Chapter Twelve

A few days later Carys was again lying on the bed next to Jami, watching shadows on the ceiling. "My Dad wants to talk to us, together, Jami."

"Is this the 'you want to do what with my daughter, young man?' talk he wishes he could be having with someone other than me?"

Carys sighed. "Yes. It at least means he's taking us seriously. It's kind of a traditional thing for parents to do in this situation, even though he doesn't actually have any control over what I do."

"I suppose it is. What is he going to say? Or ask? How much have you told your parents about me?"

"I told my dad that you're intersexed, with a very brief explanation of what that means. I pointed out that it's pretty much irrelevant to them. It doesn't change that the world is going to consider you and me to be lesbians and treat us that way. But I figured he needed to know so he wouldn't be surprised if it comes up in our talk, and because I know you don't want to be invisible.

"My mom is too much of a basket case about this already for me to try to explain it to her. I left it up to my Dad to pass on what he thinks is useful. I told him that Cait could probably explain about intersexuality better than I can, if he wants details. I suggested that Mom might listen to Cait, as a nurse, since it's basically a medical topic. I reminded Dad that your parents want to meet them, also."

Jami continued to stare at the ceiling. "How did he react to all that?"

"I think it put him in a little bit of a spin. He asked if this meant that I wasn't interested in girls in general, so I tried to answer that question. I probably made a muddle of it."

Carys shook her head. "It's so bizarre. I don't want him thinking I'm not queer, to grab onto your being intersex to make him feel like I'm doing you some favor by falling head over heels in love with you."

"Hmmm," mused Jami. "He's definitely grasping at straws if he's thinking you're less queer because you're in love with me."

"I know. It's so convoluted. I don't want him to tell people that I'm not really lesbian because you're not really a girl, yet I don't actually like using the lesbian label with myself, and of course you're not really a girl in the way most people understand that term, so in a way he's right, but for all the wrong reasons. Is it okay if I scream?"

Carys picked up a pillow, pressed it to her face, and screamed. In a moment she dropped the pillow and smiled.

"Do you feel better now, dear?" asked Jami.

"Yes! Screaming is good for the soul, and much less of a mess than chicken soup."

"Especially if you're a chicken," said Jami.

Carys laughed. "You remember that CD you were listening to way back on that day in the courtyard?"

"With the Life is Sweet and Strange song?"

"Yep. It sure is. Life. Strange, and sweet. I love you so much." She snuggled into Jami.

"Well, let's get this talk with your parents over with. When?"

"Might as well be tonight, if that's okay with you?"

"Better sooner than later, I suppose. Less time to worry about it."

* * *

Carys and Jami sat in the Douglas living room for their talk with Carys's parents. Her father wasted no time getting to the point.

"Jami, I've been talking with Carys quite a lot in the past couple of weeks, about what she thinks about going to college, and about moving out of this house to live with you. I would like to hear what you think about all of this."

Jami took a breath and replied. "I intend to wait on going to college, also, Mr. Douglas. That's not unusual for people who are home-schooled. My plan is to make use of community college and online resources as I need them. Only if I should determine I want to do something that requires a college degree--go to law school as an unlikely example--would I pursue a degree. Even then, I would probably do so as a so-called non-traditional student. My parents are in complete agreement with me on this."

"You don't believe there is intrinsic value in a college education?"

"I don't believe that embarking on a four or five year college program is the best thing for all people to do immediately following high school."

Carys's father smiled. "Perhaps you should consider law, Jami. You are very careful with your words."

"Thank you, sir."

"And very polite. I think Carys will benefit from knowing you."

"Father!"

"I'm joking, dear. Obviously I'm not going to shake either of you on your conviction that college can wait. Now, about the other matter."

Carys reached out and took Jami's hand. They waited.

"I realize this situation is more complicated than I thought at first, but people in general are going to assume the same thing I did, that you are two young lesbians. It's a harsh world out there. You'll have none of the goodwill and legal protections a young married couple would have."

"That's not our fault."

"Irrelevant. That's the way things are. What are you going to do if, or rather, when you get in trouble?"

"What does anyone do?" said Jami. "Look to friends. Find new resources. Deal with it."

"Do you think I'm going to come to the rescue if you can't pay your rent or make your car payments?"

"We're not going to have car payments. But no, I would not expect you to help us."

"What do you mean, no car payments? Even if someone is giving you a car, there's insurance and gas and repairs."

"Our plan is to live simply. No car. No unnecessary expenses."

"What about furnishing an apartment?"

"There are inexpensive ways to come by everything we need. One could furnish a hundred apartments from what the college students throw out at the end of each term, for example."

"I thought you were going to live together, not take vows of poverty. I know Carys isn't religious, in spite of our attempts to raise her in our faith."

Carys rolled her eyes, but didn't speak.

"You're Catholic, right?", said Jami. "I assume you know about organizations such as Pax Christi, the Secular Franciscans and perhaps the Catholic Social Worker movement? There's a lot there I agree with, even if I'm not religious."

Carys's father looked quite surprised as he digested that statement.

Jami continued. "So we'll keep fixed expenses to a minimum. Be flexible. Have multiple sources of income. I do have some emergency financial resources, if it should come to that."

"What about health insurance?"

"There are ways. There are millions of people in this country not covered by nice, neat corporate benefit packages. At one time the goal of making one's own way, being self-educated, taking risks and heading for the frontier was the national ideal. That kind of thinking seems to have gone by the wayside."

"Forget being a lawyer, Jami," laughed Carys's father. "Politics is the only life for you!"

Jami smiled. "I don't think the country is quite ready for that. I'll stick to writing. That once was an effective way to change public opinion."

Carys decided to speak up at this point. "So, Dad. Now that you know Jami's not an airhead like me, do you feel better about us boldly going where only other brave queers have gone before?"

Her father assumed a pained expression, and was about to respond, but was cut off by Carys's mother, who spoke out for the first time.

"I know I'm not supposed to say this, but homosexuality is a sin. What you're talking about doing is wrong, Carys, it isn't even legal."

"Oh, Mother! Please!"

"Carys, I'm not the only person who believes this. I simply cannot approve. Marriage is between a man and a woman. Sex outside of marriage is a sin."

"That may be true for people who share your beliefs," said Jami, "but I don't see how it's right to force those beliefs on other people. Withholding the legal benefits of marriage to punish people who won't conform to one way of thinking does not seem right in what is supposed to be a free country."

"You can't deny that men and woman are totally different, and that a gay couple cannot have children, which is the purpose of marriage," said Mrs. Douglas.

"I'm not sure this is a rational discussion," said Jami, "but let me point out that one can find numerous counterexamples to any behavior that is claimed to be feminine or masculine, and not only among queer people. The past thirty years has pretty much exploded the myth that there are things that women, or men, cannot do. There are plenty of childless marriages, including many made with the knowledge that the marriage cannot produce children. No one is suggesting that those marriages are not valid. And of course people like me are proof that there is no clear dividing line between male and female."

Jami frowned. "Think about this. I have the medical evidence to support a claim that I am actually male. I could say that a mistake was made by my parents in raising me as female, and that I wish to correct that mistake now. As supporting evidence I could offer the fact that I am in love with your daughter, who, on suitable medical examination, would no doubt prove to be a genuine female. Absolutely nothing would change about me or Carys, or the way we behave, or the way we feel about each other, but I could probably make it so we could legally be married, so long as we both dress in drag when we apply for the license."

Carys's mother looked confused. Her father looked somewhat stunned.

"Would that all of a sudden make everything okay?" continued Jami. "If so, what does it mean that you sit and look at us and consider us to be queer? How can it be a sin for us to live together if I in fact could make it legal to do so? Should I do that? Carys?"

Carys suddenly found herself fighting back tears. "I know you're joking to show how absurd this is, Jami. You know it wouldn't work. Can you imagine me wearing a wedding gown and you a tux? If anything it should be the other way around."

"No, it wouldn't work. I would have to convince people that I actually feel like a man, to begin with," said Jami, "and I can't do that without lying."

"You feel that you are a woman?" said Carys's father. "You certainly seem to be one."

Jami sighed. "I feel like me. I behave in a way that makes me comfortable, and feels safe. I don't know what it really feels like to be a woman or a man. I question whether anyone does. Why else would our culture devote so much time and energy to telling everyone how they should behave?"

"We are getting way off track," said Carys. "The whole point here is that there is nothing wrong with you and me! You do not need to be fixed. I do not need to be fixed. You are not a problem. I am not a problem! We are not a problem! The whole fucking world is a problem!" Carys was yelling. Her mother ran from the room.

"You will be a problem if you hit someone," said Jami. She took Carys's clenched fists in her hands and looked at her until she started breathing easily again.

Carys's father had a hand on his forehead. "I'm sorry. This is not where I wanted this conversation to go. Though I admit," he said, looking at Jami, "that you have a slew of valid points. I am genuinely concerned about the future you two will have together."

"So are we," said Jami.

"Dad, I'm queer. How can you look back on my life and believe anything else? You know enough about Jami now to understand that there isn't anything she can do that would meet with everyone's approval. So we're both totally screwed by the system. Why shouldn't we at least try to be happy together?"

Her father was silent, thinking.

"Dad? There's a saying. You're either part of the problem, or you're part of the solution."

"So which am I?"

Carys and Jami waited.

"Okay. I'll think about all this, and I'll talk with you a lot more, Carys. I should probably talk with your parents, too, Jami."

"They would be happy to talk with you, Mr. Douglas."

Carys pulled Jami toward the hallway and the front door. "Let's walk."

They had walked several blocks in silence when Carys stopped and turned to Jami. "Why did you say all that? About being male?"

Jami swallowed. "I'm not sure. But what I said was true."

"No it wasn't. You couldn't pretend to be a man. You told me you're happy the way you are."

"I am. But at this age, it'd be easy for me to pass as male. All it would take would be a different haircut, slightly different clothes, and a few changes in posture and mannerism. Trust me, I understand gender theater."

"Are you suggesting we actually consider doing that?"

"No. As you say, I was pointing out the absurdity of the situation. Intersex, and transsexual, people are uniquely situated to do that. Though most of us don't want to make hash of our lives by doing so."

"Jami, this is all so frigging absurd. If we did that, and were legally married, then you could live as a woman the way you are now, and I could start living as a man, and even change my name and identification. So we'd look like a normal couple, except it'd be you who was legally male and me who was legally female." Carys grabbed her hair and pulled at it. "God, it is so absurd! The existentialists had it easy compared to us. Let's walk some more, find a place to sit and get something to drink. My brain is fried."

They walked out toward Grand River Avenue and headed downtown, stopping at the first place that was mostly empty. They ordered drinks and sat.

"Your parents are really different from one another, Carys. My parents generally seem to agree about things."

"My mother usually just does whatever my father says. Since we've never really gotten along, I can't honestly say I know that much about her opinions, except it seems to be a safe bet they aren't the same as mine."

"Is she very religious?"

"I suppose so. She always goes to mass, and usually manages to drag my father along. When I was younger, I had to go, too. But then I began arguing about everything having to do with the role of women in the Church, the teachings on sexuality and the hypocritical way the Church doesn't follow its own teachings on peace and economic justice. It wasn't long before she was willing to leave me at home. Once I stopped going, she switched from the relatively liberal student parish to a more conservative parish. After that my dad started skipping more, too. I don't think he's a conservative at heart."

"Sounds like quite a mismatch. But they've been married for how long?"

"A little over 30 years. But people change, and things change in importance. It's been seven years since Cait left home, and I didn't turn out to be what my mother wanted. Maybe church is more important to her now. I know the more conservative parishes are extremely outspoken against gay rights. She's picked it up. That's the crowd she runs with, so to speak."

"So she's not likely to change?"

"Not anytime soon. I know one thing that's bugging her is the thought of having to tell her friends I've turned totally to the dark side. Maybe Caitlin can talk some sense into her."

"Maybe, but it sounds like she needs to find some other people to hang out with. A more liberal parish, and PFLAG meetings."

"She has to want to change, first. This is basically a rather conservative state, though there are pockets of light here and there."

"True. Like here, where we may not be able to afford to live, because of what the presence of thousands of students has done to rental prices. Though if we can, no one's going to blink about two girls living together."

Carys stared into the distance, thinking. "There are states where this is easier, you know. Michigan is not the best place to be queer."

"I suppose that can be a backup strategy, to move to another state, or another country, even."

"I suppose. But don't say that to my parents!"

"No, and it'd be a long time until we reached that point, I hope. It'd be kind of a cop out, even, to move, rather than work for change here."

Carys remembered again her conversation with Mr. Smithson, in the school cafeteria. "You're right, Jami. We need to try to make it work here."

"I agree."

"But can we also agree, as part of our wedding vows, if you will, that ultimately our relationship is the most important thing, and we will do what we need to do to stay together, even if it means running away?"

"If it means living to fight another day, yes. If it means giving up, no. I don't think we'd survive that."

"Right. It isn't really possible to run away from ourselves, is it?"

"Not and be able to look each other in the face, no."

Carys picked up her cup. "A toast. All for one!"

"And one for all!"

They drained their drinks and set the cups down.

"I need to get home, Jami. I have a paper to finish for school tomorrow. I'm glad that's almost over."

They walked to Carys's house, then Jami continued on to her house, thinking about how complicated her life had become in the past few months.

* * *

After the incident in the cafeteria, Carys had mostly been keeping to herself at school, trying to get through the final weeks without anything else blowing up. She had called a meeting of the GSA to discuss the incident. Because it was less than a month to graduation, and both Carys and Linda were seniors, everyone had decided there was no point in making an issue of it.

So she was lost in thought, walking down the hallway with a stack of books, concentrating on remembering everything she had to get done that week. As she walked past a group of people, their conversation barely penetrated the haze in her mind.

"Linda! Congratulations!"

"That ring is so incredible!"

"Have you set a date?"

"No, but it will be late this summer, before we go off to college. We'll be in married student housing, instead of having to live in residence halls." Linda caught sight of Carys and her voice changed. "My God, there are queers in residence halls, you know. It's not safe."

Carys stopped, despite a small voice in her head urging her to just keep on walking and ignore this.

"Why, there's one now," said Linda. "I hear she's going to be living the old fashioned way, you know, in sin? Oh, and I heard something really interesting about that little freak she calls a girlfriend."

Carys dropped everything she was holding, took three large steps, and was standing in front of Linda. Her ears were buzzing and everything seemed to be happening in slow motion.

Carys stood a good four inches taller than Linda. She looked down at her and said, in an even, measured voice, "You were saying something about Jami, Linda?"

Linda licked her lips. "I guess this might not be a good time to say anything more on that subject."

"Maybe no time is a good time to say the kind of things you like to say about people who aren't members of your little clique."

"Oh, you mean the heterosexual clique, the normal people? That would leave you out, wouldn't it, Carys?"

"Only so far as the bigots and hate mongers are concerned."

One of the girls in the original group had run to get a teacher. It happened to be Mr. Smithson.

"Carys! And, Linda, isn't it? What's going on here?" He looked back and forth. "Linda, I was in the cafeteria last month when you and Carys had your little fight. Are you making comments about Carys again?"

"Nothing that isn't true."

"I don't care what you say about me, Linda. But you said Jami was a freak."

Mr. Smithson looked at Linda, waiting for an answer.

"I was only repeating a rumor I heard."

"If you know it's a rumor," said Mr. Smithson, "and evidently an unkind rumor, don't you think it would be better left unsaid?"

"I suppose so."

Mr. Smithson sighed. "There are two weeks, two weeks, of classes left in your high school careers. Please don't do anything stupid, either of you. Now get to class. The bell has rung."

Linda stalked off down the hallway. Carys bent to pick up her books.

"I know it's hard, Carys," said Mr. Smithson, "but try to ignore her. There's nothing you can do in the time you have left here except get in trouble."

"I know," sighed Carys. "I was ignoring her until she started talking about Jami. I'm sorry, Mr. Smithson. What you said last time, in the cafeteria. I remember all of that. It's been important to me in deciding what I'm going to do with my life. Thank you for being here."

"Thank you, Carys, for being a courageous person. Don't let them drag you down to their level. Good luck, to both you and Jami."

Carys went to her next class, but she was seething with anger. One look at her face was enough to stop anyone from trying to talk to her for the rest of the day. But it didn't stop the people who wanted to hurt her from doing everything they could think of to make their feelings known.

* * *

As soon as Carys left the building following her last class she pulled out her cellphone and called Jami.

"Hi, Jami? I need to see you, right now. I almost lost it today. Another thirty seconds and I would have put a fist through Linda's simpering face. The rest of the day everyone's been after me."

"I can't tell you on the phone. Can I come over?"

"I'll meet you on the way, the usual route. Thanks, Jami."

Jami was waiting for Carys as she turned the corner off Burcham. As soon as she saw Jami, she ran towards her. She tossed her pack on the ground and hugged Jami, hard.

"What did they do, Car? What did they do?"

It took a while for Carys to calm down enough to talk.

"It wasn't much. Linda got engaged, and was showing off her ring. I happened to walk by, so she started making comments about queers. No problem. Then she said, she said something about 'that little freak I call a girlfriend.' I lost it, I absolutely lost it. I wanted to kill her. But all I did was stand in front of her and glare. I don't know what would have happened if she had repeated what she'd said about you. Fortunately Mr. Smithson showed up. Since he'd been in the cafeteria the last time Linda said things, he understood what was happening and shut it down."

"Oh, Carys, I'm sorry this crap is happening to you. It's okay now. Come on, let's get to my house."

Jami picked up Carys's pack and took her hand. They walked in silence to Jami's house. As they went in the front door Jami called out for her mother.

"Jami? What is it? Carys! What's happened honey?"

Carys was crying too hard to answer.

"School, Mom. Stupid assholes again."

"Oh, no. Come on and sit in the living room, Carys. Jami, turn the burner on under the kettle, please. Check that there's water."

Anne led Carys into the living room and onto the sofa, sitting next to her and putting her arms around her.

"Go ahead and cry Carys. Sometimes there just isn't anything else you can do."

Jami came back into the room and sat on the other side of Carys. Her mother smoothed Carys's hair back from her face and said, "Here's Jami. I'll be back in a minute with some tea."

Jami put her arms around Carys and held her. In a few minutes her mother returned.

"Okay, here's some tea, and a glass of water and a damp cloth for you, Carys. Wipe your face, honey. Drink some water."

Carys did so. "Thank you, thank you. I don't know why this is bothering me so much. I was ignoring everything, until she called Jami a freak."

Anne clenched her teeth. "Tell me about it."

Carys repeated the description of what had happened.

"When I tell it, it doesn't sound that bad. But I just couldn't take it, I literally saw red. I didn't know what I was going to do. It's scary. For the rest of the day, it seemed like every time I turned around, someone was staring at me, making gagging motions, giving me the finger, or mouthing 'dyke' at me. As soon as I got away from school I called Jami. Then I started running."

"It's over, for now. You and Jami sit here and talk. I need to go make a couple of phone calls." Anne stood up and left the room.

"Jami?" sniffed Carys. "I'm sorry I lost control."

"It's okay, Car. Between school and home, you're under a lot of stress. I'm just glad it's going to be over soon." She forced herself to smile. "I have a piece of good news."

"Oh, what?"

"I had a call today from someone who saw my photo exhibit at the Art Gallery and wants to talk with me about doing some work."

"Great! At least something is going right."

"You're tired, Car. Snuggle up against me. Just rest."

When Jami's mother returned, she found them still on the sofa, Carys leaning against Jami, asleep.

"Poor child. This is rough on both of you. I called some people I know in PFLAG, found out who to talk to at the High School. I'm going there tomorrow morning to see if there's anything that can be done. Let Carys sleep a little bit, then I'll take her home. I need to talk to her parents."

"It's only a couple more weeks."

"I know, Jami. But her last couple of weeks in high school should be something other than hell for her. It isn't right."

"No, it's not."

"Well, it's not going to fix itself."