Bad enough I have to write a diary for school. So why did I write another one? To tell the truth …
Stupid Diary, by Karin Bishop
I finally heard about the early release. I’m going to get it! I think …the district approved it, the school approved it, but now it’s ‘subject to teacher availability’ which means if any teacher chose to keep me the full year, they could just not be ‘available’ for my final and grading.
Mom’s gotten a promotion at the hospital with more paperwork and less legwork, the way she says it. The main thing is that she’ll have more regular hours, be home at the same time most nights, and be able to plan vacations. Our New York trip was so incredible I can’t imagine what she’ll come up with next!
Just got the approval of all of my teachers. I’ve taken three finals and got A’s, so maybe my good luck will hold!
Two more down, an A and an A-. One final left, and a group presentation in another class, and I’m done.
Aced it ( I think!) and the group presentation went well. I won’t say what class it was, but it was a karma thing—one of the three of us was a slacker, like I used to be, and was just dead wood. So the other girl and I had to double-up our work to cover for him. No wonder people didn’t like the old me—if they even knew the old me.
Things are going really good with my friends except for one exception. I got kind of in the middle of a romantic triangle and I didn’t even know it, until my friend told me how badly it hurt. So I think I cleaned up the confusion, because that’s all it was, and everything seems fine now.
I want to go on record about the early release. I’m not doing it because I don’t like school. And I’m not writing this part to ‘butter up’ Mrs. McKenzie! I’ve grown to love school. I always shied away from the challenge, but the challenge is the fun part. Each test is like a mountain to climb, and each one needs a different set of climbing tools (math tools, English tools, whatever) and each climb is difficult and different, but at the end you get as high on the mountain as were your efforts. And when you get to the top, it’s such a great feeling!
So I’m not getting out of school early because I don’t like school, but for some other, completely unrelated personal (and medical) reasons. Just wanted to state that for the record.
And so this has been my diary or journal, and it’s not stupid. It might be one entry short because of the early release, but I hope that won’t be held against me.
I’ve learned a lot about myself, about life, and …just everything. This has been a transformative year for me and for my family and friends, and I feel ready to face high school and life!
Sincerely, Larry Hanson.
May Truth Time
I was getting concerned about keeping up the Larry thing at school. Oh, I could slump and shuffle all I wanted, but the plain fact is that my body was getting curvier. My breasts were developing—Yay!—and my butt was getting rounder. I had to find baggier and baggier clothes, which is getting to be a problem as we had an early spring and the days were getting hotter. All of the kids at school wore less and less, like girls in tanks and guys in tees, and there I am in a long-sleeved Pendleton.
Then, weirdness hit. I was at Celia’s with Monica and Jeannie, a girl from a Catholic girls’ school who knew me as Larissa and knew about Larry but had never ‘met him’, and Monica was being strange to me. It was like I wasn’t in the room. Finally the cold shoulder treatment was obvious to everybody and I said, “Mon, have I done something wrong? Or not done something right?”
She kind of sniffed at me and said it was nothing, but Celia and Jeannie wanted to know, too, and Monica said the most bizarre thing.”I wonder if you only became a girl so you could steal my boyfriend.”
I frowned, stunned, and looked at the others; they were as mystified as I was.
Celia said, “But you and Rick are going strong, right?”
Monica’s voice caught a little bit. “I’ve been kind of faking it with you guys. We’re in a …weird place.” She looked at me. “He likes Larry.”
All three of us cried out, “What?”
Monica nodded, on the edge of tears. “He said there was something going on with him, that he thought Larry was ‘cute’, and it made him think that maybe he was gay, and that it wasn’t fair to me because he really …he said he really loves me …” She broke down and we all rushed to hug her and console her, even me. Celia gave me an advisory look and I pulled back at the last second.
I said, “Mon, I haven’t said or done anything …I mean, I haven’t even talked to Rick. Ever. I don’t have any classes with him …well, we had Math last year, but nothing this year. I’ve only been happy that you and he were together. I’ve never even talked to him!” I protested again.
Celia said, “Didn’t you talk to him about asking Monica to the Ball?”
“No, because I don’t know the guy!” I protested. “I know guys who know him, so I asked them, and worked it that way.”
Monica sniffed. “You haven’t talked to him?”
“Monica, I swear it, on my life, on my mother’s life, I’ve never said anything to Rick since maybe, ‘pass me the papers’ in Math last year. If I even said that. I didn’t even go to a lot of classes back then, remember?”
Celia nodded, looked at Monica and said, “So what’s he talking about?”
Mon said, “I told you. He’s always seemed like a real straight guy …I don’t mean the obvious …I mean, you know, no BS. I don’t get it.”
“I do,” I said, frowning as I thought. “I don’t think or feel like guys do, but I do have a pretty good idea about how they think and feel. What they say and what they don’t say and what they mean.”
“She’s kind of like our own undercover spy,” Celia grinned.
“Kind of,” I smiled back, “but it’s unpleasant on a daily basis. Anyway, from what I know about Rick, you’re right, Mon. He really is a straight shooter. A really good guy. Um …does he look at other girls?”
“Well, he says he doesn’t …I mean, he never says anything like ‘whoa, check her out’. But I’ve seen him looking. Like at the mall or something.”
I thought and said, “Is he like …the two of you are some place alone and he’s totally focused on you? Like alone at the beach or a picnic or something?”
“God, yes!” Monica smiled. “We had this special place in the park, for our one month, you know, and …” She stopped abruptly. “So, yeah.” The other girls hid their giggles.
I nodded. “And you’re like at the mall or talking in the halls at school and he’s, like, distracted?” She nodded. I nodded back. “But he doesn’t say anything about what’s distracting him?”
“Yes. We’ve almost gotten in fights about it because I’d say, like, ‘are you listening to me?’ and it just messes things up.”
“I think I might know what’s up,” I smiled. “Monica, he’s really into you and he’s a good guy. Look, all teenage boys—and probably all grown-up men—look at girls. All the time. Non-stop. They can’t help it. It’s built into their machinery. It’s just one of the ways I knew I wasn’t like them.”
“Got that right,” Celia said and poked me in the shoulder. “Mr. Macho.”
“This is so weird,” Jeannie said. “I know Larissa and I’ve never met Larry and I can’t for a second believe that you’re getting away with pretending to be a boy at school.”
Celia and Monica both told her to ‘believe it’, and I took it as a good sign that Monica was at least speaking about me again. I went on, “Look, when a guy’s still immature, he is going, ‘whoa, check her out!’ all the time, out loud. It’s one way they kind of validate themselves as guys, or think they have to. But when a guy is a little more under control, more considerate, his brain is going ‘whoa, check her out!’ all the time—‘cause he can’t control that—but he doesn’t say anything because he’s more mature, and he’s into you. But he’s distracted—especially at the mall or school or wherever there’s a lot of girls—and his brain can’t handle the overload.” I grinned at Monica. “Just don’t take him into Hollister or Abercrombie.”
“Omigod!” she gasped. “You’re right! He totally zoned out in Hollister.”
Celia said, “But he’s a good guy and doesn’t say anything to hurt your feelings.”
I said, “And you really can’t blame him; he can’t help it—it’s just the way males are wired. His brain is automatically scanning girls left and right and it’s all this data going in and—” I stopped myself, shocked by what I’d just realized. My mouth was open and I looked at the girls.
Celia’s eyes were wide; she’d realized it, too. “Oh …my …God!”
“What?” from Jeannie and Monica.
Celia looked at me and slowly nodded. “You …he thinks you …omigod!”
“Yes, yes; omigod, omigod, what?” Monica almost screamed.
Celia said, “He’s broken through the Larry barrier.”
I snorted at that but nodded while Celia explained. “Rick probably doesn’t know Larry very well, if he remembers him at all. Sorry, but it’s true,” she said, and I nodded agreeably. “But he must have seen Larry walking down the hall and somehow …saw Larissa. Maybe the light caught her or maybe she—let—her—guard—down!” Celia punched my shoulder on each of those last words.
“Ow!” I said, grabbing my shoulder. “It’s not my fault!”
Jeannie said, “I don’t know anybody involved, but let me see if I got it.” To me, she said, “All the kids have known you—I mean, known Larry—for like, forever. And so they kind of mentally have a slot for you in their heads, a category. But somehow Rick saw you fresh, like a new girl at school, and his brain saw …well, the new girl at school?”
Celia and I nodded.
Jeannie nodded, too. “We had a girl, April Sanchez. Little nothing, meek and mild, and this year she’s suddenly all Goth and in your face. Nobody recognized her; we couldn’t make her be little April in our heads.”
Monica said, “So he looked at you and saw a cute girl. I get that; I see it, too …so what’s this gay thing?”
I said, “I think his rational brain—the tiny part that isn’t full of raging male hormones—kicked in and said ‘But that’s Larry Hanson; you had class with him last year’ and—”
Celia took over, excited. “—and that was enough to kick what he saw back to the old slot, the old Larry category! And so his brain starts locking up.” She took on a gruff, fake boy’s voice, taking both sides of an argument. “Whoa, check her out! Wait a minute, that’s Larry, we did Math last year. But she’s a babe! No, no, man, she’s a dude! No, she’s a babe, I know a babe when Little Rick stands up and salutes.”
“Celia!” Monica shouted, laughing.
Celia went on with her boy-brain dialogue. “No, man, she’s a dude—we had PE together. Oh, God, why is Little Rick becoming Big Rick?”
“Celia!” I shouted and poked her shoulder.
She grabbed it, giggled, and went on with the boy’s voice. “But I’m turned on by a dude …omigod, I must be gay!”
I said, “And that’s when the extra-special good guy part of him kicked in. Poor guy’s probably staying up at night wondering why he was attracted to a boy, and wondering about other boys, if he feels the same way. Gotta be hell for him.”
“Serves him right for looking,” Monica said.
“No, Mon; he can’t help it; no guy can. You might as well get upset at a dog sniffing a tree.” That brought giggles. “But think how miserable, how confused he must be. He might really think he’s gay. But he’s a good guy, like I said. He really cares for you, and the good guy voice says,” I glanced at Celia, then put my hands together like in prayer and said piously, “Monica’s much too nice a girl to be lying to, if I’m gay.”
Jeannie said, “You’ve gotta tell him.”
“Tell him what?” Celia said. “That he’s wrong and right, that he’s not gay; Larissa is a babe? That will blow her cover at school.”
“Yeah, but I don’t want Monica to be hurting. Or Rick to have to go on thinking something wrong about himself.”
Celia said, “We’ve gotta tell him, but how?”
Jeannie said, “Swear him to secrecy?”
Monica said, “I could threaten to break up with him if he tells about Larissa?”
I shook my head. “If we come right out and talk with him about it, he’ll know that his deepest secret was spilled by Monica. That’ll break them up for sure.”
“For sure,” Monica nodded morosely.
“Guys are funny; you can’t go straight at them to teach them something …unless you’re a car, I guess. If any of us talk to him—even beyond the betrayal of trust issue—he’ll still think it’s a setup.”
Jeannie said, “Larissa, come on. He just has to meet the real you to know that you’re really a girl.”
“Yeah, but he might still feel betrayed. I mean, as a guy having a guy become a girl, or thinking about a girl spy pretending to be a boy, like we said. He’s got find out on his own, in a way that he won’t tell anyone. Hmm. We know what the problem is; let me think on it for a little bit. There’s gotta be a way for him to put all the pieces together …”
“In the meantime,” Monica said, in a small voice. “I’m sorry I was such a bitch, Larissa.”
“Oh, sweetie, you were hurting!” I said as we hugged.
The very next day found the answer. I was spending the day with Molly, and she’d said it was high time that I met Tommy, her gay older brother. We took a bus to a trendy part of downtown—I really wanted to hit some of the street’s boutiques—and got to the apartment where we were welcomed with shrill cries by her brother.
Tommy was a male version of Molly in that he was very short, but very buff. Tanned, razored-short hair, white muscle-tee and black pants and boots. He had a nice apartment with a boyfriend who was ‘at the salon’; he was a hairdresser. It was weird being in a place that had a noticeably feminine feel to the decorations, like throw pillows, scarves on the lamps, floral arrangements, and yet scary masculine stuff, too—like the two-foot high erect penis sculpture on the glass table. All around were little sculptures or statues of naked men with erect penises, and there was a garish painting of Mick Jagger, I think, with lipsticked mouth open and looming, like he was going to devour you. I realized with a blush that to the gay males looking at it, it looked like Mick could be about to kiss you or go down on you!
We were having a great time, drinking tea and Molly and I telling silly stories from school and Tommy telling incredible stories about his work as an EMT. It was kind of interesting the way his voice was all light and effeminate when he talked about things in general, but his voice got serious and more masculine when he talked about his medical work. It wasn’t as radical or silly as Celia imitating Rick’s brain talking to itself, but it showed that being an EMT meant a great deal to him.
I had no idea that he had such a serious job; the way Molly mentioned him he always seemed like the cliché of the free-floating gay man. But it was an expensive apartment, and he had an important job and his boyfriend Denny wasn’t just ‘at’ the salon, he owned the thing—and not just any salon; he owned Petra, the hottest salon in the city!
Then Molly said, “I was telling Larissa about Jessica.”
Oh, did that set him off! Wildly improbable tales and we were laughing so hard that tea came out my nose!
Tommy leaped up with some tissues. “Here, Rissa, blot away.”
Rissa? Molly looked at me, grinned and nodded. It just seemed to fit, and from that moment on, the Chen family called me Rissa.
Then came the ‘jumping off’ part. At a natural bend in the conversation, after Tommy had gone into the bedroom and come back with some photos of a drag contest he’d won years ago—or that ‘Jessica’ had won—Molly raised an eyebrow to me and said to her brother, “You know, I wanted Rissa and you to meet, because she’s transgendered.”
“What?” Tommy looked at me, then grinned. “Yeah, right. Not nice to fool around with that, Molly.”
“Why not?” I asked reasonably. “I want to know.”
His voice became serious. “Because transgendered people—truly transgendered people—have a much rougher time in life than gays. God, being gay is hard, but it’s a walk in the park compared to being truly transgendered!” He shook his head in pity or admiration.
Molly pressed, “You know some TGs, don’t you?”
“A few. Only one real one, though.”
“What do you mean one ‘real’ but you know a few?” I asked.
His voice was sliding into his medical persona, tinged with his gay world knowledge. “I know three. One was a very pretty boy—I mean, gorgeous! —who was at the Queen. Oh, that’s the Queen Mary out on Benton Boulevard. It’s the heart of the drag community.”
I was surprised. “I thought it was …it’ll sound silly …for sailors.”
Tommy suppressed a chuckle. “Well, there’s no lack of seamen there, but I’m being rude.”
“Geez, Tammy!” Molly teased.
“Jessica, puh-leeze …but you’re right, Mol; that’s something Tammy would say but Jessica is a Lady,” he said with pretend high-society ‘airs’. “Anyway, this boy was the hit of the show, started going 24/7—most of the performers don’t, believe it or not.”
“I thought it would be perfect for somebody transgendered,” Molly said.
“Nope,” Tommy said. “Because truly TG girls want to blend in, they want to be regular girls. Drag is all about flamboyance, about pushing the feminine envelope and bursting it open, and being fabulous!” he said, doing ‘jazz hands’. “But this boy got the operation and everything and was miserable because he was gay and now he didn’t have a penis.”
I frowned. “If he was gay, he—she—was attracted to boys, so why didn’t that work out?”
“Because a male homosexual, whether totally butch or a delicate little femme, worships his penis and those of others. I mean, just look around.” He gestured to his apartment, which was pretty obvious.
“What happened to him?” I asked.
“He was unhappy. Miserable. Quit the show and disappeared.”
Molly said, “What about the other TGs you know?”
“Oh. One just thought he’d get more dates, double your pleasure, you know? And the other is doing fine, as far as I know. She was conflicted—see, right away I started talking about ‘she’ even though she was Steve when I met her. But she was so obviously a female inside. Anyway, she did drag for about six months at the Queen, made enough for treatment and quit the show. I saw her at the museum about a year later and honey, she was a woman. Had a straight boyfriend and was happier and more …real than any boy in drag, ever. So she was the only true TG I’ve ever known. They’re pretty rare.”
Molly looked at me and I gave her a ‘go for it’ wink. I said, “Tommy, maybe you know another one.”
He looked at us, uncomprehending.
Molly said, “Rissa is transgendered.”
“Bull!” Tommy said. “I told you not to fool around. Don’t make fun of trans people.”
“No, it’s true,” I said calmly. “I’m in the Gender Identity Clinic at the hospital. Got papers and everything.”
He stared. “Omigod! You think you’re a boy?”
To his shock Molly and I burst out laughing. “No, a girl!” she gasped.
Now Tommy was sure we were fooling, and it took awhile to calm him down and get him to listen as I told him a condensed version of my story, but his head was shaking as he frowned. “Not buying it, just on the surface.”
I protested again, and he said, “What about your boobs?”
I looked at Molly. “What about ‘em?” I asked.
“Stuffed, forms, whatever; how much is you?”
“Um …all of it.”
“How long have you been on hormones?”
“About two months.”
“No, I mean …wait a minute,” he frowned. “Back up. How long since you were admitted to the clinic?”
“Two months. What I said.” I wasn’t sure what he was concerned about.
“Okay. Clinic for two months. And how long have you been taking female hormones?”
“I don’t see the confusion,” I smiled and shrugged. “Two months. The doctors gave me my first shots the second day.”
He looked exasperated. “Look, it’s okay, I’m not going to bust you.” He grinned. “Get it? Bust you …no? Yeah, it was a stupid joke. Okay, before you were admitted to the clinic, how long have you been taking hormones?”
“I never did.”
He waved a hand, frustrated. “Okay. Supplements, homeopathics, whatever.”
I shook my head. “I don’t take anything. Just, you know, vitamins like I’ve been taking all my life. One-A-Day, used to be Flintstones, you know, that sort of thing.”
“The only thing you’re ingesting, in pill or liquid form, is over-the-counter multivitamins?”
“Yeah. I don’t know what brand; Mom gets ‘em.”
“Are you up for a little examination?” He was serious; I said, sure, and he went to his room and came back with his medical bag, pulled on some surgical gloves, and got his medical voice on.
“Would you please stand and pull up your shirt, exposing your abdomen?”
I was wearing tight stretchy black jeans that clung to my legs and made my butt look cute, and round-toed Mary Janes with a short heel. My top was a V-neck sweater, with broad horizontal green and heather stripes and the sleeves pushed up, and a scarf loosely wrapped around my neck.
Molly said gently, “You don’t have to do this, Rissa.”
I smiled at how easily she’d adopted my new nickname. “Actually, for no reason I can put my finger on? I do. And don’t worry. I’m examined by the doctors every week so any medical modesty is pretty much history now.”
I undid my scarf and pulled up my sweater hem with both hands to expose my tummy, and then came to a quick decision and pulled the whole thing off over my head. I stood there in bra and tight jeans and felt oddly powerful. Where the heck did that come from? Maybe because I was becoming more and more proud of my body?
Tommy was all professional. He prodded my tummy a little, gently pinched the sides, asked me to take a deep breath, hold it, then exhale, then breathe normally; and then he did something strange—he tapped me on my shoulder as he felt my tummy, and grinned.
“What was that for?” I asked.
“If you were holding your tummy in with your muscles, the tap would have distracted you and I’d have felt it. Hmm.”
He had one arm across his own tummy, palm down and dangling in the air, and rested his other elbow on the back of that hand, and rested his chin on the back of his vertical arm. I realized this was a habit to not contaminate his gloves—like I said, very professional.
Of course, he was very professionally looking at my bra. I looked at him studying my breasts, and then did another snap decision—I unclasped my bra and let it slide down my arms. Molly gasped and then shook her head in wonder. She’d seen my breasts before—as we’d tried on clothes together like all girls do—but to expose them to her brother on our first meeting?
It didn’t faze him in the least. He looked me in the eye and said, “May I?”
Tommy grinned. “You know the terminology. Okay. I’ll be gentle but let me know if it hurts or makes you uncomfortable.”
He gave me a thorough breast exam, and nodded that I could get my bra back on. Then he had me turn around slowly and was shaking his head. I pulled my sweater back on and took a brush from my purse and fixed my hair, using my reflection in a small mirror they had mounted on the wall. Molly had said it was there to help with Feng Shui.
Tommy poured tea all around and sat back. “Am I to understand that you have taken no hormones or pills or supplements of any kind, to the best of your knowledge, until the shots and prescription at the clinic?”
“Have they said anything about your genetic karyotype?”
“Um …you mean like XX, XY, that sort of thing? They said I was XY, but atypical.”
“You’ve probably seen an endocrinologist. Anything they’ve said?”
“Um, no, other than everybody’s pleased with my progress. Why? What’s going on, Tommy?”
He thought for a moment, his eyes cast down and then said, “Rissa, there’s the possibility that you’re an extremely rare genetic variant. There are several feminizing conditions that ... But I’m quite familiar with all the various feminizing hormones, estrogens, progesterones, androgen blockers …the whole nine yards. So I’m telling you that, short of a genetic, biochemical anomaly, something systemic, that your breast development absolutely could not occur in two months. Minimum six to eight months, maybe, and then only if your system was predisposed to estrogen, which brings us back to a genetic anomaly. They’re beautiful, by the way.”
I was confused; I thought he meant hormones. “What are?”
“Your breasts. Perfectly shaped and right for your size and build. Which is right on the money for a thirteen-fourteen-year-old girl.”
“Okay, so what’s the problem?” Molly asked.
Tommy ignored her, looking at me. “And you still have your …?” he asked as he gestured to my crotch.
“Yes.” I blushed; I didn’t like talking about this in front of Molly. So I said so. “I don’t like being reminded of it. But, yes, I have a very small, not-terrifically-functional penis tucked away.”
“Never did and if they did I’d send ‘em right back where they came from,” I grinned, and got a laugh from him.
“You said ‘not-terrifically-functional’,” Tommy frowned. “Meaning …?”
I glanced at Molly and said, “Meaning all it ever worked for was urination. Nothing else.”
He held my eyes.
Molly said, “Rissa, you don’t have to—”
“Yes, I do, Mol, and thanks for that. But I trust Tommy.” I gave him a smile, and then looked back at his sister. “If this is too weird for you, maybe the powder room?”
She cracked up. “You are too considerate sometimes!” She shook her head. “I’m a big girl. Go for it.”
Tommy said in a swishy voice, “Honey, you’ll never be a big girl!”
They both chuckled and he turned back to me, his professional face on again. “Alright. Not-terrifically functional …”
I nodded. “I’ve discussed this with the doctors already, so I know what you’re asking. I have never had an erection in my life. Ever. I have never had what you call ‘morning wood’. To the best of my knowledge, confirmed by my mother, I have never had a nocturnal emission.”
His face was impassive, his eyes unreadable. Then he said one word, not as a question. “Ever.”
“Ever,” I said, holding his eyes.
“Alright,” Tommy let out a whoosh of air. “I’m not going to put you through a penile exam. But barring the most incredible hoax ever—and Molly would never live to drive a car if she did!” He mock-glared at his sister. “Barring that, if you truly were born a boy, genetically XY, and fully feel mentally and emotionally as the female you present, I would have to say you are the most stunning transgendered male-to-female I have ever encountered. No wonder the clinic accepted you so quickly.”
“I didn’t say that they did,” I said, confused again.
“You said they gave you shots the second day; often applicants wait six months before being accepted and started on a course of treatment.”
I was stunned. “Oh.” I looked at Molly, who shrugged. To Tommy I said, “Just lucky …I guess?”
He laughed. “I’m curious, Rissa, however do you pull off the boy act at school?”
“Drab baggy clothes, hair back in a low ponytail, shuffle and slump,” I grinned.
“Larry never said much, just what Mom calls ‘monosyllabic grunts’. And I watch the melody. You know, of my voice.”
He nodded. “You’re very intelligent, and aware and astute.” Then in a totally flamboyant voice, he said, “And totally fabulous!” which made us all laugh.
When we’d finished, he said, back in the medical tone, “What about boys?”
“Um …I think I like them,” I blushed.
“Omigod!” Molly said. “Who? You’ve got to tell me! I know you, Rissa! You’ve got someone in mind—who is it?”
“Mark Brashear,” I said softly.
Her grin was huge. “Way to go, girl!” Molly said. To her brother she said, “Total babe. Sports hero with brains, great body, face like Brad Pitt.”
“Not Pitt,” I said quickly. “Pitt had those big lips. Weird.”
“Yeah,” Tommy said, “but with his shirt off, who looked at his lips?”
We all chuckled and then I frowned.
“What’s up?” Molly said.
So I told them about Rick, and my problem. Tommy agreed with me in my ‘diagnosis’, and we got onto other things, and suddenly Molly said, “Wait a minute. I’ll tell Rick! He’s in History with me.”
Tommy and I both shook our heads. He said, “Won’t work. Guys—especially dudes—can’t be told, they have to put two and two together themselves.” He echoed what I’d told the girls last night. Then he said, “I might have a way, but you’ll need to work together on it.”
We all grinned as he explained.
Rick never stood a chance. We could work it because Molly and Rick were in a History study group together. I had my cell phone and she had primed hers with a text that she would send to me when it was the right time. When it was the right time—both of them in a far corner of the study hall—she triggered the text with her phone under the table, just by touch. It was my signal to wait one minute, to allow her to get her phone back in her purse, and then call. She’d have to control the flow of the conversation but what she told me later, this is what happened:
Her phone rang. She picked it up and answered. “Hi, Larry.” She said everything casually as if it were no big deal. She said that as soon as she said my old name, Rick jerked a little and started eavesdropping. I don’t need to write what I said, because the effect on Rick was what she said, and that’s what had been orchestrated.
—Nothing. History study group. Roaring Twenties, whoop-de-do.
—Yeah. Totally. What? Oh, with Celia and Monica? Cool.
She said the mention of Monica also jolted him but she pretended not to notice. She spun slightly in her chair as if being private, but could see his reflection in the glass. She said his eyes were boring into her back. She allowed her voice to change gradually, from the offhand way of talking to Larry, a boy, to the unmistakable way girls talked with one another.
—No, really? That’s so hot! I wish I’d been there. No, my mom’s on my case. So what did you get?
—What? I love that store! God, you’re so lucky.
—Can I borrow it? Come on, Rissa, I saw that skirt first! You owe me!
—Seriously? God, I bet it looks killer on you. With your legs? You should wear it with your new heels. No, the new ones. You know, the cute black pumps? Three-inch heel?
—Don’t I know it. I’ll never have legs as long as yours …oh, you’re so sweet! Shit, Tupperman’s looking at me. Gotta go. Love ya, Rissa! Bye!
She hung up and spun back to the table as if it were no biggie. She said Rick kind of cleared his voice and said, “You’re lucky Tupperman didn’t bust you.”
She grinned at him. “One of the advantages of being an A student—you can get away with more!”
He paused and said with an obviously false, forced casualness, “Who’s …if you don’t mind me asking …who’s Rissa?”
“Uh …just a girlfriend,” she tossed off, but made it look cagey.
“Oh. I misunderstood. I thought you answered and it was Larry. Um …Hanson. You know him.”
“Yeah, I know.”
And here was the tricky part. It all hinged on Molly’s acting ability. She had to look like she was at war with herself and then decide to ‘break confidence’. She leaned over and said, “I’m sorry you overheard that. Um …I’m in a weird position, but I’ve got to swear you to secrecy now that you know.”
He didn’t know anything, really, but swore. She really pressed him on it, saying it could really mess up people’s lives if he told anyone. He swore and they leaned close.
“Larry Hanson …” She stuck her head up and looked around and then whispered, “is really a girl.” She said his eyes widened so much it looked like he was falling over. “Always was a girl. It’s a medical thing, and her mom and her have been doing doctors and doctors and doctors and they’ve finally fixed the problem. Some …thing from birth, sort of a birth defect but not—you know, she’s not retarded or anything. But the school refused to correct her records until she gets the legal name change and can’t get that until the doctors sign something which they couldn’t do before because she was so young …”
He whispered—fiercely, she said, “Are you saying that all this time Larry Hanson has been a girl?” She nodded like it was no big deal. “But he’s been in PE!”
“Did you see …anything?”
“Well, no …” He frowned. “But all this time he’s been a boy at school.”
She nodded. “It’s the school district policy and it sucks. Poor Rissa’s had to dress up like a boy, and they said she should do anything to keep the masquerade going to the end of the year. So that’s why she slumps and shuffles around.”
“But she goes into the boys’ bathrooms!”
“Have you seen her there?”
“Sure! Lots of …no, wait …” More frowns. “I just assumed …” He shook his head. “I guess I haven’t. Um …so she’s a girl, huh?”
“Yeah. As soon as she gets home, she can be herself. She’s one of my best friends. Of course, her BFF is Celia—you know, Celia Duran?—and that’s okay. But I love her. Look, you can’t tell anybody,” she said, worried.
“No, I won’t. I swore I wouldn’t, didn’t I?”
She said there was this goofy grin spreading that he couldn’t control. “Um …her name is Rissa?”
“Well, her full name is Larissa but to all of us, she’s Rissa.”
“Hmm. Rissa. That must be where the ‘Larry’ thing came from …Yeah, makes sense,” he nodded, and she knew he was trying to mask his smile.
The other girls absolutely loved the name ‘Rissa’. Celia said it made a funny kind of sense, like in French, ‘La Rissa’, as in The Rissa. Jeannie said there’s a guy from Wu-Tang Clan named ‘The RZA’ almost pronounced the same, so she grinned and said I had ‘street cred’.
The girls all loved the ‘operation’ we performed on Rick, and Celia spoke for the others when she said, “If she wants to, Molly Chen can hang with us anytime. She’s way cool!” And she is, too.
But for the thing to work, they all had to call me Rissa from now on, and they all agreed. Mom said she might or might not, since she did like ‘Larissa’, but now we had to sit back and wait.
The last week of my school year (the others had four to go), I was walking down the hall on the way to lunch when Monica stepped in front of me and dragged Rick with her; they were holding hands and she controlled him by kind of straight-arming that hand, pulling it down to make her desires known. She gave me a look that was one of those ‘we’re both in on the secret but he can’t know that’ looks.
“Rick has something he’d like to say,” Monica said.
Silence. Rick kind of squirmed. He got his arm pulled straight down. “Okay! Geez! Look, um …” This was where he would have said my name but didn’t; I understood. “See, the deal is …I kind of found out about you.”
I played dumb, or maybe hard-to-get. “Found out?”
He nodded. “I found out from Molly Chen. Only don’t blame her, okay? It wasn’t her fault. I was eavesdropping.”
I looked around; kids were milling past us and I edged towards some double-doors in a sort of alcove that gave us some privacy.
“Uh …what did Molly say?” I kept my voice neutral.
“Don’t get mad at her, okay? Like I said, I was listening in. You called her a couple of days ago and we were going over our History presentation.”
“Oh, yeah. I remember.” I frowned like it was just a vague memory.
“Come on, Rick,” Monica said with some exasperation.
He shrugged. “She took your call—Tupperman saw her but she hung up before he busted her. And she turned her back to me and spoke quietly, but I ...I listened in. You’d gone shopping, and you two talked about …some clothes?”
“Um …I remember,” I said, and tried to manufacture a blush.
Monica spoke to him like a mother to a child. “Rick, please just …” She looked around and lowered her voice. “Please just say it, or ask it, or whatever, because I’ve got something to say after you do.”
He looked at her, a little surprised, and then turned to me and said very quietly, “I found out that you’re a girl.”
“Oh.” I said this as neutrally as I could. “And …well, what did you think?”
He was sheepish. “Can I be honest?”
“Duh!” Monica almost exploded. “Yes, be honest, you jerk!”
“At first I thought there was some misunderstanding, but now that I look at you—I mean, really look at you—it’s like so obvious!”
“What is?” I said. “I’m not being dumb but I think you need to tell me exactly what is obvious to you.”
He leaned in and whispered, “That you’re a chick!”
We all leaned back quickly on that statement and looked around.
I frowned, pretending that I was wrestling with myself, and then looked him in the eyes and quietly said, “Yes, Rick, I am.”
Monica jumped in. “Can I say something?” We both nodded, and she turned to me. “Rissa, I haven’t told him anything—I mean, you can just tell by what he just said.”
I smiled at her. “I know you didn’t, Mon. It’s cool.”
“So can I tell him now?”
He turned to her. “You knew?”
I said, “Rick, Monica’s one of my closest friends. Of course she knew about me. For months and months.”
To her, he said, “You didn’t say anything. I came to you with this stuff I heard from Molly and you just went blink-blink like you didn’t know anything.”
I jumped in. ‘Rick, she’s a good friend and can keep a secret. Right now you probably think she was stringing you along or something, but it wasn’t like that, really. Think about the hard position Monica got put in! She knows about me and would not tell my secret to anyone, and then comes her boyfriend and he’s found out the truth but she can’t confirm it because that’s like breaking her trust with me.”
Monica sounded very apologetic. “Rick, I really wanted to, really, really, but I couldn’t break my promise to Rissa. It’s too important. It’s not like telling Rissa that Celia already bought her something for her birthday. You know, a little broken confidence thing like that. This is huge.”
“This could kill me,” I said to Rick, “or worse. Seriously. Can you imagine what Mackie would do if he found out that I’m a girl?”
His eyes widened as he considered, and he nodded. “Good thing he’s in jail.”
“Yeah, but for how long?” Monica said.
I let out a big breath. “I don’t know what all Molly told you—and don’t worry; I’m not mad at her—but the truth is that I have a medical condition where I’m not …fully male or female. It’s not like a Jerry Springer type of thing. But the doctors had to wait until my body developed in the way it wanted …it’s easiest to think of it as just a very slow development, like …well, almost everybody else their body decides in nine months, in the womb.”
“XX or XY chromosomes,” he nodded. “We studied it.”
“Yeah, me, too, only sometimes things aren’t as easy as XX or XY. Instead of nine months, it was taking about thirteen-fourteen years. Like waiting for the other shoe to drop.”
“But why even go through life as Larry, then? Why not be, I don’t know …neutral, with a unisex name like Dana or Kelly or something?”
Monica said, “Rick, baby …look across the hall.” She pointed to the two bathroom entrances. “Boys, Girls. Even a Dana or Kelly would have to pick one or the other.”
“But then why not be raised a girl?”
I sighed. “Doctors say it’s easier to go from boy to girl, way easier than from girl to boy. In terms of culture, you know—boy culture versus girl culture. You know those transsexuals like on Springer or Maury?” He nodded. “You ever wonder why it’s nearly all boys that became girls, not girls that became boys?” He frowned and shrugged. “It’s always way easier to go boy to girl than the other way.”
“Yeah, that’s true,” he said. “And they were total guys when they started.”
Inwardly I cheered. I’d used the word ‘transsexuals’ and ‘Springer’ to distance myself from what I was, because I knew that it could be argued that I was no different from a transgendered boy on those shows. But Rick had made the necessary mental leap of assigning categories that kept us separate. There was a Rissa category over here, and a TS/TG category over there. Because if I was perceived by him as ever having been a boy, he could still have the ‘omigod, I’m gay!’ thoughts that started this whole thing. Plus, this way it gave me more credibility.
“Wow,” Rick was saying. “So that’s why you’ve been kind of under the radar all this time.”
I nodded. “That’s the way I’ve had to live it. I screwed up badly last year when I started hanging out with Mackie, thinking that, well, if I’m supposed to be a boy, I have to be tough. But I didn’t feel like a boy, I never thought like a boy, so I overcompensated.”
“Yeah, you were a little asshole, along with Mackie and Steve. Two bigger assholes.”
Monica said, “I heard Steve’s walking with crutches but will always drag one foot.”
That rocked me a little bit. He was dumb and he was mean, but I never wanted him crippled. I swallowed. “Fortunately my body finally …well, grew up. And it said, basically, ‘yes, I’m a girl, hel-lo!’”
Monica grinned. “Because that’s the best thing to be!”
At that point I formally released Monica from ‘her vow of silence’ about me, and the two of them walked off, still holding hands but a lot closer than before.
Just before he left, Rick said, “Well, looking at you now, I can’t see how I ever thought you were a dude. You’re really pretty, in a …drabbed down-dude kind of way.” He grinned. “Over the summer, maybe I’ll get to really meet Rissa?”
“Count on it,” I smiled back, watching them go, wondering if I would ever find a boy as sweet as Rick.
End of Part 5
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