In honor of Pride Month, we are so happy to offer this story about a young transgender man by author Evelyn Deshane. This story was originally submitted for the Body Horror anthology, and we didn’t think it fit that theme, but we knew that it was an important story, and one we wanted to be able to tell the world. We have broken it into three parts, and one part will be offered each week of the month. Enjoy!Editor
P.S. due to multiple deaths in the family we were forced to postpone the fantastic conclusion of this fantastic story, Enjoy.
“It’s your appendix this time around,” Doctor Sundeep explained. “You’re becoming quite the frequent flyer here.”
“Can you just make the pain stop?” Jonas asked.
“We can’t give you any more medication without you becoming dependent. But we will keep you here overnight to prepare you for surgery. Your appendix isn’t about to burst, merely swollen, but timing is important. At this rate, you’ll be rid of all your filters by November.”
“He’s already lost his tonsils,” Melody added.
“When you were seven. I stayed with you in the hospital and we ate popsicles together.”
Jonas made a noise of pain that everyone took for comprehension.
“Well, in that case,” Doctor Sundeep said, “you’ll be a free man soon. All your filter organs will be gone.”
Melody talked to the doctor for several minutes, parsing out details of Jonas’s aftercare. Her hair was pulled back into a frazzled ponytail that the hospital lights made even worse. Jonas wanted to tell her he loved her so much for taking care of everything, but he was still concerned with his pain. And the milk from before that Melody didn’t know about. As soon as she left to get coffee from the cafeteria, Jonas reached out and took Doctor Sundeep’s arm.
“Yes, Mr. Vasiliou?”
“Something weird happened. I didn’t want to tell her, but… you know my file, right? I’m transgender?”
“I was made aware, yes.”
“Okay. So, I obviously don’t have breasts anymore, but I think during one of the appendix attacks I… lactated. Is that possible?”
Doctor Sundeep considered this for a moment. “Now, transgender patients are not my forte. But it seems to me that if you still have some of the working parts you should be able to still do all the things that typical cisgender women do. Including lactate.”
“But I’m on testosterone.”
“When was your last treatment?”
Jonas wanted to answer, every two weeks like always, when he realized he couldn’t. “A week before I saw my sister. Then all the attacks started. I haven’t been able to get an appointment to renew the shots since.”
“I see. Maybe with all your stress, your body has kicked into overdrive with your other hormones.”
“But my nipples… they shouldn’t even work.”
“Hmm. What if,” Sundeep added after reviewing Jonas’s chart for a while, “we also removed another organ while you were here?”
“It says in your chart you still have your uterus. I understand if you’d like to keep it, but if you’re having adverse hormonal reactions due to all the stress your body’s been put under, then perhaps there is a valid medical reason to remove the source–i.e., your uterus and ovaries.”
Jonas was stunned. Was Doctor Sundeep really just offering to remove Jonas’s last vestigial bit of misplaced femininity? In order to get his chest surgery, Jonas had to save for years to build up the small fortune, plus whatever time he needed to take off from work during aftercare. He also needed a few letters from doctors diagnosing him with all the proper medical terms. The only reason Jonas hadn’t bothered with a hysterectomy along with his mastectomy was the cost factor, since many Canadian officials still saw gender surgery as elective–like plastic surgery. Jonas had friends who kept their uterus as a ‘just in case method’ if they wanted kids later on, but Jonas already knew. He didn’t want to be pregnant. Ever.
And now Sundeep was offering to have Canadian health care remove the last piece of a puzzle Jonas had been trying to take care of for years. Because now it was a medical necessity.
“I would not normally recommend this route,” Sundeep added quickly, “but it seems to me that this is a particular case, and so–“
“What are the side effects?” Jonas asked. “If I no longer have a uterus?”
“No more estrogen. You will need to be on some kind of synthetic hormone the rest of your life in order to avoid bone deterioration.”
“I was gonna do that anyway. Is that it?”
“Aside from the other surgical risks, there is nothing else out of the ordinary. Should I process the referral? You may not have the surgery for quite some time.”
“But I’ll have it,” Jonas said. “I’ll get to have it.”
Doctor Sundeep nodded. He made a few notes on his chart, then left Jonas in his hospital room. By then, the pain from Jonas’s right side had stopped.
“You ready?” the anesthesiologist asked.
Jonas nodded, turning his head away from the bright lights of the operation room. Before the mask was placed over him, he saw a shadow. No–something else entirely. A creature with a dark face and blue-black lips smiled, revealing many sets of teeth. The first were normal molars and incisors. The rest, behind the first row and almost to the tongue, were milk teeth. Baby teeth. Some poked out of the creature’s cheek like a deranged grin. Jonas knew, from somewhere deep inside, not to be afraid.
When he blinked, the creature was gone. The anesthesiologist told him to count to ten again.
Jonas counted six teeth inside his mouth before he drifted away.
“We have a surprise for you.”
Jonas rubbed his eyes as he woke, trying to brush away the sleep dust. His body ached from two sets of incisions over his torso. His mouth was sour, too, like he had eaten something bad before the surgery–when he hadn’t been allowed to eat much of anything at all. Doctor Sundeep adjusted Jonas’s pain meds without even asking, and Jonas was relieved.
“We have a surprise,” Doctor Sundeep repeated. “Two, really.”
“First, we’ve schedule you for a hysterectomy very soon.”
Jonas laughed, then felt the pull of the stitches in his side. “Is that laparoscopic surgery, too? Because I’m starting to feel like a pincushion.”
“It is. Don’t worry; you’ll barely feel it and it will barely leave a mark. You will have to take some more time off work, though. I apologize we keep extending your stay.”
“I’m fine. I’m a PhD student.” Jonas shrugged. He wasn’t teaching this semester, so he had gotten lucky. He’d fall behind on his dissertation research, but considering he was studying transgender identity in the media, he figured he was set. “What’s the second surprise?”
“Your sister was wrong about your tonsils. Or, perhaps she was right and they’ve just grown back.”
“What? I have tonsils?”
“You do. I checked because it seemed odd to me; when I first did your physical, I swore you had them. And I was right. You do.”
“Do things like that grow back?”
“It’s rare. Very rare. But it does happen. I suppose the discovery is more of a surprise for me than to you, since you probably don’t even really notice the difference.”
Jonas reflexively touched his throat. Did it feel thicker? And how much of this sudden thickness was just an effect the testosterone? In the first few months since starting the shots, all he did was test to see how his voice dropped. He measured his Adam’s apple growth, then the facial hair on his neck. The hair was still there, but softer now, because he hadn’t been taking his t-shots.
“I wanted to let you know,” Doctor Sundeep went on, “because if you ever do have trouble with your throat, you may have to get them removed again.”
“And watch them grow back again?”
“Now that’s something for the medical journals. But I doubt it.”
Jonas nodded solemnly. His chest hurt with a familiar pain from something he couldn’t name. “Nothing else can grow back, right?”
“What do you mean?”
“The other body filters. Will they come back?”
“No.” Sundeep paused, meditating on that. “I’ve never seen a case like it before.”
Jonas huffed. Many doctors hadn’t seen cases of transgender people before. But they still existed.
“I’m sure, Mr. Vasiliou. Nothing we remove will come back. Only if you’re a salamander does regeneration actually occur. The only thing the human body can do is change what is already there. Chances are, when you had your tonsils removed at a young age, they simply didn’t get it all. Nothing to write home about.”
Jonas stayed quiet as Sundeep pulled up his file. “I’m going to get you some medical forms to sign for your hysterectomy. I’m sorry if there’s another word I should call that surgery for transgender patients. Is hysterectomy okay?”
Jonas nodded. “Sure. Bring the papers whenever. I’ll sign.”
“Good.” Doctor Sundeep smiled one last time before he left.
“I’m getting another surgery.”
“What?” Melody was pale. “Oh God, what’s wrong this time?”
“Nothing. But Doctor Sundeep said they’d cover a hysterectomy.”
“Wow. Really? That’s… a good thing, right?”
“Very good thing. Kind of the last piece of the puzzle, I guess.”
“Well, good. I guess seeing me in Toronto and my bad cooking was worth it.” She shifted in the chair next to the bed. “Do you need me to take care of you for that?”
“No,” Jonas said without thinking. “I can do it. I did it before, right? It’s… kind of personal.
“And your appendix and gallbladder surgery were just for fun?”
“No, it’s not like that. I’ve already put you out enough. I can do this. I’ve done it before.”
Melody sighed. Jonas knew he had said something wrong, but he was still so happy to finally have his uterus gone that he didn’t care. He didn’t even feel the pain from the appendix stitches across his body anymore. Not even when they started to leak, and blood stained his dressing gown. Melody let out a startled yelp when she saw the redness on the sheets. She jumped to her feet right away, pressing the nurses’ button with fervour.
“You need someone to watch you, Jonas,” Melody said when the nurses had patched him up. “Or else this is just the trampoline incident all over again.”
“I still think I’m fine,” he said. “I’ve done it before, so I can do it again.”
Melody said nothing else. Neither did Jonas; not even to ask what the trampoline incident was. In the faint light, he saw a trail of white speckled liquid on the floor, from his bed to the door. From the nurse? Melody didn’t seem to notice it, so Jonas didn’t mention it. He tried to remember his first day of school, his middle name, and his first kiss.
But he came up with nothing.
Days passed waiting for the last surgery. Sundeep insisted on keeping Jonas in the same unit as before, since he was still in recovery from the other procedures. When Melody didn’t come by the first night, Jonas was relieved. Then, by the third, when his once-white flowers had become brown, he grabbed the phone from his bedside.
“Can you come and visit me?”
“I can’t,” Melody insisted. She yawned. It was past one in the morning when Jonas called, but he knew she’d just finished work. “I really, really need to sleep.”
“I know. I want you to sleep. But tomorrow, after I have my hysterectomy, will you come and see me?”
“I thought you wanted to take care of yourself with these… matters.”
“You mean gender stuff?” Jonas worried his lip. “I did. I used to. But… now I want to see you. Can you bring that picture from your apartment?”
“The one with you and me, I think, as kids. You know? There’s a dog in the image. I don’t remember.”
“Rufus? That photo?”
“Yeah. Sure. Can you bring photos of me? As a kid?”
Melody made a strange noise. “I’m not sure. I’m working a double tomorrow. I can get someone to pick you up from the hospital, if that’s what you’re worried about?”
“No, I want to see you.”
“Why the sudden change?” she asked, her voice deadpan.
“I don’t know. I just want to talk. And see pictures of us…” Jonas trailed off. He knew his request was silly and ridiculous, especially since he refused to go to his parents’ house anymore because of all photographs of his younger self on the wall. He hated seeing pink dresses, kitten shoes, and dolls–anything that reminded him of his past. Now he was desperately clinging onto Melody’s memories for some kind of chance. Chance at what? Even Jonas wasn’t sure. “I want to see you and talk, too. I feel weird right now. Like… I don’t even remember my name before now.”
“I’m not saying it,” Melody said.
“Because this is a test. You got so angry at me the last time I said it aloud that I did my best to forget too. And you know what? It worked. I forgot it all, Jonas. As far as I’m concerned, I never had a sister.”
A pain ripped through Jonas’s chest, right at the centre of his heart. This wasn’t another symptom of an attack, but emotional hurt; the feeling of a memory being clawed back and denied by the only person who could give it purpose and validation.
“We used to sing ‘Buddy Holly’ and jump on the bed, Melody. Tell me you don’t remember that.”
“So what if I do? You’ll just tell me to forget like before.”
“But I’m forgetting.”
“That’s the price you pay then, Jonas. Stick with it. Have fun. Maybe I’ll see you at Christmas.”
Jonas slammed his fist into the sheets when Melody disconnected. Fuck, fuck. He didn’t want things to end like this. They were siblings; they were bonded. They shared the same house and the same Greek orthodox parents. Melody had been the only person to support his transition. She worked in counselling, currently as a night-time social worker in a group home, and she wanted to understand what he was going through. When he got mad, she changed and worked on using the right words. And they still were the right words. Tomorrow, Jonas Vasiliou would still be Jonas Vasiliou and he would no longer have a uterus. He would no longer have any pieces of himself that used to be female.
But he still wanted those memories. More than ever before, Jonas realized that those pieces of his former self, as much as they didn’t fit with who he was now, were still so, so necessary. Was I in Girl Guides? Did I ever dress up as a princess? He didn’t remember anymore. But he wanted to, even if it was painful to consider.
Jonas pulled back the covers from the bed. The tile floor of the hospital was cold, the lights dim. It couldn’t have been more than two in the morning. Yet he saw no one in the nurses’ station and no signs of waking life anywhere.
Until he turned the corner. Under the blue light of the snack machine, just outside a patient’s room, stood the creature from the operating room. Long hair, tattered in clumps, extended halfway down the creature’s back. The creature wore dark rags that dragged along the floor. The breath was heavy, and when Jonas strained his ears, he heard humming.
Jonas gasped. The creature was humming the same song he and his sister sung as kids.
The creature heard his gasp. The creature turned towards him, the dark eyes washed in blue from the snack machine. When the creature shifted, Jonas saw how many breasts the beast had. Was it a woman? A man? His mind stumbled for proper pronouns as he tried to organized his thoughts.
“Who are you?” Jonas asked.
“I’m one of the Dactyloi.”
“What does that mean?”
“I’m a healing-creature made from the city. I come when I’m needed.”
Made from the city? “Does that mean you live here? In Toronto? Or in the hospital?”
“Both. I make sure everyone lives through surgery. And if they don’t, I guide them to the right place.”
“Where is the right place?
The creature gestured towards her backpack. Jonas heard the murmured words inside the bag, chattering–no, singing–like lost souls.
“Are you helping or hurting?” Jonas asked. His blood pounded in his ears. “Are you… did you take my memories?”
The Dactyloi shook her head. “I’m trying to find them for you. I’m trying to make sure you’re okay.”
“Who did take my memories, then?”
“No one? They’re gone.”
“All right: you took them. You lost them.”
“You took your own memories. When you don’t use something anymore, it goes away.”
“Like a filter of a body?” Jonas asked. He sighed, not needing a response. Was that why she was here? To warn him against the horrors of surgery like some witch doctor who tried to balance humours? Jonas had met enough people who thought he just needed to know how to be a girl in order to live a better life. He wasn’t going to take it, even from a beast with a backpack full of souls and teeth for miles. “I’m getting the surgery tomorrow. You won’t stop me.”
“I know you are. I will be there to make sure you’re safe.”
“Oh.” Jonas paused. “You will?”
“Yes. I’m here to help, I promise.”
Jonas nodded. He had been so used to people trying to talk him out of getting surgeries, this acceptance was a new sensation. “What if something bad happens anyway? What if I lose everything?”
“But I’ve already lost so much.”
“You can get that back,” the Dactyloi said. She spoke so clearly, so slowly, it was hard not to take the sonorous nature of her voice as truth itself. “You must talk to other people. They know who you are.”
“But if what if I can’t be who I am?”
“You will be. You always will be. No matter what you look like and no matter where you are. You will still be who you say you are.”
“Not everyone listens.”
“That is true. But it’s rare that people don’t learn.”
“And if they don’t learn?” Jonas asked, his voice hitched with desperation. “What if I talk to people who knew both sides of me, but the past side wins? I can’t be a girl anymore. I have to be Jonas.”
“I know. You will be.”
“So why am I here getting surgery if you’re so sure?” Jonas asked. “Why are you here?”
The Dactyloi smiled through so many teeth. “You are here because of a glass of milk. And I am here because I need to feed.”
Jonas took a step back. He thought the Dactyloi meant she was there to feed on him and was about to pounce. Instead, she walked into the room next door. A woman with pale skin and pin-straight hair moaned on the bed.
“Bad dreams,” the Dactyloi said. She undid the top of her shirt, exposing one of her breasts. She leaned down towards the woman, placing her breast in her mouth. Milk spilled forth. Jonas held back revulsion that soon turned to awe. The woman’s cries ceased; her nightmare disappeared.
“Leave… leave those who don’t learn to me,” the Dactyloi stated. Her bag chattered again. “I am good at fixing mistakes.”
Jonas nodded. There was nothing else to say.
Back in his room, he crawled under the covers and went to sleep. In the morning, with the taste of milk in his mouth, his uterus was removed.
“Everything,” Sundeep said, over his bed hours later, “went off without a hitch.”
“Good,” Jonas said. He scanned the room, but saw no one else there. “Thank you.”
Jonas stared at the phone. The dried flowers were gone from his bedside table. A card from Melody replaced it, her work and home number scribbled underneath.
If you need help, please call me.
Jonas dialed the number for his parents’ place first. He got his mother right away.
“Hello, mom? Hi…it’s Jonas. You know. Your kid.”
His mother gasped on the other end. The conversation lasted an hour, most of it filled with tears and whispered pleas. A few screw-ups, but Jonas developed thick skin, like scar tissue, for the words. Eventually, his mother learned and said his name right.
“Goodnight, Jonas,” she said. “Thank you for calling. Please call again.”
Jonas dialed Melody next. When she picked up, her voice trilled with worry. “Jonas. Are you okay? I know this is the hospital line.”
“Yes, everything is fine, Melody. The last surgery went off without a hitch,” he said, speaking in a deep Baritone like Doctor Sundeep. “They say I can check out tomorrow morning, if I want.”
“Good. That’s a relief. Do you need a ride?”
“Yeah. I do. Thank you.”
“Not at all.”
Silence. Jonas gathered his breath, careful about his stitches, and spoke. “Until then… can you tell me what the trampoline incident is?”
“Of course! I still can’t believe you don’t remember. I was about fourteen, you were twelve….” Jonas listened with a hand over the scars on his chest, his wounds no longer open.
Evelyn Deshane’s creative and nonfiction work has appeared in Plenitude Magazine, Briarpatch Magazine, Strange Horizons, Lackington’s, and Bitch Magazine, among other publications. Evelyn (pron. Eve-a-lyn) received an MA from Trent University and is currently completing a PhD at the University of Waterloo. Visit evedeshane.wordpress.com for more.About the Author