The white body I wear is mine, but ill-fitting and not me. A phantom body that is also mine and is me rides within like a ghost, teasing my brain with each breath, each step, each flutter of my heart when someone catches my eye. The real body is twitchy and clumsy angular muscle, while the phantom is smooth and graceful curves.
As a result, my gait is prone to trips and stumbles, I often stub my toes and fingers, bump my head, and no one can rely on me for anything requiring physical coordination. Worse, when I’m aroused, my blood vessels dilate and swell flesh in places that don’t map to where my brain expects, leaving me confused and miserably aroused.
When I wear this body, I can get the phantom to settle and solidify into my bones. When it does, it feels like a cozy bathrobe hugging me on a lazy weekend morning. This usually happens when I’m in the twilight mist of consciousness before sleep or with a lover I feel safe with. In those moments I feel transported to another dimension where friction and gravity is reduced and I don’t have to fight my body to do what I want it to do.
But here on the space elevator down to Earth, I tripped on the way back to my seat from the single-stalled bathroom in the small, circular pod and didn’t even have a chance to strap myself in after sitting down before having a blaster shoved into my face. So you can imagine my surprise when the dump of adrenaline that hit my system didn’t ignite my berserker cells into a fast-twitch, spasmodic frenzy and the phantom took over and switched my nervous system into passive, full-spectrum analysis.
Time seemed to slow down. My blood ran cold. I heard every breath, every creak of materials, every whistle of thin atmosphere against the windows of the pod. I smelt the terrifying fear of the brown-skinned family of two moms with their baby riding down in the pod with us. Their nursing infant was content, but I felt their parents’ defensive urges as overlapping force fields.
For myself, I felt a massive, inevitable glacier-like river of frozen rage within me manifest and ready to crack, calf, and crush this motherfucker. I was done with the bullshit like this I’d endured my whole life when I’d lived on this planet. Cool as ice, I repeated the question.
“What’d you call me?”
The blaster in the hand of my assailant, a middle-aged white salaryman dressed in khakis and wearing a fleece jacked embroidered with a corporate religious logo with a cross, wavered.
“I said you move like a faggot, you faggot missionary. I should shoot your faggity ass!”
The blaster moved closer to my nose.
I sensed I hadn’t responded the way he expected because his previous condescending tone switched to an angry one. His body knew what his mind didn’t yet: he’d already lost. He only knew something had shifted in the power dynamic and was now trying to bluster his way out of it. It also made him more dangerous.
I was less worried about myself than the family with us. If this bigoted dumbshit actually shot me, it would increase the chances he’d turn the weapon on them in his bloodlust. The Venn diagram of people who don’t like people like me and people who are racist is almost a circle and that made them targets, too.
I mentally sighed. We still had an hour or so to go before we landed. I knew the authorities and others were watching the feed but there was nothing anybody could do to help until we were on the ground. I’d have to get him to lower the weapon with words.
“Would that make you happy?” I asked him.
“Damn right it would!”
“You’re pedophilic abominations!”
That canard was so old and tired, I pretended I didn’t hear it and let it sleep on the floor. Unwinding that out of his brain was next to hopeless, so I switched gears to distract him.
“I’m going to put on my harness very slowly now.” He glared at me but didn’t say anything. With deliberate movements, I wiggled and snapped into the five-point harness.
With a sneer, he tried to insult me. “You look like a man but move like a woman.”
I rolled my eyes. “Like I can control that in this body.”
I laughed. The infant, finished nursing, burped and the mom moved to swaddle them close to her body in the sling she wore around her body.
My laugh angered him and the blaster wobbled around as he spoke. “It’s weak men like you that have led to the degeneracy happening on orbital stations and off-world. Here on Earth, we have two genders. Men are men and women are women and they stay that way from the moment they are conceived.”
Growing up on Earth, I’d heard these dogmatic talking points repeated in every corporate theocratic jurisdiction. Scientific facts contradicting faith were rejected out of hand or labeled as demonic. For this reason, queer, trans, and intersex youth born on Earth grew up closeted and emigrated off-planet when they could afford it, like I had.
It was my turn to be angry. “That provincial view is exactly why a quarter of your children flee and,” I nodded towards the women, “you have to import technology and workers. In my world, there is no one way to be human and the only thing we promise is that every person gets to decide who they are and how to live their lives. We are thriving and happy. Your society is collapsing into a moral vacuum of ignorance and anger, and you’d rather sacrifice your own children than admit to being wrong. You control the whole planet, and yet it’s not enough because you need us to survive, and that’s what makes you angry and scared because it forces you to confront how control is not enough.”
Enraged by my words, he pistol whipped me across the forehead with the blaster and I felt blood trickling.
“No! You godless instruments of Satan tempt our children with a false faith! I should blow your fucking head off!” I felt some of his spit land on my face.
I felt the energy of the women shift and glanced at them. The baby was securely stowed in the sling and being held tightly. Both women’s fear had dissolved to anger and both were staring intensely at me. One of them had the console in the armrest next to them open and she motioned like she was going to press something inside while the other pointed at the altimeter.
It took me a second to comprehend, but when I did, I relaxed and smiled.
“What the fuck are you smiling at!” he shouted.
I brought my hands up and gripped my harness and looked at the women. “Silence equals death.”
They both smiled and nodded at me. “Silence equals death,” they replied.
Several things happened in quick succession. The man turned to look at them and said, “What?” The woman pushed the emergency button. The pod exploded up and away from the cable, pressing me back into my seat. The man was flung across the floor and knocked unconscious against the bathroom wall while the blaster clattered against the baseboard. The baby woke up screaming. The acceleration slowed, we experienced a moment of weightlessness and as we started to drop, the drogue chute charges fired. There was a sickening moment before the parachute deployed when it felt like we would plunge to the ground, and then we were drifting safely down in the high-altitude winds.
I unbuckled to collect the blaster and sat down next to the women while keeping an eye on the man in case he stirred. Once the baby calmed, I expressed my gratitude to the women and we chatted about what had brought us to Earth.Besides still being alive, I’d made two new fast friends. This incident was also going to be worldwide news, which would afford me a certain measure of fame and the protection that comes with it. The best news was that that meant that I’d be able to change into my more comfortable body for the rest of my trip to find and help queer youth off-planet, and that made me really happy.