Authors: Imogen Binnie
Tags: #Lgbt, #Transgender, #tagged, #Fiction
As far as she can remember, she never took heroin without throwing up from it.
Anyway, she hadn’t figured out she was trans. All she knew about trans people was all anybody knows about trans people before they start looking: that they are all psychos with big hair who trick straight men into having sex with them. On television. Gross. She just knew that she felt weird—but literally every teenager feels weird. Who doesn’t feel weird? All the music she listened to was about feeling weird. All the books she read were about feeling weird. So when she was seventeen it didn’t seem strange to hang out with, like, a kid who was really into racism and another, a future truck stop mechanic, in a tent, with a ton of flannel and a bottle of Everclear or a dozen hits of acid. In a cow pasture.
That was just, like, what you did. On one level you just went along with what was going on but on another you mythologized what a cool outlier you were and so you internalized a sense of your own weirdness as a badge of pride even as you emotionally dissociated yourself from it. Everybody cool is weird. This is how she mythologized her sense of being trans without understanding that she was trans.
Cow Town, Pennsylvania is a shithole in the middle of nowhere, but it’s at the intersection of two roads that’ll take you either to New York or the entirety of the West. There’s nothing there. Like, there’s a downtown, which is really a single block, with a bunch of olde timey shoppes, a five and ten, maybe five hundred antique stores. The crowning glory of Cow Town is a mill that was built in eighteen something that’s become a museum. Kids in patch pants sit out in front of the coffee shoppe on main street talking about how they’re going to get out, how they’re going to start a band or write like Kerouac and go on tour and move to the city. They play hacky sack. It’s the kind of place where you’d expect meth, but Maria never really saw much. Sometimes she’d hang out at ye olde downtowne, drink coffee and talk shit too, but especially after this one weird old guy hobbyist stopped selling records out of his living room there, she mostly kicked it facedown in a cornfield. Dude’s records sucked anyway. He was a deadhead.
Taking drugs on a farm actually still probably wouldn’t feel all that weird to her now, even though she grew tits, but that’s just because she carries all that around with her. Who doesn’t? All the music we listen to is about carrying the past around with us. All the books we read are about carrying the past around with us. Whatever. She was good enough at school even though it wasn’t a priority. The Internet didn’t make it out to Cow Town until after high school, so even with her dirtbag friends she felt pretty lonely. There was a Borders an hour away and sometimes somebody would manage to get a zine onto their magazine rack, so she knew that there was more going on than classic rock radio and getting fucked up. She collected strangers’ zines. She held onto anything she could find that told her there were things going on outside her own experience: the Church of the Subgenius, Sandman Comics, Maximum Rocknroll, ‘alternative rock,’ bizarre Canadian sketch comedy.
Eventually she went to college, hibernated drunk for five years, barely graduated, and moved to New York, where the guy in the bagel shop is calling to her.
Yes Miss, he says.
She answers automatically, A toasted onion bagel with sun-dried tomato soy cream cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, salt and pepper. She’s not vegan but she’s veganish.
Six years on and it’s still weird to be called Miss. Not bad, just like, oh yeah, I guess I did that. Who knows whether that part of being trans ever fades. Probably not. Or more specifically, probably not when you still have to shave, when your junk still gets in the way and makes your clothes fit wrong every morning. It probably doesn’t go away until you are rich.
In order not to have to shave every day you have to give lots of money to a professional specialist who sticks electric needles into your face to kill the hair. It’s super painful. It’s also a lot more expensive to have bottom surgery than every cop show ‘Call the paper! The murderer is a
’ plotline might have you believe.
Maria feels resentful about it.
She strolls back into work. Nobody noticed that she was gone, but nobody ever does. She makes a plan. Build a nest by the customer service terminals in the back of the ground floor, eat half of this bagel, help anybody who asks for it, wrap up that bagel, and then go see if any interesting review books have come in. Cool things have probably come out since last time she checked, maybe a week ago. She has so goddamn many books.
So Maria sets up shop at a computer terminal. It is exactly everything everybody complains about when they work retail for the next half hour. People are rude, people are confused, people want her to figure out what they want for them. Whatever. She munches away. This actually doesn’t bother her. Maria’s retail persona is impressively unbitter. She’s watched people burned out on retail be jerks to the public for a long time at this store and it’s pretty gross. Plus, this is Manhattan, everyone is an asshole. For a while Maria got into the revolutionary potential of being nice, but now she’s kind of over that, too, and gets pretty Zen about it. Mindful. Being a dick to people who aren’t being dicks first just leaves her feeling like a dick, which is a shitty feeling. So she’s pretty nice.
It is a bookstore, though, so she gets, like, I am looking for this book, it has a blue cover, a lot. It’s supposed to be the worst annoying thing you can ask a book seller, but she’s into it. People always think they know less than they actually do about a book. She can usually draw it out of them and figure it out. When did you see it? Where did you hear about it? Is it a happy book? These conversations can almost be like a moment of actual human connection, except it’s basically a one-direction connection. Maybe in another life Maria will be a therapist or a social worker or something.
In the middle of helping a customer figure out that she is looking for Amy Hempel, who rules, Maria realizes that she doesn’t know if she’s sleeping at home tonight, or if Steph is, or what. She makes a mental note to call Steph.
All day, though, she keeps forgetting to. By the end of the night, she just wants to go home, but it’s not really clear whether she can. Everybody’s leaving to get wasted at the bar on St. Mark’s with the cheap pitchers, which is always an option, but Maria is exhausted and not really into that idea. She’s on the sidewalk outside the closed bookstore and finally taking her phone from her bag when Kieran bumps into her.
My eyes are glaring cunts, he pretty much yells, My cunt a furious eye.
It’s a stupid ongoing joke: Kieran heard that Maria liked Kathy Acker so he started doing shitty Kathy Acker impressions at her and normally she responds with shitty impressions of James Joyce, who Kieran is really into. She’s supposed to say, Yes I say Maybe Whatever Yes Sure Fine Yes Whatever Sure, but right now it’s not like she even wants to talk to him. It’s stupid, anyway. He is supposed to be this End of Gender tough punk genderqueer radical, but it’s not like James Joyce was working to undermine patriarchy. Kieran will talk about all the reasons that yes, Joyce was working to undermine patriarchy, but the actual answer was no, James Joyce was a patriarchal fuck and dead white man worship is a function of patriarchy. But fuck that conversation right now. Maria ignores him. Maybe he doesn’t know that Steph told Maria they’re fucking? She swings her heavy chain-link bike lock around her waist, locks it, climbs onto her bike, and rides into the street. She heads in the direction opposite her house, toward midtown Manhattan.
Obviously you can’t ride all night instead of going home, you’ll get tired and bored and obviously there is work in the morning, but she decides to ride for a while. One nice thing is that her phone’s in her bag, which means if Steph calls she won’t hear it. She’s kind of aware that she’s making herself the bad guy here, that she’s kind of acting like an asshole. Whatever yes sure fine yes whatever fine sure who cares.
She rides uptown. Riding a bike in most of Manhattan at night totally rules but riding through midtown is awful twenty-four hours a day. It’s practically impossible, unless you are trying to get bruised on a bumper, which is a mood she’s in sometimes. A mood she might be in now, actually. Even on a Sunday night like tonight it’s pretty gnarly. It’s all hills and gridlocked eighteen-wheelers, buses and cabs, so you have to cut between the cars. That’s the best, cutting between cars. She pumps her legs up a hill and they start to hurt. She puts a hand out and thumps a taxi’s side mirror. This could be the beginning of an all-night odyssey, like Eyes Wide Shut or something, but then she’s over a hill, her bike is coasting downhill, and then she’s climbing another hill. Her legs protest so she pulls over onto a sidewalk. A movie is actually a really good idea.
It’s an exhilarating feeling, when you’re so used to not being able to sleep, to decide ahead of time not to sleep. Like, it will feel really bad when you finally get properly exhausted—which will happen unromantically soon—but right now Maria is stoked. She walks her bike two blocks, just off the sidewalk, in the street, so she can self-righteously hog half a lane and get in the way of cars, to a theater where there’s a movie playing with a monster in it. She buys a ticket, almost goes in, has the best idea, turns around, finds a bodega, buys a forty, stuffs it in her bag, and goes into the theater.
She can’t really drink forties any more. Her twenty-nine year old sad old lady belly can’t handle it. But sneaking a beer into the movie is the point, not the actual drinking.
Maria sits in the middle, three rows from the front. There are like two other people in the theater because nobody sees monster movies on Sunday nights. She’s been in this theater before. She saw some other stupid movie, with some other stupid monster in it, some other time that she was all emotionally distressed and having, like, a time-out from her normal life. That time the movie had been a matinee and afterward she decided to sneak into a different theater and see a different movie, but then she completely chickened out when she saw a single usher. That stereotype about transsexuals being all wild and criminal and bold and outside the norm and, like, engendering in the townsfolk the courage to break free from the smothering constraints of conformity? That stereotype is about drag queens. Maria is transsexual and she is so meek she might disappear.
She does sneak a forty into the movies, though.
It ends up being kind of a stupid movie, but when we go see monster movies, we are looking for stupid. There are a lot of explosions, the monster is gross, and the plot goes like this: For fifteen minutes, you’re introduced to the characters and you think, I fucking hate these yuppies! I wish a monster would kill them.
And then for an hour and fifteen more minutes, the monster takes its time killing them.
It’s an annoying, predictable cliché, but Maria always sympathizes with the monster. If you had a conversation with her about it, though, and you implied that there were very obvious reasons, she would flip out on you. This is not the type of insight in which she is interested.
Anyway, it’s late, it’s like one
by the time she gets out of the movies. Bars close at four and bookstore people are certainly still drinking, but Maria is starting to feel foreshadowing in her shoulder muscles about what tomorrow is going to feel like if she doesn’t get at least a little sleep. So a compromise: she buys a five-dollar bottle of poisonous whiskey at a little hole-in-the-wall liquor store. She sips it on her way home: gloves with cut-off fingertips, riding past the cheap bar on St. Mark’s, the permanent traffic clusterfuck at Bowery and Delancy, the Williamsburg Bridge, a navy blue sky without stars and a beer buzz before she even started drinking whiskey.
She doesn’t call Steph. She doesn’t even check her phone. It’s like how if you don’t open the official-looking envelope, it can’t do anything bad to you. Plus who knows where that phone even is in her bag, plus it’s cold, plus right now she’s way too busy looking picturesque, like Batman, in this little alcove in the middle of the top of the Williamsburg Bridge, drinking her whiskey and looking at the buildings on the Manhattan side, the Brooklyn side, the Manhattan side. Which is worse? She can’t decide. She likes the metal the bridge is made of, though: these enormous exposed rivets, this net-looking fence so you can’t hurl yourself into the river.
It strikes her that she probably kind of hates everything. She picks a fight with herself. Things she doesn’t hate: trans women who have just figured out that they are going to need to transition but don’t know what to do about it, so they’re super nervous but also kind of relieved.
She doesn’t hate trans guys who are working on the fact that they’ve acquired male privilege outside the queer community, but also in a weird way inside the queer community, especially in the way that their presence tends to eclipse or eliminate or invalidate that of trans women, so they’re working on it and starting conversations about it and being accountable to trans women.
She doesn’t hate puppies.
Pretty much everything on cuteoverload.com is pretty okay, actually.
A hitch in her throat tells her to stop being all romantic and weird and getting trashed, Batman, so she starts riding again, more or less freefalling down the other side of the bridge, thinking about cuteoverload.com. That video where the baby panda sneezes. There are probably other things she doesn’t hate.
Feminist theory, she proposes. I guess I don’t hate feminist theory.
She doesn’t hate having a favorite obscure band that she keeps a secret and doesn’t tell anybody about because sharing it would ruin it. That one is kind of nice.
She definitely doesn’t hate Piranha, her one trans friend who doesn’t drive her up every fucking wall. Fuck, she’s owed Piranha a phone call for like three days.
She probably doesn’t even hate Steph. Like, as a couple they are fucked, and obviously Maria sucks at changing the things in her life that she really needs to change. Such as: she totally needs to break up with Steph. But for real though, Steph rules. She and Kieran, y’know, that sort of thing just kind of happens sometimes, especially in a queer relationship, right? And it’s not like Maria never fucked Kieran while she was with Steph.