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Excerpt: Sex, Objectification, STD Tests, and Writing a Trans 'Nonfiction Novel'

Excerpt: Sex, Objectification, STD Tests, and Writing a Trans 'Nonfiction Novel'

Show Trans is Elliot Deline's nonfiction novel (with some photos included) about sex addiction, sex work, navigating the MSM scene, a trip West, dissociative identity disorder, and the struggle to find love, connection, and self-actualization as a non-binary trans person, described by writer Evelyn Deshane as "a cutting and private look at the life of a transgender man who dares to be sexual." The excerpt below is published with Deline's permission.

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We didn't last long at Rain. By eleven, we had smoked all Gabe's cigarettes, he was yawning and checking his phone, and so I drove him home. After I dropped him off, I decided to finally meet up with Michael. I parked my car in the lot of Westcott Street and walked to Taps — a real dive bar, hole-in-the-wall if I ever saw one. It was nondescript and one could easily overlook it. In fact, I had for months, but Gabe had pointed it out a few days prior, saying, "Hey did you know there was a bar there?"

In the entranceway, I showed my ID to a man on a barstool, hoping he wouldn't ask why it said I was female. "Mistake," I'd mumble, simultaneously ashamed of myself for being a freak and for being ashamed and considering myself a freak in the first place. The man didn't notice, or at least didn't comment.


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I sat at the bar, out of place. A few patrons were punks, huddled at a table in the back, but most of the people at the bar were blue-collar, nondescript white men, with one exception — a black guy, homeless or close to it from the looks of his clothes, was entertaining them loudly and wildly with a drunk story. The white men thundered with appreciative laughter. A football game was on TV.

I ordered a pint of Guinness, and then another, gulping them at record speed due to nerves. I texted Michael under the table, telling him I was here. He said he'd be there any minute.

A few minutes later, I looked up from my Guinness and saw a tall black man's reflection in the mirror across from the bar. He had muscular arms — a linebacker's build — and I was instantly and strongly attracted to him. That's something rare for me to experience. He was wearing a T-shirt that said NAVY and the kind of sunglasses you'd expect someone to wear on a jetski. He wore the same glasses and shirt in the picture he had emailed to me. It was definitely Michael.

I caught his eye and we both nodded. I spun around and stood up, shaking his hand jovially as if we were old pals. I could feel the other men looking at us — we were undoubtedly an odd pair. Michael stood about half a foot taller and was probably at least twice my weight. I couldn't hold his gaze for long, and only felt more anxious when he removed his sunglasses to reveal his dark eyes.

He insisted on buying me another drink, so I sipped on a Corona with lime, despite that I'd reached my limit. We sat in the back, parallel to the punks.

Michael was (surprise) in the Navy. Many men online said they were in the military — whether it's true, I don't know. Syracuse is close to Fort Drum. He filled me in on all the missions and jargon and training. Having a change in heart, he was now going to nursing school. He wanted to save lives instead of ending them, he said.

It turned out he had previously been in a relationship with a trans woman, but never a trans man. I guess I misunderstood his response to my ad. He said he wanted to experience it. It fascinated him. I drank faster.

"So what do you do?" Michael asked, changing the topic.

I said I worked at a library and was a writer. He laughed. "So you're like a librarian?"

"Yeah. Kind of."

"And what, you write like, magazines?"

"No, fictional things. Books."

He laughed again. "Like mysteries?"

"Not really." I started to explain but Michael cut me off to swear at the referee on television. Many of the men in the bar did the same. The punks glared at them.

Michael turned back, but didn't seem interested in continuing the conversation. He took off his hat and scratched his bald head. He then told a long, involved story about his time spent in Tijuana, pausing only to buy me a mixed drink that I didn't ask for. "You have to gulp it fast!" It was red, white, and blue, and tasted like a popsicle.

"It was fun, but I don't recommend it," he said of Tijuana. "A man will get beat with a bat in the streets, and the cops will sit and watch. I've seen it happen. They just sit and watch."

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I drove the car home on Michael's suggestion, despite how intoxicated I'd become. It was an extraordinary machine, with built-in GPS navigation and satellite radio. I'd never driven a really nice car before, and was surprised by how much fun I was having. We opened up the sunroof and cracked the windows. We cruised down the dark city streets, talking and enjoying ourselves.

Michael then asked if I was born female. Surprised by this, I responded yes. That had been in my ad… and I thought I had just explained.

"What surgeries did you have?" Well, that was in my ad too, but I explained my chest and the way testosterone injections masculinized my body.

"Well whatever you do works because you're really cute," Michael said, groping my inner thigh. It made me blush.

"What is the rudest or most ignorant thing anyone ever asked you?" he asked.

"Um." I thought about it a second. "Well, I had a friend once in high school. I told him I was going to transition, and he asked if I would take pills and grow a penis. That was probably the stupidest question I've gotten."

Michael laughed. "I feel for you. When I was in 9th grade, I was literally the only black kid at my school in Cazenovia. Some kid asked me if black man sperm was the same as white man sperm. So I messed with him and told him mine was purple. And he believed me too." He laughed.

"Wow." I laughed harder than I would have sober. I was warming up to Michael. I wanted his hand back on my thigh. I found I often fell in love briefly and intensely while in moving vehicles.

We made out on his bed in the dark. My jeans were riding up on me unpleasantly. Drunk and free, I removed them, my T-shirt, and my underwear, grinning. Michael raised his eyebrows and grinned as well.

In my memory, there is a blank space here.

I sat on the toilet, naked, but nothing happened. I couldn't pee. Minutes passed and I began to sober up. I realized he wasn't using a condom. I also realized I was really sore and wanted to go home. I headed back in the bedroom.

"Do you wanna ride me?" Michael was barely visible in the dark.

"I'm going home," I said. […]

Michael sighed and got dressed as well. "I'll drive you in your car."

***

"No one is available on Mondays," the receptionist said. She was a stout woman, with curly grey hair and glasses. Probably a volunteer.

"But you're called AIDS Community Resources…" I said with obvious attitude. "There has to be someone I can see."

"Not til next week. And…" she checked a calendar, "All appointments look booked."

"Is there somewhere else I can go? A number I can call?"

"Well, they do STD testing at the County Health Center, but I don't know when. Here's the number."

She begrudgingly handed it over, avoiding the touch of my hand.

I sat in my car with my cell phone to my ear.

"Hello?"

"Hi there. ACR in Syracuse told me you could possibly give me a free STD test?"

"No, I'm sorry, those are only on Thursdays," the man said. "And we aren't doing them this week. We'll be at the ACR building in Syracuse next week to perform them."

"That's where I am now. They said they're booked next week."

"Oh. I'm sorry. Well, good luck to you, sir. Try for the following week."

How in god's name was I supposed to wait that long? "Is there nowhere I can go? I'll travel if I have to."

"Well, there's Civic Center in Syracuse. They do free testing daily. Rapid Response tests are every Wednesday, noon to three."

I ended the call, annoyed. No one was going to tell me that?

I drove right down the road, less than a mile, to the Civic Center.

I walked up to a kiosk where a young woman was sifting through papers. She ignored me.

"Hi," I finally said, "Could you tell me—"

"You want room eight," she said, giving me a slightly disgusted look up and down.

"Excuse me? I—"

"STD testing, room eight," she said, gesturing at a pair of teenage girls laughing and chatting as they headed down the hall. "Follow them."

I sat in room eight, filling out the forms. I left my gender blank until the end. I eventually decided to make my own box. Next to it, I wrote "FTM" and put a check mark. I then returned the forms and received a number.

I sat in a blue plastic chair, avoiding eye contact with the mostly female occupants of the room, some with small children. The walls were covered in posters about abstinence. Tables were covered with pamphlets on every STD and drug under the sun, written in English and Spanish. I picked up one. "Do not have sex! It is the only sure way not to get Chlamydia." A cheesy, patronizing video — the kind one would watch in Health class — played in a loop on the television.

I texted Michael.

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I pressed send just as the nurse called my number.

"So, I'll take a swab from the tip of your penis…" the nurse said, filling out a blue sheet of paper. We were seated in a small doctor's room. She was short, thin, probably in her mid-fifties, but looked older.

I blushed. "Oh, I'm…well…Have you heard of transgender?"

The woman stared a while before responding. "Yes?"

"Well, I am that. Female-to-male. So I have a… vagina?"

She bit her lip, thinking. "So are you female or male?"

Well, I… have a… vagina." Awkward pause. "I was born female."

"So you're a female." She rolled her eyes, ripping up the sheet and grabbing a new, pink one, with a drawing of ovaries and fallopian tubes. "From now on, save us time and put that on the sheet, otherwise we have to start all over. It said you were male."

"I put that I was FTM. That stands for female-to-male."

"Well, they crossed that out and checked male for you because of how you look."

"Oh."

"In that case, you'll need to get undressed."

Each crank hurt like hell. I'd learned to just dissociate in these kinds of situations. And when she scraped something deep with a large q-tip, the shooting pain brought back memories of the previous night. How bizarre, to hold this pose again so soon under such different circumstances. It made the sex seem invasive in retrospect.

"Alright, we'll have some results on Wednesday. Then it'll be another three months before HIV would show up."

"Thank you."

"And remember, put female on medical forms." She loomed over me like a threat. "Until you have a penis, you're a female. Got it?"

***

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ELLIOTT DELINE (born 1988) is a transgender writer and activist from Syracuse, N.Y. He is the author of the novel Refuse (2011), the novella I Know Very Well How I Got My Name (2013), and Show Trans: A Nonfiction Novel (2014). His work has been featured in the Modern Love essay series of the New York Times, The Collection: Short Fiction from the Transgender Vanguard, and Original Plumbing magazine. He is founder and vice president of the nonprofit CNY for Solidarity, Inc., and the general coordinator of Queer Mart, an LGBTQ arts and crafts fair. He currently lives in Syracuse, N.Y.

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