From the heart of an intersex teen, one who must ultimately choose male or female–family or true love–comes the story of a deeply emotional and perilous journey home. This is a young adult novel unlike any other–an authentic portrayal of the issues faced by a child growing up with a sexually ambiguous body.
Jameson can be like other boys after minor surgery and a few years on testosterone Well, at least that’s what his parents always say. But Jamie sees an elfin princess in the mirror, and male hormones would only ruin her pretty face. For him to become the man his parents expect, Jameson must leave behind the hopes and dreams of a little girl. But what is so wrong with Jamie’s dreams that they can’t be her life?
Chapter TwoI collapsed on the bed in the guest room. Long ago I’d realized that someone would eventually find out Jameson wasn’t a regular boy between his legs. But I’d never expected anybody to discover he wasn’t much of a boy between his ears either.
Sharon wanted to be my friend, and yet she was too much like a doctor. They’d already done something evil to her brain. Why had I admitted anything to her? Packing and returning to the dorm seemed the safest thing to do, but she had me trapped in her specimen jar. What choice did I have? If she wasn’t my friend, she might tell Mom I really did have gender issues. Then I’d be history.
Jameson existed as a thousand boys-don’t and boys-do rules. Deep inside, I brushed the dust off the end of one. Was shutting off a part of him even possible? I pulled, gently at first, and then more firmly. With a quiet popping sound, the rule slid out. I waited, probing for any adverse reaction, ready to replace it. A slight easing of inhibition was all I noticed. Down the corridor each way, as far as the eye could see, stretched more of Jameson. This would take time.
One of his rules stood off alone, like a shepherd watching over the others, guarding and caring for them. When I brushed my fingers over it, an electric thrill ran through my vision. Images flashed rapid-fire, jumbled sounds crashing softly in my ears. Kids at a party. I didn’t remember anything from my early birthdays. Was this a memory block? Why forget about a stupid party? Ignoring the sights and sounds flooding me, I yanked on the end—and got swept into the past.
* * * *
I didn’t have any clothes fit for an elfin princess, so my cousin Kaylah let me borrow some hand-me-downs one of the Fair Folk had given her. She shook her head as she held a white velvet skirt up in front of me. “I don’t care if that old book says the Kirkpatricks are faie. Your face is bean shìdh, but the rest of you is brùnaidh.”
At five I was only a little taller than my two-year-old sister Alicia, so the clothes were way too big for me. “Please, Kaylah. The brownies are elves too. They’re just not as tall.”
“All right, then.” Kaylah safety-pinned the white velvet skirt to my slip, so the waist stayed up under my arms and the hem brushed the floor. The satin sleeves of the woodland green blouse hung down past my fingertips. She wrapped a silver lace belt around my waist twice and made a bow in the back. A spider-silk flower went on my shoulder. I sat down so she could tie the ribbons of starlight ballet slippers around my ankles. “There you are!” She clapped her hands together. “Princess Grace herself doesn’t dress any finer than that.”
Fancy clothes weren’t all an elfin princess needed to be dressed for a party, so I sat facing my reflection and waited for my maidservant to finish. She stood behind me in the wall mirror, intense concentration twisting her face. I grinned as she pulled the soft foam rollers out of my locks and fluffed, brushed, teased, and sprayed until my hair was perfect. It wasn’t very long, but the color was pretty, somewhere between ripe pumpkin and the gold of the earrings she clipped on my ears.
Face full of wonder, Kaylah held a glass vial before my eyes. “There’s a river so high in the Mountains of the Moon that the water turns silvery-blue.” She pulled the stopper out of the shiny bottle and dipped a small brush into it. “I’m going to paint your nails with moonlight. Sit still until it dries.”
In the mirror sat a beautiful elfin princess—golden hair aglow, large emerald eyes, small red mouth, and rosy cheeks sprinkled with freckles. She was the happiest elf-maiden of the realm. I stood, grabbed a handful of white velvet on each side, curtseyed to the lady in the mirror, and spun around so my skirt would fly.
“Pretty!” shouted Alicia, one finger in her mouth.
“Both my girls are beautiful.” Kaylah bent down and kissed my little sister on the cheek.
“Are you ready, birthday girl?” She grabbed my hand and held it high. “Your court awaits you, my lady.” I spun around on tiptoes, a lovely ballerina, my shoes sparkling like stardust in the night sky.
Jimmy the Pirate swaggered into the kitchen, wooden saber at his side and a black patch over one eye. Alicia danced in her little pink tutu and a pair of angel wings made from coat hanger wire and crinoline. Gladys was dressed like Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, red shoes and all. She had even brought Toto, a stuffed toy animal that might once have resembled a dog. Kaylah wore a tattered pair of bib overalls, a gingham blouse, and an old straw hat.
They had all chipped in and bought me a present. Kaylah must have wrapped the package because the edges and folds were all straight. I pulled the tape off, careful not to rip the paper. Inside was a new Raggedy Ann. A squeal of delight burst from my lips, and I hugged the doll to my breast. “Sofie! I’ll name her Princess Sofie!” I scooted over on my throne, set her on the seat beside me, and straightened her dress.
Kaylah winked at me, set my birthday cake on the kitchen table, and lit the candles. I blew out all five with one breath and grinned at Jimmy. They say you shouldn’t tell anybody your wish, but he already knew I wanted to be his wife.
The pirate grinned at me, eyes flashing, and waved a saber over his head. “Yar! Cut the cake!”
Kaylah was the one who baked my birthday cake. I think she got the recipe off a Hershey’s Cocoa tin. Anyway, she made the yummiest chocolate cakes. I cut Jimmy a ragged chunk and passed him his plate.
“Princess, you’re making a mess.” My cousin, gentle as always, cleaned the frosting off my sleeve and cut slices for the rest of us.
I was halfway through eating mine when I heard the front door open. Ooh! Dad was home early. Seeing the little princess would make him sad. My fork hit my lap, chocolate cake and all, and bounced to the floor. Arms trembling, I sprang up, thinking to run away.
“No, Jamie. It’s okay. Today’s your birthday.” Kaylah grabbed my arm and gently pushed me back down into my seat. “He should see how pretty you look.”
Kaylah was only twelve, but she’d pretended to be my mom ever since she was seven. My real mom home schooled Kaylah, and me, and my brother Scott every morning. In the afternoon, while our moms worked, my cousin, and Alicia, and I played together. Scott didn’t hang around with girls, so he went to his pal Joey’s or played kick-the-can outside the old schoolhouse on Polk Street.
I didn’t have a magic ring to make me invisible, so Dad found me as soon as he strode into the kitchen. His eyes—those deep wells of disappointment—locked on the elfin princess and sucked the life out of her. “What’s going on?”
Kaylah stepped between me and Dad, saving me from certain doom. “It’s Jamie’s birthday, remember? The kids are all wearing costumes for his party. We were reading Old Scottish Fairy Tales and he wanted to dress like an elfin princess.”
I peeked around Kaylah’s waist, hiding Sofie behind my back. The air around my father seemed to crackle with lightning, but he only nodded and smiled at me. “I got you a new softball. After your party, let’s play catch. Okay, sport?”
So my dad played catch with the elfin princess, tossing her the ball underhand from a few feet away. I missed the first one; it went right between my outstretched arms. The second rolled off my fingertips. The third bounced off my hands and hit me in the face. Boys seemed to learn right away, but I didn’t think I’d ever be able to catch a ball. I shut my eyes to hide my frustration, but the tears were too many.
“I’m sorry, Jameson. Are you okay?” Dad knelt down and hugged his little princess tight, but the disappointment in his eyes hurt her worse than the ball had. Scott said I threw like a girl, but all the ones I knew played catch better than me. I got hurt when I played boy games. Every time. That’s one reason I preferred playing with Kaylah and Alicia.
Dad led me back inside. While he searched for the ice pack, I sympathized with the princess in the mirror. Her face resembled a raccoon’s now, with a dark half-moon under one eye. Poor girl. Another black eye. Won’t you ever learn?
* * * *
A knock on the door meant it was almost bedtime. I put Barbie into her case and picked up my little china tea sets. Alicia began gathering the Lincoln Logs that were scattered across the floor. “Mom knows,” she said as she slid a box on the shelf.
“What?” I collected the dolls, and stuffed animals, and all and put them into the closet.
“That you don’t play with your cars.”
Every morning before Dad left for work, I got my Matchbox cars out of their carrying case. After breakfast Mom home schooled us. In the afternoon I played with Alicia and Kaylah. When Dad got home, I packed the cars back into their case. Seeing me put them all into their little slots made my dad smile. Like he thought I’d been playing with them the whole day. After supper Alicia and I read or played with dolls in our room.
My sister touched my shirtsleeve. “If you’re an elfin princess, how come you always wear boy clothes?”
I glanced into the mirror. The elfin princess wondered why, too. “I don’t have any dresses, you know. Kaylah’s old clothes are only for dress-up, and they’re too big anyway.”
Alicia hugged me like I was her little sister. “You can wear mine.”
I glanced at her and shook my head. “I don’t want to wear somebody else’s clothes.”
“Mom says we’re supposed to share, and besides, we’re twins.”
Alicia was my best bud ever, but sometimes she said goofy stuff. “We can’t be twins. I’m seven and you’re only four.” I picked up Sofie and put her on my bed so she could sleep with me.
Alicia held her hand above my head and slid it toward hers, like she was measuring us. “We’re the same size and we’re sisters.” She bobbed her head as if that settled everything.
We stood next to each other in the mirror. Alicia really was as tall as the elfin princess. Our hair and eyes were the same color. She was human and me part elf, but we were both girls. Not twins, though. When I shook my head again, she pouted. “Jamie, please. I want to wear jeans.”
She had some cute corduroy overalls with a flower sewn on the front, but no blue jeans. What could I do? I hugged her and said okay.
She squealed and ran to my dresser, where she picked out a pair of jeans. Then she ran to the closet and found a blouse like the one she was wearing. A minute later we were giggling and jumping on my bed, dressed like we were identical twins or something. We scrambled to get ready for bed when someone knocked on the door again.
Mom stared at me for several heartbeats before she tucked me in, but she didn’t say anything about Alicia and me wearing matching nightgowns.
* * * *
The doorbell rang a third time. I glanced at the bathroom door, wishing Kaylah would hurry. Alicia peeked around the corner as I took another step across the living room. “You’ll get us in trouble,” she whispered.
“What if it’s Aunt Elizabeth?” She’d be mad if I didn’t let her in.
“Kaylah said never, ever answer the door by yourself.” She shook her head in emphasis. “Never.”
A fist pounded on the door, insistent. What could I do? I turned the handle and pulled.
The tall lady on the porch smiled and leaned close. “You must be Alicia. Is your mother home?”
Never, ever talk to strangers. That’s what my mom always said. “No, ma’am. My name’s Jamie. Mom’s not home.”
Alicia poked her head around the corner, and then ran to stand next to me. “We’re twins.” She tugged on the sleeve of my dress, beaming. “See. We have the same clothes.”
I stared at my sister. She always insisted we dress alike. Our hair was even cut the same. In her mind, that was enough. That was okay, I guess. We liked each other better than any real twins I knew.
The lady studied her notebook for a moment, frowning. Then she shook her head. “Our records indicate a nine-year-old boy named Jameson and a six-year-old girl named Alicia reside at this address.”
Always helpful, Alicia said, “Jamie used to wear boy clothes.”
“Who’s there?” I turned to see Kaylah approaching, her face pale. Was she sick?
The lady held out a hand. “I’m Stephanie Pollock, from the school board.”
* * * *
The sights and sounds dispersed, finding their old homes in my memory. A curious child’s imagination drew me into the bathroom. Golden hair surrounded her face. Large green eyes, small nose, cute little mouth, freckles spread over her cheeks—the ethereal face in the mirror belonged on an elfin princess. Before I’d made Jameson, I’d seen her every day. All of the stupid behavior rules would have to be put back before returning to the dorm, but I swore I’d never again hide away her memories.
I unpacked Jameson’s clothes and other things, and dressed in his PJs. I could disable the rest of his rules while lying on the bed. Sharon would think me asleep.
A flash, a crack of thunder, and an old wizard appeared in the doorway, inviting me on a quest. I slammed the door in his face. Jameson lent stability to my life. Other kids teased me, but I could live with that. People got killed on adventures, especially ones involving old wizards. Safety lay behind my mask, living my life in my books. No one would ever suspect—or so I had thought.
He shattered the door with his staff. “You’re too late,” he intoned. “Jameson’s doom is sealed. The young mage has seen and won’t rest until she frees the elfin princess from his grasp. You must learn to live without him.”
My arms and legs trembled at the thought of losing Jameson. How could I face the world alone? He was the one who remembered all those rules about how to be a boy. No. I would only remove my mask long enough to make friends with Sharon, so she would leave me alone and not go blabbing to Mom. Just for one day. Then I’d put Jameson’s rules all back and make my world safe again. I stared at the imaginary old wizard and sighed, wondering if Sharon had any idea what she’d unleashed.
About the Author
Over the past decade I’ve answered inquiries on behalf of a support group for the parents of children born between the sexes. However, as the Internet has grown, so have the options available. The Androgen Insensitivity Support Group, for instance, accepts girls with various differences of sexual development. With groups like AISSG flourishing, my time can be put to better use elsewhere.
In addition to working with the parents of intersex children, I had the privilege of making the acquaintance of a number of intersex adults. As a Christian I was disturbed by the lack of understanding on the part of the Church for people born outside the normal boundaries of male and female. The kids aren’t a part of anyone’s ‘agenda.’ Even when they have gender issues related to their condition or the treatment they’ve received.
My book, Confessions of a Teenage Hermaphrodite, is based on a number of people I know and some of the things that happened to them growing up, all rolled up into a fictional account of a teenager’s struggle to find a place in this world.
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