Chapter Nine

"Hi, Caitlin? It's your weird little sister. Do you have time to talk? Great. I have something to tell you."

"Yes, that's Something To Tell You in first initial caps."

"Yep, I'm in love, big time."

"Her name is Jami."

"Are you still there, Cait? This can't be a total surprise."

"She's my age. She's home-schooled, an amazing photographer, and I mean a capital P photographer, not just some chick with a camera. She writes. She's smart, she's witty, she's sexy, she's in love with me, and her parents are wonderful, open, understanding people."

"Totally ga-ga, that's me. I am so in love!"

"As serious as it gets."

"Like we want to end up living together and sleeping in the same bed. Forever."

"Yep. Get used to it. I'm here. Your little sister is queer."

"Well, duh. But there's something else I want you to know, because she doesn't like important people to not know."

"Of course, you're important. I've told her all kinds of awful things about you, including how disgustingly normal you are."

"Oh, Cait! I love you. Everyone needs a normal older sister in their life."

"Yes, they regularly remind me of how wonderful your life, and college experience and job and husband and children are. I love you anyway. But about Jami. She's intersexed."

"Cait? Hellooo, Cait?"

"I'm having trouble understanding you. Yes, that's what I said."

"Okay, so you know what I'm talking about."

"Well, bravo, that your nursing program actually covered such issues. Maybe there is hope for the world, after all."

"No. She has really strong, wonderful parents."

"There was no genital surgery. Her parents didn't allow it."

"Yes, I'm certain."

"Yes, I'm okay with her the way she is. I'm certain."

"Well, how do you think I know?"

"It was the most stressful experience I've ever had. I was a mess. I went and cried all over her mother."

"I told you, her parents are wonderful. Her mother hugged me, sat me down on the sofa, and helped me dry my tears."

"Yes, I'm envious of her parents! I am not looking forward to talking to Mom and Dad about this."

"No, but thank you. There's also the college issue. Mom and Dad are tightening the thumbscrews."

"I'm not going, at least not yet."

"Because life is too complicated and I want time to figure some stuff out and decide what I'm really going to do."

"I'm not going to keep living at home, that's for ding dang sure."

"Amazing deduction, Mycroft! I'd invite you to the wedding, if the fascists in power allowed such things."

"I know it won't be easy, but it's not like it's easy now. I've been called an effing pervert dyke at school. My parents refuse to even try to understand me. What have I got to loose?"

"I'll let you know when I talk to Mom and Dad. If they kick me out I'll call you from Jami's house. But you know they won't. They're wimps at heart."

"Soon."

"I love you, too. I am so glad I can actually talk to you about this!"

"Thanks, Cait. I'll keep you posted."

* * *

Carys walked to Jami's house after dinner on Tuesday. The weather had turned nicer, with a hint of spring to come.

"Come on up to my room, Car, and I'll show you the photos I'm putting in my exhibit at the Art Gallery. I'm kind of excited, but this could be a big flop."

"No way, Jami. What you do with a camera is amazing."

Prints were arranged in rows on the floor between the foot of the bed and the far wall, the area Jami kept free as a small photo studio. She turned on the lights in that part of the bedroom. Carys walked back and forth looking at the prints.

"These are great, Jami!"

"Thanks. Once I'm certain these are the ones I want, I need to mount them, then get them to the gallery this coming weekend. We can drop them off when we go to rehearsal."

Carys flopped on the bed. "Okay, Jami, 'fess up. When I take pictures, I always look at the prints and wonder why I bothered. How do you do it?"

"The hardest part is being able to see the way the camera sees. To not zoom in on details the way a person does without realizing it. People think they see an entire scene or room at once, but they don't. Their area of focus, what they really see, is very small. So people see Uncle Fred and Aunt Judy against a scenic background, snap the picture, and then are amazed when they can barely find Uncle Fred and Aunt Judy in the print, and the scene that was so dazzling in person comes across as dull and lifeless."

"You're saying I don't really see everything I think I see?"

"People focus on a tiny area. Look. Most people move their eyes back and forth for each line when they read a page in a book. The simplest speed reading trick is to keep your eyes focused on the center of the lines while you read. Even then you have to move your head to sweep from top to bottom; you cannot see an entire page at once."

"I guess so."

"I'll show you!" Jami stood up and moved to the bookcase by her desk. "Okay. Stare at the center of my desk. Do not look anywhere else. Can you tell what I'm doing?"

Carys dutifully stared at the middle of the desk. "No. I can only tell that you're moving."

"Right. Our peripheral vision can detect motion, and if you move your head a little, back and forth, you can build up some kind of image of what's off to the side, but don't."

"This is so weird," said Carys. "I can sense motion, but I cannot see what you're doing. It's almost like an itch in my head, the feeling that I need to turn to look at you."

Jami sat in the chair at her desk. "It is weird. But that's why people can stare for hours at a little TV screen. Which is of course showing a sequence of separate frames which you don't notice changing."

"But people like big screens."

"Maybe because if you have to move your eyes some it feels more realistic, and is probably less tiring for your eye muscles than staring at one spot."

"I guess I know this, in a way," said Carys. "I do some magic tricks as part of clowning. If you can keep people's attention focused on one spot, you can get away with doing just about anything where they aren't looking."

"Exactly!"

Carys thought for a moment. "It's not just vision, is it? You have to train yourself to hear separate instruments in music."

"Right! All the senses, and other things, too. People get hung up on little details, and fail to see the whole picture."

"Like what people assume when they find out someone is Black, or Asian, or Jewish, or gay."

"More basic than that. Why do we separate people into categories like that at all? I think we can't help it, or have to work really hard to undo what our brains do for us."

"What do you mean?"

Jami swiveled her chair to face Carys. "Any time we look at a scene, we find lines and boundaries, even if they aren't there. How many colors are in a rainbow?"

"Seven, no six." Carys counted on her fingers.

"Nope. There are an infinite number of colors in a rainbow, and there are no bands of color. The cone cells in our eyes are sensitive to blue, green and red, so it's easy to detect those colors and the colors each pair add up to: cyan, yellow and magenta. Those are the six bands we see in the rainbow. What we're really seeing is the way our eyes work, and what our brain does with that information."

"You're saying that the world we think we see, isn't really the way we think it is?"

"Not exactly. I mean, there's a real world, or we couldn't agree on anything." Jami smiled wickedly. "Though if you want me to, I can prove that you can't prove that I exist. We do live only in our own minds."

"Oh, yeh? Come over to the bed for a moment. I'll prove you exist."

"Even when we cuddle, everything you feel is your own body. Your brain is working with what your senses report, and we can show that all our senses are unreliable. Just think how far we truly are from each other. Our minds, our brains, are separated by our senses, which make contact along a thin line of something that doesn't belong to either of us. We can never truly know each other. In a very real sense I am only a figment of your imagination."

"Stop!" Carys did a good imitation of Munch's The Scream. "God, Jami. That is so depressing! I hope you don't spend too much time thinking about stuff like that."

"I'm sorry, Car. I do get carried away sometimes." She moved to the bed and sat next to Carys, put her arms around her. "I don't actually doubt that you're real. I'd go crazy."

"Do you write about stuff like this?"

"Sometimes. I even practice that dying art form known as poetry. But actually I was trying to get at some of the reasons behind the photographs I'm putting together for my exhibit. Photographs can be a way to help people see things they don't usually notice, because of all the visual clutter in our lives, and because of the assumptions we make."

Carys went back to look at the photos. "I think I see. Most of these are of things I wouldn't have noticed at the time. The shadows from that peeling paint. That woman sitting in the doorway. She's the kind of person I don't look at, usually, though I hate to admit it."

"Right. There's a photographer whose work I like very much, Diane Arbus. Her specialty was taking photos of people like that, the people who most folks don't want to see. Circus freaks, mentally retarded people, dwarfs, giants, crossdressers. It's not that folks don't know such people exist, but she took photos of them as people, not as exhibits. That's what everyone misses."

Carys sat on the bed again, thoughtful. "I think I'm seeing this room differently, now. Is that possible?"

"Yes. I get flashes like that. I notice the dust motes in a sun beam. Then I think about taking a photo, but realize it wouldn't work. That's when it would be handy to be a painter. One form of art can capture something that another form cannot.

"Because of what we've been talking about, you're actually looking at what you see. I think we mostly go though life not really noticing what is around us. We simply accept the backdrop we believe is there and don't notice what is really there."

Carys frowned and looked sceptical.

"Some researchers did an experiment not too long ago. They arranged a scene in which several people were tossing a ball back and forth and instructed an observer to count the number of times the ball was tossed. So the observer really had to concentrate on the ball. Part of the way into this, a person dressed in a gorilla suit walked through the scene. About half the observers did not see the gorilla, at all."

"You've got to be kidding!"

"No. Witnesses are totally unreliable. Ask any police officer or lawyer. It's like everyone walks around wearing blinders, looking at the real world through a little peephole, while a fuzzy movie plays in their head. You neither notice nor can recall most of what goes on around you."

"Now I remember something, Jami! When I was 8, I came home one day, walked through the house, and went to my room. My parents had bought me a bicycle and put it in the living room so I would notice it. But I walked right past it and I swore I did not see it. Now I begin to understand why."

"Yep. Your fuzzy movie of the living room didn't have a bike in it. You were probably focused on the cat or getting a snack or something."

"I guess." She bounced off the bed. "Jami, you spend too much time in this room, thinking. It's a nice day. Let's go for a walk."

"Okay, let me just grab a camera."

"No."

"Huh? Wait a minute, Car."

"No, Jami. I want you to pay attention to me."

* * *

They were in the second week of rehearsal, back in the rehearsal hall while the current production had moved to using the actual stage. They were working on Act Three. After an hour they took a break.

Rachel sat down next to Carys and Jami, taking a big swig from her bottle of water. "So Carys, you seem to really like playing Jacques. Do you think it would be fun to be a guy, for real?"

"Fun to be a guy? Hmm. On what level, Rachel?"

"All the way. If you had a magic lamp, what would you choose? Boy or girl?"

"Are those the only two choices?"

"Well, yes, that's the way it works, offstage."

Jami put the cap on her water bottle and set it on the floor. Carys gave her a worried look.

Rachel saw the look. "You and Jami are such a butch/femme couple. I've heard that a lot of butches, stone butches I think is the term, are really trans. Jami seems to be the picture of moderate femininity. Are you enticing her to walk on the wild side? Maybe she'd be happier with a real guy."

"I don't think so, Rachel, but what's it to you?"

"Can't she speak for herself?"

"Whoa." Carys put a hand on Jami's arm and drilled Rachel with her eyes. "What are you getting at?"

"We know you're queer, Carys. You announced it on day one and just about carry a sign."

"Carry a sign? I am being myself in what I considered, perhaps wrongly, to be a safe space. I repeat. What are you getting at?"

"I'm simply trying to understand your attraction for sweet little Jami. I mean, I have this huge kissing scene with you, Carys. I'd just like to know what I'm kissing."

"Your character Francois is stage-kissing my character Jacques."

Derick's voice boomed out from the doorway. "Excellent answer, Carys. Why isn't that good enough, Rachel?"

"Look," said Rachel, standing up to face Derick. "I've volunteered for years at Festival. It's crawling with lesbians. Some of my best friends are lesbians."

Mandy let out a loud snort from her table. "You friends with lots of us black folks, too, girl?"

"Cool it, Mandy," said Derick. "Let's stick to one issue."

"Intolerance is one issue, Derick," said Mandy. "My label, one of 'em, anyway, is obvious. I think Rachel is upset because she can't figure out the right labels to use for Carys and Jami."

"Okay, that's right," said Rachel. "I admit I do have an issue with some people. People who try to be what they aren't."

Derick raised his hands in the air. "Why me, Lord?" He looked from Carys to Rachel. "Can we finish this so we can return to rehearsal? Please? What exactly is the problem, Rachel?"

"You're too good at being Jacques, Carys. Are you trans? Do you actually want to be a man?"

"Oh, I get it," said Jami, standing up in one fluid motion and taking a step toward Rachel. "You volunteer at the W-O-M-Y-N's Music Festival. You're one of those people who enforce their womyn-born-womyn rule. You have an issue with anyone whose gender identity doesn't match their birth certificate."

Rachel stared in surprise at Jami.

Jami took another step forward, looking Rachel in the face, holding her eyes with the intensity of her stare. "Carys is a damned good performer. She's truly queer, which means not accepting the fallacy that everything can be neatly divided into binary sexes and genders. And she's quite female, for your information, not that it's any of your business.

"I, on the other hand, am not," said Jami, through gritted teeth.

"Jami! Don't!" Carys started to stand, but Jami motioned her back down.

"I'm intersexed, Rachel. When I was born, they didn't know what I was. Through luck, and having two wonderful parents, no one has taken a knife to me to carve me into their idea of boy or girl.

"Intersexuality is rare, like one-tenth of one percent. But in a country of over 300 million, what does that work out to? When I do the math, it comes out to 300 thousand people. We're all invisible, though, because by the time we're my age, we've been shamed into pretending we're just like everyone else.

"People like you are responsible for that, Rachel. My birth certificate and identity papers are all in order, and they would get me into Festival, but they tell a lie. An acceptable lie. All I have to do is keep my mouth shut, and no one will question me. Instead, they question people like Carys, people who have the guts to be truthful and show every day that life isn't so simple."

Jami took a step backward, away from Rachel. Carys jumped up and folded her in her arms. "Oh, Jami. You didn't have to do that."

Derick was just standing, looking back and forth. "Life is so damn much stranger than fiction, I am simply blown away." He ran a hand through his hair. "Rachel, please come with me. We need to talk. Mandy, please start everyone else at the beginning of Act One." He led Rachel out into the hallway.

"Okay, folks, this little show is over," said Mandy. "Places for Act One."

Everyone headed for Carys and Jami instead of the rehearsal area. "Whoa, whoa, whoa!" said Mandy. "We have to rehearse folks, talk afterwards." She walked over to Carys and Jami. "Are you two going to be okay? You can sit this out, or go out into the lobby, if you need to. I can read your lines."

Jami looked at Carys, who smiled and nodded. "We're okay."

Mandy gave them a thumbs up. "You're more than okay, in my book. You two are dy-no-mite, is what you are. Okay folks, places!"

They ran through Act One, concentrating on the play. When they were done, Derick was back. "Good job!"

Rachel was standing by the doorway. "I'd like to say something."

Derick nodded for her to proceed.

"Carys, and Jami, and everyone. I'm sorry. I do have a personal issue with some things, but it isn't relevant here, and I should have kept my mouth shut, or at least handled it a lot differently. Jami, I really am very sorry if I forced you to say things you otherwise would have preferred to keep to yourself."

Jami looked at Rachel and smiled enough to show she wasn't angry. "That's okay, Rachel. I have no problem saying I'm intersexed, when there's a reason to do so. What bothers me is the way you feel about Carys."

"I'm sorry about that. I have some thinking to do. But I won't do it in public, at rehearsals, okay?"

* * *

Early Saturday morning Carys called Jami's cell phone.

"Hi, Jami? I'm going to have The Talk with my parents now, as soon as I go downstairs. They're expecting me to talk about college, and what I have to tell them shouldn't come as a surprise, but you never know. What I have to say about you and me shouldn't be a surprise, either, but my parents live in a different galaxy than your parents."

"I'll be okay, honey. The worst that can happen is that we'll have to look for a place a little earlier than we plan. But they can't do anything to me. I'm 18. And I've never been happier that they held me back from kindergarten for a year, let me tell you!"

"I love you, too, sweetie. I'll call as soon as it's over. Don't worry. Bye, love."

Carys closed her cell phone and took a deep breath. Okay, Carys. Let's do this gig! She headed downstairs.

She had told her parents she needed to talk with them about college, and something else. They sat in their living room, her parents on the sofa, Carys across from them on the loveseat.

"All right, Carys, what are you going to do about college?" Her dad wasn't one for small talk. "You've already lost some options by waiting so long, not that I'd be sorry to have you remain in state."

Carys took a deep breath. "I'm going to wait on college."

Her father set his jaw and said, "You mean you're not going, at all?"

"Not this year. I've made up my mind. We've gone over all the issues, more than once. This is my decision."

Her mother looked worried. "But Carys, dear, what are you going to do?"

"Just a moment," said her father. "I'm not sure I accept this decision."

"Dad, bottom line, you can't force me to go to college next year."

"Carys, college gives you a broad background, a base of skills, contacts."

"Enough, Dad! We've been through all this over and over and over. I am not talking about permanently closing off any options. I'm not going to do drugs, become a prostitute or get pregnant. If it makes you feel better, you can consider it as taking time off before college. Lots of people do that. If I do go, eventually, it will be because I want to go."

"But Carys," wailed her mother, "you're so smart. You need to go to college to develop your talents."

"Mom, I won't argue about being smart, but my talents are all in areas I don't quite understand how college will help me with. What's important to me is clowning, performance art, script writing, theater and queer activism. Those are not exactly high profile areas in college. I've already taken a bookkeeping course, and I will take other business courses as I find I need them. That's the way education ought to work."

Her father was scowling. "Bookkeeping isn't much of a career, Carys. Both UM and MSU have theater programs. Eastern in Ypsi has a program in theater management."

"I know that, Dad. If I did go to college right now, I'm sure I would end up in one of those programs. But that's going at it backwards. So many kids I know are going to college with no idea at all what they want to do with their lives. They're going to end up being trapped, forced into doing something simply because they are in college and have only a few years to make a decision."

"Oh, Carys. You are so young."

"Yes, Mom, I'm young. I know you'd prefer to ship me off to college for four more years of protected incubation, so you can tell all your friends that I'm doing the normal thing. But it isn't going to happen." She held up her hand to forestall her father's reply.

"Which brings me to the second item." She had her pack and a duffel bag ready inside her room, just in case this went the wrong way. Deep breath. Control.

"Mom, Dad. I wish I could say that Jami and I are getting married, but that's not legal in this country. However, we are going to do as close as we can manage." Wait for it. Five, four, three, two, one...

"You're what!"

"Sometime in June, or if necessary, tonight, I'm moving out and renting a place with Jami. She and I are going to live together. It won't go as smoothly as it would for a so-called normal heterosexual couple, but that's not our fault."

"Carys, this is ridiculous! You'd be throwing your life away. I will not allow it."

Carys stood up. "Dad, once again, I'm 18 years old. You can ask me to leave, and I will. I've packed my bags. They're sitting on the floor upstairs. Or you can treat me with some respect and we can talk about this."

Her mother was weeping, but managed to say, "What will I say to our friends? What about your open house? How can I tell your sister?"

"Mom, Caitlin already knows. She's looking forward to meeting Jami next month when she's here for my graduation.

"I don't like to take the tough rocks line on this, but I've been trying to talk to both of you all year about my needs and my beliefs and my plans for my life. I've listened to what you have to say. Have you listened to me?"

"This is a phase you're going through," sobbed her mother.

Carys stamped her foot and clenched her fists. "The hell it is! I will not listen to that kind of garbage."

"Carys! Don't talk to your mother that way."

"Sorry, Dad, but I won't listen to that kind of talk. There are lots of resources available to help you cope with having a queer daughter. It's your responsibility to make use of them. I will not sit here and listen to you say that one of the most important aspects of my being is just a phase I'm going through."

Everyone was silent.

Carys sat down again. She looked at her parents. "Mom. Dad. I can leave this house right now and not come back. Or I can stay for another few weeks and we can work on you getting along with me as I actually am, not as you wish I was. It's your call."

Her father obviously wasn't happy, but neither was he blowing up. Maybe he had figured out more than Carys had given him credit for.

"All right, Carys. I was pretty headstrong when I was your age, too. Maybe you are something of a chip off the old block," he said. "I could probably have accepted that better if you were my son, instead of my daughter. I don't want you to leave before you're ready."

"Thanks, Dad." Carys realized she was on the point of bursting into tears. She'd been doing a lot of that recently.

He continued, "I won't try to veto your decision, Carys, your decisions. But I have learned a thing or two in my life, and perhaps I can say some things that might be of use."

"Dad, I would love to be able to ask you questions, have your help."

He nodded. "Let's try it that way, then. I would like to talk to you and Jami, together, also. It doesn't have to be immediately. I'd do that if Jami were a boy you were talking about marrying."

"I'm not asking for your blessing."

"I know that, and I know you don't need my permission to marry at your age. But I'd like to talk to both of you."

"You're not going to yell at Jami?"

"We haven't been yelling at you, Carys."

"No, you haven't. I'm sorry. Okay, but I need to talk to you some more, about Jami, first. There are some things I need to say, that you need to know about, before you talk to both of us."

"All right. Now why don't you go call your girlfriend and let her know I didn't throw you out of the house. I need to talk with your mother."

Carys stood up and went to her father, leaned down and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek. She would have done the same with her mother, but she kept her face buried in her hands.

Carys went upstairs to call Jami.