Originally titled "Jordan Jones, Then and Now," "'Use it.'" was published in 1992 in West, a journal edited at Hampshire College.
by Sarah Sarai
by Sarah Sarai
When Jordan is a boy, his father signs him up for Scouting. “Be good for you, son.” Jordan asks why and his pop bops him one on the head, then pours out a tall whiskey. Hunkers into his chair.
“Fellowship, companionship. It’s good to be like everyone else.”
“I eat wimps for breakfast,” Scoutmaster Frank snarls. The stumpy man’s shoulders move up his neck with stealth as one eyebrow lifts like a Black Hawk on a mission. “You a wimp, son?”
In an early wet summer the troop is camping in the mountains. All eight Scouts huddle around the fire, and listen to wood crackle like an old radio in a garage. They’ve dragged through wet mud all day. Hoping to prevent mildew growth, Jordan sets his boots by the fire.
“Eat it.” Jordan must look startled because Scoutmaster tears at one of Jordan’s boots with meaty hands, snorting as the toe guard loosens. He hacks away with his reg knife and displays the crusty leather like it’s a freshly slain fox. Jordan chews a small chunk of shoe and more meekly throws up. The following day, wearing sneakers, he leads the troop along rocks and twisty trails, to show he’s no weakling.
“Maybe,” the leader spits, “you’re not a wimp, kid.” He levels his gaze to Jordan’s darting eyes. “Time will tell.” Jordan doesn’t reveal that his favorite part of camping is wishing on every bright star in the dark mountain sky to make him a girl.
He quits scouting. “Mom, it’s just no way to have fun.” He and his mother are standing in their small service porch, Mom at the ironing board, Jordan folding terry cloth towels. The windows’ limp green curtains flutter like a trapped canary as the steam iron clunks along. Mom responds variously and with a pause between each comment.
1. “Good for you, Jordan.” She whacks at an inset shoulder.
2. “That was a stupid thing to do.” Mom slops brandy into her morning coffee, and taking slight care to avoid making creases, slings Jordan’s father’s shirt onto a wire hanger.
3. She unplugs the iron; plugs it in again; looks around as if for a clue to her next move. “What’d you say?”
Jordan’s parents are light on child-rearing theories. Parenting as a concept or philosophy would strain the native inevitability of their approach: eat drink read have a kid see the kid reads. His parents are not en-people. En-people have en-kids. Empowered enabled entitled. His father, like an N-reactor, however, is unpredictable. He expresses pleasure at the demise of Scoutdom in the family.
“Bunch of militarists. Stay home. Read a book. Learn to smoke. That’s what a boy should do. Learn to smoke.” He gives his startled son fifty cents for his first pack of cigarettes and returns to Huck Finn after refreshing his drink.
So Jordan smokes and plays with dolls and secretly dresses this way and that. He volunteers as prop master in the school plays and is also dummy for the hemming and fitting of the leading lady’s clothes. Wearing dresses with ruffled skirts and fitted bodices makes him feel normal. Then and now he is the same height and weight as the school prima donna. Then and now: 5-3, 130, black hair with waves like a pond on a sweet breezy day.
High school is the pits and that’s enough of that. Everything happens after he graduates. Instead of going to college, which he assumes will be an extension of the discomforts of high school, Jordan is a clerk in the main library downtown. Now all along he accepts his virility as a fait accompli and one of nature’s cruel flukes, yet feels wrong and empty. He figures there must be something in the world that can make him happy.
He meets Heidi. She’s an auditor for the City and comes to the library to examine financial ledgers. “I don’t really like to read,” she explains, tucking a blonde wisp behind her glasses. She pauses at his desk to ask if there’s a snack bar and as if she were at least a little chagrined by her nonintellectual admission—which he later realizes she isn’t—nervously bites her bottom lip, thin but painted, and reveals shallow dimples on either cheek.
“So what good are books?” He slips out his marker from volume four of Galsworthy’s Forsythe Saga, suddenly finding all families, unhappy or happy, to be merely worrisome. He decides then and there that Heidi’s attitude, which keeps her safe from fiction’s heady twists, is the right one to have. He directs her to a coffee shop a block away and offers to meet her for lunch.
Heidi is five years older than he is and everything he isn’t: tall, slim, blonde, mathematical, remote and female. He falls: splat into love.
About the same time as he meets Heidi and in what feels like a parallel but distant galaxy, he becomes incensed, like he’s a chafing dish with an eternal flame as sterno. A tan skinny woman in turquoise sweats and loose strings of gold chains comes into the library and asks for the works of Shirley MacLaine. “Lady, look on the astral shelves,” he snaps, punching a blank piece of paper in the automatic date stamp. She’s confused. “You’re stupid, you know that?”
When a bug-eyed mother of two loud brats demands he remove Lord of the Flies, he rips out the flyleaves from three copies of the book she’s carrying and crams them into her cold sweaty hand. The deciding incident occurs in the elevator heading up to the fourth floor. Some athletic coach-type presses the third-floor button, in search of cowboy paperbacks Jordan figures, flipping the coach-type the bird followed up with a resonant raspberry. The head librarian, Mrs. Applebalm, insists Jordan get help.
After a few phone calls and referrals followed by more phone calls and a screening interview so that he can be more incisively screened and referred, he begins seeing a therapist and attending group. Everyone in the non-geometric circle talks about their parents and he takes the hint, revealing more than he thought he knew or remembered.
“I don’t think they listened to me very closely.” He looks at the members of group, sitting on folding chairs in the dumpy room with People and Psychology Today on the Formica coffee tables.
He tells about the Fall day his parents drove to the desert to practice archery. Pop and Mom noisily unloaded the car; slung on quivers. The red rocks watched them without comment. “Stay close to me, Jordan,” his father cautioned. He screwed the cap back on his flask and aimed his thirty-weight bow straight up. “Galileo didn’t think of this one,” he boasts, shooting a steel-tipped arrow into the clear desert air.
“Watch out, Pop,” Jordan warned, weakly tugging at his father’s arm.
“Son, have I ever steered you wrong?”
They shaded their eyes and watched transfixed as the arrow shot straight up in a seeming attempt to outrun natural laws, give up, accede to the inevitable and shot straight down, landing one foot from where they stood. Only its striped feathers were visible above the desert earth.
Jordan’s mother came running. “Oh my God,” she shouted at Pop, “you could have been killed.” She slugged Jordan on the arm. “You’re supposed to take better care of your father. This is your fault. Why aren’t you like other boys?”
“What are you talking about? The kid’s a bum. You a bum, Jordan?” Jordan shrugged and tried without success to unearth the buried arrow. Pop bopped him one on the head. “Let’s eat,” he said. “So are there sandwiches or not?”
“What’s the rush?” Mom stretched and smiled as sweetly as Eve awakening into another morning in paradise, maybe her last. She stared at Jordan as if trying to remember who he was and reached for Pop’s flask.
Jordan’s therapy group hears the family narrative. His sharing is even more intensely tracked when he joins an anonymous fellowship. “I think Heidi’s not like my family. I think Heidi does care,” he explains. His throat hurts. “I think she does listen.” Folks look concerned, their eyes flickering compassion and warning. “She does,” he insists, pushing on his Adam’s apple. She’s not a woman to love too much.
Well, they do have some good times. She’s a birder, a fact which inspires him to buy several field guides. Heidi the auditor says he shouldn’t be so extravagant.
“I thought you liked birds,” he protests. “Heidi, your interests are my interests.”
“Jordan, there’s no need to spend money.” They are speaking on the phone, but he can imagine the stern line of her lip, ending in a dimple like an indentation in sand. He traces hearts and their initials in the margins of a guide to feeder birds.
One time they drive a bit on a Saturday morning and park his beater of a car by an open field. “That’s a Robin redbreast, Jordan. You know them.” Heidi hands him her thrift-shop binoculars. He adjusts for myopia then locates: a fingerprint, an abandoned Chrysler and, finally, a simple winged creature, a Turtus migratorius, etc. etc., as Heidi explains.
“More, more,” he says, enthused by her erudition. Heidi bashfully lowers her eyelids and suggests they drive further up the road. They hold hands when they arrive at the next spot. Rain has begun to spatter her window and the trees and sturdy grasses hide the birds from their view. “I love you, Heidi. I want to be just like you.”
He invites her to a party that night, a fellow library clerk has become engaged to her high school beau, now an English teacher, but Heidi says she’s had enough for one day, not that she’s had enough of Jordan, but that she’s tired. By the time he drops her off, she’s nodding blankly as he gabs on. He describes his parents; his reluctant masculinity; career dreams; the big changes he feels imminent within.
“I had fun.” Heidi clutches the door handle, her knuckles white as a pigeons’ breast, “and I think we should do this again and I’m glad you’re around because you’re good for me.” He asks what she means and she says that he makes her contact her own emotions and dreams, which she understands is important to do.
Jordan is in heaven. Someone wants him to be as he is, talkative and questing. They go birding two more times and Heidi opens to him like the door to her soul is an not only an automatic one, but has a back-up generator for emergencies, or so he believes. “Sometimes I’m scared,” she confides. When he asks her of what, she furrows her brow and squints as if she sees a new aerial species on a far tree. She talks about staying with the City for another ten years and then moving to private industry. Cutting expenditures is a lifelong goal. His goals are also grand but not so specific. He’s begun taking college classes and thinks about being therapist some day.
“Could you change, Jordan?” she asks as they eat her peanut butter and margarine sandwiches on day-old bread. It absorbs the tastes better, she maintains.
“Not always be so emotional?” She shakes out the baggies and tucks them in her purse.
He buys a string of pearls, and calls her that evening. They chat then she says she’s tired and hangs up. He calls back and she hangs up. He calls back again. She doesn’t answer. The next morning she’s happy to talk.
“I’m sorry,” he says.
“Don’t be silly. I just unplugged the phone. I’m as happy as a clam.”
He’s grateful she still wants to see him the next weekend. When they’re together, Heidi tries on his pearls, but says the strand is too long for her. She holds them up to Jordan’s face and quickly lowers them.
A few weeks later, they discuss commitment. She swivels those cool green eyes to his teary blue eyes and says, “I have none.”
He argues that he can change.
All couples form habits and follow patterns and this is theirs: his calling and getting hung up on several times; his panicking; driving to her place, begging to be let in, being let in, sweet closeness, and then fighting about the style of that closeness.
He wears his first string of pearls to work. Whether or not the pearls’ luster set off his cherry cheeks and blue eyes is not the issue, he now knows. He is still a biological man, feeling like a woman, in a relationship with someone whom, these days, he wouldn’t even choose to be friends with.
His therapist notices his pearls. He acknowledges they’re more than just a fashion statement. He wants the accessories that go along with his accessories—like a bustline. His therapist also broaches the fact that he claims to be in love with a human who only causes him pain. He skirts the possibility. When that same issue of his loving an inappropriate human comes up in his groups he is more honest.
“I’m terrified of being alone.”
After the pearls come the lace collar, patiently tatted in 1899 by a Philadelphia Quaker. He still owns it, it’s quite lovely. Then he shaves the hair from his chest, arms and legs. He recalls that day well, because he shaves the hair, then phones Heidi with the news.
“That’s okay, Jordan,” she assures him. “That’s not why I don’t want you.”
“But do you love me?”
“I don’t care to talk about that.”
“Will you go out with me Friday?”
“If you insist.”
“And next Friday?”
“Don’t hassle me.”
“Can I come over?”
She hangs up. He calls back. No answer. He drives to her house. “Let me in.” She opens the door, takes a hammer and begins to whack at him. He gets a fleshwound. She bops him one on the head with her fist. He falls to his knees, kisses her lap and stares at her with adoration.
“A woman likes being looks at like that,” she admits. “It makes a woman feel good.”
His transsexual support group hears as much about Heidi as they have about what it’s been like to live on hormones, and go through four operations. They’ve been great. His emotional peers are those who know the impact of the pull of one body for another body; it’s as strong as gravity as described by Newton, as distance between two masses. This pull is the impact of his type of love for Heidi. His peers help him disentangle himself from the shame of the pull. They point out that Heidi is stuck.
They remind him of the time he asked Heidi if she’d get counseling with him. She refused, saying, “My boyfriend in high school tried therapy, and it changed him.” She has a recurring dream which he doesn’t divulge: “I’m in a stream, and a big group of loud people are having fun over in the distance on the shore and I’m wearing all my clothes, including my wool coat, and hugging my knees and can’t get myself to move.”
While he and Heidi are still going together and still fighting, she finds someone else, and that’s that. Anyone who has ever loved, or been loved, or had a friend who’s loved or been loved, or even sat next to someone on a bus or plane or train, someone who’s loved or been loved; anyone who’s ever read any of the greats, near-greats, or purveyors of sleaze and trash, or seen an opera, soap, mini-series, or movie; or followed the lives of the stars as recorded in the tabloids, knows that story, so he’s free to continue with his.
Except that soon after Heidi starts seeing the man, Jordan wakes up in such internal agony that he decides suicide is okay, that this stuff about sin is a notion, a held belief, and that if it doesn’t fit he doesn’t have to heed it. He looks up guns in the yellow pages and tears out the half-page listing stores where he can buy a revolver or something. He is going to shoot Heidi and then himself. He phones to tell her.
“Are you serious?”
“I’m not sure. I think so.”
“Leave me alone. And go ahead shoot yourself.” She hangs up.
He jumps in his car and sideswipes a VW on his way over. She screams he’s sick when he bangs on the door. She calls the police. He isn’t arrested, just asked to leave. His transsexual transition group meets at his apartment. Folks help him en-vision a new way of filling himself, without Heidi. “How do you want to feel about your life? What do you see yourself being and doing?”
He wants to feel calm, positive, and fearless. He sees himself as female.
“Repeat affirmations,” folks say.
“I am powerful,” he declares. “I am serene,” he coos. “I am woman.”
“Go for it,” friends cheer.
He dresses as he feels is natural, in skirts, shirtwaists and graceful slacks. He tries heels but decides flats are fine for this woman, although he does like the look of a shaved leg. He arranges his waves into a shapely coif, buys a flattering shade of lipstick, five eye shadows (creams and glitters), and a motorcycle jacket from the Goodwill, experimenting with what it means to be female.
He goes to a gender-identification clinic back east where he’s tested extensively, and is in therapy for five years. He has a boyfriend for three of those five years but the boyfriend isn’t ready for a lifetime partnership.
“It’s not that you were once a man,” Brad says, gripping Jordan’s soft hands. “It’s that I need to keep myself open to experience. And how can I be sure you’re the person to spend all of my life with?”
All the while he’s opening up as a woman Jordan’s opening up his humanity. He can’t help but feel that being a woman serves as a metaphor for being a peacemaker. “But I know my violence and need to hurt Heidi wasn’t in me because I’m a man.” He offers this information to his group, along with more tales of poor modeling during childhood years. At one time in his life, he had no idea that aggression and nastiness weren’t standard operating procedure. “Jordan, there are other ways to be in this world.” Alternative behaviors are described and discussed. They aren’t fluid or natural to him, but he gives them a shot.
He’s been partner in a group practice for five years. Feeling guilty at drawing on his life experiences, he listens to his old friend Mrs. Applebalm, when she advises, “Use it.”
“I couldn’t have behaved otherwise back then,” he shares with his client. He fiddles with the leaves on his potted ivy. “And you’re doing the best you can do every minute.”
“You don’t make me feel like I’m sick, like other therapists do.” His client’s blush warms his heart. He doesn’t know if he’s changed the world one bit. But having cushioned his need to hurt and be hurt is, if not the end of ire, a continuation of all that his body, with its moving and very interchangeable parts, has told him all his life. And if it’s true, and he knows it is, that some people find him an aberration, a distortion of nature or some divine plan, all he can say is, “Think again.”
by Sarah Sarai. "'Use it.'" was published as "Jordan Jones, Then and Now," in West, Hampshire College, 1992.
by Sarah Sarai. "'Use it.'" was published as "Jordan Jones, Then and Now," in West, Hampshire College, 1992.