The Trans-Man In My Pocket


Alice has been be-bopping near the kitchen window for nearly an hour when William Carlos arrives. It is ten days after her revelation, the one in which she told us that she was in fact SHE. That same evening, I begged my friend William Carlos to "come as soon as you can". Now that he's parked in front of the house however, Alice suddenly goes all shy and flies down the hall to her room. I walk out to the street to greet him, inwardly empathizing with Alice's panic because despite our six-year friendship, I am still a little bit in awe of him myself.

There has always been an awkward intimacy to our friendship, the kind I imagine Twelve-Step program members must share; We've talked about our dark secrets, but not our favorite sports. I know your greatest desires, but not how you take your eggs. We have existed at the edges of one another's lives all this time and now, because of Alice, I have yanked William Carlos into the messy reality of mine.

As I come down the walkway, he slings a backpack over his shoulder and crosses the lawn. He is small but not delicate, with dark eyes and now, at twenty-five, a scruffy chin. I hug him hard.

“Thank you, I wouldn't …” but before I can finish my thought, Alice comes bounding out the front door.

“Hi hi.” She calls out, smiling widely.

“Hi yourself.” William Carlos grins at her as she hops about in front of us. She's wearing a pink and white striped t-shirt and her new hip-huggers. The pants cut across her waist, giving her a chunky little bulge that could almost pass for burgeoning hips. She's dipped too heavily into my makeup box, but when Will hugs her, I can see her actually blush beneath that too- thick layer of foundation.  

“Look at you.” he says to her as we head on into the house.

Dinner is overly-polite but uneventful. It strikes me that this is the first time the five of us have ever shared a meal and I swirl noodles onto my fork while trying to decide if I never invited him before because he was a part of my life that I only shared with my family second-hand or I simply assumed that he'd find our ordinary life particularly boring.

Max cleans up the kitchen and then goes off with his friends while William Carlos and Alice bundle up and install themselves out on the back porch. She's animated, talking with her hands as much as her mouth and  as always, he is listening, waiting for the right moment to ask the right questions. I resist the urge to join them and instead curl up on the couch with a book, sneaking glances through the sliding glass door. I crack the book open but can't focus on the story. I just keep thinking how lucky we are that William Carlos came through the door of the Women's Center in Santa Cruz six years ago with his fistful of savage poetry.

I was producing a benefit show for the center, which provides domestic violence services for victims and survivors of abuse. I'd put out a call for art and poetry and a week before the event, William, who was not yet called William, showed up on a skateboard and in a baseball cap, thrusting  a crumpled stack of pages into my hand. Later that day, I was reviewing the submissions and halfway through his second poem, I realized that I was crying. Not because the poems were sad. The stories we heard and the work we did every day was sad but this writing was alive with defiance, playful, cocky, and brutally brilliant. After the event, I all but begged him to be my friend and for reasons I've never understood, he consented.

“She's going to talk his ear off if you let her.” Jay says, motioning towards the porch.

“So get a couple of beers and join me.” I get up off the couch and grab a hoodie. The dogs follow me outside. Iggy, in his “new people” excitement, jumps on top of the spa and starts barking.

“Get down NOW.” I say sharply, pointing right at him. The barking is replaced with an angry growl as he stands his ground and bares his teeth. Alice walks over, swipes a hand under his belly, carries him inside and drops him on the couch where he stands looking rather indignant.

“He, she's the only one who can handle him when he gets like that. Maybe because she's the only one he thinks might bite him back.”

The phone rings as Jay comes out and through the glass, I see Alice dive across the room to answer it. Chloe Dog shoves her way up onto the futon between William and I as he and Jay crack the tops on their beer. We engage in casual chit-chat for a while. More cigarettes, more drinks. Alice popping in and out just in case we happen to be saying or doing something interesting.

At one point, Jay says, “I wouldn't know you were trans if met you now.”

“It's not all about passing.” William says, flicking his cigarette with a hint of irritation.

“I'm just saying that you've changed so much since we met.”

“Maybe it is at first, but in a larger sense, it's about accepting a wide range of gender expressions.” He's pivoted into gender theory, a world away from Jay's attempted compliment. I'm inclined to interject at this point, but I don't. Instead I am remembering the day William told me he intended to transition.

It was maybe two years into our friendship and we were lunching at Saturn, a little vegan restaurant in downtown Santa Cruz. He slipped the announcement into conversation between the delivery of Diet Cokes and French fries. I was not so much surprised as I was full of uncomfortable questions. Everything I knew about trans-people before this day came from the documentary “Southern Comfort” which I'd watched for a Healthcare Inequalities course earlier that year. The film was heartbreaking, but did nothing to prepare me for his announcement.

I suspect that I asked William some of those uncomfortable questions and I cringe now at the thought, but for the most part, he offered up answers before I asked. He recommended books, there were always books between us, and the next time we met, he brought me a  copy of  Leslie Feinberg's “Stone Butch Blues” and  “Boys Like Her” which introduced me to voice of Ivan E. Coyote. Over lunch that same day, he told me his chosen name. "Like the poet?" I asked. His immediate smile was confirmation.

“Elle and I are engaged.” William Carlos  says incredibly casually, pulling me back to the moment immediately.

“Really? Oh my god that's great! Why didn't you say so sooner?”

“I'm saying so now.” He answers.

“We're invited, right?” Alice jumps in, with wiggly fingers.

“Al…” I wave a shushing hand at her.

“We've got to save up to have the kind of wedding we want, so it'll probably be spring or summer of next year, but yes, of course.”

We end the night like this, the four of us huddled on the porch together, the adults softened around the edges with alcohol and talking about all things important and trivial.

In the morning, William Carlos and I are up before everyone else and we decide to treat ourselves to a Grand Slam breakfast before he heads back to Oakland. The February air is icy. We slam the heater all the way up and roll down the windows so we can smoke on the drive. The Sunday morning streets are empty though they'll bustling with churchgoers within the hour. “Fast Car” comes on the radio and we both reach to turn it up. I point out the American Graffiti statue at Five Points and try to impress him with the fact that I went to the same high school as George Lucas.  

“But not at the same time.”

“Well no.”

He stares at me quizzically until I bust out laughing. Then he joins in. Jay's right about one thing, he does seem to be a different person than he was when we met. He seems more relaxed, sure-of-himself, and comfortable.  

In the diner, we grab a booth and are blessed almost immediately with coffee. After we order, he leans both elbows on the table and asks, “Are you happy?”

I hem and haw. He always does this, hits me with the most deceptively simple questions. What I think is that I haven't had the luxury of worrying about being happy for a long time but what I say is,

“At this point, I'd settle for not being completely overwhelmed.” I sigh, “Sometimes I don't know why you're friends with me. I'm a freakin' disaster.”

“We share Tracy Chapman and a weakness for lush language. We both believe in the lost art of letter-writing but don't do it often enough and neither one of us can have a deep conversation without chain-smoking.” he says.

“It's true, We're always smoking.”

There is the strangest mix of ferocity and tenderness that hangs in the air between us. I stir cream and sugar into my coffee and take a sip.

“So what do you think? About Alice, I mean.”

William Carlos leans back in the seat, stretching his arms out on the table with upturned palms.

“I was all set to be skeptical and then she came running out of the house, just like that – a girl. This is not some phase or ploy. Nobody puts themselves through this on a whim.”

“She DOES seem committed.” I say.

“Are you?”

“I have to be, don't I? I mean, of course I am. I'm petrified, but I'm with her 100%. If this will make all the other stuff go away, I'm with her 100%.”

“It may not.” he cautions, “Coping habits can be hard to break even when certain stressors are gone and I expect she's still feeling plenty of stress.”

I look down at the words tattooed on his forearms, knowing there are other words tattooed in other places covering scars.

“It's only been ten days, but they've been ten good days. No screaming or slamming or empty bottles of Robutussin tangled in her sheets. I can hope, can't I?”

“We'll all hope.”

The waitress slides our plates onto the table and tops off our coffee.

“Ahh, scrambled.” I say, looking at the fluffy pile of eggs on his plate.

“Always” he says before digging in.

“I did not know that.”

[You can find some of William Carlos' recent work at A Room Full of Mirrors. He continues to be one of the fiercest writers I know.]

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4 Responses to The Trans-Man In My Pocket

  1. Miss Bliss says:

    Aw girl the shit you do to me with your words.  Love you.

  2. shelley joan says:


  3. William Carlos says:

    I want to comment but I don't know what to say. I am touched… and I know that I said that I always take my eggs scrambled but I just discovered eggs benedict and poached with sauce might be my new style. It always surprises me when I change.  I hope that I will be able to muster up at least a fraction of dignity and humor that you have shown as you have worked on The Complicated Geography of Alice and learn to accept that each of us, including me are always changing.

  4. Pingback: Joy and Grief and Dancing

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