(TW: Transphobia, brief mention of suicidality, alcoholism, family issues, dissociation, dormancy.)
There are few aspects of the outerworld that we all enjoy as a system. One of those is the band, Queen. Another is the Bioshock series. And another is Kings Island. As mentioned in a blog previous, Kings Island was a Cincinnati amusement park full of the world’s most famous roller coasters. And during October, they filled the entire park with fog machines where you’d have the opportunity to be startled by actors doing jump scares. It was Xanthe’s and my insistence that we were to go there– Savannah had left us both starved of rollercoasters.
I think a large part of this is that Kings Island was one of the more consistent and happy memories of our collective childhood. Grandma Nancy usually got a good deal on season passes in the throes of her QVC addiction and there were summers wherein we would go nearly every week. We’d started when we’d only been nine, not long after our chance at singlethood was lost. This left a void wherein coming to the same park, enjoying the same rollercoasters, with the same artificial level of risk, was a safe haven. And also, I was personally smug over my mastery of my fear, how I was able to be content under the age of nine but 20-something year olds were in front of me and fearing for their lives.
It was a competition and I was winning, somehow.
I was sitting in Dad’s living room with both of my parents. Grandma Nancy had died–not with a silver bullet, but by simple old age, just a few months previous. She’d had left Dad with an odd inheritance of pastel furniture and floral decor clustered around the living room. We were discussing our upcoming trip to said amusement park– we were leaving later in the day, to be around for when the park began to go into Halloween mode.
“How much is admission?” Mom asked, frowning. She had visited, having said before that even though she herself did not like rollercoasters, she’d enjoy the opportunity to hang out with her two kids.
“I think it’s 40 at the gate. Only 30, if you go through the website,” Dad said.
Mom frowned. “I don’t know how to do that.”
I raised my eyebrows. I remembered well, Nebula walking her through the merits of ‘Copy and Pasting’, and how Mom had called us in an absolute panic when Facebook’s friend suggestions were actually people she knew. “I can show you,” I offered.
“That’s okay,” she said quickly, dismissively. “I’m just not sure. They’re not giving me as much overtime as I thought I would have. They’re doing this weird thing between the machines with blocking and unblocking, and I’ve really only had overtime–” Shortly within this conversation, Dad walked up the stairs and into his computer room. “Because I can go today, I’d love to hang out with all of you. I wouldn’t be riding any of the rides, but I thought it’d be fun to just spend the day as a family. There’s also the food to consider, and I was really hoping to take the kids out to eat–”
I’ll say that I’ve lived in poverty most of my adult life. I understand. But how even the slightest suggestion of her spending money could lead to a diatribe was something that always exhausted me. Just then, Dad reappeared and laid a sheet of paper in her lap.
The piece of paper beheld the Kings Island logo and a barcode. I smiled.
In mid-conversation, Dad had gone upstairs, bought Mom’s ticket for her, and printed it out just to end the conversation. “Oh! Thanks…?” was Mom’s reaction.
I held back a chuckle.
They were also discussing the sleeping arrangements. Mom actually liked to plan such things whereas Dad was pretty certain a pillow, blanket, and a couch would do the job. “Well, I was thinking that I had a blow-up twin for her to sleep on at my place,” Mom began.
I was about to correct her on the pronoun when Dad responded with, “I have a couple of blow-up twins too.” He had raised eyebrows and a light smile, waiting for the moment when Mom would give in to reluctant laughter. I’ve never seen a chuckle so pained.
Mom continued. “Well, I was thinking that I would take [DEADNAME] on Wednesday, and then–”
“Xanthe,” I corrected for my mentally-absent host. Xanthe had lost their grip on the front the moment we’d passed the McDonald’s, which was practically Mill Valley’s welcome sign. I did know that would happen– it happened on our last visit in 2015, then before in 2013.
She didn’t even give that a pause. “It’s [DEADNAME], and you better not be on this ‘correcting me’ bullshit, especially in front of Grandma Skip,” she said, correcting me on (sort of) my name. And this was within the first five minutes of me seeing her again after two years. We were off to a fine start! She spun to face Dad, who’d started to laugh, but conspicuously bit his lip. He always did say that the two of us picking at each other was one of his favorite reality shows. “Does she do this to you?”
“I dunno. I just call her ‘Idiot.’ It’s gender-neutral.” Thanks, Dad.
I decided to address Mom’s later point. “I decided not to bring it up to Grandma Skip. I figured anyone over 65 gets a pass.” One only had so much energy, after all.
Mom supressed a light, somewhat embarrassed laughter. “Well, how do I get a pass?”
Being who I am in the system, I have more free reign than most. There’s honestly no one there to hold me back, to forcedly switch me out, to tell me not to be a dick. “Well, barring senility and the like, most generally don’t have problem with it.”
Mom sighed loudly and looked at Dad. “You realize she sounds like you, right?” That was her way of letting me know I’d been a dick.
Coming out as trans to her had definitely been fraught. My gender was much like Xanthe’s, only marginally more male-aligned, so I was quite pleased with the impending medical transition. Being called ‘she’ felt innately incorrect. And I craved physically confusing people, to embarrass them for assuming through a glance my entire identity. Throughout our talks (ie: debates) about the subject, I’d learned Mom had an interesting theory on trans people. Essentially, she felt that flamboyant gay men would get so effeminate that as a ‘leveling up’ scenario, they would just become trans women. Same with butch lesbians turning into trans men. Because in this scenario, heterosexuality was the goal. When I brought up that there were, in fact, gay trans men and women, and bisexuality existed, she didn’t quite know what to do about that.
Thankfully, as a distraction, Adam had broken up with his longtime girlfriend, Kaylee, the previous August. This was the scandal of the decade, for Mom. “You know this is probably because he had that sports injury!” she’d tell me over the phone. “She plays softball! Oh, I bet he doesn’t think he’s good enough for her anymore now that he’s not in baseball anymore!”
This was far from the truth. I’d asked my younger brother, out of curiosity, as to the nature of this break-up. It was the age-old, ‘Choose between me or your friends.’ Adam had chosen wisely and not been bothered.
Mom would not be swayed. She’d tell us over phone calls, “It’s her birthday soon! I told him to wait by her car with flowers for when she gets out of school and try to make up with her.”
I’d looked at the calendar. “Wouldn’t Adam have class? At another school, two hours away?”
Mom had scoffed at this. “Missing a class or two won’t kill him!”
So, Xanthe and I both being amused by that had helped quell the sting of Mom’s bizarre gender theory. It was more than a little depressing that Adam’s dating life was the only one she’d paid attention to. Last time Mom and I talked on the phone, I’d spoken from Xanthe’s point of view, explaining that, “Kaspar visited me just a bit ago, so we were able to see each other for the first time in a while.”
There was a confused pause. “Wait. I thought you broke up with her last year.”
I frowned. “No, I broke up with Kirra the year previous. This is Kaspar. The one from the Czech Republic?”
“Oh. When did you start dating that one?” Mom asked, not bothering to keep the confusion out of her voice.
“Nearly two years, Mother. You’ve really got your finger on the pulse, don’t you?” It wasn’t even the first conversation where I’d had to remind her of who Kaspar was. But with Adam’s girlfriend? Mom knew Kaylee’s mother’s name, her mother’s name, and what Kaylee was in school for. Adam was nearly begging her to drop it.
Back in Ohio, I felt Xanthe begin to come to on the ride out of Marysville. They always had trouble fronting in Ohio in general, with the consistent exception of Chillicothe and Kings Island. By the time we were in Cincinnati, it was them at the front and I was fully excited to experience my childhood staple second-hand.
If there is a single redeeming quality of Ohio, it is Kings Island. The rollercoasters have been ranked some of the best in the country. From the indoor Flight of Fear wherein you lose track of which way was up, the Beast being the longest wooden rollercoaster that seemed like an old friend to me, to Invertigo that dropped you from insane heights just to twist and turn me around the coiling metal tracks– gods, even writing about it has me itching for it.
Rollercoasters are, indeed, the closest I’ve ever come to flying in the external, since people are apt to intervene anytime I try to jump off a building. During Kings Island’s Haunt month, they filled the entire park with fog machines and kept the coasters running until after dark, where they would also introduce the haunted houses and horror-themed rides. Kings Island’s haunt is the only thing I want to do for Halloween.
Not to mention, it was always interesting hanging out with The Family. Becky and Chip were such polar opposites that I’ve always been baffled on how they ended having been married. Adam was always an okay kid with a good sense of humour– this was before he really irritated me by becoming a cop. By then, he was talking to me about how he’d gotten drunk at frat parties and had to Uber home from Columbus. “Yeah, I probably should’ve figured out that the friend who was supposed to be the DD was drinking– he did introduce himself about two times to me.”
I also told him about how absolutely batty that Becky has gotten about his dating life. “Yeah, I think she just misses having a daughter.” Oh. Well, whoops. Adam continued, “I’ve been losing muscle weight since I quit baseball. Mom keeps commenting it. I’m thinking about telling her in a really sad tone, ‘Well, I haven’t really been eating much since Kaylee and I broke up.'”
I had a load of fun. Chip went on a few rides with us, but Becky, being scared of heights, was relegated being the ‘holder of the phones’ whenever Adam’s and my pockets were too untrustworthy, which apparently wasn’t the best idea for Adam in particular.
“Well, when I was holding your phones while you two were on the Vortex, I just happened to look down on Adam’s phone, and there was a notification that was from a girl named Rachel–”
“Mom, good lord–”
Another fun moment happened when we were all in line for a haunted house. It’s customary for costumed workers to lightly harass the crowd as you wait, and even with an artificial threat, I couldn’t help but face it with the look of mockery on my countenance. “What are you smirking at, boy?” this old woman dressed as a crone jeered at me.
And that smirk became a smile because she’d done this in full earshot of Becky.
I did actually spend some one-on-one time with Becky not too long after that. The plan was to get myself some new clothes at Columbus’ ‘The Alley’ but still have a bonding moment with the woman. I did actually feel guilty, to some extent, about hijacking the body of a person people either missed or thought was still alive. I’d gotten to know both of the body’s parents over the years and even came to be fond of and anticipate some of the quirks.
At the very least, talking to them could be a mild fill-in for any reality show I’d missed.
Plus, as my friendship with Apollo has taught me, I could get on with anyone if there was wine involved. We bought one of my favourite champagnes, Becky a Moscato, and an array of cheeses to snack on. I was actually somewhat pleased with her studio apartment– compared to Chip’s decaying monument to a childhood that never felt mine, hers was tastefully decorated and clean. We chatted, had a good time, even watched a movie of some sort.
Though I did take a moment to peer at a cluster of photos she’d had on her wall. I took a second to calibrate my accent before asking, “Mom, why do you still have pictures of Kaylee up?”
Becky frowned. “Well, they just broke up! What, did you think I was just going to tear them down the day of?”
“It’s been two months, Mom.” I found myself counting the amount of pictures. Five of Adam. Three of Kaylee. Two of me.
Though it was quite a bit better than Chip’s fridge. You couldn’t even tell the man had more than one child.
Despite my good time, my trips to Ohio always had at least one moment to take a good look at Neb’s life. After all, the poor thing had only spent four months in Savannah. She’d spent a lifetime in Marysville. Between her parents at home and the bullying at school, falling into Kirra’s manipulations would have seemed inevitable. “Damn, Neb, I’m sorry,” I’d mutter under my breath.
I used to assume that I’d had it remarkably better than Nebula, but upon asking the alter themself, Sparrow had helpfully told me, “Considering you dated Kirra, I consider it about even.”
Well, these tours were usually supposed to be about the better parts of Neb’s life. And the next day, I’d be visiting the most important. But I didn’t know that quite yet.
I’d discovered FlightRising! Think if Neopets had better art, an elemental mythos, and complex breeding mechanics and it was dragon-themed. It was a simple customizable point-and-click RPG where routinely checking for the daily bonuses could make one a king. It helped take my mind away from the fact that I was the only single one who could ever front at my father’s house.
Nebula’s absence was densely prevalent in Ohio. What should have felt like my childhood bedroom felt more like a haunted tomb. Hardly anything had been touched throughout the years, though Dad did throw the bed out in an irritated huff after deeming the mattress too torn up by Neb’s and my anxious picking at the foam.
I was who was fronting when Casey picked us up from Dad’s house. Considering Xanthe and Mill Valley– it couldn’t be helped. “We’ll need to pick up some wine.” I needed to lure Xanthe out with the element that could ground them the quickest. Because hey, great to see you again, Casey, please do not talk to the man behind the curtain!
“Yeah, they sell some over in Turkey Hill, we can run by there real quick.” Casey was frowning as they pulled out of the driveway. “It was really weird to make that drive again, I’ve got to say.”
I frowned. “It’s been… what, five years?”
“Well, yeah, but I drove past after that a couple times…” Their face was unreadable behind their sunglasses as they trailed off.
Xanthe actually came back somewhat early. Turkey Hill was right on the border of Marysville, but it was a new enough building that Xanthe could find their footing inside. Well, barely, as it turned out. I’d somewhat registered that Casey had parted with us abruptly at the entrance. I picked out a bottle of wine– some 19 Crimes brand– and got to the register by the time I felt Xanthe coming back. They show their ID and the clerk says, “I’ll need to see the ID for the person who you came in with, too.”
Oh. Right. Casey was actually weeks away from turning 21. Xanthe frowned. “Oh, them? No, I’m not buying this for them. They have their own stuff at their place.”
The clerk frowned. “We’d still need to see their ID.”
“Oh, no, you don’t understand. I’m not contributing to the delinquency of a minor. I’m contributing to the delinquency of me. This bottle is for me.” It actually took their brain an awkwardly long time to fight through the fog and realize the issue with this. “Oh. Yes. Sorry, I take your point.”
The two decided to go somewhere else to get wine for Xanthe elsewhere and, within the car, they fell into their usual banter. I no longer had to intervene.
I’d just hoped that Xanthe would overcome their hangover early enough for me to get back online and feed my dragons.
There was a definite cognitive dissonance I sensed in Casey. I couldn’t really blame them. This was the first time this body has been in their house since the last host. I could tell by their body language that they were torn between giving me the full tour of their domain or leaving me to my devices in a place that I should have been familiar with but wasn’t.
There were just a few awkward moments of, “Do you remember when I had–” “No.” “Oh. Right.” Then we’d both be off-balance again for a few seconds.
I managed to make some room for error. It was more of a feat than usual, considering that I’d spent most of the week being seen as someone else and I was liable to get snappy. But Casey at least knew I was Xanthe, which was more than I could say for others.
I sort of recognised the house. It felt like something I’d seen on the telly. I wasn’t entirely thrown off by the layout or the appearance– I’d had a vague idea, though I didn’t quite know where the restrooms were or whose room was whose. I’d started drinking almost immediately as I’d gotten in the door. One of Casey’s roommates wanted some. “Yeah, go ahead. But it’s the ‘Hard Chard’ flavour. This is 18%, so more than twice the strength of usual wines.”
“Oh, no problem!”
It was probably within… three hours that Casey and I were both leaning on the restroom doorframe, watching their roommate throw up. “Do you need to go to the hospital?” Casey asked, for probably the fourth time. I could hear the exasperation in their tone. “Are you going to be alright?”
I was having an entire Nick Carroway moment– a tourist in my own surroundings, watching everything go by, and feeling connected to none of it with a drink in my hand, just a blur of venting and banter and casual sex and alcohol. It was bliss. “This happens every time,” Casey later explained to me. “She always tries to keep up with me and I tell her not to and it ends up like this. This happens at least once a month.”
It reminded me of the inworld. A casual gathering that, like clockwork, resulted in a small crisis that most were numb to. “I can keep up with you,” I pointed out.
Casey looked at me for a moment. I had a brief notion of being seen as they eyed me, eyebrows raised. It was a curious feeling, as if we were living in different buildings across the road and we’d happened to cross a window and looked at each other at the same time. “Yeah, well, that’s not a good thing.”
I think that’s the moment we both caught onto something about each other that we wouldn’t acknowledge for a few more years.
The rest of that night fades to memory, for obvious reasons. I remember that I had fun. I remembered that even with the lack of filigree and antiquity and rooftops that the casual chaos actually made me feel at home.
Another time I’d felt at home is at Auntie Carolyn’s house. She was the only relative of mine that had tea and it was the one house I could recognise from my childhood. We talked about history, literature, and British comedy.
And by the time I left, the body’s relatives were none the wiser that I was endeavoring to begin my transition even further than what I knew. Every step I could take as myself felt like a victory– just a vaguely blood-stained one.
October 11th, 2017:
The Augusta Equality Clinic is a bizarre, vital place. So, it’s only open on Wednesdays. You heard that right, Wednesdays. The email I received was that I would need to get bloodwork done in an… unrelated lab in the same odd medical complex before noon. Then my appointment would be at about 5pm.
So, Sarah/Elizabeth, my savior of the day, picks me up that day around 8am. See, I used to have designated days to get drunk. Monday was Mimosa Monday. Couldn’t skip that! Tuesday would either be my cleaning day or Tongue; Open Mic so I would really get fucked up on wine. Then Thursdays had that amazing Happy Hour at Co with half-off sushi and drinks, then the day after that was Friday, and what else was Friday for, really, and–
So, yeah, that was how I was hungover on a Wednesday. I’d like to think I was a model passenger for Sarah/Elizabeth, though. With no money to pay her, I essentially Oscar Wilde’d it and just told her fun stories about my life. She also told me stories about hers, how she ran a whole hotel, owned property, and was ready to settle down and have a family.
She was younger than me, by the way.
But we did find a lot of common ground by working in the hotel industry. Gods, that career can have stories for days. After three hours, we arrived in Augusta at 10:30am. As it turned out, Augusta had an entire network full of medical buildings. See, it had two or three of the most prominent medical universities within one district. And when I followed the directions to the building my appointment was in–… Just like Heaven itself, the fuckers locked the door on me.
“I suppose I’m supposed to get my bloodwork done somewhere else?” I have to give Sarah/Elizabeth some credit– she was pretty gung-ho for being dragged around by an old Tindr date. You couldn’t find a better trans ally.
I’d gone across the street and asked them where I was supposed to get my bloodwork done. All of the staff there acted about halfway baffled by the fact there was a building that did bloodwork for trans folks– as if it were the equivalent of a lab doing tarot readings. And of course, the place I had my appointment scheduled was not answering their goddamned phone.
Then we went to some other building that I think vaguely gave the impression that it did bloodwork. I honestly forget the logic behind this one, but I do remember that they seemed to pretend to know what I was talking about, put my name on a list, and sat me down to call my name.
Then they proceeded to forget about me.
It was about 11:40am when we finally asked about my place in the line. Not only had the front desk of this medical office forgotten about me, but failed to tell me we weren’t at the right place. I was damn-near in tears. Someone there did happen to know where I was probably supposed to go. “It’s the MOB building. It has a bridge, sort of, like hallways stretching across the road. You can’t miss it. The place you’re looking for is on the third floor!”
It was the ‘Medical Office Building.’ Do you realise how many medical buildings this goddamned district had?
We drove probably twenty minutes, it well surpassing noon, which meant my goddamned autistic brain was having a nuclear breakdown. This mysterious ‘MOB building’ was starting to feel like a wild goose-chase. Finally, when it seemed all hope was lost, I finally caught sight of the tiny logo of the all-important building. “You idiot!” I hissed at myself. We must’ve driven past this place four separate times.
“Sorry!” Sarah/Elizabeth said, surprisingly chill that I’d apparently just insulted her.
“No, not you, you beautiful human, I meant me!” After a short chat, we came to the conclusion that I should just leap from the car and she could come find me.
It was well after noon, now. I was racing up the stairs, bracing to do any sort of heartstring-tugging, sympathetic diatribe that I would have to do to get my blood drawn for my goddamned hormones. I remember when I arrived to the offices, I was running through the hall like I was on the timer for a goddamned video game, turning on my heel when the signs overhead demanded.
By the time I arrived in the office, I was half-panting, halfway apologising for my lateness, which the staff seemed vaguely confused at. They knew what I was there for, understood where my blood samples were going, didn’t even seem to know of this grand noon cut-off point that had plagued me for two hours.
I nearly passed out while I was giving my blood samples. Being anaemic and not eating that day wasn’t doing me any favours. I vaguely remember being shaken to alertness and being offered crackers and ginger-ale.
But then afterward, I met up with Sarah/Elizabeth and we made our way to the hotel! After a quick stop at Subway, of course. Because, good lord, my iron was about depleted. As I write this, I do recall that the clerk behind the register referred to me as ‘sir’, as if the mere proximity of me being prescribed hormones was already making it start to take effect.
It’s the little things.
I’d finally begun to calm down by the time we’d made it to the hotel. I couldn’t, for the life of me, remember the exact hotel. It was a Choice hotel that was, well, actually rather choice. It had a small pool, a nice open lobby, and a Checker’s across the parking lot. The cortisol in my veins was starting to ebb.
There was a nondescript amount of time we spent just relaxing before Sarah/Elizabeth was once again obligated to drive me to the actual building the appointment took place in. Oh, and of course it was locked for an additional fifteen minutes after my appointment was supposed to start.
The absurdity of the Augusta Equality Clinic continued. Disclaimer: This was the only informed-consent clinic in all of Georgia and this place is incredibly important but you can definitely tell that it’s mostly student-run. This was the pinnacle of trans healthcare in Georgia, folks!
Here’s how it went: The wait was hilariously long. We’re talking at least three or four hours in the living room. At one point, we were all invited into a back room by an intern to ‘colour and unwind.’
There were sugar cookies back there and someone leading this odd group colouring therapy, asking us to write down our year’s future goals with Crayola. “Bloody hell, those trans suicide statistics really scare the fuck out of them, don’t they?” I’d whispered to Sarah/Elizabeth, who choked on her water.
Then as my name was called, I spent an additional 45 minutes being seen by people who were about my age or younger. In exchange for free scripts, we were also presented to be their guinea pigs. My mouth was poked and prodded by dental students. Chiropractors-to-be felt my spine and I caught one of them cringing. (Hey, that’s my emotional support untreated scoliosis!)
Then finally I could discuss what I was actually here for. Yes, I wanted to get on testosterone. Yes, I knew what it could do. Wasn’t really a fan of having facial hair but was excited about the voice drop, the possibly more angular face, the energy, the increased metabolism, etc. Changing my name? Way ahead of you, mate. Yes, I’m non-binary. I do want top surgery, but I live three hours away.
They checked me out in other ways, which was… actually my first medical interaction aside from the emergency room that I’ve had in my adult life. “Your blood results came back fine. There should be no problem with prescribing you a starter dose. There was only one thing that stood out. There was a high level of [A certain kind of protein that I didn’t catch the name of.]”
I blinked. “Well, what does that mean?”
The nurse was at least nice about it. “It usually means that–… Well, how much do you drink?”
Gods, I’m sure my face was a picture. “I mean. Occasionally.” The subject was dropped and the revolving door of doctors and students were almost at an end. By the end of the night, (by about 9:30pm, as memory serves me right), the goal was achieved.
My Facebook followers were rejoicing along with me. This, quickly following when I’d had that breakdown about Buchanan in August, was definitely an approved step back on my game. One person in particular would chat to his fiancé in their shared Rochester apartment on Birch Crescent, elated not for the first time when I had something good happen in my life.