Twelve Days of Christmas

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Christmas Special!
There are many sorts of Real-Life Tests ...

Twelve Days of Christmas

By Itinerant
Edited by Amelia R.

Admin Note: Originally published on BigCloset TopShelf on Saturday 11-25-2006 at 1:35 pm, this retro classic Christmas Special was pulled out of the closet, and re-presented for our newer readers. ~Sephrena
 
 
January - Day 1:

~Crap!~

I crumpled the useless lottery ticket and pitched it in the wastebasket. I kept hoping that one day I'd win enough to at least take a nice, long cruise around the world -- somewhere far away from the all too familiar area of Atlanta -- but so far I'd only hit the smaller prizes. It was my one real vice, I guess; the pastor of my church liked to tease me about it, but since I didn't smoke, I figured I could indulge once a week.

"What the hell??"

The shock in Jack's voice was plain, and I popped up from my desk to look at whatever had prompted the outburst. I walked to where he stood looking out the window and just gaped at what I saw. It was ... Ken?

The kid was coming to work in a dress, of all things. His light brown hair was longer, but not by much, and looked shaggy; it appeared he hadn't gotten it cut since he'd taken his vacation.

The shock of the sight left me raking through my memory to try to figure out what might have happened. It had only been a couple of years since he'd been hired in, and I had been tapped to mentor him through his first year. He was bright, but shy -- not exactly the sort I expected to work out in sales. He worked exceptionally hard and managed to handle the job with a flair I hadn't anticipated. It was as if he let another side of himself out when he was working the phones. I had no problem giving Ken my unqualified approval at the end of his probationary period, and he was transitioned to a full-fledged member of our team.

His shy streak kept him out of most of the outings and parties we held for the department, and there were times I worried how well he'd function in the department over the long term, but there was nothing to fault him with, even after two years.

Until this morning.

I waited until he'd gotten to his desk with his coffee before I wandered over. The department was buzzing with speculation and snickers. Our quiet newbie had certainly started the year off with a bang!

The conversation was frustrating at best. No, he hadn't lost a bet. No, it wasn't a joke on someone at the company. No, he wasn't a cross-dresser. No, he really didn't care to get into what's going on just now, but he'd be dressing like this from now on.

I know my disappointment showed; Ken looked away, clearly embarrassed, and promised me that he'd explain everything later. He had to talk to Angus McBryde, our department head, first and the folks in HR.

He stood to leave as we both caught sight of Angus arriving, but paused before starting off. I almost wished he hadn't.

"Matt, I know you won't understand for a while -- if ever -- but I'm calling myself Margaret now."

 
 
February - Day 2:

The month from hell was the kindest thing I could say for it. Ken had endured a month that was far worse than the term 'hell' would describe, and those of us who worked with and around him had dealt with a horrible conflict of interest.

Margaret was even less outgoing than Ken, though it seemed some of the women were more successful in striking up conversations. It was kind of sad that he, even dressed as he was, was more accepted by the women than the men.

Still, I couldn't understand why he'd decided to pull this stunt. He'd been ignored for the first week or so after we'd all come back to work, but now he was getting physically abused. 'Accidental' bumps into corners, or doors slammed in his face, or even mysterious dents and scratches on his car showed the increasing displeasure of his co-workers.

I didn't know what to say, but about halfway through the second week, I'd come around a corner just in time to see Ken body checked into a wall by one of the first floor staff with a "Stay out of my way, faggot!"

Ken was silent as he picked up his scattered papers, but his eyes showed the emotional wound he'd taken.

~What could be so bad that someone would think this kind of abuse is an improvement?~

I found myself trying to escort him when I could, and in particular when he had to go to the first floor. For some reason, the inhabitants there were more prone to physical abuse. Our floor seemed to hover between quiet verbal heckling and sullen silence.

I made it clear to my own team that, whatever Ken's problem was, there would be hell to pay for the first person to lay a hand on Ken, no matter how he dressed.

 
 
March - Day 3:

The department meeting had been straightforward and pointed. The Human Resources VP had been cycling through every department in the company with a simple message: The physical and verbal harassment of anyone, for ANY reason, was against company policy -- not to mention state and federal law.

The battering Ke - Margaret had been taking had finally landed her in the nurse's station. That made it a matter for official notice, and the company had been forced to take action before lawyers got involved. The next infraction was going to result in an immediate termination. Margaret was, on the other hand, restricted to the unisex bathrooms on the first floor, as there was no way the male or female employees would put up with her in their rest rooms.

I'd managed to snag a seat in the back and watched as a signoff sheet was passed around that showed everyone was here and had been warned. Ken was sitting a couple of seats away; there was a ring of empty seats around him, but I could still hear her surprisingly feminine voice.

"I never wanted it to get to this point."

I just wish he -- she would be a little less close-mouthed about why this was all happening.

 
 
April - Day 4:

It was getting warmer now with the middle of the Georgia spring arriving, and I noticed that Margaret was wearing a lighter weight skirt today. She still wore long-sleeves, which I guessed was an attempt to hide bruises from off-work encounters with the less-tolerant population in the area. She was chatting with one of the administrative assistants as I waited for the coffee machine to deliver its nectar. It was the first chance I'd had to process the changes I'd seen since the first of the year.

The former Ken now sported a short, but definitely feminine hairstyle, and her body language was grating against the still male shape in the clothing. There was maybe a little more rounding here and there, but not enough to make him look much like a her.

I grabbed the coffee cup and headed back to my desk as I tried to understand what could possibly make the man do what he'd done.

I sipped on the hot liquid, thought about what I'd observed a few minutes before, and compared it to how Ken had interacted with the guys in the department. There were two points that jumped out at me: first, it was obvious that he was deliberately trying to mimic some of the body language of the women as he talked with them; second, it was clear from his body language that he was much more comfortable with himself now than he'd been a year ago.

It was as if, after years of hiding, he was beginning to show his real self.

 
 
May - Day 5:

Jack cracked another peanut shell as we waited for the steaks to arrive. He and I had gotten together one night a month for dinner since we'd hired in. We had one rule that we always followed -- no work discussions. It shocked me when Jack brought up our oddly dressed young problem.

He'd broken the rule, but we really needed to talk about it. Things at work had been a lot more awkward of late with the stress over Ken. The bulk of our team seemed uncomfortable with him, though they were willing to tolerate his presence. There were one or two who weren't so accommodating, though, and they made no secret of their opinions in the after-work sessions. I found myself agreeing with them at times; Ken's presence *was* disruptive. On the other hand, the youngster was at least as productive as last year; there was no job-related reason to do anything to him.

"Matt, you know as well as I do that what Ken's doing is unnatural. He may still be a good worker, but isn't there more to being a good employee than just how much money you bring in? Shouldn't it be just as important what kind of example you set?

"The guys in the print shop downstairs keep a close eye on him when he comes down their way, and they keep seeing him chatting up the girls. They say he's just trying to get into their skirts." He paused for a minute. "And you know they're trying to start rumors about you and him."

I shook my head at him. "Jack, if I'm pissing off the trolls on the first floor then I must be doing something right. Words are bad enough, but beating on someone is wrong no matter how they dress. They hurt the kid, and it could have been serious. I don't know why he's doing what he's doing, but the way he's put up with the abuse means it has to be awfully important to him."

"Matt, you're my friend. I just worry that you'll lose your friends if you keep sticking up for the weirdo."

 
 
June - Day 6:

~Well that really didn't help anything at ALL!~

I cursed myself for losing my temper as I dropped back into my chair. I still didn't understand how it all came apart, but one minute I was sitting there trying to ask Margaret a question, the next she was reaming me out for being as bad a bigot as the rest of them. I knew I had been pushing hard, but she hadn't ever gotten around to explaining why and how this all had started. She said she wasn't ready, yet, and I ... lost my temper. I didn't quite yell, but was using that intense whisper that's one step below hollering.

I'd tried to run interference for her within the department since no one else knew what was really going on, and I was getting tired of fighting blind after six months.

She wound up storming away from the table with tears of rage running down her face.

 
 
July - Day 7:

"Matt?"

The soft voice, and softer touch, made me jump as Margaret had come up behind me. I'd been so focused on work that I hadn't heard her. Any biting remark I had intended to make was stillborn as I saw the pleading look on her face. We hadn't spoken much during the last month; I was really irked at her refusal to explain and had determined to wait until *she* started a conversation.

I couldn't completely suppress the sigh, and she winced as she heard it, but it didn't deter her from her mission.

"Matt," she began, hesitantly, "I'm sorry. I know I haven't been helping you understand what I'm doing -- or why -- but I think I'm able to talk about it now, if you aren't too upset with me to listen."

She looked afraid and hopeful as she waited for my response; I really couldn't say no.

"Margaret, I'm still bugged about it, but I'll give you your chance. Do we meet at lunch, or after work?"

We finally agreed that lunch was most convenient, and there was a fairly quiet, secluded table in the office park where we could talk undisturbed.

I swung through the cafeteria for a sandwich combo, and sipped on the sweet tea as I walked out to the picnic table. Margaret was there already, watching patiently for my arrival.

I sat on the bench opposite her, and we talked as we ate.

"Why, Margaret? Why all this?" I waved at the person Ken had become.

She had a bittersweet smile on her face as she sat back. "Do you know you sound just like my father right now? All I can say is that I had to." She paused. "As long as I can remember, I've known something was wrong, Matt. I was a tolerable soccer player as I grew up, but I just had no interest in most guy things. Football was a bore -- almost a sin in Georgia -- and baseball wasn't much better.

"My parents didn't help; they kept pushing for me to get more involved with team sports. 'It'll help you get over your shyness,' they said. I spent most of high school riding one bench or another, never getting into the games, and never caring.

"When I got to college, it was better for the most part. I wasn't at home, and no one paid attention to me in the dorms. In a way it was worse, though, because I finally had time to think without distractions." Margaret's voice trembled with stress, or hurt, or both.

"Have you ever wondered why I always wear long sleeves, Matt?"

I admitted that I did, especially in Hot-lanta in the summer.

She carefully unbuttoned her cuffs and pulled back both sleeves to the elbow. Her wrists had nasty looking scars across their width.

I know I stared for a while, but she patiently waited for me to look back up. Her eyes were calm, and unapologetic. She spoke again as she pulled her sleeves back down and refastened the buttons.

"During the summer between my junior and senior years I finally 'flipped'. I woke up in a hospital with these," she raised her hands, "and a vague memory of pills and a knife. My roommate had gotten back early enough to call the paramedics and keep me from bleeding out completely. My parents showed up the next afternoon and demanded I see a shrink."

She giggled. "I think they came to regret the decision, but it was too late by then. The shrink and I went through a couple of years of therapy before we finally got to the root of the problem. It was the first time I'd ever heard of Gender Identity Disorder, but it boils down to having a mismatch between my body and mind. Some people call it being transgendered or transsexual."

She shrugged. "The doc said I tested out as being a female between the ears, so I had a choice: I could go through therapy to try to make my mental workings more male, or go through mental therapy and surgery to make my body match my mind." She gestured at herself in a deliberate echo of my earlier gesture. "I think you can see what my choice was. Just before Christmas last year, my therapist said I was ready to start my real-life test. That's why I showed up looking like I did after New Year's."

"Why couldn't you *tell* me what was going on? It would have helped me know how to answer some of the guys who had questions."

She looked ashamed. "I ... was afraid. You were the one who'd trained me when I first came to work, and I really respected you; then you stuck up for me when the creeps started beating up on me, and I worried that if I told you everything that you'd abandon me."

I snickered, and then laughed as she looked up with a startled and hurt look. "Maggie, you really don't know me very well. My family is Scottish, Irish, and German all the way back to my first ancestors who came over three hundred years ago. We're stubborn, and we don't abandon friends."

Her lips quivered and tears welled up in her eyes. I shook my head as I pulled my handkerchief out and handed it over.

"Use that to catch those tears before your makeup runs."

 
 

August - Day 8:

Margaret and I had a few more talks over the next month, and I tried to get my head around the idea of what she was going through. The idea that she'd tried to commit suicide left me with nightmares for days afterward, and I found I was spending time at the Georgia Tech library trying to figure out what Margaret was dealing with.

I found myself reading the newspaper with more attentiveness and began to realize that Maggie was lucky -- she was still alive. People like her were all too frequently beaten, maimed, and even murdered just because they didn't fit the model.

I just didn't understand how anyone could *do* that.

It made it worse when some of the articles had statements from the offender's pastor saying what a good person they were and how they had to have been provoked.

I couldn't help wonder just how well the Pharisees would have gotten along with them.

 
 
September - Day 9:

"Freak lover!"

I had quit reacting to the little loving comments weeks ago. The last two months had been a delightful, slowly rising tide of similar statements from people I'd thought were friends, or at least not enemies.

The guys in my department weren't a problem anymore. They were a little more stand-offish, but not one had even made an inappropriate crack after the first couple of weeks. Angus had made sure that he'd circulated around the cubes a bit more, and a quiet word or two had squelched the couple of jokers whose sense of humor needed work.

The Neanderthals on the first floor though were determined to make their displeasure known. I'd been pegged as the prime target, since I had made a point of watching over Maggie whenever I could on her excursions to the other floors.

She'd become a fixture in the flock of women who gathered for lunch, and it was good to see how animated and comfortable they all were. It was apparent that the interaction was doing Maggie a lot of good in other ways, too. Her clothing was a better fit, and her makeup was showing marked improvement. I'd caught a couple of envious comments about her runway model figure. It was all to the good as far as I was concerned.

The girl needed all the encouragement she could get.

 
 
October - Day 10:

I kept looking back over the last few months and wondering how I got here. I was looking for another church that didn't seem to be ready to lynch people like Maggie and her friends, but Sundays seemed to keep picking at a wound that didn't seem to want to heal.

It hurt to think that people I'd known for years would be that venomous, but I'd gone from long time member to freak-loving heretic in their eyes. The pastor had come by first, then two of the board of elders, trying to make me 'turn from my sins.' I kept trying to tell them that I just wanted to treat Maggie like I should, but....

I got the letter a week ago, now. I was 'under church discipline' it said because I refused to acknowledge and repent of my sins. I had been stricken from the membership roll and would be refused any further pastoral care until I was ready to repudiate what I'd done.

Maggie had stopped during the morning and asked why I was looking glum. I found myself choking up as I explained what had happened -- I understood a bit more how she must have felt when trying to tell me about her GID.

Her eyes shimmered with sympathetic tears. "I'm so sorry, Matt. I had to do what I did, but I truly never wanted you to suffer for my choice." She patted my arm sympathetically.

I forced as much of a smile as I could manage. "It wasn't your doing, Maggie. I made my own choices along the way, too."

A little later, she stopped by and mentioned that some of her friends attended a church that was open and welcoming.

"They're even pretty good about backsliders who have the gumption to make friends with people like me."

"You attend there?"

She looked sad for a second as she shook her head.

"No, I have too many bad memories ... even for a place I know I'd be welcome."

~So much for Christian love....~

 
 
November - Day 11:

"I'm sorry, Matt, but with everything that's happened this year..."

Jack's voice trailed off, and he looked sheepish. He'd stopped by to make sure I knew I wasn't invited this year to the football bash.

I stamped down, hard, on my impulse to take my feelings out on him -- it wasn't just his fault -- but I still felt betrayed. Damn it, we'd been friends since we hired in, but this last year had put a strain on everyone. I guessed that some of the rumors from the first floor had gotten around, and the wives and girlfriends didn't want to deal with a weirdo, or even someone who stuck up for a weirdo.

My mother had extended her annual invitation, and it wasn't all that unusual for me to accept. I had a feeling that the conversations could be a lot different from the usual this year.

It was hard to feel too sorry for myself; at least I had a family to spend time with. Maggie's family still wasn't happy with her, and she'd mentioned that she was planning a quiet holiday for herself.

"You're resting up for the shopping mania on Friday?" I asked, half-seriously.

"No. I'm cutting out almost all my Christmas shopping, so I can save up for my surgery. It costs an awful lot, so it'll be a couple of years at best before I can have the rest of my birth defect fixed."

I nodded and tried for a little levity. "It's not the sort of thing that our insurance plan is just begging to cover, either, I suspect."

She stuck out her tongue at me, accepting the intended humor though she was clearly unhappy with the situation.

 
 
December - Day 12:

I looked at the lottery ticket in my hand, and then back at the web site to double check.

I'd won one of the second prizes, and just in time for Christmas!

It might only be the prize for the five white balls in 'Mega Millions' and a quarter of a million dollars -- before taxes, of course -- but it was the first time I'd won more than a hundred and fifty dollars in any of the games. I'd clear about hundred grand when all was said and done.

I couldn't quite wipe the grin on my face at the thought of getting away from the hell-hole that Atlanta had become in the last few months and taking that around the world cruise that I'd dreamed of. I was tired of fighting every damn day with a bunch of brain-dead, slack-jawed....

I ground my teeth as I fought the anger down again.

Maggie's arrival, announced by a swish of fabric and tell-tale perfume, interrupted my thoughts. It had been almost a year now since her first appearance at work, and I shook my head at the pronoun I used in my thoughts without even hesitating.

Maggie had said her real life test would be over just before the first of the year, and if her doctor and therapist approved she'd be allowed to schedule surgery -- if she could find the money.

I sighed, and looked at the ticket again -- and saw scarred wrists in its place.

What else could I do?

I turned to the computer again....

A few minutes later, Maggie went to grab her morning coffee, and I looked one more time at the folded paper in my hand. It was a small fortune to me and would be the key to making some of my dreams come true, but how much was a life worth?

I'd miss the travel, but there would be other tickets and other chances.

I left the ticket folded within the printout -- with the payout highlighted in yellow -- on her desk with a small subscript:

Merry Christmas, Maggie.

Notes:

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