Chapter Ten

Jami showed Carys how she mounted her photos. It was more complicated than Carys had thought it would be. She'd thought they would simply put the prints in frames, behind glass, and that would be it.

"Oh, horrors!" Had been Jami's response to that notion. Evidently placing a print behind glass was akin to placing a human being in prison.

"There are situations in which one must use glass, yes," said Jami, "but not in an exhibit. This is what I do." She handed Carys a print set within several pieces of what looked like cardboard.

"I've seen prints displayed like this, I think," said Carys, looking at it closely. "Maybe in a museum."

"That's what we're going to do. Each photo may be different, depending on how I choose to display it. Different orientation, different colors of mat board." Jami showed Carys a selection of supplies. "We use these tools to cut the board, these adhesives. It seems complicated, but once you've done a few, it isn't hard."

Jami helped Carys do each step on the first couple of prints, then they speeded up as Carys gained confidence. Still, it took them most of two evenings to finish mounting the prints.

Finally Jami said, "Whew! That's done. Now I need to print labels, and a small catalog with some details about the photos. Then we can take it all to the gallery when we go downtown for the next rehearsal."

"People can buy these, right?"

"Yes. I need to set the prices, too."

Carys put her arms around Jami and dragged her to the bed. They flopped down, face to face, arms around each other.

"Are you excited about this, Jami?"

"You mean the exhibit, or lying on the bed with you?"

"I'll bite your nose," said Carys.

"Okay, the exhibit! Yes, I'm excited. I have no idea what will happen. Maybe nothing. But it will still have been fun."

There was a noise from the stairs. "Knock, knock!" said her mother.

"Hi, Mom!" Jami and Carys sat up.

"So did you finish mounting all the prints? You said I could have a preview."

"Yes, we just finished! Carys, grab the stack, and I'll narrate."

Carys went to get the stack of prints and Jami went to sit at her desk computer. Taking the prints back to the bed, Carys shuffled through them while Jami read off the descriptions she was going to use on the labels.

"Very impressive, my dears. They look superb, and very nicely mounted. Now why don't you two come downstairs for a few minutes and tell me how your rehearsals are going? I don't mind you spending most of your time up here, but I would like to see you every once in a while. I can fix tea, if you'd like?"

They went downstairs and had tea, which in the Barton house had the English meaning of a light snack. They talked about the rehearsals. Carys mentioned her talks with her parents, about college, and Jami.

"It's going better than I expected, actually. I think my parents, or my father, at least, are accepting the fact that I'm becoming an adult. He at least is talking with me, rather than at me. Like you do, Anne."

"I'm glad to hear that, Carys. Okay, I'll let you two get back to each other. I'm looking forward to seeing the exhibit, and the performance."

* * *

At Riverfront that evening they were gathered around the stage before rehearsal. Derick and Mandy had gone off to the storage area to look for another chair to use on stage. Carys walked to center stage by herself, twirled in a circle once, and began wiggling her fingers. She held one hand up before her face. "I am such a freak!"

David, who was used to Carys's impromptu little performance pieces, immediately joined in. "Gee, Carys! You just noticed? We were all keeping quiet about it, so as not to hurt your feelings."

"No, really!" said Carys, wide-eyed. "I've been taking lessons, and I've learned to see things as they truly are. I am, like, seriously weird!"

Jami had been startled for a second, but now realized what was going on. She settled back to watch.

"See! If I bend my middle finger down, the one next to it can't seem to stay straight! I guess it's been recruited to the middle finger agenda!"

David clapped. "Good one, Car."

"And look at my foot!" She dropped to sit on the stage, took off her shoe and sock and splayed her toes. "The two toes next to the big toe are webbed together. That is so weird, because neither of my parents is a duck." She replaced her sock and shoe. "I can't be a bird, because both my eyes want to look in the same direction. What if someone tries to sneak up behind me? I'm toast!" She went to her knees, moving her head from side to side in a parody of paranoia.

"Do you have any other problems, Carys?" said Tina, joining in, "Like having a strange little dent in your tummy, you know, in the area of your waistline? Or not being able to breathe underwater?"

Carys looked stunned, sat down and pulled up her shirt. She gasped. "Oh, my gosh! I do have a hole in my tummy. What could it mean? Have I lost something?" She cocked her head in thought. "Breathe under water? I dream I can breathe under water, but I'm not sure. I must find out." She thought a moment. "I know! The sink in the bathroom!" She scrambled to her feet.

Jami called out, laughing. "No, Carys! Please just let us assume you cannot breathe under water. I don't want to have to give you mouth to mouth."

"Now that I find hard to believe," drawled Rachel, who was looking disgusted.

"Jeez, what is the matter with you, Rachel?," asked Shay. "Are you jealous? Stop picking on Carys and Jami."

"I'm just acknowledging the obvious."

"That's not what your subtext says, girlfriend."

"Don't call me girlfriend!"

Shay put her hands on her hips and looked Rachel up and down. "Well, just what is it about me that offends you so much, Rachel? Do I live on the wrong side of town? Is my skin the wrong shade of human? Or do you suspect I got a thing going with Elena here, and we have too much fun up in the light booth? Maybe you're just feeling left out?"

Carys raised her eyebrows in mock surprise and used a loud stage whisper to say to Jami, "The missing sound cues! This explains it all, Watson!"

Rachel turned and stalked out through the stage door.

Shay shook her head. "That woman is seriously uptight. What is her problem?"

David asked, "How many people here aren't GLBT or at least Q?" He looked at Jami. "Sorry, or I?"

"Or you what?" said Jami, with a smile.

David rolled his eyes. "Theater people! Ask a queer question, get a straight answer."

"Hey, has anyone read Samuel Delany's novel, Babel-17?" asked Jami. "One of the plots is language used as a weapon, and what it would mean to have no concept of 'I'." Jami scanned the blank stares. "Oh, well. It's science fiction."

Luis, usually quiet, spoke up. "I know who Delany is, but I haven't read that book. Did you know he's gay? And black?"

"Yes," said Jami. "I've read his autobiography. I'm afraid I'm a compulsive consumer of the written word."

"But as for David's question," said Tina, "is Rachel the only straight person here? Assuming she is straight?"

Everyone looked around. No one spoke up.

"I suppose that could be it, then," said David.

"Are you all talking about me?" Rachel had just come back in through the stage door.

Tina spoke. "We're mostly talking about us, Rachel. We just figured out for sure that we're all some form of queer, or at least questioning."

"So you're wondering about me?"

"We're wondering why you seem to be a little jittery here," said David.

"So what is this, the Spanish Inquisition?"

Tina spread her hands in exasperation. "Have you considered that maybe we want to be friends? And we don't know what we're doing wrong?"

Rachel didn't reply.

"I guess we're puzzled, Rachel. You don't seem to add up. You're in a women's studies program. You volunteer at the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival. Yet everyone here seems to rub you the wrong way. What gives?"

"I'm just uncomfortable, okay? I am straight. I have a boyfriend. My parents are conservative, and I agree with a lot of their values, but I don't believe in persecuting people for what they are. I go to church with my parents. I try to tone down some of what they hear there. I don't have anything against any of you. I'm just on edge here." She looked flustered. "I don't know why."

"How do handle being at Festival?" asked Jami. "Is that so different? There are no men there, but as you said, it's crawling with lesbians of all flavors, races and social classes."

Rachel waved her hand back and forth. "Festival is like a separate world. It has strict rules. This is different. I don't know how to explain it. I'm actually kind of ashamed I'm so uptight here. But I do know I don't want to be analyzed by all the rest of you."

"Okay, Rachel. We'll leave you alone," said Tina, "if you leave us alone. But I, and probably everyone else, would be glad to talk if you want. We've all had issues we've had to deal with, and I suspect we've all felt better once we dragged them out in the open."

"Thank you, Doctor Tina." Rachel turned and walked out again, as Derick and Mandy returned with a chair.

"Folks," said Mandy. "Just let go of this, okay? We don't have much time left to rehearse, and it doesn't sound like Rachel wants to talk. Ignore her jibes. Let's just get through this. Today is one of the few times we can use the actual stage. Let's not waste the opportunity." She looked around. Everyone nodded assent. "Okay. Places for Act Two, please."

As soon as the rehearsal was over, Rachel vanished. It was raining, so Carys and Jami accepted a ride from David.

"So what do you guys think is going on with Rachel?" asked David, once they were in his car, out of the rain.

"I don't know," said Carys, "maybe it's just too high a concentration of queerness for comfort. No one's hiding anything now, which feels great to all of us, but maybe it's uncomfortable for her. You know, not having any way to demonstrably be straight, and having the big kissing seen with a flaming queer."

"Yeh, I suppose that could be it. Any ideas Jami?"

"No. She does keep apologizing. I kind of get the idea she wants to say more, but can't bring herself to do it. I know how that is. Maybe there's some issue she's still working through with herself. She could even be working on coming out to herself in some way."

"But she could talk to us," said Carys. "We're probably one of the most understanding groups she could open up to."

"I've got it," said David. "She's actually into polyamorous bondage, discipline and sado masochism, and feels uneasy without her leathers and whip."

Carys laughed, but Jami frowned. "Be careful, David. Whatever it is, how do you know her problem with us isn't that she's heard one of us making jokes about it, so she's afraid to say anything?"

David looked abashed. "Sorry. You're right, Jami. We shouldn't be making fun of her. We all know what that's like."

Carys had a sudden flashback to her conversation with Mr. Smithson in the cafeteria. "Yes, we do. Jami's right. We can't expect people to be nice to us if we're not nice to them. The golden rule is really hard to live up to in practice, but it is the right thing to do."

"That's true," said David. "Oh, well, next weekend is the performance, and then Rachel won't be a problem any longer."

* * *

Jami and Carys were snuggled under a blanket in Jami's room. They spent most of their free time together now, usually at Jami's house.

"Jami? Can I ask you a question about your parents?"

"Sure."

"I think my parents are going through the usual, 'Oh, where did we go wrong?' stage about having a queer daughter."

"You're wondering how my parents have dealt with the fact of being the biological parents of a freak of nature?"

"To be crude about it, yes."

"I think it was really, really hard on them, in the early years, before they had some confidence that I was going to turn out okay. Emotionally okay, I mean.

"Can you imagine it? Everyone always asks whether a baby is a boy or a girl. It must have been horrible for them, to have to deal with that, alone. ISNA, the Intersex Society of North America, wasn't started until 1993. At the time I was born, there was nowhere to get information, or support. I mean, I was born before the world wide web existed!"

"And my parents have access to so much," said Carys, "if they'd only reach out for it."

"But it's not the same, Car. First, your parents haven't been dealing with this for your entire life. Second, there are all the rightwing nuts going on about how bad it is to be gay, leave alone queer or trans, and how it's a choice and people can decide to be straight instead. So as soon as you up and say, 'Hi, Mom. I'm gay,' it's like you're on target.

"But assuming you can get past the helpful people in the hospital who want to turn the birth of your otherwise healthy intersex infant into a medical crisis, no one is going to say boo to you about having an intersex child."

"I'm still in awe of your parents having the strength to get past that, Jami."

"Well, they're intellectuals, and strong minded. They asked questions. They determined there was no actual medical emergency with me, which isn't always the case. I simply wasn't your usual infant. Wait a sec. I have something to show you."

Jami wiggled out from under the blanket and rummaged in a desk drawer. She brought what she found back to Carys. It was a small cardboard ruler, marked off in pink, lavender and blue colors. Carys looked at it in confusion, then read the words on it.

"Phall-O-Meter? This is not for real!"

"No, doctors don't actually use that ruler. That's a thing ISNA puts out, to help people visualize what we're talking about. But doctors do measure the size of the phallus and judge whether it is too small to be a proper penis for a boy or too large to be a proper clitoris for a girl."

"And if it's not the right size?"

"Then the baby has to be fixed, of course."

"Because a boy has to have a large penis, and a girl cannot have a large clitoris?"

"You got it. That's The Way Things Are Supposed To Be."

"So a baby that is otherwise male, but doesn't have a large phallus, is raised as a girl, with surgery and hormones to support that? And a baby that is otherwise female, but has a phallus that is too large, has the phallus cut down to the proper size for a clitoris?" Carys suddenly felt queasy, just thinking about it.

"Exactly. Medical technology is very good at cutting things."

"Shit. So you get a sex change, or they simply mutilate you. That's sick."

"But it allows the parents to easily answer the question of whether their baby is a boy or a girl."

"Right, that makes so much sense. They fix the baby to make the parents comfortable. Even though no one can possibly know at that time what the poor baby would want if it had a say in the matter."

"No. But the parents are in shock. They don't see the surgery, they have no idea what it will mean for the child as it grows up. They trust the doctors to fix the problem which the doctors have found, and then the parents lie about the situation to themselves and to the world and eventually to the child."

"Your parents didn't fall for it."

"Somehow they found the strength to resist the advice given them and ordered the doctors to leave me alone. They wanted time to learn more and think about it. Once they did, they decided to let me figure it out when I was old enough to do so."

"Why did they decide to raise you as a girl?"

"Well, they had to raise me as one or the other. You simply cannot be anything other than a girl or a boy in this world. But they don't really give me a solid answer on that. My guess is they went along with the feeling that if something isn't completely male, it defaults to being female. They say they weighed a lot of factors and made their decision, but were prepared to change it if they were wrong."

"You mean like that Joan/John guy?"

"That was totally different. He wasn't intersexed. He was a normal male baby, a twin. The doctor damaged his penis when he was being circumcised. To compensate, they did major surgery and raised him as a girl. It didn't work. Big surprise. The only way it could have worked would have been if he had happened to be transsexual, which is even less common than being intersexed."

Jami was silent a moment, then added. "Even though he changed back after he found out what had been done to him, and lived as a man and married, he eventually committed suicide."

"What happens with intersexed people?" asked Carys, her voice small and tight. "How do their lives turn out? I have a very personal interest in the answer to this question, Jami."

"That depends on who you ask. You can find studies that say the surgeries are wonderful and everyone lives happily ever after. Not that they bother to ask the people involved, as adults, how they feel about it. I have some videos and books and articles that tell the other side of the story. I suggest taking them in very small doses. It isn't pretty."

Jami paused again, then continued. "In general, surgery does not solve problems, it removes future options. If, as an adult, I don't like my body, there are a number of things I can have done to it. Many of those would be impossible or more difficult if I had had surgery as an infant."

Carys opened her mouth to ask a question, but Jami supplied the answer before Carys could get the words out.

"I'm okay with my body. I pass for a woman, which is both a safety issue and a source of satisfaction. I'm not hung up on having big boobs, and if my genitals are okay with you, they're okay with me. If I wanted to totally pass for female, and be able to have sex with a man and not have him know I'm intersexed, it would be a whole different story. Same thing if I felt like a man, and wanted to pass that way. I don't, and that plus being in love with you, makes me queer, which is okay with me. It's not okay for some intersex people. As adults, they can decide how best to deal with it."

"Jami. I'm happy that you're okay with yourself as you are, but if you decide you're not..."

"Then we'd talk. Same as if you decided you wanted to change your body."

Carys thought for a moment. "I wonder, if everyone was open about all this, would anyone feel the need to be other than they are?"

"Or feel the need to try and force other people to be other than they are? I don't know, Car. Unfortunately, I don't think there's much chance we'll ever find out."

* * *

"Hi, Cait. Can I talk to you some more about Jami?"

"No, nothing's wrong. I'm just having a hard time with how hard it is for her to be intersexed, and the way she feels about her body."

"We talk a lot, and we're taking it really slow. I don't want to do anything to hurt her. But it's frustrating. I know, on one level, that her issues are with herself and her own feelings about her own body, but I can't help feeling that my love and acceptance of her ought to be more help than it seems like it is."

"That's part of the problem. There is no one I can talk to, except you."

"I talk with her mother, Anne. It's kind of strange, but I'm realizing that this is going to keep happening. I mean, I'm basically an adult now, and there's a whole world full of adults who are from my age up to what, sixty, seventy years older than I am? It's quite something to get used to."

"But I can't talk with Anne about having sex with her daughter. That's just too strange."

"I feel so alone, sometimes."

"Thanks. I really need to talk with you when you're here, after you know Jami better. I know I'm not the only person who is dealing with these issues. But I don't know where to turn for help. Who would understand what I barely understand myself?"

"Oh, yes. Jami wants to get to know you. I talk about you all the time. She says it's okay to give you her email."

"I would love it if you two would start talking!"

"Thanks so much, Cait!"

"Oh, things aren't too bad on the home front. Mother is still unable to cope. I don't know what to do about her, except give her time. Dad is weird. I think he goes back and forth between thinking he understands me because if he had a son he'd understand him having a girlfriend, and then realizing that I'm a girl and thinking he can't understand me at all, just because of that."

"Yes. He is making an effort. I can't complain."

"I'm looking forward to seeing you, too. Just a month now."

"Okay. Thanks, Cait. Love you. Bye!"