Babies are born dependent and pink, fragile and hungry. We give them names, assign them genders. We whisper to them of their futures, we as parents, uncles, aunts, siblings and teachers.
The babies with dangly parts we dress in blue and tell to be tough, strong and make money because they'll need to support a family. The ones born without dangly parts we dress in pink and tell to be delicate and kind, nurturing and pretty because they'll need a man to support them.
I'm going to tell you the story of too many girls and boys, hundreds of those who live in the city and towns around you; ordinary people trying to live, work and contribute to the churches they go to, the families they come from and the communities where they live. This could be the story of your son or daughter. It's a true story in that I know people who have lived all the parts.
The Story of Fleur
A man and woman had a baby they named boy. The child painted nails and danced like a princess, as only children named girl are supposed to. In school, the child was pushed and torn by little hands that knew boy did not fit as a boy. In the bathroom, boy felt lost and misplaced.
"You cannot wear that!" was the battle every morning as everything pink and sweet was traded for something the child saw as khaki and gruff.
"Fleur is what I want you to call me," boy said one day. This brought the first of many spankings. Fleur grew tall and graceful, towering over father with his paddle, his belt, with whatever would inflict pain without leaving scars.
Fleur's mom prayed to the virgin and to Jesus. She lit candles and asked the priest to speak to Fleur. The priest sat Fleur down in the big church in the city and told the story of hell.
After that Fleur's things were set out on the sidewalk in the rain. Fleur found a refrigerator box and a big black garbage sack.
At school they called Fleur gay, but Fleur loved the girls. She made pencil drawings and oil paintings of Miranda from calculus. Her formulas spelled out Miranda's name.
"I'm not a lesbian" Miranda said flatly. But seeing the water well up in Fleur's eyes, she smiled. "Sorry. I just don't date girls."
Fleur did not graduate with the other children. For nine years Fleur had failed P.E. because it was impossible for Fleur to undress in a boys' locker room. The girls invited Fleur to dress with them but the teachers found out and Fleur had to go to the office where a police officer asked questions and a group of parents gathered yelling.
Fleur slept in her refrigerator box and went to restaurants and shops, to the Salvation Army, the churches and a grocery store. Most of them said they did not serve people like her.
Fleur grew thin and ragged. She often went to the river and cried. She'd stand in the waves when the air was warm, read poems, and speak Latin words to the fish and the trees. In her mind the river spoke back kindly, as no one ever had.
"Fleur, there's a world somewhere where people love you. They're waiting for you."
So Fleur held on. She went to the library with scarves around her mouth to hide the beard that had begun growing on her face. She could not afford a razor or the hormones she had read could make the thick hair stop growing.
Fleur was always careful to find a bathroom made for one. She'd wait to pee for hours if she couldn't find one. In the library that day, Fleur hadn't noticed she'd left the door unlocked and a woman bustled in and walked right into Fleur while she was brushing her hair. The woman screamed. Fleur apologized and gave her a tiny flower she'd made from dried leaves and pinecones. Management came and the woman's husband, too. He had a gun and called Fleur a pervert and criminal. He said Fleur was an abomination, a threat to children, and he and another man dragged Fleur to the river and beat her with a piece of driftwood. She fell to the sand and waited for the sky to open. She wished her beard was gone or she had a razor to shave with. She wanted to be more herself when she died.
Her dress was bloody and the magpies began to land. They picked up the trains of her skirt and made her walk the curving path to the Broadway Bridge. She sat in the midnight air and cried at the trees. She hid when headlights came, crawling into the cottonwoods. She grew weaker and weaker until she saw blackness and woke in a hospital room. There, when she opened her eyes, was Miranda, the girl from calculus. Miranda was older and taller and had shaved Fleur's broken face and given her a pink hospital gown. The band on Fleur's wrist said Ms. Fleur Hernandez. Through her swollen eyes she could make out a smile and felt Miranda's soft fingers on her arm. "It'll be OK," Miranda whispered. "It'll be OK."
Fleur thought of her mother somewhere and saw her father's angry face. She closed her eyes, listening to Miranda's voice and the stories that began to flow out of her own mouth. Miranda listened and laughed. Fleur lay on the clean sheets in the heat of the room and felt the light of humanity switch on. She felt whole and real as she never had. She saw herself reflected in the eyes of another and the outside of her softened and loosened like a skin stretching, finally beginning to fit the delicate soul inside.