This is a story about Jax, a transman, and his wife Jewel, a transwoman. They’re in the last stages of their lives together, and this week more than anything, we need a story that focuses on hope, on survival. I was going to clean this up and submit it, but honestly, I need the money less than our community needs this kind of story. I hope it’s enjoyable. I had a bunch of fun writing it. [And Twitterfolks, some of the things I was tweeting about will make a whole lot more sense now.]
“Ready to save the world one last time, old girl?” I asked Jewel.
She was already sitting up in bed when I came in the hospital room door. Her wig was off, her skin papery thin and tattooed with spidery veins, just as mine had become over the years.
“Can’t you leave a dying woman in peace, Jax?” she wheezed. Oxygen tubes were coming out of her nose, askew from the last time she scratched her nose.
“They can’t let us live in peace, much less die in fucking peace,” I said. “Where’s your chair?”
Jewel waves to a large built in wardrobe. I see her wheelchair folded up next to it.
“What are we saving the world from this time, Jax? Aliens? Werewolves? Republicans?”
I laughed. “No, but I should tell you about the time that I met some aliens. Remember how back in the day I used to do drag king shows? We met at a drag show, didn’t we?”
Jewel laughed, until she started coughing up red. I went to her and patted her on the back and got her some water. She drank it and gasped until she could breath again. Jewel waved me away impatiently, not wanting me to wait on her hand and foot, like I did at home.
“If we’re going someplace, I’ll need my wig and my boobs. You’ll have to help me with them, Jax.”
I pulled her brassiere with the gel breast inserts already in place and started helping her into it.
“So, way back, when I was a baby transman,” I said, “I was doing a Bowie routine.”
“That’s not someone you think of often anymore,” Jewel said.
“Yeah, and that sucks. But I had the routine down pat. Even had the orange hair, ’cause I was doing the Ziggy Stardust persona.”
Jewel’s eyes widen a bit. “That had to be a pretty sight. Skin tight leotard too?”
I blushed. “Uh, yeah. The whole works. But anyways, that’s not important. Well, not really important. So I was in the middle of my set when the roof blew off–”
“You weren’t doing a drag show in the middle of a tornado warning were you? I know you don’t have the sense your mama smacked into you, but–”
“No, wasn’t a tornado. Would you let me finish? God. You never could let a man finish a damn sentence to save your life.”
I buttoned up her shirt and leaned over to kiss her cheek, mostly to make up for losing my temper—an old habit from the days when I first started transitioning full time and seemed to go off about any little thing. Now we argued mostly to have something to do with our time.
Jewel smiled at me. “Ok, go on.”
“Where was I? Oh, right. The roof blew off. Well, the power got knocked out as well, so it was dark as could be. Full moon that night. The weird thing is with all that happened, after, I still remember how the moon looked impossibly full that night.
“I worked with a Madonna drag queen at that show, like early 90s Madonna, ya get me?”
“And turns out she was a pretty good shot with a rifle. Not that it did much good. Pissed the aliens off I’m pretty sure.”
“Wait,” Jewel said. “Aliens? And how high were you that night, exactly?”
“Wasn’t high.” I yanked Jewel’s wig into place, eliciting a yelp from her. “Sorry, babe. Someone forgot to take a pin out.” I straightened everything into place and gave her a thumbs up.
It took us a while to figure out the best method for getting Jewel and her oxygen tank into the wheelchair as comfortably as possible. I wasn’t as young as I used to be, otherwise I would have lifted her up out of the bed and set her down in her chair as gently as I could. And the hospital floors were slippery, so it took us a few minutes of skidding around and setting brakes before getting her into her chair.
“But anyways. I was there all dressed up like Bowie, had been singing Space Oddity, when the aliens showed up. Pete—that was the Madonna gal—had run out of bullets and was getting everyone down into the basement. I was helping, but then all of a sudden I felt something.”
“Like what?” Jewel asked.
“I dunno. Like the absence of anything, I guess. It was weird as hell. Then the alien hands me a copy of a Space Oddity record. It was all dinged up, like it had legit come from the 70s.”
“You are so full of shit, Jax. Aliens came all the way to earth for a fucking autograph from a drag king? Please.”
“No, this really happened, Jewel. I am not making it up.” I huffed as I pushed her chair up a slope towards the main desk.
We got to the main desk and a bored receptionist was talking on the phone. She held up a finger. I found the clipboard I needed and signed my wife out. I waved to the receptionist and she put a hand over the phone.
“Where are you going, Ms. Jewel?” she asked.
“My husband’s taking me to save the world one last time,” Jewel said.
“Ok, honey, but you gotta be back by dinner time. We’re having your favorite tonight: potatoes and steak. I think there’s gonna be ice cream for dessert.”
“Alright, we’ll be back in time.”
The receptionist waved us off, hitting the button for the door so I didn’t have to wait for the door to open. I pushed Jewel into daylight.
She held up a hand, the bright sunlight blinding us both.
I pulled them out of her purse and handed them to her. I pulled my own pair off the top of my head and we kept going.
“You were saying?” Jewel said.
“Oh. Right. Well this was just after Bowie had passed, so what—30, 40 years ago? And here I was with an alien that wanted David fucking Bowie’s autograph on Space Oddity. I couldn’t tell anything about the alien, because there wasn’t a body there. It wasn’t really there, if you know what I mean. Just an absence of light, an absence of everything. What was I supposed to do? The album was hanging in dead air along with a pen.”
“So what did you do?”
“Well, at first I didn’t think. I kinda said that he’s dead, man, and all that. The presence shifted, just a little bit and it felt like the alien was getting angry. I told it, as I signed the album, that I meant that aspect of Bowie was dead. This seemed to make the alien a little bit calmer. It slurped the album and pen back inside itself—which was fucking weird to see, let me tell you. And then it left.”
“That’s it. That’s your ‘I met aliens who wanted David Bowie’s autograph story’? Jesus, Jax. That’s the stupidest story I’ve ever heard you tell and I’ve heard you tell a lot of them.”
We’d made it to a crosswalk. I set the brakes and hit the cross button. I stood there in silence for a while.
I cleared my throat. “But the weirdest thing of all is, you know–”
“What’s weird about that story, sweetie?”
“After everything was done, the roof was back on, I was in the middle of singing ‘Space Oddity’ and it was like nothing ever happened.”
Jewel laughed. “Ok, you were high as a kite then. I knew it!”
The crossing signal chirped at us and I looked both ways before starting across.
“If you’ve got a better story, I’d love to hear it,” I said.
“I do, but first promise me that after we’re done ‘saving the world’ that I can get my nails done on the way back.”
“Good. Just ’cause I’m dying doesn’t mean that I don’t want to look nice. Would you believe that they won’t let me go and get my nails done at the home?”
I shrugged. Keeping myself pretty was something I’d never been good at. And once I transitioned, I’d given up all pretense at even trying. Besides, that was more Jewel’s arena.
“So, what about about that story you promised, Jewel? We’ve got a few minutes before we’re there.”
“Oh! Right. Well, this was a long time ago, way before we ever met. So don’t go and get jealous on me, yeah?”
“I won’t get jealous of some little shit ex lover of yours, I promise.”
Jewel laughed. “He wasn’t an ex. Not really. We went on exactly one date. And that didn’t end well for him.”
“No?” I laughed.
Jewel got quiet. “Don’t laugh, Jax. Killing someone is no laughing matter.”
“What? When did you ever kill someone? You’re the kindest, sweetest–”
“Thank you honey, but you know that for us girls it was harder back then. You guys would blend in, maybe not completely, but enough that most straight dudes wouldn’t question you.” Jewel sighed.
It had sucked. Binders were still a necessity back when I first transitioned, for lots of folks. I still had to wear one, when I went out, because I hadn’t qualified for the insurance to pay for my surgery, not when it would have made a damn bit of difference. Once I got going on T, which ironically, my insurance would pay for, things got a whole lot easier.
I couldn’t even imagine how much more difficult it had been for Jewel, when she’d first transitioned.
I waited for Jewel to start again.
“I’d met this guy on Tinder. He seemed sweet, not like he was a tranny chaser or anything. I agreed to meet up, the once, because hell he was hot. I already knew he was lying about his age, because he said he was something like 31, but his eyes said differently. They were way old.”
“Huh,” I said. “Got to love a Tinder story. Even now, when all the cool kids are just linking brains through the net and jacking off that way.”
Jewel snorted. “When we met up we went out to dinner. Had a nice time. We were getting ready to get a cab when he grabbed my arm, pulled me back from the curb. He’d thought he’d seen someone getting ready to swerve into the right hand lane and splash me. They hadn’t, but in all that twisting I’d broken a heel. My best pair of stilettos too, if you can imagine it.”
“Oh, no, not your favorite heels? Is that why you killed him?” I laughed, still not taking Jewel all that seriously.
“I was waving the broken stiletto at him, poking him in the chest with it. I didn’t realize it was that sharp, not until after.” She stopped.
My smile kind of faded away, the longer she was silent.
“Then it sorta slipped into him—the broken heel—and after that, well, there wasn’t much after that. I pile of ash where my date had been a moment before.”
“So…you think he must have been a vampire?” I asked.
“What else could he have been? Needless to say, I didn’t date again for a long while after that. Moved out of New York too. Came out here. We met, I dunno, two, three years after that? At that drag show. You weren’t performing Bowie anymore by then.”
“No. I never performed as Bowie after that night.”
I turned Jewel down another street and we could see more people congregating near the park.
“Who were you performing as when we met?” Jewel said. “I can’t remember anymore. It’s been so long.”
“Yeah, it’s been ages. I think I was doing one of the new Jpop outfits from the late 20s. They had some fun stuff.”
“Oh! That’s right. Fukushima’s Revenge, wasn’t it?”
“Sounds like something I’d have been into at the time.”
I turned onto the park grounds and headed towards the stage. Jewel craned her neck to try to see me.
“Jax? Where are we going? I thought we had to save the world.”
“We are. Remember that whackadoodle who insisted that us folks who hadn’t had good enough insurance coverage to fully transition didn’t and never had existed? Well, Rosalie at the comedy group mentioned that there was going to be a rally today to prove him wrong.”
“Oh,” Jewel said. “I thought we’d be done fighting this shit by now. We’re old. I’m tired.”
“I know. But just one last time, before we go, yeah? Then the kids can take over.”
I parked her wheelchair near the impromptu stage and sat down next to her. I took her hand in mine and we sat there and listened to the trans kids talk about how much more work we had to do to get full equality in the eyes of the law.
But somehow, knowing that we’d been fighting for this day, to say that we had grown old and gray together was enough. We had made enough progress that we could survive long enough to die of old age.