Transcriptions (1)

Spring 2004

 

 

 

Praying For Dresses
By Alicia Goranson

The on-call nurse had only asked her where she was from, and half an hour later, Jane Cunningham was still going strong. Her blue press-on nails and white teeth flashed as she gesticulated with every story.

"I heard the greatest piece of dialog on ‘Friends,’" Jane continued, shaking her blond mane, "It was a flashback episode where the girls were in their preteens and the one who was a virgin asked another about this erotic novel she’d just read. ‘They talk about him moving his tenderness against her,’ she says, and the other one says, ‘Hon, there’s nothing tender about it.’ Isn’t that wonderful?"

Forty-two years after she saw her first breast, Jane was prepared for her man to emerge into her life. It wasn’t so long ago that she’d been mistaken as one herself, but countless hours with electrolysis, her hairdresser and a professional makeup consultant ensured that it wouldn’t happen again. This trip out to the doctor’s had eliminated that last token of masculinity, and she could now wear skimpy bathing suits and make sweet love without a bit of shame.

Jane launched into a dissection of the sitcom actors’ outfits, and those of the other patients. She reserved her opinions on the staff, even though they needed to wear more dresses. Few women in the hospital even wore skirts. The world was cruel enough, even while the line in the sand held apart the genders, but as the line was washed away, Jane was cast back from whence she came. That would not do.
The nurse kept busy and casually agreed with everything she said. The general recovery ward was large, but Jane could address the nurse from anywhere in the room. If the nurse disappeared into one of the patient’s bedrooms, it would be bothersome, but the nurse was never long and changed shifts with another every eight hours.

Her conversation was interrupted by the appearance of a young transsexual, from the room adjacent to her own. She wore a modest terry-cloth robe, from K-Mart or Macy’s, not a decent store. The girl was a scrawny twenty-something with fluffy red curls. She had the resilience of youth, and thus was walking on her first day; Jane had required a couple days to leave her room. The girl gave Jane a quick smile and breezed behind the television to the ice machine, like a poor kid unknowingly crashing a country club party. Jane noted that the young one still had her original facial bones. That crooked nose had to go, too.

"And another thing," Jane continued to the nurse, "I’m very uncomfortable with all these male nurses. One of the overnighters came into my room when I had the ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign up. Can you imagine?"

"Just a moment," the nurse left her post and approached the girl, "Becka? Isn’t it time for your percoset?"

Recognition dawned over Becka’s face. "Oh, yeah," she said, as if she could have lived without them. The nurse took her to the hallowed pill drawer and handed her three white percosets. Becka popped one. "You can keep the rest," she said, "I don’t really do painkillers."

The nurse nodded in approval; she rewarded the patients for any sign of independence. She had told Jane at the beginning of her stay that she was their favorite. Jane still let them clean out her shower and make her bed.

Becka glided back to her room and shut the door. Jane flipped through the pharmaceutical advertisements at the station. The nurse thrust three painkillers into her palm, but Jane handed back two.

"Oh no, I’m doing better," she said, "I was just reading an article about McDonald’s changing their oil again. Isn’t it dreadful?"

In two days, Jane would leave the ward. She barely knew anyone there, anyway. Even Mrs. Kraus was a mystery, despite spending most evenings with her on the couch. Not that anyone had made an effort to talk to her recently, except the staff. Since they changed shifts so frequently she had to make a fast impression on them. Jane wanted her own talk show, one sensible like Oprah to counter that nasty Mr. Springfield.

Despite her lack of conversation, Mrs. Kraus was pleasant company. She was oblivious to everything. She had no idea she was the only non-trans patient in the ward. She was always bundled up like the street people Jane had seen near her home near Chicago. Mrs. Kraus wore her sunglasses all times of the day and wrapped her head in a bright red scarf. If Jane had met her before, she might have thought Mrs. Kraus was an Arab.

Jane and Mrs. Kraus watched the news that evening, which featured a local water pipe bursting. All the other patients had locked themselves away. Suddenly, Mrs. Kraus muttered out loud, in a high gruff voice that a dachshund might have if it could speak. "It’s what I get for buying a house with a lawn," she said, "My water bill was over a hundred and fifty last month. And my insurance doesn’t cover my cataract surgery."

Jane snapped to attention, and did not give her the chance to breathe. "You know what you should do," she said, "Get your area surveyed and put in a private well. My friend Beatrice lives in a condominium development that put one in and it saved their fee hike last summer. And it’s the same water the town uses!"

Mrs. Kraus humphed and stared in a direction almost towards Jane. "Bureaucrats! Charge you twice for the same service if you let ‘em."

Jane dropped her hands over her knees and leaned forward. "That’s so true," she sighed, "Two years ago, the towns were collecting the gasoline tax for the state and were misreporting the totals to siphon off funds. It took us a year of lobbying but we finally had that practice overturned. You know, gas prices dropped three cents that winter!" That was a good year for her. Of the three hundred people who had sent letters into their Congressman, she had been one of the first.

"Gas," Mrs. Kraus shook her head while her voice drifted away, "Don’t get me started on the Arabs."

On the dresser of Jane’s room was a bouquet of flowers with which Jane rewarded herself, several days ago, for adapting to the ward so quickly. She played with them the next morning as she waited for the magazine cart to arrive. A nurse had pointed it out to her after she saw Jane skimming through the Gideon’s Bible in her room in desperation for something to read. Jane gladly had traded Ephesians for the Ladies Home Journal. She had built up her strength with walks in the little garden outside her bedroom window. She wore a different dress each day, ever since her catheter had come out.

Katie shuffled about in her room, adjacent to Jane’s; always a late riser. Katie had moved in three days after Jane, with her bad wig, awkward gait, and French accent. She had been a good listener, though. Jane had taken it on herself to show her around.

"Ask for extra towels," Jane had said, "Your bathroom doesn’t have a fan and the nurse needs plenty to dry the floor after you’ve showered. They are always in short supply in the evening, so make sure to get several. And if you can, walk to the cafeteria for better food."

Katie was a quick study. After a couple days, she sequestered herself in her room, tracked down every cable channel that carried "The Simpsons" and emerged only to visit the cafeteria at hours when Jane was doing something else.

Fortunately, Sandra had arrived about that time, across the ward from Jane. Sandra had a round face, which enveloped her cheekbones, and had a noticeable bald spot. She was not interested in learning feminine speech inflections. Jane had waited for Sandra asked to come to her to ask for help. She had hung around her couch with Mrs. Kraus and had gotten things done. She had arranged the plastic flowers on the communal television, had gathered a stack of the most insightful medical journals by her side, and had acquired rare forms for ordering the best cafeteria food.

The evening after she had arrived, Sandra had introduced herself, and had casually claimed the Lazy Boy nearest Jane. "Hello," she had said in her deep soothing tone, "One of the doctor’s aides mentioned you’d be the one to talk to."

Jane had flashed her wide lips and beautifully unaltered teeth. "Really," she had said, "Talk to me about what?"

"Anything," Sandra had shrugged and waited for a topic to appear. They had both spoken at the same time.

"I came down from Seattle…" Sandra had said while Jane had spouted, "Have you had any kind of procedure like this before?"

Sandra had shaken her palm to Jane and had bowed her head, "Please. You go first."

So she did. She had spoken of the ghastly weather, the stagnation of the high tech economy, the lack of decent boots over size 11, and why the hospital staff didn’t wear more dresses. Sandra had interrupted her occasionally with comments such as, "It’s really good for the lawns," "Oh, you can get them on-line," and "I wouldn’t know anything about that, I manage a small coffee shop that’s probably going to hell without me."

Eventually, Sandra had insisted she had an early bedtime after a while, and turned in. Jane was relieved. For the next few days, she hid behind her journals and openly discussed with Mrs. Kraus her distaste for gourmet coffee. Sandra, like Katie, disappeared into her own room.

Jane’s teeth ached every time Becka’s phone rang, which it did often. It screamed with a shrillness that its manufacturer must have spent much time and energy into crafting. Jane inquired as to whether the staff could provide pagers to patients, but was unsuccessful. Her own phone remained quiet.

Becka did not emerge often, but when she did, Jane would brace herself for both the possibility that Becka might say something to her. That night, after Mrs. Kraus switched the news to a comedy show on the television, Becka finally did. Jane had her nose in a fashion magazine but was aware of Becka leaning over the sofa, entranced by the show.

"Oh, ‘Whose Line Is This Anyway?’" she said to Jane, "That the American or British version?"

Jane folded the magazine and calmly looked up at her. "I really don’t know," she said, "I don’t watch much television. There’s a comedy troupe in town that I see regularly. Much more interesting."

Becka nodded. "Mmm hmm," she replied, "I like those too. You get to see all the things they can’t say with the network censors."

A phone rang in the general direction of Becka’s room. Jane’s teeth didn’t grind like they should have; the tone was muffled, as if behind a closed door. Jane stood up, and peered at Becka, who made no movement towards her own room. Without a thought for decorum, Jane whisked by her and caught her own phone before the call bounced back to the operator.

Her friend, Tina was in town for the week and available to visit the following day. Jane gave Tina directions. None of Becka’s friends gave her the courtesy of showing up.

When Jane returned to her couch, Becka had departed. Mrs. Kraus was circling the main suite with her walker. She was wearing a Knicks baseball cap instead of her scarf. Jane picked up a People magazine and waited for her to stop.

Tina arrived before lunch the next day, wrapped in a Bloomindales faux fur. Jane prepared herself with her silk green dress and pink sandals. They kissed each other’s cheeks and blocked the doorway to the main suite.

"What are you here for?" Jane asked her.

Tina touched her sore shoulders. "Top stuff. Like you’re here for bottom stuff. Congratulations!" She grinned and hugged her carefully. "How deep is it?"

Jane was as pleased as a cat with a sneaky mouse. "I got the dilator to five and three-quarters inches," she said, and indicated the size with her fingertips.

Tina laughed and clasped her hands against her chest. "My God, that’s wonderful," she said, "Just go easy on it, okay? You know Sadie, back home, went a little crazy going for six inches and hit Fistula city."

Jane blinked in surprise but caught herself. "Ouch, I heard," she said, "Then, she was always the size queen."

Tina leaned in her ear and whispered, "To make up for other things." She gestured to her chest, "Well, these guys have been doing well. 42C."

Tina’s coat was heavy but the bulges were unmistakable. "Fantastic," Jane said, "You are so worth it."

Tina shrugged but stopped halfway and winced. She rubbed her upper chest. "I’m not worth the months of healing," she said, "But that’s the price we pay."

Jane helped her to rub. "Most people never know such pain," she said, "I’m on percoset, for God’s sake, the real stuff, not the generic. And Dell Computers wants me back before I’ve had a chance to properly heal."

"That’s awful," Tina gasped.

"They love me there though," Jane said as she ushered Tina towards her private quarters, "I bet the place is going to hell without me."

Tina had to leave soon after for an appointment. Jane let her know that she was departing the ward; herself, the next day, and Tina wished her the best. Jane showed off the outfit she had picked set up in the closet. It was a loose violet Kaspar suit, with black boots and stockings. She had her story ready for the slight attendants. She had just had her hysterectomy and would need to make frequent trips to the bathroom. Tina gave her approval, "It’s none of their goddamn business anyway," she said, "When are they going to learn that?"

After she accompanied Tina out, Jane saw Becka’s silhouette pacing about through the frosted glass. She was on the phone, as usual. Jane carefully stood by the door and listened in. "It’s like I’m stuck here with all these old people," Becka was saying, "The ‘more woman than woman’ crowd. Like Christmas at a girlfriend’s house without the girlfriend."

Jane blinked and stepped away. Becka had no place casting stones when she spent all her time with her own cable television, like Sandra and Katie. Becka stuck acrylic up her swollen twat and wiped off the blood just like every other trans patient in the ward. She was just a kid.

While the on-duty nurse helped Mrs. Kraus with her eye bandages, Jane slipped into the station and scanned the paperwork of the other patients. It confirmed that Jane had been a woman less time than all the others she’d met here. She felt far older. She had suffered when she was called "Sir" at the supermarket even while wearing a hat and a Laura Ashley outfit, or on the phone with a telemarketer. She could stomach it. Becka, Katie, and Sandra barely passed. When the time came, she doubted they would face up to the insults as well.

The nurse had left Jane’s lunch, still covered, on a green plastic tray on the couch. Jane sat down and ate her cool Salisbury steak, and flavorless vegetables. She vowed not to complain about anything for the rest of the day.

That night, Jane took a little longer than usual to dilate herself. She wedged the acrylic shaft five and three-quarters inches inside her body, a full extra half inch. When she pulled it out, her body shook. It had a little more blood than usual mixed in the lube. She closed her eyes, clasped her hands over her spread legs, and prayed for any rips inside her to disappear. She asked that she would not visit Fistula City. She promised that she would not be so stupid ever again.

After she had cleaned up, she slid her green dress back on and adjourned to her circle of power in the main suite. Sandra and Katie were watching "Survivor" on the couch. Jane pretended to paw through the linen closet, hidden behind the icemaker, and listened.

"I’m scared to be a grandparent," Sandra said, "I have two little boys. They still call me Poppa. They live with their father in a mobile home, mostly, sometimes with me."

"At least you have children," Katie sighed, "I’m sterile… now."

"You can always adopt," Sandra said lightly, at the wonder of the prospect.

"True, true," Katie agreed, "I never thought of that."

Jane bit her lip. She had never won their ease. She shuffled around the front and appeared surprised to find them there. Mrs. Kraus was on the Lazy Boy, for who knows how long. Jane wished everyone a good evening, and took a spot beside Sandra.

"So, what did I miss on the TV?" she asked. They shrugged and silently watched whatever was on.

On her last morning in the ward, Jane checked over her packed bags, and fretted over whether or not to leave a tip. The on-call nurses thought kindly of her but a little grease never hurt the wheel. Of course, there was the possibility that one of them might pursue her out to the airport van with the money calling, "Excuse me, miss? You left this in your room."

When the sun set that night, she would be home. The town officials would be available at the council meetings. Jenny the waitress at Penny’s Coffee Shop would sing to her, as she did to all the customers. Greg at Wal-Mart would ring up any item for her as if it was on sale. The shortcut from Evans Avenue to Main Street would be waiting for her, as would Isabella’s Deli, the best place for lunch. She did not know how anyone had the time to learn any more out of life then one could get by living in a single town. She was prepared to write her personal ad and screen suitors at the Pippenelle’s restaurant. The local acting troupe would have auditions for "The Fantastiks" and she had her song memorized. She would be able to eat local mackintosh apples and buy her Thornton Burgess marmalade again. She should have brought some of it to show to the residents.

Jane had saved her make-up for last. She took the powder case from her bag on the dresser, and flipped it open. There was a knock at the door. Jane set the case down and said, "Come in?"

An ivory-haired woman holding a satchel with a Cross on its side entered her bedroom. The pastor was wearing the same Kaspar business dress that she had on, teal to her violet. She had delicate pink nails and lipstick. She wore soft leather pumps with a rounded toe and walked elegantly in them. Her back was straight, and shoulders squared despite her age and the heavy satchel. Jane grinned slightly, in approval.

"Good morning," the pastor said as she approached, "I’m Pastor Annabel. I’m sorry I didn’t get a chance to see you sooner. It’s been busy here and at my parish."

Jane took the pastor’s extended hand, which gripped her’s lightly, and replied, "No problem." Jane loosened her own grasp to match the pastor’s. "Wonderful outfit, by the way," said.

The pastor beamed to her. "Well, thank you for noticing," she said, and gestured towards Jane’s feet, "I love your boots, I had a pair of those last year."

The boots were well polished, less than a month from the box. Cracks appeared over their leather texture as Jane realized they were last year’s fashions. She shook her head. "It’s just because I’m traveling today," she said, "Airports can scuff up a good pair of shoes in no time."

The pastor dropped her bag into the armchair beside the door. "Ah," she said, "Can I offer you some reading to take with you on your journey home?"

Jane crossed her arms over her chest but did not bend closer to see what was inside. "Certainly," she said, "What do you have?"

The pastor bent over to riffle through her pamphlets, "I have Psalms for healing and relief from sickness. I have tales from the Gospels on Jesus’ advice on making our way through modern life. And I have some wonderful letters from Paul in celebration of the Lord."

Jane sniffed to herself. And would she like fries with that, with a helping from the satchel and a scoop of mashed potatoes from the cafeteria. She remembered her short time with the Gideon’s. "Oh," she said, "Would you have any of his letters to the Ephesians? The chapters on respect as treating our fellows as Christ?"

The pastor gave a quizzical look and ruffled through her satchel. Jane backed up carefully in her out-of-style boots and picked up her makeup bag. She opened it and pawed through the lipstick colors. She pictured each shade on her pink face, and how well it would match the violet of her dress and blond hair. She was an Autumn; light brown or ruddy red might work. The pastor was almost at the end of her search. Jane spied a soft plum, and slipped her thumb and index finger around it. She did not have time for the mirror. She gently ran the tip of the plum over her lower and upper lips. She left the lip sides uncovered, as the models in her style magazines wore it.
The pastor finished a second rustle through the papers and arose, shaking her head in disappointment. "I’m sorry," she said, "I don’t have any of those letters." She furrowed her brow slightly, as if there was something different about Jane.

Jane smiled more naturally, with pride. "Not to worry," she said, "I can get whatever I need at the airport shops."

The pastor wouldn’t hear of it. She pulled out an extra Bible at the bottom of her satchel, and handed it to Jane. "This is a much better translation than you’ll get in those shops," the pastor said, "Take it. I have enough."

Jane tapped the heavy binding against her palm. "Thank you," she said and held it to her breast.

The pastor took hold of her bag and made sure it was in order. "Before I go," she said, "Is there a specific prayer I can make on your behalf?"

There was much that Katie, Sandra, and Becka needed to hear, but would not. Jane could not warn them of the world of danger they would have if they did not start obsessing over passing. "Dresses," Jane said.

The pastor cocked her head. "Excuse me?" she said.

"A prayer for dresses," Jane said, "There’s really nothing as womanly as a dress. And so few of them here."

The pastor threw her satchel over her shoulder. "I’ll do that," she said, and shook Jane’s hand, more firmly, "It was so nice to meet you, Jane."

"Thank you for visiting," Jane smiled back, and dropped the Bible on the suitcase carrying her souvenirs.

Jane visited the couch for the last time. The television was off. Her eyes wandered over the wall clock’s hands as they spun down the minutes until the airport van arrived. Behind her, the pastor continued her rounds. Katie took three minutes, Sandra was two minutes, and Becka was forty seconds. She stayed with Mrs. Kraus a full half an hour. She heard a real dialogue inside.

Jane shook her head at all of them. She wished she had asked how they tame their images in the mirror without a fiery pigheadedness, or why they eschewed shaved eyebrows, mascara, blush, and lipstick. It was so important to staying short of drag queen, and track down every visual cue. Ordinary people were idiots without the cues. Her mother was an idiot for not recognizing that she held a girl in her arms. Her therapist was an idiot for not noticing all the symptoms of gender identity disorder. Everyone who had known her had been an idiot at some point. That left little hope for total strangers.

Life was a struggle against "Sir."

Jane took out a pen and wrote it down, on the inside cover of her new Bible. She would pray for all of them, in case the pastor did not get around to it.

-End-

Alicia Goranson is a spirited writer from south of Boston, which she co-habits with various squirrels, raccoons, and turkeys. She is currently working on her second novel, How Cheryl Got Her Tail. Her other writings can be found at http://www.supervillainz.com.

 

Transcription

 

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Butch Dyke Boy announces the launch of Transcriptions, our new on-line literary magazine. Quarterly editions will feature three stories chosen from submitted work. Stories printed in the online journal will also be selected for publication in a print journal, planned to be published at least once a year, along with featured poems and editorials as well as work previously performed at the GenderCrash open mike.

Please submit up to 12 page stories to transcriptions@butchdykeboy.com. Selected work will be edited by Toni Amato. Deadline for submissions will be the first day of the month prior to publication date: work due by March 15, 2004 July 1, 2004 and November 1, 2004.

Feedback? Please mail all comments to butchdykeboy at aol.com, they will be forwarded to the author.

 

 

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