Editors' note: We don't post works of fiction much, but we hope you'll enjoy this short story from Austen.
Funny how the therapist drains the words right out of you.
All the way here the words echoed in your head, over and over, like some long-lost mantra from a battlefield. But here, sitting on the comfy couch across from Kerri, the words drain out of you. It isn't the way Kerri looks -- she's an expert at hiding her Adam's Apple with a scarf, and her voice, while deep, has a certain lovable quality to it -- and it isn't even the calm, inviting rainbows plastered over her office. No. It's the words you want to speak. They're silly words and you know this. Nonetheless, you have to try.
"You're looking dapper today." She points to your polo shirt, your khaki slacks, the boots meticulously picked from boutiques for androgyny. It's all your mother would budge to allow you those shoes, let alone the khakis and the shirt. It took an hour to convince her that "all the pre-girls are doing it now" before she'd step out of the sundress aisle long enough to pick out a respectable outfit. Kerri acknowledges this victory for about five seconds before leaning forward. "Though you'll probably have to dump it once you go full-time. It wouldn't accent your figure at all."
"Problems with transition?" Kerri said. She smiled. "Honey, transition is something we all do. It's just the way we are: boys become girls, girls become boys. You have an older brother now, right? You've seen it before. No surprises there."
There's a pause. You square your shoulders, put on your man-face, and look Kerri in the eye. "I think I'm a boy," you say, and Kerri is speechless.
It's the first day of high school health class. The teacher, Mr. Lynch, hasn't had his double mastectomy yet, but everyone knows to call him "sir" despite the evidence to the contrary. In two months Mr. Lynch will call you into his office to administer your first batch of hormones, in accordance with Jasper High School's medical protocol. You're told it won't hurt a bit.
There's a video playing while Mr. Lynch peers over the class's blood test results. "Birds and bees," the video is called. Everyone is watching intently. Some of your early-grower buddies are sitting beside you, warm smiles on their faces, their cheeks drenched in red blush, their lips caked with ruby red.
"Don't worry about the change," the video says. "It's entirely normal for young boys to want to be girls, and for young girls to want to be guys. Your mother and father did it, and their grandmother and grandfather did it too. It's just a fact of life."
On the video, the young boy in shorts puts on his first dress, and the young girl throws on a pair of gym shorts before heading into the weight room. You're disgusted, but do your best to hide the reaction: nobody else in the class reacts the way you do. In fact, your buddies in the back swoon. "I can't wait for prom," Jack says. He's wearing a baby-doll T-shirt that wouldn't look good on anybody, let alone a lanky, six-foot-and-change basketball player.
In the meantime you sink into your chair, trying hard to figure out how to be happy with becoming a woman. When your friends ask what you thought of the video, you do your best to giggle and throw a swooning sigh into your dreams of becoming the next Miss USA. Inside, you try not to cry.
- - -
Kerri is still gathering her thoughts. While you wait, she scribbles some hurried notes into the margins of your chart, a look of consternation on her face. When she concentrates her brow ridge becomes more pronounced, more masculine. You think it suits her.
"Well," she says. There is more silence. She taps her pen on the table. When she clears her throat you can hear the leftover tinge of bass in her voice. "This is certainly a bombshell, don't you think? You think you're really a boy."
You look around the room. It is painted in soft pastels. A poster on the wall says "Trust me. I'm a doctor." You cross your legs like your mother taught you. "Well, maybe I'm wrong. I just... I just don't feel like transition would be right for me. I just don't feel like a girl."
"When did you decide to stop crossdressing?"
"I never wanted to crossdress," you say. "I want to be a boy."
"Even though you're going to become a girl."
"I don't want to be a girl."
Kerri holds out a defensive hand to stop me. "Let's not get ahead of ourselves, dear. I know it seems like a good idea right now, but lots of boys your age decide they want to stay boys. That's a completely normal feeling. It may be a phase."
You stare at the floor. "Right. A phase."
She approaches the next question sotto voce. "Do you get sexual gratification from being a boy? This could just be cisgendered fetishism. It's more common than you might think; kids and adults both have to deal with that attraction. We can help you come to terms with that."
"No. It's not a fetish. I just want to be a boy." You swallow. Hard. Then you look Kerri right in the eye like the proud young man you want to remain to be. "Kerri, I think I'm cisgender."
"Right. Right." She scribbles more notes into the margins of her paper. Her head shakes side to side in a slow, continuous motion, and you try your best not to feel rejected. You had to try, after all.
- - -
Your support group meets at the First Church of Christ on 86th street. It takes you forty-five minutes to drive there, one way, and that's before you factor in the time required to change into guy clothes at a rest stop. However, the camaraderie is worth the drive, and at least in this part of town you won't be recognized by anybody.
You met them on the internet a few months ago, hidden away in a members-only forum where people used only pseudonyms, and told fantastic stories about what happens when you go off hormones. "I got my chest hair back!" you read in the first post, and immediately you wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Maybe it isn't just a dream, going off the hormones. Maybe there's a chance you can skip the shots after all.
It's a low-key affair: a few opening remarks, testimonies and trials shared by each member, hugs and support all around. In a world full of transitioners it's hard to find someone who understands when you say "I just want to be me," or "I'm happy the way that I am," or -- heaven forbid! -- "I don't want those hormones in my body."
Your Daddy is there. Every cis person has their cis daddy, or mama cis, the older cis person who walks you through the tough spots when you need it. Daddy Kyle's right by your side, smiling that "take-no-shit" smile he loves so much, his hand clapping your shoulder in solidarity. "Here's one of the lucky ones," he says. His voice struggles to stay low -- years of hormone therapy brought his voice up to a nice alto, which didn't exactly jive with his take-no-prisoners, gruff speaking voice. "To stop transition so young!"
"Amen," Tina says. Her skin is patchy from years of laser treatments. Outside of that, she's quite wonderful. "It's hard being cis," she says. "Nobody gets that you're happy the way you are. I don't want pity, and I don't want dirty looks. I just want to be a woman, right? You, my boy, are going to be a fine young man. So young! So vibrant!"
You blush. Everyone applauds you. In any other setting, they would stare, ask a thousand questions. "When did you start thinking you were a boy?" "Are you going to get a wavier on your sex change?" "Are you going to keep your penis?" "Does it get hard to live without the hormones?" But here, everyone is warm, kind, understanding. Loving, even in the face of folded notes on the chairs decrying everyone as "breeders" and "cisgender losers." (A gift from some sect in the congregation, you're sure.)
Afterwards you go to a cis-friendly coffee house. There are no rainbows here: people converse in vibrant, happy tones, unafraid for their voices, their faces, their statuses. You are dressed in your true gender. Nobody bats an eye.
For the first time since you started thinking about being cis you go home smiling.
- - -
"I want to stop taking the hormones," you say. She continues scribbling on the chart. You are beyond caring. "I want to stop tomorrow, if you'll let me. I just need the wavier. Really."
"There are steps you have to take, dear."
Kerri corrects herself. "Sir, you need another letter from another therapist. I know somebody, I guess."
"I'll need their number," you say. It feels good to take the reins. You think of yourself like a little boxer, final round, and this one's for all the marbles. "And I'd like to have a letter from you."
"Okay." She scribbles on the chart. "I'm not sure you know what you're getting into, sir. It's not going to be easy."
"The changes from letting your hormones just happen are irreversable. Everyone will know. You can't hide it."
"That's the point."
"Are you okay with that? Being recognized as cisgender? People will scream at you."
"Your family may disown you."
You swallow. "I know. Probably will, actually. Knowing my family.
"And doctors may refuse to care for you."
"I'll save my pennies," you say, laughing. Not that you'll be able to do that: no-hormones tax, plus the no-lab subsidy, plus specialized care from a cisgender specialist... it all adds up. But it's your choice, society reasons, and you have to be responsible for it. Least, that's what Daddy Kyle says.
"Just sign my letter," you tell her. Her large hand scrawls across the page in long, angry strokes. In your head, a victorious yell: "You're going to be a man! You're going to be a man!"
The letter goes from her hands to your pocket. On the drive home you are dancing.
- - -
Dinner's cleared off the table. The living room TV is on, and everyone is upstairs watching the latest episode of Springer. "Crazy Cis Calamities!" the title card reads. A handful of shaken men and women dot the set, bombarded by the heckling of a rainbow-colored audience. While everyone else in the living room laughs, you shuffle your feet, suddenly feeling a little out-of-place. Not that you could feel any more out of place if you tried: between your mom's jammies, dad's loose t-shirt hiding double mastectomy scars, and your brother-turning-sister sitting on the floor in a brand new nightie, your sport shorts and t-shirt seem too simple, too much like the crazy cis calamities on Springer.
"They look too real!" your father comments. Despite the testosterone he maintained the sing-song patterns of women's speech, giving his voice the quality of a jazz singer on shuffle. His laughter wails along like a tenor saxophone: loud, melodic. "Don't you think they look too real, kiddo?"
He's speaking to you.
"Yeah, yeah. Too real." You clear your throat. The letter is in your back pocket. The therapy bills never come to the house: always to a PO Box across town, always paid in cash, always under the table. Better that they not know until things are already in motion.
You reach into your pocket and pull out the paper. Your family is too busy watching Springer to notice. While they laugh and belittle the hot cissy messes on television you fold the paper once, twice, three times, unfold it, smooth out the creases. You don't need to read it anymore; after going over it a couple hundred times you could recite it in a hailstorm if the opportunity presented itself.
"Free to discontinue hormones," you whisper to yourself. Meanwhile, everyone laughs at the cis folk on screen. What are they thinking, right? Trying to let nature run its course. It just isn't _right_!"
You look at your brother. He's about two years down the road, now: an A-cup, soft skin, no hair on his chin. When he looks up and smiles at you it isn't a man's smile: its soft, warped by too much estrogen packed onto a male frame. You smile back at him. "These cis people sure are funny," he says to you. "What idiots!"
"Yeah. Idiots." You fold the paper again. In two years, you could look like him: soft, feminine, the perfect model of a male-to-female transsexual. That's what boys do, after all: they hit puberty and then they transition and they look like beautiful young women just in time for their senior prom, and the girls-turned-boys get their mastectomies just in time to ask for their new girlfriend's hand, and they get to be queens and wear lovely dresses and giggle at silly jokes and fall in love and get married and...
You unfold the letter. Stand up. Take the remote from your mother and turn off the television. Everyone stares. You hold the letter in your hands as if it were a shield. Your fists ball from nerves. Your brother, smart enough to see the need to escape, slips up the stairs to his room, his pink nightie flashing bright in the overhead light.
Your voice is dead. If it isn't dead, it's crying, or choked up, or too nervous to make sounds. Better to be deadpan than to be in the closet anymore. Besides, every moment wasted is another moment on the hormones, on the path to your new female self. This just will not do. You look to the floor. "Mom, Dad."
Your mother reaches out to hold your hand. You pull away. "What is it, sweetie?"
"I have something I need to tell you," you say.