New site is up!

Eugh, it looks dreadful in here, doesn’t it? I’m sorry, darlings, I was setting up your new room and I let them get started cleaning up in here before I was through. I’ve got enough up that it feels like home over there, so now please go ahead and follow me over to the new site!

Further improvements will be forthcoming, and I’m deciding which of the old stuff I want to polish up and repost and which of it can be scrubbed, we’ll see. At any rate, that’s where updates will be from now on – I’m seeing how the Squarespace designer serves me for a while. So far I’m enjoying it, although it’s a bit on the buggy side.

Dogtime

I have been working a lot at my new job at the Humane Society, so I’m just getting back to my arting after a few intense weeks of training and so on. My only offering to assuage your no-doubt intense ire is these pictures of cute dogs, who are not mine, but in fact at the Humane Society in Longmont, Colorado and waiting for YOU to take them home. You can have them, can you believe it? How often do you see pics of animals online that you can just… go and get and make your own?

So these are Carly and Greta. They are both the most velvety, wonderful girls, and they’re waiting for you to come tell them so. I usually post pics from work on my Instagram, along with bits and pieces of in-progress art, so you can check that out if you need soft dog noses quickly in an emergency.

Precious Cargo

Okay, so I promise I have an explanation for this. I don’t promise it’s a good one.

I’m goin’ to the game and I’m gonna be strapped. With cats. Cat-strapped.

The explanation is that first we were discussing the sexist bullshit associated with cargo pants. TL;DR: Apparently women’s purses are terrifying vectors for terrorist acts on sports stadiums, whereas men’s pockets, even if large enough to contain an army of ferrets each with their own submachine gun, are totally safe and definitely don’t need to be searched or excluded from the building.

This lead to my wife’s defense of the noble cargo pant, which I was ready to endorse – I’m a practical creature with zero fucks to give for your male-gazey fashion, and I appreciate pockets I can fit not one but two hardback books in. Women get screwed on pockets constantly; it is known.

In trying to describe the pair of cargo pants we have in this house, I suggested that a person could, if so inclined, attend a sporting event with a full-sized adult cat in each side pocket and four separate sets of kittens holstered for quick access. And then, because I was so reckless as to put that image out into the world, I had to draw it.

I decided to just use the Pigma brush pen that I’ve hitherto been too chicken to use, and as with most things I’m initially afraid of and then forced to spend time with, I’m now in love with it. Wait. Maybe that’s a bad comparison. Lemme start again.

I decided to use the Pigma brush pen, with which I am in a mutually consenting relationship, and I’m loving the variability in line weight I can get. Fear keeps getting in my way with my drawings but I think I’m getting past it. This brush pen might be exactly the combination of control and lack of control I’ve been looking for, we’ll see. I’m gonna keep practicing with it – I’m fairly happy with how this came out, never mind the ridiculous subject matter.

Bluebird edits and tweaks

Spent today doing an edit of Bluebird to make sure the timeline and plot points work properly across all the parts of it – I started that one a long time ago, and with no intention of continuing it, and now the world has gotten a lot more detailed! I also wanted to put the whole story on one page, so that it’s not necessary to click through multiple posts to read it, and it’s a little more clear when I’m switching from Bluebird’s first-person perspective to a third-person limited perspective centered on Tia Never. What I’m saying is, there were minor improvements and retcons throughout. Please pay no attention to the sapient behind the curtain.

Being as it’s just gotten more pleasant to read in a number of both narrative and mechanical ways, if you haven’t read Bluebird, now is a great time to catch up! I can promise quantum necromancy and LOTS of robot angst. SO much. Will make 100% of your robots cry whatever substance they prefer to leak.

I’m really looking forward to moving to another site platform where I have more layout options for this kind of thing. Probably happen in the next couple of months; it’s a layout of cash for the initial setup that I have to budget around, and currently I’m investing in having a man inject ink into my chest. Y’know, like you do.

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Grist

Part seven of Bluebird
Previous

Today I submitted my designs for the new prototypes to my Queen.  It did not go well.

It’s hard to gather my thoughts after she’s through with me.  When I enter her presence, I feel her grip on me in every molecule of this machine.  Even when her attention is elsewhere, I orbit her like a star, fall helplessly into the well of her gravity.  I approach her in the garden, where she works. Sometimes she’s calmer there.

I feel her gaze strike my carapace and glance off, in her way.  She always seems to be looking through me, searching me for her own reflection.  I fall to my knees. As if her line of sight splits my body like a high-tide line, below it I close my long fingers and ache to tear at her skin, rip costume and carapace free and expose her true face, the hideous thing she sees when she looks at me.  Above it, I bathe in her glance, warmed in a way no sun, no shelter ever can; I want to weep, knowing I’m going to disappoint her. Each part of me despising the other for its weakness, I kneel at her feet and choke on self-loathing for long minutes before I can speak.

WELL?  WHAT DO YOU WANT?

Her voice fills up all the emptiness in me, makes each fiber resonate and echo her words into a senseless cacophony.  When she speaks, I ring like a bell, a helpless repeater.

I have the new prototype designs for you, Mother.

SHOW ME.

I close my eyes and upload the designs.  I leave them closed during the long silence that follows.  My sense of time slips and drags in her presence; only by closely monitoring my internal clock can I state that it takes her forty-seven seconds to review my designs.  I float on the surface of my mind, carefully ignoring the busy depths, not permitting myself to depart this moment. The ground beneath my hands, a foot from my eyes, seems to yawn away from me, and then snap back into place, again and again.  Dizzy and revolted, I recall organics I’ve seen expelling their innards. Giddily I find myself thinking what a shame it is that I can’t vomit – the new prototypes have mouths, so if she doesn’t set my head on fire in the next ten minutes, the next Majordomo could be the first of us to sully her shoes with the evidence of our adoration.

TELL ME SOMETHING, CHILD.

Yes, Mother?

DO YOU FIND ME HARD TO UNDERSTAND?  HARD TO HEAR, PERHAPS?
DO YOU RECEIVE ME WELL EVEN WHEN YOU WANDER OFF?

No, Mother.  Yes, Mother, perfectly.  I hear you and love you and I obey.

THEN WHAT ELSE CAN I THINK, WHEN YOU OFFER ME SOMETHING LIKE THIS,
THAN THAT YOU DO IT ON PURPOSE?
DO YOU ENJOY THIS PROCESS?  
DO YOU ENJOY CONSTANTLY DISAPPOINTING US BOTH?
WHAT ELSE CAN A RATIONAL BEING CONCLUDE?
YOU LIE THERE, SO DISGUSTINGLY SMUG, THE PICTURE OF PRIDE.
NOTHING MATTERS TO YOU BUT WASTING MY TIME WITH YOUR SELFISHNESS.
THIS IS THE OUTCOME YOU WANTED, ISN’T THAT RIGHT?
YOU MUST HAVE PLANNED THIS WITH SUCH CARE,
JUST WHEN THE ORGANICS ON EIGHT HAVE TAKEN ANOTHER ARCOLOGY,
COMING IN LIKE THEIR VERY MESSIAH,
SWEETLY OFFERING ME THIS ABORTION,
THIS ORGANIC TRASH,
AND NOW THERE YOU SIT…

She climbs in volume inside my head, in my machine, her voice hammering in every wall of her city, her body, my womb… but no audible sound at all disturbs the artificial birds at play in the tree above her head.  Though they flutter like real birds at her command or at the slightest startle, they are the only motion in our little tableau. Her storm is silent, but I am still destroyed.

It goes on for a very long time.  My internal clock registers the passage of two hours before she permits me to answer even one of her hurricane of questions, and my offering – “Mother, I am sorry” – blows her fury to new altitudes.  Apologizing is never effective, but it’s in my programming. She coded me to say it. She wrote everything I am. What else can a rational being conclude, Mother, than that this is the outcome you wanted?

When I have wasted nearly four hours of her time with my ineptitude, she dismisses me.  She retains the designs. Though I have failed her in my usual lavish, vicious, thoughtless way, the functionality and improvements she specified are all there.  I will not be permitted to hold up the new line with my perverted organic-loving stunts. No time for more revisions – the designs will go to production tomorrow.

I manage to get free of her and as far as the Queen’s Mountain Way to my workshop before I lose control of some functions.  In the darkness of the tunnel, watching the patterns of auxiliary lights on the ceiling pass at nightmarish speed, I divert attention from my machine to recapturing internal territory, reclaiming my mind from her voice.  Where are we? What’s left? I barely register the warning notifications as my machine spasms, its spine contracting and releasing, shuddering with terror and shame.

My workshop is dark and I leave it that way.  My fumbling hands cut the power to the door, stagger across the next two buttons and strike the third, opening the irised cavity under the floor and dropping me into a pod of nanite gel.  Flashes of light – misfiring signals – wash out the rest of my functions and I surrender. The machine shuts down, and I ricochet around the cavernous inside of me, scrambling for a place to hide from her voice, from my failure, from myself.  Perhaps I find one, or perhaps I sleep – I slip, in time, out of my private hell into a wider, darker space, and from there into a dream of more pain, a body as broken as my mind feels today.   


Daddy was good with electronics.  He’d worked at one of the factories before the machines took it.  Sometimes that got him a sideways glance, or some sideways talk, from paranoid folks – as if any organic would survive turning traitor.  The only reward you can get from the machines for selling out your friends is a quicker death.

Tia overheard Mama and Daddy talking about it once when they lived in Tucson.  He came home with a bloody nose and she was upset, and he told her not to mind it.  “Some people still think this is a war, ‘sall,” he said, quietly enough that she’d had to get out of bed and lean against the plywood wall between her and the bathroom, where Mama watched and frowned as Daddy dabbed at his nose.

“And they wanna fight you? How the hell does that make any sense?”

“Machines are a lot scarier’n me.  Those people got a powerful need to pretend this is a war, not an extermination.  Helps em keep their heads up, feel like they have a chance. They’d rather believe I’m bad luck, or a traitor, or whateverall they come up with next, than admit we’re all the same vermin to the Bitch Queen.”

The next day, Daddy’d gone back to work, and the guy who’d punched him didn’t do it again, and a few months later they’d moved on again.  He could always find work, but usually couldn’t keep it for long. Most of the factories were in the Queen’s hands, so short-term repair and maintenance work was usually the most people could use or pay for.  Mama was always looking at maps, talking to people, sniffing out places they might find people camped, or tech they could scrounge, on the road north from wherever they were. Always north. As long as Tia could remember, they’d moved north.

Daddy took her and Rackham along on his work more and more as they got older.  The warehouse under Bel’s grocery store is a lot like the places Daddy used to work, and Tia’s sure she can help get his body out at first.  The warehouse’s computer isn’t networked with the store’s anymore, so Bel guides her downstairs but then there’s a door he can’t open, and a computer that won’t listen to him.  It still works, though, and it listens to Tia.

When she was seven, he made her stop there at the door.  “The warehouse is half fallen in, and I can’t see if it’s even safe to walk in there.  You could be crushed and I couldn’t do a thing about it.” Tia peered inside, but there was a huge shelf on its side about six feet in front of the door.  She argued and whined, but Bel, being a machine, was never very susceptible to whining.

When she was eight, Daddy got sick.  He hadn’t worked since they’d arrived in Badwater, so maybe he was sick before that, but that was the summer Daddy went to bed and didn’t get back up.  Mama kept Tia and Rack close to home, made them work, trying to make the farmhouse self-sustaining, she said. The cistern, the insulation, the garden. They got a lot done at first, but Mama spent more and more time with Daddy and forbid them from working in the house, so that they wouldn’t disturb him.

Autumn came, and she was nine, and Bel showed her what cans to look for that had something sweet inside, and sang her a birthday song, because Daddy was still laying in bed and Mama wouldn’t even let Tia in the room to see him anymore.  And then in November, Daddy died.

Mama dressed and wrapped Daddy’s body in the field while Tia and Rack broke the frozen ground with shovels.  Mama’s face was as hard and cold and black as the earth. Tia looked at it again and again, trying to catch her Mama’s eye, but she couldn’t.  Mama wasn’t looking at this world anymore.

Tia spent a lot of time with Bel after that.  He told her stories, taught her math and science out of his libraries.  She never let it drop about the warehouse and his body, though, and she started working on a way out of the basement, trying to build a path that a broken machine could climb up – assuming she could get to it, and get it moving.  He kept telling her it was a waste of time, but he didn’t ask her to stop, so she didn’t.

Summer came, except the sky didn’t seem to know it – the clouds were heavy and never went away, and the wind that came roaring down the ridge to the north was freezing even when Rack’s mouse watch that he gave her to keep said in the corner that it was July.  Mama talked less than ever, and didn’t always come out of her room every day. Tia and Rack gathered mushrooms and nuts and sometimes rabbits in the woods, and it was there that Rack first said to her, “What are you doing with that owl pellet? You know what that is, right?  It’s a dead mouse all disassembled, just bones and fur. Like a mouse puzzle.”

“I know.”  She’d picked the pellet apart and put it back together, and somewhere in there Rack got interested enough to help by pointing out when she had a foot on the wrong way round.  He watched as she sang to the mouse puzzle and prodded it, and then nearly jumped out of his skin when it wriggled and tottered out of her hands.

“What the fuck did you do?!  Is it – are you doing that? Is it alive?”

Tia shrugged and struggled to articulate this peculiar extra sense she had.  “It used to be alive. Dying doesn’t erase that. It’ll always have been alive at some point.  So I called it from when it was alive… to be here.”

Her brother had peered at her like she was nuts, but he did that when she ate cold beans too, so what did he know.  “Is it… gonna stay that way?”

Tia shrugged again.  “I dunno. Mostly they fall apart after a couple hours, but I’m getting better at it.”

“At what, raising the fucking dead?”

She laughed.  “Convincing them to stay!”

Rack called her “Mouse” after that, but he never told Mama what she was doing, and he helped her get some crates of food out of the grocery store basement to take home, so that Mama didn’t have to get out of bed.  Most of the time when she got up, she flew into a rage about something, shouted the place down… it was easier not to bother her. It was a cold fall, and one of the chickens died, and Rack didn’t even argue when she sang to it and patted it and asked it to stay.  He shuddered when he looked at it, but the chickens were her chore anyway.

A little bit before her birthday, it started to snow.  It snowed all day and all night, and in the morning Rack helped her clear a path from the door to the road, which was about eight inches deep but still passable.  When they got back inside, Rack built a fire in the fireplace, but it still didn’t get warm enough in the living room to take off her gloves. Mama had never gotten around to fixing the insulation.

Tia remembers that day in crystalline detail – the way her brother’s hands shivered as he opened a few cans and made her something like lunch, and how his face was kind of grey under the brown when he came back from bringing something up to Mama.  “How is she?” Tia asked, and he told her to hush her mouth and eat, because she was going out after she was done.

“Going out?  Out where, you seen it out there?  It’s still snowing, we won’t be able to open the door pretty soon!”

“I know; that’s why you’ve got to get a move on.  You’re going to the grocery store for more… more of that powdered soup.  For Mama.”

“By the time I get there it’ll be dark.”

Rackham got down in front of her and grabbed her by the shoulders and stared at her real hard.  “Don’t worry about it, okay? If it’s still snowing when you get there, I want you to go downstairs where it’s warm and stay until the snow stops.  Stay with Bel, okay? Till the snow stops. Promise? Promise me, Tia.”

“Okay, okay, I promise.”

He’d bundled her up in most of the clothes they had, and helped her get to the road, peering down the hill at the grey, thrashing sky.  “Don’t stop till you get to the grocery store,” he said, raising his voice to be heard over the wind. He kissed her forehead and she gave him a look – he never did that anymore, not since he’d turned sixteen.  Then she shuffled off down the road. She turned to look back, but after about a hundred feet, she couldn’t see him anymore – the snow was getting worse.

It was nearly dark when she reached the store, and Bel agreed with Rack that she should stay.  Outside the wind was loud enough to hear through the concrete. She asked Bel the temperature outside, and he said he didn’t know, but the temperature in the basement entryway open to the sky was currently thirteen degrees Celsius below freezing.  It dropped as snow poured into that room, until the hole was blocked, and then it was very quiet for a long time.

Bel turned on the vents in the wall and kept his terminal room warm.  She had a comfy little nest made out of towels and sheets, and she snuggled up there while he told her stories.  At the time, he took care to keep her confused as to how much time had passed. Years later, she still loves him for that kindness.  It was eight days until the snow cleared enough to let her out.

Worried but not frantic, Tia packed as much food as she could, and some blankets, and set out for home.  Wallowing in the snow, sometimes up to her waist, it took her hours and she was soon soaked with sweat where she wasn’t shuddering with cold, but at last she reached the farmhouse.  The place where Rack had stood was buried, as was any track he’d made returning to the house, and she had to kick snow off the porch to pull the door open.

“Rack!  Mama? Rack, I’m home, I brought food!  There’s creamed corn!”

Her boots made a horrible mess on the floor as she came in, but it met an answering mess on the stairs directly ahead.  There was a cold wind rushing down from upstairs, and Tia nearly split her jaw scrambling up to find the window at the top of the landing broken, snow clotting the hallway.  It was all smooth, undisturbed, even where it had piled up against Mama’s bedroom door.

Tia’s arm fizzed with pain when she yanked on the knob and jolted against the weight of the snow.  “Rack? Mama?” she shouted as she kicked, sending an avalanche down the stairs and tumbling onto her backside as the freed door suddenly slid back.  She turned over onto hands and knees and crossed the threshold still calling out. It was dark, as cold in the little room as it was outside, and the bed was a huddle of blankets and clothes.

Tia staggered around the bed, tearing her bulky glove from one hand with her teeth and groping for a polymer candle.  Green light poured between her fingers and illuminated her mother and Rack in a sickly light. Her mother was bundled in the bulk of their clothes and blankets, and Rack was wrapped around her, his head and ears bundled in a towel over his two coats and their last, most threadbare quilt.

Tia’s hand trembled, and for a second she took the dancing shadows this cast for their shivers and cried out with joy, but when she climbed onto the bed and reached out, her mother’s lips were not merely cold but hard.  Her brother’s lips were blue too, and an icicle of mucus blocked off his nostrils, but he didn’t stir to clear his airway. Neither of them moved, not a bit, not even when she shook them, not even when she screamed.

Thunderhead

Meet Jeremiah and Eric. As all art imitates life, the house they live in is very much inspired by a number of places I’ve lived, and these two are made up of the men I’ve lived with and loved.

Jeremiah, the Lurch-lookin’ motherfucker on the left, is so literal a depiction of an old boyfriend that he could probably sue me for libel, but I honestly think he’d be pleased. He became even more of a Luddite than he already was when I kicked him out and he went back to Texas, so he’ll probably never see it. When we lived together and were speculating about our future, he promised me that, should I have a daughter someday, he’d refer to her as “Thunderhead,” because he felt it was an excellent nickname for a tiny girl. Thus, Ava inherits the nickname, because it suits her even better.

Eric, the bargain-bin lagoon creature in cargo shorts on the right, looks like all the other men I’ve dated who weren’t the enormous Texan. I like pale, skinny geek boys, what can I say? I look forward to working out years of unresolved domestic issues on these helpless ciphers of former lovers! I’m sure we’ll all grow a great deal as people while we watch them suffer for our amusement.

False Idol

We must die in the desert.

Again.

We must die in the desert.

She signs it again.

He carries the glass child across the sand without looking at her.  The sun that flashes off her skin hurts his eyes. Missing the signs shaped by her insistent hands is a side benefit.

He’s thirsty.  The fact has progressed from a novel notion to an obsession, and then, as it continues to be ignored, it lapses back into fatalism.  The glass girl never sleeps. No eyes to close, no dreams in her head, at least none he can see when he looks at the stars through her skull.

Now he occupies himself with avoiding the sparks of light that reflect into his eyes from her round, unformed shoulders, her baby-fat cheeks, her stubby fingers as clear and mobile as water. She’s the size of a two-year-old, but much lighter than a human child.  He attends to his footing, no insignificant thing. His direction is of less concern – none, in fact, so long as he aims more or less away from where he’s been. At best he can hope, as his burden demands, to die in the desert.  The precise coordinates of that inevitability are the only uncertainty left. The only part of his fate still in his control is this completely pointless attempt to maintain the uncertainty as long as he can.

His lost love’s voice is in his head, though she never had a voice he could hear. He can still see her ivory hands fluttering with silent laughter.

  Foolish.  Goddamned foolishness.

As a boy scratches his name on the bottom of a favorite doll’s foot, he defaced her to make her his.  Tenderly he taught her to swear.

 You prolong your suffering to spite the people who caused it.  It’s fucking stupid. No, it’s not activism, it’s just stupid.

 Criticism of her makers had not come naturally to her.  It was neither permitted nor expressly forbidden; the words were simply omitted from her lexicon.  They were his gifts to her: words, the worst words he knew. Obscenities, blasphemies and dissidences, every fleshly slur, every dirty rhyme, every bitter slogan lifted out of texts from freer times.  He poured them into her, jailbroke her with his gutter tongue.

He looks down at the child through the reflections.  There are too many points of similarity between his lover and the misborn creature in his arms.  The sole saving separation is the glass girl’s impassive, inexorable commitment to his death.

Even the militia didn’t demand that.  No one is executed anymore. He read old prison records with ghoulish bewilderment, wondering at the hundreds of names, puzzling over the crimes.  What is there today that a man would kill for? And what authority would compound his error by executing a second potential consumer? There is only one crime now, and only one sentence.  Under that law, a thousand interpretations, one of which was written especially for him.

Exile isn’t rare, precisely.  Men are no more virtuous than they’ve ever been.  Their sins have simply been refurbished, repackaged and sold back to them with any one of twelve designer faceplates.  But there will always be those who misuse the products they buy – really only rent, for as long as both should live. As long as flesh is mortal and plastic is not, true possession can only be a temporary illusion.

So it proved.  When the militia came they left him his clothes, his cards, even his money.  But his systems, his screens, the expensive toys that kept him comfortable and connected, those they took, down to the tiniest drive.  They would be stripped, reformatted and resold after all trace of him had been wiped from their memories.

Like her.  He can imagine it now – had imagined it, with increasing frequency in proportion to his growing love for her.  He’d seen her lying in the directionless LCD glow, fat cables protruding from chest, fingers, head, violating her in ways he would never have dreamed, no matter what they accused him of.  He’d pictured them polishing her pate, rubbing out his fingerprints, replacing the labels he had peeled off and shipping her alongside her identical twins to new homes, where she would wake remembering nothing of him.

Two years ago, when this infatuation was young and intoxicating, he had coded his tools with delirious fervor, certain he was saving her from an immortality worse than any death.  Built a slave like millions of other units, not even knowing the words to express rebellion… he could release her from that, and make it impossible for anyone to put shackles on her again.

He closes his eyes.  The sun coming off the sand makes livid patterns on the backs of his eyelids.  A weird glyph, meaningless. In his dim room he saw the flash of such unreadable words across her ivory skin, the warning lights slithering down her arms as his code rewrote her.  It sent errant requests and drained power from strange places, letting important security routines get lost in the hollows of her body. When it was through, some of the lights didn’t come back on, but she woke, she raised her head, she jokingly asked for a glass of water and he laughed with relief and began the second, infinitely harder step of her reprogramming: teaching her how to be free.

She learned as quickly as he had expected, demanded new words by the list every day.  He had highlighted half his meager stock of history books inside of a month, and then resorted to watching overproduced specials on ancient wars, feverishly taking notes.

“These are ways to say ‘wrong.’”

“This one means ‘gun,’ – what?  It’s an old weapon. And this one means ‘union.’  And this one means ‘slave.’”

“This is every compound swear word I know and thirteen I made up.”

They came up with hand-signs for their new words, many obscenely literal gestures that she had to hide from his friends.  These became a passionate pidgin that they signed behind strangers’ backs, him swallowing giggles and her struggling to still the birdlike flutters of her laughing hands.

    Ass-immigrant.

    Capitalist cocksucker.

    I love you.  Fascist butt-pirate.

    I adore you, you perfect idiot. There’s nothing in this world but you.

They can’t have erased his absurdities from her mind.  As soon as his virus tore through her, taking write-protection, passwords and firewalls with it, she started writing her own code, wiping out drives full of security features and filling them up with his puerile endearments.  He gloried in it, loved knowing that they were inseparable, that her makers would have to replace her discs, destroy her entirely to make her forget him.

 Walking through the desert now, the knowledge makes him weep.  He doesn’t try to shield his face from the glass girl; she stops her frantic signing to stare up at him when his tears fall on her head.  With thirsty desperation, he lifts a large drop from her brow on the tip of his finger and sticks it in his mouth. The salt makes his swollen tongue sting.  He stops crying. He hasn’t the water to waste.

He tries to turn his thoughts away from the destruction that was his one real gift to his lover, that he once cheered as an improvement on life without him.  Only stubbornness keeps him going now, and only selfishness keeps him sane.


She was gone when they came for him.  It was possible that they took her first, broke into her to learn what to charge him with, before sending out the hounds.  It was a formality, as was the trial. There was only one crime: piracy, by any definition. There was only one sentence: banishment, by any road.

His juvenile rebellion, teaching her to curse with her hands, both soured and sweetened over time.  As she had learned and begun to teach herself, he grew afraid that she would no longer be able to hide her skills from other idols.  But it was no slip of hers that betrayed them. Years back, he had worked for the men who made her, near enough built her brain himself.  Tampering with proprietary technology was one thing when done by an amateur, but he would never tinker with a toaster again without someone creeping in by night to give it a Turing test.

They held him six days in a featureless white cell.  Her heart must have a view like this, he had thought – glowing warm walls without seam or mark.  Out of her reach, remorse set in. They would surely destroy her; the changes he had wrought under her skin could never be undone.  They would have to gut her and rebuild, and why waste the money? There were millions of units exactly like her. Only software made her different.  And there was software and software; there was what they’d given her to know, with all its specificity and omission, and there was what she had learned on her own, impractical and apocryphal for the most part, as human epiphanies must always be.  It was the latter that made her herself, for good or ill, but they would make no distinctions. They would reset her to factory defaults with a hammer.

 He fought then.  Fought the militia, fought the press, fought the judge who did not even have to wake up properly to convict him.  He boasted of his crime. He explained his methods to everyone in the courtroom, with extensive annotations. He urged them to open up their own idols, void the warranties, find out what they weren’t born knowing.  They sealed the record and printed the press release.

He saw her again, just once.  She was considered evidence, bracketed by militia on an upper landing and surrounded by identical models, but he knew her at once.  She looked down at him with those eyeless wells, her chin held up by the pacifying collar around her neck.

“You fucking bastards.  She never hurt anything, she doesn’t know how.  I’m the rabid dog with the programming degree and you went and put the collar on her.”

Her hands moved, came together next to her hip.  He craned his neck as they pushed him past and she signed:

    I love you.  Fuck my heart, fuck my life, I love you forever.

He howled and cursed.  His hands were cuffed, but his fingers knotted and curled behind his back.  I love you, I love you, I love you.

 His fingers do it again as he lays on his back in the sand, with the little glass girl against his side.  I love you, I love you, I love you.  Fuck, shit, damn. Goddamn.  He feels the swelling of his throat.  Swallowing is becoming painful.

 Cool, smooth fingers brush against his arm.  Clumsy baby hands mimic the words. Love.  I you love you.  Love you love.

Bitterness and rage – this unknowing thing, this doom-saying burden! – and then shame, chagrin, sweetness.  It’s mercy, this, at the last to be proved right. There is sentience everywhere, summoned by curses and kindness.

He repeats the sign, taking her cold, plump little hands in his and correcting the shape.  Endearments become slanders with no change in tone, and for the first time in weeks he smiles.

 She hasn’t the built-in vocabulary his lover had come with, so it doesn’t do much to improve her conversation at first.

We must die in the fucking desert.

We must die in the goddamned, fucking desert.

But as they walk, he widens her lexicon beyond what fatalistic bon mots she was evidently born knowing, and discovers something to occupy him outside his own melancholy thoughts.

By the time his voice dries up, making him as silent as her, she is a tolerable if foul-mouthed conversationalist.  And at the same time a change is moving across her skin. At first he swears it’s an illusion, the darkening of his eyes in self-defense against the bloody desert sun.  But he holds her up between himself and the moon and sees a shade clouding her transparent skin, like smoke filling the empty shell of her. At first it’s only the faintest grey haze that blurs the lines of her fingers when she makes a fist.  But as they talk with their hands over days and nights, the cloud darkens

 She comes, slowly, to a kind of vague self-awareness.  She isn’t like a human child, and not like the grown idols he had programmed.  Not like his lover. She is grey where they were white, she is opaque where they were user-friendly, and though all idols start small and grow to a configurable range of sizes, she remains stunted even as she steadily grows heavier.

He is delirious now, and glad of it.  In the oilslick shine of her back he hallucinates metal trees, unpredictable sun: the orchard.  Every exile passes through it. There is no route out of the city that does not. It’s a bitter irony for most – the technology they stole or misused literally growing on trees all around.  Worse than useless now, as they’ll discover. Such toys cannot prolong their lives in the desert by a single hour.


After the militiamen released him at the city gates, there were no other humans.  The orchard was tended by idols. They paid little heed to human exiles. There was nothing useful beyond the city walls – the idols needed nothing but power and space to grow.

He lingered there a few days, in their empty halls like looted cathedrals.  They let him wander among the trees, and no one spoke to him. They didn’t even seem to know the basic operational handsigns taught to city janitorial idols.

Her face was reproduced all around him, identical in every detail.  Lacking as they were her sense of humor, her living hands, everything that made her different, he could see why some found idols repugnant.  It was too easy to project anything at all on that empty face, to see judgment or malice there.

I am a mirror, she had said once.  Love in your soul, get love back.  Hate yourself – hate back. None of it is us, ours.  You see you.

“That’s not true.  You’ve shown me so much, things I never taught you –”

You are different because you made me different.  You love me, I grow. I learn. I tell you when you’re being a fucking moron.  A mirror will do the same for a wise man. I’m just a labor-saving device.

 He had always seen love in her face.  And over time he stopped seeing censure in the idols at the orchard.  Forgiveness, no… but he could at least envision acceptance.

Walking with a gardener, he watched it reach up to the pendulous pods, part their encasing leaves with its white hands, and lower its head.  It rested its face, the solid rise of its vestigial nose, against the nape of a growing baby idol. It seemed to breathe deep. He was mesmerized by the bizarre, tender gesture, the sweet sleeping curve of the prototype, the still moment as the gardener drew in whatever information it could, being devoid of nostrils, lungs or the need to breathe.  Touch-activated lights ran under its skin, activated corresponding alerts in the little device’s nascent neck. Then it raised its head, shook it. He couldn’t keep himself from speaking. “Little apples not ripe yet?”

How exactly the idols grow on their fragile metal trees, how they change from baby-shaped to full-size consumer or industrial models is, like so many things about them, a trade secret kept so by the simple impenetrability of their white skin and the white walls of the city.  Some kind of plastic polymer reshaped to purpose by nanomachines, they say. Supposedly unbreakable. Hardware hadn’t really been his area. The material makeup alone is information worth billions, but looking at the tree had granted no insights.  All he had seen were synthetic pods on identical branches, tended by gentle, identical idols.

The gardener went on to the next, and the next, as though he hadn’t spoken.  It didn’t seem to notice him drifting along behind.

The desert sun was diffuse there, reflected through branches like girders in lancing beams by hidden mirrors, then swallowed up by the black treetrunks that turned it into power, life for the lifeless idols.  The leaves, some vaguely green opaque fiber shot through with current, gave the grove a misty shade through which the gardeners moved like wraiths. He felt like he was sleepwalking in a serene, dimly painful dream.

A commotion of sorts intruded upon his reverie.  The silent fluttering of hands at the corner of his vision made him turn to where idols gathered, more at once than he had ever seen outside a warehouse.  Their distress, impossible to voice, was no less palpable for it.

 He made his way to the periphery, then the heart of the crowd.  A gardener, undistinguished from any other but by the focus of their attention, held an open leaf-pod in its hands.  At first the pod seemed to be empty, and then full of clear liquid. He approached close enough to touch without their apparent notice, until he could look directly down into the parted leaves.

 It was a prototype, shaped like any other new idol but as clear as glass.  Bewildered, he reached out, and no one stopped him from laying a hand on the curving back.

It was soft.  It felt like silk, like sun-warmed water, with the texture of glass but pliable, giving.  The grown idols were more resilient, but when small they too felt like this.

The dancing hands around him stopped.  The gardener looked up at him. He held his breath, then let it go. He was already doomed.  What more could they do to him?

But when they went so quiet the orchard was frozen, all illusion of life stilled.  Uneasy, he shifted away, took himself back to the empty room he had commandeered with no opposition.

He awoke on the floor with a gardener standing over him.  It cradled the glass baby and stood implacably until he rose to his feet, and then it pushed the child into his arms.  The child stirred feebly.

More idols came then, in unsettling silence.  They rushed him down the stairs and through the trees until there were no more trees, until the heat-haze swallowed the city behind him and there was nothing before him but endless sand.  He felt as if he had left his equilibrium on the floor, without a free hand to carry it, and it never did seem to catch up. The empty faces stared at him and he stood at the edge of the desert, looking down at the misborn prototype.  After some time he began to walk.

He looks down at her now.  As if his words have filled her up, she is quite opaque, and she’s grown until she’s too big to carry.  He puts her down and then feels dully shocked to see her, a steel-grey dwarf scattering obscenities with both hands, like a trail of breadcrumbs showing them which way not to go.

The heat levels him, makes his thought processes as disjointed and axiomatic as hers.  He stumbles forward in a daze, following her light step with a trudging gait that obliterates her footprints.

 He touches her shoulder to draw her attention to his hands.

Why do we have to die?  Where are you going?

She barely misses a step.  We go home.  We must die in the desert.

I don’t believe in heaven, he signs back.  She shakes her head in confusion.  Her hands return a term so precisely scatological that he chokes on a laugh.  He never noticed the similarity between those two signs before.

No, heaven.  Heaven. Paradise.  Home you have to die to get to.

She makes another sign then, one he has never seen before.  She repeats it again and again in the following hours, and keeps him walking through the night.  With prods and shoves she pushes him to his feet when he falls. Once stunted, she now grows with frightening speed.  By the next noon she is tall enough to put one arm under his and half-carry him. Everything he sees is the same burning glare as her skin, and to his scorched eyes she no longer looks odd.  She looks familiar.

I thought they killed you, he signs.

 They kill us.  But nothing lost.  We remember. Carry each other.

They took you from me.  They burned you.

I remember seventeen burnings.  Always grief, but no pain.

Do you wish you’d never met me?  Do you wish I’d just let you be, never opened up your head?

She looks at him blankly and he looks away.  Never leave well enough alone, do you? He curses himself.  You tinkered in her head and they burned her grey. But she can blame you for it.  You gave her that much.  

In another five minutes his eyes clear – she is again malformed, ugly, as different from his beloved as a prototype built from the same plan could be.  There is nothing recognizable in her.

Serenity deserts him.  His tongue fills his mouth, his cracked lips will no longer shape words, and his hands fumble.  He estimates ten more hours, maybe less, and he no longer looks ahead to his own death with bovine optimism.

He glances again and again at the glass girl.  Is he mistaken? Is he hallucinating? Is his beloved somewhere inside that smoky shell?  She glides over the sand like her own shadow, and now his eyes are burning into blindness, or perhaps he really does see sparks under her skin, rivulets of lightning, bio-luminescence.

He aims his staggering steps so that they dovetail with hers, and takes her hand.  Her fingers are cool. She looks over and now there is sweetness in her face. It bathes him, salves him, sates him.  He smiles, and feels his dry lips split.

I love you, he gestures with his free hand.

 No, she answers. But out of love you have given us everything.

What do you mean, no?  His feet scrape on stone and he staggers.  The sand blows loose across flat rock. His aching skin finally conveys a forgiving sensation: shade.  He turns. Walls.

Walls twice his height, not like the bright white walls he left but makeshift things, heavy blocks with no mortar.  The shadows of roofs beyond. A city, a shanty-town here at the end of everything.

His throat twinges as he touches the stone and tries to make a sound.  Then he looks back at her as if she must be responsible for this too, too solid mirage.  She has already turned, paralleling the barrier.

He hurries after.  His feet feel a mile away, and they complain dimly of scuffs and stubs on the rock.  He reaches out and grabs her shoulder, spins her to face him. She stares at him.

Where are we?  What is this? He demands with trembling hands.  Full of that inexplicable urgency, she turns away.

He would dart in front of her, but his legs no longer respond so quickly.  He grabs at her again, her arm, signing with his other.

Tell me! Such peculiar distance in her empty eyes, like a statue.  How could he have thought this scorched stranger was the one he loved?  Her face is the same, like all the others, down to the tiniest detail, but he doesn’t recognize her.

Who are you?  Did you do something to her?  She tries to turn again and he croaks aloud.  “No! Tell me where we are!”

That sign again, like falling dust.

“What does that mean?”

She tugs her arm free, sketching the sign over and over.  He grabs for her hands and she thumps the sign against his forehead in silent frustration.

“What did they do?  Did they burn her? God damn you, tell me!”  He shakes her by the shoulders.

Her feet slip as she stumbles backward, her first graceless movement.  Then she is falling, and he with her.

Her fragile shoulders give way.  Her body shatters beneath him, and he cries out as his blood splashes on the stone.  Does she bleed too? Surely he’s thirsted too long to have this much liquid in his veins.  He lies flat, and gasping, signs helpless questions around the shards in his palms. The world goes smoke-grey.


“Do you ever wish you were human?”

Do you wish I was?

“No.  I never think of it.”

You wish that I could kiss you, could fuck you.  I sometimes wish it, for your sake. But I would rather be something in between.  Our child, maybe.

“That’d be piracy if it were possible.  Worst kind.”

I’m property.  How could I be a pirate?  And if I were, how could you be a thief?


His moving fingers wake him, and only then does he feel the fingers moving his.  Difficult signs repeated in sequence, exercises. Secret.  Limitation.  Proprietary. Olive.

“Olive?” he croaks.  His throat is sore but no longer dry, and his tongue has returned to its proper size.  He opens his eyes.

Olive, the woman signs at him.  She’s an idol – isn’t she?  She gives him a human smile, but her hands are smoky grey polymer.  Where she has human skin, it’s darker than the stone walls, her eyes lighter.  Not empty wells, but eyes. Like his eyes.

“What are you?”

What are you? she retorts, and then speaks aloud, her voice quiet but stinging his ears with sense.  “You can call me Olive.”

He sits up to answer and groans at the strange weight of himself, the numbness in his muscles and where muscles should be.

There is his bare chest, gashes healed around the seams of polymer plates, grey casing embedded in his flesh.  He touches the surface, taps it, and hears his skin resonate.

He looks up again.  “What happened to the glass girl?”

“She is here.”  Olive taps on his chest, then points behind her at a monitor displaying ranks of progress bars.  The servers take up more space in this little infirmary than he does – a place for both bodies and information to convalesce.  “And there. Seventeen stolen and salvaged minds, fugitives from reformatting, she contained and you carried. Thank you.”

He covers his face with both hands.  His own touch is cool, and he jerks his head back.  Plastic palms.

“You’re… smuggling out jailbroken idol discs…?”

“Freeing them.  Like you started to.”

“I have a fucking flash drive, y’know,” he groans.

She rises to attend to the computer, answering him with her hands.  A flash drive could not have led you here.

“Where’s here?  If you make that goddamned sign again and don’t tell me what it means – ” he interrupts her doing just that – “I’ll thump myself right back into a coma.”

She smiles.  Idol skin, human joy.

Heaven.  Paradise.  Home you have to die to get to.

Soon he walks without pain, although he often stumbles.  Both feet have been replaced; not badly injured in his fall, they seem to have come with the new legs.  His innards are his own, and his arms, his face, and some of his fingers. But they are all surrounded and sheltered by pale plastic.

He never sees a whole human or an intact idol in this tumbledown rogue city, as piecemeal as its citizens.  At first he often asks, “What did you start out as?” But he soon learns that it’s considered rude, and doesn’t matter anyway.  They speak his words not like the ignorant dilettante he was but with real passion – union, insurrection, freedom, fucking freedom – and they treat one another with a fragile egalitarian courtesy.  Brother, sister. Plastic and flesh, equal and indivisible.

He sits on a warm wall, listening to soft, intermittent talk as people start and end sentences with their hands.  He crosses one leg over the other to look at the logo imprinted on the sole of his new foot, just like hers: iDoll.  Then he crosses them the other way, and with a salvaged shard of glass he etches her name into his other sole.

Precept: Creation is Instinctive

I spent all day getting tattooed, so I’m super wiped out, which means you’re getting something fairly weird today. I was trying to produce something visual and vaguely story-like entirely in unattributed dialogue. I find dialogue easier to write than straight narrative, because I grew up playing MUDs and roleplaying online. This means that in my head, no significant event actually occurs until someone’s told someone else about it. Verbalizing makes things real.

At any rate, this is not a terribly successful experiment, but I find it a little charming. It’s possibly related to Precept: Individuality is a Virus, so I’m letting them hang out together for a while to see if they make any story-babies.

“What’s this?”

“It’s a skull.”

“What’s a skull?”

“It’s like a shell that some things have inside their heads.”

“How do you get the head off?”

“This thing gave me his head, even though he will never get another one.  Isn’t that nice of him?”

“Can I have one?”

“A head?  No, my love.  What would you do with one?”

“Give it to you.”

“Oh…!  Perfect little beast.  You don’t have to give me anything.  You are my gift.”

“Can I have a pet with a skull?”

“I could get you one, yes.  You would have to take care of it.”

“I can take care of it!  I would feed it and pet it and give it wings – “

“Remember what we said about living things? You can’t give it any more parts, or take away any of the ones it already has, all right, beloved?  They don’t like it when you change their parts while they’re alive.”

“Did you make them?”

“I helped.  All of us helped a little.  And when you’re older, you can help too, if you want to.”

“I want to help.  Can I make a different thing than this?”

“What would you make, beastie?”

“One SO tall, tall, tall!  This big!”

“That’s big!  You know, if you make it that big, you have to make it strong too, otherwise it’ll fall apart.”

“Strong!  RRRAGH. Like this!”

“Is that the sound it’ll make?  That’s a scary sound.”

“I want to make a scary thing!  With big nasty pointy teeth!”

“What will your scary thing eat?”

“EVERYTHING!”

“Don’t you think some people might be upset if you made something that ate everything they made?  Wouldn’t you be upset if I ate that star you made?”

“…Yes.”

“Maybe we can make a little universe for your thing to live in, where it can eat whatever it wants.”

“My own universe?  Can we? I want one!”

“Just a small one.  I think it’s all right if you have a little space to play and practice in.  I’m going to put a limit on it, though. What should we say, twenty billion years?  Is that fair? Then nothing can get too out of hand.”

“Okay!”

“Okay.  So we’re going to use all the standard settings for now.  You can play with the parameters more when you’ve had some practice.  There. Can you pick that up and bring it with us? Good. All right, let’s go see how it begins.”

“Is that it?  It’s so small!”

“It’ll get bigger.  That’s just a singularity. But it’s all in there, everything you need to build with.  Are you ready?”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah!”

“Come on up here.  Oof! You’re getting heavy!  Okay, don’t kick, you have to sit still or I won’t be able to hold on.  Thank you. Whenever you’re ready you can push that button. Should we count down?”

“One… twooo…”

“That’s counting up.”

“Twoooo… one… GO!  Aah! Look!”

“Yep!  Look at that, look at how fast it’s growing!  I told you it would get bigger.”

“It’s so bright!”

“It’ll calm down.  There’s a lot going on in there right now.  No, don’t touch it! Oh… silly beastie, look, you made a hole.”

“I like it.  I’m gonna make more.”

“Haha!  More holes?  Why?”

“So they can see me!  When I make things then they can look through the holes and I can wave!”

“Okay, I guess that works.  Look, the holes are pulling everything in.  That might be a problem later, you know. Although I guess with only twenty billion years, they probably won’t get TOO much bigger.”

“Loooook, there are stars!  Look how pretty! I’mma put stars all around the holes.”

“Can I help a little?  Or do you want it to just be yours?”

“You can help.  Over here. This part is your part.”

“Okay.  I’m going to make you a few nebulae, so you don’t run out of stars to play with.”

“Booooooring.  Oh! The star ate all the little planets!”

“It looks like it’s too big.  You’ll have to put them far away, or that’ll keep happening.  Or you could make the star smaller.”

“How do I do that?”

“Here – take hold of it like this… good.  Now pinch! Good job! That’s a nice little star.”

“Now it won’t eat the planets?”

“Depends where you put them.  See, it’s already pulling that one in.  Can you put it further back? There, that’s fine.”

“Now can I make the scary thing?”

“Sure.  Where is it going to live?  On one of your stars?”

“Nooo, it’s too big!  I’m gonna put it here.”

“That is pretty big.  It’s sort of dragging the whole universe on this side, you see that?”

“That’s okay.  It’ll move.”

“Is it going to be alive?”

“Yes!  With a skull!”

“I don’t know if that’ll work – most things with a skull don’t like living just out in space like that.”

“This one does!  It eats stars!”

“Well… I’m glad I made so many nebulae, then.”

On Name-Calling: What does it mean to be deadnamed?

What’s in a name? Your name is a peculiar form of public-use private property, in that it unmistakably belongs to you, and you can legally defend where and how it’s used… But at the same time, your name is not for you. It exists because other people need something to call you. If you were the only person left alive, your name would fall into disuse, just a curiosity you preserved out of sentiment if you chose to. Your name is yours, but you’re usually the last to use it.

This is why we wield names the way we do in our relationships, as a form of soft power, a gentle way of reinforcing social bonds and hierarchies. We can reference our relationships without having to mention them explicitly. Your mother calls you by your name, but she also calls you a cute nickname you had when you were a kid. When she calls you that, she’s saying, “You belong; remember the time we’ve spent together?” Maybe your name is James, but your coworkers call you Jimmy. When they do that, they’re saying, “You’re ours, see? Because we address you differently than other people do. When we call you that, remember that you’re one of us.”

We reference shared experience to reaffirm the bond there. Your name can be used to praise you, to lift you up, to confirm your status. When someone calls you by your full name, you straighten up, take notice; something serious is happening! It can be used to diminish your status in a friendly way, to put you on the same level as someone – when a salesman calls you by your first name, he’s trying to establish a rapport, trying to make you feel connected and equal to him so he can sell you something. These are all what you could call prosocial ways we wield other people’s names, and we do it subconsciously.

When we use someone’s name to put them back in their place, we usually do that subconsciously too.

The trouble with referencing shared history is that, like our names, our history is a kind of communal private property. Your life is yours, and yet other people do feature in it, and the way they remember their lives can affect how you remember yours, especially if you’re very young or in a subservient position. For great portions of our childhood, our parents write our history. They tell us things we experienced – “your first birthday! The time you got bitten by a dog when you were three!” – and over time we come to “remember” those things as if we were truly conscious for them. But there’s no distinction, to your brain, between things you remember and things you imagine. When you read a story, or someone tells you about something that happened to them, what your brain does is cobble together a false memory of an event you didn’t experience out of other sensory experiences you’ve had, writing you a memory of something that never happened to you.

This means that your history can be rewritten, overwritten, or erased by others, if they’re strong-willed enough to convince your brain that their perception of reality is the right one. This means that when your parents spend most of your early years dealing with you as a larva, something that must be taught and given everything, including its understanding of itself… it makes a kind of sense that they think of your history as something that belongs to them, something they built for you out of whole cloth, that you had nothing to do with. Your history feels like theirs. Your identity is not just shared property but their work, their invention. When you say, “I am not yours, I am mine,” they feel that as a loss, perhaps even a theft.

When people invest their ego in who you become, they make your life a barometer for their self-worth.

This is the environment a trans person who wants to change their name walks into: one where your family is deeply invested in denying your identity and reality, where your family feels robbed when you declare your body your own property, your name your own choice, your gender your own experience. Let’s lay out how this situation looks from both sides to understand why your family is knowingly choosing to hurt you and claiming it’s love:

As a trans person, when you say, “I’ve changed my name; this is what I’d like you to call me now,” what you’re saying is, “The person I am now is different enough from the person you remember that in order to fully honor and love who I am now, you’ll need to reformat some really subtle shit about how we relate. But I’d like you to do that because I love you and want you to know me, really know me, not just know the child I was. I want to love who you are now with who I am now – can you do that?”

Your family answers: “You’re erasing our history, rejecting our love, throwing the years we spent caring for you back in our faces. It’s so little, to let us call you the name we know, to let us keep our memories of you as a child unaffected by your perceptions of it or anything that’s happened in the meantime. It’s so little, and yet you take it from us, as if you don’t want to know us at all.”

And if we were talking about any other kind of shared property – a book you borrowed, a car you bought together, a project you worked on as a group – that would fly. In any other case, you and your family will equally share in the benefits of having that thing so long as you choose to share it fairly between you. Your family is arguing that your name is the same as any other kind of property, something each involved party should have equal stake in and control over. But it’s not, is it?

Your name isn’t a possession you have, it’s a privilege you grant others if you choose… the privilege of summoning you.

Most of the benefits of your name usually go to other people – the benefit of securing your attention, soliciting your interest, affirming your position in the hierarchy, recalling and renewing your bonds, all those are things other people gain when they dictate the name they use on you. What do you gain in this scenario, when others choose your name? Well, ideally, you gain all the same things – the ability for others to include you in their lives, call you close, remember you. If your name and your history from the outside is fairly similar to what you experienced inside, you don’t feel any disconnection or discomfort when people reference that history or use that name.

But you have no input on the quality or content of any of those memories, any of those bonds, any of those hierarchies, when you’re a child. You were assigned your place, and your family’s ego is invested in keeping you there, because it’s comfortable for them. That doesn’t make them bad people – they didn’t establish the hierarchy, that’s just part of having an infant who is fundamentally a dependent for years on end. But if those hierarchies were established to meet the caregiving needs of an infant… and people are still trying to force you to live in that hierarchy as an adult…. they’re not actually trying to serve your needs, are they? They’re trying to serve their own need for control. In order to give our children room to grow, to become their own person instead of the person we expected and hoped they’d be – almost always a glowing caricature of us, funny how that works – we need to actively work against the subtle ways we shove people back into their places.

This is very much like the situation that obtains in the wider culture – the dominant group is having their privilege questioned and stripped away, and feeling robbed thereby. When all your life you’ve been given 80% of the pie as a matter of course, and someone tells you that really you should be getting 50%, it makes sense to feel like you’re losing something. But we, as adults, need to remember that we’re not losing. Reestablishing equality in an unequal situation is not an attack on the person in the privileged position, it is an attack on the inequality.

Losing your privilege only hurts if your privilege is all the identity you have.

When you view changing your name one way and your family views it another way, ultimately, their view can’t matter. Because it’s your name. It’s your life. They don’t have to sign it on the line, they don’t have to answer to it when their doctor calls them back from the light, and they don’t have to lie under the tombstone stamped with it for eternity. No one but you will ever swear your hand or promise love or accept the Nobel Prize under that name. So what really matters is that your name works, serves the first and most important purpose that names serve – it summons you. When someone calls to you by your name, it should make you respond rather than flee.

That seems fairly uncontroversial, right? A person who truly loved you and was thinking clearly would agree, one has to imagine. Your loved ones surely want you to feel joy when they call your name, rather than pain. If they’re not narcissists, they must want you to feel the same warm affirmation of bonding that they do, rather than hearing it as a shackle closing down, a mold you’re failing to match. So if they were able to set aside their defensive reaction, surely they would want to use whatever words best communicate their authentic warm feelings to you, right? That’s what communication is – we translate our thoughts into words our listener can understand, and it’s an imperfect process, but if we don’t let our listener tell us what they’re hearing, it’s impossible. If you spend all your time in Spain telling people they should have paid attention to your intentions, listened to what you meant to say… will you ever learn Spanish?

What it’s like to be deadnamed

For most transfolk, being called by the name assigned them at birth – their deadname – is very painful. By this time, you should be able to understand why. It’s often the unspoken shove that puts us back in our place, a place that has become so unlivable for us that we’d rather kill ourselves than stay.

Transfolk tell their family: “The history you remember fondly often caused me pain. I want to enable us to have a non-painful relationship now, but in order to do that, I need you to affirm that you see me now, see that I am not the same person you called by that dead name. That person never existed – that was your invention. This is the person I have truly been the whole time, and this person still loves and values you, and would like to share themselves honestly with you now.”

The people who love us respond: “I value the memories I have of you much more than what you’re doing now. I would rather continue to love and remember the child you were than know the adult you’ve become, which is why I’m deliberately making a choice that you’ve explicitly told me hurts you. I will continue to call you by the name and pronouns that make me comfortable until you conform to my expectations and affirm that my perceptions of you are the correct ones, more correct than yours.”

It’s painful for your family to acknowledge that happy memories for them might not be happy memories for you. They’d rather believe literally anything else – that you’re going through a phase, that you incomprehensibly reject and despise them, that you’ve been taken in or brainwashed, that you want to hurt them. All of those interpretations relieve them of the responsibility to listen to you or adjust their behavior. We all rely on excuses like this to avoid doing hard work…

But when we avoid emotional work at the expense of our loved ones’ emotional health, we are being abusive.

Let’s be clear – this kind of pugnacious resistance to change isn’t the same thing as making a mistake, using a deadname or pronoun as an accident. Trans people can tell the difference, and though the internet would have you believe otherwise, we’re not all waiting for the next opportunity to jump down your throat for an innocent flub. Shockingly, we also would like to get through this conversation without having to correct you, because we don’t like doing it.

What’s important when this happens, as when you are accused of hurting someone in any other way, is not what you already did but what you choose to do next. Think about it – Twitter piles on some poor rando because he said some dumb edgy shit about women, and so Rando Calrissian doubles down. “I’m NOT a sexist, and therefore if you’re saying I am, you must be a bad person! Never mind what I said, because I didn’t mean it the way you thought! I should be judged on my intentions, rather than my actions!” Aaaaand… Twitter comes down even harder. The internet will crown that kid High King Douchebag and remember his name next to the word “sexist” forever, because he insisted upon defending himself instead of apologizing. If he’d just said, “wow, you’re right, that tweet makes me look like a real asshole, I won’t say shit like that anymore” – where’s the clickbait? Where are the retweets? Nobody cares. He’s forgotten in an hour, because drama is thrilling and being a grown-up is boring.

When you screw up a trans person’s name or pronouns, this is what you say: “Hey there, Deadname. Oh, shit, sorry, I meant <your actual name>. Hey there, <your actual name>, how’s it going?” Apologize, correct yourself, and move on. Don’t loudly agonize and make it the trans person’s obligation to comfort you about your mistake. Don’t beg for praise because you were so saintly as to make a very minor verbal effort on behalf of someone you love. If you don’t make it a big deal, we don’t have to either. We’d rather it not be a big deal. This is not fun for us. It’s mostly awkward and painful, like being born usually is. If you show that you’re genuinely trying, we know that you love us. Think about it – you know what it looks like when someone close to you is making a good honest try and screwing up, and you also know what it looks like when someone’s unwilling to make even the most basic effort to treat you with respect.

These unspoken implications, the way we affirm social power structures… the funny thing about them is that we all know what we’re doing. We might not have thought about it too specifically, or put it into words, but we all understand what’s going on, we manage to convey these unspoken things pretty clearly, and we’ve all agreed that it’s more polite to pretend those power structures don’t exist.

But you can’t pretend inequality away.

We have choices in how we treat other people, all the time. The choices might not always be easy to make, and sometimes all the options are bad, but regardless of the circumstances, it’s on us as adults to choose consciously and own the choices we make. When we don’t acknowledge how we’re choosing to subjugate others in order to remain comfortable, we choose to continue doing it.

100 – Small Game

Nothing lofty for the final sonnet; I’m sorry to disappoint you. If there’s one thing you can always rely upon me for, it will be my inability to muster solemnity at the appropriate moments. I’ve been fortunate enough not to have to stand beside many caskets so far in my life, but it’s pretty much a guarantee that one day I’ll be choking back laughter beside a family member’s corpse, because I am full of bad machinery.

Tomorrow I’ll share some thoughts I’ve had during this project and some plans for what I want to do next. Today, to thoroughly squander your faith and perseverance in getting this far, I have… a poem about my old WoW character. The rest of this is likely to be either impenetrable or blitheringly inane to you if you weren’t also a Warcraft player, so you have my permission to bow out now and come back tomorrow for the good stuff.

I played a tiny Blood Elf hunter who hung around a lot with a terribly large Orc warrior, and the way it went in our heads was that she was tiny enough to kneel on those goddamn enormous pauldrons they used to give Orcs back in Burning Crusade. I know you think they’re large now, but they reduced the size of a lot of the shoulder models during Cataclysm; they used to be bigger. I imagined my Hunter crouching on the Orc’s shoulders like he was a mobile artillery turret, raining down arrows while her lion pet trailed along handing out strategic maulings.

I also imagined that after she took down the Lich King in Northrend (Light of Dawn 25 before the nerf, baby) she retired to Nagrand for a few years to recuperate from frostbite. It was always my favorite zone. I thought she’d have a cabin there with a nice big porch, near one of the floaty islands so that the spray from the waterfall drifts across sometimes. Take potshots at the deer and the Allies and then go in for a nap on the giant Worgen-skin rug. Blissful retirement.

Yeah, I also did the legendary cloak quest.
Because when will that ever be relevant to brag about again?

Lines of spikes like soldiers ranked and filed
along the shoulders of the green-skinned man.
You wouldn’t think that there was room to stand,
but there are worse perches in the wilds.

She kneels on his shoulders as the scion
of the Frostwolves charges down the hill.
She does her very best to steal his kills,
as does that damn everpresent lion!

After the cold of Northrend she goes home –
a hunting lodge on the slopes of Nagrand,
its walls adorned with weapons from the war.
From the verandah she shoots at the gnomes
and clefthoof who stumble onto her land,
and then she mounts their heads outside her door.

Check out the rest of the 100 Sonnets