Chapter 1

 

“ROBBY, C’MON! Let someone else use the bathroom!” Robby’s sister, Claire, shouted on the morning of the first day of school, her first day as a junior. And Robby’s as a senior. Robby Czerwinski wiped the steam off the mirror and stared at what little he could see, not at all satisfied with the small image.

“Chill! I’m coming out,” he called through the bathroom door. He reached for his robe and pulled it on, then opened the door before he tied the sash.

Eww, Robby, cover yourself!” Claire complained as she pushed past him to go into the steamy bathroom to start her morning ritual.

Robby headed for his bedroom but remembered Claire had a full-length mirror in hers. He detoured into her room, since, with the sound of the shower coming on, he knew he could get a good look before she caught him.

He opened her door, then shut it quietly behind him, shaking his head at the table with the lighted mirror and a pile of cosmetics and the clothing strewn all over the bed and other furniture. He opened her closet door, and ignoring the scatter of shoes inside hanging half off the wire shoe rack, Robby took her sweaters off the hook over the mirror so he could get a full look at his body. What he saw in the mirror pleased him—a tall, slightly freckled boy with dark auburn hair cut short but not too short. Broad shoulders were wider than his hips. Best of all, his abs almost had a washboard definition to them. It almost made up for the slight underbite that made his jaw a bit weak.

But it was a buff boy he saw looking back at him. He had started working out in the late spring and really pushed himself all summer to get toned, his muscles defined. He almost couldn’t recognize the broadly grinning kid in the mirror, holding his robe open in front. If this doesn’t do the trick, nothing will.

He glanced down to the junction of his thighs. His dick dangled there, coming out from the small thatch of curly hair. “You’re all manly muscle now, buddy,” he said to it. “Start working like you’re supposed to.” His dick didn’t answer him. He sighed. “At least start thinking about it, okay, bro?”

He gave himself a sardonic smile, then closed and tied his robe. Patience, he advised himself. He walked out of Claire’s room and, hearing the shower shut off, ducked into his own to get dressed for school.

Though if getting buff doesn’t work, he thought as he dressed, I don’t know what will. No matter what he did, from looking at porn to handling himself down there, he couldn’t get his brain to cooperate with the rest of him. Oh, he got hard if he played with himself, and he could bring himself off, but he just couldn’t respond to the sight of a sexy woman’s body. He looked at the pictures, but no matter how suggestive they were, they did nothing for him.

It’s not that I’m gay—at least, I’m pretty sure I’m not. A few months ago he’d gone into a porn store, trying to look older, and while the clerk gave him the occasional suspicious look, he ultimately let him buy a gay sex magazine. He brought it home, locked his bedroom door, and looked at the pictures one by one. Nothing. Nada. Not a single stirring.

What’s wrong with me? He knew from the way they talked that other boys found girls tantalizing in the extreme, but though the touch of his hand could get him started, he found himself focused on that feeling and never pictured a single partner, female or male. I just don’t understand. Doesn’t one go with the other?

There was no way he could talk to his mother about this, and he was mortified at the thought of talking about his “problem” with his friends, Luis and Max. They would either be so embarrassed they’d stop talking to him, or they’d tease him endlessly. So last semester he had gingerly approached his gym coach, Mr. Monroe, and explained about his lack of response to girls.

The usually gruff man looked uncomfortable. “Well, boy, do you think… you could… uh… be… gay?”

Robbie shrugged. Mr. Monroe didn’t need to know about his experiment with gay porn. “I don’t think so.”

“Well, maybe you should talk with your dad about it.”

Robby’s dad was long out of the picture, but he didn’t tell Mr. Monroe that. His dad hadn’t stayed in touch with either him or Claire. Truth be told, Robby was afraid the coach would blame his problem on an absent father figure. He and his sister Claire had a running joke about that sort of armchair psychology, whether at school or elsewhere. The two would privately put their hands up and make them “talk,” mouthing “Blah blah blah… your dad… blah blah blah,” and laugh. He’d thanked Mr. Monroe and never mentioned it again.

At one point he happened to ride his bike along the street past the local Catholic church his mother still attended. Church was fast becoming irrelevant to him as he grew into his adolescent years, but after some second thoughts, Robby decided to approach the priest. He was with his friend Max, so he waited and went a few days later.

Father Martin asked him the same question as the coach about whether or not he was gay.

“I don’t get turned on by boys or girls,” he explained, his cheeks burning.

The priest looked doubtful and then asked, “Son, might you have a calling to the priesthood? Have you considered entering a seminary?”

Robby could definitely answer that question. “No, sir, I don’t think so.”

“Turn your troubles to God and pray for guidance,” Father Martin suggested.

Robby politely agreed and left the confessional.

He spent some weeks trying not to think about his confusion. He let school distract him. He was in Quiz Kids, a sort of academic competition, now and studied a great deal. None of his friends participated in that one, but he palled around with a couple of the others, and it was only when one of the boys started to ask him about dating and telling Robby about his own attempts at attracting a girl that he had to put the emphasis back on his sexuality again. He realized that putting the boys off and making things up to sound knowledgeable was not going to hack it.

Finally he went to the high school psychologist, Mrs. French. He and Claire went to Highlands View High School in an eastern suburb of Seattle. That part of the world was known for its with-it school staff, fully aware of bullying due to orientation, race, you name it. But all the counselor said was, “Robby, you’re probably just a late bloomer. You need to wait, to be open to your own body’s needs. You need to think about what might be blocking your response. If your disinterest persists, then talk to me again if you come to any conclusions.” He decided she was probably closest to being right, though nothing had come to him yet.

So he’d decided to work on his body. He thought if he ate right, slept plenty, drank lots of water, and worked out and got himself a more masculine physique, maybe whatever was slowing things down would clear up.

But it didn’t. He was a senior now, and he was no closer to understanding his lack of sexual response than he had as a skinny nerd.

Robby sighed. If he didn’t come to any conclusions now that he was about to turn eighteen, make the wrestling team, meet more mature girls, and finish high school, he would… well, he would think about that later.

Otherwise, he knew in the back of his mind, he would be off to college next fall, be expected to find a girl—or a boy—to date, get engaged, and then married. How could he do that, given his lack of interest in, well, anyone?

He slipped on his Nikes and tied them, then stood up to go to breakfast.

After wolfing down a bowl of cereal, he waited for Claire, who would drive him to school in the car they theoretically owned together. She used it more, being more social—or rather, more manipulative and selfish—but she knew she had to give him a ride, so she pouted and got behind the wheel. He knew better than to suggest he drive. Claire wouldn’t stand for it.

As Claire sped up to go through yellow lights and took corners too fast, she asked Robby, “So now that you’re such a big jock, are you going out for a sport?”

“Yeah, I’m thinking about trying out for the wrestling team.”

She brightened. “Oh yeah? Cool. No more Mr. Brainiac? No more Quiz Kids?”

He glared at her. “No, I’ll still do the Quiz Kids. Your brain is a muscle too, you know.”

“Yeah, right,” she said.

Once at the high school, she mumbled “Later” as she pulled into a student parking spot where she and Robby climbed out of the car. “What time do you need me to take you home?” she asked, turning back after a few steps toward the school entrance.

He took off his backpack, unzipped it, and rooted inside for the class schedule he had been mailed, along with every other kid in the school. “Let me see. It looks like my last period gets out at ten to three. But I may walk home with some of my friends.”

“Fine with me,” she called as she walked away.

Robby looked around to see if any of his friends were there yet. He spotted Luis moving along the main sidewalk with his forearm crutches. Luis had some sort of palsy or something. He wouldn’t talk about it, but his legs were skinny and a little twisted, and he moved along using “Canadian crutches” as he called them. “Hey, Ramirez!” Robby called out, dashing to join him.

“Robby, dude!” he called, turning to meet him. “¿Qué pasa? Hey, look at you. You’re all tough-looking!”

Robby shrugged. “I worked out this summer.”

“There some chica you’re looking to date?”

He shrugged again in response to Luis’s leering expression. “Maybe.”

“Lookin’ good, bro…. Max better look out. You’ll kick his butt.”

Just as Luis said the name, the other boy walked up, high-fived Robby, and nodded to Luis. “Who’s gonna kick my butt?” he asked.

Luis indicated Robby with a tilt of his head. “Hey, Nielsen. Robby’s been buffing up.”

Max, a brown-eyed boy with short black hair, checked Robby out. “Man, you look good. You work out or something, bro?”

Luis smirked. “Gonna ask Rob for a date, Max?”

Max gave him a dirty look and turned back to Robby. “You going to try out for something?”

Robby shrugged again. “Maybe wrestling.”

Luis called their attention to another boy who was walking by. “Who’s the new guy?”

Robby and Max turned to where Luis was looking. They saw a short boy wearing a jacket from an Olympia high school coming up the walk, glancing from side to side and blushing slightly.

Max said, “Huh. Is that a boy or a girl?”

Robby looked hard at Max. “Don’t be stupid. It’s a boy. Can’t you see how he wears his hair? And look how he walks.” But truth be told, Robby had to spy on the new boy out of the corner of his eye to be certain. He looked like a boy, dressed like one, had a very short haircut, but his hands and feet were small. He was also short like Robby.

Max stepped forward as the boy came alongside them. “Dude,” he greeted. “You new here?”

The boy looked up sharply and gave them a nervous smile. “Yeah, my dad got a job at Microsoft, so we moved here. I’m Andy Kahn. I’m a senior.”

Robby, Luis, and Max introduced themselves and reached to grip the new boy’s right hand in a variety of salutes.

Luis said, “Bummer to have to switch schools with only one year to go.”

Robby added, “But Highlands View is a good school. You’ll like it here.”

Andy smiled again, nodded, and made positive noises. “Nice to meet you all. So we’re all seniors.” He glanced down at his clothing and asked, “So, any of you on a team?”

Luis laughed. “Depends.” Andy gave him a blank look.

“He means if you’re talking about sports, maybe,” Max explained. “But Robby here is on the Quiz Kids team, unless he’s too buff for that now.”

Andy interjected, “Quiz Kids? What’s that?”

Robby gave him a sheepish look. “Quiz Kids. You know, like High School Bowl. An academic competition club. You answer questions about history and math and stuff.”

Much to Robby’s surprise, Andy’s tense look cleared. “Oh yeah? That sounds great. Do you have any openings?”

Robby glanced between Luis and Max. “See? It’s not just me.” He looked back at Andy. “Yeah, I’m sure you can try out. What are your subjects?”

Andy acted as if he couldn’t talk fast enough. “I really like history and other social sciences. Also German. You?” he asked.

“Math and science mostly. We can use a good social-science contestant. Let me talk to the coach about you.” He grinned. “You should meet my aunt.”

Looking uncertain, Andy asked, “Your aunt?”

Luis laughed again. “She’s ancient history all right. Kind of a nut.” He tried to duck as Robby threw a feint at him.

“She collects things. She was head of the history department at a Catholic school. She’s got books and pictures and knickknacks and you name it. All over her house. She lives near here. I could introduce you.”

Andy smiled uncertainly. “Cool, dude,” he said.

The bell rang for school to start, and the four boys headed off in their individual directions. Robby noticed Andy pull out his schedule and peer at it in a panic. “If you want, I can show you where your homeroom is.”

“Thanks, man,” Andy said, sounding relieved.

 

 

AS THEY walked down the hall, Andy glanced at the other boy. He’s reading me as a boy. That is so great.

He wondered what his new friend would think if he knew Andy wasn’t a boy in the traditional sense. He’d been born Andrea Ruth Kahn and grown up unhappily wearing dresses and skirts, though as little as possible. After years of not understanding why he was so dissatisfied with his body, why he felt like a freak, he had finally found a book at the city library about people who were transgender. It made lights go off all over his brain.

It had taken a lot of courage for Andrea—Andy—to tell his mother. She hadn’t understood what he was saying at first, until he loaned her the book he’d found. After that, he could practically hear the gears in her brain working. His father asked to speak with him one evening, and the two of them had had a good heart-to-heart. They finally had a family conference with Gabe, his younger brother, and started to talk about Andy in male pronouns. His mother took over and got him counseling and boy’s clothing, from underwear to a winter jacket, and went with him to the doctor to talk about getting onto hormones.

Andy knew how lucky he was. His parents didn’t think he was nuts or a pervert or just being difficult. They listened, they asked questions, and, ultimately, they not only accepted him but supported him. They even said they would support any surgery he wanted and the doctor would agree to do. His mother’s eyes flashed when she said, “And if they won’t do it, we’ll find one who will!”

His brother, Gabe, was the best. Andy’s revelation hadn’t fazed him in the least. Gabe’s reaction was just to say “I knew it all along. You’ve always seemed more like a big brother than a big sister to me.”

Andy’s relief and gratitude knew no bounds.

He’d told his parents he wanted a fresh start, somewhere where none of the other kids had known him as Andrea. His father, who had worked for the State of Washington, found a good job at Microsoft, and they moved to the Eastside. They contacted the school district administrator and got an appointment with one of the counselors. His mother and father had both come with him to the new school. Andy’s mom marched into the appointment ready for a fight, but all of them, including Andy, had been gratified at how well-informed the woman had been and how aware of the needs he would have as a transgender student.

“You aren’t the first transgender student in the district,” Mrs. French said. “You will be the first as far as we know at Highlands View, though. We had a transgender girl at one of the other high schools. She managed to pass quite well, and no one was ever the wiser. We’ll have to determine how to deal with bathrooms and showers for gym class, but we’ll have it all in place before school starts.”

They left the administration office elated, and Andy’s smile about split his face.

During the summer Andy went on hormones to begin his development as a male and had a hysterectomy. The school administrators had decided Andy would use the boys’ bathrooms and would be excused from showering. He knew there would be questions from the other students about that, but he figured he would handle those when they came up.

Robby pointed Andy in the direction of his homeroom, and before they parted, they exchanged phone numbers and e-mail addresses so they could get in touch about the next meeting of Quiz Kids. “It sure was lucky running into you guys so quickly. You make me feel like I’ve moved to a good school,” Andy said. Robby put out his hand, and they did a fist-bump handshake.