Speculative Fiction & Trans Awareness for June LGBTQ Month

 

Hello readers! June is LGBTQ month, a time when people from all walks of life can gather to celebrate, share, inform and continue the strive for equality & acceptance. A while back, I had the wonderful opportunity to work with other authors on an anthology dedicated to encouraging an understanding and acceptance of Trans men and women through fiction. In December of 2014 the world was rocked by the loss of a young trans woman named Leelah Alcorn. This anthology was created in the name of Leelah’s spirit, to honor her and every other transgender youth who ever needed it past and present, here and tragically gone.

It is available at Amazon, here, and all proceeds go to The Trevor Project for LGBTQ youth & suicide prevention. My story can be read for free below.


For my story, I follow the journey of a soul, and ask a very important question.

How Much?

A Soul’s Journey in 4 Parts

1: Selection

Rows upon rows of glowing glass bottles illuminated a shadowed cavern that stretched on into infinity. Above these rows, tireless machines dusted and organized and categorized and tallied. No bottle was out of its place; each one labeled and each one carefully seated on its designated shelf.

Some glowed bright pink, others a gentle blue. A few shimmered a dazzling purple, while a few shifted from one color to the next without settling. All were checked. All verified for quality. All weighed exactly twenty-one grams – no more and no less, down to the very last grain.

All on display for the selectors walking the rows. All slumbering. Waiting to be chosen.

At the end of one row, which was simply the beginning of another, a sturdy desk sat near a chute marked ‘Returns’. At the desk hunched a man with a tired look in his eyes, his withered fingers scrawling notes onto a page with script more delicate than the machines above could manage. On the page were lines and lines; so many, so many; too many, he sighed.

“How much is that one?”

A wispy voice asking a very unusual question had the old man setting his quill and his thoughts aside. Peering over the edge of his large wooden desk, he stared down into the colorless eyes of a selector. The selector’s pale finger was pointed up at the desktop, where a recently returned bottle waited, as yet uncatalogued by the man’s slow, labored writing.

“Oh, that’s a Returned,” the old man explained in a quiver brought on by experience and age. “I don’t think you want that one.”

“How much,” asked the selector, its eyes fixated on the luminous colors shifting within the glass vessel.

The old man’s brow wrinkled as he glanced from the bottle to the selector then back again. “It might be trouble,” he warned, but knew it was for naught. He’d seen that look on a selector’s face before – once the selection had been made, it was unshakeable. “It may be damaged.”

“It’s pretty,” came the selector’s reply. “I’d like that one. How much?”

It was clear this selector was determined, but also new; asking for a Returned; asking how much. It made the old man’s lips twitch with a want to smile. It had been a while, he thought, since he’d had a true reason to smile.

With gnarled knuckles fisting around the bottle, he carefully lifted it to examine its color. At twenty-one grams, it was the perfect weight. As light as hope and as heavy as love, it balanced itself perfectly within the palm of his hand.

Thumb brushing the worn label, he noted its origin, its cause for return and its name. Ah, he nodded. He remembered this one. His own handwriting told the bottle’s story, not a long one but one worth noting. This bottle had been returned before.

Looking back at the selector, the man pondered as the selector patiently waited. He could tell the selector wasn’t going to back down. This was the one, and that simply was that.

“Alright,” said the man while he turned to a fresh page in the book. Talking while writing, he made himself clear. “This one is special.”

“They are all special,” the selector noted the rules which existed.

“That is true,” the man nodded, pen scribbling letters into words. “But a Returned can be delicate, their glass sometimes cracked.”

“I will take care of it. I will be careful. I will make sure it is loved.”

“They can also be sad or angry at the real reasons they decided to come back.”

“Decided? I thought…” the selector’s voice grew uncertain.

“Most times they are abandoned,” the man explained, his fingers lingering on the glass. “Unaccepted. Or forgotten. Pushed and pulled or battered and broken, not by themselves but by the others.”

“The others,” the selector whispered, wide colorless eyes glancing at the endless shelves of perfect glass bottles. With a shake of the head and a shapeless frown, the selector looked back at the Returned bottle. “But… They are all special.”

“Indeed, indeed.” The man scratched the ink across the page to write one word more. “But, sometimes the others forget that they too are special, and so they come to envy or fear and even hate the special they can see in others like this one.”

“It is pretty,” the selector nodded. “I would like this one, please.”

The man set down his pen. “Are you certain? It must have come back for a troubling reason.”

“I will give it a new reason, and together we will try again to make the others remember that they too are special.”

“Alright,” said the man, no longer fighting his smile. Reaching down over the edge, he handed over the small bottle. “Careful, now. Hold it close. Keep it safe.”

The selector did as instructed, caressing the bottle’s label and reading aloud the name. “Leelah.” The selector matched the old man’s smile then asked again “how much?”

“Oh, the same price as the others. For rows upon rows, all twenty-one grams, the cost for each is the same. They are all priceless, in their own, unique way.”

 *** ~ ***

2: Decision

The decision should be a simple one. Easy. A choice any two-year-old could make.

But, despite being seven years old, for him it was sheer agony. Impossible to be right. Disastrous to be wrong.

So, he stood there and stared, fingers worrying at the seam of the blue t-shirt he was wearing; the one he wished was yellow. Or pink. With flowers. Like the one the doll was wearing – the doll his eyes kept drifting towards instead of the super hero action figure beside it.

Behind him the other children raced through the Dollarmart’s toy aisle, quickly making their choices and pulling things down into their parents’ green shopping baskets. Some parents argued, saying put that one back, or guns aren’t a safe toy, or monster trucks are for boys.

Trucks are for boys, dolls are for girls. Everyone knew that.

Then, why was it so hard?

“Lee?”

Lee heaved in a breath as his father called down the aisle. It was time to go. Time to make the choice. To choose what was expected instead of what was wanted.

His hands darted out; small, traitorous hands that grabbed the pretty purple package instead of the one with people fighting. A gasp. What had he done? He tried to get the plastic hole in the package back on the peg, but it refused to go on straight.

“Lee?” his father knelt down, concern in his eyes. “What’s the matter? Why are you crying?”

Crying? A sniffle and a hand passing over a wet cheek revealed the horrible truth. Lee couldn’t believe he’d let himself cry. A seven-year-old boy doesn’t cry!

“I don’t know,” came his pathetic reply.

“Did another kid push you or say something mean?”

“No.” The doll in her package was now pressed to his chest. “I picked wrong.”

“Picked wrong?” His father took the package and looked at the doll. There existed a quiet moment as he stared into his son’s eyes before looking back at the doll. “Do you mean you picked this toy by mistake, or do you mean you think it’s a mistake you picked this toy?”

“I don’t…” Lee’s feet shuffled. “I don’t know?”

“I think you do know,” his father insisted. “What’s rule number two of the Carter family?”

Lee’s skin heated with shame, his eyes now firmly locked onto the toes of his light-up Hulk sneakers. “No lying.”

“That’s right, no lying. So, which is it? Did you want to get the doll?”

Chubby fingers fisting and eyes hidden by a flop of blond hair, Lee nodded. “Yes, sir.”

“And you thought that was wrong?”

A heavy sigh. “Yes, sir.”

A crying child nearby captured his father’s attention for a second then his father stood up. “Let’s go talk about this over a cookie dough Blizzard.”

Lee followed his father’s feet, not believing he’d be able to eat a Blizzard, even his favorite cookie dough kind, with the way his stomach was aching. But, his father had put the doll in his basket. Then, he paid for the doll, a whole dollar, along with his other items – as if it belonged there; as if it was okay.

They drove to the Dairy Queen then sat on a bench outside. It was quiet. A Sunday. Close to dinner. Lee wondered if Mom knew they were eating dessert first.

Lee eyed the small cup, a red spoon stuck in the vanilla ice cream that had spots of cookie dough temping him to take a bite. His stomach continued to argue, though, that bad little boys who wanted dolls and then lied, didn’t deserve ice cream before dinner. Mrs. Thompson had been clear at playtime on Tuesday – dolls were for girls, and he should go play with the truck.

His father took the doll, still in her colorful package, out from the shopping bag and set her on the table. “Lee, I need you to tell me the truth. I promise you won’t get in trouble, no matter what you say.”

Lee’s legs swung under the seat. “Even… Even if I said Stacy eats boogers for breakfast?”

His dad chuckled. “Even then.”

Lee’s eyes snapped up to look at his father’s smile. It had been a test. Stacy didn’t eat boogers at all. Stacy was pretty. Lee wished he looked more like Stacy.

His stomach relaxed just a smidge, so he pulled the spoon out and gave it a lick. “Okay.”

“You want to play with this doll?” his father asked, to which Lee nodded.

“She’s pretty.”

“She is,” his father agreed. “But, I think she’s pretty because I think girls are pretty.”

“Like Mom?”

“Like your mom,” his father nodded. “But, I don’t want to be pretty like her.”

“I do.” The spoon dropped from Lee’s fingers to clatter against the table with a splattering of vanilla. The shame and the fear came first, followed quickly by the tears. “Sorry.”

Lee felt the napkin cleaning his face and opened his wincing eyes to his father’s unexpected smile. He sniffled and looked down at the spoon. “You’re not mad?”

“I promised you wouldn’t get in trouble, didn’t I?”

“Yeah, but… I’m a boy.”

“Are you?” his father asked, and Lee didn’t know how to answer.

Was he a boy? He had all the boy parts. He wore boy clothes. He sat on the boy’s side of the gym during P.E. class.

“Lee, would you rather look more like this doll and like your mother?”

Lee’s heart pounded. It was a simple question with one simple answer. Lee knew that answer with his entire being. The difficult decision was lying about it or telling his father the truth.

His dad had promised though. He wouldn’t get mad. Lee had to tell the truth.

“I wish I had girl parts,” he blurted out in barely a whisper. “And longer hair. That Mom could braid. And earrings like Stacy has. And I don’t like The Hulk. He’s ugly. Also, I don’t like Brandon, because I think he’s cute and I shouldn’t think he’s cute. I don’t like that I have… Down there isn’t right. It’s not what it should be.”

As Lee’s words fell into hiccups and snotty gasps for breath, his father hugged him and patted his back. It wasn’t what he’d thought would happen, if his dad ever learned the truth. His dad had bought him those ugly Hulk sneakers. Shouldn’t he be mad that his son wanted to be more like Mom than like him?

“We’re going to talk to your mother when we get home.” His father’s voice sounded shaky. Was he crying, too? “Then, we’re going to find someone you can talk to, because I’m just an accountant and I don’t know what to do.”

“I’m so sorry,” Lee wailed into his dad’s shoulder.

“You haven’t done anything wrong.” His father pushed Lee back and forced them to eye one another. “Do you understand? It’s not wrong to feel these things. I’m so proud you told me the truth.”

“You are?” Lee wanted to cry some more, because the relief was overwhelming.

“What’s rule number one of the Carter house?”

Lee laughed, feeling a bit stupid. The answer had been there all along. “We love and… and support each other, no matter what.”

“Bingo,” his dad teased, poking Lee’s tummy. They shared a laugh and a smile. They shared love.

Opening the plastic package, his father handed Lee the doll along with the pink plastic comb she came with. “What are you going to name her?”

Lee combed through the doll’s blonde hair, imagining it was his own. Someday, he thought, he might be able to brush his hair like that. Wear a dress. Have a girl’s name.

“Leelah,” he said at last. “I’d like her name to be Leelah.”

 *** ~ ***

3:Transition

Exiting the clinic, Leelah stumbled in her heels as they transitioned from tile to pavement. If it was one thing the hormones and surgery couldn’t correct, it was the size of her feet. Her dad said she should’ve gone into ballet, but instead she had gone into outreach. A counselor, helping others like her who started life out as somebody else.

A firm, warm grip grabbed her arm and held her steady. With blinking, blue eyes she glanced up at her savior. Shocked, green eyes and a kind smile filled in the spaces between floppy brown hair and a rugged full beard.

“Thank you,” she huffed a white breath in the cold.

“You’re welcome,” he replied, his fingers slowly letting go. A pause. A hesitation. A chance. “I’m Mason.”

“I’m Leelah. Sorry for bumping into you. These heels are new.”

“There’s some ice on the sidewalk. Lovely Portland winter. Do you work at the clinic?”

“Yes, I’m a transition counselor,” she said, inhaled and then sighed out the truth. It was always best to be honest, because that was rule number two. “I’m also a patient.”

“Oh, well,” his shoulders gave a tiny shrug. “So is my twin bro- er, sister. He… She, just started hormone treatments. I’m still getting used to the idea.”

Behind them the door opened and out came a man, giving Leelah a glimpse at what Mason might look like if he shaved off the beard. The man smiled between them while rubbing ungloved hands against the frost. “Leelah! You’ve met my brother Mason?”

“I ran right into him,” she laughed.

“And I saved her,” Mason said with a chivalrous pose. Then, he eyed his twin brother with more serious concern. “How’d it go, Jason? Shit, sorry, Jenna.”

“It went really well, I think, but I’ve got many things to decide. Leelah is going to be my counselor, so I’m glad you two met.” She refocused on Leelah. “Mason’s the evil twin, but he’s stuck by me when our parents abandoned ship.”

“I’m the handsome twin,” Mason corrected. “And Mom and Dad will come around once they see how pretty a daughter you’re going to be.”

“Well it’s good you two have each other,” Leelah said, her gaze lingering on Mason as he glanced back to her. “Maybe you could come and sit in on her session next week?”

“I could get off work earlier,” Mason nodded, fidgeted with his jacket zipper then spoke. “You want to join us for coffee… or, uh, dinner… or both?”

“Smooth,” Jenna snickered with a tap on her brother’s shoulder. As Leelah blinked with open mouth, Jenna muttered ‘hopeless’, then looped her arms with them both. “Yes, Leelah would love coffee and dinner, and Mason you’re buying.”

“Of course.”

 *** ~ ***

4: Fruition

“And, something old.”

Leelah smiled at the mirror as her mother presented the antique pearl necklace. “That was Nanna’s?”

“It was,” Leelah’s mother said through a withheld sniffle. “I wore it when I married your father.” Fastening the clasp she stepped back from her daughter, once a son; no less of a person and more beautiful than could be imagined. “Oh, Leelah, you look…”

“Mom, don’t cry,” Leelah pleaded, though her tears weren’t far behind. “If you cry, then I’ll cry, then-”

“Your father will cry,” Leelah’s mother laughed with a nod. “Speaking of your father, he’s hiding in your bedroom. Not quite ready to give you away.”

“I’d better go get him,” Leelah sighed. “If we keep Mason waiting too long, he might very well come to his senses and realize I’m a package deal with a wonderful mom but a sometimes overly protective father.”

Leelah shuffled through the doorway of her parents’ room, white lace and pink embroidered roses following in her wake. Pausing to glance over the railing, she saw that the downstairs below was nearly empty. All the guests were outside on the back lawn, waiting.

Music drifted in, softly playing a hopeful tune, as Leelah headed down the hall to her old childhood bedroom. Her father sat on the bed, his hair now greying but his black tuxedo dashing. A box held within his hands shook slightly as he breathed in tempered sadness.

“Daddy?” Leelah stepped cautiously into a room full of memory; posters and dolls and makeup and pictures of friends still lining the shelves.

“Hey, sweetie.” Her father put on a smile. “Am I holding things up?”

“As always,” she smiled, stepping closer. “What’s in the box?”

“Leelah,” he replied then gingerly picked up the doll.

“Oh my gosh!” Leelah nearly squealed. “You kept that dollar store doll all this time?”

The doll’s long blonde hair had mostly been combed out, and her left hand was a bit mangled thanks to Peanuts the dog, but her flowery dress remained bright and her pink lips smiled; happy, perhaps, at having not been abandoned. Leelah’s father softly stroked the doll’s remaining hair then set her back in the box. Retrieving the pink plastic comb, one tooth broken and missing, he stood and stuck the comb in the real Leelah’s hair.

“There,” he smiled. “Something borrowed.”

“It’s perfect,” she agreed and then took the elbow that he offered. But her smile faltered as tears misted his eyes. “Daddy… Do you ever regret the doll? Regret the son that she took away?”

“God, Leelah, no. Not for a single day. Sometimes I wonder, because that’s what people do, about the ‘what if’s’, the road not taken, the other direction we could’ve gone. But, this was your journey, my daughter, my son – I didn’t lose one to gain another. I’ve always had you, and that’s all that matters.”

And that’s when all hope was lost – Leelah would have to redo her mascara. Her father chuckled as he tried to tissue the black streaks away. Her mother ran in to repair the damage. Downstairs, the guests waited until the music changed key.

A held breath.

The doors opened.

Out walked Leelah with her parents on either side, all smiles as they traveled towards Mason where the next story would begin.

 *** ~ ***

Conclusion

And there sat the old man, at his large wooden desk, gnarled and bent fingers penning lines on the page. With a solid, sure stroke, he crossed out the line written at the beginning of something else’s end. One returned, one selected. A decision made, a promise kept. The transition accepted, encouraged and nurtured. The fruition, a story ending and beginning in love.

How different a tale with such subtle changes. A life lived fully, many lives affected. All because one simple truth was remembered; one reason, no more.

We are, each of us, priceless; special in our own unique way.

A clatter, a clink and from the chute came a newly returned bottle. There had been fewer and fewer coming back that way. With a hopeful smile, he thumbed the name on the label, when down from below came the most important question on a wispy but determined voice.

“How much is that one?”


About the Anthology:

**ALL PROCEEDS GO TO SUICIDE PREVENTION AND SUPPORT FOR LGBTQ YOUTH**
Available on Amazon here.

In December of 2014 the world was rocked by the loss of a young trans woman named Leelah Alcorn, a young girl who, feeling trapped and alone without support in her community, ended her life violently on a wintry Ohio highway in a desperate plea that the world see kids like her and do something to stop their pain, to help them be who they were despite the conventions of society. Leelah was not alone, one of many youth lost that year and in the coming months, tragedy after tragedy, which moved all of us who saw to take action, to do something to stand for the trans kids, let them know we saw them, their spirit, and that they mattered, had every right to claim the long lives ahead of them for themselves. “For Love of Leelah: An Anthology About Souls” was created in the name of Leelah’s spirit, to honor her and every other transgender youth who ever needed it past and present, here and tragically gone. In so doing we found that cis and trans blended together, the differences between the authors fell to the wayside and the beauty of the human spirit came through in so many forms. May this anthology benefit LGBT youth the world over and may we never let their songs cease, so long as they need us to hear.

From the minds of: Christina Engela, Peyton Pratt, Lorelei Shannon, Amanda M. Lyons, Ashley L. Hunt, Shawn Pfister, Alex Shalenko, Ceri Naz, Brenda Evans, Susan Simone, Magan Rodriguez, Charie D. LaMarr, Magenta Nero, Naomi Matthews, Essel Pratt, Sammy Bourgeois, Michelle Brown, Stephanie A. Kriel, Eris Threthewey, Tabitha Baoumander, Anastasia Vitsky, Aghori Shaivite, Brian Barr, and C. E. Kilgore

Do you or someone you know need help? Contact The Trevor Project: http://www.thetrevorproject.org/ or call the hotline 24/7 at 866-488-7386

Founded in 1998 by the creators of the Academy Award®-winning short film TREVOR, The Trevor Project is the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) young people ages 13-24.

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