EVERYONE DESERVES A HAPPY ENDING
"Take my shoes off and
throw them in the lake
And I'll be two steps on the
- Kate Bush, "The Hounds
- To be brutally honest,
Bromley doesn't have a lot to recommend it. It's a dull little
suburb, where people still vote Conservative, and not even as a
protest. The closest thing to culture is a small theatre where they
have pantomimes every Christmas. It feels like purgatory, but it
has two things going for it: it's close to London, making it easy
for me to commute, and it's a long way from both Dundee and
Manchester. My ghosts don't seem to be quite as good at travelling
as I am.
- I let my life become safe
after I moved down south. Age does this, I guess. I was like a
stone that had been sitting in a stream for long enough to have all
its sharp edges worn away. The thing is it had all happened before,
and I promised myself I wouldn't let myself get old so quickly this
time. Not everyone gets a chance to go through the best years of
their life twice, but any sense of adventure seemed to have died
along with the man I used to be.
- It's just over ten years
since I became Samantha Reynolds. If she'd lived, she'd be
twenty-seven now. If I'd lived, I'd be forty-two. As it happened,
she wanted to die and I didn't and through the wonders of modern
medicine my brain was dropped in the body she abandoned. The
procedure never caught on the way people assumed it would. With
other transplants you don't end up looking at a stranger in the
mirror every morning. The incidence of mental illness and suicide
amongst the first wave of patients pretty much stopped any further
progress. I have mixed feelings about this. If it hadn't happened
to me, the cancer would have killed me in my early thirties. That's
not much of a life. But the cure brought its own problems for me.
The upside is that any problem is easier to overcome than death.
This thought stopped me from being even more of a miserable bastard
than I already was.
- But, sometimes, life can be
good. I'd almost forgotten this, but it's something I should never
have let myself forget. My reminder came just under a year ago, in
a somewhat unlikely form.
* * *
- "I've been coming here
for the best part of a year, and you still haven't asked me about my
mother. I thought that was one of the first things you were
supposed to do. Aren't you breaking some rule? I don't want you to
get in any trouble." I was sitting in a big, overstuffed
armchair that made me feel even smaller than usual. In a way it was
comforting, like I was a child again. That was almost certainly why
it was there.
- Dr. Rowney smiled politely.
Maybe it was a real smile and he was just too good at hiding his
feelings. "I'm more interested in talking about you at the
moment. If your mother has problems she can come and see me
- "That would be a good
trick. She died about twelve years ago."
- "Don't worry. At least
she never got to see her only son become another daughter."
- "Would that have upset
- "How could it not? No
one I knew coped very well with it, and none of them were as
protective of me as her. Most of my friends stopped coming round.
My mother wouldn't have done that, but her politeness would've been
deadly. I could never cope with it when she was polite to me."
- "If she had been around
and had actually coped with the idea, been supportive even, would
that have made things any easier for you?"
- "I don't know." I
looked at the scattered papers on his desk, but couldn't read
anything upside down. They probably didn't say anything about me,
- Dr. Rowney sat and looked at
me in silence for a while. I had learned to recognise this trick:
it was his way of drawing me out, making me want to fill an
uncomfortable gap in the conversation. Now I knew about it, I
refused to play along. I don't like being manipulated, even if it's
for my own good. Instead, I looked down and picked my nails.
- "All right. Tell me, is
there anything new in your life, anything of note happened since
last time we met?"
- I thought about this for a
moment. "Not really. Nothing interesting has happened for a
while, has it? Maybe I like it that way. I've probably had enough
interesting things happen already for one lifetime, or two for that
- "And you don't worry
that playing it safe isn't leading you anywhere? Every time we meet
you complain that you don't feel like you're adapting. By hiding
yourself away from the world you're not really giving yourself a
chance to experience the kinds of events that shape us as people."
- "I know. I turned forty
a couple of years back, though. Don't you think by the time you
reach that kind of age you're pretty set?"
- "No. Not really.
Anyway, you're an exceptional case. You've had to build a new life
for yourself as a completely different person. That person has to
develop beyond what you were. You're not letting her live that
- "I wish it were that
- We played the silence game
again, and I won, again.
- "It's just about time to
wrap up for today," said Dr. Rowney. "Before, you go,
however, I have something I'd like to suggest." I sat up in
the seat and tried to maintain eye contact. "It's a bit
unorthodox, and maybe even slightly unprofessional. Are you open to
- "Probably, as long as it
isn't an attempt to seduce me."
- That earned a slightly more
genuine looking smile. "I had something a bit less intrusive
in mind. There's another one of my patients I think you might like
to meet. She reminds me of you, in some ways at least. I believe
that there are things you could teach each other. At the very least
you might be able to offer each other some support."
- "Maybe." I shifted
awkwardly in the seat, uncomfortable at being put on the spot. "I
mean, we could meet once and see how we get on. If you think it's
- "I don't know about
important, but it may be beneficial to you both. Anyway, from what
you've told me you haven't made many friends down here yet. Maybe
this is a chance to cultivate a new one. I'll get her to give you a
call, if that's all right."
- "Fine." I
* * *
- As I made my way back to the
flat I thought about that last comment. I'd told myself that the
decision to keep a distance from other people was deliberate, that I
didn't have the time or inclination for socialising any more. Most
of the time I didn't let myself feel the loneliness. Anyway, it
wasn't as if there wasn't anyone else in my life: Natalie looked
- My sister's husband left her
about five years ago. She still hasn't told me all the details, but
it sounds like it was a simple case of erosion: they wore each other
down until their nerves were exposed. When you get to that stage
you don't need a reason for things to fall apart. Luckily, there
weren't any children, which made things simpler. I had been living
in a bedsit in Croydon for a while, and when Natalie told me she was
looking for somewhere new it seemed logical to move in together. My
situation has stopped being a novelty or a concern to her. I'm just
her sister now.
- She was already home by the
time I got back, sitting in the living room and watching the tail
end of the local news. I sat down on the settee and tucked my feet
under myself. It's one of these habits I developed after my
operation. Maybe there's still something of Samantha hardwired in
my nervous system.
- "How did it go today?"
she asked, still staring at the screen. There was some story about
customs seizing a tobacco shipment at Dover.
- "Usual shit. Do I seem
any saner yet?"
- "Nope. Still barking."
- "Cheers. Something
weird happened, though. Dr. Rowney's introducing me to another one
of his patients. Some kind of group therapy, I guess."
- "That's nice. Maybe you
can weave baskets together."
- "Oh, fuck off. I'm not
in the mood."
- "Sorry." Natalie
killed the sound on the TV. "Neil was asking after you again."
- I rolled my eyes. "I
take it you reminded him I'm not interested. Even if I was in the
market for a man, which I don't need to remind you I am not, Neil
would come somewhere down the list from Charlie Manson."
- "Manson's dead."
- "Quite." Neil was
a colleague of Natalie's who had met me once when I joined one of
her office outings to a local pub. He was in his early forties,
balding and possessed of the worst breath I've ever smelled on a
biped. Within ten minutes he had asked me out no less that three
times. I found myself getting ruder and ruder to him as the evening
went on, but it made no difference. I almost told him I was a man,
just to get him to fuck off, but decided to play it safe and go home
instead. Ever since then he still carried on chatting me up by
proxy, passing messages on via Natalie. I have a feeling she might
have tempered some of my replies a bit.
- "I'll tell him the
usual." The titles for Eastenders came up and Natalie hit the
off switch. "Still, don't you ever feel like there's something
missing in your life?"
- "What, like a penis?
Only my own. I'm not looking for a man or a woman or anything right
now. Maybe someday, but I don't feel like I'm ready."
- "You're not getting any
younger, you know."
- I glared at her. I imagine I
looked a bit more wounded than I actually felt.
- "Shit. Sorry, that
wasn't deliberate. You know what I mean, though."
- "Yeah. You mean well,
and you're my sister and I love you, but I do wish you'd pack it in
- "All right." She
switched the TV back on and we watched cheerfully mindless tripe for
the rest of the evening.
* * *
- When I was a little boy I
wanted to be a policeman when I grew up. I think I saw Hill Street
Blues a few too many times, staying up past my bedtime, and was
seduced by the authority and camaraderie. Anything deeper went over
my head. After I outgrew that, I moved on to wanting to be an
astronomer, entomologist and then, when I was old enough to
understand what it meant, biochemist. The biochemistry thing was
what stuck. In my first life I did a BSc. in it, but then moved on
to a graduate trainee programme for a large building society and
became a middle manager, doing nothing of any worth. After my death
I couldn't really go back. Nothing was said, but if I had turned up
at work as a teenage girl I doubted I would have been taken very
seriously. I took the redundancy package offered and used the money
to go back to university, with the idea of getting a doctorate and
realising my dream of being a real scientist. Two things got in the
way, though. I hadn't taken into account how much my brain had
changed as I got older. The first time I went to university, my
mind had been like a sponge, soaking up all the information that
surrounded it effortlessly. The second time round, my now adult
brain couldn't absorb what it needed to quite as quickly and I found
myself working flat out, just to keep on top of things. It was
painfully obvious to me that I was never going to make it. Then
there was all the unpleasantness, which just made the decision
easier, and I ran away.
- Since then I've done temp
work in offices, waitressed and generally found employment that
requires as little thought as possible. Natalie tells me I'm
wasting a good mind, but it doesn't really matter to me any more. I
don't need a lot in the way of money and the idea of having to work
and progress through a career all over again fills me with a sense
of sick dread I can't really describe. It's like one of those
dreams where you're back in school, facing being a child all over
again, feeling out of place. I know I'm taking the easy way out,
but it's my life and I'll screw it up any way I feel like.
- I was at my latest job, doing
a short-term contract as a filing clerk for a facilities management
company, when one of my colleagues told me I had a personal phone
call. I took it at a hotdesk.
- "Hi, Natalie. What's
- "Who's Natalie?"
The voice on the other end was deep and husky, almost like the
speaker was short of breath.
- "Oh, sorry. I thought
you were my sister. No one else ever calls me here. Who is this?"
- "My name's Tina Mallin.
Dr. Rowney suggested I gave you a call."
- "Oh right, yes, sorry.
I'd forgotten all about that. Hi."
- We both waited for the other
one to say something.
- "So what am I calling
you about?" she asked.
- "You mean you don't know
either?" We both laughed, but it felt and sounded a bit
forced. "Don't worry," I said. "If you want we can
meet up for a drink."
- "All right. Do you know
The Moon Under Water?"
- "I've passed it."
- "How about seven? Is
- "Make it a bit later.
I've got to pop home first."
- "Fine. Eight, then.
How will I recognise you?"
- I described myself as best I
could. It boiled down to small, dark and nondescript. "How
about you?" I asked.
- "Oh, you'll know me when
you see me," she said, and laughed.
- We said goodbye and I went
back to work. I wondered if it would have been impolite if I'd said
that, at first, I'd mistaken her for a man.
* * *
- After work I went home and
changed. The pub Tina had suggested was only twenty minutes' walk
from the house, so I was in no hurry. It didn't take me long to
pick out something to wear. My wardrobe is kind of limited. For
work purposes I have a selection of suits, all in sober colours and
all with trousers. My leisurewear mostly consists of jeans,
t-shirts and sweaters. I've worn dresses a couple of times, on
formal occasions, but they just feel wrong on me. There's too much
vulnerability involved in a dress, and they don't really cover the
way clothes should. I don't like the idea of anyone thinking of me
the way they might if they saw me in a dress. Similarly, I have no
real use for skirts. I own one smart one for job interviews, and
that's it. My underwear is all cotton, with sports bras being my
preference. My breasts aren't that large, but I'm still happiest
when they're strapped up tightly. I've tried wearing more feminine
underwear, at Natalie's suggestion, but it made me uncomfortable and
almost guilty. She seemed to believe it would make me feel like a
woman, but it just made me feel like I was in drag. I threw them
out without telling her.
- Finally, I settled for a dark
blue sweatshirt and a pair of baggy jeans. It's almost a uniform
for me, but it's what makes me comfortable. I can live with being
- I was the first to arrive at
the pub. I ordered a dry white wine and picked a table with a view
of the door, so I could see my companion coming. The pub itself
wasn't anything special. It was modern and fairly nicely furnished,
with wood panelling and good lighting. It wasn't what I would
choose for my local, but it seemed pleasant enough. I'd almost
summoned up the courage to look at the jukebox and depress myself
with how out of touch I'd become when Tina walked in.
- Oh, God, no, I thought.
Suddenly everything made sense. Of course she sounded like a man on
the phone. That's because she was a man, or at least had been one
at some point. As she walked in, what little conversation there was
in the pub stopped. People turned to stare at her openly. She was
about six foot two, not heavily built, but still undeniably
masculine. She was dressed in a black cotton blouse, a shortish,
puffy black skirt, black woollen tights and Doc Martens. Just to
top things off, her fluffed-up hair was dyed blue-black. I wanted
to crawl under the table and hide before she saw me, but knew there
was no way out. Anyway, I'm not like that, or at least I don't want
to be, which has to count for something.
- She looked around and saw me.
I waved half-heartedly. She smiled back and walked over.
- "Uh, yes."
- "Cool! What are you
drinking?" I looked down at my glass. Hemlock, I thought.
- "White wine, thanks.
Dry as they're got."
- She went over to the bar and
ordered a round. At least the landlord didn't ask her to leave, but
his expression was than welcoming. Tina, to her credit, was
completely oblivious. She came back with the drinks, put them down
on the table, and dropped heavily onto the bench beside me.
- "So," she said,
picking up her pint of bitter, "You'll probably want to ask
lots of questions. Everyone does, but most of the time they're too
polite. I don't mind." She took a couple of big gulps and
drained half of the pint. "Really."
- "OK." I had a
good, unashamed look at her. She was older than I had thought at
first, certainly older than her dress would suggest. I put her down
as late thirties, but it was difficult to tell. She had one of
those faces that looked like it had been prematurely aged by pain.
"Transsexual or transvestite?"
- "Transsexual. Pre-op.
That means I've still got a..."
- "I know what it means.
- "Oh. Aren't I your
first tranny?" She grinned.
- "It's not that. I, er,
looked into the subject a few years back, but from the other point
- "I see. Well, that
explains the butch get-up."
- "Butch?" I looked
down at my clothes and then shrugged. "Maybe. I tend to think
of it as comfortable."
- "So what happened?"
- "I decided against it.
I've been through enough changes in my. I couldn't face it all. I
guess I just don't have the courage it takes."
- "But you consider
yourself to be a man rather than a woman?"
- I pinched the bridge of my
nose and laughed quietly. "Oh yes. Definitely."
- "Did I say something
- I clenched my mouth to stop
myself from collapsing into giggles. "I take it," I said,
once I had recovered, "that the good doctor didn't tell you
much about me."
- Tina shook her head and
- "Ah. It's a bit of a
long story, I'm afraid." Over the course of another couple of
rounds, I told it. Tina said very little, but just sat there and
- "Jesus," she said,
once I'd finished, "I thought I was fucked up."
- I smiled at that. "I
don't know you well enough to comment, I'm afraid."
- "Well, compared to you,
my life story is pretty normal. Normal for a transsexual, at least.
I was just born with the wrong body. I didn't have it foisted on
- "So how did you know?"
- "I don't remember when
exactly I realised, but I must have been about four."
- "Four? You're joking."
- "No. I think that's
when I tried dressing up in my sister's clothes. I don't think I
even knew why I was doing it. I certainly didn't know enough to
hide it. My parents were upset, to say the least. Not as upset as,
when a couple of years later, I asked them if any boys ever decided
they wanted to be girls and spend all their time dressed up as them.
That got me a lot of stern talks and a visit to a child
- "If you knew that early,
why are you still in transition, or whatever you call it?"
- Tina looked off into space
for a moment. A number of wrinkles I hadn't noticed came into
prominence. "You know how, when you're a teenager, you
desperately want to fit in? I was like that, in spades. I guess it
was being so different that made me want to be the same so much.
The problem is it became a habit and I started to believe that's how
I really was. It too years before I realised the whole gender
identity thing wasn't a just phase I'd gone through. Unfortunately
by then I'd got married to Susan, and we'd had the kids, and..."
I thought I noticed her eyes getting slightly red round the rims.
"Do you want another drink?" she asked.
- "It's all right. I'll
get them." Up at the bar, waiting for the drinks, I had time
to think quietly. However much of a freak I felt at times, I could
still blend in. Apart from a fading scar around my head, largely
covered by my hair, there's nothing to suggest I'm anything other
than a normal, if plain, young woman. Watching Tina, and the way
people stared at her, with curiosity, pity or overt hostility, I
realised that things could be a hell of a lot worse.
- When I was at primary school,
there was a boy in the year above me whose face had been disfigured
by burns. His brother, who was a bit of a head case, had thought it
would be funny to throw a pan of boiling water in his face. I don't
think it occurred to him that there would be any real consequences.
At least, I hope that was the case. Anyway, this lad went through
his school years as a permanent outcast. No one wanted to be seen
to be his friend. The other boys teased him mercilessly. On one
occasion I did as well, but I felt sick with myself afterwards and
went back to ignoring him as best I could. We went to different
secondary schools, so I don't know how the rest of his life turned
out, but I can't see any way it could have got better. Even in my
adult life, I still thought about him every now and then. When I
did, it was always with pity. One day I realised that I had never
actually thought of him as a human being. He was always this face
that everyone feared or despised and that I felt sorry for. I wish
I'd got to know him, but childhood doesn't really work like that.
- Back then, in The Moon Under
Water, I looked at Tina and felt that same pang of emotion. I had
overcome my initial shock on meeting her, but it had been replaced
by pity. That, in a way, just felt worse. Not only was this a
person, but it was one with whom I shared more than I might want to
admit. She deserved a hell of a lot better than pity.
- After I put the drinks down
on the table, I asked, "How do you cope?"
- Tina gave me a wry smile that
creased her face. "In general, or with anything in
- "I hope you don't mind
me saying this, but I've watched the way people have been looking at
you since you got here. I probably wasn't any better at first.
Doesn't it get to you?"
- "Only when I think about
it." She looked around the room, and I followed her gaze.
People looked away as her eyes met theirs. "I could be all
assertive and self-confident and say it doesn't hurt. The truth is
it does. It hurts like hell. The simple answer is, though, that
it's still better than the alternative. If I'd carried on trying to
be someone I wasn't I don't think I'd still be here today."
- I raised an eyebrow. "Sorry,
but that sounds a bit melodramatic."
- "Guilty as charged.
What can I say? I'm just that kind of girl."
- We looked at each other and
both started to laugh. It was the kind of laughter that builds from
nothing and then feeds on itself. We started to recover, but then
looked at each other and collapsed helplessly again. By the time it
had worked its way out we both had tears pouring down our face,
Tina's tears taking black trails of mascara with them.
- The rest of the evening was
uncomplicated and fun. We dispensed with the heavy sharing and
moved onto general chat about life, music, films and clothes. Well,
actually Tina talked about clothes and I sat and listened. It was
exactly the kind of evening I'd missed without realising. Just what
the doctor ordered.
- It came around to last orders
and we were both pretty drunk. We got up from the table and weaved
to the door arm in arm, neither doing a desperately good job of
steadying the other. As we passed by the bar a middle-aged man,
some kind of manual labourer judging from his appearance, stepped in
front of us. He looked up and down at Tina. "Excuse me, luv.
Can you settle a bet with my friends? You are a man, aren't you?"
- Tina's mouth opened, ready to
issue some devastating reply, I imagine, but I beat her to it.
"Sorry," I said, "I think you're a bit confused. I'm
the man." Both of them turned to stare at me. I don't think
they had even noticed me before. I shrugged and carried on walking
to the door. As Tina caught me up I looked back and saw the man,
still standing there, looking lost.
- "'I'm the man,'"
she said, shaking with silent laughter.
- "Well, it's true."
We looked at each other and giggled like schoolgirls.
- Once we had ourselves back
under control, Tina said, "We must do this again sometime."
- "Yes. We must," I
said, and meant it.
* * *
- Despite wearing it all these
years, I still get surprised at how badly alcohol affects this body
of mine. The morning after I had a meaty hangover and, if I had
been entitled to paid sick leave, would probably have called in ill.
As it was, I struggled in and made a decent go of a day's work.
Even once the nausea and headache began to lift, I still found it
difficult to concentrate. I kept thinking back to the previous
night and smiling. For too long I'd convinced myself that I could
live without friends, that I was somehow immune to loneliness.
Something had clicked the night before and I realised how wrong I
had been. It was like the start of spring after a particularly grim
and dark winter. There was someone who understood some of the same
shit I'd been through and who could make me laugh about it. It felt
like the best thing in the world.
* * *
- "A transsexual?
Really?" Natalie arched an eyebrow. She was leaning against
the fridge as I did the washing up. "How did you get on?"
- "Pretty well. It turns
out we have a fair bit in common. She's a nice person, if a bit
- "Reminds me of someone I
know. Are you meeting up again?"
- "Yeah. We're having
dinner together on Friday."
- "Hmmm..." Natalie
cocked her head and grinned at me. "Is this going anywhere?"
- I stopped scrubbing the
saucepan. "What do you mean?"
- "What do you think?"
- "Oh, don't be silly. I
hadn't even thought about it." The truth was that I had, and
it had scared me. My life was confused enough without trying to
complicate things. And Tina, whatever else she was, was certainly a
* * *
- The dinner itself was pretty
terrible, but the drink was cheap and the company was good. Neither
Tina nor myself were earning much money, so we had settled for a
branch of one of the big pizza chains. I took a couple of trips to
the salad bar while Tina put away a pizza the size of a hubcap. I
envied her, remembering the days when my metabolism and build would
let me eat stuff like that without putting on weight. At least the
salad made me feel better about all the beer we had with the meal.
After about the third pitcher we decided we'd better go. There was
a queue of people waiting for tables and I didn't think it would be
a good idea for me to drink any more.
- "How have your kids
coped?" I asked as we hit the night air. "I hope you
don't mind me asking, but it must be strange for them having their
dad become another mum."
- Tina looked into the darkness
of an empty shop window. I couldn't quite make out her reflection
in the glass. "I wish I knew," she said. "Susan
doesn't want me seeing them."
- I put a hand on Tina's arm
and squeezed gently. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have asked."
- She turned to face me. There
were no tears in her eyes, but her expression made her look ten
years older. "It's OK. It was a question that was bound to
come up at some point. It's as good a time as any."
- We stopped walking and stood
just outside the protective halo of a streetlamp. I still held on
to Tina's arm.
- "I know I could see
them. There's nothing legal stopping me doing so. It's just that
she never coped very well with the idea of, well, my changing. She
thinks I'm a freak and hers is the only point of view the kids have
heard. I don't think I can face them. I'm afraid they wouldn't
want to see me. Being their father was almost the only good thing
about having been a man. Now I can't even offer them that."
- I tried to hug Tina, but just
felt lost in her arms. It's hard to comfort someone so much larger
than yourself. At just over five foot I felt small enough to be one
of her children myself. "It's OK," I said, my words
muffled as I spoke into her chest.
- Tina let me go and smiled
down at me. "No. No, it's not, but thanks." She rubbed
her eyes quickly.
- We linked arms again and
started walking. "Where are we going?" I asked.
- "Just walking."
- "In Bromley? Where is
there to walk around here?"
- "Nowhere. But that's
fine." And we walked.
* * *
- It was just before closing
time when we headed towards my place. Tina insisted on walking me
home, saying that I shouldn't be out on my own at that time of
night. There's a pub a couple of streets down from my flat that
I've never set foot in. Maybe I'm just irredeemably middle-class,
but it's a bit too down-market for my tastes. The noise coming from
it always sounds like it's thirty seconds away from a brawl, and the
people I've seen coming and going look like knuckle draggers to me.
When I think about it I feel a bit guilty about being so judgmental,
but that's still never made me want to drink there.
- We were passing by, happily
chatting about nothing, when three drunken men came piling out.
Tina stopped walking and looked at them. For a moment her face
froze, then she carried on, trying to pretend nothing was wrong.
The men just stood there and stared at her. They didn't seem to
notice me at all.
- "What the fuck is that?"
One of the men stepped out to block our path. He wasn't
particularly tall, but his build was heavy and the look on his face
suggested an easy brutality. He looked up at Tina. "Is it
- Tina tried to pretend he
wasn't there, but when she attempted to walk around him he stepped
back in front of her. "Something wrong with your hearing?"
He shoved the flat of a hand into Tina's chest. She winced. "Fuck
me," the man said, "They feel real."
- "What's your problem?"
Tina's voice sounded firm and more masculine than I had ever heard
- "My problem is that I
don't like fucking queers."
- "Well, don't fuck them,
- I put a hand over my eyes. I
felt like I was going to vomit. It seemed there was going to be
bloodshed soon and I didn't know how I was going to deal with it.
Back in my last life, I had no real fear of violence. Now, maybe
because of my smaller size, maybe because of what happened to me all
those years ago, I'm terrified even by the thought of it. I knew I
should just run, but I couldn't. I'd like to think at least part of
it was because I didn't want to abandon Tina.
- The man leaned in close. His
friend watched carefully, waiting for him to make a move. "What
did you say?"
- "If you don't back off,"
Tina said quietly, "I'll tell your friends why it is you hate
queers so much."
- A look of confusion crossed
the man's face. "What?"
- Tina sighed. "Oh fuck
it," she said and stamped down on the man's foot with her heel.
- The reaction was spectacular
and a joy to behold. The man literally howled in pain and collapsed
to the ground. His friends looked on, puzzled, trying to work out
what had just happened. Tina grabbed my arm and started running.
"Quick, before they decide to follow." We ran until Tina
was out of breath, which only took a few minutes. We overshot my
flat in the panic. Luckily the men didn't follow us.
- I put an arm around Tina's
shoulder as she gasped and panted. "You were amazing," I
said. "I could never have done that."
- "It's just survival.
When you look like I do you need to know how to look after yourself.
There's a lot of nutters out there."
- "No shit." I
leaned back against the wall. "One thing I don't understand,
though: what was all that stuff about telling his friends?"
- "Oh, that. It's
something I nicked from Quentin Crisp. You know, _The Naked Civil
Servant_? It worked for him, though." Tina grinned at me, her
face red with exertion and alcohol. "Maybe he just met
- I saw the mischief and
amusement in Tina's eyes and my heart melted.
* * *
- "It's not a date, OK?
We're just going out to the cinema. People do this, you know."
- Natalie shook her head.
"Whatever you say, kid."
- "That was terrible,"
I said as we left the cinema.
- "Define terrible."
- "There was no plot, no
originality and nothing close to acting. All we got was buckets of
blood and a body count."
- Tina chuckled. "What do
you expect from a film called 'Chainsaw Zombies From Hell'? You
can't tell me you were surprised. Anyway, it was ironic bloodshed.
And I caught you laughing at a couple of points."
- "Did not," I
pouted. We stopped on the pavement outside the cinema and looked
around for a bus stop. "Well, maybe once."
- Tina poked my in the arm and
- "Hi, Samantha." A
familiar voice came from behind me. My heart sank. "I thought
that was you I saw coming out."
- Fuck off, Neil, I thought,
just fuck right off. Please, fuck off. I turned around. "Hello,
- Tina crossed her arms and
leaned back against a lamp post, looking amused. I guess my face
didn't hide my feelings very well.
- "Great film, eh?"
Neil was wearing a chequered sports jacket, with a brightly coloured
open necked shirt underneath. There were food stains dotted down
the front, which managed to clash with the pattern. I could smell
his breath from four feet away, in the open air. Even if I was
still a man, I would have felt uncomfortable about even being seen
with him; the idea of him trying to chat me up filled me with horror
- "No, Neil, it was
- "Oh." He looked
hurt, as if he had taken my opinion about the film as a personal
attack. Maybe it had been. He looked down at the ground and pushed
his glasses up the bridge of his nose with one finger. I wondered
if he would have to do that as often if he washed his face more.
- "Well, we really must be
going if we're going to make our bus. Come along, Tina."
- We made it about three steps
before Neil spoke again. "Why don't you and your friend come
and join me for a drink. There must be plenty of time before your
- Shit. I looked at my watch:
there was still over an hour and a half before closing time. I
tried to think of a graceful excuse. I looked at Tina. She looked
back with an impish grin. Shit.
- I shrugged. "Normally,
I'd love to, but I'm afraid we were heading home for a night of wild
and unbridled sex. You know how it is."
- Neil stood there with his
mouth open. I think if I'd slapped him he wouldn't even have
noticed. After a few moments, though, he broke into a silly smile.
"That's my girl," he said, "Always the joker."
He stepped towards me.
- Double shit. I looked up at
Tina and batted my eyelids. I think she understood immediately. I
reached up and brought her head down toward me. Our lips brushed
shyly at first and then pushed together with a bit more force. The
roughness of stubble on Tina's cheek surprised me for a moment, but
quickly became unimportant. I closed my eyes. What started as an
act of desperation suddenly took on a life of its own. One of
Tina's hands moved down my body and stroked my bum. The kiss kept
going. There were tongues.
- After a length of time that
was probably a lot longer than it felt, we came up for air. Our
eyes met for a moment and then I looked away quickly. How had that
happened? I knew that I liked Tina, that maybe there was some
attraction, but the sudden passion had come as a complete surprise.
My heart was pounding so hard that I could feel it in my eyes.
- "It's safe now. He's
- "Huh? Oh yes, Neil.
- "Any time."
- Do you mean that? I thought.
I didn't say it out loud as I was afraid where it would lead us.
We stood in silence for a minute or two. Tina looked at me like she
was waiting for something more to happen.
- "Look, I suppose I'd
better head off," I said. "Early morning tomorrow and all
that shit. Sorry."
- "That's OK." There
were more lines than usual around Tina's eyes as she smiled.
- By the time I got home my
heart rate was almost back to normal.
* * *
- Natalie banged on my bedroom
door again. I lay on my bed, with the lights off. Every now and
then I'd remind myself that I was in my forties now and that
behaving like a sulking teenager wasn't fitting, but it didn't help.
I just felt worse.
- "She's on the phone
again. Are you going to talk to her this time?"
- I lifted my arm off my face.
"Tell her I'll call her back later."
- "I don't think she'll
believe that one any more. I sure as hell don't. If you're going
to dump her, do it yourself. I'm not doing it for you."
- My eyes hurt with suppressed
tears. It was all too complicated. "Please. Tell her I'll
call her back."
- There was silence from the
other side of the door for a moment, and then the muffled sound of
Natalie talking on the telephone. I couldn't make out what she was
saying, which was probably a good thing.
- It had been three days since
I had last seen Tina, outside the cinema. She had called at least a
dozen times. I knew I was going to have to speak to her soon, but I
couldn't until I knew what I was going to say. I didn't trust
- My life, while not exactly
perfect, had at least hit some kind of comfortable rut. I knew in
time it would eat me from the inside out, but for now it was safe.
Someone like Tina just didn't feature. No one else featured,
really. It had been nine years since I had last let someone get a
hold on my life and it had taken this long for me to get over the
fallout. At least I had been open with Tina from the start, so
there wouldn't be any unpleasant surprises. Still, giving yourself
to someone is the same as giving them free license to hurt you as
they please. Just the thought of it was scaring the shit out of me.
- The idea of the attraction
between myself and Tina, with what she was and what I had become
just confused me further. My sexuality had never been that clear
cut before my operation. Now it seemed impossible to untangle it
all. I still found women attractive, but as an abstract I thought I
should fancy men. I never could work it out properly. I wasn't
sure if Tina was a solution to this problem or just another problem
to get tangled with it.
- I knew I had to work it out,
if not for me, at least for Tina. She deserved better. We both
- Natalie knocked at my door
again, more softly this time. "Can I come in? Please?"
I ignored her. "Please, Paul, let me in."
- Hearing that name gave me a
shock. It had been many years since someone had called me Paul. I
felt sick and dizzy. Natalie must have been desperate, knowing what
reaction that name would trigger. "All right."
- The light from the hallway
hurt my eyes as Natalie opened the door "Don't put the
overhead light on," I said, reaching over to the sidelight.
- "Well, that's an
improvement. You look like shit, though, whatever light we use.
When was the last time you washed?"
- "I don't know. It's not
- "I take it from that
comment you can't smell yourself." Natalie sat down on the end
of the bed. "Do you want to tell me what happened?"
- "Would you go away if I
- "What do you think?"
- "Nothing happened. Not
really. It's a bit of a long story, but we kissed and I came home."
- "You kissed? That's it?
All this post-adolescent bullshit is over a kiss?"
- I pushed myself back up the
bed so I could sit up a bit and look at Natalie. "Well, it's a
bit more than that."
- She crossed her arms and
- "I'm afraid," I
said. "That's all it boils down to. There's this solid core
of fear inside and I've let it paralyse me. The longer I leave
doing anything, talking to Tina or facing up to what's happening,
the harder it seems to get. I just want to lie here and let time
roll over me. If I do it for long enough, it feels like nothing
will ever matter again."
- "Well, leaving aside how
stupid most of that sounds, why are you so afraid? From the way
I've heard you talking about Tina it sounds like there's some kind
of spark there. I assume from the fact that she's been calling up
almost hourly that there's some feelings on her side as well. Do
you know what I'd give to have a relationship start off that well?
Actually, do you know what I'd give to have one start at all?"
Natalie's expression was still tinged with concern, but her words
- "I know that, believe
me. If I step back from the whole situation I can see that I'm
damned lucky. The problem is I can't really step back. I'm a part
of it and I'm shit scared of the whole thing. It's not her, not
really. I must admit I was a bit taken aback by her at first.
You'd know why if you saw her. There's still a part of me that's a
frightened conformist teenager afraid of having a moose for a
girlfriend. But in the end, that's not it. I find her attractive,
funny, kind and exactly the kind of person I could fall in love
with. I don't give a fuck what anyone else says about her, at least
not in the long term. She and I are too much alike for me not to
know what she's going through.
- "The problem is me."
My voice had been breaking and it finally gave up. Hot tears
poured down my cheeks and I began to sob. "I just can't do
this," I said, gasping.
- Natalie shuffled up the bed
and took hold of me. I sat there shaking, glad of the warmth of her
arms around me. I told myself to snap out of it, but it seemed I
just didn't want to listen. I carried on crying until it felt like
I'd drained myself. When I had stopped sobbing, Natalie loosened
her arms and I sat up to look at her. "Sorry," I said.
- "I think I can forgive
- We smiled at each other. A
sense of peace and calm filled me. It was one of those moments you
could never force, that only come about of their own volition.
There was a feeling of love in the room that felt almost tangible.
I knew, whatever dark hole I fell into, my sister would always be
there to pull me out, armed with a light, a rope and a sarcastic
comment. I nearly started crying again.
- "Are you up to telling
me why you're a problem? I mean, apart from the obvious."
- "Well, it probably is
the obvious. Since, you know, I haven't had a boyfriend, girlfriend
or anything like that. I haven't been laid this millennium.
Sometimes I feel the loneliness inside me, like some small animal
eating away at my innards. You'd think that would make me ready for
any kind of relationship. The problem is this." I ran my
hands down my torso. "After ten years I've stopped waking up
every morning, shocked at what I've become. It still feels all
wrong, though. This isn't me - this is some girl who killed herself
for her own stupid reasons. I'm lying under six feet of soil in
Manchester. How can I share my life, or even my body, with anyone
else when they're not even mine in the first place. How can I be
someone's lover when I don't know if I'm a man, a woman or just a
corpse that never knew when to lie down."
- "You're a person."
- I probably snorted. "What's
that supposed to mean?"
- "It means that the whole
man/woman thing is a question of plumbing. What you are is a
person. It doesn't matter what you started out as and what you are
now. You're alive, which is a big improvement on what, by rights,
you should be. Don't you think it's time you stopped acting like
you'd died ten years ago?"
- "That's easy for you to
say. You haven't had someone change your plumbing." I thought
of a few other bitter retorts, but my heart wasn't in it. I knew
she was right, intellectually at least. Whether or not I'd ever
feel it was another story. "Anyway, I did almost overcome
this, once, a long time ago. You remember what happened?"
- Natalie bit her lip and
looked down at the bedspread. "Not everyone's like that. You
were unlucky. Anyway, Tina knows what you are."
- "I know. And that
helps, believe me. Still, it's made it even harder for me to trust
anyone enough to open myself up. Maybe in time, but..."
- "Until then, are you
going to call her? I'm going to take that sodding phone of the hook
if you don't."
- "Tomorrow, I promise."
- "You'd better,"
Natalie said. "I'll break your legs if you don't."
* * *
- I can only remember two
nights in my adult life that passed more slowly and painfully: one
involved a tab of bad acid and the other a mild case of food
poisoning. At least in each of those I knew that it would all pass
by the morning.
- The worst part came with one
of the fevered dreams that filled the occasional snatches of sleep.
Most of the dreams had just involved a low level of stress and
dread, but this one started out with Tina, standing before me,
holding out a hand. As I reached out to take it, she started to
change. By the time she had a firm hold of me, I could see she was
really Alasdair, the young man I nearly fell for in Dundee all those
years ago. He pulled me towards him hard. Just before I woke up, I
saw his other hand raised above me in a fist. I didn't dare go back
to sleep after that.
- Why did you have to do it?
Maybe I could have adjusted in time, or at least learned not to hate
what I had become. Would it have been too much to ask for you just
to have treated me like a human being? I knew though, whatever
Alasdair had thought of me, that had driven him to that moment of
madness, I had probably thought worse of myself. I was tired of it
all, tired of all the self-loathing. In a moment of insight I saw
how much effort it all took, the constant tension of muscles and
internal dialogue of hatred. Could I ever just let it go? I wanted
- I got out of bed and turned
the overhead light on. There was a full-length mirror on the side
of my wardrobe, that I only tended to use for sorting my hair out,
making sure it covered the scar. Without really knowing why, I took
off the flannel pyjamas I was wearing and looked at my reflection.
It wasn't something I had done very often. Even when bathing, I
tended to go for quick showers rather than long soaks in the bath.
The sight of myself naked was still disturbing to me. When I had
first learned that my donor was to be a woman, I had vague fantasies
of being my own voyeur, or my own playmate. The reality had turned
out to be far less titillating, or even comfortable.
- In the mirror I saw a young
woman, in her late twenties. She had an unremarkable face, with an
untidy shock of dark hair. Her build was slight, but made more
curvaceous than it used to be by lack of exercise and the gentle
decline of age. Gravity was beginning to win the battle over her
breasts and her backside was beginning to spread in a way that would
become less appealing in time. It was a face and body I knew well,
but felt no attachment to. I stepped up to the mirror and looked
into my eyes. That's you in there, I thought. It's the you that
you always were and always will be. It doesn't matter whose flesh
you wear. If I had lived, if I were forty-two year old Paul, I
would have been a very different person to the Paul who had gone
under the neurosurgeon's knife. Would he have seen himself as a
stranger in the mirror? We all change, moulded by the hands of
time. It's just a question of degree.
- I ran a finger along the
surface of the mirror, tracing the outline of my face. You could do
worse, I decided. You could be dead. Maybe the person I had become
was all right. So I was neither man nor woman - other people put up
with far worse burdens or uncertainties without being destroyed by
them. The person I had become couldn't be all bad; Tina had found
something in me that was worth holding on to. Maybe I was someone
she deserved after all.
- When I checked the clock it
was about four in the morning. I supposed it would be another day
of calling in sick. Something told me they weren't going to renew
my contract. I lay back on the bed and sighed. Well, at least it
gave me a day to try to put things right with Tina.
* * *
- It was gone noon by the time
I hauled my weary body out of bed. I showered and washed my hair,
before making myself some beans on toast. The afternoon was
swallowed by television. I knew that I would go and see Tina that
evening, to try to apologise for being such an arsehole. Until then
I just needed to try to get some strength back.
- As I watched the usual array
of cookery programmes, quiz shows and Australian soaps my mind was
ticking over. It didn't seem enough just to turn up on Tina's
doorstep and tell her that, while I hadn't exactly sorted my head
out, I had got a grip enough to try to make a go of things. Some
kind of gesture seemed necessary. The more I thought about it, the
more I realised only one thing felt right.
- I waited for Natalie to come
* * *
- "No, too tarty."
- Natalie was holding up one of
her dresses for inspection. It had quite a low cut front and not
much in the way of a skirt. It wasn't that bad, really, but it was
still further than I wanted to go.
- "Fair enough. Are you
sure this is what you want to do, though?"
- I stopped to think about it.
"No, I'm not sure. It just seems like the time, though. Maybe
it'll help me feel more like a woman. At the very least it might
help Tina think of me as one."
- "Well, it's weirding me
out a bit. Still, I think it's a great idea."
- I nodded absently. "How
about that long skirt of yours? You know, the flowery one."
- "Yeah. We'll have to
see if you're tall enough to make it work. Maybe if you borrow some
- "No chance. I want to
be able to walk tonight."
- I tried the skirt and a plain
cotton blouse to go with it. They fitted, even if they were a bit
large for me. Natalie is a good three inches taller than me, and a
bit more curvy. I was going to have that problem whatever I
borrowed. Still, they looked good on me. It was a surprise when I
looked at myself in the mirror. I still wasn't exactly pretty, but
I realised I could be attractive if I wanted to be. And for the
first time in years I did want to be.
- Natalie was patient with me
when it came to the makeup. I fidgeted and fiddled as she applied
lipstick and eyeliner and stuff. I was going to try to do all this
stuff myself, but Natalie talked me out of it, saying that this
wasn't really the best time to learn.
- The final effect, while not
stunning, was good. I decided, seeing my reflection dressed like
this and made up so well, that if I were a man I might have asked me
out, although probably not as a first choice. It was strange, as
I'd never really thought of myself like that. It made me feel
uncomfortable, but a bit excited at the same time.
- I turned away from the mirror
and faced Natalie. "Thanks."
- "That's OK. If it'll
stop that bloody girlfriend of your calling at all hours, it's worth
- I smiled and turned to go.
- "Should I expect you
back tonight, or are you expecting to get lucky?" Natalie asked
as I opened her bedroom door.
- "You never know," I
said and headed out.
* * *
- It was dusk, so I took the
bus. I was feeling vulnerable enough, dressed as I was, without
worrying about walking around in the dark. I found an empty bank of
seats and made myself comfortable. There wasn't really anything to
see out the window, but I looked all the same. People and places
passed by in a meaningless blur. I saw couples walking arm in arm,
sharing smiles and conversations. Had I really shut myself off from
this for so long? How had I survived? I had clothed myself in
armour so effective I had forgotten I was wearing it. I let it
become my skin. Now it was time to try to shed it and it terrified
- Slowly, I became aware of
someone looking at me, their gaze reflected in the glass of the
window. I looked back and saw a young man, maybe twenty. He was
sitting on his own, dressed in an old pair of jeans and an
unfashionable waterproof jacket. His face was unlovely, but kindly,
topped with a mop of greasy blonde hair. The expression in his eyes
reminded me of a hungry dog, waiting for a tin to be opened. With a
start I realised the expression was for me. As I met his eyes, he
looked away, embarrassed. As the journey went on, I noticed him
sneaking glances, but always quickly, afraid of being caught again.
Is this all it takes? I thought. Just a skirt and a bit of makeup?
My discomfort passed and I felt a quiet urge to talk to him, to tell
him a bit about myself. The bus was approaching my stop, though,
and there was no time. As I started to leave I paused in front of
him. I leaned over and ran my hand across his cheek lightly.
"Don't give up," I said. "You'll meet her someday."
I turned to go. He was still staring at me in open-mouthed
amazement when the bus pulled out.
* * *
- I stood on the doorstep of
the building that held Tina's bedsit for almost five minutes, trying
to find the courage to push the buzzer. What if I'd judged it all
wrong? Maybe I'd imagined the spark from her. Maybe she was just
concerned when she'd called all those times. I forced myself to
press the button in the end, simply tired of all the agonising.
- I heard heavy footsteps
coming down the stairs and then the door opened. Tina froze when
she saw me, her expression shifting from surprise to delight.
"Samantha? Wow! Look at you!"
- I blushed and shuffled my
- "Come in," she
said. I stepped into the hallway.
- Tina was dressed in a loose
knit black sweater and black jeans. Her hair was unbrushed and she
wore no makeup. If it hadn't have been for the swell of her small
breasts under the sweater she might have looked completely
masculine. "Do you want to come upstairs?" she asked.
- I grinned at her. "Do
you think I came all this way to stand on your doorstep?"
- She indicated the stairs with
a flick of her head. "Let's go." I followed her up to
- Tina's room was small,
furnished with only a bed, a chair, and a small table. Despite
this, it still managed to be incredibly untidy. There were clothes
strewn all over the place, forming small, black piles, like
molehills on the carpet. A few dirty plates sat on the floor, baked
bean juice on them hardened to scabs. Tina looked embarrassed by
the mess, but I couldn't help grinning at her. It showed a weakness
made my heart twinge with affection.
- "Hang on," she
said, "I'll clear a seat for you."
- "Don't worry. I sat
most of the way over here."
- "I'll get us some tea at
least. I don't have any coffee."
- "Tea's great." I
looked out the window at the view of a little garden, overgrown with
brambles and bindweed, picked out by the light coming from a
- Tina picked up a couple of
cups from the floor and sniffed them suspiciously. "I'd better
go and wash these. Put some music on, if you want. There's not
much there, but Susan let me keep all the CDs she didn't like."
- I started to pick through the
precarious stack of CDs balanced on one of the speakers of the
little black midi system. There was lots of goth-type stuff I
remembered from my youth - The Jesus and Mary Chain, The Cure,
Fields of the Nephilm. I guessed we were probably around the same
age, or at least I wasn't much older than her. One case stood out
from the others, as it was a double, with a white cover. I picked
it up and felt a thrill of recognition. New Order's Substance. I
used to have a copy, many years back. At some point I played it
until I got sick of every track, even the B-sides, but enough time
had passed for me to want to hear it again. I put the first disc on
and flipped through to track three. _Temptation_ started up, with
its ludicrously simple vocal hook and boppy baseline. I stood there
with my eyes closed, listening, feeling a warm chill running down my
spine. How had I ever forgotten this? The words came back to me
and I started singing along with the chorus. "Up, down, turn
around, please don't let me hit the ground."
- "Nice one." I
almost jumped as Tina spoke. "Hey, you were somewhere else,
- "Sorry." I took
the mug she offered and held it up to my mouth, letting the steam
caress my face.
- "I prefer _Bizarre Love
Triangle_, but this one's nice and catchy too."
- "I haven't listened to
this for years. It never really made sense before, but now I feel
like it could have been written for me. All that stuff about trying
to break the circle placed around me. I know just how that feels."
- "What circle's that
supposed to be?"
- "Oh, shit, I don't think
I can explain it. It's why I'm here tonight. It's what all this is
about." I plucked my skirt for emphasis.
- Tina stood in the middle of
the room and just looked at me. Her face looked like it was on the
verge of an expression that she was afraid to commit to. I don't
think she knew what to say.
- "Look," I said,
"We've both been around long enough to get beyond playing
games. I know I feel something towards you, even if I'm not sure
what. I think you feel something too. Are we ever going to do
anything about it?"
- I waited for Tina to say
something. She didn't. She took the mug out of my hand and placed
it on the window ledge. Taking the two steps towards me, she bent
down and kissed me softly. I was ready for the stubble this time.
I put my arms around her neck and held on as I returned the kiss
with interest. Our lips locked and we lost ourselves in the
twilight between affection and foreplay.
- We broke off eventually. "Is
that what you meant?"
- "Well, it's a start."
* * *
- Looking back on it now, it
seems strange that I'd never had sex as a woman until that night.
When the idea that my gender had changed had first sunk in, all
those years ago, the novelty of it all carried an almost illicit
thrill. The problem was that once I was out of the hospital and
trying to slip back into my life that everything had started feeling
terribly wrong. I tried masturbating, but orgasms were intermittent
and largely elusive. I simply couldn't relax into enjoying it and I
kept snapping back to the reality of fumbling with this alien
anatomy. The idea of jumping into bed with a man appealed to me no
more than it had when I was a man myself. The prospect of sex with
a woman felt a bit better, but even then I couldn't get past the
feeling of wrongness in myself. How could I be intimate with
someone else when I could hardly stand being in bed with myself?
- With Tina, though, the
barriers were already falling down. Without meaning to, I'd let her
in. In comparison to what I'd already been through to get there
that night, the sex almost seemed trivial.
- We took our time. Neither of
us was exactly young, and while there was passion it fell into place
behind a simple sharing of closeness. We fondled and sucked and
rolled around in awkward permutations of elbows and knees. We
laughed a lot and I may have cried quietly in the first quiet
post-coital interlude. We even managed a kind of penetration. I
was a bit shocked when I saw Tina's penis for the first time, not
because it was there, but simply because it was so small. I mean, I
wasn't exactly well hung myself, before, but this was almost
negligible. She explained that it was an effect of the hormones. I
didn't really complain. If she'd whipped out a throbbing eight-inch
trouser snake I think I would have bolted.
- Her erection came with
difficulty and a lot of effort on both of our parts. I didn't take
it personally. Even with the diminished size, it was still a shock
when she slid into me. I'd tried a vibrator on myself a few times
before and had certainly explored my vagina with my fingers, but it
felt so different when it was someone else doing it and it was all
outside my control. I won't pretend I collapsed into raptures of
sexual ecstasy, but it was a lot better than I thought it would be.
Tina even managed to come inside me, although only after a lot of
false starts. I don't know why, but it felt important that she
should. Orgasm eluded me, but I didn't mind. It was enough that I
was there at all.
- We spent most of the next day
in bed together. There wasn't much sex, but it was nice just to lie
there and be held. I'd forgotten the simple animal comfort of
curling around a warm body. The bed was too small for both of us,
but that just made things better. If we'd had more room we probably
would have felt like less of a unit.
- After a long, comfortable
silence in which I may have started to drift off, Tina blew in my
- I flinched, involuntarily.
"Please don't call me that."
- "Uh, sorry. What's
wrong with it?"
- "Nothing I suppose.
It's just that it's the one concession I made to reminding myself
who I'd become. If I let people call me Sam, it would be too easy
to pretend. Also, Samantha's what she called herself. It only
- "OK. Samantha's a
pretty good name." Tina tightened her grip around me in a way
that made me feel safe and weak at the same time.
- "Sorry. You were going
to say something. I interrupted."
- "Oh yeah. Silly
question: do you ever think about what kind of story your life would
be if you wrote it down? I think mine would be a farce, except for
all the horrific bits. Overall it would probably be pretty funny.
Ridiculous, at least."
- I nuzzled her belly button.
"I'm not sure about a farce. Comedy, maybe."
- "No. Technically, a
comedy is anything with a happy ending. I don't think I qualify for
- "How do you know?
You're not anywhere near the end yet. Maybe we all get a happy
ending. I don't know about you, but I think I've earned one."
- "Maybe. I'd like to
think that's true."
- "I guess that's halfway
to making it true. It gives us something to work on, at least."
- "Yeah. Maybe it does."
* * *
- I don't know if I expected my
last defences to crumble of their own accord. Suddenly I had opened
myself to feelings that terrified and delighted me, but keeping the
way clear for them was a lot more difficult than I had thought. As
soon as I had time to pause, fear came stealing back.
- Whatever intimacy Tina and I
had reached during that first twenty-four hours of sharing our
bodies felt fragile. What had been so natural at the time now felt
like, if not an aberration, at least an unplanned detour on the path
of my life.
- For the couple of weeks that
followed, we at least spoke to each other on the phone every day,
even if we couldn't actually meet. The phone calls felt easier, as
it gave our bodies the distance I needed to feel comfortable. A few
nights we ended up in bed together, usually after we'd been
drinking, but the old feelings of wrongness kept creeping up and
dragging me back into my own head. Still, it wasn't exactly
unpleasant, and waking up cocooned in Tina's arms made me feel safe
and warm and less alone than I had for years.
- Tina didn't need to be told
something was wrong, but she never brought it up. I think it was
wisdom rather than fear on her part, knowing that whatever was going
on was something I needed to sort out for myself.
- I wanted desperately to take
off my armour, to break that circle I had once tried to explain to
Tina. The problem is I had no idea how. Just wanting something
isn't enough, particularly when it's you getting in the way. My
mind is even more of a mystery to myself than my body.
- I still don't know what would
have happened to us if events hadn't intervened. It felt like a
disaster at the time, which just shows how much I know.
* * *
- Being a woman does have its
advantages. People are generally nicer to you, at least in casual
contact. Men, particularly the older ones, love an excuse to behave
like gentlemen. Women talk to you freely, sharing confidences that
would make men crawl away and hide with embarrassment.
- The downside is larger,
though, at least from my perspective. And out of all the things I
don't like about my womanhood, periods come pretty high up the list.
That didn't mean I was happy when the next one didn't turn up on
- I didn't even notice it was
late for the first couple of days. I don't tend to keep track of my
cycle. I know well enough when it happens. Luckily I don't suffer
from PMS, so apart from the bleeding, water retention and general
ickiness I could almost pretend the whole thing didn't exist.
- After a week I knew I
couldn't just wait for it to start. The sensible thing to do would
have been to slip quietly down to the chemist and pick up a home
testing kit. The stupid thing I ended up doing was asking Natalie
- "You think you're what?"
Natalie's voice didn't quite reach a shout, but the tone of it made
my fillings hurt.
- "Pregnant," I said
quietly. "You heard me fine." I sat still on the sofa
with a cushion on my lap, as if for protection.
- "How the fuck can you be
- I looked at her for a moment,
trying to manage a withering stare. The burning in my cheeks
undermined it, though, and I ended up looking down at the carpet.
"You know," I said. "The usual way."
- "But you don't do the
usual way. There are nuns who give it away more than you do."
- "It doesn't take that
many times if you're unlucky." I think I pouted. I hope I
didn't, but a pout would have been in character. "Anyway, I
came to you because I wanted support, not a bollocking."
- Natalie sighed dramatically.
"I'll do the support bit in a moment. Let me get this out of
my system first."
- "OK. Just do it
- "What about condoms?
I'm sure you've never even thought about the pill, but surely
condoms wouldn't have been out of the question? They had been
invented last time you got laid, right?"
- I just nodded, too weary to
try to think of a snappy comeback.
- Natalie sat there and looked
at me for what felt like a very log time. "So what do you want
to do about it?" she asked eventually.
- "What do you mean?"
I already knew the answer, but I needed to hear someone else say
- "Have you thought about
- "I don't even know for
sure that I'm pregnant yet and you're already trying to talk me into
- Natalie closed her eyes
tightly and spoke very slowly and deliberately. "I'm not
trying to talk you into anything. I'm just asking a question. I
don't know why, because you must have thought about it. I know I
- I nodded slightly. "I
really don't know. I mean, I'm never going to be a father. Maybe
I'd make a good mother. Maybe this is my one chance. Besides, I've
had enough death in my life without this. The idea of abortion
always made me feel uncomfortable, and even more so under the
circumstances. If I'm carrying something alive inside me," I
said, running a hand across my belly, "I don't think I can
really dispose of it like that."
- "There's always
- "Yeah. That might work
better. It's not something I have to decide now, though, is it?
Assuming my period's not just deciding to play silly buggers with
- "True. There's
something else you haven't mentioned. You're not having this baby
all by yourself. You had help."
- "Tina," I said.
* * *
- The testing kit almost felt
like a waste of money. I knew what the result would be even before
I took it, and it did nothing to surprise me. It did give me the
push I needed to talk to Tina, though.
- I turned up unannounced at
her bedsit. My visits had become pretty frequent, and it wasn't as
if I hadn't just dropped by before, but Tina knew there was
something wrong before I even got a chance to speak. "Is that
a breaking up face?" she asked while I was still taking my coat
- "Your expression. It's
all frowny and serious. It's the expression of someone who wants to
- "Don't be stupid,"
I said as affectionately as I could.
- Tina busied herself making
tea and tried to act unconcerned. She didn't fool me, though.
"Look," I said as waited for my tea to cool enough to sip,
"You're right about one thing. I am in a serious kind of
- I waited for Tina to say
something, but she just watched me expectantly.
- "I've tried to think of
a clever or witty way to say this, to cushion it a bit, but it's the
kind of thing which only really works in blunt words." I took
a breath, but it didn't help. "I'm pregnant."
- It took a few moments for
Tina to react. I don't know exactly what I expected. I suppose
most people would swear or panic, maybe retreat inside themselves.
Tina isn't most people.
- "That's wonderful,"
she said at last.
- "It is?" I tested
my emotions to see if I could find any trace of the same enthusiasm,
but if it was there it was well hidden.
- "Of course it is."
- I nodded absently and looked
out the window. The sky was grey and dull and made me feel nothing.
- Tina snatched me back from my
thoughts. "Is it mine?" She tried to keep a straight
face. I failed. Whatever tension there was shattered as we both
collapsed into helpless giggles. It took a few minutes for us to
get our composure back.
- "Well, it's hard to keep
track, you know, with all the casual flings, but I'd say there's a
good chance." The last few words came out as a sputter and we
were lost again. Tina's eyeliner smudged beautifully.
- When things calmed down a bit
we just sat there, grinning soppy grins at each other.
- "I fucking love you, you
know that?" And though I did know it, the words still came as
a shock. I guess I didn't really expect to hear them out loud.
There was a slight twinge of sickness in my stomach, but it felt
- "I know." I nodded
slightly. Somewhere inside I knew the thing to do was kiss her, but
I didn't want to interrupt the moment. I just looked into her eyes,
seeing what I needed to see. She seemed to understand.
- "And you?"
- "Yeah. Me too."
- "Good." A wicked
little gleam crept into Tina's eye. "Want to bear my children,
- How could I say no?
* * *
- It was inevitable that Tina
and I would move in together, so we did so without too much farting
around. I don't think she wanted to miss a minute of my pregnancy.
She's never said as much, but I get a strong feeling that she's
jealous. It's an expression of femininity that she can never manage
herself. If I could, I'd trade places with her without reservation,
but we've managed fine with the way things are.
- And, for the next few months,
things went pretty well. We found a two bedroom flat in Penge that
we could just about afford. We kitted the second bedroom out as a
nursery as we got the money to buy the bits we needed. We had
discussed things and arrived at the rational decision that we
weren't going to spoil the baby, but both of us knew we were going
- I'd never really lived with
anyone before, at least not in a relationship, and I was surprised
at how easily we both fell into it. Having someone else around, in
my life and in my bed, gave me a feeling of security I didn't even
know I was missing. I was glad it was Tina. She felt like a part
of my life that had always been there.
- Still, there was something
missing. As my pregnancy developed my sleep got worse, mainly due
to having to get up to pee, and in those quiet moments around three
in the morning when thoughts come more honestly than in the day I
knew that I was still sleepwalking. There doesn't seem to be a
better way to explain things. I was in the middle of a stretch of
happiness, the likes of which I had never known before, and I still
didn't feel like I was really _there_.
- I knew there was something
else required. I talked through it with Doctor Rowney during one of
our ever more infrequent sessions and he gave me a suggestion. At
first it sounded silly and flippant, but the more I thought about it
the more I realised that there may be some value to it after all.
- One rainy Saturday morning we
took the train to Manchester.
* * *
- "So this is it, then?"
- "Yep. This is it."
The cemetery had a bland, modern feel to it. Most of the
headstones were plain oblongs of polished black or grey stone.
There was an anonymous, corporate look to the regular arrangement of
the graves and the neatly trimmed greenery. Graveyards are supposed
to be wild and overgrown, with the sense of time that worn and
cracked tombstones and ivy-choked mausoleums lend. Still, it was
- Tina held a bunch of lilies
we could ill afford, but there had been no talking her out of it.
My hands felt almost guilty in their emptiness, so I just cupped the
swell of my belly. At seven months I was really beginning to
balloon out. It didn't offend my vanity, but it still felt alien.
- "Hi, Paul." Tina
knelt down on the grassy surface of my grave and placed the flowers
gently in front of the headstone. "Good to meet you at last."
- I watched a magpie jumping
around between the graves, waiting for a tasty morsel to find its
way out of the earth. How did it go? One for sorrow, two for
joy... I unfocussed my eyes until I saw double. It would have to
do. Today would be hard enough without worrying about childhood
- Tina squeezed my hand and I
started slightly. "Well?" she said.
- "Hmmm..." I ran a
hand over the smooth surface of the headstone, tracing the letters
that spelled out a name that was once mine. "I don't know. I
thought it would all come naturally. Now that we're here I just
- "That's OK. We can
leave any time you want."
- "No. We've come all
this way. It felt important."
- I closed my eyes and took a
breath. "Hey, Paul. It's me." Tina put a hand on my
shoulder and gave me a reassuring squeeze. "I just wanted to
say... I mean, you, or me, or..." I turned away, losing
Tina's hand in the process. "Fuck it. This just isn't
working. It feels stupid. I thought this would be some big
cathartic moment for me, the moment where I put my old life behind
me and go on with what I have now. It doesn't work like that
though, does it? You can't just walk away from yourself like that.
Nothing's ever that simple."
- Disillusioned and empty, I
went back to watching the magpie. Three for a girl, four for a
boy... Maybe there were some more around, but how many would be the
right number? Did it really matter any more? I looked down at my
swollen breasts and protruding belly. They gave me as much of an
answer as anything else could. Why was this important? I wasn't
Paul any more than I was a seventeen-year-old girl who hadn't
managed to find a reason to go on living. I was someone else,
someone who owed a debt to both of them, but had her own life to
live. It's a sin to sleepwalk through one lifetime; two would just
- Tina smiled at me and all I
could do was blink back tears. Natalie had been right, all those
months back. I'm just a person. Everything else is window
dressing. That's the problem with real truths: when you hear them
told to you, they're just words. If they're great truths, they
probably sound like cliches. Words on their own don't mean
anything. Until you're ready to understand something for yourself,
you might as well be talking about the weather.
- Something happened then. The
words stopped being just words. I guess the time was right, that
I'd decided to understand what I already knew. It would be poetic
to give some metaphysical spin to the whole thing, but it wouldn't
be true. A sudden flood of emotion rose up within me and my knees
almost buckled under me. I looked up at Tina and I could feel the
love between us as much as the cold breeze that whipped around us.
My eyes blurred and I grabbed for her blindly. She knew exactly
what to do and held me tight. It wasn't meant as comfort, just as
two halves of a whole coming together. We stood that way for a long
time, with the light drizzle landing unnoticed on our shivering
- I think I was the one who let
go first. I didn't really want to, but I knew it was time to leave.
The magpie had flown off and the rain was getting heavier. I
patted the top of the gravestone and said a silent goodbye.
- We walked back to the
station, holding hands the whole time. The rain followed us all the
* * *
- It's only been weeks since
then, but it feels like a lot of living has gone on in that little
time. That's a good feeling. After years of flatlined emotions,
the peaks and troughs of real life are intoxicating. I still have
no more idea of what our future holds, but at least I have the
feeling that it's a future I want to be a part of.
- Life still holds as many
annoyances and much stupidity as ever, but I'm more likely to laugh
at them now than be upset. It's been a hard lesson, but I know now
that life is too important to be taken seriously.
- Not that either of us are in
any hurry, or even believe in the institution much, but we've
discovered something funny about our chances of getting married. If
we stay in the UK, we'll never be allowed to, because we're both
men. My birth certificate is Paul's, not Samantha's, and Tina's
will always show her as being male. Neither of us could really get
upset over it, however. The absurdity was just too much.
- Tina still hasn't had her
final op, but we've talked it over and I'm happy with the idea.
It's just who she is. How can I of all people take issue with that?
I'm sure our son will love both of his mothers.
- Our sex life still won't
start any fires, but we've found a degree of intimacy and comfort
between us that I thought would be denied me for the rest of my
- I have no idea what kind of
mother I'll make. Not as good a one as Tina, I think, but I'll try
to muddle along. It's not really a role I'd ever prepared for. Our
son is going to have a weird time of things, but I'm determined that
whatever baggage I still have I'm going to give him all the love I
can find. How could I do anything else? Even though I've only seen
him through a sonogram I can tell he's going to be the best child
- So where does all this leave
me now? Am I an integrated, whole person? Not even close. Am I a
woman now, or still a man lost in someone else's life? God only
knows. Am I happy?
- You know something? I think
I might be.
- And, for now, that will just
have to be enough.
(c) 1999 XoYo
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