Sarah learns to accept what the world demands of her.
By Angela Rasch
“I’m thinking about going to a lecture tonight,” Sarah said. “I heard about it on Channel 5’s morning program.” Her hands moved in a blur chopping vegetables and lettuce with a fury born out of love.
Our marriage is less than two years old; and I can’t imagine living a minute of the rest of my life with anyone but her at my side. “Who, what, where, why, and how?” She could be painfully shy on detail — and I often had to drag things out of her. I assumed that trait had been etched into her psyche as a survival tactic during her younger years when it had been important for her to protect her secrets from the world.
“There’s a sociologist speaking at the university.” She stopped and thought a moment. With others, such deliberate action would have driven me insane, but with Sarah it was her way of saving effort by speaking correctly the first time. “He’s an expert in the field of evolution, sort of a radical who calls on the ideas of George Bernard Shaw, Theodore Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and H.G. Wells.”
“Evolution? Is this a lecture about Darwinism?” I turned on the TV to watch the national news, having lost interest in a topic I had long ago filed under “Nothing New to Consider”.
“No,” she answered, checking on the temperature of the meat she was roasting.
Its succulent aroma awakened a hunger in me that had gone dead after another unsatisfactory cold sandwich from a vending machine at the college. My work as a corporate recruiter often found me on campus where my stomach fought bravely to eat like a teenager.
“The speaker tonight will be discussing pro-active genetics through such things as birth control, prenatal testing, in vitro fertilization, and counseling.”
An alarm went off in my head. “Are you sure you want to attend that lecture? It sounds a lot like eugenics.”
“I don’t think anyone used that word, Jim. Mostly they were talking about creating a much stronger tomorrow through application of sound selective breeding.” She started the process of mashing boiled potatoes. Since my last physical examination she had been using Brommel and Brown instead of butter, which was all right with me.
I snapped the remote at the TV and gave her my full attention. “Honey, selective breeding isn’t a very GLBT-friendly philosophy.”
She bit her lip. Sarah could become teary quite easily if anyone brought up anything gay-related. “Not everything revolves around me.”
Oh oh. I’ve done it now. It had only been a week since we’d found out about the problems we would run up against completing a second-parent adoption.
“Just once I’d like to have a conversation about something that doesn’t lead back in some way to my past. I didn’t go through all those painful operations to constantly be reminded of my birth defect.” Her eyes glistened — a sign I’d breached a promise I’d made many times to avoid certain topics.
“I’m sorry, Honey.” I wanted to take her into my arms and console her, but it was obviously not a moment for physical contact.
“I’m going to go to the lecture,” she said, hammering on the potatoes with a vengeance. “Unlike others, I’m going to keep an open mind. Honestly — it’s being held at the university. They must screen their speakers. Sometimes your small town background makes you so suspicious of people.”
Sarah had also been raised in a small town. . .where they had known her as Ben, a boy who played football and dated the homecoming queen.
“Maybe you’re right,” I admitted. I turned the TV back on and found a channel with a poker tournament. Sarah had no interest in poker and I had just as little interest in continuing our conversation.
I watched her marvelously feminine motions out of the corner of my eye while she flowed around the kitchen -- until I could stand it no longer. Without a sound I moved to her side, shut off the oven, and then swept her into my arms. The bouquet of her Burberrys perfume filled my nostrils with a girly lavender.
My immediate need was no longer food. It would be hours before we would emerge from our bedroom.
Sarah and I were having lunch together at a small downtown restaurant. She looked especially lovely; and I told her so.
“I felt a need to look nice today for you.” She sighed.
“Is something bothering you?”
She slid a letter to me.
I recognized the letterhead as coming from the clinic where she had gone for her SRS. “You haven’t heard from them for years.” I peered into her drawn face. “Is it bad news?”
She shook her head. “I’m not really sure.”
I took the letter from its already opened envelope, and then read it. “Why would the government want your health records?”
“I called and asked Dr. Mark. He said Congress is creating a national database of all known transsexuals.”
I blinked. “Isn’t that discriminatory?”
“That’s what I asked him. According to Dr. Mark the government is trying to do good things for transsexuals and needs data.”
“Does he believe that?”
She bit her lip. “He wants to believe it. He said the assistant Attorney General he’d talked to said transsexuals aren’t protected by federal anti-discrimination laws.”
“What about Schroer vs. Billington?” I stammered, feeling the floor move a bit under me.
A tear trickled down her cheek that she brushed away with a delicate gesture. “According to Dr. Mark, Congress is very unhappy about that case. They think that federal judge was over-aggressive in his decision given its timing — coming right after they left the transgendered off the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.”
“What are they going to do with the information they got from Dr. Mark’s clinic?” For some reason I felt personally violated, even though it had been Sarah’s privacy that had been breached -- and not mine.
“He said I shouldn’t worry. He had talked to the ACLU; and they’re prepared to take instantaneous action if anyone’s rights are threatened.”
I choked on a sip of water. “If? If? What does the ACLU need? They accessed your personal records, for Christ’s sake.”
She held her hands in front of her signaling for me to lower my voice. “I knew I shouldn’t’ve told you.”
“But. . . . They had no right. We need to get an attorney and go after them.”
She closed her eyes. A few moments passed before she opened them and found my eyes with hers. “We need to move on with our lives. Things are pretty good. Congress is just throwing its weight around, because they can. Nothing will come of it.”
She patted my hand and smiled at the waiter who had arrived with water and menus.
“Tony called me into his office today,” Sarah said after I had turned off the light on my bed stand.
Omigod! What now. “Oh?”
“He said he has to take me off the institutional audit team.” Her voice wavered. She ran one of her big feet against my leg, causing me to involuntarily shudder.
“What does that mean?” I asked.
“It means I won’t be able to work on any of the audits for the colleges or universities. That’s about sixty percent of what the firm does.”
“Did he tell you why? Is he promoting you into management?” I was hoping more than asking.
“No, in fact he said I would have to accept a small cut in pay given the circumstances.”
Shit! “We can’t afford a drop in income. I’m going to need a new car and. . . .”
“That’s just great,” she said bitterly, “I’m being treated like a second-class citizen and all you can think about is some big, obnoxious phallic symbol.”
“Whoa. How are you being treated like a second-class citizen?”
“Tony said any of our clients who rely on government grants can’t allow me to do professional work for them.”
“Because you’re trans. . . .”
“Uh huh,” she wailed. “I thought about quitting, but with the economy the way it is, any job is better than none.”
“That’s right. You can’t quit. As much as I would like to go in there with you and punch your boss right in the mouth, we’d better keep our wits about us. What about Oscar Wilde High School?” Our community had created a new high school for transsexuals — so they wouldn’t be bothered by the other students.
“I think I can hold onto them. Their funding isn’t from Washington, as far as I know.”
I turned away from her and pulled the covers tight around me, lost in anguished thought about how to put our budget back in the black.
“Did you hear about the trouble down at the county library this morning?” Sarah had just returned from paying the pizza delivery man.
“I was listening to the news on the way home from work.” The radio is about the only reliable part of my car! “They said they had to destroy some of their books.”
“They said they were subversive, but when I looked up the list of destroyed books online they were all by writers I admire: Jan Morris, Kate Bornstein, Jennifer Boylan. . . .”
I shook my head. “Who are. . . .”
“All transwomen,” she answered, apparently unwilling to hide her exasperation.
“It’s just a cyclical thing,” I said, eager to soothe her. “One minute things are ultra-conservative; and before you know it the pendulums will swing far to the left.”
“Bullshit. . . .”
“That wasn’t very ladylike,” I observed, and then ducked after a plastic water glass sailed by my ear. “Maybe you should do what I’ve done. Quit watching the news. . .it’s nothing but propaganda anyhow.”
We pulled into the parking lot at Nan’s pet store only to find the shop had closed. A letter had been taped to the inside of the glass door.
To our wonderful customers:
The impact of the boycott against transgendered business-owners has claimed another casualty. The last thirty-two years we have happily served the little friends in our community as best as we could. We’re sorry and will miss our four-pawed clients.
Thank you for your many years of business.
Beth and Teri
“Has life always been like this?” She asked. “Am I just more aware of how unfair things can be because it involves transpeople?”
I hunched my shoulders. Life with her is complicated. “Someone should do something about it.”
“What?” She asked. "It really doesn’t seem possible to resist the way things are going.”
It had been rumored for quite some time in the gay community, but we never thought a bi-partisan coalition could be forged that would support the legislation.
Sarah and I would not be allowed to vote anymore because we were cohabiting in a relationship that is not a legally valid and binding marriage. The vote in our state house had been close.
“It’s been years since there’s been anyone running for office I was excited about backing,” Sarah said. Her voice sounded husky. Lately, she didn’t make the necessary effort to try to sound like a woman. “But don’t you think it’s a little overkill for them to come to our house and confiscate our American flags.”
“We can still fly our Rainbow flag,” I said, trying to be ironic. “Our right to fly it is protected by the State.”
“Don’t you mean ‘demanded by the state’. We face a fine and up to a one year prison sentence, if we don’t fly ‘our’ flag.”
“What about simply not flying the Rainbow?”
“We have to,” she said tearfully. “I’ve always been law abiding and I’m not going to change.”
“Transpeople have no political clout,” I stated flatly.
“Our leadership has sold us out. They allowed transsexuals to be divided. The last government orders listed twenty-four legal subsets of transsexuals. The government has been quite remarkable at setting us against one another by discriminatory laws and punishments for the various subsets.”
She nodded. “Besides, if I break the law, they will punish you and my parents.
“Did you hear what the Prime Minister of Canada said yesterday?”
Sarah and I had been talking about the possibility of moving to Canada. I looked up from my newspaper and noticed how hairy her upper lip looked in the evening sun. “Why should I care?”
“Why should you care?’ She snorted. “He was addressing an international committee on human rights regarding the immigration of transpeople.”
“Oh!” Good God, does she ever think about anything else?
“He said, ‘Since we have no trans problem, we are not desirous of importing one.’ ”
I shook my head with all the sympathy I could muster.
She laughed wryly. “I miss our house.”
And, whose fault is it we lost our home, unemployed one? “It’s simpler living in an apartment.”
“Our wonderful president had things to say as well.” She took the paper from me and folded it to page eight. “He said, ‘I can only hope and expect that the rest of the world, which has such deep sympathy for these criminals, will at least be generous enough to convert their sympathy into practical aid. We, on our part, are ready to give each and every one of our transpeople a first-class ticket to the country of their choice.’ ”
“Maybe you should apply for a ticket,” I half-heartedly suggested. We had talked about the rumors of a relocation program.
“You ass!” She stomped from the room.
There would be no sex in our apartment for another evening. Nothing new there. It had been months since she had appealed to me; and she made no advances.
I stared at the one picture I had left of Sarah, and then pulled it out of its frame. Its edges curled as it burned in the sink. The government had tried everything to restore her mental health before coming to a decision to exterminate.
In the end I had testified against her. It had been my clear duty.
“You’re like a new person,” Joanne said, coming up behind me. She had been the one who had steered me to a cult-rehabilitation center for deprogramming after she. . .he was taken away.
“I owe my life to you,” I admitted. “I had become cold, alienated, distant, and defensive.”
“He had you under his complete control,” she said.
“He” — even after all the help I’ve received it seems odd thinking of Ben/Sarah as a “he”.
She continued. “But now you’re warm, friendly, affectionate, and good-humored.”
“Ben was the agent of the devil,” I said, parroting what I had heard at least a thousand times. “Thank goodness our government has the courage to do the right thing with those people.”
“Thank goodness,” I echoed my own statement at a much lower volume.
The flames licked at the side of her face. A face I had once loved. . .and now?
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