Maybe Alex really is a boy. I've never seen him naked. Those could be breast forms under his shirt, that Michelle talked him out of binding. I watch him run his fingers up the back of Richard's neck.
"What about a boy with a pet dinosaur," Alex says. We're still talking about the book. "The dinosaur could be gay, and they could ride around town cruising for hot dinosaur loving, and the other dinosaurs would be all like 'Can I pet your little boy? He's so precious. Does he bite? I had a little boy just like this when I was a kid.' And then the dinosaur gets the other dinosaur's number." He grins. "Little kids are a total dino magnet," he says, and even in the near dark of the room I can see that Richard is smiling at him.
Michelle and I are sitting on the couch, and Richard and Alex are on the floor in front of us. I like Michelle's apartment. It's cozy without being too cute. Nothing is too clean, or too careful, but nothing's disgusting, either. It's comfortable.
"I don't know," Michelle says. "Can I pet your little kid? That sounds kind of sketchy. We don't have to be politically correct, but we should probably avoid implications of pedophilia. We want a positive message. What was wrong with the girl who wants to be a gay astronaut? We could have a book where she goes to class, and everyone has to say what they want to be. Her classmates are all saying things like 'I want to be a fireman,' or 'I want to be the first female president,' or 'I want to be a soldier,' and then she goes up and says 'I want to be the first lesbian astronaut to get married in space!'
Richard's cell rings, and he hands it to me. It's Chris.
"Hey," I say, and motion for them to keep talking. I lock myself in the bathroom with the kitty litter and a shelf full of pills. "Did you send the TV back already?" I lift up one of the pill bottles. I have no idea what the drug is. Something to do with girl parts, probably. "It was a nice TV," I say, and then I duck my head to the sink and take a sip of water. "I hope you didn't throw it away."
"I talked him into keeping it," Chris says. "He wanted to call the cops on you. Is that water running?" I wipe my mouth and shake my head, even though he can't see me.
"Where's the boyfriend now?" I say. I pick another bottle off the shelf. Oxycocet. Painkillers. I think about pocketing a few, but decide against it. Anyway, if I ask, she'll probably share.
"At work." There's a pause. "Are you busy? Do you want to come over?" I can hear Richard and Alex and Michelle all laughing in the living room, and when I open the door to peek, Richard is making ridiculous, grandiose arm gestures. I don't even need to think about the decision.
"I'm busy," I say. "And anyway I'd rather not have to sneak out before the boyfriend comes home."
"What, you want to stay and cuddle all night?" his voice is sharp. "You've known all along what the situation was. I don't need you pulling shit like you pulled today. If I want to tell him I'm fucking someone else, I'll tell him. It's not your place." And after I hang up, I feel stupid. It used to be exciting to be the other man. Now I just feel like I'm taking a passive role in the reinforcement of traditional monogamous beliefs. What would monogamy be if there wasn't something to compare it to?
I call Mrs. Hubert, and this time she answers.
"Monogamy is defined by what it is not, just as much as by what it is," I say, "We couldn't have monogamy without infidelity the same as we couldn't have sad without happy, or down without up. By fucking around in secret, within a relationship defined as monogamous, aren't I just playing the devil in monogamy's Sunday school pageant?"
I'm saying all this to the dial tone.
Back at the group, they're still talking about ideas for the book. Now Richard's got one.
"We could have a kid who just changes gender at random," Richard says. "He wakes up and he's a girl all of a sudden. He doesn't feel any different on the inside, but on the outside he's all pig-tails and rosy cheeks. His mom and dad insist that he's always been a girl. His toys are all replaced by dolls and tea sets." I sit down next to Michelle again.
What if I woke up tomorrow and I was a girl? How would that be any different? I mean, I'd have to throw out all of my clothes, for one, and some day next month there would be a terrifying trip to the bathroom. I wonder if those trips get less terrifying. Would it be worth it, having to have breasts, so that I could be fucked by two men at once? Richard is looking at me, and I smile.
"And maybe he doesn't understand what it means to be a girl," I say. "That's a good idea. He has to pee sitting down. He's not allowed in the boy's washroom anymore. People give him funny looks when he buys baseball cards." Do people still buy baseball cards? I'm trying not to think about Chris' body.
"And all his clothes are gone." Alex says, getting into it. "He has to dress up like an idiot." I can already picture the cartoons that go along with the story, a little girl dressed in girl clothes, looking sour. Getting more and more frustrated as the book progresses.
Richard nods. "But then he starts having fun. He likes how nice his friends smell, now. His new girl friends. He realizes that he likes dolls just as much as action figures. He even starts to get a crush on a boy in his class. The boy gives him a valentine, and he blushes. And just when he gets used to being a girl," he says. "Just when he's accepted his fate, he wakes up and he's a boy again."
"Only now he doesn't feel like a boy anymore, either!" Alex says. "His friends seem dirty and rude, and he feels weird wearing a pair of pants instead of a skirt. He gives a love note to that boy from school. His mom comes in and finds him trying on her heels."
Richard is writing this all down, and then smiles. "Johnny's a girl, sometimes," he says, and the decision is already made. Johnny's a girl, sometimes. I lean back and look over at Michelle. I feel like we're a band, recording an album so personal that we'll eventually refuse to play any of the songs in concert.
"We should celebrate," I say.
"We should get fucking drunk" I say, "and go break into something." And we do.
Michelle is standing four feet away, keeping watch at the corner of the school. Alex and Richard are in the car, making out. I'm trying to hold a bottle of whiskey with the same hand I've got the pick in. It's complicated, but everything's complicated these days.
"Picking locks is a lot like being queer," I say. I'm on my knees in front of the door. "Taking the world as you see it, and not how you're told to see it. There's no real difference between turning the knob and picking the lock." I don't intend for "turning the knob" to sound like a euphemism for being gay, but I kind of like the way it sounds. "Both are series of mechanical actions by which you gain access to the room beyond."
Michelle runs her hand through her hair, which is the signal that someone is coming, and I slide the tools out of the lock and into my pocket. She grabs me hard by the elbow and kisses me. We're making out as the man comes around the corner, and I break off to smile and nod and offer him a drink from the whiskey. "Sorry," he says. He doesn't give us a second look. There's nothing to see. We're just a couple of kids out for an evening of healthy heterosexual living.
"I love that," I say, when he's gone. The whiskey burns going down, and I feel like it's going to burn right through my body and splash to the ground beneath me. "We're using his preconceived notions of what's sexually normal to create a sense of the everyday about our actions!" Michelle laughs at me.
"We were pretending to make out," she says.
I shove the whiskey into her hands and bend down again and select a different pick. Women. After a minute, the lock turns, and I pull the door open and usher Michelle into the school. It takes less than a second before we're standing in the dark. This is our trial run. It'll be quicker when we're sober.
"Listen," I say as we sneak along the row of lockers to the first classroom. "The education of children is too important to leave in the hands of their parents. Kids aren't old enough to decide what to read for themselves, but should the parents really get to choose for them? I mean, children are the future, and the more of them who grow up free of bigotry, the more of them who are exposed to queer concepts and ideas, the better."
"You sound like a radio commercial," Michelle says. The bottle's empty, and she winds up her arm and throws it down the hallway. It is like an alarm went off, it's so loud. She grabs me and pulls me into the nearest room. "This is it," she says.
The classroom is small, and the bookshelf is in the very back. It's pitiful. There are hardly any books at all. "What the hell is wrong with people?" I say. "These kids should have a whole shelf full of books for our subversive addition to get lost in." I step back and look around. Michelle is leaning forward to read something, and I move closer.
On the wall above the bookshelf, the teacher has hung up all these drawings that the kids made of their families. There are a couple single mother families, but everything else is mom, dad, little brother, dog, cat, budgie-bird. Michelle grabs a couple crayons from a bucket and starts to draw on one of the pictures.
She draws a stick man in the same style as the mom and the dad, with stick arms and a receding hairline. She gives him a little bottle of something red to hold. Above the stick man she writes "Dad's boyfriend" and by the bottle she writes "Rev" and hands me a crayon. "Get to it," she says.
I find a picture of a single mom and a little girl, and I draw another little girl beside the first one, and I write "My favorite kissing cousin Judy." I give Judy long blonde hair, and a nice little skirt. With a brown crayon from the jar, I make it so she's holding a football. I step back to admire it, but it feels weird. Some kid drew this picture and was proud of it.
Michelle is drawing a room full of men standing around a nuclear family.
"I don't know about this," I say to her.
"I don't know about this. I mean, this kid's family," I point at one of the pictures. "His family probably is really like this, a dog and a mom and a dad."
"If it wasn't, do you think he'd have the guts to draw two dads?" Michelle says. "Everyone else is drawing mom and pop and little Skippy, and you think some six year old is going to go out on a limb and draw his dad's fuck-buddy?" She tosses the crayon down, and grins. "You're so full of shit, I can't believe it."
"Well, maybe we should draw on every single one of them." I say. "So nobody gets singled out."
"You need to have all these crazy justifications for doing what you want," Michelle says. "You really think there's a moral grounding for you breaking into a school in the middle of the night. It's hilarious. You know damn well that you're doing this for the same reasons I am. You're doing this because it's awesome."
I almost say something, make some argument against her, but she's right. I'm doing this children's book thing because I want to, because it seems right in my head. Whether that's because of the moral arguments I've been attributing to it, or because I'm angry and juvenile, I couldn't say. And to tell you the truth, I don't really care right now. Right now I'm having a good time. I pick up the crayon she's thrown down.
"Let's draw one for the teacher," I say. "And let's make the teacher straight, so she's the odd man out." But we can't figure out if the teacher is a boy or a girl. There's nothing on the desk, no name or anything, and it's dark and we're drunk. "Let's turn all the desks around so they face the other way," I say, but it's too late. She's already at the door.
"Who do you think is topping?" Michelle asks, as we slip back out the door we came in. I remember that Richard and Alex are waiting in the car, just as drunk as we are, but maybe more naked.
"Alex," I answer. "Richard's a total woman."
When we get back to the car, Richard and Alex are asleep in the back seat, their pants around their ankles. Richard is handcuffed to the door, and Alex has his arms around him. It's sort of sweet, and so Michelle and I take a walk instead of waking them up.
The next morning I wake up to Alex climbing into bed with me, pressing against my leg. There's something hard in her pants, and I scramble out of the bed, half of me awake and half of me still in some dream about insects covering the earth. I'm not sure that she's real.
"Hey," she whispers, and she sits back on the bed. I try my best to smile. "I just thought maybe you'd want to..." she says, but I shake my head.
"I'm sorry," I tell her.
"You still see me as a girl," she says, and there's as much accusation in her voice as self pity. But what can I say to that. I want to tell her, no, I see her as a boy. I want to say that just because she's a boy, doesn't mean I'll want to sleep with her. I don't fuck every man I meet. If I told her that, it would turn the situation around. She'd be the guilty one, for assuming, for implying. But that's not why I'm still standing.
"You are a girl," I say. "You've got tits and a vagina and whatever that is in your pants, it's not going to come on me, or in me. It's fake." Her face falls a little, but then it goes hard. She stares at me in silence. "I know that gender is a construction," I say, and I tap my temple. "Right here I know that you're as much a boy as you are a woman, but knowing something is different from knowing something."
"You know what I think?" she says. "I think that if it wasn't born with a cock, you won't fuck it." And I want to argue that I've fucked post-op trannies, but the fact is that they were all MTF and not the other way around. "You talk big about gender being a construction, but you aren't willing to apply that to sexuality. You don't believe a word of the shit you say."
"Gender is a construction," I say, and she pulls at the front of her pants. they come open and the dildo pops out.
"Make me believe it," she says, and what the hell. I climb on the bed with her. I pull my own pants open, and she takes my cock in her hands. His hands. I mean he takes my cock in his hands, and squeezes. It hardens and I press against his naked stomach. I moan and hope that Richard doesn't hear us. Would he be jealous? I don't know anymore.
Alex lies on his back, and I lower myself to his cock, hard and dark. My hand snakes up his chest and I take his breast in my hand, pulling at the nipple. I start to gnaw on the cock with my teeth, harder and harder, my free hand going between my own legs.
And then Richard is behind me, pressing a finger cold with lube into me and saying to Alex "I didn't know where you were." Alex moans softly, and Richard enters.