Birthday Lessons

You see Christy from across the movie theatre lounge as you enter the girls’ toilets; your family is waiting for you single file at the exit. She’s with another girl from your school. They’re laughing and carrying on, oblivious to your presence.

Christy’s the girl you wish you were. She’s not popular but not at the bottom end of the popularity scale either, somewhere in the middle of the junior high classism. She’s smart, but not too smart. And her parents have money. (You don’t want to believe you’re poor, but the frayed edges of your oversized jeans says otherwise.) Their house is in the neighborhood where you always go during Christmas light season. The rich people areas. You know this, because you went to her birthday party two weeks ago.

***

You remember the surprise you felt getting your first birthday party invitation. The cream envelope had the correct spelling of your name, written in adult hands. You think back to all the days in band hall that Christy and you sat next to each other. Maybe there was a bond you didn’t realize was there.

Birthday parties are only for friends, right?

But then, you remember what a fool you made of yourself at the party. You might have told everyone you weren’t “allowed” to play Truth or Dare, even though your parents weren’t there to see you playing. You sat by yourself watching the others have fun and even laughed a few times. Then you thought of the most epic dare. You joined them. You dared a boy you didn’t like to pull a booger out of his nose and eat it. Only thing was you forgot to ask “Truth or dare?” first. You definitely didn’t blush when you realized your mistake.

***

So you are in the bathroom now. The corner stall. You hear giggles and Christy entering the bathroom. For a second, you wonder if she might be talking about your family. Something about them being freaks, but it’s probably just your imagination.

“Did I tell you? She was at my birthday party. Wouldn’t even play Truth or Dare,” Christy says.

“Why do that to yourself?” the other girl asks.

“Mom made me. As punishment for driving my brother’s car. She sent invitations out to all the kids I complained about during the last semester of school.”

“No way! Talk about worst party ever.”

“No kidding. What’s worse is for two weeks, she assumed I was her friend.”

“Gross.”

“You’re telling me.”

You stifle back a cry and push your feet towards the porcelain bowl so they don’t realize you’re there.

You wait until they both entered their stalls before tiptoeing out of the bathroom, leaving a piece of your 13-year-old heart in the toilet. “Friends are overrated,” you try to convince yourself as you and your family climb into the car. “Who needs them anyway?”

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Trans Ally

Earlier this year, my sibling shared publicly that they were enby. I admit, I never heard the term before, so I did what most writers do. I researched it. As the days progressed, my sibling posted photos of themselves with tags like #enby, #mensdepartment, and #womensdepartment. The waters were muddied, and I did not know how to tackle this subject.

I believed myself to be a trans-ally, but I was confused. What was enby?

I stayed quiet for two weeks as I tried to grapple with the meaning of it all. Ultimately, it took my sibling reaching out to talk to me. I sheepishly told them I was exploring the internet to understand what it meant. They explained not to search the internet for answers. There’s nothing wrong with asking them directly what it means for them, because as I would later realize…

It means different things for different people.

A quick Google search will tell you enby means non-binary (it comes from the letters NB). Non-binary equates to identifying as neither male nor female. Here’s a list of nonbinary identities, which isn’t definitive, but handy for helping define the genders. Enbies may not know what their exact identification is, early on. There is still so much to learn about the spectrum that is gender identity.

Many people will say that there is no such thing as non-binary. You either have male or female parts and that defines your gender, and some heteros and LGB persons may vehemently attest that transgender people are an abomination. From a physical standpoint, there are intersex people with both reproductive parts, and while it isn’t the norm, it does occur. So why should it be any different for the metaphysical?

Many indigenous peoples believed in more than two genders.

My family is from the Choctaw Nation, a tribe which defined up to seven genders. The idea of two genders comes from Western sensibilities, and over time, the acceptance of multi-genders diminished in the name of “progress”.
It’s time to accept that there are certain things we may not understand but should be willing to embrace. As a cisgendered white-appearing female in a heterosexual relationship, I will never completely understand, but I can be an ally for fair treatment and equal rights for transgender persons.

The enby journey is tough, and society is a large part of that.

They are often mistreated, misjudged, or simply ignored. In the state of Texas where my sibling lives, they do not accept more than the binary genders, so when they changed their name to reflect their gender, they could not change their gender.

But more than that, you can’t walk into a mall without seeing genders in stores, departments, and bathrooms. There are assigned pronouns (like with cars, for crying out loud), and the list goes on. Babies are gendered before they are even born. He and she is embedded in us before we know how to talk, and people are angered if another person misclassifies their child. So…

It’s natural that one of the biggest ways to show yourself as an ally is to reprogram the way you talk about people.

You may have noticed that since the start of this piece, I have not used binary pronouns, especially to describe my sibling. Until this point, you have had to accept that I have a sibling and that they are non-binary. In writing, it’s easy to correct the occasional foible, but when I’m talking about my sibling in a casual setting, old habits really do die hard. It has been my biggest learning curve thus far, and I continue to work on it.

It’s okay to make mistakes, though, and to own them, but for trans persons, you do not have to make a big deal about it when you do. They accept that this will happen. It’s hard to reprogram something you didn’t even realize was programmed in you.

So if you take anything away from my piece today, please let it be this: if you have a transgender person in your life, embrace the newfound freedom that comes from accepting something they have probably known for years. Support them and show it through the power of your words. But most of all. Don’t research the internet to find answers only they can provide. Simply ask them what it means for them.
Trust me, they want you to know.

This piece has been written with input from my sibling and faer permission to publish.

This piece has also been edited from its original form to remove words which have been deemed problematic. This list from GLAAD was sent to me by another trans ally following this publication. Thanks for bringing it to my attention and giving me a valuable resource!

(image source)

The First

CW: sex
TW: sexual trauma (warning also pertains to any links within)

It hurts. A lot. Just like Momma told me.

He stops and gives me a kiss. A tiny stream trickles from the corner of my eye. I can’t quite tell if I’m happy or scared.

I have come a long way, though. Six years before, it grossed me out. It was this dirty, vile thing. I couldn’t even bring myself to take those pink, blue, and white pills for my acne. I didn’t want others to assume I was “active.” Three years before, the notion of sex disgusted me. You’re supposed to wait until you’re married to do it and even then only out of necessity – to keep your husband happy.

It took a good friend, a book on sexual trauma, and days of therapeutic discussion to overcome some of my own traumas. Of them, there were many.

For now, I try to ignore Mom’s voice in my head. All their voices – the pastor and my teachers and that counselor that showed grotesque images of sexually transmitted diseases on a giant screen in our high school auditorium. I am past all of that. I am clear of their programming.

Nevertheless, it feels peculiar. Nothing at all like I expected. Admittedly, I didn’t know what to expect.

I flinch and bite my lip as he goes all the way in.

“Are you okay?” he asks.

He is trying to be gentle. He knows, and somehow, that didn’t scare him away as I thought it might. How often do you hear of a 25-year-old virgin, after all?

I swallow. “Ca-can-can we stop?” I ask.

“Of course,” he replies with no hint of disappointment or dissatisfaction.

He pulls out and lays down beside me. His hand grabs mine, and he squeezes.

“I’m sorry,” I utter in a meek tone.

“Stop that. You have nothing to be sorry about,” he says.

I turn over and lay my arm across his chest.

“Thank you,” I say, surprised and grateful.

His chest is damp from my tears, and this time I know the emotion for sure – it’s happiness.

Two days later, I overcome my fears, all those years of programming, and accept sex as a natural thing between two people. (Though, maybe still a little dirty.)


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The Anzac

Graham sat on the back verandah that brisk April morning. His weary eyes stared into the distance at the rising of the sun, unfocused. Inside, his wife and little girl slept, while half a kilometre away, the masses stood as the “Last Post” bellowed from a bugle. Graham’s hand rose into a salute as he sat upright.

The last note echoed across the countryside. Graham made a silent prayer to his compatriots, the members of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps.

It had been ten long years now, but to the rest of the world, it was near a century since the Gallipoli campaign had begun.

He sat and looked at the bus parked in his driveway. It said “St Mary’s Catholic School” in bold maroon letters across the side. He’d driven it now for 9 years, and he still marvelled at it. The world changed so much since 1915. He couldn‘t believe how people had changed too.

*****

Graham charged into the tunnel, blood splatters across arms and face ashen from the explosion that took the last of his company. For the first time in days, desertion crossed his mind, but he pushed the weakness aside just as fast as the idea came to him.

The tunnel shook, and Graham ran in deeper until he saw no light from either end. He dropped and let the moment consume him for more minutes than he cared to admit.

A bright light brought him back from his shock. A shadow covered the most blinding section. Graham raised his weapon and jumped to his feet.

“Settle, sonny,” an old voice said. “We haven’t much time.”

Graham blinked at him and lowered his weapon. He didn’t sound German.

The old man cleared his throat and continued. “This portal behind me. It’s your ticket to freedom. Into the future. A future you will never see otherwise.”

“How?”

“Science, magic, I don’t rightly know. It’s a two-way gate. You live and settle in the future, I stay here.”

“Why would anyone want to stay here?”

“My father is here,” the old man said with a tightness in his throat. “I always wanted to know him but he died before I was born. I spent my life trying to find a way, and this was the best I could muster.”

“Okay then, humor me. Why should I?” Graham asked.

“Because in a hundred years, they will forget that freedom comes at a price,” the shadow answered.

Graham looked at the blood on his arms with disbelief. How could anyone forget this?

“I’ll do it,” he said surprised at the words coming from his lips.

“Good,” the old man coughed. “I have much to say. We only have a few minutes before the portal closes.”

*****

Graham swallowed back a tear. While so many still showed respect on Anzac Day every year, he had noticed that the girls and boys on his bus showed little interest, spending most of the rides watching you-tube or Insta-something on their portable phones.

“Daddy?” a little voice called from the back door.

“Yes, Liddy?” he said.

“Why are you up so early?” she asked as she jumped into his lap.

“It’s Anzac Day, love. I’m paying my respects.”

“Can I pay with you?”

“Of course, darling,” he said with a smile.

They sat quiet for a moment.

“Daddy, tell me a story,” she said. “About the Anzacs.”

He smiled as an idea came to mind.

“Sure, love. And after that, can you show Daddy how to make one of the you tube things?”

“Okay!”

A year later, he had finally completed the promise he had made in that cave. The kids of his bus route begged him to take them and their families to a dawn service.

He accepted with a glad smile.