Cayen leaned back against the counter and watched Taylor for a moment.
She visualized this gender. It was a thing she tried not to do -- it was disturbingly easy to just map someone's assigned gender onto them and not their true gender -- but, she told herself, it was for a purpose this time. She thought of him in terms of this identity as a demiboy. Her mind's eye went... blue, red, violet? Dark colours, bold colours. Angular. Occupying three dimensions of space in specific ways. It had nothing to do with the beaver's actual appearance; this standard buffalo check was, today, replaced with a black band T-shirt, though the still rocked the jeans and the pine-green chucks.
It was difficult to explain to anyone what any of this meant. She thought in fields, in colours, in shapes, even in flashes of light. She didn't even know it wasn't something other people did until, when she was seven, she said she didn't like a particularly astringent grape juice because it was too black, and nobody understood what she was talking about. It took her a year to pronounce the word 'synaesthesia' correctly.
Her attention turned to who the was serving, a woman in her thirties — well. She presumed they were a woman. It wasn't that they were androgynous. It was just that, well, they were feminine, but that didn't conclusively prove anything. For all she knew, they were just having a particularly feminine day.
But her genderdar didn't think so, abstractly guilty as it made her feel. It picked the customer up as a cis woman, yellow, orange, and yes, pink, with a more nebulous, diffuse appearance, one that took up less space than Taylor's. She didn't know if the associations she made were based on stereotypes, or if there was a circuit in her brain that somehow naturally produced pink upon seeing someone she clocked as a woman.
Probably the association wired the circuitry, she thought.
The customer took their tea to go, so Taylor dumped the leaves and began rinsing the gaiwan. "Hey Taylor, can I ask you something?"
"Hmm?" The reponded, tilting this head in acknowledgement without turning around.
"It's about trans stuff, if you don't mind."
"Sure, if you pay me."
"I already pay you."
"Well, then, today's your lucky day," the said with a grin as the grabbed a paper towel to dry this hands. "Seriously, though, go for it."
"So, it's-- I know this is personal, so wave me off it if you don't wanna answer or anything, but... what made you-- I don't want to say 'choose', but you know what I mean. What made you identify as demiboy?"
"Nah, you can say 'choose'. I always thought of it as, I didn't choose my gender, but I chose the word that fits my gender." Taylor began wiping down the counter, because unless there was literally nothing to do, the was always doing something. "Anyway, I guess... I called myself a dude for a while, but it was like... okay. You've got these pants, right, and they don't really fit around the middle. Too small. So you find another pair of pants, and all you're looking at is, what are they like around the middle? And you wear those pants for a while, and yeah, they fit perfectly -- around the middle. As it turns out, the legs are too long, but you never noticed until the novelty wore off. And you can deal with that for a while, but there's an obvious answer to your dilemma -- hem the legs so that pair of pants fits you, or find another pair of pants that fits you better. Hemming the legs is like, okay, I'm a dude, but I'm going to fit the definition of 'dude' to myself -- deliberately expand the definition by including myself in it. But me, I bought off the rack."
Cayen was quiet through all this, and nodded at appropriate points, ruminating on the metaphor. "So you're saying that you thought you were a trans guy because it fit you better than -- well, it fit you better -- and then moved to demiboy because that fit better than guyness."
"Yyyyalmost. I wouldn't say I 'thought'. I wore the pants, I didn't think I wore them. That part of my life was necessary to get to the final product -- like, I don't know, a pupal state. I don't think I could have made the trip all in one go."
"Oh, sorry. Yeah, okay. That makes sense."
Counter wiped, and nothing the could see at the moment -- because the'd already done it - - the turned and pondered the tea wall. "How are your pants fitting?" The said, with a flick of this beady eyes over to Cayen.
Cayen grinned like she was caught. "I might be growing out of them," she admitted. "I dunno. I just -- there's so much about womanhood I don't get, but it's like, that's all the stereotypical stuff. Why shouldn't I try to expand the definition of 'woman' instead of rejecting it?"
"'Cause it rejected you first," Taylor said with a shrug, deciding eventually to get this usual tie kuan yin. "'Cause you're a tea shop maven, not a seamstress, and it's not your responsibility to hem the pants. 'Cause sometimes, it's not about what it might mean for everyone else. It's about you, and what you want."
Cayen didn't immediately reply, because a customer came up, but she thought about it, and when the customer walked out with their tea, she spun the gaiwan on its rim to listen to the high-pitched roingroingroing of the porcelain on the stone counter.
"Hey, you know, I didn't mean to say that womanhood rejected you," Taylor said, cradling a cup of yellow-green tea in this hands. "I was just trying to say, like, sometimes people feel like their current gender isn't right for them, and that's valid, you know? If that applies, fine, and if not, that's fine too."
"Yeah, no, I get that." Cayen watched the gaiwan keep tipping over, no matter how softly she spun it -- it was top heavy, and wasn't really designed for this kind of movement. "I don't think that's true for me, but it's understandable."
Taylor wrapped an arm around Cayen's shoulders, and Cayen leaned into thim for a moment. "Hey, thanks for the answers," she said.
"No problem. I am 100% here for anyone who might be going pants shopping in the future."
Cayen looked at herself in the mirror. She tried to shift her brain into identifying her own face as male, then as female. It was easier than it sounded; If you understood gender in terms of associations, and had the right kind of flexible mind, you could call up the associations and kind of force it onto the visuals. People do it all the time; when someone of ambiguous gender identifies theirself, others tend to retroactively gender certain traits and think those traits suddenly act as evidence for that gender. She gendered herself, and her eyelashes were prominent in her vision, her lips, her eyebrows; she gendered herself again, and her jaw was prominent in her vision, her cheekbones, her nose.
Neither pair of pants fit her.
She stared. "...They don't," she said to herself, and a flush of adrenaline went through her, as she realized what she just thought. "...They don't."
She went into her living room and started pacing in front of her computer. "Okay, so... if the metaphor holds, I..."
She looked at the little green light. Paranoia had its perks; a benefit of constantly recording the apartment was that she could just talk to herself and always have a record of what she said if she needed the transcript.
"...I'm not a girl. I'm not a girl? I'm -- I'm not a girl." Why did she feel like she'd just jumped off a three-story building? "I'm not a girl. But I'm not a boy either." These felt true, factually true, like saying she wasn't a mouse or a beaver. "So what am I? I'm -- I'm something. Am I something? Yeah, I'm something. Do I know -- yes, I definitely know. I'm -- I know me. I'm still me." She flopped down in her wingback chair. "I'm still the me I was when I was a -- heh, like that wasn't five minutes ago. Okay. But if I'm not..." she bit her lip. "I have no pants on and I feel naked."
She took out her phone, and hail-mary searched for 'list of genders', and found a site.
And genders. And genders. And genders.
Hundreds of words, all of which jumped right out at her like puppies at a pet shop. "Oh, shit. That's a lot of choices."
She scrolled. She hadn't heard of, like, all of these. There were some that she had heard of, but, it had to be said, usually as a joke. Boi? No. Epicene? Wow, that's an awesome word. She looked it up... nope, not even close. Femme-ish? "Heh, I know, right?" she mumbled to herself. Gender anarchist, hah, yeah, fight the power--
She looked at another word on her screen, and instantly, she knew.
It was a word she'd heard before -- it was semi-common, at least among trans people. It was... specific, yet somehow... not. If it were a pair of pants, it'd be stretchy spandex.
She tried it on. It made her ass look great.
She felt herself tear up. "I'm genderqueer." She stood up. "I'm -- I'm genderqueer? I'm genderqueer." She thought about this some more. "I'm not a girl. I'm not a boy. I'm genderqueer."
Well, she couldn't tell if any part of the pants fit poorly, but she liked how they looked in the mirror. Maybe this was a pupal stage. Fuck it! Being a pupa felt fucking great right now!
"I'm genderqueer!" she said again, just to hear it.
She looked at her phone.
"Fuck. I'm genderqueer and I'm gonna have to tell people."
Cayen wandered downstairs as the shop opened, the following morning. It was Taylor's shift to open; she hadn't scheduled herself until about three to prep for the dinner rush. So she could just come down in a T-shirt and shorts instead of her work uniform.
She leaned agaist the wall and watched Taylor work until they noticed her. "You know, customers usually go in through the front door," Taylor said by way of greeting.
"Fine," Cayen said, and disappeared down the hallway.
Taylor grinned when the heard the back door open and close.
Cayen appeared around the front, and-- bonk. She bounced off the door as it refused to open.
"We open in five minutes!" Taylor said.
"Dammit, Taylor, open the fucking door!" came Cayen's voice muffled through the glass; she was trying really hard not to laugh, and failing.
The finished opening the till -- at this own pace -- then strolled over. "Impatient, are we?"
"Lemme in my own damn shop you jerk." She was going for indignant; she ended up at 'playful banter'.
"Well," the said, and made a point to look at this watch, "this says I'm early by a few minutes, but, yeah, okay, just 'cause you're such a loyal customer." The flipped the lock, and Cayen wrenched open the door and flipped the open/closed sign while she was at it. "Welcome to gong fu~"
Cayen pantomimed a couple of body shots and an elbow, and then moved past thim. "Yeah, yeah. Ya jyerk." Cayen would never call a friend an asshole, even in jest, even if they deserved it; she just put more and more swerve on the word 'jerk'. "Also, you lock the door after you come in?"
"Compliment accepted and carefully stored in the original sarcasm for posterity," the said with a bow. "I don't like to let customers in before I open the register. Also, good morning. You're down here early."
"Good morning." Cayen hopped up behind the counter.
"Didn't have the tea you wanted up in your place?"
"Nah. I, uh, I wanted to talk to you."
The strolled over. "...Like, serious time, or just, hey how are you?"
Cayen glanced up as she made her tea. "...No, not serious t-- well... kind of. Don't, like, stop being you, but it's a thing."
"Okay." Taylor sat up at the bar and listened while Cayen brewed.
"So, I was... doing a lot of thinking, last night." Cayen's eyes weren't on Taylor, but the gaiwan, and she was stirring it with the lid. "And, well... god, you'd think this would be easier."
Taylor said nothing.
"I guess -- I was thinking about what you said, about the pants thing, and I was trying out some stuff in my head, and the pants didn't fit, and I just kind of went... I'm not a girl. And I feel that, you know? I feel good admitting that. And I thought about it and went 'I'm not a boy either', and that felt right too. But like, I didn't know what I was, like, you can't just define yourself in terms of what you're not, right? You have to define yourself in terms of what you are. And I couldn't figure it out, and I was searching for stuff--"
"Your tea's overbrewing."
"Taylor, I'm genderqueer."
There was a silence for a beat, before Taylor stuck out this hand. Cayen looked at it.
"I'm offering my hand in congrats, Cay."
"...Oh. Thank you." Cayen shook Taylor's hand, and somehow that felt real, like a deal had been struck; then she dumped her tea and started again.
"Seriously, good on you. How do you feel?"
"Like I'm gonna cry into my cup," she said.
"You want a hug?"
Cayen looked up, and Taylor was out of this seat before she said anything.
The went around back of the counter, and Cayen turned around, and the wrapped this arms around her. "Thanks," she said. "That was... a lot fucking scarier than I thought it would be."
"It always is," the said, and a moment later, started doing something behind Cayen's back.
"What are you doing?"
"Making your tea. Hold still a moment."
Cayen stopped, then chuckled, then laughed, and by the time the tea was poured, she was trying not to shake with the sudden release of tension. By the time Taylor pulled back, there were tears in her eyes.
"Taylor, you're amazing, you know that?"
"Yes, as a matter of fact, I do. Also, that'll be a buck fifty."
"Put it on my tab." Cayen took her tea and went to sit at the bar.
"So do you feel like, I dunno, changing your presentation at all?"
"You know, I honestly hadn't thought about it. You think I should?"
"I think you should do what's comfortable. You'd be hot with The Queer Hairstyle, though."
"The Queer Hairstyle?"
"Yeah, the half-head shaved thing that literally everybody has had at one point in their life."
"Huh. ...You think I'd be hot with that?"
"I mean, you're hot with a lion cut, and you know how I can't take you seriously when you get one. But yeah."
Cayen smirked at thim. "Flatterer. I don't know why I don't just date you."
Taylor leaned in and put this arms on the bar, and held Cayen's gaze. "Because I'd do my damndest to make sure you wouldn't have to look elsewhere to get your needs met, so I wouldn't have to share you."
"That's a tall order to fill."
"I'm a tall demi-guy."
The eye contact persisted for a few more moments... Cayen grinned, blushed, and looked away. "Chloé and Glire are too fun, though. Sorry. Guess you'll have to find some other girl to pamper." Cayen stopped. "...I guess you'd have to find a girl to pamper. I guess I have to get used to that."
"Honestly, don't let it worry you. You're, what, twenty-two, right? That's how long you've thought of yourself as girl, woman, female, whatever. You're gonna use those terms to talk about yourself for a while. Hell, you might decide to keep them. It's Calvinball out here. Make up your own rules. Actually, that reminds me, do you know what pronouns you want to use?"
"Uh, you know, I thought about 'they', but I think I'm going to stick to 'she' for now until I'm sure. Uh, thanks for asking."
"Yeah, of course."
Cayen looked at her drink. "Anyway, I'm gonna go back upstairs and make breakfast. Thanks for letting me come out."
"No problem. Take care, eh?"
"I will. Thanks."
Cayen took her cup and got up, paused for a moment on the way by the bar, and then made her way upstairs.
Okay, one down, that wasn't so bad.
She sat down with her sausages and eggs and tea at her computer, and sent a missive to Glire.
C22H18O11: hey glire you aroudn
(ﾉ◕ヮ◕)ﾉ*・ﾟ✧: Hey, good morning~
C22H18O11: morning <3
C22H18O11: you got a moment?
C22H18O11: i want to talk to you about something
(ﾉ◕ヮ◕)ﾉ*・ﾟ✧: Uh, how serious is it? I'm heading out to work soon.
C22H18O11: im thinking
C22H18O11: maybe i should wait
(ﾉ◕ヮ◕)ﾉ*・ﾟ✧: I can put off leaving if you need to talk.
C22H18O11: no donr
C22H18O11: its fine
(ﾉ◕ヮ◕)ﾉ*・ﾟ✧: How about you send me an email? I'll sneak off whenever I get it and read it.
C22H18O11: yeah okay
C22H18O11: ill do that
C22H18O11: thanks bunny <3
(ﾉ◕ヮ◕)ﾉ*・ﾟ✧: NP. Cheers~ ^3^
C22H18O11: cheers :*
Okay. Just write an email. That's not so bad. Just pour your soul into a single ostensibly coherent missive that contains enough information to seriously screw up a relationship and send it all at once with no guarantee of an immediate response.
She huffed, swiped a sausage through the yolk of her egg, bit into it, and pulled up her email client.
Subject: That thing from this morning
Well, that was bad right out of the gate. She wasn't writing a penpal in Damascus.
I've been |
How the fuck do you even attempt to come out in an email? She wiggled a rubbery piece of egg white on her fork and stared at it while she thought.
So I came to this realization yesterday. It's been a long time in coming, I think. I've always been tomboyish and I've always felt a little weird calling myself a girl|
I've always been tomboyish and I've always felt a little werid calling myself a girl, and that's because I'm not. I'm genderqueer.
I'm pretty anxious about writing this, to be honest. I came out to Taylor, and that went well. I don't think you'd have an issue with it, but it's still a thing to get used to. I don't know. Maybe I'm being ridiculous.
Anyway, that was it. I haven't chosen another set of pronouns, at least not yet. I like my name, so I'll probably keep it. It's always been weird for a girl anyway, you know? "Cayen". The masculinized form of "Cayenne". I guess it was a sign.
Don't be upset, okay?
Cayen bit her lip. Hwo jees. That was a whole different thing she didn't want to get into right now.
And that was it. Proofread... fix the typo, she always missed the timing on 'weird'... All she had to do was send.
She should clean up her breakfast first, though. And possibly move back to Guyana.
She put the dishes in the sink, and scrubbed them, and put them on the rack to dry. The same occurred to the skillet, and the cutlery, and even the teacup, which she brought back to the coffee table so she remembered to take it downstairs. While she was at it, she scrubbed some oil spatter off the stovetop and finally adjusted her clock to daylight savings time.
Okay, that was enough stalling. Any more and she'd start calibrating her oven or something.
She went back into the living room and looked at the screen again. The cursor was over 'send'.
She touched her mouse, and put gentle pressure on the button. Then a little more. Then a little more... at some unknown point, the mechanism would kick in, and all she had to do was continue applying gentle pressure. It was easier than making the conscious decision to act; she just had to avoid chickening out of what was already happening.
...Click. And there it went.
She took the cup downstairs. It was better than calibrating her oven.
By the time she got back upstairs, there was an email waiting for her, and she opened it.
subject: Re: That thing from this morning
I'm not upset, promise! I'm really happy for you! I am absolutely supportive of this new identity. However you intend to change, however you intend to stay the same, you're still going to be you, and I'll be right there with you.
If you want, I can call you on my lunch and we can talk more then, okay? Or you can come over when I get home and we can talk over dinner. Whatever's comfortable. For now, though, I promise, you're still just as important to me as you were yesterday.
"Hoptimism is the belief that things will generally turn out alright as long as you just keep jumping."
That was pretty simple.
She dashed off a quick acknowledgement and thank you -- with a raincheck for coming over, since she had work -- and sat back in her seat.
There was a couple more -- well, there was a lot more, potentially -- but only one that she felt like she needed to do sooner rather than later.
Upon seeing Chloé walk into the shop, Taylor waved to her, and immediately went to the pastry counter, where Cayen was reorganizing it. The took that over as she went to the register.
"Good afternoon," Chloe said, sitting at the bar.
She'd kind of agonized over this. She'd only been in the unidentifiable, vaguely D/s relationship she had with Chloe for a few months, and she hadn't really had the chance to delve into a lot of the mouse's thoughts, desires, and preferences, such as they were. It was hard to get a read on her at the best of times, but what she chose to reveal was always fascinating to the point of wanting to ask her everything.
Cayen didn't, though, because she felt like Chloe would have told her everything, without even understanding why someone wouldn't do so.
"Hey, how are you?" Cayen returned.
"Pondering the applications of transglutaminase," Chloe said, eyes downcast.
If Cayen didn't know Chloe's general demeanour, she would have assumed that the absent-minded-looking stare at the marble counter was a sign to let her think. It took her a few weeks to work out that Chloe was tracking people in the reflection, her way of holding them in her attention without risking eye contact. "Interesting. You wanna tell me about it while I make something for you?"
"Yes please. I will have a bi luo chun."
Cayen smiled as she got the tea out and started preparing it. After an initial experimental period -- one that had Chloé go through each of the teas twice, just in case external factors coloured her impressions -- she settled on a comfortable stable of favourites, with the odd random pick to see if her opinion of it had changed. She kept track with a spreadsheet. It made Cayen want to kiss her.
"So what's transglutaminase?" Cayen asked, as she began brewing the tea.
"At a basic level transglutaminase is an additive that can be used to bond proteins together. In practice this means meats. For example if it is desired to perfectly cook a duck breast and still maintain a crispy skin the skin could be removed and crisped and then rebonded to the cooked meat. I am pondering other applications."
"Huh. Like what?"
"The meats do not have to come from the same place."
"...Wait. Are you telling me I could have a chicken breast with bacon glued to the top as its skin?"
"Yes. I was considering fish applications but that would be possible."
"What a time to be alive." Cayen pushed the tea towards Chloe. "Your bi luo chun."
"So, um..." Cayen hesitated. "I have something I want to talk about."
Chloe nodded, and Cayen hesitated some more.
"Okay, so... I..." Cayen glanced around the shop. It was about two-thirds full, but nobody was getting her attention, and something felt very... vulnerable, and wrong, and scary about the whole thing. She may have been brave enough to come out to the trans people in her life in private -- the other trans people in her life, she reminded herself -- but this was harder, much harder, especially with witnesses.
"...I'm going to have to talk with you about it in private."
As Taylor brushed past Cayen, the patted her on the shoulder.
Chloé sat in the centre of the futon, legs together, hands in her lap. It wasn't that she was nervous, except that Cayen was nervous, and that made her a little apprehensive. She hadn't been told what Cayen wanted to talk about yet. It reminded her of those times when one of the doctors had brought her into their office to discuss something; it was rare for her to require discipline or correction, but that was because she hated the associated feeling that she hadn't lived up to her own standards.
She watched Cayen come in with a steaming cup of pu'erh and put the cup on the coffee table, and then visibly hesitate, then go sit on the wingback chair. Then get up almost immediately and sit down next to Chloe.
"Sorry," Cayen said. "I'm -- this is important, and I'm just, I'm a little out of sorts."
"That is okay. Have I done something wrong?" Chloe said.
"What? No, why would you think that?"
"The subject of the discussion is unclear but it is provoking agitation and strong feelings with no clear source. You are nervous about talking to me. That is the only hypothesis available."
"Oh my god, no, I'm sorry, no." Cayen wrapped her arms around Chloe, and Chloe leaned into her. "It, um, it has nothing to do with you. It's about me."
"Oh." Chloe's head rested against Cayen's shoulder, and Cayen began scritching the back of the mouse's neck.
"So... I just want to say, like, this isn't something that I've been keeping from you or anything, I just kind of figured this out last night, and it's really new, and I'm not sure about all of it yet." The scritching continued, and began to irritate Chloe's skin; instead of being irritating, though, she found it satisfying in a masochistic way. "So... you've kind of seen me, I don't really... I'm not really feminine, right. I'm more of a tomboy."
"It is unclear what a tomboy is."
"Oh, sorry. A tomboy is a girl who acts in boyish ways."
"...Anyway." Scritch, scritch, scritch. "So I got to thinking about that, and I, um... I started to wonder, like, did it even make sense to call myself a girl if I was-- well, not 'ungirly', I don't think women who do what I do are failing as women or anything, I just-- I--" Cayen huffed, flattening one of Chloé's ears under her cheek. "This is hard."
Chloe hugged her.
"You are trying to say that there is an overlapping boundary between one gender and another and it is possible to identify with more than one valid label given the same set of traits."
"Yes! Yes, that. Yes. Thank you. Um... so yeah. I've... changed labels, so to speak. I'm... I'm genderqueer."
Cayen waited, but nothing else came. "...That's it?"
"The traits theirselves have not changed and your gender was not a common subject of discussion but even if it was you are still you. If the descriptor is 'genderqueer' then that word will be used."
"Oh, um, yeah, I guess when you put it like that, it's kind of straightforward. You, um... you kind of... you're not reacting how I thought you might."
"How did you think I might have reacted?"
"I don't know, confusion, surprise... hurt, even. That's what I was worried about."
"There is some surprise in the sense that your choosing a new label was not expected but there is no shock. The sociology of gender is known enough to understand the process by which your identity has changed. Gender was a topic covered in my official learning before age 18." That was Chloe's code for 'when I was at the lab'. "I also identified as agender for a period of time."
"...You did? When was this?"
"At 17. There was a period of alienation from my body during which it seemed reasonable to abandon gender identity as a result. Later it was determined that the qualitative experience of the side effects of an antidepressant led to this alienation. When the antidepressant was discontinued the alienation also discontinued so I returned to identifying as a cisgender girl."
"That must have been kind of a... scary experience, to feel... alienated like that."
"The antidepressant had powerful mood-regulating properties. Nothing was scary at the time. Nothing was anything at the time."
Cayen squeezed her, because she had no idea how else to react. Any other person would have wanted comfort. Chloe was just stating facts.
"Anyway, thank you for being so understanding."
"You are welcome. Thank you for being understanding as well."
"You saw fit to thank me for understanding your changing labels once. It is only logical that you should be thanked for understanding my changing labels twice."
Cayen chuckled, but only internally. Lab logic, as she had come to think of it. "I suppose that makes sense," she said. "Okay. That's all I wanted to talk about. I just... needed to get that off my chest before anything else."
"Okay. It is agreeable that it got off your chest. It means I have room to be here."
"Awww." She turned, leaned back, and dragged Chloe on top of her by her hair, which she complied with squeakily. "You've got all the room you want, mousie."
Chloe let out a tiny 'yay' and cuddled up onto Cayen's chest.
Cayen looked up at the ceiling, and took a deep breath, feeling the pressure of Chloe's body resist it slightly.
So that was it. She was officially genderqueer, or as officially as she cared about at the moment. Shit, she thought, that was lucky. Nobody yelled, nobody fought, nobody didn't understand. Nobody tried to tell her her logic was wrong, that her identity was invalid, that she was just seeking attention.
It wasn't attention she needed. Just recognition.