This is an excerpt from REFUSE the debut novel/memoir by Elliott Deline. Mark Simpson has praised the book, saying:
‘All writers are born in the wrong body, but it happens to be the reader’s good fortune that Elliott DeLine was literally born in the wrong body…Funny, cynical, tough, vulnerable, honest, deluded, sagacious, self-loving and self-loathing, Refuse is irresistible.’
God how sex implores you,
To let yourself lose yourself
-Morrissey, The Smiths: Stretch Out And Wait
Dean went back to his room around noon to find Colin sitting at his computer in the dark, still in his plaid pajama pants. Craig had packed up and returned to Brooklyn.
“Hey,” Colin said turning around as Dean locked the door. His eyes were red and his face was puffy. He’d clearly been crying. “Maggie and I talked,” he said. “She told me what happened.”
Dean froze. “At the library?”
“No. About kissing you, when I was away.”
“I’m really sorry Colin,” Dean said, wincing. “I am such an awful friend. Seriously, I understand if you want me to move out. I can start packing right away.”
“No!” Colin said. “No, Dean, relax. I mean, sure, I’m upset, but I’m also a little relieved. Things weren’t working out. And Maggie doesn’t like you like that or anything. She was just drunk, she says, and I believe her. Still, she and I are through. It’s for the best. I’m so over it.” His blood-shot eyes and runny nose said otherwise.
Dean didn’t move. “I’m still awful for not telling you.” He looked at his feet, clinging tightly to his ratty book.
“Dean, seriously, it’s okay,” Colin said. “I don’t blame you at all. You didn’t ask her to come on to you. I realize you were in an awkward situation, and I’m not mad. I swear.”
Dean sighed, cautiously taking a seat on his bed. “Well, I still feel bad. But I’m glad it’s out in the open. I felt so guilty these past weeks.”
“You shouldn’t have,” Colin said, kicking off his slippers and revealing small, porcelain feet. “I know you don’t like her like that. I mean, I was mad at first, but now I just hate Maggie. She’s a fucking tranny chaser.”
“Mm,” Dean said, frowning.
“So yeah, I’m single,” Colin continued, moving to his bed. “I haven’t been in years. I don’t even know what to do with myself.” He let out a nervous laugh, leaning back against a pillow. “Honestly, I’ve been feeling pretty depressed. I might go to this trans support group back home. It usually helps me to vent.”
“Mm,” Dean was tracing the embroidery on his pillow case with his pointer finger.
“So I was thinking I’d go home next weekend,” Colin said. “And I mean, you’re welcome to come with.”
Dean held his breath for several seconds, thinking. “Yeah, I’d go,” he said, attempting to sound indifferent.
“Awesome!” Colin said. “My parents are vacationing, but I should let them know. I’ll email them right now actually.”
Dean exhaled and then stared some more at the embroidery, biting his lip. Colin went back to his computer.
“I used to go to a support group in Syracuse,” Dean said.
Colin turned away from his computer again, surprised. Dean never spoke of his past. “Really?” he said. “Did you like it there?”
“No,” Dean said.
Colin nodded, waiting for him to continue. When he didn’t, he turned back to his computer.
“I only went a handful of times,” Dean said a half-minute later.
Colin turned back. “Yeah? Anything interesting ever happen.”
Dean grinned mischievously at his pillow. “Yes.” He inflected, so it almost sounded like a question.
“Yeah? Wanna tell me about it?” Colin took a gentle tone, swerving and just missing condescension.
Dean itched his hair with both hand like a beast, scattering dandruff. He was very caffeinated and wanted nothing more than to tell a long story. He looked up from his pillow, his eyes wild, as if brought back from the dead.
“Well, it was me, this older transgender fellow named William, this younger guy named Ethan, and… two transgender women, one named Melissa and… the other woman’s name escapes me. But they were both in their twenties at the time, and Melissa and Ethan had also brought their girlfriends with them. That was the usual crowd I guess. So we were all sitting in this room with this stupid rainbow mural on the wall. Oh God, don’t get me started! I was about eighteen, definitely the youngest person there. We were introducing ourselves when there was a knock at the door.” Dean knocked on the bed-stand, supplying a redundant illustration. “William thought it was the pizza man, who had actually been giving us trouble and acting weird. Even though it was super secretive, we suspected he knew what our meetings were about. In fact, it was so secretive you had to actually call this number to find out where the meetings were located. Syracuse is weird. But anyway, William answers the door and in walks this guy with a leather jacket and a pompadour, but in a cool, rockabilly way that wasn’t sleazy. I think he was Hispanic. He was really handsome, like a model. He was probably in his late thirties. In any case, most people would say he was too old to dress like that, but he pulled it off confidently.” Dean narrowed his eyes, as if daring Colin to challenge this. Colin didn’t.
Dean continued. “So he sat down on a bean bag looking rather out of place. He introduced himself as Hunter and shook all our hands. He had a really big hand. He smiled at me and winked. I think it was because I had this hairstyle. Maybe he was a creep, I don’t know. Everyone else introduced themselves, and then William told Hunter to tell us a bit about himself. Hunter said he was a car mechanic, owned a motorcycle, and recently adopted a border collie. He liked to collect and pin dead butterflies, and really loved Elvis. Everyone nodded politely, as they clearly were expecting him to talk about his transition like everyone else. Someone asked if he preferred male pronouns and he said, Sure.
Melissa then went on to talk about how she had scheduled her vaginoplasty with some surgeon in San Francisco. Hunter waited until she finished talking and then said that was where he went.
Melissa told him that was unlikely because the doctor only did male-to-female surgeries. Hunter said that was what he got.
Everyone looked confused, and someone asked if he was a transgender woman. He said no, that he identified as a transgender man, but that he was born in a male body. I remember William and Ethan’s eyes nearly popped out of their heads. Hunter went on to explain he never felt comfortable in his body and that he hated his genitalia. He had wondered if he wanted to be a woman, but that wasn’t it. He felt like a man, he just didn’t want his genitalia. He said he read about transgender men in a book, and he related to them instantly. He said he wanted more than anything to be a part of their community. He said everything suddenly made sense; he was a man who was a transgender-man inside. So he had surgery to get female parts and started injecting testosterone, since his body could no longer produce it naturally. He said he finally felt like himself.
So of course everyone just stared, dumbfounded. Someone asked what kind of surgeon would let him do that. And Hunter repeated that it was the same surgeon Melissa mentioned, apparently not realizing it was a rhetorical question. No one spoke for a long time.
Finally Ethan said that he though that was incredibly offensive. Hunter said he didn’t understand. Ethan asked how he could mutilate his body like that. Doesn’t he know that trans men would give anything to have what he had? How could he be so ungrateful? What did he mean he felt like a trans man on the inside? Didn’t he realize how absurd that sounds? He made the rest of us look like jokes, Ethan said.
William said he agreed. He said Hunter could do what he chose with his body, because it was a free country, but that maybe he should have seen a therapist instead and worked out his issues. How did he know he wouldn’t end up regretting this?
The woman who wasn’t Michelle added that Hunter could never truly be a part of the community, because he hadn’t had the same experiences as transgender men. How could he ever relate? He was socialized as a man, grew up a man…How could he know how hard it was for these men who had been denied that?
And then Hunter looked around the room, looking amused. Finally he said that he made it all up, that he didn’t have a vaginoplasty. But he said he thought he should go, and it was nice meeting everyone.
And he just got up and left without saying another word. We heard his motorcycle rev outside. It was incredible. Just like a movie.”
Colin was sitting with his mouth open. “Wow! What did everyone else do?”
“Well, we sat in silence for awhile. Then, at almost the same moment, Melissa, her girlfriend and I got up and left. What else could we do?”
“Jesus! That’s so weird. Did you ever find out what he really was?”
“No, I never saw him again.”
“Wow,” Colin said again. “Why would he do that?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, what was the point? Seems kind of stupid, doesn’t it? Was he just trying to get a rise out of people?”
Dean stared at Colin. How many nights had he laid awake thinking about Hunter? How could he put into words the myriad of emotions that evening stirred in him? He felt like he grasped something for the first time that he didn’t want to accept: maybe Colin didn’t want to understand those kinds of emotions. And if not Colin, then who did? He felt a pang of loneliness, as if he were the last remaining member of an endangered species.
He didn’t have to wonder if Colin would have walked out of the room.
“Yeah, I guess it was just to get a rise out of people,” Dean said. “I’m going to go take a shower.”