Gender Euphoria transgressive transgender fiction High heels throw each tilt in my step into relief. Walking in itself is a balancing act; two feet, a few scant square inches of surface, pulse against the ground. Just this small action has to take into account the distribution of weight on your body, head, knees, stomach, elbows constantly swinging around and creating an amazingly fluid physics equation for your feet to master. Air drag has to be in there too, and height, relative velocity, and the full coffee cup in your hands poses a whole new dilemma. Feet are amazingly good at balancing all this. Sometimes I fling my arms out and just let myself fall to give everyone a break from the constant calculations. This is what passed through my head as I tried on my first pair of high heels, up in my mother's closet. This is what I remember every time I put them on now: that life is a balancing act, and I want to do more with my tightrope than tiptoe across it. It's quiet in this wing of the building. I can hear each ridge on the soles of someone's stiff English wingtips touching the tiled floor in rolled succession, but the hollow echo of the sound makes it impossible to tell how far away the walker passes. I step back into the shelter of their motionless, plastic-veined rubber plant and wait for the air-conditioned silence to reassert itself. Across the hallway, between two framed reproductions of New Deal government-sanctioned art, I spot the stylized alcove in which a real live receptionist has been placed to create and complete the company's open-door policy. This corporation does not make widgets or sprockets or retirement funds; if you asked them what they produce, they would probably say "Freedom," smile with movie-star teeth, and make a photo op appear out of nowhere. The movie star they would most resemble would be Jaws. They are a magazine company or an activist group; no one is sure which, the quality of their lobbying being roughly that of the slick ad supplement which they choose to call a magazine. All that anyone can be sure of is that they never state an identity beyond "gay," but work hard to make you think they include lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered people of all colors, classes, and creeds. I hesitate, and boldly enter the women's room. As I cross the threshold, the walls dissolve me, and I can feel the constant screaming, chattering, ball-bouncing, arm-waving, running yelling laughing perpetual motion force of playground noise at my back as I creep along, enclosed in my eight-year-old bubble of silence. The cement wall is cool against my skin as I press against it, on a commando mission to achieve a double-dog-dare and break into: THEIR bathroom. I glance over my shoulder for yard narks. The ambient noise is drowned out by the drumming of my heart. I straighten my back, square my shoulders, and push the door open just a crack, just enough to scope out my task. I find myself staring into another world. Even the tiles are different colors, a dingy yellow with gold flakes instead of the undistinguished brown-orange of spilt watercolors. It is dark and mysterious. Feeling like Indiana Jones leaping a canyon to discover the Holy Grail, I push the door a bit harder and dash in, hearing shrieks behind me as my classmates egg me on into enemy territory. Then all I hear is the groan of old hinges and the gunshot crack as the door slams shut behind me. I stand just inside the bathroom, stiff with amazement as I stare around and around at the battered temple. It is all mine: no one has disengaged themselves from the wild rounds of pogo ball and tag to empty their bladders. That will come later, when the first bell rings and every child in school tries to achieve a bathroom break before being herded into class. The chipped goldenrod stall doors rise ahead of me, guarding secrets I cannot even begin to believe. I take a deep, slow breath, holding in my lungs the stale air of a long-sealed pyramid. The room seems offended at the obscenely loud echo of my breath. The shadows underneath the toilets and the darkness in the curving belly of the sink seem to hold the omnipresent taste of stale urine and abandoned paper towels, saving them from all attempts at erasure by Clorox and bleach. I move forward, holding my breath, and am jolted three feet into the air when the door suddenly opens and something grabs the back of my shirt. The light blinds me as I am hauled back outside, blinking furiously to see where I am being taken. For once there is no-one around to mock me and order me out, to see my explanation and reveal their disgust. The stalls are empty, and I duck into the largest one, snap my briefcase open, and pull out a shiny, violently fuschia pair of stiletto heels. Handfuls of glitter, denim, and thirty years later, I slip out of the corporate bathroom, careful not to let my new costume alert anyone to my presence. I watch the receptionist for precisely a quarter of an hour, weaving bells around my ankles, accustoming myself with the rhythmic interplay between ringing phone and long, page-turning silences. Finally, I hear the phone ring again, and time myself so that just as she puts the speaker on hold and picks up her Danielle Steel, I stride up to her desk. "Can I get in here to do some measurements?" She nods, hardly looking up from her book, used to such requests. Giving her a businesslike nod, I whip out a measuring tape and turn my back on her, measuring the walls, the rooms height and length, the side of her desk, the size of her telephone and computer, her height sitting down, pull her to her feet and measure her standing, measuring in my soul her moment of bewilderment and using it right to the last drop, then tipping my blue gimme cap and disappearing back into the hall. I sense her puzzlement from around the corner, but I know she will do nothing yet. The people I target are very deeply set in denial and apathy. I hook two of the huge potted plants in my hands and carry them into the receptionist's office. Setting them down in opposite corners, I head back out and bring two more in. The dark leaves shine under her fluorescent lighting. Somewhere, a bird sings, and an ambulance lets out a scream like a wild animal in pain. I establish a shield around myself, project safety. Just gonna paint the hallway, been hired to paint the hallway, gotta bring all the plants in here so we can paint the hallway. I watch her out of the corner of my eye and know she heard unconsciously, because she relaxes, returning to her work. I set the last piece into place, and hit the ring-for-service bell on her desk with a triumphant chime. As she jumps, I doff my battered cap, bowing low before her so she can see the sweeping feathered cloak, catskin gloves, and fool's bells which centuries of wear have stripped from me. I look up through my almost palpable greasepaint and declaim, "I hold the power to bestow wealth and fame and to take these away. I can bring plenty during a time of famine or cause the land to be blighted. I can make you fall ill, just as I can heal you with herbs and charms. I can bring lovers together and sever relationships." I rise from one knee and sweep my arm out, the woman's hypnotized gaze following the curve of my blue painter's coverall sleeve. She tries to interrupt, and I ride over her. "I magically dull enemies' swords, halt arrows in flight, raise storms at sea, and --" I hook one high heel around the phone cord and snap it out of the wall -- "sever the chains of imprisoned comrades. I can bring an end to war. I transform people into animals, transfer speech, knowledge, and power from one person to another, and summon spirits at the call of a song." I pause for a beat. "But wait, mademoiselle! The varlet, Time, seeks to destroy you! Away with ye, Queen of Winter!" I seize a ballpoint from her desk and begin to do fierce battle with the potted plants. Crowds have the power to pull people out of their crazy-quilt schedules and shiver them into another world, chanting together, marching away from their promises and commitments and rules. One solitary person has more difficulty. Raising the energy is easy; it's creating the world into which to transport them that trips us up. The old tricksters had it easy: their subjects were eager to be changed, expected a mysterious village visit amid celebration at the same time each year. I close my eyes, still fencing, and ask myself how Joan of Arc would have done it. I can feel the air start to turn wavy and brittle around me as the secretary shifts into a confrontational space. "Who the hell are you?" Her tone is more curious than angry, any diversion welcome in her long hours of drudgery. I seize on this and resolve to play fairy godmother to her Cinderella. Stabbing the plastic veins one last time, I kick my foe over in triumph and announce, "Thy champion, my liege, here only to serve thee." Keeping one wary eye on me, she impales the intercom button on one pralines-and-cream fingernail and asks, "Mr. Duckett, were you expecting anyone?" The intercom quacks back, and she shakes her head. "No, nobody's here. I was just updating the schedule. Sorry to bother you." She clicks it off again and gives me the patented secretarial "If you're quite done here, you may leave now" look. I pull three walnut shells and a round white ball out of my pocket, and drop them on the table. I begin switching the shells back and forth, sliding the ball between them at warp speed. "Oh, come, Sheryl," I say with an unnoticeable glance at her name plate, keeping the hulls moving hypnotically before her. "What else do you have to do today? Entertain a poor old fool for a spare half-hour and I promise you the dividends will be rich." Without taking her eyes off me or bothering to glance at the hulls, she states quietly, "Sir, if you don't get back to work, you're going to get us both fired." I slam a walnut shell down on the desk indignantly. "'Sir'?!" I exclaim, and turn on my heel to flounce out the door, tossing my head. The woman blushes behind me, filling the air with the scent of peaches. "Sorry, Ma'am." I turn around in the doorway to look at her, one eyebrow raised, and stride back to the desk. Hands in pockets, I tower over her. "What makes you think I'm a sir?" I ask, one hand stroking my chin thoughtfully. "Um... w-w-...all right, what are you?" she laughs. I do not laugh back. "I'll give you three guesses." I can hear the green light go on over her head as she counts the number of choices and smiles triumphantly. "Male." "Wrong." "Female!" I smile back at her, tilting my head and kicking one leg out to shift my weight. "Nope." She splutters for a moment, backtracking. "Well you can't be neither!" "Was that a guess?" She stops now to look me over, her eyes frisking my outlines under the coveralls. I step back and spread my arms, allowing her a full view. She shakes her head, frowning. "All right, both." When I don't reply, she corrects herself. "Neither." Silence. "What do you want from me, anyway?!" I watch her head spin. "You're male. You're playing with my head in order in order to get me interested. You just enjoy having women eye you." I bring my arms back in. "What constitutes a male?" She frowns. "Oh, I get it, you're going to tell me you're some kinda space alien or something." "No," I say patiently. "How can I know if you're guessing right if I don't know what you mean by your guesses?" I have fixed my eyes on her, drilling them through her, pinning her down with them. She shakes her head in an unconscious attempt to escape me. "All right... anyone who has a penis." "What if I lost it in an accident?" "Well, you don't have...female organs... so you're still a male, and I'm still right." "What if I never had either?" She taps her pen on the desk. "Uh... hermaphroditic... no, that's both... I don't know. I give up!" "You're not even trying," I say accusingly, suddenly turning menacing. "Don't I have to choose? When did you choose? How will I ever know what box to check on my driver's license? How can I register to vote? How can I apply for a job?! You have to help me!" I fling myself at her feet, then leap up again. "Come on... what'll it be? Male?" I pick up one of the shells, revealing empty desk underneath it. "Female?" Another shell, another void. "Or--" I pick up the third shell and hurl the white ball to the ground, where it cracks open in a bright flash of smoke and truth. With that, I step forward, pick up a ficus, and swing it toward her. The impact of five pounds of potting soil knocks her out, and I step over the threshold, into the president's office. But first, an introduction. "One of these things is not like the others, One of these things just isn't the same. Can you guess which thing is not like the others, Now it's time to play our game, Come on and play our game!" Evenings, I go round other people's neighborhoods, kicking their plaster gnomes over and trampling their flower beds up to the front door to ask them some questions. Have you been a subscriber to our newspaper in the past, ma'am? Would you accept a free demonstration of our new vacuum cleaner, should one be made available to you? Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the Communist Party? I discard my high heels for this job, and eschew my coveralls. Instead, androgyny is the key; if they can't see your gender, they can't be distracted from the questions. I become as personality-free as the questions I am asking. This is how I learned to get my foot in the door. After once having my toe broken in a badly-chosen pair of open-toed sandals, I created ways to keep the door open without getting body parts caught in it. The questions I ask were designed by some faceless marketer to subtly convince people that life is simple, choices are black or white, and yes, they really do need a spanking new combination shower head/espresso machine. My real life is spent in trying to reverse this damage. I brush a few spent petals from my boots and look around at my next suburban challenge. "Julia!" The older of two long-haired earnest children bounces up and down impatiently on her front lawn, then shrieks, "JoolYAA!!" again, running across the acorn-sprinkled grass to get her sister's attention. I watch from high-hedged safety next door. "The base is over there," the older one is trying to explain, while Julia interrupts, "I'll tell you what I'm going to count up to - niiiiinety-niiiiiiine!" She throws one arm out expansively, almost knocking herself over. "But, look, Julia, see that thing over--" Julia's tiny body flings itself across the yard, screeching over one shoulder, "You mean, this tree?" "NO, Julia, see that--" Julia is off again, flying towards a lamppost. "Oh, THIS!" "No, Julia, the big round thing!" "Oh, oh, oh!" Julia stops and turns, scanning her world, and finally sees the modern art bird bath standing futuristically in one corner of the yard. I watch them for a few minutes more, defining every possible boundary of this game, going over each rule, making up new rules for every hazard and dirt pile on their small territory. Then I climb a tree that reaches slowly out over their land, shinnying and wriggling along its grey arms like a sneaky squirrel. Dancing my bushy tail through the air behind me for balance, I pour myself unnoticed down the trunk, flowing around knots and branches, and describing a wave across the grass. I tumble to a halt in the center of the lawn, unnoticed by the two squealing children running around me. Picking up three acorns, I begin juggling them, weaving their paths easily through the air. Julia rockets toward me, and I toss each acorn into the air just in time to save them from her solid preschool collision. "BASE!" she shrieks, then realizes I am no birdbath and stumbles all over herself backing away. Her older sister approaches warily as I reclaim my falling acorns and send them spinning through space again. The smaller one immediately, trustingly, plops herself down in the grass to dig, looking like a pudgy cartoon squirrel herself. Soon she is throwing handfuls of acorns into the air, showering us with nuts. Her sister and I scramble out of the way fast. The elder child watches carefully as I resume juggling, her eyes clocking each movement of my hands. She gets one acorn flying back and forth between her clenching fingers, but can't figure out how to choreograph the rest of it. I stop my own dance for a moment to go through it step-by-step with her. We juggle slowly together after some time. Julia squeals and giggles, having devised her own game of hurling an armful of acorns skyward and running from them, covering her head with her arms and shrieking happily as her new toys pelt the ground. We are passing through dusk, the sacred time between night and day. This has been an unexpected gift; for a few moments, I've been allowed to put regular life aside and be accepted in their world. But now their parents are calling them inside for dinner, and I get up, brushing the grass from my knees and hair, and go on to the next house. As I walk away, I can still hear the girls chattering on their way inside. "Who was that guy?" "What guy?" "The one who was just playing with us!" "Oh, you mean her?" The coverall buttons blur past hard under my fingers as I expose a V of muscle and collarbone, sliding into Gym Queen mode for the nice lobbyist. As he looks up, I stride forward and rap my knuckles on his desk. His puzzled eyes linger satisfyingly at several strategic points as he asks, "Do you have an appointment?" I unfurl a smile. "I am my own appointment, Kyle." He begins to smile back. "Ah - what is this, some sort of Terminator-esque fan visit? Look, I'm very flattered, but my schedule is very busy, so if you'd like to just leave your number with the receptionist...." "But, Kyle!" I interrupt, reaching over to set one ball on his shiny corporate physics toy swinging. The metronomic tick of Newton's first principle underscores my next words. "How can you represent the silenced voices of queers everywhere if you chase them out of your office before you can hear them yourself?" "I'm sure Sheryl would be more than happy to take down your comments and submit them to me at a later date," he says with finality, turning away from me to rifle through some folders. I decide not to tell him about Sheryl's little accident, and charge on, deluging him with wave after wave of words. "When was the last time you spoke to a lesbian you didn't work with? How many of your employees are bisexual? Have you ever, in your overprivileged life, seen someone who made less than thirty thousand a year?" I pause and clap one hand over the ticking toy, stifling it. "I bring you those voices today, Kyle. They are angry. We are angry at your divisive tactics. We are angry at being told we are too queer for you. We are angry at being told we are too poor for you. We are angry at being told our skin is too dark for you." The well-trained bureaucrat breaks free of my spell long enough to protest, "I don't know what you're talking about - we never - we are very inclusive here, and I'm sure we're looking into all your concerns right now - ah, if you'll excuse me -" He stands up to escort me out. I allow him to guide me through the door of his office and into the receptional nook, where he jumps back at the sight of Sheryl sprawled across the desk. I grab him while he is still off-balance, spin him around nine times, and take off, walking us both out and down the corporate corridor. In ancient Crete, complex labyrinths served as their ritual buildings. Priestesses would lead the common people around a convoluted, specifically prescribed pattern of corridors designed to throw them into a trance and open them to the mystical powers around them. I have long wanted to use the industrially carpeted bowels of Corporate America for the same purpose... to daze all the white-bread, TV-dinner, easy-choices acolytes of pop culture into the dreamtime, into a vision quest for the selves they buried to stay safe. I and Kyle follow the ancient patterns down into the heart of the cubicle jungle, building his confusion into a hypnotic daze as we move deeper into the labyrinth. Busy employees flicker past us, highlighted briefly by the strobing fluorescent lights overhead. The magical path takes us into a large conference room where future magazine art is displayed. Hanging at the head of it all is a clean, idealized mural of multicultural queer life. I give Kyle a push, and he falls forward into the painting. At first it is all a miasma of colorful smears like a pointillist canvas, but as he stares around him it begins to resolve into faces and scenery. He is standing on a street corner, at midnight, as familiar painted faces quickly disappear. Before he can recognize any of them, he is roughly slammed against the wall behind him, as a voice snarls, "Spread 'em. Hey, it's another one of our favorite girls! Didn't your mother ever tell you this was no way to make a living? You'll never save up enough for surgery if you keep getting busted, kid. I guess maybe we'd better teach this one a lesson...." Kyle barely has time to note that he is in high heels and femme garb before the wall against his head melts and reforms as a cold marble wall in a cold high-ceilinged room. Down in the center of the floor is a long table framed by conservatively dressed legislators. The scoreboard says "SB 145: Safe Schools." One is on his feet, ranting: "This bill is just like that other one we just voted down! Precious budget resources going to teach kids that it's okay to be gay, precious lawmakers' time going to let sex-changes put one over on the government, it's a WASTE of our good tax money! I say we vote no on this and all bills like it!" As someone else rises to speak, the room blurs again and becomes a cold white hospital room. As Kyle looks around wildly at the nurses and doctors surrounding a dark-skinned woman screaming in labor, he hears one of the nurses comment, "Did you hear about the gay marriage bill that just passed?" Her coworker replies, "Yeah, when she comes out of it she'll be really glad to hear that her kid is safe in a legal family now." Kyle looks down at the scrubs he's wearing and the papers in his hands. They seem to be a standard form giving permission to have the woman's tubes tied. As he looks up, someone grabs the papers from him and pushes them at the laboring woman, insisting, "Ma'am, you have to sign these forms before we can continue." The woman manages to gasp, "What are they for? I thought I signed everything at the front desk," and the nurse says, "It's just a release form giving us permission to run routine tests on your baby to make sure it's healthy. Nothing to worry about." Before Kyle can protest, the wall behind him disappears and he is falling backward, images shooting past him until he slams into the floor. Two burly men stand over him, glaring. He is bleeding and bruised; one of them holds a knife. One of the men says, "Well, I've had my fun with her; it's your turn, Mark." Mark sneers and takes the knife, cutting Kyle's shirt off and remarking, "This'll teach you to run off with his girlfriend. Damn bisexuals can't keep their hands to themselves." Kyle screams. The floor turns liquid underneath him and he falls away again, faces and voices blurring past him in an insane chatter like nothing he's ever known before, like crowds upon crowds of small children laughing at him, like gospel played backwards, like money ringing against already-full coffers and crushing people under its weight. He collapses on the floor at my feet, and I turn away and leave him; he needs to find the way back himself. Everyone else has left for the day; I conscientiously move all the plastic plants back where they belong and pocket a note from Sheryl's desk saying she left early with a migraine. I pause outside the bathroom doors, just long enough to switch their signs, cackling to myself, and then choose one at random and pop in. Long fluorescent bars shine above me, glaring off the puritanical white paint and tiles of the women's bathroom. I lean against the sinks, shaking memory of the present back into my head, my hands already hurriedly packing away my high heels and retrieving bland K-Mart tennis shoes from my briefcase. Dejeweled and deflowered, I wash the glitter from my cheekbones, not bothering to look at my reflection. Changing back into work clothes, I pass effortlessly for a late-working employee as I hurry past the security guards and head off to work. Tonight, it is a supremely unsuccessful questionnaire, and I give up after an hour, sitting in the dark on the curb and filling the remaining questions in by myself. At my feet, in the wide window created by my upraised knees, I see a baby stream in the gutter, the child of someone's garden hose and soapy sponge. Illusion spreads over the gutter and it becomes a whole world of its own, crinkled autumn leaves floating slowly past on their backs, tiny bugs forming communities on the leaves, setting up towns in midair around the banks of the stream. I pluck a tiny flower from one of the cracks in the sidewalk and dip it in the stream, and currents flow around the lacy blossoms, new whirlpools and eddies spinning around the gentle stem. The streetlight behind me throws my reflection, silhouetted, onto the trembling surface of the new world. I uncross my legs and let one sparkling heel dangle over the water, bursting the soap bubbles one by one and sinking a few of the leaves. There is no place in this world for illusion without revelation. High heels are my tool for both. Back to my index o' writings To the genderqueer site Email me