IF WE SHADOWS by D. E. Atwood
Born female, all Jordan wants is to slip under the radar and live the last year of high school as a boy. His parents and siblings support him, but he’d rather be recognized for his acting and musical talents than his gender issues.
When Shakespeare’s Puck gives him three magical potions—true sight, true seeming, and true love—Jordan discovers being true to himself isn’t as simple as he thought.
Jordan must navigate the confusion of first love, a controversial role in the fall musical, and his transgender identity, while fairy magic creates a net of complications over everything he does. In order to unweave the spells laid over his friends—his supportive older brother, James, his playwright friend Pepper, and Maria, another transgender student—Jordan needs to understand exactly how far he’ll go to reach his goals of finding true love, true sight, and true seeming.
In If We Shadows, Jordan, a transgender boy, has decided that he wants to take a more active role in the school play, auditioning for a major role rather than staying quietly (and safely) in the chorus. He discusses how the auditions went--and his concerns about the roles offered--with his therapist later that day.
“How did auditions go, Jordan?”
Scene change: pan away from the nervously excited boy and over to the sulky actor. I sigh. “There’s a guy there who’s better at being Puck than me, by far. I’m sure he’ll get the part. He’s like what people think when they think Puck, y’know? I never thought I’d say it, but right now I’d be better off if I were short and skinny, and hadn’t worked out.”
“Are you still working out?”
We’d talked about it when I started, because I was trying to bulk up, prepare my body for when I could take the testosterone. I nod, and we go off on a little sidebar about what I’m benching now, and how I’m balancing cardio and weights, and even a little bit about diet. I can’t resist rolling up the sleeve of my shirt and showing off the muscle (I’m not Popeye, but I’m no slouch). Which takes off on another tangent about the vest I’m wearing and that brings us back around to body image when I comment how it’s almost as good as binding, the fabric’s so stiff.
Which reminds me. “I need you to talk to my parents.” A flush starts to rise to my cheeks.
“Oh?” She sits forward, hands clasped together on the desk. “Is something wrong at home?”
“God no.” Well, nothing that’s worth talking about. Yeah, my folks are still sometimes weirded out by me. But it’s not like Maria’s, where they actively refuse to call her by her name, and where they try to keep her from going out dressed as a girl. My folks try to accept me, but some things just aren’t easy for them. Or for me to say, either to them or Dr. Hewitt. “I want to buy something. Online. And my mom’s going to think it’s some kind of perverted toy, even though I think it’s pretty obvious it’s not. I need you to explain it to her.”
I see understanding dawn, and Dr. Hewitt smiles gently. “I’ll make an appointment to talk to both your parents about it. But you will need to talk to them yourself, as well. I can tell them it’s not sexual, but you need to explain some of the rest. It’ll mean more when it comes from you.”
I so don’t want to try to explain to my mother that a real boy needs something to be his boy bits since nature wasn’t good enough to supply them. I can’t even imagine that conversation without choking. But Dr. Hewitt is giving me the look that says that it’s for my own good, and if I’m hoping to get something better than the homemade solutions I can use now, I’d better nod and say yes.
“So, if you don’t get the part you were hoping for, will you still be in the play?” She sits back again, hands folded.
“I don’t know.” I flop back down into the chair, looking up, shoving my bangs out of my face. “I mean, I wasn’t sure I wanted to do the show to begin with, but James wanted me to. It’s just that there aren’t any chorus parts, no place to be a part of the crowd. And well, I studied Puck so much, and I already knew his lines and how he acts. I don’t know if I’d be as good as someone else. But if I walk away just because I don’t get the role I want, then everyone thinks I’m a total prima donna.” Especially Pepper. And if she casts me as someone else and I walk away, I’ll be letting her down.
But what if she casts me as one of the girls?
I press my lips together, looking down at my jeans. The frayed bit is getting worse, the little threads easy to pick at now.
“Jordan?” Dr. Hewitt’s voice is gentle, and she’s silent until I look up at her. “Are you going to walk away from it?”
“They might cast me as a girl part.” I speak quickly, words tumbling out in a rush. “Not because I’m girly. The kid who’ll probably play Puck is more girly than me. We rescued him from a fight this morning. But he’s not—a girl, I mean. God, I felt awful that I even looked at his chest to see if he was, y’know what I mean? But I saw red when Toby called him that, it just got to me.”
I trail off, and she’s still looking at me. Waiting. I sigh. “There’s this girl, and she rewrote Twelfth Night and A Midsummer Night’s Dream into a single play. And she’s doing some genderbending twisty stuff with it. They had me read for Viola and Helena. And I don’t want to be either of them. I don’t want to pretend to be a girl in front of everyone.”
Because biology aside, it would be pretending. “I don’t do drag,” I add.
She’s quiet, like she expects me to keep going, but what else is there to say? So I cross my arms stubbornly and prepare to outwait her.
“Is it that you don’t do drag, or that you’re afraid of what others might see if they look at you in that context?” she finally asks quietly.
My gaze drops, my breath slipping out in a rush like she punched me in the gut. The horrible thing is, I can imagine it. I’ve seen it, in my nightmares, and she’s heard that from my journal before. Me, up on stage, in some ridiculous long dress, my body all sharp angles the way it’s supposed to be. But people look at me and stare and they see the girl I was born as. I start to shiver, fists clenching, nails biting into my palms. “Fear,” I admit, voice shaking. “I—” The shudder rolls over me, violent and hard, my pulse pounding in my ears.
The world is gray around the edges, and Dr. Hewitt is crouched in front of me, her hands over mine. “Jordan,” she says softly. “You need to think this through now, before you’re confronted with the decision in school.”
Because if I had one of these panic attacks in school that’d just suck.
I stare at her, trying to unclench my hands, or find a way to breathe, or think, or anything.
“If you’re given the part of a female character, Jordan, what will you do?”
I shake my head. “I don’t know. I don’t know.”
We sit there for I don’t know how long until the shivering subsides. I suck in a long breath, holding it in my lungs because it just feels so good. It escapes in a shaky whisper of sound, and I drag it back in again. In and out, slow and steady until my heart rate lowers. “I’m okay,” I whisper, and we both know I’m lying. But I’m as okay as I’m gonna get right now.
She doesn’t push me about the part again, and I’m happy to leave it. Besides, I figure she did exactly what she wanted to do: she’s making me think about it. I’m not going to be able to stop thinking about it, and maybe by the time it might matter, I’ll know what to do without blacking out.
D. E. Atwood
When she was twelve, she declared that she was going to be a writer and share the stories that she saw happening all around her. She wanted to create characters that others would care about and that would touch their lives, like the books that she read had touched her own life.
Today she has combined her interests, creating genre stories about the people who live next door, bringing magic into the world around us.
When not writing, D.E. Atwood is a mother (to two children, a cat, and a dog), a wife, a reader, a knitter, a systems administrator, almost a black belt in tae kwon do, and a music aficionado. Sleep, she claims, is optional.