ysabetwordsmith: Damask smiling over their shoulder (polychrome)
[personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
This poem is spillover from the July 4, 2017 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] stardreamer, [personal profile] alatefeline, [personal profile] sweet_sparrow, and [personal profile] lone_cat. It also fills the "therapy" square in my 6-16-17 card for the [community profile] hc_bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. It belongs to the Calliope thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.


"A Series of Transitions"


Calliope dragged herself to
the Tranquility Counseling Center
even though she didn't want to go.

It had been a shitty week
and she was just too tired
to deal with Vagary.

"You look wiped, and we
haven't even started yet,"
Vagary said as they walked
toward their usual room.

"Dayjob problems," Calliope said
as she turned away from him.

"Oh yeah," Vagary said.
"That's always gonna be
hard on you, when you're
working wrongside-out."

Calliope twisted around
to look at Vagary, but he
was as serious as ever.
"I guess so," she said.

As soon as they reached
the room, she flopped
into the loveseat there.

Vagary settled beside her,
and Mr. Gallagar gave them
a look of concern. "Is something
extra wrong today?" he asked.

"Just work," Calliope said.
"Sometimes it's exhausting."

Especially when Austin
had spent the whole damn week
gender-policing everything that moved.

"I don't want to butt in,
but I do worry," Vagary said.

Well that was new.

It was true, though;
she could feel his concern
reaching toward her and then
curling back on itself, like the ocean
petting the edge of the beach.

"One of my coworkers likes
to hassle people about things
that I don't feel safe confronting
on my dayjob," Calliope admitted.

"That can't be comfortable,"
Mr. Gallagar said.

"It's not," Calliope said,
rubbing her hands over her face.

"Would this have anything to do
with the things that you didn't want
to mention here?" said Mr. Gallagar.

Calliope looked away.

Mr. Gallagar waited a minute,
then asked, "Vagary, do you
have any ideas about this?"

"No. Not unless she says so,"
Vagary said shortly.

"You seem to have
an excellent grasp of
this boundary, at least,"
Mr. Gallagar said to him.

"He really does," said Calliope.
"At first it surprised me, but I've
come to realize that it's one thing
he never seems to mess up."

She could feel the warm surge
of pleasure even though Vagary
tried to quash it. "Thanks," he said.

Unfortunately Calliope also recalled
her promise to Mr. Gallagar that she
would reveal the hidden topic if it ever
became relevant to their current therapy.

"I guess this is where I confess that
I'm transgender," she said reluctantly.
"It ties into my superpower. Today I'm
much happier as a woman. I still work
en homme, though, and that can get
pretty stressful sometimes."

"Thank you for sharing that,"
said Mr. Gallagar. "No wonder
you feel stressed. It sounds like
a very difficult situation."

Vagary made an unhappy noise.

"You don't approve of that,"
Mr. Gallagar said, looking at Vagary.

"It's none of my business," Vagary said.
"It's her body and her choice. I'm just ...
concerned ... about it, that's all."

"What worries you about it?"
Mr. Gallagar asked him.

Vagary turned to look at Calliope.
"You're working eight hours a day,
five days a week, when you can get
that many hours," he said. "That's
a lot of time to spend pretending
to be a man when you're not one.
I don't think that it's good for you."

"So what, you think I should just quit
being Calvin, forever?" she snapped.

"No," Vagary said. "It's not my place
to decide that, it's all on you. I only wish
that you'd take into account how much
it costs you to keep up that masquerade."

"It has its uses," Calliope said.

"I know," Vagary replied.
"Shifted cover identities are
as close to unbreakable as it gets."

"Then why complain about it?"
Calliope said, frowning.

"Because no matter how hard
you try, even if you grew up as Calvin,
you're not actually a man," Vagary said.
"You can't escape the pass problem."

"Pass?" Calliope echoed, confused.

"Prolonged Adaptation Stress Syndrome?"
Mr. Gallagar said, and Vagary nodded.
"That's what I thought you meant. It
refers to the high cost of suppressing
your true self to project a false front."

"Yeah, the first description of it
was based on forcing your brain
to do things in ways that are hard
for you, but it generalizes to all kinds
of pretending to be something you're not,"
said Vagary. "That's hard on people."

"It is hard," Calliope admitted.
"It's like being invisible, only
not in a good way."

"Erasure is a serious problem
for many transgender people,"
Mr. Gallagar said. "Have you
found effective ways of coping
with that, or are you still looking?"

"I don't know," Calliope said,
picking at the cuff of her shirt.

"More space to be yourself
might help, or people to be with,"
Vagary said. "I mean, you know,
people you actually like."

Calliope flinched.
"It's dangerous," she said.
"It's just so dangerous, being
around people who know who I am,
what I am, what I can do. You
don't know what it's like."

"Don't I?" Vagary said softly.
"I'm a supervillain, Cal, I live
in the shadows too -- just for
different reasons than you do.
I'm not trans, but you know
that I get spillover from you."

Calliope thought about
what she had sensed from
Vagary, and how much she had
learned about supervillains from him.

Maybe he had some grasp of
transgender issues after all.

"Touché," she muttered.

"How much of your support network
knows about this, Calliope?"
asked Mr. Gallagar.

"Not very many,"
she said. "The two of you,
my gender coach, a few friends ..."

"Your family?" he asked gently.

"That's ... complicated,"
Calliope said, looking away.

"I wonder if you and Vagary have
thought about how this influences
your relationship," said Mr. Gallagar.

"It doesn't," Calliope said. "That's
the one area I have no complaints.
Vagary doesn't misgender me. He
doesn't make rude jokes. On this,
he's a perfect gentleman."

"Think about what first brought
you here," said Mr. Gallagar. "You
mentioned a fear that someone was
about to rape or murder you."

"He broke into my home and
grabbed me from behind!"
Calliope protested. "I had
every reason to think the worst."

"What you had was a case of
unexpected physical contact ...
compounded by your status as
a transwoman," said Mr. Gallagar.
"I suspect that you're aware of
the statistics about violence
against transgender people."

"Acutely aware," said Calliope.
"It's something I talk about with
my gender coach, so that it
doesn't get out of control."

"Well, don't forget the cape politics,"
Vagary said. "Superheras have
a considerably higher risk of
getting jumped by their enemies."

"So all of that feeds into a sense
of vulnerability on a personal level
that might not feel the same during
a cape fight or a weather incident,"
Mr. Gallagar said. "That's going
to complicate your efforts to get
acquainted and get along."

"I hadn't even thought of that,"
Calliope said with a sigh, "but
you ... probably have a point."

"Maybe some of my baggage is
getting in the way too," Vagary said.
He wrapped his arms around himself,
hugging his own chest. "I mentioned
that my family kicked me out over
my sexual confusion. You want
to talk about being invisible, try
not even knowing yourself."

"Been there, done that,"
Calliope muttered. "For years,
I tried so hard to do the manhood thing
that I couldn't really see myself."

"Is this something that you'd
like to explore, Vagary?"
asked Mr. Gallagar.

"No, but -- you got me
thinking about how things
might impact our relationship
in ways that we hadn't realized,"
Vagary said. "So maybe I have to."

"You never have to talk about
anything in here until you feel
ready to," Mr. Gallagar said.
"If you think it's relevant now,
then I'll help as best I can."

There was a brittle feeling
to Vagary that Calliope hadn't
noticed before, and it worried her.

Considering how much he
focused on belonging, it was
no wonder that feeling confused
upset him, because then he wouldn't
know where he actually belonged.

Without thinking, she reached out
and put a hand on his knee. "I'm here,"
she said. "Sex and gender stuff can be
really confusing, but you don't have
to flounder through it alone."

"Thanks," Vagary said. He
leaned toward her, just enough
to press their shoulders together
for a brief moment, then withdrew.

Calliope wondered if he might be
asexual or demisexual or one of
the other more obscure identities
that people often didn't consider.

Probably not aromantic, she thought,
not when he was that much of a joiner,
always looking for human connections.

Perhaps he was one of the malleable ones,
the way her body exerted subtle influences
on her feelings as it shifted its shape.

In the questioning, though, and
the difference from mainstream identity,
they had some unexpected common ground,
like an island abruptly appearing in a river.

Calliope wondered what would come of it.

"I think it might help to look at what
we know of our identities," she said,
sounding out the idea as it took form,
"not to flirt with each other, but to see how
the pieces of ourselves might fit together."

"That would be a lot easier if I had
any idea what mine was," Vagary said.

"It's something you can explore
if you choose," said Mr. Gallagar.
"Imagine how boring life would be if
we were entirely obvious to ourselves!"

Vagary gave a wry chuckle. "Okay,
you may have a point there," he said.
"I just struggle with mine because
it's vague and won't stand still."

"Then just concentrate on
what you feel in this moment,"
Mr. Gallagar suggested. "It is
the sum of all previous moments
in your life, and the foundation
of all your future moments."

"Yes," said Calliope, thinking
about how she had always been
a girl, even when she didn't know it,
but her childhood as a boy had shaped
the experiences which contributed to
her personality here and now.

"After all, why should your identity
be carved in stone?" Mr. Gallagar said.
"Life isn't static! Neither are people. You
are not the same person today that you were
as a child -- or even just a few months ago."

Before Calliope and Vagary had met.

She couldn't help but think she was
a different person in some ways now
compared to who she had been then.

Before she had her soul torn open
and spliced into someone else's.

Before she had her life and morals
turned upside down by a supervillain
who was a giant pain in her ass
but maybe not 100% evil.

Before she had met clumsy,
stubborn, shockingly earnest Vagary.

Yes, she had been someone different then,
and she hadn't known some of the things
about SPOON that she knew now, too.

A few months down the road,
Calliope would be different yet again,
and maybe by then they would have
learned how to hurt each other less.

"I feel like I'm trying to stand on
a foam mat in the pool," Vagary said.
"Why can't things just be stable?"

"I felt that way about transitioning
at first," Calliope said. "I wished
that it could just be over all at once,
the way my body just blinks from
one shape to another. But it's not
like flipping a switch. It's a journey.
Maybe all transitions are that way."

"It just seems like I'm stuck in
a dress rehearsal for my own life,
only I didn't get the lines," Vagary said.

"Transitions are not a rehearsal for life,"
Mr. Gallagar said firmly. "Instead, life is
a series of transitions: points of arrival
become new points of departure. So why
should you assume that your experience
of sexuality ten or twenty years ago is
any less 'real’ or important than what it
is now? Why think that the way you
experience it now will necessarily be
the same ten or twenty years later?"

Calliope had learned to be, if not
fully comfortable with the fluidity of
her life after transition, then
at least accepting of it.

Maybe she could help
Vagary to learn that too.

Maybe she could learn
things from him in return.

They would find out together.

* * *

Notes:

Austin Botts -- He has fair skin, brown eyes, and short dark hair. He gets chilled easily, and often wears two or three layers of clothes. Austin has a business degree from the University of Oklahoma. He handles the inventory for the craft store where Calvin Sanna (Calliope) works. While charming to most people, he can be a complete douche to people he dislikes -- and he is notably transphobic. This is a key reason why he is working mostly in the back room of a chain craft store instead of an executive job at a more prestigious business.
Qualities: Good (+2) Charming, Good (+2) Handsome, Good (+2) Logical-Mathematical Intelligence, Good (+2) Materials Management, Good (+2) Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity
Poor (-2) Transphobic

* * *

"As Udis-Kessler points out, transitions are not a rehearsal for life. Life is a series of transitions: points of arrival become new points of departure, and vice versa. So why should we assume that the way we experienced our sexuality ten or twenty years ago is necessarily less ‘true’ or important than the way we experience it now, or that the way we experience it now will necessarily be the same in ten or twenty years time?"
Richard Dunphy, Sexual Politics

In the Tranquility Counseling Center, the little square beside the stairs is the quiet room. Office 1 is for couples counseling. The Power and Control Wheel hangs to the left of the door. The Relationship Health Check is on the door. The Equality Wheel hangs to the right of door. The large meeting room upstairs is the multipurpose room, used for the bigger group therapy sessions and classes such as yoga.

Transgender people often experience high levels of stress. When closeted, these resemble the same problems as closeted homosexuals, and can be life-wrecking. Understand how to cope with transgender stress.

En homme means "as a man" and en femme means "as a woman." Transfolk use these terms to describe their gender presentation, especially those who switch back and forth. Vagary is right to worry, because working as Calvin is hard on Calliope; but he's also right that it's not his place to criticize her decisions.

Prolonged Adaptation Stress Syndrome is what happens when someone pretends to be something they're not on an everyday basis. It is exhausting and soul-eating. This greatly contributes to the high level of mental illness in the trans community. Being trans doesn't mean you're sick, but being trans in a transphobic and generally gender-stupid society can make you sick. The best treatment for PASS is simply to be yourself.

Erasure is the denial of identity and/or achievements. This is especially problematic for transfolk. There are ways to include transgender people more widely.

Questioning sexuality and gender is fairly common, and there's nothing wrong with it. Abuse survivors are particularly prone to sexual confusion. Go through the steps to identify your orientation and gender. Parents can help a child who is questioning their sexuality and/or gender. Don't boot them out on the street is a good first step.

Asexuality means not experiencing a desire for erotic activity.

Demisexuality means that a person experiences secondary sexual attraction only after forming a strong emotional connection with someone else. They don't experience primary sexual attraction as a motive for forming relationships, the way sexual people often do.

Aromantic people may be sexual or asexual, they just aren't interested in romantic relationships. Most people don't distinguish between aromantic (not wanting kissy relationships) and nontractive (not wanting any kind of close connection to people). However, aromantic folks can be either interested in queerplatonic relationships, or uninterested in relationships at all. Statistically speaking, more aromantic people are loners compared to romantic people, because one very broad class of relationship does not appeal to them. That doesn't mean all aros are loners, though. Vagary seems to have a romantic personality, even if he hasn't figured out who he might be attracted to. He likes the thoughtful gestures, he's just not very good at social skills yet.
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