Maggie Becoming Mark

Originally appeared in Transgender Tapestry #102, Summer 2003.

by Kathleen L. Farrell

I was going through this, my tomboy phase, when I found out I wasn?t going to be allowed to play Little League. My eight-year-old spirit was crushed. My older brother played. Well, actually he warmed the bench, but he got to wear the uniform. I loved the uniform. I told my grandma, who stayed with us during the summers, that I thought I wanted to be a boy. ?Why on earth would you want to be a boy?? she asked, as she pulled a cookie sheet from the oven.
?Cause they can play hardball.?

?Pooh,? was her answer. She always seemed half in the present and half somewhere far off. Earlier I heard my mother fussing at her about heating up the kitchen on such a hot day and that the kids ate too many sweets anyway. Still, there she was, her gray hair held in place by a net and her orange-poppy-print housedress protected by a full-body, faded, pink-phlox-print apron smelling like somethin? lovin? from the oven, turning out chocolate chippers by the dozen. Then she added, ?If you really want to be a boy, all you need to do is kiss your elbow.? I stared at her hard. ?It?s a fact. Kiss your elbow and change your sex.?

I grabbed a handful of cooling cookies and dashed out of the kitchen. Ten minutes later, my best friend Maggie and I were chewing away in our crudely-dug-out fort overlooking a cavernous depression ladled out during the ice age and which now served as the town dump. I told Maggie my grandmother?s advice. ?Let?s try it,? she said.

?I don?t know.? All of a sudden, reality gave my imagination a sharp shove.

?Why not?? she demanded.

?I don?t want one of those hanging wee wees.?

?You probably won?t get one, but we?ll be able to play for Nelson Buick?s Little Bulldogs, me at shortstop and you in left field.? Now, Maggie wanted to play on the team very badly, probably more than I did, because she was better than I was. So we spent the next few minutes bending and pushing and pulling our arms to capture the elusive elbow with a kiss. ?Does it matter which elbow??

?Nope,? I replied.

I gave up. Maggie would not. After planting a sweaty one on the inside crook of her elbow, she asked, ?Does that count??

?No, it has to be on the tippy end.?

?Okay, I know what?s wrong,? she sighed, exasperated by the effort. ?Before we can do this, we need to try being boys.? So, sitting cross-legged in our fort on a blistering, airless afternoon, we put our heads together and came up with ideas. Caveman-style, Maggie used a stick on the earthen wall to Roman numeral our brainstorm in words and pictures. When we were done, we chose plans I, IV and V.

We rejected II, a line with a curl at the end, because we got sick smoking when we lit up after school last spring. Maggie objected to III on the grounds of sin, and VI because we would get caught. VII was beyond our financial means.

The first test was an over-nighter in our fort. After carefully choreographing permissions to sleep over at each other?s house, Maggie told me she would be Mark and gave me the boy name of Karl. She said our names had to be the same as our first initials and were never to be used when anyone else was around. We secured this with our new on-penalty-of-death sign?we simultaneously kissed each other?s elbow. My mother was always asking me, ?If Maggie jumps off a cliff, are you going to jump, too?? I always answered no, but in my heart I knew I was doomed.

We shivered through the long, warm night. Time took on the mythical spaciousness experienced by kids who travel through wardrobes or fall asleep next to tree trunks and live lifetimes before returning or waking up. The wind sent the scent of terror through the trees. We were spooked at every sound?the howl of a dog was a werewolf on the prowl, a scavenging raccoon was a mass murderer about to butcher us, the silence was a pride of lions crouched and ready to pounce. At long last, we praised first light and shook hands at our extreme courage.

A week later, the second test. It was easy. On our belt loops we tied handmade, Brownie-project knapsacks packed with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and Cokes. We slipped down the bank behind the church into the creek and walked a quarter mile. The Little Miami River spread out before us. Fording a river dried to a trickle from the summer drought was not a challenge, so we spent the day turning over rocks and exposing crawdads, finding more fossils than we could lug home, and generally rearranging the river bed. That left just one more test to determine our worthiness for boyhood.

It was a hot, hazy day when we boarded an empty Southern Pacific boxcar, moving toward downtown Cincinnati. For years we had watched the long trains slow to a crawl as they approached the city. We cheered from the bridge as some of the town boys jumped on and off, making sport of dares. Maggie, who was tall and well-coordinated, made it on board without any effort. I managed to get my upper torso inside, and Maggie grabbed the seat of my pants and pulled the rest of me in. We felt a surge of boypower as we settled back to ride the rails in a car that smelled like musty straw. The floor was pitted from the hooves of jostled, fear-ridden animals on their way to market.

Careful to avoid detection, we scrambled off after the train stopped and went to the next track and climbed on board a stationary train. For a long time, the train didn?t move. We were nearly ready to disembark when it suddenly lurched forward. We knew we were on our way home.

The shortsightedness of our planning soon became apparent?the train didn?t go slow. By the time we arrived at our town, we were whizzing by houses no longer defined by their design or color. Our suburb was a blur. We knew we would be killed if we jumped off. We screamed for help, but our little voices were lost on the rushing wind, drowned by the train?s whistle.

We huddled together and cried, but we were too scared to offer any comfort to each other. The train rumbled on, tossing us about like groceries in a bicycle basket as it bounced over uneven track and road crossings. It was hours before our stomachs told the rest of us the train was slowing down. When we peered out, was saw another planet?cornfields and pastureland punctuated by an occasional barn and farmhouse.

The train came to a stop in Wilmington, a town unfazed by city ways. A few years later, I would watch a ?Twilight Zone? episode about a man who got on a commuter train and got off a century earlier, in a town called Willoughby. In REM sleep, the soundalike names of the towns, his experience and ours, became fused and confused in my often- repeated dream.

As soon as we staggered out of the car in the Wilmington train yard, we were grabbed by a security guard who, gripping our arms, dragged us into his office. We were terrified, but before he was able to begin what was certain to be an abusive interrogation, a railroad worker came flying in. ?Bob, you gotta come! There?s a body in B & O six thirty seven.? Telling the worker to watch us, Bob rushed off in the direction of our car. A minute or two later, we heard a yell from Bob, telling our guard to come and help him. The man shrugged and took us along.

Several other workers arrived at the scene. They lifted a man out of the car just behind the one we had ridden in. Neither Maggie nor I had ever seen anyone dead. They laid him face up on the side of the tracks. He was a black man in greasy overalls, with ashen gray skin and crusted blood under his nose. We seemed to be waiting for something, when suddenly all eyes turned to the policemen who were striding toward us. Maggie looked scared; I peed my pants.

Right away, a policeman asked, ?What?s these kids doing here??

Bob said, ?That one is mine.? He tossed his head in our direction and then ordered one of the workers to get us back to the security shack.

When Bob got back, he seemed a little less tough. He listened to our need to get back home, even though we knew we would be in trouble. For Maggie, it would mean staying in her room for a while, but for me, with my more corporal-minded mother, it would be lots of licks with the wooden spoon. Later, I figured Bob must have done some bad stuff as a kid, because he put us right in his station wagon to drive us home. Maggie sat up front?it was obvious it was her he wanted to be his kid. He gave me a newspaper to sit on in the back seat. Most of the way home, he admonished us to stay away from trains. Just before we reached the Terrace Park incorporation line sign, he let us out.

I don?t believe the dead guy ever found his way into my dreams, but I remember his face clearly, as if he was a family member or as if it happened ten minutes ago. And I think about him a lot, and I try to imagine him alive, before he wound up in the railroad yard. He became my central focus of that summer, even though Maggie and I never spoke about him.

We talked little about our prowess tests. I never tried to kiss my elbow again, but I knew Maggie kept trying?all through junior high and high school she wore her hair short and was the best player on all of the girl?s teams. When I saw her during college vacations, she seemed more interested in looking like a guy than dating any, and I suspected she was a lesbian. Then, five years ago, when I was
visiting my parents, we got a call; Maggie?s mother had died. I went to the wake and was surprised that Maggie wasn?t there.

I was about to leave the funeral home when a guy who looked like one of Maggie?s relatives sidled up to me and thanked me for coming. It took a minute before I realized it was Maggie, now Mark. Later, we met for coffee. He told me it was a big struggle, but he finally kissed his elbow.

Kathleen L. Farrell, Ph.D., is a gender therapist who lives in St. Petersburg, where she works exclusively with individuals (and their families and important others) who are experiencing gender identity issues. In 1988, she founded StarBurst, the first Tampa Bay transgender support group.