Amy moves back to the United States after living most of her childhood and completing her RGN training in England. She is halfway through a year of board certification. The Ethical Clothing Act changes everything.
By Angela Rasch
There’s a bad law on the rise.
The note from the Dean of Students, Peter Crocker, had asked for her to be in his office that afternoon, December 30th, at four o’clock. She arrived ten minutes early. Whatever had caused the meeting, Amy could handle, her long suit being problem solving. It did surprise her that the Dean worked over Christmas vacation. Since she had no family and nowhere to go, she used her holidays to get a start on research for a term paper that would be due the last part of January.
Amy checked her face in her compact. Not the slightest hint showed she was anything but the average coed, unless you considered her opulent beauty, which moved her well above the realm of “average.” Her personal appearance had been drilled into her by the best finishing schools the UK had to offer. Her posture and poise was the product of purposeful, painstaking propriety — a phrase she had repeated hundreds of times to learn elegant articulation. Amy had attending Rushmount for Young Women for a year prior to enrolling in university.
“Amy Jayne Belmont?” The dean stuck his head out of his office and forcefully demanded her attention.
“Yes,” she said, smiling prettily to allow for his ill manners. She extended her hand daintily to him.
“Ahhh, yes.” He shook her hand roughly. “Come in. Come in.”
He closed the door behind her and motioned toward a hardback chair positioned directly in front of his desk. After he sat down he took up a file -- and an air of importance.
“Ahem. I knew of your mother’s work for the State Department. I was sorry to hear of your parents’ deaths.” His face softened for a moment.
“Thank you for caring, they both were wonderful people, at least to me.” Although it had been six months since both of her parents had died in an auto accident, mention of it still left her immensely sad.
“You have a British accent,” he remarked with some surprise.
“Yes, mother’s position took us to England when I was five. We didn’t move back until shortly before the accident.” The precision with which she spoke had been drummed into her at Rushmount. “I’m a U.S. Citizen.”
He didn’t react; instead he lifted several pages in a file marked “Belmont” in red ink. “You’re taking a year with us to be certified as an RN?”
“Yes.” Amy was attending Eastern Atlantic Liberal Arts in order to eventually work with the terminally ill. She had been a RGN in the UK and worked for a year before moving back to the States with her parents. She had thought about staying in England, but decided that she wanted to try living in the United States as she knew very little about her birth country. She had been eighteen years abroad without so much as a vacation in her homeland.
“According to your file you’ve been dressing as if you had been born a girl since you were eight.”
Amy blushed and nodded. The subject of her gender rarely came up. Amy had been fortunate. Everything had fallen into place. Her gender dysphoria had been correctly diagnosed at age eight. She had been blessed with compassionate parents who had the wealth necessary to provide the best medical and psychological treatment. The standards of care in the U.K. allowed her to start on a regimen of hormone treatment when she was twelve. She had rarely dealt with the insensitive rejection and uncertainty that perplexes other transsexuals.
He stared at her over his spectacles. “You don’t look like a transvestite.”
“I’m a transsexual,” she corrected him.
“Uh huh.” He seemed distracted by something in her file. He looked up again. “Have you had quite a lot of plastic surgery?”
She bit her lip. She hadn’t been quite ready for such a blunt question from someone in his position. “Plastic surgery?”
He snorted. “You’ve made yourself look like you’re an attractive young lady, when we both know you’re not.” He smirked.
Amy had belonged to a transsexual support group in England. She had several friends who had struggled with their masculine features. Because Amy’s hormones treatments had been commenced at such a young age, she was the picture of femininity at age twenty-four, waiting to take the final steps through surgery to eliminate her birth defect. She didn’t feel compelled to have it immediately, as she based every decision on her career and her “deformity” didn’t have a bearing on her nursing.
His lack of professionalism had left Amy short on patience. “Dean Crocker, is something wrong?”
“Wrong?” He replied, apparently without thought. “Wrong? Oh, I suppose you would say so. You seem to be waiting until the last moment to…. Ahhhh. You’re not rushing right into things are you?”
“Rushing into what, sir?” She looked with interest at the shelf behind him. All of the books had been arranged by their height. Someone had spent quite a bit of time getting them just so. It occurred to her that sorting them by author, title, or subject matter might be more suitable for an academician. “Did I miss something? Perhaps I have an account that is overdue that I don’t know about?”
He coughed. “No. From what I can tell in your file, your parents paid for your year of schooling in advance, before their accident."
Amy nodded. She had been left with adequate money for a short while, but would by no means be considered wealthy. Money could have been a problem because she had no other family and her friends lived miles and miles away across the ocean. The big expenses had been covered: her education -- and when she decided to she would go to a hospital in Minnesota where her corrective surgery had also been paid for in advance by her parents.
“Amy — have you picked a suitable name? Oh, I suppose you’ll go back to your birth name, won’t you?”
“I’m sorry. . . .” she said indicating her confusion. He really is a strange sort, Amy thought. She arranged her skirt so as not to give him the idea that she was interested. As odd as he acted, he might be one of those men who preyed upon young students.
“According to your file, you were christened Anthony James Belmont. Another Tony isn’t going to shake things up -- not too much.” He smiled. “Although I’m sure there will be some surprised people around campus come January 3rd.”
January 3rd will be the first day back from Christmas vacation.
“You won’t be wearing such a delightful perfume after the first of the year, now will you?”
Whatever is his problem? Such a personal comment seemed highly impertinent, especially for someone of his station. She blushed furiously.
“Have you thought about moving into the men’s dormitories? Since you won’t be hiding anything after the first of the year, it would be much more economical for you.” He handed her an application for student housing. It stated at the top in 24 — point font “Application for Men’s Housing.”
“That wouldn’t possibly work for me,” she said, thrusting the papers back at him.
He frowned. “Okay then — would you sign this statement indicating I offered you suitable housing. We’re required to do that, but you’re not required to take it."
She signed the paper unable to see it clearly through the tears welling in her eyes. What’s causing this all of a sudden?
He smirked. “Your kind have had your day in the sun, now you can scurry back to those dark places where you came from. When that big ball drops in Time Square tomorrow night, you’d better be dressed the way God intended or you’ll be on your way to jail.”
Big ball? The only big ball Amy knew of that dropped in Time Square was the one they used to celebrate New Year’s.
“You’re excused,” the dean said, motioning for her to leave.
Amy shook her head as she walked to her apartment, trying to piece together the fragments of her visit with the dean. Evidently something would change on the first of January that had something to do with her -- but what?
As she climbed the steps to the four-plex she lived in, Nancy, a six-foot tall, strawberry-blonde, came out -- a pleasant woman whose three children ranged in age from seven to twelve. Amy had baby-sat for Nancy on a number of occasions. They didn’t take much minding and Amy always had studying to do. She could concentrate in the middle of a hurricane, which came into play quite often because recently divorced Nancy always seemed to be embroiled in a storm.
“Amy,” Nancy said, “is something wrong? You look pale. It could be that virus that’s going around.” Nancy was already dressed for work as a hostess at a trendy restaurant called Nouveau Hojo’s, a throwback to the 1960’s. Her uniform consisted of white lipstick, heavy eye-makeup, purple body stockings with nothing underneath, and white-leather knee-high boots. At the moment she protected her work clothes with a white frilly apron.
“Oh, I’m fine,” Amy sighed. “I just had the strangest conversation. Is there some new law going into effect in a few days that I should be aware of?” The dean had mentioned jail, so it had to be some legal change, but what could it possibly involve?
“Nothing that would include you,” Nancy replied. “The only big change is the ‘Tranny Law.’ ” She giggled. “When I was a girl my father was a tailor. He would ask the men if they dressed right or dressed left. It was a bit of a joke about which side they usually hung their … ah thing … ah which side they hung their penis on, so he could fit the pants properly. Under the “Tranny Law” dress right will mean something entirely different.”
Tranny law? Amy’s head spun.
“Jay Leno has been joking about it for weeks,” Nancy continued. “Oh, that’s right - you don’t watch TV. You don’t watch TV, you don’t go to movies, you don’t get a paper. . .all you do is study, study, study.”
“What do you mean ‘dress right’?” Amy normally didn’t push so hard, but she needed answers.
“Dress right! It’s the Ethical Clothing Law, but that doesn’t have anything to do with you.” Nancy looked around, checking on her children. “That law only will make men and women dress the way they’re supposed to. It’s nothing for us to concern ourselves over. I’ve never seen you in slacks and I love my dresses and skirts. I will have to throw out a few old ratty jeans, but that’s no hardship considering the good the new law will do for everyone.”
“Uh huh.” Amy started to walk toward her apartment in a daze.
“Amy, I hate to be a bother, but can you watch the kids for about an hour tonight? I need to go to the mall and…. Amy?”
“Uh huh. . . .” Amy’s weak voice trailed off.
“Amy, did you even hear me?” She followed Amy into the hall and caught her at her door. “Look Amy, don’t worry about tonight. You obviously aren’t feeling your best. I’ll find someone else. You lie down for a moment. I’ll make some soup and bring it over later on. Okay.”
“Uh huh.” Amy shut the door in Nancy’s face. She hadn’t really heard a word her neighbor had said for the last minute or so. She headed straight for her laptop and opened a window to search on Google. She entered Ethical Clothing Law, and to her surprise found over a million hits.
What she read during the next hour left her in tears and utter disarray.
Shortly after the XXVIII Amendment to the Constitution had been ratified, a landmark case made its way to the Supreme Court. The Amendment had stated, “Marriage in the United States of America shall consists of only the union of a man and a woman.” The case involved a transsexual who maintained that she was a woman and therefore could legally marry a man. Her attorney argued that although born with the organs of a male her client had identified with the female gender from the age of four. She had been living as woman and been perceived as a woman by her community for five years. Her attorney had said, “My client deserves the legal status of a female based on her convincing performance of femininity.”
Her doctor entered testimony as to the sex-reassignment procedure the plaintiff had endured and its positive outcome. “Her uterus is perfect,” he had claimed.
She lost her day in court on a 5-4 decision. The minority judges wrote a scathing opinion of the “unbelievable callousness” of their fellow members of the court toward the individual’s rights.
According to other articles Amy found online lawmakers were not amused by the case and had passed legislation requiring the government to formally recognize two distinct genders. The new law mimicked the infamous ruling by Lord Justice Ormrod of the UK in that gender is to be irreversibly determined by the sex stated on the original birth certificate. The online articles spoke about a portion of the law that allowed a method to “correct” the birth certificate through a legal process much like the UK’s Gender Recognition Act of 2004.
Further, to prevent the courts from being flooded by fraudulent suits, the Ethical Clothing Law made it illegal for members of one gender to present themselves as being of the other gender in any way. “Men” were required by federal law to dress as men, and “women” as women. The law specifically prohibited men from wearing dresses or skirts, with the exception of ceremonial dress having to do with cultural clothing such as kilts.
The information went on, but Amy couldn’t force herself to read anymore. She stared at the screen, unable to comprehend a law that required her to dress as a man.
“Amy, what is it? Are you in trouble? I hope you don’t mind. I let myself in. I just had to check on you before I left for work.”
Amy looked up at her obviously concerned neighbor.
“Are you in trouble?” Nancy asked again.
“Is it money?”
Amy shook her head.
“Is it a man? Has some stupid man screwed with you?”
Amy shook her head again and stood up. Her eyes cleared. “I’ve got to get my act together. What day is today? Oh yeah -- the thirtieth.” She had to move forward her sex-reassignment surgery date. If need be, she would move back to the UK. “It’s nothing I can’t handle. Nothing at all that I can’t handle.” Her chest was heaving as if she had run several miles. Her heart raced. Handling everything would be simple. I’ll have the surgery and get proper gender recognition through due process, or move out of the country — ASAP.
“Tell you what,” Nancy said, ”I’ll call in and tell them I can’t be in for another two hours. We’ll get some soup in you and. . . .”
“Give me a ticket for an airoplane
I ain’t got time to take no fast train
Oh, the lonely days are gone
I’ll be right home
My baby she wrote me a letter.
I don’t care how much money I got to spend
I won’t find my way home again
Oh the lonely days are gone
I’ll be right home
My baby, she wrote me a letter.”
The Letter — Joe Cocker
Nancy’s soup did the trick. By the time Amy finished the bowl of rice, noodles, and broth she had mentally reduced the Ethical Clothing Law to a minor inconvenience. The reminder that she wasn’t anatomically correct had been unnerving, but she had long ago set aside any philosophical quibbling. I am what I am. Surgery will fix a minor cosmetic problem.
She would have to make Nancy McLuhan a pecan pie. Amy felt like she had scared the daylights out of the poor dear. It’s hard enough for a single mother raising a family, without her neighbor acting the part of a ninny.
Fear can be so powerful. Fear — the mind telling us that we won’t be able to cope with the unknown. The bogeyman. Amy laughed. Bogeymen didn’t scare her, whether they were legislators with evil minds or hairy buggers that lived in closets.
No one is going to force me to live in a closet or to live any way I don’t want to. Her jaw thrust out. She had inherited her determination from her dad. He had told her a million times how proud her fierce resolve made him. Shortly before he died in the hospital following the crash he had said so one last time.
Feeling much better, Amy’s attention went to the stack of mail Nancy had brought in for her. Included with Amy’s Vogue, an offer from a credit card company, and several other pieces of junk mail were two official-looking envelopes.
An ominous letter from the State Department had been addressed to Anthony James Belmont AKA Amy Jayne Belmont. She ripped it open.
The Department of State has requested this office to inform you that it has revoked U.S. Passport Number Z7792702 issued to you on January 4, 2008 at the American Embassy at London, England, and any other U.S. Passport you may possess, whether issued to you in your true identity or not.
The Department’s action is predicated upon evidence that you have been identified as a suspicious person under federal regulation, because of your morally suspect lifestyle.
Any further use of any U.S. passport issued to you would constitute a violation of section 1544 of title 18 of the United States Code, a felony.
You are advised of your right to a hearing under sections 51.80 through 51.89 of the passport regulation, a copy of which is enclosed. If you should desire such a hearing, you must notify this office within 60 days after receipt of this notice. However, such a hearing would be limited to determining whether or not you have engaged in a lifestyle deemed to be of a morally suspect nature. Furthermore, you are advised that a request for hearing does not repeal and does not serve to stay the revocation action taken by the Department of State.
Consul of the United States of America
Scratch leaving the country, she thought. I’ll concentrate on getting the surgery completed, complete the legal mumbo jumbo for the Gender Recognition Act, and get this morally suspect lifestyle nonsense set aside to reinstate my passport.
The UK never looked so appealing.
Amy tossed the letter from the State Department aside, wishing that she could just as easily toss the whole kit and caboodle in the ocean. She eagerly ripped open the second letter, which was from her doctor in Minnesota.
By now I’m sure you’ve heard about our hospital ceasing to schedule elective surgery of the nature you have requested.
I’m sorry. Our hospital receives several annual grants from the federal government, without them we would not be fiscally sound. The Ethical Clothing Law made the renewal of such grants contingent upon our refusal to schedule sex-reassignment surgery.
A check is enclosed refunding your deposit.
We are sorry to say that we are unaware of any hospital within the United States that is currently scheduling sex reassignment surgery.
Good luck, Amy. I’m sorry.
J. Edgar Nation, M.D.
Good Samaritan Hospital
Grand Rapids, MN
The letter dropped from her hand as Amy sank slowly toward the carpet. She refused to pass out, but could not stifle her scream.
In seconds, Nancy held a cold cloth to Amy’s forehead. “Honey, you’ve got to level with me. It has to be man problems. Nothing else on Earth could make you cave in on yourself.”
“Man problems? In a way, I suppose.” She laughed. It wasn’t her normal, musical laugh, but more of a wicked cackle that would have best been paired with green skin. “I’m screwed. I’m totally and irrevocably screwed.”
“Do you mind?” Nancy asked, picking up the letter that had fallen on the floor next to the Amy. Nancy’s curiosity was conspicuous.
“Not at all,” Amy replied. “There’s nothing about me that’s ‘suspicious.’ ” She cackled again.
“Sex reassignment surgery? Why would they think that a pretty young thing like you would want to become a man?” When Nancy said “man” her mouth twisted as if she had taken a healthy bite of lemon. “What a ridiculous notion.”
Amy cackled again. At any moment the air would be filled with flying monkeys.
“Amy, there’s been a mistake. You have to send that money back. It was obviously meant for someone else, someone wanting to change his sex, of all things. You can’t keep it.”
“Not just one mistake, but two.” Amy sighed, and then handed Nancy the letter from the State Department.
“What do they mean by ‘suspicious’?” Nancy asked after reading the second letter. “Were you a member of some strange political club in England? I know that young people can get sucked right into things. Maybe you need a lawyer?”
“It’s not like that. I’m only suspicious because I am who I am.”
Nancy nodded, although it her face still looked confused. She looked around the apartment until her eyes rested on the cell phone lying on Amy’s couch.
Amy followed Nancy’s eyes. “Do you need to call someone?”
“I’m thinking 911 — you don’t look so good.”
“Don’t bother,” Amy said. She stood up and jogged in place for a moment. “There. See. I’m much better. Thank you so much.”
Nancy smiled. “Do you need money? Oh! I already asked you that and you said no, right?”
“Yes — I don’t need any money.” She bent over and picked up the check for forty thousand dollars the hospital had sent back. “I’m good to go. If I could go -- which I can’t.” She pointed to the letter from the State Department, which Nancy still held in her hand.
“I’ve never been out of the country,” Nancy said. “What’s the big deal if you don’t have a passport for awhile? You’ll get it all fixed up. You’re not a terrorist — are you?”
“Heavens no!” It hurt her that Nancy would even ask. “I’m just a girl with no visible future.”
Paper or Plastic?
Early the next morning Amy went to the Federal Building, which housed the Post Office. After searching the listings in the main lobby, she went to an office on the fourth floor. In less than a minute a cheerful receptionist ushered her in to meet with a professionally dressed woman.
“I need help,” Amy said. She handed the woman the letter she had received from the State Department.
The woman glanced at the letter and then typed something into her computer. “You’re on our one - nine - eight - four list.”
“Uhmm.” Amy felt a hard edge on the forward part of her chair. A picture of the current president hung on the wall. It had been personally signed with a short note that Amy could not read.
The woman, who hadn’t introduced herself, frowned at Amy. “We have compiled a list of people who for one reason or another have been deemed suspicious by our office in Washington.”
Amy blushed with anger. “I’m not suspicious. My goodness. I’ve never even had a traffic ticket. I’m certainly not political. I couldn’t even tell you the name of my senators.”
“I see, but then not every terrorist walks in here and confesses, now do they.” The woman grinned at her own joke. “According to the symbol next to your name, you’re listed in our database as being gender confused. I think you people call yourselves ‘transgendered.’ ”
“Yes, I am transgendered, but what does that have to do with my passport being revoked.”
“Where have you been? Under a rock?” The woman snorted. “This has been debated for months. It’s for everyone’s safety. You don’t want another 9/11 to happen, do you?”
“Ohhhhhh.” Amy clenched her fists. “Do I look like a terrorist?”
“No,” the woman answered, showing some frustration at Amy’s ignorance, “but you don’t look like a woman who would want to become a man, either. Why on earth would you want to be a wimp called. . . .” she picked up the letter to check the greeting, “. . .Anthony James, when you look like you do. I could understand if you were one of those woman with huge shoulders who walks like a dockworker.”
Amy could hardly believe the woman’s audacity. “How can I prove to you that I’m not a terrorist?”
“Dropping that phony British accent would be a good first step.” The woman sneered.
“Phony? This is how I speak. I’ve lived in England for quite a number of years, I’ll have you know.”
“That’s a problem in itself. People who travel abroad are considered suspicious. Real Americans don’t travel.” The woman drummed her desk with her fingers. “However, our government is not about to mistreat its citizens. We’re not like all those other countries that you liberals think are better than us. All you have to do is to have two United States citizens, who are in good standing, testify that they have known you for the last five years, and that you’re not a threat to our way of life.”
“But --- I don’t know anyone who is a United States citizen who has known me for five years. I don’t have any relatives and I’ve been out of the country.”
“A person with your decrepit morals and living abroad -- and you wonder why you’re considered suspicious? There’s no one the government trusts who can vouch for you. That makes you suspicious. Do you have any other questions?”
Amy shook her head and rose to leave.
“One other thing, dear,” the woman said. “Give up your silly notion of ever becoming a man. Find yourself a husband and raise a family. Join a ladies’ club and make some good friends. In five years you will be able to have them fill out the necessary forms and you can get your passport back. Why anyone would ever want to leave the United States is beyond me. We have everything here. There’s a Wal-Mart and a McDonald’s right around every corner with everything you’d ever want to buy or eat.”
By that afternoon Amy had formulated a plan. Even though she needed a passport to get into Canada, she was sure there were places along the border where she could walk across undetected. They needed nurses in Canada; and she felt like she would be welcomed with open arms. Her nursing accreditation from the UK would be respected there.
She needed cash, so she took her check from the hospital and went to the bank where she had a savings account.
“Good afternoon.” Amy smiled at the young teller. “That’s a beautiful bracelet.”
The teller continued working on her computer and apparently hadn’t heard a word Amy had said. She finally looked up. “HowcanFirstFranklinserveyou?”
Amy laughed lightly. “First Franklin can ‘serve me’ by cashing this check. I would like fifteen thousand in cash, and the other twenty-five thousand is to go into my savings account.”
“Excuse me?” Amy said. Could she talk any faster?
“All — withdrawals — over — ten — thousand — need — officer — approval.” She flipped her index finger toward a woman in her thirties sitting at a desk on the other side of the bank lobby.
“I don’t wish to withdraw anything,” Amy said. “I simply would like to cash a check and make a deposit.”
“Allwithdrawalsovertenthousandneedofficerapproval,” the teller said with a hint of disgust at Amy’s inability to comprehend simple instructions.
“Okay, please just deposit my check, and then I’ll get approval to ‘withdraw’ fifteen thousand. At least I’m now certain you’re quite careful with the money I have here in your bank.” Amy smiled ruefully at their bureaucracy.
Armed with her deposit slip and her passbook, which indicated a balance of eighty-seven thousand plus after the deposit, Amy walked to the desk of the “officer” to seek her permission. Talk about a game of “Captain May I.”
“Good morning,” Amy said. “The teller asked that I obtain your permission to access my money,” Amy fidgeted nervously. It sounded so utterly silly. “I would like fifteen thousand in cash, please.”
“You bet,” the woman said. “Don’t you hate all the government red tape? I see you have your passbook, could I scan the bar code to read your balance?” Amy gave her the passbook, and then watched over her shoulder as the balance, including her recent deposit, came up on the screen. Her smile faded when she saw the screen blink “Flagged Account: Code 1984.”
“Oh. What have we here?” The officer said. “It appears that your account has come under the scrutiny of the regulators. I’m sorry your assets in this bank have been frozen.”
“Frozen?” Amy felt a feeling of panic that was becoming too familiar rise in her throat, and then anger washed over her. “When was my account frozen?”
“I can’t tell you that?”
“Was it before this morning?”
“It’s really none of your business as that transaction is between the government and this bank, but. . . . Yes, it was several weeks ago.”
“If you would be so kind,” Amy said with some hostility, “I would like you to return my check for forty thousand. If my account was frozen you shouldn’t have added money.”
The woman looked at Amy with some scorn. “Listen, your account was only frozen for withdrawals. You put that money in under your own free will. That’s not my fault. You know what? I shouldn’t even be telling you this, but I’m going to. Code 1984 is for people that the government has identified as suspicious under the Ethical Clothing Act. It includes all the ‘trans’ kind of people. If I was you I would go home and ask my husband what he’s been doing in my closet.” She got up from her desk and placed a sign on it that said, “Gone to Lunch,” thereby ending their conversation. Before leaving, she pushed a leaflet entitled “Frozen Assets” into Amy’s hands.
Amy didn’t own any credit cards, so her “assets” outside of the frozen account amounted to less than two hundred dollars in cash that was in her billfold. She found a chair in the lobby and quickly scanned the pamphlet. She could withdraw up to $250 a week from her account for living expenses. She could further request that the bank pay her rent directly out of the account on her behalf.
So much for Canada, she thought.
Amy had just sobbed on Nancy’s shoulder while telling her a tale of no-dough-woe. Like a good neighbor should, Nancy had popped in the moment she had heard Amy come back from the bank.
“Honey,” Nancy said, “you need to level with me.”
Amy nodded. She wanted to be honest, but was uncertain if Nancy could handle the truth.
“Do you, or did you at any time, want to have surgery to become a man?” Nancy asked.
Nancy breathed an audible sigh of relief. “Thank goodness. I mean it. I know we had to do something about everything and such, but darn it, the government really screwed the pooch with you.”
Her three children had been in bed for over an hour. Nancy made stiff drinks for Amy and her and had been sitting clear across the room. She scooted over to share the couch with Amy -- after she had been given the assurance Amy didn’t want to be a man.
“Amy,” Nancy said, pursing her lips and pointing her index finger at Amy’s breasts, “you need a man.”
“A man?” Amy had no interest in men, but was eager to have a conversation that would take her mind off her frozen assets.
Nancy smiled and then whispered like a conspirator. “A man stopped by your apartment while you were out. He called himself ‘Billy the Poet.’ ”
“I don’t know any Billy.”
“You should, honey. He’s cute.” She winked. “He said you didn’t know him, but he needed to talk to you. He left this note.” She pulled a small envelope from a pocket in her apron.
Amy opened the envelope and found a strange poem.
Same sex. Same sex.
We’ve heard that crap for years.
I’m the same as yesterday,
And that’s what brings me tears.
Amy blushed and gave the poem to Nancy, assuming she would want to read it.
“That makes no sense,” Nancy said, after she read it several times. “It’s gibberish.”
Amy nodded, although it made perfect sense to her.
“This whole same-sex marriage thing has caused more problems,” Nancy said, shaking her head in dismay. “Darn them, anyway.”
“Those homosexuals and lesbians. You know, the way Billy was dressed reminded me of my dad. He was a hippie. Uh huh. My legal name is Sparkle. Can you believe that? The last thing I wanted when I was a kid was to be different; and my parents woke up every morning scheming how to make themselves more noticeable. We never saw eye-to-eye on anything.”
“Don’t you like homosexuals?” Amy knew the minute she had asked that it had been the wrong question. She had stepped into a quagmire, but since her life had become a quagmire what difference did it make?
Nancy wrinkled her brow. “There’s Tony at the beauty shop. He’s okay, but that doesn’t give him the right to ruin marriage for everyone else. Geez, It’s like those people don’t know marriage is every little girl’s dream. What are they thinking with?”
Amy took out her knitting. Listening to Nancy warm to the subject was like watching a train wreck.
“It’s like it says in the Bible,” Nancy said. “The Lord condemns men who give up their relationships with women to commit shameless acts with other men.”
Amy was familiar with that passage and the arguments about the validity of Paul’s writings and other interpretations. She first bit her lip -- hard — but then just had to comment. “I often wondered something, and maybe you can answer. Which commandment is it that forbids homosexuality?”
Nancy looked puzzled for a moment. “Oh it’s eight or nine, one of those Thou Shalt Not ones.”
“Really?” Amy just couldn’t resist toying with Nancy one more time. “And, where in the Bible did Christ discuss the need for mankind to avoid homosexuality.”
“Sermon on the Mount,” Nancy said with conviction. “Blessed are those who don’t. . .whatever. . .to whomever.”
“Uh huh. I missed that.” Amy smiled at her often misguided, but well-meaning neighbor.
“If the government were to sanction same-sex marriage,” Nancy went on, seemingly glad Amy didn’t have any other questions, “they would be providing a legal foothold for an immoral act; and that’s not right, but you know all that, don’t you?”
“I’ve been out of the country.” Amy tried her best to be non-committal. Thinking about her frozen assets had become more and more real and definitely scary.
“I’m a very tolerant person,” Nancy said. She also took up her knitting needles, which she kept in Amy’s apartment to have at hand when they had their chats. She worked on squares for a quilt she would later crochet together. “However, my tolerance has limits. Those people were trying to change the whole damned definition of what is a family, for goodness sakes. What would my precious little boys think if our government hadn’t passed the Ethical Clothing Act? How could my little squirts be sure of their sexual identities?”
Amy felt as though she was attuned to others who had gender dysphoria. Little Tommy, the baby in Nancy’s family, was already showing definite signs of having a feminine spirit. Amy nodded. She had already dropped several stitches and later would have to redo everything.
“Reverend Parker down at my church was worried sick that one of them was going to bring a suit against our church to force him to marry two men. Would you like me to go over and get us some of those chocolate bars I made?”
“No, thank you. I don’t think I could stand much more.”
“You see Amy … pro — creation . . . that’s what marriage is all about. Making the babies. Without that marriage doesn’t really exist. You see it’s babies that make it important to keep marriage safe and sound so that it’s not merely some passing fancy. It’s like the difference between a man telling jokes on the corner and a full-blown Broadway production of ‘Cats.’ ”
Amy’s head spun thinking about sterile people who wanted to marry, but crawled around on all fours -- purring.
“It’s all about the law of the jungle.” Nancy looked peaceful as she ranted. “People need marriage to be what it is, so that we can keep people together long-term.”
The obvious irony of Nancy’s three marriages escaped her, but not Amy.
“Didn’t I read something in a book,” Amy asked, “about gay people having long-term relationships?”
“They don’t do that,” Nancy said. “Maybe in London, but not in the free world. They jump around like rabbits.” Nancy sighed and shook her head, unable to stomach the sissy infidelity that was obviously running through her mind. “The Constitutional Amendment drew a line in the sand. We not only said ‘No’ to the unholiness of man-on-man marriage, but we threw rocks in the path of incest, tax cheaters who get married for convenience and profit, people who want to marry the family dog,” she sucked in air, “AND we stopped those Mormons right in their tracks.”
“Mormons?” Amy was puzzled beyond her amazement at Nancy’s bigotry.
“Mormons! Didn’t you have them in London? There’s hardly enough good men and they go and be polygamous.”
Amy sighed, partially from nerves and partially because polygamy as practiced by the Mormons would logically increase the odds for an unmarried woman.
“Do you remember that commercial?” Nancy couldn’t hold in her mirth. “Remember when they were working on getting the Amendment passed, that commercial where the groom’s side of the church was crowded with all real people in normal wedding attire, and the pews on the bride’s side of the church were filled with farm animals? That rooster was so hilarious when he said, ‘COCK-a-doodle-DO.’ How obvious was that?”
Amy shook her head.
“Oh, the I-don’t-watch-TV thing. You need to get over that.”
Amy nodded, wondering why.
“It’s children ‘they’ want,” Nancy said, bending her wrist toward Amy. “They want to get married so that they can have children. One can only imagine what they would do then.”
Amy had listened to all that she could take. “Nancy I need to lie down for a moment.”
“I know. I know. It’s hard to think about. I couldn’t. I just did my duty and voted for the Amendment. It was easy after they told me at church about how we had no obligation to accept anyone else’s lifestyle, if that lifestyle has no worth.”
“No worth?” Amy felt her anger grow. “I’m wondering? What do you do about the babies … the babies born with gender abnormalities?”
“Now that’s a problem. Thank goodness there aren’t many of those.” Nancy stood to go.
“Nancy, I’m a nurse. About one child in every one hundred newborns has something about them that is in direct contrast with their stated gender.”
“No! That can’t be. We are born either a man or a woman. It really is that simple.”
Amy practically shoved Nancy out the door before bolting to her bathroom where she heaved all the illness she felt into her toilet.
Later that night she went to a men’s clothing store and bought two pairs of jeans, some cheap tennis shoes, and two sweatshirts.
Billy, Billy — could be Willy,
How does your garden grow?
I plant the seeds and hoe the weeds.
What’s left? I do not know.
On January 3rd Amy left her apartment dressed completely in male clothing, except for her panties and bra. She worried about what her professors and fellow students would say when they saw her. She had pulled her hair back into a low ponytail and wore no make-up. Those days had been left behind her.
Two blocks from campus she spotted a new billboard. Last month it had been covered with a message selling hot tubs. It now said, “Be a good citizen. Men — grow your beard out. Women — keep your hair long. Tell the world who, and what, you are! Report anyone who is suspicious!”
Amy was now Anthony James; and there seemed to be nothing she could do about it for five long years. After five years she could have two people vouch for her so she could get off the 1984 list, and then get a passport.
She walked looking down, deep in turmoil. Her head snapped up when a police siren startled her.
“Stop right where you are,” the police officer called through his P.A. system.
Amt looked around. There was no one within fifty feet of her. She looked at the officer in the police car, which had pulled over and stopped.
“Step away from the curb, turn, put your hands out, and lean against the building.”
“Now spread your feet.”
The policeman got out of the car, and then walked up to Amy. “You’re my first one,” he said proudly.
“Illegal cross-dressing,” he said. “I didn’t think any of you would have the nerve to do it.”
How does he know about my panties and bra?
“Look lady, I’m going to have to take you in, but between you and me, you’re a good-looking broad. You should wear a skirt and forget all that other shit about becoming a man.”
“I don’t want to become a man,” Amy wailed.
“Oh shit,” the officer said. “Save it for the sergeant and the judge.”
When they got to the police station Amy demanded that they strip-search her, which touched off a debate as to whether a policewoman or a policeman should do it.
The sergeant ordered the arresting officer to do it, but when he got to her panties and bra he deferred to a female officer. When the female officer uncovered new evidence, the police were dumbfounded. Their solution was to change the charges to Amy being a public nuisance. Since she didn’t have enough cash or credit cards in order to make bail, she called Nancy.
The police put Amy in a cell by herself, not wanting to create a riot in either of the other holding tanks. Thirty minutes later, Amy had been released, but to her surprise it hadn’t been Nancy who had put up her $250 bail.
“Hi, Amy,” the young man said. “I’m Billy. I was waiting in Nancy’s apartment to talk to you when you called. Nancy had heard me knocking on your apartment door and was nice enough to invite me in.”
He looked pleasant enough, and he had bailed her out of jail. Amy shuddered. The experience of being locked behind bars had left her shaken. She couldn’t help herself from being blunt. “Who are you, for goodness sakes?”
Billy put a finger to his lips. “Let’s get a cup of coffee.” He led her down the block from the police station to a Starbuck’s. They sat at a table as far away from any other customers as possible.
“We have to be careful in here,” he said. “The government owns all the Starbuck’s. They bought them when they realized how addictive the coffee is. They use them to spread propaganda through wall posters and what’s written on the side of the cups.”
Amy’s cup featured a picture of a bearded man in a dress. Next to him was the question, “Is this subversive in training for another 9/11?” A number had been printed on the cup to call if you saw anyone who looked suspicious.
“Why didn’t we go to another coffee house?” Amy asked.
“How long have you been in the U.S.?” He looked furtively in every direction.
“A few months.”
“Have you seen any other kind of coffee house?” His eyes finally rested on hers.
“Come to think of it, no.”
“And you won’t. By law, the government has a monopoly.”
“There’s a lot I don’t know.”
She nodded ruefully.
He took a sip of coffee. “Not bad, considering.” He smiled warmly. “As I said, I’m Billy.”
She extended her hand to him; and he shook it.
His grip was firm, but not crushing. “We don’t use last names. I go by Billy the Poet.”
“I received your poem,” Amy said. “Who are ‘we’?”
Billy lowered his voice. “My birth gender was female.”
“There are thousand of us in the underground. The government might have done us a favor with their new laws, as we’ve become much better organized.” He wiped mocha from his upper lip with a napkin.
“Isn’t it dangerous for you to be walking around in men’s clothing?”
“That’s been taken care of.” He winked.
Amy assumed that he meant that he had undergone surgery. “Listen, Billy. I don’t know if you know about it, but the government has a list.”
“The 1984 list,” Billy smiled. “Wouldn’t you think they could have been a bit less Orwellian?”
“Omigosh,” Amy said. “I hadn’t even thought of that. Aren’t you afraid they’ll hunt you down?”
“I’m not on the list … anymore.” He caught her eyes in his stare.
Amy blushed and looked away. His terminal cuteness had not been lost on her.
“Did you have two people vouch for your character?” she asked.
“Did they try that one on you?” Billy asked. “No one who has filed those forms has ever been taken off the list. The only thing that happens is both of the people who vouch for you are added to the list of suspicious people.”
“Nooo.” Amy quickly reasoned that she would never get back to England and never would have her SRS.
“Amy, I was sent to you by your friend, Doctor Nation of Grand Rapids, Minnesota.”
Amy scowled. “He’s not my friend. He sent me a letter telling me that he won’t do my surgery.”
“That’s why I’m here. He wants you to come to Minnesota. He’s still doing as many surgeries as before, but he’s very discreet in how he records them. You will be having an ‘emergency appendectomy.’ ”
“I don’t think so,” Amy said. “I had my appendix removed years ago.”
“It grew back.” Billy laughed, as he pointed toward her crotch.
Amy blushed, finally realizing what he meant. “This is all too much,” Amy said with a sigh of relief. “Oh dear. I can’t afford to pay the hospital. My bank account has been frozen; 1984 you know.”
“What’s been frozen can be thawed.”
“But I don’t know anyone who can vouch for me and you said….”
“Amy, the underground has a lot of liberals within our ranks. There are quite a few conservatives, too. Gender-bending knows no political boundaries. But it’s the liberals that are important for freeing your bank account.”
“You do know that all liberals are computer geniuses, don’t you?” He grinned, while Amy shrugged. “Sure, Al Gore, the founder of the internet, is our leader.”
Amy vaguely knew who Al Gore was, or had been, or might be.
“We have people who can fix things,” Billy said.
“Like bank accounts?”
He nodded, and then he laughed. “Today the government is starting what they call Operation Catch the Sissies. They are mining the databanks at mail order houses such as Lane Bryant’s, in an effort to identify closet cross-dressers. They hope to prosecute thousands.”
“Exactly. Except we’ve hidden the information from them that they wanted and have replaced it with our list. We call our list ‘Dave.’ ”
“Dave was the person who worked with the Hal 9000 computer in ‘2001: A Space Odyssey.’ The Hal 9000 was the computer that got too smart for its own good.”
“You’ve lost me.”
“Let’s just say that the government’s probe is going to find some very embarrassing purchases that were made by three cabinet members, four Supreme Court judges, and the vice president. That should teach them to keep their eyes where they belong.”
They both laughed.
Amy felt much better, but became serious when she realized she still had problems. “Once I’m off the 1984 list, I can go back to England. That will be nice, I guess.”
“Is that what you want to do?”
“I’d rather stay here. I’ve been looking forward to seeing my homeland.”
Billy also became serious. “The United States is a great country filled with great people who have been misled. What started out as a wedge issue to get out the conservative vote, took on a life of its own. It’s horrible when hate comes to the surface.”
“Why did they ever pass such a horrible law as the Ethical Clothing Act?”
“It’s a bad law,” Billy said. “If you go back through history, you’ll find that the people who have been most eager to rule, to make the laws, to enforce the laws, and to tell everybody exactly how God Almighty wants things here on Earth — those people have forgiven themselves and their friends for anything and everything. But they have been absolutely disgusted and terrified by the natural sexuality of men and woman. Why this is, I do not know.”
“Do you think things will go back to how they were?”
“I’m sure of it. Why don’t you stay? Dr. Nation said that he’d love to find a spot for you on his staff.”
“I’m not certified, and I have a feeling the Dean of Students is poised to make my life miserable.”
“Do you really need more education to work effectively as a nurse for Dr. Nation?”
“Not really, I can always learn more, but I’m just putting in my time in college to get a piece of paper.”
“A piece of paper that’s generated by a computer.” Billy winked broadly.
Amy and Billy left the coffee house, and then walked to the front steps of Amy’s apartment building. As Billy explained Amy’s probable future, her heart lifted. He promised her another member of the underground would contact her within four or five hours to begin the process of making Amy Jayne Belmont a reality through computer magic.
Amy could feel Nancy’s eyes watching through her apartment’s window. As Amy hugged Billy, she realized she probably wouldn’t see Billy again AND she definitely wouldn’t miss the prying Nancy McLuhan.
She smiled as she raced into her apartment to strip the offensive jeans from her body. She vowed that in the future she would be amongst the millions of women who proudly complied with the Ethical Clothing Law. All of the nursing uniforms that she would wear while working in Doctor Nation’s hospital -- would be dresses.
My apologies to “Welcome to the Monkey House” by the late Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. The longer paragraph of Billy’s dialogue, just above, is lifted word for word from that wonderful story, as are several character’s names.
My thanks to a dear friend who lives quite happily in a Monkey House — Jenny Walker. If you haven’t read her wonderful stories, do yourself a favor.
If you liked this post, you can leave a comment and/or a kudos!
Click the Thumbs Up! button below to leave the author a kudos:
And please, remember to comment, too! Thanks.