An innocent alien visits Providence, Rhode Island on Christmas Eve. A trio of friends visit a haunted, haunting mansion. Queer cybernetically enhanced bands clash in a dystopian landfill. An attempt to summon the Devil doesn’t go as planned. These stories and more make up Meanwhile, Elsewhere, a collection of speculative fiction from trans authors. Order this remarkable anthology today with a donation to Truthout!
The following is an excerpt from one of the stories collected in Meanwhile, Elsewhere: Science Fiction and Fantasy from Transgender Writers, Ayşe Devrim’s “No Comment.”
Mary Walker considered herself to be a blessed woman. Newly twenty-four years old, she was a year away from the nursing degree she had been dreaming of since she was barely tall enough to see over the marsh grasses behind her grandmother’s North Carolina home. Her parents, Phil and Helen, supported her in everything she did, from the cheerleading squad to nursing school to her impending marriage to Joe Carpenter (only THE hottest guy in their high school). The childhood they gave her was safe, quiet, and full of wholesome Christian values. Hopefully, she thought, Joe would give her her greatest blessing soon enough: motherhood. The chance to feel a heart beating in time with her own, to see eyes look into hers with the most intimate and unconditional of loves — other than God’s love, of course — was almost too much for her young heart to hold.
One morning in early 2030, Mary woke up with a complete feeling of warmth and purpose. “Feeling truly blessed 2day. God is great :-*” she texted Joe as she left her apartment for work. Little did Mary know the true miracle she was experiencing.
Today was a good day, a holy day. Mary, the virgin, was pregnant, although she had no way of knowing it yet.
After texting her fiancé, she walked down the street to her car. The air felt purer, the sun shone brighter, and the songbirds seemed to be singing just for her. She thanked God and told her car to take the usual path to school. Down Main Street, right on Hancock, left on Elm. A half-mile from her destination, Mary’s car was jolted as an SUV slammed into it.
The SUV’s driver was Marcus Hansen, a 38 year old attorney specializing in family law. Only moments earlier the biggest problem in his life had been an ex-wife who was still litigating for increased child support payments even though the courts had long ago issued their judgments. His friends and family had begged him not to conduct his own divorce, but he did it anyway and it had been a true work of art, goddammit. Why the hell couldn’t that bitch see it?
Now, though, he had a bigger problem on his hands. A car accident? Who the fuck gets into car accidents these days? Oh shit, she’s not moving. Fuck, if Terry’s lawyers find out…
He looked around and saw no other cars, pedestrians, or cameras. Like a good, red-blooded American man, Marcus saw his chance and he took it. He peeled off down the open road and refused to look back for even a moment, as if doing so would turn him to salt.
“God, why the fuck did you do this to me today of all fucking days??” he said as he sped away.
God had no comment.
Within an hour of the accident, Mary’s useful organs were parceled out for transplants. One kidney made it to an ailing 58 year old man living in Connecticut. His recovery was so astonishing that before the end of the year he was able to personally oversee a corporate merger that would lead to $35 million in executive bonuses, 5,478 personal bankruptcies, and the foreclosure of a rape crisis center that would eventually be converted into a nightclub notorious for the high volume of date rape drugs trafficked there. He and his family regularly thanked God for years after the transplant, but He could not be reached for comment.
Mary’s other kidney was reserved for 17 year old Estefania Gonzalez from the South Bronx, but the kidney mysteriously disappeared an hour before the surgery. For the next two months leading up to her death, her mother urged her to hang on and not give up hope, pointing to the news that the head of a famous megachurch in Virginia had been healed of his own kidney ailments through a miracle from God. God could not be reached for comment, but the EMT who was paid $20,000 by the pastor’s lawyer for the kidney eventually would be.
Mary’s uterus and ovaries went to a 28 year old nurse, Maryam Jalaali, in one of the first such attempts on a transgender woman in nearly a century. Unlike Lili Elbe’s, Maryam’s doctors had some inkling of what they were doing, at least medically speaking. Transplants in cisgender women had been achieving reliable fertility since 2020. The research was spearheaded by FUQR — Foundations United for Queer Rights, a massive coalition of LGBT rights groups fearing their own obsolescence — in tandem with an all-star team of obstetric surgeons from Columbia University. Together, they managed to secure $15 million in NIH funding. The queer community was largely overjoyed, except for roughly 150 people in South Philadelphia who were too busy fretting over their HIV clinic being shut down due to its grant being revoked. God was not consulted, but the HRC was there to refuse to comment in His place.
Out of the hundreds of volunteers from around the world who had passed the initial round of exams, Maryam seemed like an utterly terrible choice. She was nearly 29 and her career had led her to spend the vast majority of time with runaways and sex workers suffering from the epidemic of antibiotic-resistant syphilis. Moreover, most people just didn’t find her pleasant to be around. Her best friend Lena, the only person who unequivocally tolerated her, had written a personal motto for her — “single, surly, and sauced” — which Maryam had tattooed in translated Arabic circling her waist like a belt. She slept around with impunity and only formed “relationships” on the rare occasion it suited her purposes – like when she was running low on credit, needed to prove a point to her family, or was applying for a uterus. She dumped Evan, the unremarkable cisgender white man she’d been dating when she applied to the program, as soon as she knew things had progressed too far for the doctors to back out.
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The first round of testing included 25 trans people at seven sites “around the world,” which was still somehow the New York Times’ way of referring to North America and Europe. What ultimately made Maryam one of them was some peculiar physiology (thanks to an intersex condition diagnosed during her transition) and the best damn connections a middling career in queer health care activism could provide.
Sitting in her underwear and smoking a joint, finally finding a use for her degree in biological engineering, Maryam marveled at the elegance of the concept. All we needed to tear the human sex binary a new one were advanced 3D tissue printers, six months of scans, and an intense pharmaceutical regimen supplementing two full-day operations. Not quite as easy as in an internet magical forced feminization story, but still, she’d made it through enough surgeries and could make it through more, if that’s what it would take.
Maryam’s body had seen so much renovation it reminded her of a gentrified neighborhood. She had had her first surgery at the age of 22, the “Benjamin Classic” as Lena called it. “Mild” breast augmentation came two years later, followed by vocal cord reconstruction, brow-bossing, and — her personal favorite — a buccal cell graft for her vagina. She had named each of her eighteen scars after poets. She called her favorite Mahmoud, but never told anyone which it was.
One year prior to the day of her surgery, she was sprawled out in her living room.
“Are you sure it’s safe?” Maryam could see her mother’s lips pursing into her iconic scowl despite the poor resolution of her Aug.
“Mom, it’s fine. I’ve been reading the studies for years — “
“Ma’ashallah, my brilliant girl.” Maryam huffed in response. After so many years, it still felt good to hear, but Maryam wouldn’t let her know that.
“I know the tools they’re using and they have the major risks covered. And I don’t know when I’ll get another chance if I don’t take this one.”
“Roohi, you know I don’t know these things. They are not what make me worry.”
“Everything makes you worry,” Maryam scolded.
“Worry worry worry! That what you always say to me! Can’t I have a feeling that is not worry to you?”
Touché. “Okay, tamam, sorry… what is it then?” Fatima scowled silently.
“It’s about baba isn’t it?” The mention of her father immediately registered on her mother’s face.
“I wish he were here for this, too,” Maryam continued. “But it’s been two years now and I don’t want him to be the reason you can’t be happy for me.”
“Astaghfiru lillah! He would have been so proud to see you have a child. I am proud of you. But he would not have wanted you to do this alone, and I do not either. Maybe you can wait a little and get married first? Wouldn’t that be good?”
“Oh no no no no, are you trying to use baba to guilt trip me into getting married right now?” Maryam was enraged. “This is a once in a lifetime chance, I’m not about to lose it because I want to wait for a man. And I’m certainly not about to believe that he would have let his feelings trump mine about my own life. Do you remember what he said to me when he saw me for the first time after being released from detention? He said, ‘ma’ashallah, habibi’. I know it’s not what he wanted for his only son, but he never let it on.”
Fatima couldn’t respond, but Maryam could not enjoy her victory for even a second before guilt set in.
“You’re right to have your feelings. I just wish they could be happy rather than scared.”
Her mother’s voice softened. “It is being a mother, habibi. I can’t help it.”
Her mother had always been fond of saying this; Maryam had never been so fond of hearing it.
“Are you eating well? Should I send you more food?” Her mother always turned the subject to food when she didn’t know what to say. Maybe she’d been a little too hard on her. “Actually, I just tried making maqluba at home the other day.”
“You are becoming such a cook, ma’ashallah!”
“I’m trying, mom. I promise I’ll make you some next time I see you.” Maryam chuckled as she heard her mother spitting on the other end.
“Good. I had better be impressed. You’ll be cooking for my grandchild soon, inshallah.”
It had been almost six weeks since Maryam’s operation with no sign of a period. She had been told to expect the first cycle between one and four weeks after surgery, and she couldn’t have been happier. She went on a spree through the feminine care aisles at all five Duane Reades in her neighborhood. Maryam couldn’t count the number of times she had been condescendingly told how lucky she was to never deal with periods. Had she been keeping track, she would have known it had been 294 times.
When the fifth week ticked past with nary a spot, she finally called her doctor. She knew she should have called sooner, but that would have been admitting that something might have gone wrong. She had mostly been feeling fine, otherwise, or at least as fine as someone can after a 10 hour abdominal surgery.
“I’ve mostly been feeling fine, otherwise, or at least as fine as someone can after a 10 hour abdominal surgery.”
“Haha, very true,” Dr. Ojumu said, snapping on a pair of gloves. “Any sexual intercourse?”
“Seriously? What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Just a standard question, I absolutely did not want to imply anything. I’m guessing that’s a no?”
“That’s a no.”
“And… you haven’t been drinking?”
“Nope, only water.” She was lying, but not so much that it would really matter. Right?
“No drugs?” Maryam could swear he raised an eyebrow at her. Arrogant prick.
“No, no. I swear on Nancy Reagan’s grave. Wait, she’s not dead yet, is she?”
This was why she ran through therapists faster than romantic partners.
“Umm, yes…” he said ambiguously.
“You know you’re really making me wonder what kind of impression people have about me.”
“Just trying to rule out possibilities. Now get ready, this is going to be cold.”
Maryam flipped through her phone while ignoring the jerky robotic camera that was investigating her. She tried striking up a conversation about the connections between the CIA and the recent military coup in Saudi Arabia, but it didn’t stick.
“OK, OK, I get that you don’t want to talk about government leaks, but can you at least tell me what’s going on?”
“You’re sure you haven’t been sexually active since the surgery?”
“I really hope so. Why?”
“I can’t be 100% sure until I get a blood test, but I think you might be pregnant.”
“Shut up! How the hell is that even possible? I’m barely healed up enough to be moving around and you said my hormone levels haven’t completely straightened out yet and and and I haven’t had sex in what… six or seven months?”
“Your guess is as good as mine, and I don’t say that often. Go home and get some rest for now, try to relax.” Dr. Ojumu said in the closest he could get to a reassuring voice. “Is the medical port giving you trouble?”
“It pinches sometimes when I’m sitting. Mostly I’m just pissed that it never fucking shuts up. Does the voice mod really make it work better?”
“No, just an excuse to charge the insurance companies more,” Dr. Ojumu betrayed a chuckle. “For the love of God, Maryam, just keep your head low and think of the baby.”
Under the circumstances, God’s love felt as absent as an immature boyfriend’s.
The voice was faint, but soothing. She couldn’t tell whether it was a single voice or a chorus.
She had picked the name Maryam as an homage to her late maternal grandmother, but hearing it now those phonemes felt like her. She slipped into the Mar and breathed the Yam, saw the word wrap her body in strands alternating the sharp corners of Latin and the sinewy smoothness of Arabic.
The sun mother laughing flight youth light light light
Light. So much damn light, she could even hear it and taste it.
Maryam jolted up and immediately vomited. She did a quick recap of her previous day to make sure it wasn’t her fault.
Her stomach groaned and she heaved again… and again… and again…
An invasive test or five later, Maryam’s medical team had a few answers to work with. The baby was indeed Mary’s. The father, on the other hand, was a mystery. They checked every legally accessible genomic registry in North America and few less than legal ones, with no luck. All their attempts to narrow down the father’s geographic or ethnic origins were met with an unending maze of inexplicable gene combinations. Dr. Ojumu claimed, with an adorable air of unexpected solemnity, that the baby seemed to be from everywhere and nowhere all at once.
Three-and-a-half weeks later, Maryam was waiting in Dr. Ojumu’s office for the seventeenth time. She was upset.
“Why the hell does a lawyer need to be present for a medical check-up?”
“As you know, Ms. Jalaali, the Walker family is threatening legal action. We can help make this whole situation blow over without a fuss. If we can rely on your cooperation.”
Esmerelda Sanchez shuddered on the inside as she said those words. When she had taken her job with the foundation, it certainly wasn’t to act like some corporate enforcer, but here she was anyway.
Maryam jerked her gaze away. “Look, I’ve made up my mind. I just wanted to consult you to figure out the safest way of going about it.”
“Maryam, I insist you reconsider. We only have your best interests in mind.”
“Uh huh, my interests. Last I checked, I’m the one carrying the baby, not FUQR.”
“That may be true, but the foundation is the whole reason you could be pregnant at all. And, under the contract, you have obligations to aid in the research process.”
“No way, I didn’t sign up for this. I had all the tests, complied with all the procedures. I didn’t apply for the trial expecting, well, this.”
“Having a child is exactly why you applied for this, Maryam.”
“Yes, but… not this way, not like this. I wanted the chance to get pregnant, but I sure as hell never applied so you could get me pregnant without my consent.”
Ms. Sanchez’s expression didn’t waver for an instant. “You signed up to have a successful pregnancy, and right now you have one.”
“Yeah, but I wanted to be a mother, not a surrogate. When I did it, who I did it with – it was all supposed to be my choice. You fucked up and took that choice away from me and now you want to take this one away, too?”
Ms. Sanchez wriggled in her chair. “Well, Maryam, I assure you that we empathize with you, and we’re prepared to offer very generous compensation during and after your pregnancy. However, if you want to know about the legal ramifications of your ‘choice,’ termination of a viable pregnancy is an explicit breach of the contract you signed, which would make you liable for medical costs plus damages. If you are unable to pay, you could be on the hook for jail time, up —”
“Do you have any idea how much all the experimental technology that went into this project was worth?” Dr. Ojumu shouted. “Do you know how many different corporations have their next fiscal year’s outlook riding on your uterus right now?”
“And there it is. Some honestly finally, alhamdulillah!”
“Maryam, there’s no need for this tone. Please don’t do anything you might regret later.”
“You’ve got a lot of nerve telling me what I will or won’t regret. You don’t know me. Women like you are always telling me how to be a woman, as if your experiences of it are anything like mine.”
Ms. Sanchez looked aghast. She exchanged glances with Dr. Ojumu, but couldn’t find the words. Maryam hopped off the examination table and started grabbing her belongings.
The calm in Dr. Ojumu’s demeanor finally broke.
“Are you kidding me, Maryam? This baby is a breakthrough and you are not about to fuck yourself like this.”
“Oh, of course, I’m so fucking sorry for not thinking about how this thing inside me makes you feel. Fuck you, go ahead. I know plenty of lawyers.”
“As I was saying, Ms. Jalaali,” Ms. Sanchez continued. “According to the contract, you are carrying quite a bit of proprietary intellectual property inside of you. The foundation quite literally owns a substantial portion of you. Damage it and you could face upwards of ten years.”
Over the following year, this statement would culminate in Esmerelda Sanchez quitting her job to start an ultimately highly regrettable stint on a collective farm. But in the shorter term, it got the job done. Maryam agreed to carry the child growing within her.
Maryam’s FUQR handlers took control of her personal feeds and confiscated her Aug. It was like she was back in the 20th century. Through media surrogates, they dismissed the “seemingly unusual” circumstances around her conception by shifting the blame to Mary and muddying the waters with allegations of mysterious foreign lovers. Authentic and fabricated reports fought tooth and nail in a furious networked battle that left popular opinion unsettled and bored. With the PR situation under control, Maryam was now ready for her glorious non-consensual apotheosis as America’s MomTM.
The vast majority of the first month’s media flood was a quaintly oh-so-turn-of-the-millennium back and forth on whether researchers were “playing God” — as if they did anything else anymore — or were righteous pioneers. Among queer people, many of whom were Maryam’s close and not-so-close acquaintances, this took an eerily similar guise as a feud between Third Wave holdovers claiming Maryam was an unabashed gender assimilationist, cyborg feminist techie queers who viewed her with a disturbingly divine level of reverence, and everyone else who just desperately wanted to sign up.
Maryam’s first commercial offer came from Matrilax, a synthetic baby formula brand owned by a tertiary subsidiary of Cold Spring Holdings Group, who wanted Maryam as the spokesmodel for their new ad campaign, “Matrilax: When Nature Isn’t Enough.” The slogan made no sense to her, but $100,000 seemed a fair price for having her picture taken holding a bottle and clutching her stomach, something she had never shied away from in the past. The novelty of the ad campaign was a moderate success, albeit not sufficiently to keep Cold Spring Holdings from dropping the Matrilax brand and integrating its facilities into its far more profitable weapons production interests.
On top of her commercial offers, the FUQR-aligned non-profits that had lobbied the NIH to fund Maryam’s surgery came calling as well, shuttling her through dozens of media events, upper class galas, and fundraisers where there was more free booze than she had ever thought possible and nobody was allowed to give her a drink. She was the face of LGBT family life now, and they couldn’t have her acting like some irresponsible queen at a night club, now could they? No, I suppose not, Maryam would say, before pardoning herself to bum a smoke off a busboy.
Her ratty furniture was replaced with ergonomic alternatives, her cabinets filled with dubious pre-natal nutrition supplements. The piece de resistance was the baby’s room, now festooned with garish Technicolor rainbows and a creepy portrait of the original Matrilax Baby (who, unbeknownst to Maryam, had sold her cocaine in DC a few years back). She was set up with classes like “Mommy Yoga,” “Cooking For Two,” and one especially for LGBT parents, “Gayby Talk”. “This is why I could never believe in a merciful God,” she muttered. God remained mercifully silent.
Maryam could not have been happier when the mainstream news media lost interest a few weeks in. “Don’t worry,” her media handler said, “they’ll be back in about six months.”
Copyright, Ayşe Devrim / Topside Press, Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike 4.0.