Copyright © 2012 Maeryn Lamonte – All Rights Reserved.
I’ve never had much truck with gambling. Someone has to pay for all the bright lights and glitter, all the wealth that draws you in, and you can be damn sure it’s not the sods who run the place. That means the games are rigged, or at least biased, in favour of the house. The only real winner in a casino is the person who runs it. Given the choice I wouldn’t be here now, but it was Alec’s stag do, and this was what he wanted.
To tell the truth, I didn’t really know Alec. I was more friends with his intended and, whilst I would much rather have gone on the hen do with Lindsey, that wasn’t an option. She had persuaded Alec to include me, so here I was with a bunch of drunken reprobates, trying to pretend I was enjoying myself as much as they seemed to be.
Alec had given us each a hundred quid to spend on the tables doing whatever we liked, except we weren’t allowed to leave until either we’d lost it all, or we were rich enough to pay for the wedding, whichever came first. There was no expectation that any of us would win anything, in fact it was pretty much given that the money would be gone by the end of the evening, which made it a pretty generous gift. We’d already wined and dined rather well, adding an average of fifty quid a head to the bill, so by the time the bar tab and the stripper-grams were paid for, I rather doubted Alec would have much change out of two grand for the evening’s activities.
Still it was his money. I didn’t live like that, and could have made much better use of it all. Hell I could have made better use of the hundred quid sitting in front of me in a deceptively small stack of plastic chips. I wasn’t allowed to though. The condition of coming on this little night of nonsense was that I lose the chips in the casino.
I guess you had to be drunk to really appreciate it, and I was only pleasantly buzzed, sipping at my third glass of wine of the evening – a rather nice Pinot Grigio blush. It made a pleasant change to be able to drink decent wine, and I didn’t even mind the others poking fun at me. After all, what real man would sit around happily drinking pink wine, of all things, when there was beer to be had?
No, I really didn’t mind. It was a guy thing, this easy exchange of insults. I’ve got to the point of understanding it on an intellectual level, but I still can’t get my head around why guys feel they have to do it all the time, especially when they’re pissed.
I watched the rest of our party meander unsteadily into the gaming room. Most of them headed for the card tables and I couldn’t help wondering how long this was going to last. If they were all as sozzled as they seemed, I’d be astonished if they could figure out which way up to hold their cards.
“So, you going to play them or use them as bar decoration?”
I turned to see an attractive woman about my age. She had auburn hair and wore an evening gown of russet and green which drew out the dramatic emerald colour of her eyes.
I glanced down at the chips in front of me and shrugged.
“I guess I’ll play them eventually, but I doubt they’ll last ten seconds once I get started. I thought I’d enjoy a bit more of this excellent wine first. Can I offer you a drink? The tall gangly pillock over there is paying. The one with the inane grin and the pink bunny ears.” Both courtesy of the stripper-gram. If I were ever to get married, I’d have to make sure that the best man didn’t do anything like that to me.
“Sure, why not? Maybe I’ll hang onto your arm when you choose your game – make you look and feel like a big successful somebody.”
Alarm bells rang and I reached for my mental copy of the diplomat’s phrasebook.
“I don’t mean to be rude and insensitive,” I said, knowing full well I was being a bit of both, “but I understand these kinds of places attract pretty young girls who expect to be paid for spending time with the guys they meet…”
Her cheeks dimpled and she hid her grin in the glass of white wine the bartender had just handed her. “Believe me, if I were charging for my company, you wouldn’t be able to afford me.”
I took that to mean she wasn’t an escort or whatever term you might wish to use, and I let down the metaphorical drawbridge a ways.
“As long as you know that then. So, at the risk of opening my mouth just to change feet, what is it that brings a beautiful woman like yourself down to a sleazy place like this?”
“Oh, it’s not so sleazy. I get to meet all sorts of guys and, with a little luck on both our parts, I occasionally earn a few quid just for being friendly and standing by while they win. Sometimes I forgo the earning potential if I meet someone who looks interesting. You look interesting.”
I tried to hide the blush. This was a bit backwards – I was supposed to be the one trying to chat her up, but instead she was coming on to me. In an odd way it felt good, being noticed and paid compliments like that.
“I love your dress,” I rallied a bit, but not much. “It really brings out the colour in your eyes, and the shape suits you.”
She looked down at herself and visibly swelled. “Thank you. You look really handsome too. I love a man in a suit.”
I tried to hide the cringe. I hated wearing suits – and ties in particular. “They cut off blood supply to the brain,” I would tell anyone who would listen. The only reason I was wearing one now was that it was required dress code to get into this place. If left up to me, I would have gone for something shapeless and comfortable, and even then that would have been a sort of rebellion against my available choices.
We exchanged names and talked for a while with her taking the lead. A part of me sat back and looked at the two of us with more than a little astonishment. This must be what it felt like to be chatted up. This was the sort of thing I should be doing to pick girls up, but I just didn’t have it in me. I’d carried a torch for Lindsey for a while, but it soon became obvious – as it did with most of my interaction with the fairer sex – that we were going to end up as good friends but without any benefits.
Not that the benefits were what I was looking for. I mean don’t get me wrong, there’s enough testosterone floating around in my blood for me to want the fun and frolics that come with a good relationship. It’s just that what I wanted more than anything else was the intimacy that too people in love share. I know that sounds a little girly, and maybe it is, but that’s the way I am.
I’m not cut out for taking the lead in a relationship though and, nice as this fresh turn around was, having a girl chat me up felt oddly wrong. I know, it doesn’t make sense, but it does show something of the confusion and lostness I felt.
I asked the bartender to refresh our glass, stretching the bar tab just a little more, and fumbled about for something to say. She stepped into my intimate space, managing to make me feel just a little more uncomfortable, and placed a delicate hand on my arm.
“So, Charlie, are you going to let me help you spend your chips?”
“I guess you could watch me lose them if you like.” My mind was being pulled every which way by conflicting currents of emotion. I liked that she wanted to be close to me, but I felt nervous about her making the moves. If I could have been her and she me, then her – as me – taking the lead might have felt less awkward, but right now I didn’t know how to respond. “Alec’s best man told us that we weren’t allowed to leave until we’d lost it all, so I guess if I drop it quick, then at least we could go somewhere a little quieter.”
She seemed to be okay with the idea, so I stood up and collected my chips. She slipped her arm through the crook of my elbow and followed me to the roulette table. It’s not that I particularly like roulette – as I said earlier, I don’t like gambling. The thing is I didn’t know the rules to any of the card games, and besides, I actually wanted to lose my stake quickly.
I dropped the whole lot on number thirteen – my own little rude gesture at luck and superstition I suppose – and steered her towards the door of the casino as the croupier spun wheel and ball.
I stiffened and Felicity – yeah, that was her name, sorry I didn’t say before – dragged me round to the table where my pile of chips had grown considerably. Three and a half thousand pounds, but it wasn’t mine and I didn’t really care.
“Let it ride,” I said eliciting a few gasps from around the table. The wheel spun again and Fliss hung onto me, not letting me walk away this time. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Alec and a couple of his mates heading our way.
“Thirteen, black.” This time the gasp was quite noticeable, and I have to admit my own mouth had gone a little dry. That was over a hundred and twenty thousand quid – more than the mortgage on my flat.
I looked up at Alec. “Will that pay for the wedding?” I asked him.
“Don’t’ be a stupid Charlie. I was kidding when I said that. The money’s yours and so are the winnings.”
“I don’t want it.” I surprised myself as much as everyone else around the table, but the statement was true. That much cash would make a considerable difference to my standard of living, but I realised it wouldn’t touch my quality of life. There was something about me that set me apart from everyone else I knew, something that meant that I was somehow incapable of achieving the happiness that I really wanted.
“You let that lot ride one more time and I’m going to have some difficulty talking to you tomorrow.” He said.
“So take the chips and cash them in then. The stake money was yours to start with and it’s not as if I did anything to earn all that.”
“The money’s yours Charlie. Just don’t piss it away alright?”
Shit, what to do. I didn’t want to spend the rest of the evening shuffling chips around the table, but I could see his point. Putting a hundred and twenty something grand on one number, especially when it had come up twice already, was launching bloody mindedness to new heights – into orbit even. The croupier was waiting patiently for me. I turned to my companion for inspiration.
“You really don’t care about all that money?” she asked with an odd smile. I shrugged. “One more bet then. Show me.”
I glanced at the table and the way ahead became clear. I pushed the stack of chips onto the green zero space and turned back to her. I heard the ball spin and rattle in the wheel, but my eyes were locked on Fliss’s. A part of my brain did some quick mental number juggling. If this came off, the winnings would be over four million. For a moment that figure held my attention, but then I let it go. I remember feeling the release and noticing a glint of satisfaction in those green eyes at that same moment.
“Thirty-two, red.” The gasp that accompanied the announcement was the loudest yet, the ball resting in the slot next to the number I had chosen.
“Shall we go?” I asked Felicity, not daring to look up in case I should catch Alec’s eyes. She smiled and let me lead her out of the casino.
I asked if shed eaten and she confirm she had. Neither of us wanted anything more to drink, so we wandered about until we found a subtly lit park with a boating lake running its length. She hung onto my arm and leaned in against me, filling me with a warm sense of belonging. I wanted to put my arm around her, but couldn’t figure out how to disentangle it from her embrace.
After a while, she let go of her own accord and stepped away, leaving me with a mixed sense of relief and regret. Regret that we no longer had that comforting contact. Relief that I didn’t have to work so hard on acting. The way things were going, it wouldn’t be long before I had another “just friend”.
“I’m sorry I lost you all that money.” She told me, looking away.
“How did you lose me anything?”
“I suggested that last bet.”
“I was going to bet anyway. In any case, just because you suggested it doesn’t mean I had to do it. I could have hedged – put it on red or evens instead of zero.”
“You really don’t mind losing?”
“Easy come easy go. Besides it wasn’t my money in the first place.”
“That was a lot of money though.”
I shrugged. “Money isn’t everything. It wouldn’t have bought me what I want in life.”
“And what’s that?”
“To belong. To be able to be me and still be accepted by the people I’m with. To fall in love with someone who’d love me back.”
She snorted. “You don’t ask much do you?”
“I don’t ask at all. Just because I want it doesn’t mean I expect to get it.”
“That’s sad. I had you pegged for a romantic, but how can you stand to live when you have no expectations of realising your dreams?”
I shrugged again. “Dum spira spero. While I breathe I hope. Just because I don’t see how things can work out doesn’t mean they won’t change. In the meantime I hold on.”
“Would you like to spend the night with me?”
The offer came from so far out in the blue it took my breath away and I couldn’t answer immediately. She stopped, turning me to face her quizzical expression.
“Sure. I mean absolutely. Who wouldn… no I don’t mean it like that. I mean I’d be an idiot to turn down the chance of spending the night with a beautiful woman like you, but it’s not just that. I enjoy being with you. I’d love to spend more time with you…”
My words petered out as I became aware of her shoulders convulsing in silent laughter. She noticed my expression of mild outrage and laughed out loud.
“I’m sorry Charlie, but you are so unlike any of the other men I’ve known. You should stop talking in case you say something we’ll both regret. Can I suggest my hotel? My room has a double bed and it’s close by.”
I reached for her hand and entwined my fingers in hers. It was as daring as I’d ever been with a woman, and it wasn’t until she squeezed my hand back that I stopped worrying whether I’d overstepped a boundary.
True to her word, the hotel was less than five minutes’ walk across the park. Her room was spacious and decidedly less basic than mine. She rang down for room service and ten minutes later we had champagne and strawberries and a fresh toothbrush and razor for me.
“I could ask for some pyjamas as well if you like,” she asked me.
I thought about what I would choose to wear to bed and declined. “I don’t usually bother with PJs,” I told her.
The golden bubbles went down a treat. Champagne, the king of wines and the wine of kings. The Pinot I’d enjoyed earlier in the evening had been nice, but it didn’t hold a candle to this stuff. And the strawberries! What a combination.
Fliss enjoyed me enjoying myself for a while then took the glass from my gently unresisting fingers putting it, with hers, on a convenient coffee table. She slid her arms up my chest and reached up to kiss me on the lips.
I kind of melted and went rigid at the same time.
“Is this your first time?” she asked me.
“What do you think?” I replied, finally managing to get my body under sufficient control to put my arms around her waist. The whole virgin complex yet another thing I didn’t get about being a guy. So I’d never done it. What was the big deal?
“I guess we should take it slowly then,” she said, reaching up to unbutton my shirt.
I could feel myself responding – rising to the occasion if you will – and took a step back. “Actually,” I said tentatively, “would it be alright if we just cuddled? At least to start with.”
The smile was back, swimming just beneath the surface but showing in her eyes and playing around the corners of her mouth. “Sure.”
She led me to the bed and, with an easy, practised movement, unzipped and stepped out of her dress. I followed her lead and slipped off my own shirt and trousers, climbing into bed beside her.
Skin to skin, with her head and shoulders tucked under my arm and a slender hand resting on my chest, I felt the tension drain out of me. Amazing how the acceptance and closeness of just one person could affect me so.
“Thank you,” I breathed softly. I could have stayed like that forever.
The hand began to trace random shapes in the forest of my chest hair, making its way through dense foliage towards the south. Before long, it encountered my little soldier, standing rigidly to attention and awaiting further orders.
“I’m afraid,” I said.
“What of? I promise I’ll be gentle.”
“No, it’s not that. It’s just that when I, er, you know, er climax sort of thing, I’m worried that it’ll all be over, and I don’t want this ever to end.”
She propped herself up on one elbow. “You know this is only going to be for tonight, don’t you? I mean you’re sweet and you’re astonishingly different, but what we have here isn’t likely to survive the dawn.”
“I guess so, but then all the more reason to make it last.”
“Well I was kind of hoping you’d be up for more than just the once you know, but that’s not really what this is about is it? I mean you’ve never done anything like this before, which from my experience means you should be jumping all over me right now, but you really don’t want to have sex with me do you?”
I didn’t trust myself to answer. Silent tears leaked from the corners of my eyes, and I was worried there’d be a catch to my voice should I try to use it. I was grateful for the darkness hiding my weakness, and at the same time I wished I didn’t have to hide it.
A gentle hand caressed my cheek, breaking a damp trail. Felicity didn’t say anything, but snuggled closer, her hand returning to the matting on my chest.
It was a long time later that she broke the silence. I had started to wonder if she’d fallen asleep beside me, but her breathing hadn’t slowed and steadied as it did in the books I’d read, so I wasn’t surprised when she spoke, even though her words sent a chill through me.
“You hide it really well.”
“What do you mean?” Automatic defences, but too little and too late.
“I mean I should have figured it out a lot earlier. No wonder you didn’t care about the money. Except that much would have gone a long way towards fixing your problem you know?”
I gave up trying to hide. “There is no fix for my problem. I either get to live the rest of my life like this, or I spend a whole bunch of cash I don’t have on changing myself into something else that wouldn’t be me.”
“That pile of chips you lost would have paid for the change.”
“I know, but it wouldn’t have been enough. No amount of surgery could change me into the way I feel inside.”
“There are a lot of women who feel the same way you know. We all dream of the happily ever after, as beautiful as Snow White with a Prince Charming to love, but not many of us actually realise the dream. Most of those who do find that the dream isn’t what they thought it would be.”
“I know.” I could feel the frustration building inside me. How could I make her understand? She thought I was talking about being pretty, and I have to admit that I would have liked that. Looks weren’t important though. I wanted to be seen as something other than a freak.
I sat up and swung my legs over the side of the bed. A moment later Fliss turned on her bedside lamp and sat behind me, resting her head against my back.
“It’s like this, Fliss. You see me as a man. Everyone who knows me or meets me sees me as a man. Unconsciously they respond to me as a man, and they expect me to respond back to them as a man. I’m not a man though. I’m not entirely sure what I am, but I’m definitely not the man they expect me to be.
“I know how to pretend. Someone breaks wind and I laugh along with the rest of them, but without thinking it’s funny. A well-endowed girl walks by and I copy the tongue-lolling drooly thing that my friends are doing, but inside I’m more interested in what she’s wearing, how she’s done her hair and makeup, what jewellery she has on, what her shoes are like.
“I spend time with girls, like tonight with you, and mostly they expect me to be gallant and confident and gentlemanly, but all I know how to do is be passive and submissive, and wait with a desperate longing for whoever I’m with to make the first move.”
“I did notice that.”
“I know, and you did take control, and even that didn’t seem quite right. I’ve been pretending to be a normal guy for so long that when the opportunity came for me to be the me inside for a change, I couldn’t respond, because, well I guess I’m so used to doing the normal thing, it just felt wrong.
“Even now that you’ve figured out what I am inside, you probably still see me as a man, albeit a girly one. You still expect male reactions from me that I just don’t know how to give. Like earlier when you started reaching for the little guy.”
“Not so little.”
“Which is a comment designed to make a man feel better about himself, so you still don’t see that I just don’t care. You wanted to play with it, and I… I got all confused. There was a part of me, still is, that would love to put it to its proper use, but there’s also that part of me that sees it as something that just gets in the way. I’ve had orgasms before, I mean virgin or not, I am human so I have played with it and I know what it feels like, both during and after. Guys get that explosive release followed by a complete mood change, and the moods been so perfect up until now that I haven’t wanted to change it.
“You say that the less fortunate girls don’t get to realise their dreams, and you’re right. What they do get though is to be seen as girls – not very good looking girls perhaps, but girls all the same. That means that they get treated as girls, not in the way you and everyone else sees me. I’m a bloke and blokes are supposed to suck it up and get on with life, only when you carry a wrongness about with you every aching moment of every day, there is no sucking it up.
“I’ve never had a relationship with a girl, not really to speak of, because I can’t be the boyfriend she wants me to be, and she wouldn’t want me as a girlfriend with… unconventional appendages. Normally I dress like a slob because looking good as a man does nothing for me. Actually that’s not true, it highlights just how much I can’t be the way I want to be. If I were to dress in pink frilly shirts, people would still see me as an effeminate man and not a guy with a girl trapped inside him screaming to get out. So in the end, all I have is this pretence.”
I’d run out of rant. I shut up and Felicity, who had been sitting quietly listening, spoke up.
“Are you attracted to men?”
“What?” Not the question I’d been expecting.
“I said, are you attracted to men?”
“I don’t know.”
“What do you mean? Either you are or you aren’t.”
“I’m… It’s complicated. I can’t imagine myself in a same sex relationship. As long as I see this face in the mirror every morning, I won’t be able to imagine myself sharing a bed with a bloke. In my dreams though, where I’m as beautiful as you are, there is a handsome prince.
“It’s perspective I think. I respond to the way I think people see me. If I were in a relationship with a man, that would mean he would see me as a homosexual man, and that’s not who and what I am.”
“God, you are a mess aren’t you? Surely you’d be better off if you… what’s the word? Transition?”
I sighed. “No, because then everyone would see me as a man who’s chosen to change himself into something like a woman. I’m not a man. I’ve never been a man, not entirely, and that’s what I need people to see and accept in me.”
“Do you dress up?”
“In dresses and stuff? It’s a bit difficult finding clothes in my size, especially shoes – not many places make size eleven heels – but yes, I do have a small stash of women’s clothing, and I do dress up in private from time to time when I can’t cope with being who I am anymore.”
“Why in private?”
“Because I look bloody ridiculous.” I stood up abruptly and she all but fell off the bed behind me. “I mean I know I’m not that bad looking as a man, but six foot two, fourteen stone, broad shoulders, shit you can imagine what I’d look like in a floral print dress.” I gestured at my body with more disgust than it deserved. I mean if I were looking at me from behind her eyes I’d probably be enjoying the view.
“So why do you do it at all?”
“I don’t know. It was the clothes that attracted me to start with. In part it was the look and feel of them, they were so soft and pretty, and I was young enough that I could actually see something of the girl I wanted to be while I was wearing them. Then by the time I’d lost that, it had become a habit, something I did that had made me feel better in the past. These days, I guess it’s a symbol of my hopes and dreams, lost and shattered as they are.”
“So what are you hoping for? You say while you breathe you hope, so what could change that would make things right?”
I ran out of answers. My dearest wish would have been to trade places with her or someone like her. At a pinch I would have taken any female body, as long as it was recognisably and unquestioningly so. I wanted her life. I wanted to be her, to feel what it was like to be treated as a woman by men and women alike. I wanted the attention of handsome men. I wanted the wolf whistles from potbellied, bum-crack displaying workmen. I wanted the friendship, and even the envy, of other women. I wanted the way people saw me to match the way I was inside. But there was no way I was ever going to get that – not in real life.
So what was I waiting for? If there was no chance of my realising my dream, what was there to hope for? Maybe in the next life I could have a body that matched my mind. Maybe if I couldn’t have what I needed here and now, then I could live in the hope that there was an afterlife or at least a next time around where I could be who I was on the outside as well as the inside.
So why wait? If that was what I was hoping for, why not hasten the end of this miserable existence so I could get on with the next one? Could I be so careless of this life? I mean I had a lot of things that most of the world’s population only dreamed of. Was I being unreasonable to want something more when I already had so much? No I couldn’t believe that I was. All the wealth I had simply from being born into the developed world didn’t count for anything when I was so much at odds with myself.
So what could I hope for? What, realistically, was there in this world that could help my soul to find peace?
“I don’t want to be alone. That’s what happens when you carry a secret like this. You can surround yourself with people, but because they see something different from the way you are, from the way you see yourself, that separates you from them in a way that distance can’t. I wish people could see me for who I really am, but I don’t dare show the world because almost nobody understands. Whatever I might do to let the girl out would be seen as freaky and wrong, and then I’d be alone all over again, but without even the pretence of having people around who’d accept me.
“I guess I’m looking for someone who understands me. For a place in this world where I can be who I am on the inside without being judged by my outward appearance – either that or for some miracle to change me so that I fit.”
“If you could change on the inside, would you do it?”
“Don’t you think I’ve tried?”
“I imagine you have. Sorry, that came out far more insensitive than I intended. No, what if you got your miracle, but instead of changing your outward appearance, it changed your inner spirit – made you more of a man on the inside. Would you want that?”
“I guess it would be better than what I have now, but then I wouldn’t be me anymore. I like who I am on the inside. If I were naturally more male I would be more aggressive and independent, less sensitive to other people’s needs. I like that about me and wouldn’t really want to lose it. I mean would you want to be a man?”
“No I suppose I wouldn’t, but then I’m happy with who I am. I’m not in your shoes am I?”
“Try putting yourself there then. Imagine yourself living in this body, but with the kind of thoughts and feelings about life you have right now.”
“Yeah, I can see what that would be like, and you’re right, I’d hate to see you change. There’s something about you, the way you are right now. Once you get past the mess and confusion on the surface, there’s real depth to you. You’re considerate of others and you’re prepared to struggle on with the burden nature dumped on you.” She climbed off the bed and walked up to me, wrapping her arms around my waist and leaning her head against my chest. “Trials and hardship build character, they say, and they couldn’t have spoken truer in your case. I’d hate to see you lose that.”
I settled my arms around her and rested my head on hers, breathing in the soft, warm scent of her hair. There wasn’t anything sexual about the embrace – rather it was intimate to a degree I’d never experienced before. This was the sort of thing I’d been looking for, but she’d said this was just for tonight. However much I needed it right now, how much worse would I feel in the morning when she was gone?
“I’d better go,” I murmured into her ear, gently disengaging from her.
“Don’t be a twit,” she said gently. “Your hotel is half an hour’s walk away and it’s late. The least I can do is offer you a comfortable bed to sleep in tonight. I won’t try anything, honest.”
I felt my resolve drain away. It hadn’t been that strong in the first place, and now it was gone. She pulled gently at my hands and I followed her meekly back to the bed.
I lay facing away from her and curled into a ball. At least as close to a ball as I could manage – my large frame and lack of suppleness limiting how much I could bend. I forced a blankness over my mind. Our conversation had brought me to the brink of an abyss, and I found myself gazing down into the hopelessness of my situation. I couldn’t afford to look any deeper for fear that I might give in to despair completely, and that wouldn’t lead anywhere good.
Fliss spooned up behind me and draped an arm over my shoulder. It helped. Something of the darkness faded at her touch. The shadows receded and sleep beckoned.
“You know, I really like you Charlie.” The voice was so quiet it might have been the beginning of a dream. “I don’t usually play favourites. Young or old, rich or poor, good or bad, I come into everybody’s life now and again. I never stay, and I’m rarely around long enough to make a difference. I think I just might try for you though.”
“Mmn, that’s nice,” I mumbled. “Does that mean you’ll still be here in the morning?”
“In a way Charlie. In a way.”
I awoke to find the bed next to me empty. I sat up and looked around. The only evidence of Fliss having been there was the dimple in the mattress beside me and the second champagne glass with its lipstick stained rim.
I sighed heavily and felt a familiar weight descend on my soul. Shit, shower and shave. Three S’s to start the day. Routine is your friend; it keeps you going when you can’t find the will to do it yourself.
I picked up my suit from the floor where I had discarded it the night before. It was a little crumpled, but it would do until I could get back to my hotel and change. I dressed quickly, picked up the key and headed downstairs.
At reception, I handed the key across and watched the clerk tap away briefly at his computer. There was a moment’s apprehension as I wondered if she’d left the bill unpaid, but it was short lived as the man looked up at me with a smile.
“Thank you sir. The young lady asked me to tell you that breakfast is included with the room. The breakfast bar is across the hall over there. Have a pleasant day.”
I wandered across the lobby, feeling a twinge of shame for my lack of trust and a twinge of hope that perhaps Felicity would be sitting at a table waiting for me. The room was empty though, except for the serving staff, so I helped myself to a plateful of scrambled eggs and a croissant, and found an empty table by the window.
The hotel looked out on the park where Fliss and I had walked the previous evening, and I lost myself in the view, watching early morning joggers and dog walkers pass back and forth across the stripe of greenery.
A waitress appeared at my table carry two silver jugs.
“Coffee please,” I said. I was going to need caffeine if I was going to get through this day. It was strong and black as tar, and smelt of heaven.
“So tell me about this new idea for a treatment you’ve come up with.”
I glanced up at the intruding voice. It belonged to an elderly man, smartly dressed in a well-tailored suit. He was addressing a similarly attired younger man and they were carrying their trays across to the table next to mine. Why was it that in a room this size – large enough to fit thirty tables comfortably – that they had to come and sit next to me?
“Well, I’ve been thinking about how we treat GID, and I think we’re going about it all wrong.”
That grabbed my attention, assuming he was talking about what I thought he was talking about.
“The generally accepted treatment for gender dysphoria is gender reassignment. It’s been that way since John Money started the whole thing fifty odd years ago, but is it really working? There are a number of studies that question its effectiveness, especially long term.
“Now, I don’t want to criticise the profession, and I’m sure that a lot of people have been helped by transitioning, but most of the pre-op patients we’ve seen up until now have been so strongly affected by their condition that they’ve been driven out of hiding to seek the fairly drastic form of help we offer. Now that public awareness is growing, we’re seeing more people from a gentler part of the spectrum.
“Also, when it comes to post-op, there are a lot of patients who drop out of the follow up studies, and not enough has been done to find out why. There is evidence from recent studies to show that a significantly high proportion of post-operative transexuals continue with suicidal tendencies and psychiatric morbidity after their transition. If the treatment were completely effective, we wouldn’t be seeing anywhere near as many problems.
“We are dealing with people who have overwhelming identity issues, and our response is to treat the symptoms rather than the cause. A man comes to us who feels that he should be a woman, and we don’t ask why, we do a few tests to make sure he’s serious then we sign him off for the surgery. What if the reasons for his identity issues aren’t so cut and dried”
“So what are you suggesting?”
“I’m suggesting there might be a different way of approaching this. GID, we think, is caused by a person identifying more closely with the opposite gender to his or her own birth gender, but what if someone doesn’t truly identify with either? What if the reason a man feels the need to transition – and let’s face it, most gender dysphorics are male – is that he’s only been able to indulge the part of him that is male, and the part of him that is female has gone without attention for so long that it clamours to be recognised every day? What if he goes through GRS and afterwards it’s the male side of him – or rather her now – that is being ignored? Evidence from recent studies, like that one by the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm , show that a lot of post ops still have extreme difficulty fitting into society, and there’s a worryingly large proportion of them end up wanting to transition back.
“I’ve been wondering if, rather than trying to alter our patients to fit into established gender roles, we might try helping them to create their own non-standard gender role that fits who they are.”
“What do you mean?”
“Gender roles in human society are strongly defined. Men are traditionally the independent, strong bread winner types, and women, also traditionally, stay at home to nurture and raise the family. In the past those stereotypes have held true and something akin to Darwin’s evolution has maintained them. Anyone who didn’t fit the role they were born into didn’t have a place in society and generally didn’t have a family.
“In modern times the boundaries of gender roles have been blurred – women take on traditionally male roles and vice versa. Somehow though, the expectations we have of each other to fit into traditional male or female personae remain as strong as ever. We still criticise men who are sensitive and non-aggressive as being weak and effeminate, as though being a man with feminine characteristics is a bad thing. Similarly a woman who is butch and aggressive is criticised for not being feminine enough.
“What if we were to take a group of transgendered people and help them not so much by changing them to fit their surroundings, but by changing their surroundings to fit them?”
“I still don’t get where you’re coming from.”
“What if we help their friends and families to accept them for who and what they are? What if we create an environment where a transgendered person can explore all aspects of his or her personality without fear of being rejected because they’re unconventional?
“So if a man wants to wear a dress, we try to talk his family into seeing that as alright?”
“Well, you make it sound absurd putting it that way, but essentially why not? It doesn’t have to be all frills and flounces, flowers and lace does it? Society, especially male society, has had a tendency to define male and female roles quite strictly, but in the modern world we are finding more and more people who break out of those strict definitions, so why not work to blur the boundaries deliberately? Would it be such a terrible world if a man with a gentler, more passive side was permitted to express it?”
“I doubt you’d get the ethics committee to agree. We have a proven treatment and you’d have to deny it to a group of patients in order to run your study.”
“But that’s the thing Mike. If you take the time to read the literature, you’ll realise that the treatment is not so well proven. We are simply pressured into believing it is by lobbyists. And what if I could find a group of transgenders who didn’t want to transition? People who accept that they have a problem, but don’t see sex change as the answer. People who are looking for something different.”
My coffee had gone cold so I waved to attract the attention of a waitress. She found me a fresh cup and poured me a new one. The older man behind me started speaking again, and I found myself drawn back into their conversation,
“Okay John, so what makes you think your idea will work any better? I mean you can’t expect a person stuck between genders to survive in the real world. They’d be crucified. Conventional people would reject them as being no different from the other transgendereds, and the TG element of society would probably turn away from them as lacking the commitment to go all the way.”
“Well for one thing Mike, people tend to follow the crowd. Put a bunch of normal people in a homophobic convention then drop in a man wearing a dress and everyone will stick their boot in, including the normal people who would ordinarily be more accepting. Put the same people in an LGBT convention and add a homophobe, and the same normals will join the majority in berating the intruder for his narrow-mindedness.”
“You’re saying that if we surround a transgendered individual with a support group, the majority of people they meet will fall in with the support group’s views.”
“Yes. I mean it won’t work in all cases, but it’d be a start. What’s more, it’ll start to educate the majority of society that being neither completely male nor female isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
“As to your second point, I remain convinced that the majority of transgendered individuals – the silent majority if you will; the ones who remain hidden in society – possess a mixture of male and female characteristics. Because they have an aspect to them that matches their physical appearance, they aren’t so driven to transition. Asking them which side of the fence they want to be on would be asking them to choose the least worst option – sort of devil and the deep blue sea, rock and a hard place kind of decision. If we knock the fence down and put them in the middle where they can access all aspects of their personalities, then they have a chance of finding a best rather than a least worst.
“I acknowledge that there’ll always be a need for GRS for those who possess entirely female personalities in entirely male bodies and vice versa, but just as a halfway house treatment wouldn’t work for them, so an all or nothing response is potentially harmful for those caught in the middle of the spectrum. What’s good for the goose isn’t good for the gander sort of thing.”
“Spare me the metaphors please John. You realise you’re going to have a major problem with religious groups on this one?”
“When do we not these days? The problems with religious groups is that they have their minds made up for them, quite often as a result of something that isn’t particularly close to logic. It’s something of a miracle that people still find God in the middle of all the rubbish, and probably enough of one to act as proof of His existence.”
“Okay John, it’s your career; I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I’ll sanction the research provided you can find a group of willing participants in the relevant demographic. You’ll have to find your own funding as well because I’m damn sure the appropriations committee won’t sanction a spend on this. Get your funding and your test subjects and you have a go.”
The two stood, breakfasted and ready to leave. I couldn’t let this chance slip through my fingers.
“Excuse me gentlemen. I’m sorry, I know it’s rude, but I couldn’t help overhearing your discussion just now. I was wondering if I might take your contact details.” This last I addressed to the younger man who, momentarily nonplussed, reached into his jacket and withdrew a wallet, from which he took a business card and passed it to me. “Thank you, I may well be in touch.”
“There you are John,” the old man laughed, clapping his colleague on the shoulder. “Maybe it won’t be as hard as all that to find your subjects and supporters.”
I wandered back to my hotel in a daze. Had I really just met someone who might be able to help? Had I really introduced myself to him and taken his card? I fished it out of my pocket for the umpteenth time, the neatly scripted writing on stiff white card already looking grubby and creased from the amount I’d handled it in the past thirty minutes.
The elevator door opened with an inevitable ding and a diminutive human thunderstorm in a pinstriped skirt and jacket charged out of it, colliding with me and sending me tumbling heavily onto my backside. She was half my weight which meant the force with which she rebounded from me was even more impressive. Her portfolio of artwork went flying, disgorging its contents across the hallway as she collided with the wall – I think I caught the sound of her head thumping against it – before landing in an undignified heap on the floor.
I looked across at her in shock and bewilderment and saw her staring back at me through skewed glasses under a mop of frizzy black curls.
“Are you alright?” I asked offering her a hand. “It sounded like you cracked your head pretty badly there.”
She ignored me and picked herself up off the floor, gingerly touching the back of her head and wincing.
“I’m fine thanks. Why don’t you watch where you’re going?”
Sometimes the best form of defence is to attack. And sometimes the best form of defence against such an attack is complete surrender. The collision had been more her fault than mine, but what did that really matter?
“You’re right. I’m sorry. Here let me help you with these things.” I stooped to gather her papers.
“No, don’t bother,” she followed me down grabbing so frantically at the artwork strewn across the floor that our heads came together with an audible crack.
“Ow!” I recoiled, rubbing my temple. “I hope you’re not going to blame that one on me too.”
She was rubbing her own forehead and trying to straighten her glasses. She burst out laughing and crying at the same time. Something told me she wouldn’t welcome a sympathetic hand, at least not from me, so I occupied myself gather up her strewn papers.
One of the sketches caught my eye and I started to leaf through the sheets in my hand. “Hey these are pretty good. Did you… did you design them all?”
She snatched them out of my hand. “They’re not for public viewing.” Then what I had said sunk home and she looked up at me warily. “Did you mean that, about them being good I mean?”
“Sure. I wouldn’t mind owning something like that myself.”
“Yeah right.” Defences slammed into place. “Everybody thinks I’m insane, that nobody would buy anything like this.”
“Then everybody’s wrong. I mean you have your work cut out marketing it right, but I don’t see any reason why guys wouldn’t be queuing round the corner to buy stuff like this.”
“Well I wish you’d been in the meeting I’ve just had then. My last hope at finding the investment I need to launch my product line. They liked some of my ideas, they said, but nobody’s going to persuade a man to wear a dress…”
“Is that what you call them? Dresses for men?”
“No of course not, I’m not stupid. They’re tunics.”
“They do look a bit like dresses.”
“And what if they do? What’s wrong with men wearing dresses? We have trousers and shirts made for women, so why not dresses for men? It wasn’t that many hundreds of years ago that men wore tunics and hose in any case. And when trousers were introduced into European society, men laughed at them and said they were unmanly. Go back a few centuries in any culture and you’ll find men and women wearing very similar clothes, the only difference being style, pattern and material. So why shouldn’t we have similar clothing? Why can’t men wear dresses as well?”
“You’re preaching to the choir, sister. I’d love to wear something like this.” I indicated the drawing on the top of her stack.
“You’re making fun of me.”
“I wouldn’t dare.”
“Alright, prove it then.”
“How would I do that?”
“You’re what? Six foot, six foot one?”
“I have some samples with me in your size. I dare you to wear them in public.”
“Do I win anything if I do?”
“You get to keep the clothes. And if you chicken out, you pay my hotel bill.”
“Deal. Lead the way.”
We found an empty elevator and she took us to her fifth floor room.
The whole outfit included a pair of satin boxers with lace trim, a pair of ribbed white tights that were thick enough to hide my hairy legs, a pair of soft leather, calf-length boots and the tunic itself which showed all the colours between rust and gold. Everything fit like a glove and felt far more comfortable than any of the stash of girl’s clothes I had hidden away at home.
Lisa – we’d exchanged names on the way up in the elevator – walked around me, examining me with a critical eye, tugging at bits here and there. Eventually she let me looking the mirror.
I didn’t look like a woman, that was one thing for certain, but I hardly looked like your average man either. I looked good, as good as I felt in fact. It turned out I had great legs and the tights did a fantastic job of showing them off. It was astonishing. I didn’t feel like a guy pretending to be a girl. I didn’t feel the guilt and vague disgust that usually accompanied my standing in front of a mirror wearing taffeta and lace, but neither did I feel any of the frustration of putting on a suit, or even jeans and a tee-shirt, and looking like every other bloke in the room. This was me. I felt like me. Like a guy who was different from every other guy in the room. Like a guy who enjoyed showing himself off a little, but not in a conventional sense.
“So what do you think?”
“Breath-taking,” I managed to breath out, more or less making a liar of myself.
“Well, I’m not sure I’d go that far, but you do look pretty good. You ready to go out in public?”
A wash of panic rushed through me. Go outside looking like this? Yes you great lummox, that was the whole idea of this, don’t you remember? You committed yourself to this deal so that you’d have to go through with it, because you can’t afford to pay her bill.
“Do you have this in green? I think green’s more my colour.”
“You’re right, I think the green would suit you better, but I only have the autumn colours in your size. You look good enough though, so are we going to do this or are you going to pay for my stay?”
“Well since you put it like that, lead the way.”
And she did, literally. She didn’t accompany me so much as march down to the lifts ahead of me and watch me as I followed her down the corridor. I felt horribly exposed, but kind of exhilarated at the same time. Both corridor and lift were empty so we didn’t encounter anyone else until we arrived in the lobby once more. It was mid-morning and business was picking up.
I walked across to the main reception, aware of the silence falling over the place, of the dozens of pairs of eyes turning my way. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do when I reached the desk, after all I had my key card in my wallet, which was in my jacket in a borrowed bag slung over my shoulder. I could ask if there were any messages for me I supposed, even though there were bound to be none. As it was, it didn’t quite go that far.
“Charlie,” Alec called out from across the hall. “What the fuck are you wearing man?”
I turned to face him and squared my shoulders. “Tell me I look like a pillock, I dare you.”
He shook his head. “No dude, you actually look pretty awesome. I’ve just never seen anything like it before. Where d’you get it?”
“Oh, I bumped into a clothes designer this morning,” way to be literal with the truth, “and she persuaded me to give it a try. I rather like it.”
“Whatever floats your boat man. Hey we’ve been looking for you all night. Where’d you disappear to?”
“I met someone.”
“Oh yeah, the chick with the green eyes. How d’you make out?”
“Better than expected.”
“Good for you. Hey guess what. There was this dude from the gaming commission in the casino last night. He was watching when you pulled your stunt on the roulette table. After you blew it all, and seriously man, I thought you were nuts doing that, he kind of introduced himself to the manager. It turns out he spotted something hinky about the way the ball moved in the wheel, so he had it dismantled. The fuckers had a kind of magnet thing in the bottom set to repel the ball from any number or numbers they chose. The gaming commission’s going to get involved and the owner here might lose his license. What’s more is they’re gonna count the spin as having landed on your number, which means you won man.”
He grabbed me by the arm and pulled me in the direction of the casino. I just had time to catch Lisa’s eye and beckon for her to follow.
We found the gaming commission’s representative studying security camera footage of the incident with a few of his colleagues. He pointed out the movement that had caught his eye and the others nodded in agreement. They turned to Alec and me as we approached, gave my unusual attire a brief questioning glance then carried on as though nothing were out of the ordinary.
“Ah, you must be Mr Chance. You’re dressed differently from last night.”
“Yes, I’m modelling some clothes for a friend. She’s over there in the doorway.”
The man whistled to the security guards who were preventing Lisa from joining us and gestured for her to be let through. He waited for her to catch up before continuing.
“I’ve been reviewing the evidence with my colleagues, Mr Chance. There will have to be a full enquiry, but it seems pretty cut and dried. You should receive your winnings by the end of the month. If you’ll give us an address where we can send the cheque.”
“My winnings?” I still hadn’t caught up with what was being said.
“Yes. Four million, two hundred and eighty-seven thousand, five hundred pounds. We’re counting that last spin of the wheel as having landed on zero, which I believe was your number Mr Chance?”
“Er yeah. You can do that?”
“It only seems fair after the house tried to swindle you.
“I notice you left with a certain lady. She goes by the name of Felicity Fortuna and we’ve been wanting to question her regarding a number of other incidents. Her presence shouldn’t affect your claim in this matter, but if there’s any information you can give us regarding her whereabouts, we’d be most grateful.”
“Sorry. She took me back to her hotel room, but she’d left before I woke in the morning.”
They seemed disappointed but not surprised and wandered off to continue their investigation leaving me in a dazed state.
Felicity Fortuna? Lady Luck, or was that too corny? In any case, perhaps it was time to put my good fortune to its proper use. Good luck deserves to be shared.
“Alec. You will let me pay for the wedding now, won’t you?”
“Four million quid! Shit yeah, I think you can afford it.”
“I may want to ask a rather unusual favour when you get back from honeymoon.”
“Anything dude. You pay for the wedding and we’ll owe you big time.”
“Lisa, how much do you need to set up your business?”
“Er, I don’t know. What? Are you serious?”
Never more so. I smiled and shrugged, then fished in my borrowed bag, pulling out the dog eared business card from my trouser pocket. I wondered how much it would cost to fund the young doctor’s research.