Dirk Hardbody, Drag Lumberjack
by Alexandra Weiss
* CW: Dysphoria, working through transphobic comments from family and exes, scars (from top surgery)*
Dipping his fingertip in dark green eyeshadow, Forest wonders if his ex realizes what a huge chaser he is. Like in gravity's rainbow when the guy's hookups predict where the bombs fall in London, only with trans guys some of whom aren't just not out, they're still eggs.
"How did he know before I did?"
"Doesn't matter," Dirk Hardbody, his imaginary friend/more confident dragsona responds from the mirror.
Looking at the stubble, still only on half his chin, he takes a brow pencil and exaggerates. For now, and maybe forever it's makeup, but that doesn't make it less real. The name came from a coffee cup he found at goodwill after his last appointment with endo. It felt like a sign. Lives on his nightstand, next to a retainer, a badly dogeared copy of Charles Bukowski's Factotum, and a bottle of body glitter, iridescent green. Dirk Hardbody's a hot lumberjack bear type. Buff, hairy, but in a sparkly kind of way. Sparkly was never something Forest Sternstein felt comfortable being before. Not until he said it out loud for the first time, crying into sangria on the back porch, watching the seagulls peck at the tuna Sam leaves out for the neighborhood cat. Crying from realization, relief, regret because even at 26 he felt too old to see himself clearly for the first time. And crying from joy, because Sam got it, hugging him tight, recognition in her eyes, a glittery band aid over her injection site. People talk a lot about t4t romance, but t4t friendships save lives.
"Roger was only right about one thing."
"What, that I have a feminine bod?" He squeezes a hip, scowling at where thick thighs and curvy hips exit denim cutoffs.
"Who cares about that? he predicted you being a Tboy and you look manly as fuck in this flannel!"
Turning away from the mirror meant not having to think about what Roger saw. Or what his dad saw that made him laugh, "you're not really a guy." The phone call was hours ago but it still echoed, storm cloud pregnant, hanging on every piece of his frame that he wanted to erase.
Looking out the window, instead, is freeing. He doesn't have to watch dysphoria break through Dirk's confident smile. Outside, bougainvillea on brick dances in the breeze. Blushing in secret, watching pink paper flowers, he repeats in his head what Sam said about mirrors. They can mean what you want them to. Turning back, his lopsided smile looks for what Sam's eyes reflect. This time the mirror means going shirtless to the club. No nips, all scars and green glitter under unbuttoned sleeveless gray flannel. It means feeling tall at 5'2''.
by Taylor McKay Hathorn
Melissa’s visiting her daughter in her college town, and they’re at some lounge where there seems to be very little lounging but a lot of dancing and loud conversation.
“Be glad your dad isn’t here for this,” Melissa says over the din, and Anna throws back her head and laughs.
She’s newly twenty-one, with long curly hair and her father’s high cheekbones and Melissa’s dimples. Melissa knows, intellectually, that Anna’s a college junior with her own apartment and a place on the Dean’s List and a part-time job, but sometimes, when she laughs, Melissa can still see the little girl who always wanted a round of Connect-Four before bed, who would appear beside her bed in the middle of the night to ask for a drink of water.
“You may be twenty-one and can drink wine all night, but I’m not and I can’t,” Melissa says. Anna’s had a glass of rosé and a glass of riesling, and her cheeks aren’t even pink. Melissa’s had a glass and a half of malbec and she can already tell that her face is embarrassingly warm, can already tell that she’s going to want to offer to pay for an Uber (two, actually: one to Anna’s apartment tonight, and one back to her car tomorrow – the twenty-first century’s walk of shame).
“Go ask the bartender for a glass of water,” Anna says, gesturing at the man currently agitating a small silver shaker. He has those big earrings in his earlobes that Anna has told her are called gauges but that Melissa can only privately call painful.
“There was a sign when we walked in. You have to pay for a glass of water,” Melissa says, rolling her eyes. Of course a bar in San Francisco would charge for a glass of water. In her day, you could get a Dixie cup of water for free, but she’s trying very hard not to sound middle-aged this weekend, so she’s not going to mention the $2 glasses of wine or the free white water cups with the blue spray and purple swoosh that populate many of her memories of the late 80’s.
“This end of town’s on a boil water notice,” Anna says patiently. “They’ve got to cover their costs somehow.”
Melissa gestures at her own wine glass, smudged with RMS Rebound. “The nine dollars I spent on a glass of malbec couldn’t take care of that?”
Anna shakes her head good-naturedly.
“You have pretty privilege, Mom,” Anna says. “Just ask for a glass of water like you didn’t see the sign, and I bet he’ll give it to you.”
Melissa’s eyebrows go towards her hairline.
“What in the world is pretty privilege?”
Anna gestures at her mother. “You’re hot, right? Dark hair, nice rack, wearing a skirt that shows just enough leg.”
Melissa flushes. Anna’s said things like this since she was in high school. Back then, her compliments about Melissa’s appearance had felt almost like digs: it doesn’t feel good to have someone on their second round of Accutane tell you that you’ve got clear skin, and it doesn’t feel nice for someone with braces to tell you how straight and white your teeth are.
But now, Anna’s outgrown acne and braces (though not the retainer, as she’d lisped her way through some scathing commentary of The Bachelor the night before), and she really is a cute little thing. Well. She’s still got some scars from the acne, and she still is, if Melissa is really, really honest with herself, just sort of plain-looking.
“Then you should go ask,” Melissa says, desperate to avert the compliment, desperate to put it anywhere else. Anna has youth on her side, and doesn’t that count for more than some fading good looks?
“Pretty privilege is reserved for the actually pretty,” Anna says, and Melissa’s heart clenches at the fact that Anna looks unfazed by the statement. She isn’t fishing for a compliment, and she doesn’t have that strained look on her face that she once had in high school, when she acknowledged that her mother was something she was not.
“Go ask. I bet you another glass of wine that he’ll give you one for free,” she prods, smiling crookedly up at Melissa.
“Make it a cup of coffee and an electrolyte packet, and you’re on,” Melissa says, casting a smile behind her as she approaches the bar. It won’t work, she knows. He’ll say, “that’ll be three dollars,” in that rough way all San Franciscans have.
“Hi,” she says, leaning against the mahogany bar top. She hears a tone enter her voice that she has always meant to be kind but that various other people over the years (including, hurtfully, her husband, whenever they argued and he ran out of more worthwhile cannon fodder) have called flirtatious.
The bartender looks up at her, smiles. He’s older than she’d assumed he was from across the bar: there are lines on his face and a few gray hairs in his beard.
“Could I get a glass of water?” she asks. She’s watched the young professionals walk up to the bar all night and offer their debit cards in exchange for glass vases filled with water (for the aesthetic, Anna had explained earlier when Melissa had questioned why everyone was carrying around pots with no flowers).
“Sure,” he says, and he reaches for a glass. “Sparkling or tap?”
“Tap’s fine,” she says. His eyes find the quarter-inch of cleavage that peeks out at the top of her blouse. At work, when she notices a man doing this, she adjusts her blouse. The man will always look vaguely disappointed or faintly annoyed, and the conversation will go slightly less in her favor afterwards.
She doesn’t adjust her blouse this time – why? she’s got three dollars for a stupid vase of water, and then she could tell Anna, see, pretty privilege doesn’t exist – and he pours water from a plastic bottle into the glass. When he finishes, he grabs a half-cut lime from a cutting board that has the remnants of a moscow mule scattered across it.
He cuts a wedge, perches it on the rim of her glass.
“Enjoy,” he says, holding the glass out to her.
Their fingers brush as she accepts the water. He does not ask for her credit card.
by Jan Lee
* CW: Implied domestic violence*
** Series Editors' Pick**
The two-bedroom apartment had been the top floor, once, of a three-story duplex, meaning that it shared a wall with another three-story house. A set of wooden stairs, stuck to the outside wall, had been added later. My grandmother said her front door had been a window at one time, back when the house was originally built.
“We’ll be quite the pack of girls here, won’t we!” my aunt commented to nobody in particular. She carried my mother’s suitcase, navigating the staircase nimbly despite her heels, as my mother complained of her own swollen feet. My cousins didn’t offer to carry my suitcase, although they had seen my bruised arms. They were twins, two years older than me, both wearing short skirts (as tight as 11-year-olds could get away with) with sleeveless tops and long, dangling necklaces. They spoke to each other rapidly, neither in Spanish nor in English but in an indecipherable patois of their own invention. I was taken to their room, given an oversized gray sweatshirt with a 49ers logo, and told to take a nap. I lay down on a pallet made up of a folded quilt, resting atop the thick-napped carpet that covered the floor, and covered myself with a thin, synthetic blanket.
I tried to shut my eyes, but was spooked by the giant poster of Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart, staring down at me from the wall, as if they knew my secret.
It was Elena (I learned later) who had used a purple magic marker to draw vampire teeth on Kristen Stewart; Sara had drawn the hearts around Robert Pattinson.
By the time I turned 13, my cousins had become obsessed with the planning details of their quinceañera; no California brides could have been more intent on throwing the perfect party.
I was intrigued by their dresses, but could not picture one on myself.
It was my lot to become their servant. Every 15 minutes, Elena or Sara would cry out, “Alexandra!” and hand over some new demand to run an errand, fetch something, or keep a list. Most of all, I had to listen to them plan and re-plan the playlist, the outfit changes, and the signature drinks, and then revise everything downwards to meet their mother’s limited funds.
Unable to strike back openly, I sabotaged their efforts,“accidentally” breaking or tearing or forgetting things.
They wanted a party much grander than they were going to get, and they complained to my aunt constantly: “It’s not that much. Why can’t you just take out a loan? My friend’s mom said it was super easy to get a loan. You just don’t understand how important this is; we will look like complete idiots if we do it like that. I don’t care what it was like when you were young, because that was a completely different world. You just want us to be embarrassed because it builds up your own ego.” And so on.
My aunt, too tough to be moved by their attempts at manipulation, nixed every one of their extravagant ideas.
I had grown, despite everything conspiring to box me in, and was already taller than either of my cousins even though I was younger – making me by far the tallest in the household. My cousins were unbridled in their imaginative powers when it came to creating nicknames for me: Stick Girl, Burj Dubai, Slenderman, the Sequoia of Sacramento.
When it had become clear that my old T-shirts and shorts were becoming too ragged to wear, I began to steal from my mother's purse: first, small change, and then ones and fives. Still paralyzed by her own, prolonged grief, she noticed nothing. I haunted the thrift shop in the small strip mall near our house, and found things in the men's section that almost fit, or that I would grow into soon. I would spend hours there, going through rack after rack before finding something suitable. I hated stealing, but could not think of any other way.
At the quinceañera itself, a relatively modest affair compared to my cousins' original, more lavish vision, I lurked in the corner, self-consciously wearing a goth-inspired outfit that had almost given my aunt a heart attack: a pair of skinny black leather pants that I’d bought at the thrift shop, a men’s frilled white shirt, and a faux watch chain. I hunched my shoulders over to hide my developing chest.
An older Asian woman wandered over to chat with me. She scolded me pleasantly. “If I were a young man like you at a party like this, I would be out there having fun with all of the girls!”
I grinned, instantly and entirely involuntarily, but didn’t know how to answer. “Would you like me to introduce you to my granddaughter?” she continued. “That’s how we used to do it when I was your age. She’s the one over there, next to the cake.”
I glanced over at the one she indicated, a tall, glamorous girl with long, straight brown hair and a beautiful dress. I stammered, in as low a voice as I could manage, “No, thanks, I’m good,” and made an excuse to run to the bathroom. Did she notice when I went into the ladies’ room?
There, in the mirror, unable to stop smiling, I examined myself. By this time, I was keeping my hair very short, although with long bangs that I could use to hide my eyes. Later that year, I would start tying a wide, finely woven scarf around my chest, hoping to keep it flat.
As I looked in the mirror, I wondered whether I would ever be able to tell someone, anyone. I practiced doing so, in front of the mirror in the bathroom, moving my lips but without a sound emerging from them.
“Hi, I’m Alexander.”
The image in the mirror returned a surprisingly handsome smile.