Don't Say That At the Office

Torrey Peters
·29-min read
Photo credit: ELAINE CHUNG / GETTY IMAGES
Photo credit: ELAINE CHUNG / GETTY IMAGES

From Esquire

Katrina sits in the roller chair before Ames’s desk. The moment has an air of uncommon inversion. Because she is his boss, Ames nearly always goes to her office and sits in front of her desk. Her office, corresponding to their relative places in the corporate hierarchy, is double the square footage of his, with two full windows looking out on two neighboring buildings, and between them, a sliver of East River view. By contrast, Ames’s office has one window overlooking a small parking lot. Once, in the twilight, he saw a brown creature trotting spritely across the pavement—and has since maintained that it was an urban coyote. One takes one’s excitements where one may.

Katrina rifles through a briefcase, pulls out a manila folder, and plops it on his desk. Her coming to his office makes him tense, like a teenager whose parents have entered his room.

“Well,” she says. “It’s real. This is happening.” He reaches for the folder. He has good posture, and gives her an easy smile. The folder opens to reveal printouts from an online patient portal.

“My gyno,” Katrina says, watching him closely. “She followed up with a blood test and a pelvic exam. She confirmed the home test results. Without an ultrasound, she can’t say how far I am, so I had one scheduled for the Thursday after next. I mean, I know you maybe aren’t sure yet how you feel about it, but maybe if you come, that’ll help? If I’m more than four weeks into it, we’ll be able to see the baby—or I guess, embryo?”

Photo credit: Hearst Owned
Photo credit: Hearst Owned

He is aware that she is scrutinizing him for a reaction. He had been unable to offer any show of emotion since the pregnancy test came back positive. Fatherhood. The reality of it has shown up so huge and abrupt that to contemplate how he feels overwhelms his brain, shoves him out of himself, so that he lets go of the controls to his emotions, tumbles from the cab, and watches from outside as his own emotional machinery goes inert. The driver’s seat is as empty now as when she had first told him, only this time, he can no longer delay by telling her that he wants to wait for official confirmation before he gets his emotions involved. “Amazing,” he says, and tries out a smile that he fears might be coming off as a grimace. “I guess it’s real! Especially since we have”—he searches briefly for a phrase, and then comes up with one—“an entire dossier of evidence.”

Katrina shifts to cross her legs. She’s wearing casual wedge heels. He always notices her clothing, half out of admiration, and half out of the habit of noting what’s going on in the field of women’s fashion. “Your reaction has been hard to read,” she says carefully. “I don’t know, I thought maybe if you saw it in black and white, I’d be able to gauge how you were actually feeling.” She pauses and swallows. “But I still can’t.” He sees the effort it costs her to muster this level of assertion.

Photo credit: Hearst Owned
Photo credit: Hearst Owned

He stands up, walks around the desk, and half sits against it, just in front of her, so his leg is touching hers.

He rotates the printouts, there’s a list of tests results, but he can’t make sense of them. His brain shorts out when he cross references the data that they clearly show—he is a father-to-be—with the data he stores in his heart: He should not be a father.

Photo credit: Hearst Owned
Photo credit: Hearst Owned

Three years have passed since Ames stopped taking estrogen. He injected his last dose on Reese’s thirty-second birthday. Reese, his ex, still lives in New York. They haven’t spoken in two years, although he sent her a birthday card last year. He received no response. Throughout their relationship, she had always talked assuredly about how she’d have a kid by age thirty-five. As far as he knows, that hasn’t happened.

It is only now, three years after their breakup, that Ames is able to talk about Reese casually, calling her “my ex” and moving the conversation along without dwelling. Because in truth, he still misses her in a way that talking about her, thinking about her, remains dangerous to indulge in—as an alcoholic can’t think too much about how much she’d really like just one drink. When Ames thinks hard about Reese, he feels abandoned and grows angry, morose, and worst of all, ashamed. Because he has trouble explaining exactly what he still wants from her. For a while he thought it was romance, but his desire has lost any kind of sexual edge. Instead, he misses her in a familial way, in the way he missed and felt betrayed by his birth family when they’d cut off contact in the early years of his transition. He hadn’t understood how little sense he made as a person without Reese until after she began to detach from him, until the lack of her became so painful that he started to once again want the armor of masculinity and, somewhat haphazardly, detransitioned to fully suit up in it.

Photo credit: Hearst Owned
Photo credit: Hearst Owned

So now, three years have passed once again living in a testosterone-dependent body. Yet even without the shots or pills, Ames had believed that he’d been on androgen-blockers long enough to have atrophied his testicles into permanent sterility. That’s what he told Katrina when they hooked up the first time, the night of the agency’s annual Easter Keg Hunt. He told her that he was sterile—not that he’d been a transsexual woman with atrophied balls.

Photo credit: Hearst Owned
Photo credit: Hearst Owned

Ames sifts through the papers in the manila folder Katrina has brought. Beneath the printouts from her doctor are more printouts, from what look like Reddit forums. “What are these?”

She drops her hand to her stomach. It’s flat, no baby bump, but she’s already holding herself like a pregnant woman. “Well, I know you said you were sterile now. I was looking it up, and vasectomies are like ninety-nine percent effective, but I found some message boards, from men who still got women pregnant—”

He raises a hand. “Wait a sec. I never said I had a vasectomy.”

Photo credit: Hearst Owned
Photo credit: Hearst Owned

His office, like all the offices in this row, has only a glass wall to separate it from the hallway. He’s at the end of the row, beside an alcove into which is tucked the copy machine, water cooler, coffee maker, and a little kitchenette stocked with—due to a recent human resources campaign—only healthy organic snacks. Coworker hallway traffic remains constant throughout the day. He would not consider his office to be an ideal location to come out as a former transsexual.

“No? But we haven’t used condoms for months and this whole time I thought—what did you mean, then? Like low sperm count?”

“I had very low testosterone for a while.” He works to keep his voice casual, to resist the urge to lower it nervously, “And during that time, my testicles atrophied, and my doctor told me that none of my sperm would ever again be viable.”

When Ames first went in for an estrogen prescription, he saw a gentle, elderly endocrinologist who had taken on trans patients not because of any special interest in gender, but because trans patients were, in his words, “so happy to come see me for treatment.” The bulk of the doctor’s other patients suffered from hormonal disorders that made them emotionally volatile. After this endo discovered trans gratitude, he filled his appointments with as many transsexuals as he could find.

Ames, who had no history with trans therapy, and none of the paperwork that the hormone gatekeepers tended to require, had spent weeks before the appointment fretting that the endo would declare him “not really trans” and deny him hormones. Upon hearing that the doctor appreciated appreciation, Ames therefore gushed with gratitude, and duly walked out with a prescription for injectable estrogen. At his next appointment, the endo confided that, “Perhaps, last time, I prescribed somewhat hastily. I should have said more about sterility.” He told Ames that permanent sterility would set in within the first six months of a hormone replacement therapy regimen, and he gave Ames a recommendation for a sperm bank.

The next day, Ames mustered great bravery and called the sperm bank. He did not want to think about fatherhood, that final plume in the cap of manhood, but he forced himself to call anyway. A receptionist on the other end of the line quoted annual prices for sperm storage akin to his cable subscription, which he supposed was a reasonable cost for preserving the viability of his future genetic line. The receptionist put him on hold to make an appointment and as Vivaldi played, Ames pondered whether he ought to cancel his subscription to HBO in order to afford this sperm bank. He couldn’t fully comprehend the enormous weight of fatherhood and generational lineage, but he could easily comprehend how much he did not want to cancel HBO.

Without further consideration, he hung up. By the time his nipples began to ache that spring, he figured it was too late anyhow. The more his nipples hurt, the less he suffocated from the dread that came from thoughts of fatherhood. Now, with Katrina sitting in his office, for the first time in a long time, he had to think about the possibility of having sired a child. Shortly, very shortly, he was going to be called upon to make some decision, which would lead to other decisions, generations of decisions generated by this decision.

Photo credit: Hearst Owned
Photo credit: Hearst Owned

“Your testicles atrophied?” Katrina asks, baffled. “But they felt normal to me!”

“Yes,” he agrees. “I mean, they’re not huge or anything.”

“No, not huge,” Katrina affirms, and then adds encouragingly, “but fine!”

One the other side of his office’s glass wall, Karen from the art department pauses in the hallway to unwrap a granola bar. Ames becomes suddenly aware that Katrina and he are casually discussing his balls in the middle of a workday.

Photo credit: Hearst Owned
Photo credit: Hearst Owned

Coworkers had shared the office gossip about Katrina almost immediately after Ames had joined the agency: bad divorce. She’d left her husband a few months before he’d interviewed. She cried in her office, the coworkers told him, then told her secretary not to put her husband’s calls through. He had cheated on her, said one. No, no, she’d had a miscarriage. Incorrect, said another, they’d had money problems. The speculation took on a tone both lurid and compulsory—to have a boss is so commonplace that one rarely remarks on its strangeness, yet its structure compels a cult of personality around even the most quotidian of managers. As underlings, one needs to furnish an epistemology of how it came to pass that she has sway over one’s precious autonomy. Basic comprehension of capitalism’s arbitrary mechanics doesn’t satisfy—the heart demands a human explanation. Or at least that’s what Ames said to justify his initial crush.

Still, over that first year that Ames worked for Katrina, she kept her personal life just that. Instead of talking about her divorce, Ames intuited it. He noted the slight woundedness and exasperation that clung to her, the nearly teenage angst and willingness to test bad ideas that led to a certain oh-fuck-it-ness about her work and a straightforward honesty with her employees.

She developed a visceral suspicion of conventional narratives. The anodyne corporate clients who came to the agency occasionally saw one or two much darker and more experimental pitches for their online marketing campaigns slipped in amongthe conventional fare. Dadaism for the Clorox Bleach campaign. Cyborgian despair for Anker batteries. A series of radio ads for Purina in which Jon Lovitz catered to nineties nostalgia by reprising his cult role as critic Jay Sherman in order to give negative reviews to various puppies. It made her good at her work. Ames interpreted her tendency to re-narrativize as divorce-induced.

Well into their romance, after they’d already slept together numerous times, she brought up the subject of her divorce. They were in his bed, on their sides, facing each other, he propped up on an elbow, she with her face resting on one of his forest green pillowcases, her glossy brown hair stepping down from head to pillow to bed. The bedside light shining behind her illuminated the outer crescents of her face—he still instinctively noticed the curve of a brow.

Photo credit: Hearst Owned
Photo credit: Hearst Owned

“I know that people in the office probably told you about the miscarriage,” she said. “I stupidly talked about it with a few people. Telling Abby anything is a mistake.” He laughed, because, yeah, Abby was a gossip.

“When you get a divorce,” she said after a moment, “everyone expects you to provide a story to justify it. Every woman I’ve ever met who has had a divorce has a story to explain herself. But in real life the story and actual reasons for the divorce diverge. In reality, everything is more ambivalent. My own reasons are closer to a tone than a series of causes and effects. But when I talk about it, I know people want a cause and effect, a clear why.”

“All right,” Ames said. “So what’s the tone of your divorce?”

“I like to call it the Ennui of Heterosexuality.”

“I see. Do you still suffer from the ennui of heterosexuality?” Ames asked, gesturing grandly at their postcoital bedroom tableau.

“I suffered from a miscarriage,” she replied defiantly, puncturing his irony.

Ames quickly apologized.

Katrina shifted a pillow, and when she turned back to Ames, her face was . . . amused? “See, you proved my point. When I said ‘ennui of heterosexuality,’ you challenged me, but when I said ‘miscarriage,’ you immediately apologized. That’s why the miscarriage is the official story of my divorce. No one ever challenges it. Miscarriages are private, and so my miscarriage is a clean get-out-free card. It makes for a divorce in which Danny was blameless—grief where you lose something you can’t quite name. People assume that mourning drove a sad wedge between a couple—no one’s fault. Everything is assumed. No one ever asks how I actually felt about the miscarriage.”

“How did you feel about the miscarriage?” Ames asked.

“I felt relief.”

“Relief?”

“Yes. I was relieved. Which made me feel like a psychopath. I read all these articles in women’s magazines about miscarriages, and they all said that I would feel grief and guilt. They assured me that it wasn’t my fault: that it wasn’t because of that glass of wine I had once, or that Italian sub full of processed meat. But I never thought it was my fault. My own guilt came from not having guilt. After a while of feeling that way, I began to ask why. Why should I feel relieved? It caused me to look harder at my marriage. I was relieved because of something I didn’t want to admit: I didn’t want to be with Danny anymore and if we had a kid together I would have to be. Danny was a good boyfriend to have when I was younger, when we were in college. Like, in the same way that a Saint Bernard would be a good dog to have if you were lost in the mountains. A big amiable body that a girl could shelter behind. Danny was an idea I inherited, maybe from growing up in Vermont, of what a man was supposed to be. We looked good together; like, early on I knew any photo for our wedding announcement was going to look like it came from a magazine. So when he proposed, I accepted, even though we had been dating two years, and I don’t think that sex ever lasted longer than fifteen minutes, including foreplay, and despite the fact that by the three-month point in our relationship, I had somehow already ended up doing his laundry.”

Ames listened. She had once told him that she liked how he didn’t seem to feel a need to speak or give advice when she was working through a thought out loud.

Photo credit: Hearst Owned
Photo credit: Hearst Owned

Katrina removed her earrings and set them on the nightstand. “Danny and I went to Dartmouth with this couple—Pete and Lia. When they moved to New York from Seattle, they did this thing where they invited other married couples over to watch Cheers and eat pie. The couples were the kind of people who liked rock climbing and called themselves foodies. Everyone but me was very white. Watching Cheers was part of their weird hipster irony. We all snorted at the eighties-era sexual politics like we were better than that, like we’d really come so far since then. Pussy-hound Sam Malone and shrill, wannabe-feminist-but-secretly-dick-crazed what’s her name? Oh! I can’t remember what her name was.”

“Diane,” said Ames.

“Yeah, Diane. I just remember this one night, after I lost the baby, all the men, once the show started, sort of unfurled themselves around their wives, and each wife settled into her respective husband’s arms contentedly. These bonded animal pairs. And suddenly they all looked like apes grooming each other. I was revolted. And Danny, you could see that he was leaning back on the sectional, opening his long arms so that I would place myself in them like all the other good wives. But I wouldn’t do it. I sat stiffly next to him on the couch with a foot of space between us. Our hosts put on Cheers, and we watched men and women say horrible things to each other and we laughed like that wasn’t what we also did. Or do.”

“Yeah,” Ames said, nodding.

“All through it,” Katrina went on, “Danny kept sneaking me this hurt expression. I’m sure he didn’t know what was worse: what I thought or what all our friends thought. But I didn’t care. There was nothing that could ever have induced me to care about his hurt feelings just then. At that moment I blamed him for ruining me. For making me a psychopath. My thoughts were focused on him like I was psychically stabbing him with them. Over and over I thought the words, If you didn’t annoy me, I wouldn’t be glad to have lost the baby.

“I don’t think it was fair or even logical, but I understood that I had felt that way for a long time. I had never even dared to think it in words. Just something about the smugness of that situation released it, of having to be his pet lap ape, while pretending we were evolved.”

Photo credit: Hearst Owned
Photo credit: Hearst Owned

Katrina cut off her own story with a mirthless laugh. “Also, I think it was around then that I found his secret Asian porn collection.”

“He had a secret Asian porn collection?”

“A bunch on his computer and some DVDs titled Anal Asians or something.”

“I dunno,” Ames said. “If I were an Asian woman, and my husband had a collection of Asian porn, maybe I’d be flattered. At least it means he’s attracted to me.”

“No,” she said. “You don’t get it. It means you begin to entertain creeping suspicions that after all you’ve been through together, years of learning to be adults together, the man who you married might only be with you because he fetishizes Asians—even though I have felt not quite Asian enough my whole life. He couldn’t even fetishize me accurately.”

“What’s that kind of chaser called?” Ames asked.

“That kind of what?”

He pulled the covers around him, suddenly cold. He had the sense of having wandered out blindly in a winter storm to discover that he’d stumbled onto a thinly frozen lake. He had only ever encountered chasers in one context. “Like, uh, a tranny chaser. What’s an Asian chaser called?”

She appraised him with a strange look. “A rice chaser,” she said flatly. “In Vermont, growing up, the kids who saw my dad with my mom—their favorite way to bully me was by saying my dad had yellow fever.”

Ames saw suddenly that she thought he was asking about himself. That she thought he wanted to know the slur for what having slept with her made him. He stifled an overwhelming urge to protest in horror. To tell her: God, no, I would never think having sex with a certain person could mark me as something—I just really do get what it’s like to be fetishized. I get what it’s like to have someone think that his desire for me degrades or lowers him.

But even at that moment, such an admission seemed too risky. What if coming out as a former transsexual meant never getting into bed with her again? What if it meant the end of their professional relationship? No, better to wait for the opportune moment.

Now and again, Ames scrutinized Katrina, and imagined what it would be like to tell her. How she would react. When he was alone, he told himself that maybe, maybe, she’d even be into it. That maybe the deepest reason for her divorce from Danny had been sexual. That while not exactly queer—she wasn’t totally into the married straight life either.

Photo credit: Hearst Owned
Photo credit: Hearst Owned

For real, she was a freak in bed. Their sex was way wilder than he had imagined in his crush stage. Their first hookup had been drunken, and involved pretty typical hetero dynamics. Their second hookup—which occurred dead sober, midday a week later after she took a day to “work from home” and told him, as her employee, to do the same—had been decidedly bent.

In her kitchen, she had opened her fridge and leaned into it. The shape of her from behind, along with the thick sexual tension, sunk him to his knees and he half kissed, half nuzzled her jean-clad ass. She looked back from the fridge, with an expression of near concern, at the same time she reached behind her and grabbed a handful of his hair.

“Are you sure you’re okay with this?” she asked. “If the genders were reversed, and some man had told his female employee to take a day off of work and come over I’d be appalled.”

She had her fingers entwined in his hair even as she asked, so he couldn’t pull back his head, and ended up responding to her ass, his mouth speaking an inch from her right ass cheek as if it were a microphone.

“Trust me, I love it,” he told her ass. “I’m in heaven. I’ve always had a thing for bossy women. Getting with my actual boss is like secret-hotness level unlocked. You have consent or whatever, just please let me keep my face here.”

“Should I be more of your boss about this, then?”

He looked up at her, unable to believe his luck. To find a toppy femme who was already literally in charge of him? Lotto odds. “Yes,” he said. “Please.”

“Fine.” She laughed, and turned to face him, so that his nose was level with her crotch. “Make me a PowerPoint presentation about why I should let you stay down there with your face in my pussy.” He closed his eyes, inhaled happily; a dawning awareness that this play turned her on as much as it did him chiseled loose a layer of the calcification that had begun to encrust his libido, and by extension, his heart, and by extension, his life.

Photo credit: Hearst Owned
Photo credit: Hearst Owned

The next day she sent him an email while they were both at the office. Still waiting on that PowerPoint deck we discussed. When can I expect it to be delivered?

He wasn’t sure whether to respond openly. Here he was, with all his secret queer credentials, and this divorced straight woman had completely wrong-footed him. Which, of course, was so insanely hot that he briefly considered finding an out-of-the-way bathroom in which to jerk off. LOL, he responded weakly.

No, I’m serious. I’ll expect you to present your slides to me by close of day Tuesday. If you’re late, I’ll make you present them in a conference room. Your choice.

This thing he had with Katrina: their power games, the thrill of sneaking around at the office and the explicitness of their flirting—it had all come together to make for really good sex. In his previous life, Ames had transitioned to live as a woman before he had ever had really good sex, and he wasn’t sure that post-detransition, he’d ever have truly good sex again. Every other dalliance he’d attempted as a heterosexual man had disconnected his body and mind, fostering an inability to display real excitement or joy even as he performed all the necessary acts, until eventually, his partner took that disconnect as indifference and let go of him. When that happened he’d drift away without effort, like in shipwreck movies, that ubiquitous shot when the lover’s body floats slowly down into the oceanic void. But not Katrina; for Katrina and her bossy games, he was fully here, electrified, daydreaming about it even when they were apart. Amazingly, his desire hadn’t faded over the whole of the five months they have been together. If anything it had grown, gotten wild: lush unruly green life that overran the tidily landscaped paths and garden beds of proper behavior.

Photo credit: Hearst Owned
Photo credit: Hearst Owned

He suspected that, although Katrina was too proud to openly say so, they had been having a type of sex that she had long craved but never before known to ask for. That this was the first time in her life that she was experiencing the mind-scrambling effects of good sex—the kind of sex where you travel across the country for just a couple hours together, after which you talk about buying property, or moving in together, or just generally entwining lives in a way logistically unjustified by a short period of intimacy. In short, the sex that Katrina and he were having was in the category that meant that when a pregnancy test comes up positive—keeping the baby is very much an option.

Except for two caveats: first, she didn’t know that he was once a transsexual, and second, after all his mental gymnastics, after all the lessons of transition and detransition, fatherhood remained the one affront to his gender that he still couldn’t stomach without a creeping sense of horror. To become a father by his own body, as his father was to him, and his father before him, and on and on, would sentence him to a lifetime of grappling with that horror.

God, he’d hidden so much of his past from her, a past murky, half-spoken, all of it covered by the pretext that he was trying to protect their relationship from the office. It tired Ames, despite erasure having become a second nature mode of dealing with his past.

In his office now, Katrina scoots forward in her chair and takes his hand. “Ames, help me,” she says softly. “What do you want to do? I’m not asking you to decide anything for me. I surprised myself by finding out I’m excited. I feel vulnerable saying that, so please, give me some sense of what this means for you.”

Photo credit: Hearst Owned
Photo credit: Hearst Owned

She touches her stomach again. The baby-yet-not-yet-a-baby beneath her hand. He remembers hearing that a fetal pulse is detectable at four weeks. He remembers that she has miscarried before. The quiet pain of that. It hurts to think about what she might be going through. “You told me you were sterile and now I’m pregnant,” she says. “Now the only thing you have to tell me after my doctor’s confirmation—that you asked for—is that your testicles are atrophied? This is not how most men react to finding out they are a potential father.”

Father. Spoken from the mother. She lets go of his hand, and picks up her manila folder, then examines the papers herself now, avoiding eye contact as she goes on.

“This is definitely not how I’d expect you to act if you truly believed it wasn’t possible. Happiness, fear, joy, anger, whatever. But your level of surprise is like if we got dinner reservations somewhere you thought you couldn’t get on short notice. Can you explain to me what is happening in your head?”

Ames inhales. Waits. Exhales now. She’s waiting. Expecting him to say something, do something. That’s who he is now, he reminds himself, someone who makes decisions, who doesn’t let life just act upon him. Wasn’t that the big lesson of transition, of detransition? That you’ll never know all the angles, that delay is a form of hiding from reality. That you just figure out what you want and do it? And maybe, if you don’t know what you want, you just do something anyway, and everything will change, and then maybe that will reveal what you really want.

So do something.

Photo credit: Hearst Owned
Photo credit: Hearst Owned

And maybe he couldn’t have picked a better spot than his office to tell her—he’d always thought it would happen over dinner at some place where they’d be stuck discussing it. But in view of the office kitchenette? At work? This is the one place where she couldn’t freak out, where she’d have to at least feign chillness.

His silence draws out. Finally, Katrina makes a gesture with her hand, flipping up her palm like, What?

Just say it.

So he does. “I was told that I was sterile by the doctor who gave me estrogen. I injected estrogen and took testosterone-blockers for about six years, when I lived as a transsexual woman. He told me I’d be permanently sterile after six months. So, like, given my past as a woman, fatherhood is a lot for me to handle emotionally.”

“I’m sorry, you lived as a what?” Expression drains from her face.

“I was a transsexual woman. That’s why I thought I was sterile.” He reaches out to her shoulder, to steady her. He’s about to ask if he can tell her everything.

A quick jerk of her arm out from under his touch, and her file of vasectomy reports and the pregnancy test flies at his face. Instinct bobs him a quick step to the side. The manila folder glances against his shoulder, opens, and printouts scatter.

He wants to soothe her, to try to touch her again—but she nimbly hops to her feet. “I can’t believe this. I feel, God, I feel—” She can’t seem to speak, and instead brings her hands to her collarbone as if to push out the words that have gotten caught. “Deceived! You deceived me. Why would you do this to me?”

He has enough experience with coming out to know that insisting he wasn’t doing anything to her would only escalate the moment. Instead, he fights an impulse to stoop and gather the printouts back into their folder. The Reddit forum printouts now seem more glaring, more deviant than if she had tossed all five months’ worth of their selfies and sexts. Still, he doesn’t move. She’s standing with one shoulder forward now, like a boxer, and although it’d be completely out of character, he’s not sure that if he leans down, she won’t pop him in the eye.

He doesn’t do well with this type of conflict. He avoids it, less afraid of an adversary than afraid of what might come out of him, what kind of anger or rage or harsh words might escape him if he dials into the frequency of the affront to let inner voices take clarity from the hiss of static.

Photo credit: Hearst Owned
Photo credit: Hearst Owned

In the past, this would be the moment when muzzles himself and releases Katrina to drift away from him, until the two of them barely recognize each other in the void. It will be painful this time, and logistically complicated. Probably he’ll need a new job. A new lifestyle. But he’s done it before. Started over. Become someone else. He knows how to start over better than he knows how to intervene, to reach out to Katrina to hold her tight. Building a whole new life seems less exhausting than the work it would take to tell her no, no I have not deceived you. Haven’t I revealed myself? Aren’t you the one disappointing me? At that vague awareness of disappointment, and discouragement with himself, comes actual sadness, a memory of loss, and, without even meaning to, he is opening his mouth to catch hold of her.

Just as he moves to speak, Katrina startles and whirls.

Josh, from the biz dev department, stares at them through the glass partition. When Katrina catches him gawking, he leans toward the kitchenette and snatches an apple from the wire basket hanging by the door. But he can’t help himself, and turns back to regard the office diorama through the glass. He gives Ames a quick yikes, bro face. Katrina stares at Josh. She’s visibly upset, her in-control-boss demeanor still largely disassembled.

“Hello, Josh,” Katrina says curtly through the glass. Josh is so enthralled by the scene that he doesn’t seem to notice a break of the fourth wall. Decisively, she takes two steps, ignoring the scattered printouts, and opens the door. From the hallway, she spins and glares at Ames. “Can you please pick up that file I dropped”—she points at the papers scattered on the floor—“and bring it by my office in about an hour? I’m late for a call right now. But we can discuss this further then.”

“Of course,” Ames says. “Can’t wait.”

Adapted from the book DETRANSITION, BABY by Torrey Peters. Copyright © 2020 by Torrey Peters. Published by One Word, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.

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