Your boyfriend is lying on the bed, flushed, with his shirt unbuttoned and his skirt pushed up over his thighs when he asks, “Do you want to pick, tonight?”
The question knocks you off balance like a strong wind blowing so quickly by, you can’t breathe—and, for a moment, you can’t. Deep yearning lingers in your chest. Not the same kind you feel for him. Not blood-pumping lust. More like the memory of someone you lost or past regrets. Something you wish you had, but don’t.
“What about Tyrannosaurus, the king.” Leo nods at a row of strap-ons that he’s named for dinosaurs. His idea, not yours, but you never explicitly objected.
It took you almost a year to tell him you were that Owen. The Owen Corporation, Owen. Dinosaur, Owen. Usually, you can hide it because Owen is a common surname and your dad never mentions his son because, as far as he’s concerned, he doesn’t have one. Which is fine. If he doesn’t want to support you, you don’t need his toxicity. Everyone’s happy.
Leo leans over and grabs a long purple-gray dick with a realistic head. “Or Brontosaurus—too long? Ooh!” He trades it for a textured green strap-on you bought together, on a website called Dildosaur that sells non-traditional dildos. “What about Stegosaurus? Ribbed for our pleasure.”
He asks because he’s being supportive of your dysphoria in ways you’ve discussed. Even though it’s going inside his body—and you like making him happy—it helps when you choose. When you pick the cock that feels best with your body, at the time. But right now, the options exhaust you. They’re thick or curved or ribbed or rainbow. And even though you know this isn’t true, you can’t help but think that sex is supposed to be about taking off, but for you it’s about putting on.
“What if we used this one?” You pick up a strap-on that requires no straps. That matches your skin tone and, when you fit the other end inside your own body, hangs like it could’ve been there since birth. The longing creeps into your chest again. The dildo makes you feel better because it looks and feels right, but it also makes you feel worse because you wish so badly it was attached. And it’s not.
Leo’s coy smile relaxes into a calm, supportive one. “Yeah, absolutely. It looks good on you.” He reaches out and wraps his hand around the end of it, tugging enough that you feel it move.
But euphoria doesn’t only come from physical sensation. It comes from the sight of his hand on your new dick. Of the head disappearing between his lips, then the shaft between his thighs. When the physical part is over—when Leo’s lying in your arms, naked and spent—the feeling lingers as gender euphoria. The cock head peeks out between your thighs like it’s always been there.
“Emerick?” Leo asks, his voice muffled by your chest.
He rolls onto his back, so you can look at each other. “If you don’t want to use the non-traditional strap-ons, anymore, we don’t have to. I mean, if this one makes you more comfortable—it doesn’t matter to me, is what I’m saying. I love you no matter what your dick looks like.”
“I know. It’s…”
“We don’t have to talk about it, now, if you don’t want to.”
“No, it’s okay.” But there’s a long pause before you can form words, again. “It’s been worse, lately. Not just in bed, but every time I pee or shower or change at the gym. The realistic ones look so good, they’re like the real thing. Until they’re not. Which hurts worse than seeing a purple alien dick, or whatever, and knowing it’s not real. It shouldn’t, it—”
“Hey.” Leo rubs his hand down your arm, shoulder to elbow. His pale pink fingernails trace the swell of your bicep—one of the parts of your body you love. That you worked hard for. “It doesn’t matter what ‘makes sense’ to anyone but you.”
“I know.” Knowing isn’t the same as believing, though.
Leo believes in himself. He has to, to leave the house wearing a skirt or heels, with his flat chest and facial hair. To hand his coat to the cis restaurant host, who isn’t sure whether to call him “sir” or “ma’am.” And you love him for that. You love him for so many more reasons—for naming himself after Leonardo DiCaprio (not da Vinci); for being just as excited about his manicure the hundredth time he holds his fingernails out for you to examine, as the first; for knowing which queer YA books he can safely recommend to kids whose parents might not approve, when he’s at work.
He’s perfect and you’re a farce. He’s made peace with his body and you only tolerate yours. And you can’t believe you’re nervous to say this out loud, but you don’t want him to validate your body. You want him to remember what it’s like to need to change part of himself.
“I’ve been researching new bottom surgery techniques.” You close your eyes while you talk. “I think I need it.”
Leo’s lips brush the fine hairs between your eyebrows, then press moist against your skin. Why is he always so supportive? So there? So giving you what you need? Why does that hurt more?
“Okay,” he says, breath warming your forehead.
“Okay?” You look at him.
“Yeah, we can look at—”
“Not okay, Leo. We can’t afford it, for one, and I wouldn’t be able to work for at least a month. Have I mentioned we can’t afford it? It’s an impossible dream. I just—” You squeeze your eyes shut. “I want to go back and be born cis. I don’t like being trans.”
Leo’s leans his forehead against yours. Your noses touch, mouths angled out of reach of one another. He waits until your body unclenches, to talk.
“Can I suggest something? If you don’t like it, we can stop.”
“Yes,” you say, even though you can already feel the nervous lump building in your throat.
He doesn’t meet your eyes when he says, “When’s the last time you talked to your dad?” It’s a question, but you know the suggestion is visit your dad.
You used to be able to name the date you came out to your parents. The Christmas when Dad didn’t come home from Owen Corp’s island headquarters, because “I can’t stop working, now. Not when we’re finally beginning to understand how the portal works!”
You only remember the date Mom left, because she left a voicemail telling you she needed to move on—a clean break—for her emotional well-being. A recommendation from her therapist and divorce attorney.
You used to know how many years you’d been on testosterone and how long since the top surgery you crowdfunded because the gym didn’t offer health insurance and calls to your mom ended with an electronic, “I’m sorry, the number you have dialed is no longer in service.”
You’ve forgotten which year you received a card (forwarded from your previous address, by the post office) with no return address, enclosing a family portrait—not your family. The woman who used to be your mom. A man dressed in a neat flannel shirt and child with dimpled cheeks. A golden retriever. On the photo, a note written in permanent marker. “I’ve finally found peace. Wishing you the same.”
You expect the birthday card that your dad addresses to your birth name, every year. He used to sign them, but the last half-dozen or so were clearly sent by an assistant. It’s little consolation he acknowledges your existence, when he’s always too busy to take calls that aren’t about his own work, or write back to the long letters you’ve sent, catching him up on your transition.
You have little faith a visit will lead to his support—financial or emotional—but Leo’s right. Dad might help you. If you can be the bigger person. If you can muster up the energy to fake interest in the work that fractured your family. To pretend he’s a good father. And hope that he might see you as his son.
Dad meets you at the helicopter, dressed like he’s going on safari, even though he missed every annual father-daughter camping trip, during middle and high school. The one “girl” social event you actually wanted to attend.
Leo nudges you to get out. He offered to come support you, if you wanted it, and you do. But you think Dad only agreed because Leo’s a guy and Dad treats you like a girl, which would make you straight, in his mind. Not the butch queer daughter, he remembers. When you take Leo’s hand and duck out of the helicopter, you can’t help but think how amusing it’ll be when Dad realizes that your boyfriend’s the femme and you’re just some dumb jock.
Before you have a chance to be standoffish, Dad puts his arm around you and says, “Emily!”
You stiffen at the name you haven’t heard in ages. No one in your life even knows that name anymore, much less uses it. In fact, you’ve gone to great lengths to appear as unlike your old self, as possible, one set at a time.
You couldn’t make your family work. Couldn’t make your dad respect your name or gender, but you could re-shape yourself. Press the barbell over your head for eight reps. The weight doesn’t judge you. If you can’t meet it on its level, it’ll be there next time.
The chance to correct your dad slips away when Leo steps forward, offering his hand. “Nice to meet you, Mr. Owen, I’m Leonardo. Emerick’s boyfriend.”
You fantasize about holding the court orders for your name and gender changes in front of Dad’s face. Forcing him to face reality. If the government can sanction your identity, then so can he.
“Nice to meet you, Leonardo.” Dad gets his name right—and why not? He doesn’t know Leo’s gender experience and he wouldn’t care. It’s only you, he can’t comprehend.
“You can call me Leo.” Leo wore a shirt dress, high-tops, and the kind of floppy straw hat rich cis women wear on the beach, in movies. The rising helicopter blows it off his head and picks up the long strands of his hair.
You go after the hat, not wanting him to have to chase it in a knee-length dress. It’s a sight, your dad smiling and laughing with your obviously-queer boyfriend like everything’s cool, when he can’t look at you, in your jeans and T-shirt, your open button down, thick shoulders, and layer of dark facial hair, and remember Emerick.
“Here you go, babe.” You hand Leo the hat and he fits it on his head.
“Thanks, Emerick.” You know why he’s not calling you ‘Em’ in front of your dad and you appreciate it.
“Well,” Dad says. “Let’s get you two settled in one of the guest houses for the night. In the morning, I’ll introduce you to Dr. Hartford, my right hand woman”—he bristles, feeling clever—“who will give you the full tour. Yes, she’s much smarter than me. Really something.” His eyes twinkle, corner of his mouth curls upward.
You roll your shoulders in an attempt to rid yourself of anxiety’s slowly tightening grip, but it remains. Or, something like it. A hum that glides over your skin cool like water, buzzing like electricity. That is not your anxiety, it’s the island. You forgot this island has a feeling that leaks out of the portal. It’s stronger than last time—or than you remember, at least. Amplified by your own nerves, perhaps. They’re making it difficult to feel much else.
“You’re walking fast, again.” Leo stretches his hand forward. “I’m sure they’ll still be serving breakfast when we get there.”
You stop walking and take his hand, when he catches up. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to leave you behind.”
“I know.” He kisses you on the cheek and smiles.
“Did you consider that heels—”
“They’re called oxford pumps.”
“Did you consider that oxford pumps might not be the best outdoorsy shoes?”
“Did you consider that running shoes belong in the gym?”
You don’t tell him that flat soled shoes are better for weight lifting than running shoes because he doesn’t care and that’s not the point. The point is, Leo cares about presenting a certain way and you care that he’s happy, even if that means stepping gingerly around rocks that’ve liberated themselves from the packed dirt road.
You haven’t visited for a decade, at least, and only a few summers before that. It’s neater now, but no less wild. Like hair that won’t stay slicked down, this island wants to do its own thing. Thick green leaves curl up and over the edges of clay pots, and creep onto the paths. Tiny lizards scamper between them, chasing bugs with their tongues. Employees walk between buildings, not looking up from their tablets and conversations except to swat at mosquitos and hold matte black cards in front of key pads beside doors, before disappearing inside.
“I think this is it.” You and Leo stop outside a square building that’s mostly windows—barred windows. In fact, you noticed bars on the windows of your guesthouse, last night. Hopefully, no horrific accident prompted that update.
Three women in boots and hats shove the last bites of their breakfasts into their mouths and hold the doors open for you, behind them. You both offer thanks as the cool, climate controlled air raises the hair on your bare legs.
“Emily!” Your dad waves from across the cafeteria. “Come, I’ve got us a table.”
“Are you going to tell him your name’s Emerick?” Leo asks, quietly. “I can do it, if you want someone else to talk to him.”
“No, I will.” Normally, it’s easier when other people explain how to interact with you in advance of your arrival—you’ve done the same for Leo. Why deal with misgendering or deadnaming when you can hedge your bets? But this conversation is the reason you came.
The two of you sit opposite your dad. A waiter sets a French press on your table beside empty ceramic mugs, packets of sugar, and shelf-stable creamer. You pour yourself a cup of black coffee and take a sip. Somewhere between trying to eat healthier and trying to prove your masculinity, you started drinking black coffee and have since brainwashed yourself into liking it. You’ve always assumed Dad did the same because all men can’t like black coffee; it’s not that good.
Leo, as if in protest of your binary coffee views, pays his an unusual amount of attention. Or maybe he’s giving you the chance to speak up, for once.
You clear your throat. “My name’s actually Emerick.”
“Hm?” Dad asks over his coffee.
“You said ‘Emily.’ My name’s Emerick.”
“Right, right,” he says, looking at his menu.
“I wanted to talk to you about that, while I’m here.” You try to catch his eyes, but he’s reading about omelets and smoked fish. Fresh fruit. “I realize I’ve never had a real talk with you about my transition. Never told you my plans or given you a chance to ask questions. I want to share this part of my life with you.”
Which is sort of true. It’s not something you want to have constant and deep conversations about with anyone, really, but you do want the closeness. So if this is what it takes for your dad to support you, then you’re willing.
You’re not sure he is, though.
“Know what you want to eat?” he asks. “The bacon is—” He kisses his fingertips. “Made from the native hogs. Much better than that store-bought crap.”
“Sure, I’ll have whatever you recommend; I don’t care.” You hand your menu to the waiter, while Dad orders three American breakfast platters. The moment the three of you are alone, again, you say, “Listen, Dad, I need surgery. That’s why I’m here. For your support.”
Dad doesn’t look away. You didn’t want to say it in this room full of professionals but, apparently, it’s the only way to get your dad’s attention. Concern creases his brow. “Are you okay? We have a full hospital staff here, on the island, in case of emergencies—not that we’ve had any. The portal is very safe and the dinosaurs, well…” His tone isn’t confidence inspiring. “What kind of surgery?”
“Gender confirmation surgery.” You choose the nicey-nice liberal term, instead of “bottom surgery.”
No recognition shows in his narrowing eyes.
“Phalloplasty, Dad,” you whisper. “I need bottom—genital—surgery. For my dysphoria—do you know what that means? You can ask. I want you to understand what’s going on and why. I love you.” And you do, really. You want him to be your dad. Want to be his son. To be a family, again.
“I, um…” He picks up his napkin, re-folds it, and flattens it on his lap. “I’m not sure our hospital is, um—oh look!” A smile brightens his face as the waiter arrives with three steaming platters, piled high with hash browns, runny eggs, and bacon made from the local hog population.
You’re not hungry.
Dad digs in, staring at his food while he cuts and shovels like it might escape if he takes his eyes off of it. “Superb, isn’t it?”
“Yeah,” you say. “It’s great.”
“You know.” Leo talks with his mouth full. “Statistics reflect that transgender people with supportive families are less likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, and suicidal tendencies.” He swallows and smiles. “Emerick took off work to fly out here and try to connect with you. You could show some support. Just a thought.”
“I support my daughter.” Dad’s smile is tight. “She knows I do.”
Anger and embarrassment kindles in your chest. “He. I’m a guy, Dad. Fucking look at me.” You throw your fork down on the plate with a loud clang. “I’m begging you.”
He looks at his half-eaten plate of ketchup-smeared hash browns. Then, out into the sea of employees, laughing and chatting or reading files. Someone catches his eye—someone he cares about more than you—and he stands to greet her.
“So glad you could join us!” Dad hugs the woman who approaches with the same familiarity as he did with you, when you arrived. Right before he deadnamed you. “This is Dr. Noelle Hartford, one of my most promising researchers!”
She’s not dressed how you imagine Dad’s evil henchmen. (Henchpeople?) It’s easier to think of them as faceless white coats. Latex gloves. Plastic goggles. The gleam of discovery in their eyes. Noelle’s are hazel. Her long, braided hair tied up with a scarf. Pants, long-sleeves, and vest ready for the ancient outdoors.
“I wanted to thank you again for making time for my family in your schedule,” Dad says.
“Of course, Collier.” She pats his shoulder. “Is this your daughter, Emily?” She gestures toward Leo, then holds her hand out to him. “It’s so good to meet you, finally.”
You close your eyes and absorb the waves of dysphoria that crash into you over and over again. You can’t take much more of this. You’re already running low on stamina.
“My name’s Emerick,” you say, so Leo doesn’t have to explain. “Not Emily, and I’m his son.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I must’ve misunderstood.” She presses her hands against her warm brown cheeks which, you assume, are also warm with embarrassment. “Then it’s good to meet you, Emerick.” She speaks your name with the purpose of remembering it and, already, you like her better than your dad. “You can call me Noelle.”
Her hand is unexpectedly cool when you shake it. Humming with energy, like the island does. You don’t ask why because it would be rude, but you are curious. You’ve changed, in the past decade, but this island feels the same. It feels alive. And Noelle feels a part of it.
“This is my boyfriend, Leonardo,” you say.
“You can call me Leo.” He smiles.
“Nice to meet you Leo. Sorry about the mix-up.”
“Don’t worry about it,” he says because he’s patient and kinder than you. “What matters is what we do after we’re corrected.”
Dad doesn’t acknowledge the statement. He looks at his phone as if something important’s happened. “I have to run. One of the Pakisaurs is out of its enclosure. Nothing to worry about, but I want to make sure the capture goes smoothly. Noelle, do you mind? I promised them one of my brightest minds for a personal tour. Nothing but the best for my family.”
“Of course not. Go take care of business.” She salutes him, playfully, while he heads out, then turns back to the two of you. “All right, boys. Ready to see some dinosaurs?”
“So, Noelle, how’d you get involved with—” You wave your hand at a herd of passing dinosaurs. Along the edge of the forest, opposite you, Leo watches, rapt, as a group of researchers stop taking notes and point out… who knows what. Long-necked herbivores. You’re sure you’ll hear the details, later. “—all this.”
“You won’t believe it.” She crosses her arms.
You wave at Leo, who looks like he wants your attention—literally for you to join him, but your enthusiasm is low, after breakfast. “Try me.”
Noelle nods off to the side, as if she’s pointing to the physical location from which she came. “The portal.”
“The portal?” You stop watching Leo coo over dinosaurs in his oxford pumps and give Noelle your full attention.
“Yeah, I came through the portal.”
“I thought only dinosaurs—”
“So did Collier—your dad, I mean. Sorry, he’s like a dad to me. I’m kind of jealous.”
You want to ask where she came from—what’s on the other side of the portal that a person came through, who speaks English and understands your culture and doesn’t question dinosaurs—but mostly you’re astonished that anyone considers your dad, well, a dad.
“It’s not that different, where I came from. I’m sure you’re wondering.”
“I was, but I know what it’s like to be asked invasive questions, so I’ve learned to accept people’s truths at face value.”
“Okay, Emerick.” She smiles. “I see you.”
“Can you not see me waving at you?” Leo re-joins us, dust-covered and out of breath. He pulls his hair up into a bun. “I was this close to a herd of Bronto—” He looks to Noelle for confirmation. “No, not Brontosaurs. They’re called Apatosaurs, right?”
“Yes,” she says. “Did you have any questions my colleagues couldn’t answer for you?”
“Yeah, actually.” He plants his hands on his hips. “What are those?” He points to a row of cages in the distance. “They weren’t sure.”
Those weren’t there the last time you were. Most of Dad’s experiments wander the island in enclosures that put “free-range” to shame. But these look like kennels, a dinosaur in each one.
“Oh. Those are an isolated problem—don’t worry,” she says as if you’re an investor or someone whose opinion matters. “We’re lucky we caught it, early. It could’ve been a disaster.” She chuckles to herself.
“What’s the problem?” you ask.
“You probably know, Owen Corp had been attempting to engineer its own dinosaurs—unsuccessfully, for many years. You see, the portal mutates DNA. They had no idea where to start. Not until I walked through.”
Noelle chuckles to herself as she holds up her hands. “Sometimes, I feel like an imposter, despite the degrees I earned in my home world. Whatever happened to the dinosaurs, when they crossed through the portal, happened to me. I can perform genetic manipulations no one in this world ever imagined. It’s almost—and I feel silly using the word—like magic?
“Anyway.” She shoves her hands back in her vest pockets. “I’ve made a few mistakes along the way, while we figure out the science behind it all. These dinosaurs are isolated because they had spontaneous sex changes!” Noelle looks at the two of you as if you will of course find this hilarious. “Apparently the single-sex environment did not agree with their DNA. They dissolved their genitals and re-grew the opposite. Awesome, but not in line with our safety protocols.”
You keep your thoughts on “opposite genitals” and “sex change” to yourself, like you so often do. Leo makes eyes at you like she is so wrong and he can explain if you want, but you really don’t want to take a dive into gender theory with the one person who’s willing to accept you as you are, no questions asked.
“So, you isolated them because you’re control freaks,” you say.
“Basically.” She lowers her voice. “We didn’t want a bunch of horny dinosaurs getting busy in their paddocks, unsupervised. We strictly control the population. Can you imagine if we found out the hard way that our Deinonychus count was higher than normal? Or Tyrannosaurus?”
“I’m guessing the hard way of finding out is being unexpectedly eaten.”
“Or unexpectedly disemboweled, yes.”
You allow yourself to imagine the chaos and destruction, for a moment. Fences broken through, tires chewed off cars, windows shattered. Running, screaming. Not that you want anyone to die, but you wouldn’t mind if your father’s creations took control of the island and ran everyone here through the damn portal.
You shouldn’t look amused, so you clear your throat and fix an appropriately concerned expression on your face. “Yeah, that sounds bad. What are you going to do with them? They can’t live in those cages forever, right?”
“When the time comes, we’ll euthanize them.”
She can’t know what she’s implying, but you do because being trans is like having X-ray vision. For better or worse, you see the cis binary. See the ways in which you fit or fail. The way cis people’s brains skip right over your existence—right over the idea that wild animals can change their bodies in ways they didn’t predict and can’t control. That make them uncomfortable.
A queasy feeling grips your stomach. The trans dinosaurs aren’t a problem to be fixed—to be put down. They’re nature running its course.
“So, what’d you think?” you ask Leo, who’s been suspiciously quiet, ever since you retired for the evening. He emerges from a steamy bathroom, dark blonde hair clean and wet against his neck and shoulders. White towel wrapped around his body from armpits to knees. “The Owen Corporation” embroidered along one end.
“It’s nice,” he says with suppressed excitement. He’s effervescent; you can hear it bubbling beneath the surface. He loves dinosaurs. He’s a children’s librarian, for fuck’s sake.
The two of you met at a game night for trans folks, unexpectedly. You’d only ever dated girls—only ever planned to, despite being bisexual. At first, because it helped you feel more masculine dating femme girls, before you knew why you cared about feeling that way. And then, because dating a guy marked you as queer, publicly, and you don’t like dealing with people. All you want to do is blend in and live your life.
You’d never met anyone like Leonardo, before. He gave—and still gives you—gender euphoria. Makes you feel more like yourself than anyone in the world. He deserves better than the mopey-Emerick you’ve given him, the past few days. He deserves for you to make an effort.
“You love it,” you say, smiling on purpose. You’ve heard that forcing yourself to smile when you’re upset will make you feel better. A self-perpetuating smile.
Leo risks a smile, too, and then yours becomes genuine because you’re happy he’s happy, even though you’re on this trash island—forget about the island. You’re in a guest house that’s three times the size of your apartment, with your happy, naked boyfriend.
He looks at the ceiling while he chooses words that won’t hurt you. “I’m overwhelmed. It’s—” He reaches for the words with his hands. “—breathtaking. These creatures are walking history. Here! On our timeline!” He laughs. “I knew they were here—that it was all real, but seeing it? My brain can’t even process. I might actually be in shock. My hands are still shaking a little.”
They are. He holds them out to you and you envelop them with yours. His hands are soft and warm, plump with water from the shower. You kiss his palms. Kiss the length of his arms, flick your tongue over the crook of his elbow. “Does this help?” you ask, lips brushing the base of his neck. He smells like lemon and lavender.
“Yes,” he whispers.
You guide his hands around your neck and the towel drops around his feet. With both hands, you grab his bare ass and hoist. Leo wraps his legs around you, presses his mouth against yours, threads his fingers through your hair and scrapes his long nails over your scalp.
You groan and stumble forward until your knees hit the baseboard of the biggest bed you’ve ever lain in. Leonardo’s weight pulls you down. He scoots back towards the pillow while you crawl on top of him, still wearing jeans and a sweaty T-shirt. You smell like body odor and wet ferns and minerals. You’re going to dirty his clean hair and skin and he doesn’t even care.
Your fingers slide easily inside his cunt, stroking the sensitive front wall while your thumb slowly rubs his clit. He thrusts against your hand. He wants more and you literally cannot move for the moment it takes to suppress the idea that the only more you can give him is another finger or two. Your tongue and lips. A length of silicone.
“You okay?” Leo asks, trying to catch his breath. He props himself up on his elbows.
You don’t have any words. All you can do is shake your head and close your eyes. Your hand’s still inside Leo’s warm, wet body. Clenching and shifting subtly around you. He puts a hand on your upper arm and massages the tense muscle.
You manage to shake your head.
“We can stop.”
You’re still shaking your head.
“Emerick.” Leo guides your hand out of his body, then crawls off the bed.
You sit, unmoving, until he returns with a damp washcloth. He sits cross-legged on the mattress, beside you, takes your hand into his and wipes it clean. He folds the cloth and wipes the plush cotton across your forehead.
“Do you want to talk?” he asks, setting the cloth aside.
“No. I want a dick that doesn’t come off. One I can feel. That—” You stop and lower your voice. This isn’t Leo’s fault. You’re not angry with him. “That I can fuck you with, for real.”
Lines crease Leo’s face. He swallows. “Do you not consider what we do ‘real’ fucking?” He looks around the edges of you, like he’s reconsidering your entire existence.
“Of course I do. I’m sorry,” you say, quickly. You know better. You know how that word has been used as a weapon against people like the two of you.
“What’s your real name?”
“Are you a real woman?”
“That’s not a real gender.”
“You don’t have a real dick.”
“We’re real.” You take his hand. “I’m sorry, I’m failing at words.”
“It’s okay. I’m sorry, too. I knew what you meant. I shouldn’t call you out like a stranger on the Internet when we’re in bed together. I’ve been carrying a lot of nervous energy around with me. Wasn’t sure what to wear. Whether I should be myself—if it was safe to. If your dad would misgender me—I mean, if he misgenders you…” Leo gestures at your jeans and plain tee shirt, both from the men’s section. “And I didn’t want his opinion of me to make things worse for you.”
You smile. “You couldn’t possibly. Everyone loves you. And it’s not that my dad doesn’t believe trans people are real. He believes that dinosaurs and portals are real—that Noelle is basically magic, for fuck’s sake. He just doesn’t believe that his son is no longer his daughter. It’s not about you; it’s about me. Just like this surgery.”
Leo kisses your cheek then flops down on the bed. “We’ll talk to him, tomorrow. I promise not to get swept off my feet by any dinosaurs.” He tugs you down beside him.
“I’m glad you’re here,” you say with your eyes closed and your lips brushing against the thick feather pillow.
“I’m glad you’re here, too.”
You know what he means. That he’s carefully avoided pressuring you into this situation for years, because it stresses you out. He wants you to be happy, though. To get the medical attention you need. For your dad to treat you with the same respect he shows his dinosaurs.
You wake up—or you never fell asleep—hearing your dad call you “Emily.” His voice is scratchy and old. Weathered by decades of shouting at employees with anger and to himself with glee. The pit in your chest sinks deeper every time you replay it.
“Emily.” You are not Emily.
Your eyes find the clock: 12:34 a.m. Leo sleeps beside you, his hair tangled in a cute nest around his head. His bare chest rises and falls, arms loosely hug the pillow. He doesn’t wake when you get out of bed and pull on a pair of running shorts. If Dad won’t help you, then you’ll help yourself.
Humidity creeps between your skin and shirt, the second you leave the guest house. As you walk the unpaved path, a roar sounds in the distance. A long, low growl that rumbles beneath your skin and raises the hair on your neck. For a moment, you forget that your dad built this place. That it’s artificial.
These animals are real. Their huge feet flatten the earth. Their bodies dump piles of waste. Teeth grind leaves or rip flesh. They didn’t ask to be here or to be re-made—for their very DNA to be manipulated.
And he’s going to kill the ones that can change their bodies. You fucking wish. You have half a mind to go set them all free—unleash the horny trans dinosaurs—but you have other ideas.
The engineering building is dark and empty at 1:00 a.m. The heavy metal door is locked. You cup your hands and peer into one of the windows—fucking bars across them. You considered breaking one, but now you’ll have to find another way in.
Around the back of the building, a sidewalk door leads down into what you assume is the cellar and it’s only secured with a lock. And why not? Who on this island is going to break in? They all worship your dad like a god. If you can find a hammer or something, you can break the lock off.
Or, you could have.
“Hey!” A flashlight shines on you from behind. “Stop right there.”
You stop and hold up your hands to show they’re empty. No hammer. Nothing to see here.
“Let me see your badge.” The guard moves closer, shining her light directly into your eyes.
You shield them. “I don’t have a badge. My name’s Emerick Owen. I’m Dr. Collier Owen’s son.”
“Do you have ID on you?”
“No.” You didn’t bring anything with you. Didn’t think you’d need it, dammit. “But if you’ll walk back to the guest house with me, I can show you—”
“I’ll send an officer to check that out, but if you don’t have a badge or ID, you’re going to have to come with—”
The laboratory door pushes open. You both turn your heads. The guard’s flashlight swings to illuminate a small group of engineers leaving the building. They dawdle, interested in whatever drama has interrupted their work, until Noelle pushes her way to the front of the group.
“Do you know this man?” the guard asks her.
“Yes, this is Emerick Owen, Collier’s son. He was supposed to meet me at the engineering building, earlier, but it appears he got caught up. And slightly lost.”
“It’s 1:00 a.m.”
“I didn’t realize there was a curfew on the island.”
The guard looks between you and Noelle, finally nodding in the doctor’s direction. “Less paperwork for me,” she says. “Carry some ID next time, Mr. Owen.”
“Yes, ma’am,” you say, even though you hate using gendered honorifics. The word “ma’am” leaves your mouth dry.
You follow Noelle back into the engineering building, this time without her colleagues. The heavy metal door slams behind you; the echo resonates through the empty halls.
You’re about to thank her for having your back, when she says, “So, what were you doing, loitering around my laboratory at 1:00 a.m.?”
You consider lying, but she lied to help you, so you figure you owe her the truth. Even if it is pathetic. “I was going to find a hammer to break the lock on your cellar door, and then… honestly, that’s as far as I got.” You run your hands through your sweaty hair. “But I couldn’t sleep and I’m so frustrated; breaking in felt productive. Thought I might rifle through some private files. Find the DNA of those trans dinosaurs you’re going to kill. Gaze longingly at it. It wasn’t a particularly good plan.”
“Doesn’t sound like you expected to succeed.”
“I didn’t, really.” You lean against a long window and stare at the computer stations, inside. File folders and half-empty cups of coffee litter the desktops, overlooked by family photos and dinosaur figurines. “Can I tell you something private?”
“You probably noticed my dad keeps calling me his daughter.”
“Well.” You gesture to your own body. “You’re a scientist; you don’t need me to tell you that isn’t true. I thought if I came and asked—directly, to his face—he wouldn’t be able to avoid the topic. That we could talk about my transition, for once. That he might show some support, even if not financially. I’ve funded my own healthcare before, I’ll do it again. Just would’ve been nice to talk with him about it. Maybe have him there while I recovered—I don’t know. It all sounds so stupid, now.”
“It’s not stupid, Emerick. In fact, it’s my turn to ask if you mind me sharing something personal.”
“Go for it.” Doesn’t get more personal than you need dick surgery.
“I didn’t come through that portal by accident, though I did wind up on this island by luck.” Noelle crosses her arms and leans back against the window, beside you. “The universe I’m from is not unlike this one.”
“Except for the dinosaurs.”
She chuckles. “I wish! I don’t know where they’re coming from, but it’s not my world, though some arrived there, too. I wanted to study them, but the government killed every one that came through. When they found the portal, they immediately sealed it off, despite my pleas. I could’ve secured funding, secured the portal, and the animals that emerged. No one listened to me. They were going to seal it off permanently—and I assume they did, behind me. My siblings worked on the task force that made the decision.”
“You’re stuck here.”
“Yeah, I am. But I’m also happy. Your dad supported me when no one else did. Enabled me to upend genetic engineering as your world knows it.” She holds up her hands. A slight glow emanates from them, in the dark. Even though you know it’s not, it looks like magic. “Emerick, you don’t have to stay here, if you’re not happy. You can leave, I say as someone who isn’t trying to get rid of you.” She squeezes your shoulder, sending a jolt of energy through your body.
“I know. I thought I’d give him one last chance. I miss my family.”
“Yeah, but you have a new family, now. You have Leo and—whomever else you love and invite into your life. They’ll help you, if you ask.”
The two of you stand parallel, staring at the wall opposite, for seconds or minutes. Noelle’s hands have since extinguished, but you feel her energy reverberating through your body—the same energy you feel from the portal and in waves all over this island. You know why your dad likes her; she can innovate in ways he never could, that no one in this universe can.
“Would you?” you say. “Help. If I asked.”
Noelle purses her lips and looks at the ceiling, but you know she’s considering you because you feel the buzz under your skin. “Yeah. As long as your boyfriend didn’t mind, I would.” She smiles. “I will.”
Your nerves light up when you get off the helicopter, this time, as if your feet are connecting with a charging pad. In a way, you are: Noelle’s genetic magic is at work inside you, ready for another dose. It’s your sixth visit, since Leo suggested the first one, and Noelle suggested a dozen for the changes to manifest. For the cocoon to form and your new cock to grow—like a butterfly, Leo says, and he’s not wrong.
You smile when you see Collier—that’s how you think of him, now. When he pulls you into a big hug and when he calls you “Emily.” It doesn’t matter because he’s not your real family. You pat his back and tell him you’ll see him for dinner, because he doesn’t matter. You found the support you needed—on his own island, at that.
Let him think you’re here to see him. That you love him and give two shits about his portal and his dinosaurs. The Owen Corporation’s future. Innovations that will inevitably be sold to the military or pharmaceutical companies, neither of which care about people like you. The only good thing your last name has done is introduce you to Noelle. And, this weekend, Leo and you have an appointment with her—and a butterfly.
(Editors’ Note: K.M. Szpara is interviewed by Caroline M. Yoachim in this issue.)
© 2018 by K.M. Szpara