(St. John’s Cathedral, Savannah, Georgia, June of 2013)
‘I Gotta Feeling’ by the Black-Eyed Peas had never been one of my favourite songs until one night that I’d spent with Elisabeth. I was still in that odd phase where listening to anything too peppy and liking it gave me a vague existential crisis. But she suggested it and I was inclined to acquiesce.
It was also her idea that we try all of the doors of the cathedral to see if any of them were unlocked, and we had. It was her idea to sneak in and have ourselves a lovely date night that wasn’t liable to be interrupted by mosquitoes. And sitting in this echoing monument to spiritual opulence, I had to admit that my love had extraordinary taste.
She taught me the Charleston that night. We danced the fucking Charleston to ‘I Gotta Feeling.’ It reminded me of a Youtube video that fascinated me. Honestly, not only fascinated me, but brought me to tears. It was that video of that flashmob they did for Oprah, of all people.
I showed this to her on my Samsung, which, in 2013, made video-viewing a process involving a lot of hope and at least two blood sacrifices. “I’m not even a fan of Oprah. But something like this makes me want to cry. Just– something about how the enthusiasm spreads from person to person, even though they look so indifferent at first. I love that. I want to be like that.”
“A contagion? A catchy contagion?” Elisabeth asked.
Gods, I love her. “I want to spread like a ripple through crowds that didn’t seem to notice I was there, at first. I want the reaction to me to be viewed from an aerial view. I don’t know for what, yet. But I feel like it needs to happen.”
Elisabeth was looking at me curiously. Her pale blue eyes seemed to almost glow inside the scarcely lit cathedral. “You almost looked like you wanted to cry. You can, you know. In front of me.”
I laughed softly. “Oh, I haven’t been able to in months. I think I forgot how.”
Elisabeth shifted closer to me in the pew. She laid her head on my shoulder, which was giving me a sort of gender euphoria that I was too deep in ‘egg’ mode to even name. “Well, someone like you, as intense as you are… I bet you can create ripples like that… Well, you’d try to make ripples and end up with tsunamis.”
I laughed, then kissed the top of her head. Neither of us knew then that I would end up creating those waves out of pain rather than sheer passion just years later. You know, Elisabeth and I knew each other for only a few weeks. But I still feel she understood me more than anyone else.
Well, anyone else, until I met Visarden.
~November of 2016~
One thing I miss about Savannah, so dearly, is the absurd amount of kitsch. And on Halloween of 2016, there was nothing more Savannahian than an illustrious masquerade inside the Telfair Museum. Nothing more Savannahian than paying $80 a ticket to go there, either.
There’s no price to put on aesthetic. Especially when the event came with drink tickets and there would be free booths full of palm readers and tarot readers. After I wrote them, the staff even changed my ‘Miss’ to ‘Mx.’ on my ticket! It’s almost as if Rochester and Savannah were high-fiving at this event without either of them knowing. I was dressed to the nines and could get roaring drunk inside a museum as the marble decor and music washed over me.
I was having an amazing time playing the aristocrat. I didn’t believe in Tarot, either, until that night. I signed up for a reading, just for the hell of it. The first card I received was the Chariot. “There was a journey– a very long journey that seems to have begun your adventure.”
I thought of Neb’s journey from Ohio to Georgia. Well, true. But– Savannah was a transient town, and I had a British accent. You’d have to try harder than that.
And the reader did. The next card she chose for me was the Lovers– Reversed. “You’ve had a tumultuous romantic relationship.”
Well. Yeah, definitely. But would I be alone at an expensive Masquerade Ball if I were happily married?
The next card she pulled for me was the Hanged Man. “This is your current situation. A mob has turned against you, for reasons outside of your control. You’re becoming increasingly isolated from your own communities.”
I–… Okay, yeah, go on.
“And the way you cope, is…” She pulled the Hermit card next.
“Turning into a Hermit?” I guessed, sulking. Hollow socialising seemed to be one of the few things keeping me sane lately. I called it ‘Cold Extravagance’, to surround yourselves by people and things that would never stay in your life but could amuse you just long enough to keep the flashbacks away. If I were to pull away from that, I’d have to be alone with my own thoughts. And we can’t have that happen!
“Ah, but it’s reversed!” The Tarot-reader said. “So, instead of drawing into yourself, you’re projecting who you are internally onto the external world. You have a desperate need to be known. So desperate, in fact, that even when you should hide, you don’t.”
The rest of the night was rightly grand, all things considered. They even had a ballet dance we could all watch. I found a sociable old bloke that offered to buy me drinks, was hanging out with me, dancing. I thought I was making a friend until he ended our brief, anonymous socialising by asking if a ‘pretty little thing’ like me would like to come back to his hotel and that put a stain on the entire night.
Gender dysphoria, something I’d well-enough succeeded at putting on the back burner, just snuck up behind me and hit me over the skull. I flat-out forgot how my voice is perceived, how I figured the obscene curve of my chest would be covered by a luxurious jabot, but apparently wasn’t. A viscous, hot sense of humiliation poured over me like I was being tarred and feathered. How was I supposed project my identity upon my surroundings when I couldn’t even do so to my body?
The Ball ended shortly after that. I cashed in all of my drink tickets and used them… quickly. Wouldn’t want them to go to waste, right? I’d overheard through the crowd that there was to be an after-party at a popular restaurant called Hitch. I stumbled over to there, where a group of people closer to my age had ordered pizza and were buying drinks for everyone who ‘looked epic’, which, obviously, included me. I ate the pizza without tasting it, contemplating my hormonal structures.
I wasn’t a guy. I didn’t want to be a guy. If I could just achieve a deeper voice, perhaps sharper facial features, a flat chest, then we’d be in business. The body hair, the muscles, the beer gut– I could frankly do without.
I thought about AJ. They’d started testosterone but that wasn’t precisely a fair glimpse into my own goals. They’d loathed being mistaken for a girl to the point where they spurned make-up and anything that wasn’t hoodies and what they called ‘boy jeans.’ They’d cropped their mane of silvery hair short and dyed it black. They were in some sort of awful phase where being masculine and ugly was better than being androgynous and good-looking. It must be very vain of me to say so, but I was no longer physically attracted to them when they were in that stage. Though– my attraction has always been 70% aesthetic and 30% physicality. That, on top of them being frustrating with calling their twiggy self a ‘fat lesbian’ and verbally eviscerating anyone who would tell them otherwise, they were not someone I wanted to discuss gender with.
I thought about Apollo. Apollo has said that he was on testosterone. I made up my mind to ask his advice on it. The bar was playing ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ and at about 4am, I was starting to relate to the plot. Time to go home.
I asked Apollo about it a couple of days later. I’d spent the meantime calling local general practitioners and asking if they were accepting trans masculine patients seeking Hormone Replacement Therapy. These obtuse idiots even kept saying, ‘No, Ma’am.’ It seemed like they were taking no one.
I met up with Apollo to ask advice in person.. We were seated at the bar of local11ten, a premier bar that was Apollo’s favourite.
He listened attentively to my predicament and jumped at the opportunity to serve as council to me. “Oh, yeah, I want the more androgynous look, too. That’s why I’m on the gel!”
“You have to be on the gel?” I asked to confirm. I’d done only preliminary research, but I’d noted that the gel was more expensive than intramuscular injections. My heart sank. My insurance couldn’t handle a bloody broken bone, much less the bougie version of hormone replacement therapy.
“Yep!” Apollo confirmed. For the benefit of my cisgender audience, this isn’t at all true.
I didn’t know this at the time, but good ol’ Xhaxhollari was suspicious of this. He’d actually done a good deal more research into HRT than I had. It was mainly out of concern for when Apollo would start to look and sound less like Kirra and cease being such a minefield for my flashbacks. It’d been more than six months without any sort of changes. No stubble, no changes in scent, that voice was not even squeaking.
But, you know, sometimes these things take time. But Xhaxhollari was still fuming over realising Apollo had lied to him about his coconut allergy, so, he had the sudden urge to know if he was being fooled again.
Because this was my ‘not abuser’ in the same body as my abuser. It would be a shame if he was lying about anything else. Right? Right?
I wasn’t initially suspicious, but Xhaxhollari’s ‘pulling strings’ gave me an odd urge to bluff. “How’d you end up on T? I’ve tried calling around and–” I motioned vaguely.
“Yeah, it’s really hard to find someone who will do it,” Apollo empathized with a distinct air of accomplishment.
“Did you go through Terry Womack?” I inquired, dropping the name as if the person in question was a well-known medical professional that all Savannahian queers knew of.
Apollo smiled. “Yeah!”
You’ve got to be fucking kidding me. Well, obviously Apollo wasn’t going to be any help. Why the hell would you lie about being on HRT? There are plenty of trans people that can’t do so due to medical issues, or simply don’t want to.
I was pissed at him for a couple more days, but he won his way back into my favour in comparison to Kara, which was becoming the pattern. It was November 5th, 2016. We went to Mata Hari for my birthday. Apollo has actually always been extremely charitable on birthdays– he seemed to turn spoiling a friend for a birthday into a competition, which was fine by me. One annoying thing was that I was told to take off my top hat, and Kara to take off her beanie, by the bar’s doorman.
This had never happened before. Not wanting to juggle my hat and my drink, I put it right back on my head after stepping inside. This ever-persistent doorman actually walked all the way inside to scold us for our rebellious hattery and once again told us to take our hats off. It was irritating, to be sure, but I didn’t come all the way down to Factor’s Walk just to wear a hat. I ordered one of my favourite drinks– a martini with gin and champagne that was sweetened with cotton candy. Apollo ordered his. Kara tried to order hers, but they were out of whatever was needed to make her drink.
Probably fucking Kahlua.
By the time our drinks were made, I glanced to my side and realised Kara was nowhere to be seen.
Apollo showed me his mobile. There was an entire paragraph from Kara, saying that she was disillusioned from Mata Hari, the entire three people she’s met outside of us, and Savannah as a whole, and had decided to go back to her apartment for the night. No apology, no ‘I’ll buy you your birthday drink somewhere else.’ Just a huffy, surly fit.
I handed the phone back to Apollo as we lounged on the antique couches, drink in hand. “She’s tired of Savannah? She barely even leaves the house unless we invite her out,” Apollo griped, echoing my thoughts.
I shook my head. Granted, there was no replacing Cotton. But I had been relieved that Kara was moving to Savannah right as Cotton was moving out. Especially since my dive into the local queer community turned out to be nothing more than tragic. Granted, she wasn’t ideal, but her throwing in the towel after three months was far from helpful. “She really just walked out over her unsightly goddamned beanie.”
“Yeah, it’s your birthday. It’s not her choice where we go for it. I’d never do that on someone else’s birthday. Like, it’s your day. That’s just rude.” We, of course, moved on from the topic because neither of us never like to dwell on negativity or shit-talk others. Just kidding– we bitched about all of Kara’s personal failings for like three hours and we got drunk.
I was right on the border between blind drunk and blackout drunk when Apollo playfully grabbed my jabot and kissed me. I don’t remember the context. I don’t think there was a warning. My lips were on a martini glass one minute and suddenly his tongue was in my mouth.
I froze. The gears in my brain locked up. There was a growing terror in the core of me, but I tried to smother it. Of course there was nothing wrong with this! I was Dorian Gray, tasting forbidden fruit, shameless, no guilt– and I was having a panic attack. I remember that I excused myself to the loo, saying that I didn’t feel well. And I didn’t.
I don’t remember the rest of the night. I think I blocked out the kiss and bulldozed over it with more drinks and more bitching. I only remembered it years later, when I confessed it to Arkady.
But I do still remember the look on Apollo’s face after he pulled away. He was laughing, plainly, at whatever my expression was.
All I could think of was that I really rather that Kara hadn’t left early.
~Three days later~
You know how people older than 30 ask each other, ‘Where were you on September 11th, 2001?’ Well, on November 8th, 2016, there was another national tragedy that would forever be unwillingly scorched into history.
Where were you on November 8th, 2016?
I was at the Tongue: Open Mic and Music show at the Sentient Bean with Apollo and Kara. Apollo and I had gotten into the habit of attending these bi-monthly shows and signing up to do one or two poems in front of a microphone. Tongue is probably one of the top five things I miss about Savannah. I would drink mason jars full of wine at a cafe that smelled vaguely like hippie. Then I would get on stage and blurt out rhymes about how I’m a broken drunk but cocky about it and people would applaud me. Melanie Goldey would host and read the five short poems she’d memorized between our favourite open mic regulars. What wasn’t there to love?
Gods, I’m getting nostalgic again.
I kept checking my phone. Trump was ahead of Clinton. “I’ve read that this usually happens,” I reassured Kara and Apollo. “They count the rural counties first, that’s why.”
I checked the count again an hour later. “They must still be counting the rural votes.”
Towards the end of the night, when Tongue was at its close, I checked again. Trump was still ahead. Florida was officially red. “Watch, it’ll be one of those landslide events. The last few states will bury Trump for certain.”
I was in my flat, a little past 2am, staring at my phone.
I remember having breakfast in the upstairs dining room the next morning. I hadn’t slept all that night. The owner of the inn glanced at me as she came in for her breakfast and her Wednesday walks. “Did you cry yourself to sleep last night too?” She asked grimly.
I nodded, even though that wasn’t technically true. I was texting the body’s father, a libertarian who had voted for someone I didn’t even remember the name of. “I’m most worried about Pence, to be honest,” I told him.
Dad texted back. “The position of Vice President is a good place to disappear. I’m surprised they don’t use it for witness protection.”
I chuckled weakly. Here I was, dysphoric, shit out of luck when it came to hormonal options, all but barred from my local queer community, and Donald fucking Trump had just gotten elected president of the United States of America. This man was about to be in history books. Even added to the line-up of faces in an 8th grade history class. It was too much to bear.
Not only that, but Apollo had gotten fired from his job at Olfactory– a goth retail shop that we all loved. First, his story was that he wasn’t feeling well and got yelled at for spending too much time in the bathroom. Then it slowly morphed into a story about how he had fainted and the owners fired him for that. By the end of it, he’d added a seizure into the narrative. But even in his most mild version, he hadn’t deserved to be fired.
And the inn was looking for new assists– people to give tours and repeat the same lines over and over. Apollo would be good at that.
And he did need a job.
Mates, I have made a lot of bad decisions in my life. So, it says a lot when I say recommending Apollo apply to my inn is easily within my top 10.
*Disclaimer. I do try to be absolutely, painfully truthful in most of my blogs. And I am– but one detail that differs in reality is one I have to point out. Months passed between Apollo telling me he was on the gel and myself figuring out he was lying. I don’t remember when he started lying, versus when I knew otherwise. It seemed more cinematically entertaining to wrap this all up in one conversation but this exchange was a saga rather than a moment. All other elements of that conversation are real, except the timeline.