Picture by Mary Shepard.
Thomas Funk was high. It was his birthday. He lay back on a park bench in the most private part of the big city park. The sun had already come up. He was still drunk and still drinking. The drug buzz had died down to a wavering trickle. Next would be the awful boredom and the hatred of feeling how he felt without chemicals. He knew it was coming.
By then Thomas hadn’t been Thomas for a while. On and off he’d been Gemma. Fifteen years switching between the two. Hormones, a tit job, shrunken balls the size of peas, long hair, then short hair, then back. She was Gemma right now; said she always felt like Gemma. So, let’s call her Gemma from now on. It is what she would have wanted.
I met Gemma as Thomas – she was struggling with the hormone suppliments and trying to live as a man again – in a hospital waiting room. She was nervous, sweating, gripping her arms tight across her chest to try and hide the breasts. It had worked as far as I was concerned. She’d strapped them down and all I thought was that she lifted weights, or was just an oddly built gay guy, neither way mattered. She didn’t say hello, or smile. I was in a bad mood. Things were serious in the world out there. That day I was being forced to talk about how I felt about personal things, shitty self-indulgent crap. It seemed stupid when bombs were dropping on kids in the Middle East. Too much for me. Overload; terrifying. I was hating every human being who sucked life out of the air. A horrible default position to be in. Meet me some other time, eh, it’s better for all concerned. Gemma kept glancing at me across the room like she was keeping her eye on a snake. I reckoned it was fear that finally drove her to speak.
‘You in here for the group too?’
‘Do you like chemicals?’
Weird question, and I took it that she was offering. ‘No, not really. Acid, perhaps, but not all this shit knocking about now. And I’m not a coke-head either.’
‘I love them. It’s my big problem right now,’ she said, smiling.
She didn’t maintain eye contact. She also didn’t speak again. Just fidgeted more, sweat dripping down her face and staining her blue t-shirt. She tried to cross her legs but her shorts were too tight and her thighs were too large. It upset her, she sighed and tapped her feet on the floor, jigging her knees up and down to high bpm music in her head.
The others turned up and ignored us both. I could tell she hated them – it was mutual by the look of things. Always the outsider, even in here amidst some of the most outside people going. I guess it’s what drove Gemma to the chemicals and to defend her point of view with the cattiness she managed to spit out when the group got started. Backed into a corner the woman was dangerous, softly lisping, arrow straight to the point. She’d tear all of us a new asshole. I took a warning and never needed to ask for one again. I didn’t need someone with a venomous tongue fucking me over when I was telling secrets in there. She was just doing the same as me I guess: protecting herself when she was at her most vulnerable. Don’t we all.
She left the group after a few sessions. Said she was moving to London. She didn’t. She took the time out to turn full time into Gemma again, ‘For good this time.’ Her social media was all glamour, champagne, Gucci shit, blonde hair, fabulous, fabulous, darling, darling, darling, mwah mwah. I was happy for her. She made it onto the telly. She looked like she was enjoying things for the first time in ages. I felt for her. I don’t know much about myself, but I do know I am comfortable with the gender I was born with. Small mercy, maybe, but a good one as a foundation. The unimaginable thoughts Gemma must have had….well….I can’t really begin to understand, so I won’t try to do her a disservice.
On the park bench, the daylight was growing stronger. She was alone. She closed her eyes.
She was found like that a while later. It was a busy park. Someone stumbled over the fabulous Gemma Funk, slumped and silent and not breathing. Too far gone to save. She had killed Thomas after months of working it out. Now it was Gemma’s turn. No chance to think it through this time.