Authors: Imogen Binnie
Tags: #Lgbt, #Transgender, #tagged, #Fiction
She’s also excited to be reading a book called
Big Black Penis
, which is about masculinity and black men. She holds it up high so everybody can read the title. It’s for the best that she rarely feels excitement like this, because she’s kind of being confrontational about it.
The train rolls on, the people empty out, and then she’s at the Avenue Z stop, so she tucks the book in her bag and hauls her bike out. Piranha’s texted back, Shit, okay. Do you want beer?
Apparently Piranha was going to that trans women’s support group for some of the same time that Maria was, but Maria doesn’t remember her being there. Piranha remembers Maria, she says, because Maria looked as terrified and mousy as Piranha felt. Piranha transitioned way before Maria did. The way they met was, the year Maria decided to go to Camp Trans, Piranha responded to the same Craigslist rideshare post Maria did and they ended up carpooling in somebody else’s car. Maria thought Piranha was a total bitch at first, but that’s fine, Piranha thought the same thing about Maria. Neither of them ever lets anyone else in. It’s like they have matching armor. Or complementary armor. Piranha kept making mean jokes the whole time, and Maria kept sleeping. Neither of them had driver’s licenses. Maria is such a tough crusty bike punk that she let hers totally fucking lapse. Anarchy.
Eventually they bonded over some band or something and then they were friends. Maria’s the only person who calls her Piranha. Everybody else calls her Melissa. People kept confusing the two of them that week at camp, so one night Maria got drunk and decided that a nickname would help people differentiate them and that Piranha was a good nickname for a former hardcore kid turned sweet but angry lady who was still kind of a hardcore kid.
She uses the word agoraphobic for herself, but it’s not clear how literally she means it. She works at a Rite-Aid in her neighborhood out here, instead of at a fancy bookstore in the city like every other pretentious fuck. She doesn’t like to be far from home. Her story is long and complicated, but the takeaway is that there’s this trope that trans women are these fragile creatures who are getting killed all the time. Who are easy to kill. But if Piranha’s an example, trans women are actually some of the hardest motherfuckers in the world to kill. She’s one of those good people you hear about to whom bad things happen. Her health tends not to be so great. She takes a lot of medication. She’s generous with it.
Once she explained that it’s usually way cheaper to get painkillers, or antibiotics, or anti-depressants, or, like, hormones, anything at all, from somebody on Craigslist than it is to get them from shitty drugstore employee insurance. Plus, nobody on Craigslist wants to thoroughly psychoanalyze you to let you continue taking the hormones you’ve been taking for seven years.
It’s the sort of thing a badass older sister would tell you. At some point Maria and Piranha’s friendship settled into this kind of big sister / little sister dynamic, where Piranha’s the smart experienced restrained one and Maria’s the younger more outgoing one who’s always flipping out.
Maria rides from the train station over to Piranha’s apartment, which is a small bedroom with an even smaller kitchen attached and the smallest bathroom in Brooklyn. Your legs actually stick out the door when you pee, and then you use the kitchen sink to wash your hands. It’s underneath the stinky kitchen of somebody’s nosy Polish grandparents, but Piranha’s one of the only broke people in New York who can afford to live alone and the apartment is actually really nice. She takes care of it: there are plants, tapestries, an acoustic guitar, and an ancient computer that can still play DVDs. When Maria visits they mostly watch movies.
Piranha opens the door after one knock. She’s wearing a long Indian-looking skirt and a baggy brown jacket, both of which hide her figure. She gives Piranha a hug and she says, I’m so sorry, babe.
Maria says, Yeah, thanks, it’s cool.
Piranha goes to put a beer in Maria’s hand but it clinks into the whiskey bottle that’s already there. Piranha laughs.
Maria goes inside, closes the door, and Piranha says, Okay, go.
What do you mean, Maria asks. The air in Piranha’s apartment always feels kind of thick, like they’re baking pierogies or something upstairs all day long, and tonight in the weird autumn humidity it’s a serious relief for Maria to strip off her jacket, her hoodie, her scarf, and then her long skirt.
Maria Griffiths, Piranha says, one time you came over to my house and immediately processed for half an hour about a new coat you’d just gotten. It would blow my mind out of my head if you weren’t just bursting with revelations you wanted to tell me about.
It’s funny that you’d just start in like that, Maria says, because that’s kind of the reverse of what I’ve been thinking about. I am a vocal person. I talk too much, right?
Yeah, Piranha says, on the Internet.
Whatever, Maria says. But I hadn’t been talking to Steph, like, at all. For like two years I couldn’t think of anything to say to her, but I had shut myself off so badly that I didn’t even notice.
Yeah, Piranha says.
I mean, for fuck’s sake, I cannot shut off my interior monologue without booze or pills, which sounds totally rocknroll and so high school at the same time, doesn’t it?
It does, Piranha says. She pauses for a second and then goes, Rocknroll and high school are kind of the same thing, though.
Totally, Maria says, feeling the tension seeping out of her back. She flops over onto Piranha’s bed. Thanks for letting me come over.
Well, you didn’t really ask, she says.
Maria’s like, Haha, fuck.
So go on, Piranha says.
Okay, Maria says. Here is the thing: I have a million bajillion trans things that I need to figure out, still. I am totally the Buddhist monk who’s all convinced she’s attained enlightenment! The day you’re convinced you’ve got it is when the older monk needs to pop you in the head and tell you that you are a stupid baby. And the fact that I haven’t been able to talk about my shit at all is that pop in the head.
Piranha smirks but she doesn’t say anything. It’s cool that she just lets Maria perform.
I’m just at this point where I’m stomping around like I know everything about everything, just because I transitioned and now creepy old men on the street hit on me—when really, I’m stunted back at like age thirteen, age five, age zero, when I first started suppressing stuff I knew I couldn’t say in public. Like, y’know, that feeling without words that I had my whole life like oh my god something is seriously fucked up with my body and the way everybody is reading it.
Yeah, Piranha says.
I’m just like, I need to be single for a while! So badly! I haven’t been single and transitioned at the same time ever in my whole life, and how am I supposed to have unfucked-up relationships with people if I’ve never done that? So I am excited about that. On my bike on the way over today I felt like I was flying. My lungs are all full, I feel like I can breathe—all the end of the Lifetime movie things.
So you’re getting totally wasted to celebrate.
No, I’m getting totally wasted because she broke up with me first! I figured this all out, decided to break up with her, scheduled a time, and then she was just like, I am breaking up with you. What the fuck.
Oh yeah, Piranha smirks, you decided all that on your own, and you picked the time to meet? You asserted yourself like that?
Whatever. Kind of. I don’t know. Do you want a shot?
No, she says, I can’t really drink hard alcohol any more. But go for it. Do you want a shot glass?
The ritual appeals and Maria says yes. Then she thinks: ritual, shot, fuck! I am getting later for my injection with every passing moment, which explains the mood swings.
Oh shit, she says, Piranha, I am late for my shot.
How late, she asks.
Um, like, a week and a half?
Oh fuck, she says, laughing out loud and handing Maria the shot glass.
So expect mood swings tonight, Maria says. She fills the glass and then drinks it.
Fuckin duh, Piranha says.
An hour later, Piranha’s probably said a dozen words, and Maria has said a thousand times that. Piranha’s nodding and listening, asking open questions to get Maria to go on, but eventually she’s just repeating herself.
So basically, Piranha says, your development is totally stunted, and what you need is the kind of adolescent adventures you didn’t have when you were younger.
I guess so, yeah.
Okay. So. You are single now. Do you want to have lots of sex with lots of people?
God no, Maria says. Are you kidding? How am I going to do that, and how am I going to do that with my junk the way it is, and anyway: bio-cock.
Piranha spends a lot of her time reading the Internet, so she’s super up on, like, everything. She probably doesn’t go to sex parties, although Maria hasn’t asked. But she’s talked a lot about this thing where there are lesbian sex parties that happen in the city and how they will often have No Bio-Cock Policies, meaning, No Trans Women. Or, optimistically, Trans Women: Keep Your Pants On. Meanwhile trans guys are welcome to brandish whatever cocks they want. Kind of frustrating, kind of problematic, and deeply representative of Maria’s own issues with her junk—even if she’s never actually had a partner who had issues around it. The term bio-cock has become shorthand for the fact that trans women aren’t sexually welcome in any communities anywhere.
Yeah, Piranha says. Bio-cock.
They’ve been on her bed pretty much without moving for an hour or so. Maria stands up. Stretching her muscles feels good, and she’s suddenly grateful that she didn’t just immediately get totally trashed.
What were you up to tonight, Piranha?
Heroin, she says.
Do you want to tell me about that?
Obviously this is significant, but it’s not really a mind-blower. Piranha’s always got pills. She’s always got something going on, some kind of illegal Robin Hood self-care. But obviously it’s kind of a big deal. Heroin’s the cul-de-sac at the end of Drug Street.
Maria, Piranha says, you are not the only one with problems.
The subtext is like, hey Maria, the world is an asshole to me all the time and you haven’t even asked how I am.
Fuck, darlin, she says, I’m sorry. What’s going on?
Piranha flops heavily down onto the bed and sighs. You know I’ve been saving for bottom surgery for like a decade, right?
And you know I’ve got a fuckin chronic pain fucked-up health thing or whatever.
Well it never occurred to me until this week to look into whether one would complicate the other, she says. And it turns out they do. Pretty bad. The surgeon I wanted to see won’t even touch somebody whose body breaks down like this. My second choice won’t either. The only one I can find who will do it is really fucking expensive, in Thailand, and not particularly reputable.
Shit, Piranha, I’m sorry.
Yeah, she says. So it’s like, I kind of doubt I’m ever going to have a vagina. Which sucks. So I’m indulging.
I didn’t know you had connections for—Jesus—Heroin.
Craigslist, she shrugs.
So what do you do, shoot it?
Nah, she says. A needle in my leg every other week is too many needles for me. I snort it.
Yeah, Maria says. She sits back down on Piranha’s bed, but gently. One of the first things they bonded over, in the car on the way to Michigan, was serious fear of injections and how weird it is that the desire to get estrogen into your body can trump that fear. But every time, both of them stare at that leg for hours, listening to album after album, before they can actually stick that needle in and inject.
Injecting heroin, of course, makes Maria think of high school. Doesn’t it make everybody think of high school? In the Cow Town she had a friend who hated everything. Like, he was a racist, he was a misogynist, he hated queers, he hated his parents, he hated school, he hated movies and music and hippies and jocks. Obviously mostly he just hated himself. He worked in the receiving department of a Wal-Mart, carrying heavy stuff around, and every couple weeks he took all the money he made at that job into Philadelphia, spent it all on heroin, brought it home, and shot up two or three times a day until he ran out.
But they were friends. Eventually Maria figured out in therapy that their friendship worked because she was emotionally shut off trying not to be trans and he was emotionally shut off being an addict, so they could hang out and be emotionally shut off together. He was always trying to get her to shoot up, too. She never did it though. She snorted lines from his bags a few times and once or twice she gave him twenty dollars to bring back a couple bags for her. She never got hooked though. She’d do it once or twice and then wait a week, terrified of losing control, but a little bit fascinated by the glamour of it. It was the era of heroin chic.
So Maria is aware that heroin totally rules. Like, being asleep rules, and being high on heroin is like being asleep times twenty. You just feel at rest. Mostly she would snort five or six dollars worth of heroin and lie face down on a carpet somewhere, hoping not to be disturbed, eventually puking somewhere.
She stopped doing it when she left town for college, stopped talking to people where she was from and stopped having a connection.
Piranha is explaining the justifications that surgeons have for not operating on people with endocrinal and immunological situations like hers. Maria’s just looking at her face, though. She’s gorgeous, but not the kind of gorgeous where you want to shove your hand down her pants and your tongue into her mouth—the kind of gorgeous that you want to marry and keep next to you all the time. Her cheeks make up the majority of her face; her eyes and hair are the same shade of brunette, two shades darker than her skin; her lips are full enough to match her cheeks. Some trans women mostly date other trans women, but Maria probably isn’t strong enough to handle shared trauma like that. But for a second she wishes she could date Pirahna.