim and the cheers dissolve into silent anticipation. The song starts.

‘Strike a pose, strike a pose,’ Madonna sings, and the tingling begins.

I glide my arms to my left and right with precision.

‘Vogue, vogue, vogue.’ My lips and tongue roll over each word in total sync. Then the spotlight blasts into me and the drug hits my bloodstream.

‘Look around, everywhere you turn is heartache. It’s everywhere that you go.’

My mind surrenders to my X chromosome.  I give myself up to the goddesses. The body takes the reigns and guides my hips and legs and back. I drip sex and power and desire with every movement. I court the punters, seduce them; we share our hidden desires in a sexy conversation using the language of the body.

‘Oooh, you’ve got to let your body move to the music.’

The words come from deep inside me. The air thickens with excitement. My consciousness is freed. As I slide onto my back and raise one toned, perfect leg, we erupt in sweat and joy and pleasure, and reach a shared climax.

‘Vogue, vogue,’ Madonna sings, as I lay there in ecstasy, hovering in the space above my body.

*

After the show, the scout from the Glory approaches me in the back room. She has a nose ring and long blonde hair that sits either side of her milky cleavage. Her butch confidence reveals her sexuality. Whether it is the sensation from the show or her, I suddenly feel aroused — my penis gently tugs at its binding between my butt cheeks.

‘Hey, I’m Brigitte. I work for the Glory,’ she says, from between full lips. ‘That was hot.’

‘I’m glad you liked it, honey,’ I reply, and then stiffen my back and shift my weight off my right foot.

‘Would you be interested in dancing for us?’ she asks, and for a moment I think she says ‘me’.

‘Let’s talk,’ I reply.

We find a table and stools in a dark corner at the back of the pub. Two strawberry daiquiris arrive shortly after. Brigitte discusses the Glory — the pay rates, the wild nights, the sorority of queens — and all I can think about is fucking her. It’s like all my pent up masculinity has broken through a dam and is flooding my psyche. Her boobs, her lips, her legs. Her voice is a rope slowly pulling me into heterosexuality

‘Drag queens act like girls because girls aren’t allowed to act like girls anymore. If a girl was to perform as a queen does she would be labelled as a slut or a show-off,’ she says, clearly a feminist.

I drink another daiquiri and pretend to listen to her ranting.

‘It is only men that are truly allowed to enjoy a feminine sexuality,’ she claims.

Brigitte is naughty, a deviant. A deviant can spot a deviant. In the subtle stares, the crossing and uncrossing of legs, the smile upturned at one side. She is whispering sex, sex, sex.

I spend the next hour flirting with her, totally unconscious of wearing fake eyelashes and a wig. And when the bar closes I convince her to come home with me.

We hop out of the taxi, both aware of our plan after making out in the back seat for ten minutes. The front of the bookstore is empty, no furniture impedes us. We giggle up the staircase as our drunken bodies knock into the walls.

I kick my heels off at the front door and push my wig on the floor as she climbs onto my bed.

Kneeling on all fours, she works her jeans down to her ankles, exposing a round peachy arse. With one final throb my penis breaks free from its sticky tape shackles and bursts between my legs. I rip the tape off my foreskin, hike up my dress and stumble towards her awaiting bum.

I grab her hips as I thrust into her, my polished nails leaving red marks on her milky skin. Padding slips from under my dress while she moans and moans.

Our bodies slap into each other and our genitals become one, as the poster of Kinsey stares down at us, somehow smiling.

 

____________________________________________________________

 

Scout Fisher both writes and teaches writing. Though he spends most days attempting to unfold his origami-shaped thoughts.

Fudgepackers (Daniel Young)

Posted on August 5, 2016 by in Out of Limbo

men hugging1(edited by Callie-Doyle Scott)

‘Fudgepackers!’ said John, referring to our American corporate overseers. The spaceship-like Polycom phone had only just made a final crackle before falling silent, so my reaction to his remark was delayed by an anxious feeling that the Americans might have heard him. It was just the two of us in the tiny glass-walled fishbowl meeting room. I gathered my papers and made to leave.
         Although I found the word funny, I shot him what I hoped was a hurt glance and said, ‘That’s such an offensive word. I’d prefer you didn’t use it.’
         John gave a knowing look and nodded.
         ‘Sorry. No offence intended.’
         Does that count as coming out? I walked out of the room and we never spoke of it again.

When the phone call came a few months later, I was sitting at my computer trying to get an email to the US just right. Adding, cutting, rewording sentences. John always laughed at my emails.
         ‘You’re so … verbose,’ he’d say, grinning.
         ‘At least I can spell!’ was my usual reply. His almost incoherent one-liners usually required further conference calls to set things straight. To get us all on the same page, as the Americans liked to say.

Our boss answered the call. Brad, the B.O. king. John once snuck a small bottle of roll-on deodorant into his top drawer, but the hint went unheeded. We always knew when Brad had walked past, even if our heads were down, headphones on, bashing away at our keyboards, arms mashed down to bloody stumps like that deranged animated GIF that John loved so much, the one that so perfectly captured our approach to work—pain and perseverance in equal measure. We avoided booking meetings with Brad in the fishbowl. The conference calls were bad enough when Brad decided to attend, trying to take credit for all our work, but in the small room, the stench was unbearable.

I’d just come back from my lunchtime walk, alone. John and I used to walk together, roaming the city’s sticky humid air, trying to catch some breeze down by the turgid brown waters of the Brisbane River. We walked fast, with purpose, hissing and snarling at slow walkers or those who hogged the footpath without leaving room for us to overtake. Birds of a feather, us against the world. The highlight of my day, a sweet spot nestled between the morning conference calls (when our time zone overlapped with the Americans’) and the afternoon when we actually got shit done. The rest of the office resented us. We worked hard, enjoying and despising it in equal measures, and kept to ourselves. We knew, of course—not only John and I, but the whole office—that our jobs were at the mercy of the little Aussie dollar. The Pacific peso, as John liked to call it. One swing too high against the greenback and the Americans would cut us out altogether, shut down the whole operation. But for now, toiling away in sunny little Brisbane, we were able to provide some measure of corporate value at a cost-effective price. Relations with our colleagues sank to an ultimate low when John won the FIFA World Cup sweepstakes. He drew Brazil, an almost guaranteed win, and ended up walking away with $120. We went out for Monday night cocktails, inviting no one else. It started with Long Island Iced Teas and progressed to shots of Chartreuse. Yes, Chartreuse. Fuck me, the Chartreuse. Never again. Even the bartender chastised us once we started on the Chartreuse.
         ‘Guys. What’s going on?’
         We looked at him blankly and demanded two tequila lime and sodas to chase down our shots.
         ‘It’s a Monday night. Everyone else has had a quiet beer and gone home, but you guys are on the cocktails. What’s the occasion?’
         It felt like a sermon.
         ‘What’s your name?’ asked John.
         ‘Trent,’ replied the bartender.
         ‘Trent the bartender! We’re celebrating the world cup.’
         Trent shook his head and walked away to make our drinks.
         ‘I think he likes you,’ said John, out to cause mischief.
         ‘No way.’
         ‘Trent the bartender is cute, isn’t he?’
         ‘Yeah—and very straight.’
         Trent returned and I paid for our drinks. We were the last people left in the bar, and Trent wanted to shut up shop and go home, so we nipped off to the Irish pub around the corner for what John called ‘a soothing Scotch and dry’ followed by a ‘cleansing beer’. I wanted to stop, but the very idea of a cleansing beer seemed important to him. More than anything, I think he just liked saying it.
         ‘We need a cleansing beer. You’ll feel much better after that. You can’t go home without a cleansing beer.’
         By this stage I wanted to run, but I shrugged and let him buy it.
         ‘What’s that?’ he asked, pointing at a gleaming bottle of liqueur high up on a shelf behind the bar.
         ‘Huh, I don’t even know,’ the bartender replied. A woman this time. Was John flirting? She took the bottle down. ‘It’s called Rubis,’ she said.
         ‘Rubis!’ said John, a little too loud. ‘After this cleansing beer, we’ll have a Rubis or two.’ He took the bottle from the bartender for a look. ‘Strawberry liqueur. Hey, it’s like Midori, but with strawberry. I’m a fucking poet!’
         I took the bottle. ‘And it’s made by Suntory.’
         John struck a serious pose and held up his glass. ‘For relaxing times … ‘
         ‘Yeah yeah,’ said the waitress, taking the bottle back and leaving us to our giggling.
         I slumped across the bar and closed my eyes. John gave my stool a gentle nudge. Eyes open or shut, the room had turned liquid, daring me to drink the whole night in. My stomach had other ideas. I groaned, ran to the bathroom and heaved uncontrollably, painting the floor technicolor before I could make it to a cubicle. I sat down on a toilet seat and tried to breathe. A few minutes and a quick gulp of water from the filthy bathroom sink had me feeling ready to return outside, but wanting get home fast.
         ‘OK, look. Don’t finish the beer, but we are so having a Rubis,’ said John.
         ‘That’s a girl’s drink,’ said the bartender.
         ‘I don’t care. Rubis and lemonade please. Two!’
         Our drinks were served.
         ‘It’s medicinal. That’s what it is. Mystical. I mean, medicinal,’ said John, nodding sagely, savouring the word before losing balance and sliding gracelessly from his barstool.
         A Monday night in Brisbane can only go so late, so we were soon out in the fresh air, dizzy and lost. We ran down Elizabeth Street like loons, shrieking ‘Rubis!’ at the occasional passer-by. Near the Queen Street mall we parted in a brief, rough, embarrassed, masculine hug, as close as we ever got.

After he got the call, Brad came over and looked me in the eye. ‘We need to talk.’ Despite my best efforts to veer into the boardroom, he gestured the other way and we ended up face-to-face in the fishbowl, breathing each other’s breath, smelling each other’s smell.

When we went walking, John and I changed our shoes in the lockers downstairs in the building’s basement. I’d requested a locker from the building management and he shared it, leaving his comfortable runners there for our walks. We started doing this after the soles of our black leather work shoes began to crack from all that walking. One day, treading the steaming wet footpaths after a quick summer storm had passed over, I realised my socks were getting wet. Water had crept up into the cracked shoe sole and absorbed into my socks, my toes stained black from the wet dye.
         Sometimes we headed down into a food court and got what I called a post-lunch lunch at the dodgy carvery. We’d order John’s favourite: ‘globules of fat’, his name for deep-fried dim sims. Hideous food, but seemingly essential on those days when we needed a little something to get through the afternoon.

After the call, sitting with Brad in that tiny meeting room, staring blankly past his head and into the bland office outside, I said the first thing that came to mind.
         ‘I have his shoes.’
         ‘Sorry?’
         ‘Downstairs, in my locker. His shoes.’
         Brad was visibly upset, but it wasn’t in me to sit there and accept that he had feelings too. I went downstairs, collected the shoes and went home early.
         I resigned soon after, unable to continue. Not that it mattered. John’s funeral was well-attended. Family, friends, a sea of strangers; people I had no words to offer to. A nice enough farewell, but one of those funerals where you get the impression that, despite a great sense of loss, nobody really knew the deceased very well at all. Generic speeches. Yes, tears, of course, and sadness, but without any underlying truth; nothing more than each attendee coming face-to-face with their own mortality. I never found out why he did it, and I still wonder—perhaps morbidly—how he did it. Nobody ever talks about those details, do they? Everything left unsaid, reminding me of the way I came out to him with feigned offence at the word ‘fudgepackers’; how I keep coming out to people in various subtle ways, again and again, until it all just becomes too tiring. Sometimes I wake up from a dream, forgetting everything except the faint warmth he left behind that one time. That brief, rough, embarrassed, masculine embrace, holding me through the night. The bottle of Rubis gleaming at me from my own small liquor cabinet in the other room.

 

____________________________________________________________

daniel

Daniel Young is a reader, writer, editor, and software developer. He has had short stories and flash fiction published by Hello Mr. Magazine, Mascara Literary Review, Bukker Tillibul, Seizure, Cuttings Journal, Verity La, Bide Magazine, The Suburban Review, and antiTHESIS journal. He is the founder and editor of Tincture Journal. You can find him on Twitter @jazir1979.

One Perfect Day (Amanda Marx)

Posted on February 26, 2013 by in Out of Limbo

One Perfect Day (Amanda Marx)

It was just a glimpse I caught of you
Not quite enough to fill the gap
Between the knowing and déjà vu
My mirror image to unwrap
Reflected there behind the mask
That begs the question I must
One perfect day I’ll be that me
You know I was always meant to be
That day will come . . . this nightmare end
The truth revealed of my manhood
No longer so misunderstood
This broken thing only I can mend
That perfect day will come I’m sure
I’ll be that me forevermore

*

MountaineerOrientation Week was heaven on a stick.  I joined every second club and society that had a smiling face and a hint of fun to be had.  A new town, with a squeaky new future in the wings, was the perfect mixer to go with the truckload of free beer O-week had on offer. I couldn’t wait to try the anythings and everythings I imagined uni to be.  The Platonic idealism I’d nursed through high-school and my short-lived career as a labourer would finally get an airing in the hallowed halls of learning.  Set against the backdrop of that optimistic good cheer, the misogynistic rant I came across in the bar was a grating reminder that all was not well in that world.  ‘Did women build the Roman Empire?  Was it a woman who took that ‘giant step for mankind’?  How many women does it take to… blah, blah.’  The guy with the mouth had an ego Superman couldn’t jump over and as tempting as a heckling confrontation was, I couldn’t be bothered buying into some wanker’s macho ego-fest when there were far more enticing activities to be had around the campus corner.  I didn’t give Pete a second thought until he plonked himself down at my table in the ref a few days later.  He’d seen me at the mountaineering club and wanted to know if he could join the Federation Peak walk over the Easter break.  He had no clue our paths had already crossed and I had no reason to revisit my first impression.

Over the next few months we shared our interests in politics, bushwalking and every barrel from physics to philosophy led to an unlikely friendship taking shape.  Pete’s conversation habitually took aim at the female of the species and the resulting exchanges were often as not half a word away from a blood sport.  I never backed away from my criticism of Pete’s Anglo-centric sensibilities and testosterone charged abuse of feminism, and he would likewise tear strips off my romantic anarchism and defense of every girl from Alice to Aphrodite.  As spirited as those encounters often were, we never came to blows.  The one thing we never disagreed on was climbing.  We rarely spoke during a climb and as clichéd as it sounds I can’t help but think those silences were the real reason our friendship endured.

Work and family and travel and women took our lives in very different directions.  Christmas cards and the occasional scribbled note from wherever in the world Pete happened to be were intertwined with yaffly coffees and meals whenever he was in town.  Chilli mussels and too many red wines set the tone for most of those get togethers.  We’d catch up every week or two when he was around and then go our separate ways when the distractions of life took over.  Pete had been living in Indonesia with his latest lady-love and when that relationship, like all those before it, came to its inevitable end, he called me on his arrival back in Melbourne:

‘Bakers still doing their seafood night?’

Pete-speak for dissecting the minutia of where it had gone wrong, of where she’d gone wrong.  He knew he’d get little if any sympathy from me, not that that had ever stopped him over-analysing his life choices in the past.  To be honest, the closet soapy-watcher in me was looking forward to the next installment of an existence that had nothing in common with the suburban family life I led.  In his enthusiasm to have an ear to bend my casual mention that I had something to tell him would have gone straight through to the keeper.  No surprises there: Pete’s world loomed large from where he sat, and from his perspective mine was simply what it was.  When you had known someone for as long as Pete and I had, the scripts we lived by rolled out in anticipation of the familiarities we expected of one another.

I arrived early for dinner.  The first beer didn’t touch the sides, prompting the waitress to ask if I’d like ‘another while you’re waiting for your friend?’  She didn’t have to ask twice.  Seven o’clock swung ‘round.  My heart-rate increased and by quarter past what had seemed like a good idea at the time was rapidly morphing into ‘what the fuck am I doing’, which was followed by Pete walking in.  He gave the café crowd his usual once over.  He looked across at me. He turned and walked out.  Right, that didn’t go as well as I had imagined it might.  Yes, it was presumptuous of me to think Pete would be OK with this stuff.  We’d covered a lot of ground over the years but I’d never once hinted at what I now so pointedly wanted to share with him.  Even the best of friendships have their limits and it looked ominously like I’d found ours in that glance.  I had no Plan B and the only thought to cross my mind was, So, that’s what the pit of my stomach feels like. Pete was still outside the café having a smoke and I was about to try his mobile to ask what his story was when I saw him check his watch .  Sweet.  I waved the waitress over and asked her to tell the guy on the footpath that there was a beer waiting for him inside.  A measured breath in … out … and Pete was standing at my table.

I smiled and said, ‘I thought we’d agreed to meet for dinner.’

Pete’s mouth opened and closed and opened and closed again.  The longer he stood looking the more I relaxed into the ‘me’ he was seeing for the very first time.  His stare never left my face as he fumbled for a chair, an absent-minded ‘fuck me’ slipping out when he finally settled at our table.  Pete’s eyes were doing all the talking and seeing him lost for words was a first.  It was one of those classic silences that only last a second or two but take forever to break.  The anxiety I’d felt only a few moments earlier dissolved into the quiet confidence that came with being in the skin I was in.  When I reminded Pete that I had mentioned having something to tell him, the ‘you bastard’ he responded with put a grin on both our faces.  Pete still had a lot to take in seeing his oldest mountaineering mate primped and powdered to perfection.

From my side of the looking glass, being frocked-up was as seamless as breathing in and out.  I could sit playing with a lock of Phryne Fisher black-bob wig without a blink of self-consciousness.  But introducing that same femme self to family and friends was rarely an easy thing to do.  ‘Show don’t tell’ was my weapon of choice when it came to sharing the reality of my being Amanda.  Pete had to sink or swim in a sea of Allure perfume and a to-die-for 1950s inspired black and white floral print dress – the exquisitely cut cowl neckline flowed into a backless pleated A-line skirt, frothing at the hem with layers of black tulle petticoat, perched on suicide high platform stilettos and finished off with lashings of mascara and the reddest red lipstick on the planet.  Everyone blinks.

The attention to detail that defines Amanda’s public persona was lost on Pete.  He made an awkward attempt to complement me on my hair and makeup, then had second thoughts and reverted to type with a disparaging remark about my cleavage.  We both laughed. Dinner went better than either of us could have predicted, helped along by a tender-as Gippsland T-bone and a decidedly Amandaesque sparkling Shiraz.

Pete had way more questions than I had answers that night.  He still has.  He wanted to know every where, why, what and when of my Amandaring.  His curiosity was initially focused on concern that I not get ‘the shit kicked out of me’ when I was out and about, which was sort of sweet.  I assured him it was pretty unlikely I’d be bashed at the ballet or threatened at the theatre and tried to reassure him that the most dangerous place I could go – the Myer mega-sale – wasn’t my scene.  

‘So what if the cops stop you?’ 

I had been pulled over for a random traffic inspection, which was a non-event until the officer asked to see my license.  She looked at the photo ID I handed her and then quizzically at me.  All I could do was smile and say ‘yeah, there’s a typo on the date of birth’.  She waved me off with a cheery goodbye and was still laughing as I drove away.  All good and well according to Pete but what he was really angling to know was, What are you going to do when some douche-bag tries it on?

Life to Pete was sex.  Full stop.  Everyone, everywhere, every day of the week was either doing it or wanted to be doing it.  I didn’t live in that world.  From day one I’d always assumed anyone seeing Amanda knew precisely what it was they were looking at.  It still surprises me that that assumption is only half right.  Girls pretty much know at first blush what I am.  Boys on the other hand have a tendency to see what they want to see.  ‘That’s right Pete, just like you did when you first walked into the café.’  My gentle slap to remind the boy in the man that he’d been sprung only served to spur him on to ask the question he most wanted the answer to: ‘ So, has anyone tried to get into your pants?’

‘Panties Pete, get with the program, mate.’

He could be a real charmer.

There was this guy.  The Black Cat was a favourite café-cum-music venue for me to Amanda a night away.  I usually sat alone, reading, writing , enjoying.  It’s a bit witchy but I could feel the looks I was getting.  What’s the deal with that?  No, your stare isn’t a tractor beam.  No, I don’t feel all gooey knowing you’re giving me the eye.  Didn’t he know the rules?  ‘If you don’t want to be a dick, DON’T BE A DICK.’  My admirer eventually made his way to where I was sitting and with one of those icky Days of our Lives voices said, ‘Hi, I’m John.  But you can call me Jack.’  As if that was ever going to happen.  The questioning eyebrow I raised was all the encouragement John needed to trot out his next B-grade movie line.  ‘I’d like to take you home and tuck you into beddy byes.’  OK, I have to admit I had a smidge of admiration for his directness, but he totally lost me at ‘beddy byes’!  What planet was this guy from?  Not knowing what else to do I thanked him with the strongest boy handshake I could muster, leant across the table, and said, ‘You can’t afford me, John.’  A ripple of chuckling from the staff and patrons next to me followed John to the door.  Not the nicest thing I’ve ever done but, hey, John was a dick.

Pete was warming to where I was coming from and to the ‘me’ I wanted him to know.  Before we’d finished our wine the conversation had settled into the same relaxed ebb and flow we’d always enjoyed.  I asked him about Indonesia and the focus of our catch-up shifted 180 degrees.

Pete still has a myriad of questions and rock-climbing is still the scariest fun thing I do.  We’ve had lots of meals and coffee catch-ups since that dinner and our discussions can still be feisty affairs at times but, that said, he does tend to tread a little gentler whenever the conversation crosses the gender divide.

Love may make the world go around, but it’s been friendships like Pete’s that have let me breathe in that world.

**

I met you in my dreams
The wish I made . . . come true
The lie I’ve lived not what it seems
You came to my rescue
Across the years we were apart
You came to me with all your heart
No thought that hidden then from view
Those dreams would one day be you
Testimony to your birthright
The truth revealed for all to see
The you that’s always been in me
My secret sister of the night
Your mirror image now recast
That perfect day has come at last

Ogres are like Onions (Kyle Leong)

Posted on January 2, 2013 by in Out of Limbo

Ogres are like Onions (Kyle Leong)

Malaysian guy 2The stars saved my life, it’s true. I had the whole thing planned out. There is a table by the lake. Sort of. It’s either an uncomfortable piece of picnic furniture or an art sculpture, it’s hard to tell. But it’s a dark, deserted spot and that’s what matters.

At times like these, I lament the safe streets of Canberra, the absence of gun crime. The closest thing you’d encounter is probably a good glassing. But broken bottles make such inefficient and messy weapons. And the last thing you want to happen in a suicide is for it to fail.

As they say, when life gives you lemons, you search for other alternatives to guns.

Gay men aren’t allowed to donate blood if they’re sexually active. Thankfully, I have no life to speak of, sexual or otherwise. And as I squeezed the rubber ball like the nurse instructed, I wondered if there was a limit to the number of bags that could be filled this way. And what if there was no bag. Just the needle.

Surely needles are easier to obtain than guns.

*

I come from a country of anti-LGBT parades, where queers are accorded the imaginary superpower of being a threat to national security. You’ll excuse me while I fly off to save the world from the breeders.

Did you know that about 2500 left-handed people die every year from using products designed for right-handed people? The interface was designed to be user friendly – if you are right-handed.

Likewise, the world is designed around straight, cis individuals. Is it surprising at all that non-straight, non-cis people suffer in it? The medical system grudgingly accommodates trans individuals, the legal system is designed for equality only within specific demographic groups.

As for social norms. Well.

Never feeling at home with the gender norms and hetero-centrism of Malaysian culture, I was always the outsider when dealing with that community. Regardless of whether said community was in Malaysia or Australia. Faced with the choice of learning to play by Aussie rules with the (predominantly) white crowd, or subsisting once again at the fringes of the Malaysian community, I admit to being a cowardly creature of habit and chose the latter.

Picking out the Christians to avoid, the gender normatives to shun, avoiding homophobia and transphobia should be simple enough. But what do I do with the gender-normative person who’s really nice to me? Or the devout Christian who I get along with really well? It worked out in the end.

After sensing my annoyance at a hetero-centric comment, the gender normative one cleverly deduced that I was gay. Fount of wisdom that she is, very matter of factly told me that I should be out to everyone so that my life would be easier. I told her that that wasn’t her choice to make and she went away.

She didn’t display any knowledge or sensitivity towards the queer experience and I wasn’t about to start a course on How to Treat Gay People like Human Beings 101. I was, however, going to rant about her straight privilege, her straight worldview and absolute ignorance of queer issues on my personal blog…… which she read. Oops.

She was hurt that I raged about her ‘behind her back’ without trying to talk to her, and she thought I was a two-faced, scheming, untrustworthy street slime. And the world didn’t move for me. The people around me were still ignorant and apathetic about the queer experience and call me lazy but between pondering suicide and considering acceptable options for my future, I just couldn’t be bothered trying to change people’s worldview.

The religious one, on the other hand, thought I was getting too close to her boyfriend. A bunch of us guys train karate together but I’m the only one catching shit for it because everyone sees me as the only girl in the group. And I’ll have you know that just because the medical system doesn’t allow me to get on hormones easily, and everyone in the world makes assumptions about my gender doesn’t make me any less of a man. It just creates a lot of social awkwardness.

And soon, an alliance was forged between the two straight allies, rumors were perpetuated and shunted down the grapevine, there was a social fallout and a nuclear winter. Which was fine. Who needs breeder friends who think it’s their birthright that I explain my gender and sexuality to them anyway? And the closet ceased to be an issue because I didn’t have any friends who I needed to be closeted around.

*

Pondering my quarter-life crisis like any good university student with first-world problems, it became apparent that transgender medical care would be illegal and risky at best if I returned to Malaysia.  But I had no way of staying in the country unless I continued inflicting university upon myself.

A further $50,000 in tuition fees and two years of my life to gain nursing qualifications and subsequent migration? Or eternal exile to a society designed for cis, straight people? I chose door number three.

I like to think of Lake Burley Griffin as my front yard and Black Mountain as my back yard. It was even true if you squint. My preferred path up the mountain brings you away from the orange glow of the streetlights onto the pitch dark asphalt. The occasional car trundling past. The new world starts in pitch darkness and the only way you’d see a lamp post is if you walked into it. And as your eyes adjust, you start to wonder at how much you can see just by starlight and moonlight.

It was much the same along the lake. You’d run into the occasional jogger with a miner’s torch on their foreheads but mostly it’s fuzzy, grey, and dark. People from my intersex and trans support group tell me that the lake is too shallow to efficiently drown in, but really, you only need a strong resolve and few feet of water, right? They say after the first breath, everything becomes really easy.

Unsure of whether my parents were willing to spend more money on my education; not confident in meeting the criteria to apply for a temporary visa. A permanent solution was elusive. There was no way out.

If only I had me some needles.

It was winter, I reckon, when I took one of my many walks around the lake to romanticise death. It was winter to match my mood. Stumbling through the fog-filled maze, wondering which path to take, I made the mistake of looking up. And damn if the tiny stars in the night sky weren’t the prettiest fucking thing I’ve ever seen. The fog lifted.

The stars saved my life. It’s true.

*

After a harrowing first semester in nursing (the human body is a fascinating yet freaky, freaky thing), and a prolonged tussle with the healthcare system (even the healthcare professionals who want to help inadvertently make things harder for me), I finally will be on hormones within the month (maybe, fingers crossed). And if I don’t fail any of my courses I might even be on my way to getting me some human rights.

The Queer Department at my current university pays a lot of attention to the T in LGBT, or, a catchier acronym I recently learned, QUILTBAG, or, if you like it with a cynical spin, lGbt. Everyone I’ve met in the queer space are all so supportive, accepting and… full of life. It reminded me of the queer bubble I (had unintentionally) created around myself, only for them it wasn’t just a bubble, it was the entire world. It was as if I had dropped into a parallel universe where discrimination never existed.

Like everyone else who is alive I still have my problems. Once I start hormones and have to come out to my housemates eviction might be in my future. Despite my best efforts to stay under the radar (they can’t hurt you if they don’t know you’re there), I unfortunately made a few friends with the people in my course, and hence, social exclusion, whether real or imagined, is another possibility once people notice physical changes. Or, if internet anecdotes and my own personal experience is to be believed, people will dismiss all facts that contradict their initial impression of my gender. For example, when I wear my binder, it’s because I’ve Lost A Lot of Weight. And eventually when my voice drops, it’s because I have a Really Bad Cold That Never Goes Away.

In the end, it’s like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: if you’re homeless, cold and starving, you’re not going to worry about finding a fulfilling job and discovering the meaning in life. Likewise, until I somehow secure the right to safe and reliable medical care, and the right to change my name and gender on legal documents, I’m really not that excited about feeling safe enough to be out and proud to the world.

Mother and Son (Stuart Barnes)

Posted on August 14, 2012 by in Out of Limbo

Mother and Son (Stuart Barnes)

For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings

—Shakespeare

_

Mid-December 1994. Recently I’d turned 17; my parents had separated. My uncle extended an invitation to my mother and me to housesit his and his wife’s Cremorne mansion while they revelled in a Northern American adventure. We were desperate to be anywhere but Hobart: that backwater had become hazardous: every other weekend my mother would encounter—in Myer, at Salamanca Market—the former classmate with whom my father had had an affair and intended to marry; at the private school I was forced to attend I’d invite—by listening to The Cure, by studying anything other than Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue in the Common Room—the raging rich kids’ gauntlets.

So we promptly booked flights and packed; and the very next morning taxied from the small voltaic unit we occupied like lioness and zebra to the capital’s pastoral International Airport.

Mother in tow, I speared from the QANTAS Boeing, through the refreshingly mixed gridlock, the smeary sliding doors, then was belted across the jaw by the fist of a sweltering Sydney.

Instantly I loved it; she loathed it.

In a parking bay, in his Range Rover Classic, awaited that Irish giant, itching to zip us home. Crossing the Harbour Bridge, I was ecstatic, my mother ‘so seasick’. Hungover, I knew. (Every night she consumed a bottle of Teacher’s Scotch Whisky.)

Steel and water glittered.

Our bedrooms had been ‘appointed before dawn’ by my aunt, an angular firecracker. My mother’s was on the second floor, overlooked ‘a park where men’—rage spewed from the rear-view mirror—‘prowl at night’, mine the fourth, ‘in case he tries to sneak out: the stairs creak’. Sniggering, he jabbed my snoozing mother in the ribcage.

Carbon dioxide leaked from me as it leaks from a child’s balloon.

_

The following afternoon my mother and I farewelled her brother and sister-in-law.

‘Thank God they’re gone. I love them, but …’ A bottle of Coca-Cola hissed, a tray of ice cubes crackled on a hideous marble bench. ‘What’re you doing till dinner?’

‘Taking out the 4WD: need black hair dye.’

‘Jesus fucking Christ! So it’s not enough that I’m tortured twenty-four seven by the wailing of Robert Smith and his …’—his pack of fags? I willed her to spit it again. ‘For the next month,’ she moaned, ‘I’m going to be shadowed by a clone.’

‘Would you rather I drove off The Gap?’

This vicious allusion to my latest suicide attempt momentarily rattled my mother; and then her top lip arched like a canine’s. ‘Don’t buy foundation … or lipstick … or mascara!’

I seized the Bluebeardesque ring of keys from the bronze hook in the foyer. ‘I won’t,’ I laughed. ‘I can use yours.’

As I started the engine the front door shook in its jamb.

_

The month with my mother was like a game of cricket: agonizingly slow. In mid-January 1995, my uncle and his wife returned—sans thanks—from the U.S. (then retreated, for six weeks, to their ‘châteaux, for some R&R’); my mother to Hobart.

Finally I was alone.

Every day I woke late and gorged on bacon and eggs; tripped, after a long bath, into clean jocks and socks, the same Einstürzende Neubauten T-shirt—white-eyed, well-hung red stallion, pissing—and frazzled black shorts; laced, carefully, my gleaming black 14-Hole Docs; smeared, in my aunt’s en suite, kohl on my upper lids; backcombed my mud-brown hair (‘If you’d peroxided it before you’d coloured it, it would’ve taken on the L’Oréal,’ sighed a friend in Tasmania).

In regalia, war paint and headdress, I rifled the city’s gifts: Oxford Street’s Pop Shop, Centennial Park’s copses, the Museum of Contemporary Art…

_

One sultry evening I talked my way into a Darlinghurst deco pub. There I collided with Mark, my ideal composite (although he—‘I’m only a bus boy’—disagreed) of the scholars, heroes and gods with whom I’d coexisted since Year 9 Classics.

It was, to quote Joseph Heller, love at first sight.

On a break, he whisked me to the fire escape, where we kissed, then propped me on a stool that towered over sparkling wet asphalt and headlights that wavered like Mediterranean jellyfish. Every so often he’d swing by to nuzzle my nape, to collect an empty glass, to deliver a fresh pint, to introduce a friend. ‘We adore him—’ ‘Not once has he judged us,’ the man’s brother—graced also with sarcomas—finished. Crowed a leatherman, a former Professor from Arkansas: ‘I’m just waiting for God … O!’ ‘I had to stop taking my pills,’ a twenty-year-old confessed. ‘They made me sicker than the illness.’ He placed a hand—bony, pale—over mine. ‘I know I’m going to die. I’m not afraid.’

But I was.

Not of him.

But for him.

For them all.

For there—“God’s Waiting Room” (‘Charming, isn’t it,’ fumed Mark one night, ‘the epithet those fortunate HIV negative men have branded upon the place I work’)—preyed an impatient, ruthless dog.

_

Despite spiralling to Hobart in mid-February, I continued my relationship with Mark. We spoke when we could, wrote to each other weekly. One of his letters—in which Sonnet 29 had been elegantly transcribed—precipitated my coming out.

‘Who’s Mark?’ screeched my mother.

She found them, she found them.

I was more relieved than alarmed.

‘Stuart? Who the fuck’s Mark?’

I marched into the lounge-room. She was perched on a florid pink and grey recliner that had been swivelled toward the doorway. Her face was starched like a hospital sheet. The letter was squatting in her lap, a fat toad. The others, which had been plucked from their envelopes, were crumpled on the carpet.

‘Are you gay?’

For years I’d anticipated the question from her. As a child I’d decided that when I was asked I’d answer honestly, believing she—of all people—would be receptive.

‘Yes, Mum. I’m gay.’

I’ve never forgotten her response:

What about my grandchildren? You’ll fucking die from AIDS!

After this, I remember very little: gathering the letters, the envelopes; stuffing clothes and notebooks into my school backpack; searching for loose change to call my friend Andrew, who knew I was gay, from the nearby Telstra payphone; praying (not to God: I electrocuted Him at thirteen while a priest’s doughy appendage caressed my knee) that payphone not be out of order.

‘What the fuck,’ my mother bellowed, ‘do you think you’re doing?’

‘Getting the hell out of here… Going to meet someone.’

‘Who?’

‘You don’t know him.’

‘Is he also—’

‘Gay? Yes, Mum. He’s gay.’ The more I uttered the word, the more hopeful, the more relaxed, the more unencumbered I felt.

‘If you go out my door I’ll telephone your father and tell him you’re—’

‘Gay? Gay! Gay!’ My nose’s tip almost brushed hers. ‘If you tell Dad I’m gay you’ll never see me again.

Keening, she lumbered to her bedroom.

I wrote on the kitchen bench’s floral pad:

Mum, I’m gay.
I always have been.
If you can’t accept this…
I’ll be in touch.
Love Stu

I glided from the unit to the payphone. One ring, two rings, three rings. Shit! And then Andrew answered his black analogue brick.

_

For the next week I stayed with his good friend Peter, who I previously hadn’t met. He encouraged me to buzz my mother, to let her know I was safe. By the time I did—around midnight—my stomach had completely emptied itself. My mother’s voice was rich with bitterness, with whisky. ‘Where the fuck are you? With who? Sounds like a bleeding peedaphile! If you don’t fucking tell me where he lives’—sniffles; quickly she composed herself—‘I’ll hire a private eye, have him tail you after school!’

Anxiety mutated into fear; I dropped the handset. Peter chatted briefly, gently, yet firmly, with my mother, then held me as I howled.

If it weren’t for him (and Andrew, who visited each night), I wouldn’t be alive. Mornings, he washed, dried and ironed my uniform; filled my lunchbox with sandwiches and fruit; drove me to school. Afternoons, he picked me up, returned me to his plush, comforting home, where he insisted I ‘drill until dinner’ (he lectured at a nearby college, proposed I apply to interstate universities). Dishwasher stacked, we’d retire to the sitting room, he with a snifter of brandy, me water; there I was introduced to the films of Fellini, the concertos of Mozart, the novels of Patrick White.

Those were some of the happiest evenings of my life. I was blessed to have known Peter, to have been one of the dozens of young—and not so young—gay men he sheltered, comforted and supported.

At the end of that week in Oz, my mother materialised at my school like the Wicked Witch of the West and begged me to head back to Kansas. A fortnight later—‘You’re a fucking liar!’ ‘You’ve changed!’—she kicked me out. I moved into a three-bedroom flat with two female university students whose friend—a gay guy with whom Andrew was acquainted—had recently relocated to Melbourne. It was almost overwhelming, knowing they weren’t repelled by my sexual orientation.

The first night in my new home, two school friends helped me unpack. From my atlas slipped a sepia photo—taken at Central Station in a romantic rickety booth—of Mark and me kissing. They snatched at it the way sea gulls snatch at chips. ‘What’s this?’ ‘You a Fudgepacker?’ ‘No! It was a dare!’ But the quaver in my voice betrayed me. Some excuse—‘Gotta get our bitches’—then they left.

_

The next morning, in halls, in classes, ‘Doughnut Puncher’ and ‘Arse Bandit’ were supplanted by ‘Grim Reaper’ and ‘You’re. Fucking. Dead’. Terrified, I confessed everything to my headmaster. He immediately convened students and staff, then told them in no uncertain terms that ‘homophobic hostilities or toleration of will effect expulsion or termination’. The tirade’s crescendo: ‘For Christ’s sake, grow up! From all of you I expect compassion for this young man who’s been outed!’ (So as not to roar nor cry, I bit my tongue until I tasted rust.) After that, not a single raging rich kid could look me in the eye.

At lunch I came out to my closest friends. Sam, in full view of hundreds of teenagers wrestling on the oval like Ancient Greeks, hugged me, then kissed each cheek. ‘Okay,’ said James, ‘wanna kick the footy?’ Adrian was typically facetious: ‘Always wondered why you hated threading worms onto fishhooks.’

_

Several months later, ‘Dad, I’m gay’ flew from my mouth, a beautiful bird. ‘I know,’ he smiled. I was speechless. ‘Deanna—then his fiancé, now his wife—‘thought so, a while ago. She’s a finely tuned … Gaydar?’ When my silence lingered, he offered: ‘You’re my child, and I love you. I always have, and I always will—no matter what.’

Mark and I amicably broke up. Although we’re no longer in touch, I occasionally re-read his letters. They remind me of summer, of young love, of losing my virginity, of Sydney’s men, of Andrew, Peter and my headmaster, of Sam, James and Adrian.

And they remind me of my mother. In thirty-four years I’ve thought often of blood; and I’ve realised—with sorrow, with hope—that it isn’t thicker than water.

So my mother and me?

We do not even know each other. We look alike but we have nothing to say. But I won’t hang around in my hospital shift, repeating The Black Mass and all of it.

I say Live, Live because of the sun, the dream, the excitable gift.

*

(Final three lines from Anne Sexton’s Live or Die, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1966.)

Blurred Impressions
(Callie Doyle-Scott)

Posted on May 23, 2012 by in Out of Limbo

 

I wish I could say that I had a plan.

But when I eventually decided to say something… it was as if the awkwardness in my gut dissolved and carried me along with it. A moment before, I had been prepared to shut down Skype, close my laptop, and go to bed as though I didn’t have a thousand threads of disappointment squirming like tapeworms in my belly.

Looking back, maybe it was because I could see Mum’s face, not just hear her voice.

‘Actually, Mum… there’s something else I have to tell you.’

Immediately I could see she knew that it was serious, whatever ‘it’ was. Which only made me even more nervous.

‘Don’t worry… I’m not on drugs, I’m not gay, and I haven’t got anyone pregnant.’

What else could she possibly think it could be now? That you’ve murdered someone?

She won’t like it she’ll look at you like you’re a monster and that’ll be it over done finished a disappointment

THAT’S ENOUGH. Just say it. Say it. She’s your mother. Think of your stepfather, your stepbrother- no, she’s my stepsister now… quickly, before you run away again, say it, say it, say it, say it!

‘Mum… I… I have a condition called Gender Dysphoria… I’m a girl.’

Beat. Mum nods slowly.

‘O-kay.’

Another silence. In hindsight, a second.

‘Well, I can’t say I’m surprised.’

That was when the mouse escaped into Mum’s kitchen.

*

‘What if… hypothetically speaking… I was your daughter instead of your son?’

‘Darling, I’ll always love you. No matter who you choose to be, you’ll still be you.’

I wish I could remember that conversation as it happened. All I know for sure is that we were driving away from the theatre one afternoon. It was cold, but the sun was shining so brightly.

*

I take a quick look in my wardrobe after hanging up from Skype two hours later. A fluffy black scarf, complete with matching hat. Kitty ears. My favourite skirt. Two pairs of jeans, carefully shaped. Elegant leather boots with perfect heels that I’ve never had the courage to wear in public.

*

I always told myself that I was good at hiding who I really was. Even now, I’m still surprised when someone, usually someone who I’ve never met, manages to actually see me. That friend of Mum’s whose first thought on meeting me was ‘what a lovely woman he’d make.’ Katie’s first boyfriend, who, just after I’d figured out who I was, took her aside after a long day of Dungeons and Dragons to ask her if I was transgendered. Another friend of a friend, after seeing me from a distance, asked Katie who her ‘gorgeous’ companion was.

Every time it happened, I couldn’t figure out why. I wasn’t beautiful, or even pretty. I was about as feminine as a gorilla, with the hair to match. … or so I thought.

*

Did you know that every human being is female in the womb? It’s a difference of a few degrees in temperature that determines our eventual sex, but every single tiny embryo starts off as a girl.

‘I wonder if you’re transgendered because you were born premature, Callie?’ Mum muses one evening. We’re both curled up in our respective thrones in that sleepy half-hour between eight-thirty to nine o’clock at night (she in her red-and-white striped armchair, me buried in my nest of pillows on the couch,) so it takes a little while for her question to filter through my daydreams of maiden knights kissing sentient stories and even longer for me to think of a response. It’s honestly never something that I’ve thought much about before, but the thought that I might have been born in that magical period of time just before my sex was imprinted on my brain by those few extra degrees makes a lot of sense.

I try to convey this as best I can without sounding as though I’m about to fall asleep. The last thing I see before I close my eyes is Mum smiling to herself.

*

Whenever I think about telling my Father, I seize up.

It’s not that I don’t know he loves me. Or that I don’t think he’ll support me. But in the moment that I do tell him, I know that I’ll be taking away his son. And the disappointment in his eyes when I do… I don’t know if I can take that. I really don’t.

*

‘I’m sorry darling… right in the middle of the most important conversation we’ve ever had- ACK! Kimba, no!’

‘Drop a towel over it, Mum! Drop a towel over it!’

‘Right!’

Finally, after a frantic minute of shrieking from both of us, flying towels from Mum, and hysterical laughter from me, the furry invader is trapped underneath a fluffy white bathtowel. Our cat, a sleek ginger specimen, looks up at Mum with an expression of shock on his gormless face. It’s not surprising: to him, we’ve just taken his squeaking, scurrying dinner and erased it from reality.

After that talking about my situation is easy. I tell Mum everything: the visits to the endocrinologist that I’ve been keeping secret, the hormones I’ve been taking, the wonderful way my body is slowly changing. I tell her about how scared I’ve been to say anything, how every time I’ve tried, my fear of disappointing her has paralysed me. She shakes her head.

‘I’m only sorry that you had to go through all of it alone.’

*

After I tell him, my father sits silently, staring at me. My stomach slowly begins to fold in on itself.

‘I think you’re wrong,’ he says finally. ‘I’d rather you lived a little more of your life before you made a decision like this.’ He sighs. ‘Go on. Get it over with.’

I blink. ‘Wh-what..?’

‘The name. What name have you picked out for yourself?’

‘Callie,’ I mumble.

‘Thank God for small mercies. When was Gender Dysphoria first recognised as a condition?’

‘I-I don’t know.’

‘I say this to all my patients: become an expert on your condition.’ He takes a sip of wine. ‘If you expect me to take this seriously, you’re going to have to put in the work for me. Can you do that?’

Something inside me snarls. What do a few dates have to do with how I feel, with what I’m trying to explain to him?

‘You haven’t disappointed me. I’ll always love you, and I’ll never judge you. I’ll do whatever I can to support you.’

Silence.

‘But I am going to challenge you every step of the way.’

I don’t reply. Around us, the bustle of the restaurant continues unabated.

It’s my twenty-second birthday.

*

Growing breasts hurt. They remind me of the growing pains I used to get in my elbows when I was younger: dull, prickling aches that can last anywhere from a few seconds to an hour or two. Sometimes they grip me so tightly that I have to grit my teeth. Once, I forgot that they were there and whacked them against a doorframe: I used expletives that I never thought I knew and have never thought of again. So many different pains, large and small, chasing each other across the growing wonder of my chest.

I love them all.

*

When I first talked to my supervisor about possibly putting the story of my coming out into writing, he was enthusiastic, if a little wary.

‘I think it’s an amazing idea… I just hope you can do it. Whenever I try to write about my own coming out, it comes out sounding like rubbish!’

I think I know what he means now. This story is so close to my self, the core of who and what I am, that actually trying to put it on paper is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. Impressions become mixed, events and dates blur, feelings whirl together in a maelstrom of extremes eight years in the making. How could I possibly set out a story like that in a way that makes sense?

Perhaps I don’t have to. Perhaps I can be content with this. After all, my journey has only just begun.

Out of limbo

Posted on May 12, 2012 by in Out of Limbo

‘Look at me. Listen to me. This is who I am.’

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS

A special project of Verity La, and a collaboration with Calli Doyle-Scott from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, Out of Limbo is a web-based series that aims to collect the ‘coming out’ stories of Gay, Lesbian, Transgender, Intersex and Bisexual individuals, as well as the ‘secret stories’ of those people who haven’t yet come out but want to do so.

What we’re looking for:

  • short stories of up to 2000 words, based on or telling the story of your own ‘coming out’. We’re also looking for ‘secret stories,’ the stories of Gay, Lesbian, Transgender, Intersex or Bisexual people who haven’t yet come out, but who want to do so, that tell us why they have decided to remain silent. These could be anything from the first conversation you had with your family about your sexuality, to the moment you first realised the truth about your own sexuality. Be creative, be brave, and above all be true to your own thoughts and feelings.
  • We want well-written stories; the better the quality of your writing, the higher the chance that your story will be selected.
  • If you wish, you can submit your story anonymously or under an alias.
  • Send all submissions to limboverityla@yahoo.com.au
  • Submissions close on the 22nd of July 2012.

From Out of Limbo project editor Calli Doyle-Scott:

‘For Gay, Lesbian, Transgender, Intersex and Bisexual (GLTIB) individuals, the realisation of their sexuality, and the moment they reveal that realisation to someone else, are two of the most important moments of their lives. For many of us, this act of ‘coming out’ can define who we are, how our family and friends see us, how we live our lives from that moment on, but in my experience this transition isn’t widely recognised for just how important it actually is. Instead, despite the many advances that have been made towards a tolerant society, people like us are still subject to levels of hatred that are bewildering in their intensity. However, being Gay, Lesbian, Transgendered, Intersex or Bisexual isn’t a lifestyle choice, a sickness, dishonourable, or immoral. It’s who we are. The moment we reveal that self to the rest of the world can be the most exhilarating and frightening experience of our lives.

These stories deserve to be told.’