What is Confessions of a Teenage Hermaphrodite about?
Jameson can be like other boys after minor surgery and a few years on testosterone Well, at least that’s what his parents always say. But Jamie sees an elfin princess in the mirror, and male hormones would only ruin her pretty face. For him to become the man his parents expect, Jameson must leave behind the hopes and dreams of a little girl. But what is so wrong with Jamie’s dreams that they can’t be her life?
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Here is an excerpt from Confessions of a Teenage Hermaphrodite:
Coral Gables, Florida — December, 1970
Pain, sharp and insistent, dragged me back toward consciousness. I kicked the covers away and struggled to raise my head. One hand swept my lower abdomen, searching for blood, or perhaps the handle of a stiletto. Instead, a gauze bandage meant the healers had already treated my wound.
“How are you feeling?” An angel hovered beside my bed. Western eyes dominated her beautiful Asian face. Black hair cascaded over tanned shoulders. A sleeveless silk blouse clung to her perfect figure. As I stared, the mild concern in her eyes brightened into amusement. “Jamie, I’m Lisa. Remember?”
Lisa—my one true friend in college. The mists departed, leaving me groggy and sore in a hospital bed. “Thanks for coming. How’d you find out I was having an appendectomy?”
Shadows drifted across her brow, darkening her face. “Your Neanderthal roommate left a message saying you were in labor.”
Ooh! A chuckle died in abdominal pain as my muscles contracted. I reached a hand down and applied gentle pressure against my recent incision, hoping that would help. Frank majored in teasing his little roommate, but he also protected me from more serious abuse by the other boys in the dorm.
“Frank’s okay,” I said.
Doubt blossomed across her face. “What’s that med student see in him?”
Yeah. Her. Sharon considered my small frame and unusual face evidence of a rare disorder begging to be diagnosed. “I think they were high school sweethearts.” Frank had worked at his dad’s car dealership for a couple of years before starting college. With his new Trans Am and his masculine good looks, he was pursued by a number of girls. I searched Lisa’s eyes, wondering what she found of interest in a boy like me.
Lisa sat on the bed, her hip brushing against my bare knee. She grinned, teasing again. “You should show a little leg more often.”
“Hmpf.” Exposing my smooth skin would only provide one more reason for boys to ridicule me. My golden-red mane grew thick and straight, but the rest of my body was free from hair.
Footsteps sounded in the hallway outside my room. Lisa pulled the covers back up, kissed me on the forehead, and tousled my hair. “Rest. I’ll drop by tomorrow.”
I closed my eyes, glad to have a friend like her.
When I woke again, I saw someone standing beside my bed. Ooh! My mother must have taken the red-eye to get to Miami from Illinois so soon. “Mom, you didn’t need to come all this way. I’m okay.”
“Jameson, if you had—” She paused and brushed the hair away from my face. “—a daughter in the hospital, wouldn’t you visit her?”
Come on! Okay, so you haven’t seen me with long hair since I was nine, but I’m not effeminate, and I don’t wear girl’s clothes. So why make such a big deal out of it? At least Mom only hinted at her displeasure over my looks. Dad would probably go ballistic.
Rather than argue, I changed the subject. “I’ll miss my finals.”
She smiled and patted my arm. “That’s all right, sweetie. They’ll understand. No one expects you to take exams while you’re in the hospital.”
Alicia sat on the other side of the bed. The thirteen-year-old was six inches taller than me, but she was still my little sister. “Hey, Ali. Enjoy the trip?”
She nodded. “Yeah. Flying’s neat.” Alicia took my hand and returned a grin.
Only four months had passed, but I missed her like it had been years. I didn’t want to upset her by admitting it, though. “Does this count as a home school project?”
“I’m supposed to write an essay when I get back.”
My sister held a paperback in one hand, so I asked her what she was reading.
“Mom’s making me read the books on your favorites list. I finished Pollyanna and Anne of Green Gables last week. I brought Jane Eyre with me on the plane.”
Mom brushed her hand against my arm, capturing my attention again. “It took too long for the hospital to reach me in Springfield. I gave Kaylah a medical power of attorney. She lives in Coconut Grove now, so in an emergency, she can authorize your treatment. I want you to carry her phone number in your wallet.”
What’s with that? Mom and Dad hadn’t been on speaking terms with my cousin since I was nine. “Okay.” Had they forgiven her? Talking to Kaylah again would be awesome.
“The doctors should release you on Thursday or Friday. We’ll drop you at the Piersons’ before we leave. You can stay with Sharon and her brother over Christmas break.”
Sharon? I was doomed! My eyes popped open and I sat up, or rather tried to. Pain brought tears to my eyes as I sank back down. “No, Mom. I’ll be okay in the dorm.”
“Frank won’t be there, and I don’t want you alone in your room so soon after surgery.”
“But Christmas break is three weeks long!” Way more time than I would want anybody examining me under a microscope. Who knew what Sharon might come up with? “I’ll be back to normal in a couple of days.”
“This is not open for debate, Jameson. We can’t afford a hotel for that long.”
Mom pulled her chair close to the bed and put a hand on my arm. “When I arrived, a young woman in a white coat was in your room. I know how you are about doctors, so I asked her to make certain the examinations were kept to a minimum. She apologized and introduced herself as Sharon Pierson, saying she was only a medical student visiting you. We had a long talk. Her parents are spending the winter up north, so she’d appreciate some company. You’re blessed to have someone like her as a friend.”
A friend? I shut my eyes and groaned. Frankenstein chased creatures from The Island of Doctor Moreau through the fields of my imagination.
* * * *
I checked out of the hospital on the fourth day, hoping never to get near the place again. Bad enough that I had surgery, but did everybody on the planet have to examine me?
Alicia and I waited in the lobby while Mom walked out to get the rental car. My sister grinned at me and brushed the hair out of my eyes. “I’m surprised Mom didn’t say anything. Your hair’s gotten kinda long.”
Long and shaggy. Dad had cut my hair the previous spring and I hadn’t so much as trimmed it since. “Please don’t bring it up, okay? I don’t need to be hassled about anything right now.”
“Okay. I won’t. You’re pretty with long hair, though.”
Alicia was my best bud ever, but she wouldn’t let some things alone. “Come on, Ali. I just got out of the hospital. Besides, lots of guys wear their hair long.”
“Yeah, but Dad says they’re all pot-smoking hippies and draft dodgers.”
“Who cares? I don’t do drugs, but I’ll burn my draft card when I get one.”
“Jamie! Don’t say that. Dad’s already ashamed of you. Scott died a hero in Vietnam, but you’re half girl. Even if you got drafted, you know they wouldn’t take you, so what’s the point?”
“Last year they shot students at Kent State. Not violent criminals, Ali. Just unarmed kids. Ideas are important, even if your actions are only symbolic.”
Mom pulled up in the car, so I slid into the passenger seat. On the way to Sharon’s we stopped by the dorm to pick up my clothes and some other stuff. Unbelievable that my mother would make me stay with Sharon. I scowled at her when she wasn’t looking. The medical student already ran Frank’s life. Why did she have to run mine too?
I opened the car door and got out as soon as we stopped. Sharon was unloading grocery bags from her car. When she eyed me, her smile reminded me of some mad scientist plotting an evil experiment.
After Alicia helped Sharon carry her groceries in, everybody hugged and said their goodbyes. Then my mom and my sister got into the rental car and left for the airport.
I offered to help put stuff away, but Sharon reminded me not to lift anything heavy yet. So I eased down into a chair at the kitchen table and watched her. “When’s your brother supposed to get here?”
Sharon sat down opposite me, holding a sheet of paper with both hands. “Actually, Tyler left a note…His unit’s on high alert…He’ll call as soon as he hears anything…So we’re alone for the next few days. Is that all right? If not, I can drive you back to Eaton Hall.”
My mother wouldn’t be happy if her son was alone with Sharon or disobeyed and went back to the dorm. On the other hand, Dad might actually like the idea of my being alone with a girl. “No. Mom wanted me to stay with someone.” I chuckled nervously. “Please don’t tell her we were alone, though. She’ll have a hissy fit.”
“You’re sure this is all right?”
No, actually. The situation was horrible, but what other options did I have? “Yeah. Well, better than being alone in the dorm.” I shrugged. “And better than going home.”
“Why? Is your family so bad?”
“No. I love my family, but Dad would want me to get a buzz cut. He thinks I look like a girl when my hair’s long.”
Sharon tilted her head, studying me. Then she stood up and got a couple of containers out of the refrigerator. “Are chicken salad sandwiches all right? I was going to reheat the pot roast, but I’m not very hungry.”
“Yeah. I’m not exactly starving, either.”
The two of us sat down for a dinner of sandwiches and potato chips. Sharon’s laser eyes burned into me. She was examining her specimen already, so I put on my innocent-little-kid smile and leaned closer. “What’s up?”
“I was thinking how pretty you are when you smile,” she said.
Like I need three weeks of this! “Thanks, Sharon. I love you, too.”
“No. I’m serious. Perhaps that’s why your father thinks you look like a girl.”
I put my sandwich down and shook my head. “That’s not how things work. I frown and he still makes me cut my hair.”
“Why do it then?”
Why was obeying my father so hard to understand? “He’s my dad.” I poked at my sandwich, no longer hungry. “If short hair is what will make him happy, I’ll get it cut.”
Sharon frowned at her empty glass and got another soda out of the refrigerator. “Why’s your father so sensitive about your appearance anyway?”
Like I should tell you? I scowled at my plate, pleading the Fifth by my silence.
“You can trust me. I wouldn’t tell anyone.”
Yeah. Right. “Hmpf.” She would probably blackmail me. One more person under her control. One step closer to world domination.
Sharon set her fork down and breathed deep. Her face softened and her body relaxed. Sadness touched her eyes. Was Dr. Jekyll becoming Miss Hyde? Wow. Like maybe she was a real person with feelings and all. When Sharon next spoke, her voice was gentler than I’d ever heard it. “Jamie, Doctors Hospital is a teaching hospital. Earlier this week I watched them examine someone with a rare disorder. The patient was sixteen, less than five feet tall, and had strawberry blonde hair. He was still unconscious after having his appendix removed. I didn’t recognize his face until the end, or I wouldn’t have stayed.” She shrugged, looking apologetic. “I’m sorry.”
My stomach muscles seized, almost making me hurl my lunch. I grimaced, nervous that my heart might not start beating again. For a few seconds the only sound was the ticking of the kitchen clock. Then my pulse came crashing back, pounding in both ears. What more could anybody take from me? I drew in a long breath, closed both eyes, and exhaled. “You stole his secret,” I whispered. “What will happen if everybody knows?”
“No,” Sharon whispered, with a gentle shake of her head. “I’m the only one who recognized you, and I won’t tell anyone. You can trust me to keep your secret.”
Fear and uncertainty raced across my mind. Did I have any choice? I stared at her without blinking, eyes unfocused. How much did she know? “What did the doctor say about him?”
Sharon put on her medical student face. She would have looked perfect in a white coat. “You have a genetic condition resulting in short stature, a pixie face, and a sexually ambiguous body. The doctor pointed out parts of your anatomy. And,” she added, in a conspiratorial whisper, “he said you should have been raised female.”
I stared at the table, wondering who would ever want some nosy medical student as a friend. But since she already knew everything, I longed for her acceptance. I closed my eyes again, trying to calm shattered nerves. “What if he was?”
“What do you mean? I don’t understand.”
How could anybody explain a childhood like mine? I put my plate into the dishwasher and retreated to the living room. Outside the picture window white clouds drifted across a pale blue sky. A small child’s laughter echoed across the years. I’d been happy once, blissfully unaware of what awaited me. Out of my field of vision I sensed Sharon’s silent approach. In a hushed voice, I said, “Maybe when he was little he thought he was a girl, but when he got older his mom and dad didn’t like that.”
“So you’re a boy because that’s what your mother and father want?”
Rejected, the little girl had run away from the pain in her father’s eyes. She’d hidden in the one place no one could ever find her. Should I tell you the truth about Jameson? Would you help if you understood? In a small voice, I said, “She might have built a pretend boy to fool them all.”
A wing-back chair sat in one corner of the living room, a lamp stand next to it. I sat down, pulled my feet up under me, and opened a magazine. What good was dwelling on old wounds? The girl had died long ago.
Sharon stopped in front of me, concern written across her face. “Someone should tell her I’d like to be her friend.” She reached out a hand, hesitated, and then touched my arm.
Still withdrawing, I got up and walked toward the guest room. At the door I gazed back at her with a growing heaviness in my chest. “She hasn’t talked to anybody since she was nine.”