Kept Change – Gabriel Hart
September 3, 2020
As the Earth’s surface continued to boil, swirl, crack, and freeze, we also grew uncomfortable in our skin. A palpable membrane of anxiety had replaced the Earth’s atmosphere – by this time, global warming was considered one of those vintage fears that in theory, no longer existed. Yet, it survived due to its long-established damage – its permanent residence.
So we remained indoors.
Back in 2019 no one would have thought the trendy blueprint of an apartment above the strip mall – once considered live/shop/workspaces – would be the mandatory model for future living in the present 2029.
From our apartments, we simply walk down a contained flight of stairs to our jobs among the variety of commerce. After work, we acquire essentials, then walk back up to continue our latest conquest of binge-watch on NOWTV. We nourish ourselves and get our steps in.
It’s not just all-inclusive – it’s all enclosed, in the same style of militaristic cube architecture that takes up each city block, so no one feels left out. One massive cube per block. If it appears oppressive from an outside perspective, all one has to do is consider all the life inside. Luckily, any outside perspective is limited to the drone surveillance system – machines that are the only intelligence privy to the fact that our world now resembles a boundless cemetery.
But still, somehow along the way, we’ve achieved the maximum limits of boredom. Despite seamless acclimation to the new security of our air-conditioned microcosms, we’ve nearly forgotten what it was like before, but also who we could have been.
Now that the planet has reached its irreversible status, we inhabitants – forever unsatisfied – have begun to focus on our own bodies to change.
To manipulate like a fad.
To pick at like a scab.
All in an effort to be reborn with our new world.
Since rendered unnecessary to leave our blocks, a shared phenomenon befell certain trailblazing citizens, who felt a primal urge to leave their skin – or more specifically, their genders.
Life has, in fact, become sexless. For those coupled up, a night’s climax in bed would be replaced by ceaseless searching through multiple episodes of the latest NOWTV series, stopping at nothing to reach that climax of each show’s conclusion. While couples do this side by side on a sofa, it proves the most intimate bonding they can radiate before falling asleep on their respective sides, remaining upright with strained necks like wilted flowers.
For the more adventurous singles, evenings are spent at the block’s nightclub, typically located at the bottom end of the cube’s maze-like descending path. The inconvenience of the club’s location is by design, so one is forced to pass every storefront before they reached its lonely, poorly attended corner of the lowest levels of the foundation. Often the single man or woman on the prowl arrive reluctantly with a handful of shopping bags. Realizing how awkward it is not to have a free hand, they turn around and walk all the way back to their apartment.
But not this time – not this Saturday night, thought Kevin Marcus, who lived on the third level of the 1021st Block. Kevin was on a mission for action at his block’s bar Destiny Gambol. He felt a profound momentum, successfully avoiding temptation as he walked past popular men’s stores like WEAR-WOLF, THE SHOE FLY, and BEER ME!, where he worked and often spent his time after hours. He was hoping he might see the attractive brunette from level six again, maybe find the courage to ask her something else besides the floor she lived on, and this time hopefully without a handfuls of impulse items.
Kevin blew into the dimly lit Destiny Gambol like a breeze. He scanned the crowded room. Wow, he thought. Place is packed, though I’ve never seen these people before. Must be new tenants, but all at once? And have these people all taken the same confidence-boosting drug? They’re having the time of their lives! They’re all grooving in sync, like they all know each other already but I don’t know, they look a little… off?
Typically, Kevin would fall victim to self-inflicted alienation when faced with anyone having too much fun. But this uninhibited display was contagious.
He got right in there, continuing to scan for the brunette.
There she was. Dancing with a rather masculine woman. Or was it a very feminine man? No matter, it looked like she was uncommitted for now – just having fun, as he saw her cut in with another clubber, radiant with sexual ambiguity. She swung her head as her black bob flew away from her eyes, opening a view directly at Kevin.
She whispered something to her dance partner, rubbing their shoulder as she began to walk toward him.
“You’re the guy from the other night, right?”
“Yeah, Kevin from Level Three! I never got your name?”
“Tracy. Tracy Noble,” she replied, nodding her head warmly. “I was a little late getting the memo to what’s going on here tonight – somehow I feel like you may be too?” she asked, staring inquisitively at the area that made him a man.
“Yeah, I was gonna ask…”
“Revolution, baby! All these people – these actually very normal people – are part of this whole thing, what they’re calling a Sex Clash Club Crash. It’s all regular people who trade their gender in for a night and see how the other half lives. Its kinda crazy but, I mean, look how much fun they’re having?”
Now that he knew, Kevin re-scanned the room to assess. Hetero as he was, a wash of relief came over him, as he was whisked back to his younger days in Hollywood where he would crossdress.
He loved the anonymity of crossdressing. He considered it a sort of tribute to women – because he truly loved women, along with their fashion. He even committed to wearing female undergarments. The underwear was his favorite indulgence – it wasn’t just arousing, it made him feel… well, pretty.
“Hey,” she nudged him. “You still there?”
“HA! Yeah, sorry… Okay, listen. My name is Kevin and I know this is forward but I have a crazy idea.”
Tracy’s eyes lit up, praying it was what she thought.
“Oh my God I think I love it already…”
Kevin grabbed her hand, leading her out of the club as they started running through the shopping center back to his apartment. The thrill was all Tracy’s as the lights of the storefronts whizzed by her. She already thought this guy was special – but the wild discipline of traversing the whole mall without buying anything?
They didn’t need to. Once they entered Kevin’s apartment, they had everything they needed. They began removing their clothing – frantic yet careful not to pop any buttons. Instead of throwing them on the floor, they handed each article right over one another – blue jeans for the black skirt, his white dress shirt for her black blouse, black brassier for his white wifebeater undershirt, boxers for panties, nylons for socks.
“And… thank you.” Kevin looked at her right in the eyes as she handed him her hosiery.
“Oh my God, thank YOU. Okay, can I do you now?”
Tracy whipped the make-up bag out of her purse. Within six masterful minutes Kevin’s face popped like a Nagel painting. Returning the favor, Kevin took a baby wipe from his nightstand and went to work on her, removing her make up to reveal her natural untainted beauty. He handed her one of his Stetsons as she pulled her hair up. Her locks in a pile on her head made the hat fit nice and tight.
They returned downstairs, reeling from excitement of their new transformation, like something confined inside them had been turned loose. For Kevin, of course, it was a revisit to freedom. They re-entered Destiny Gambol instantly turning heads – inspiring applause even – as their new crowd stood impressed of how quickly they caught up with their new social coup.
* * *
Kevin and Tracy proved inseparable. Within two whirlwind months they made a landmark decision to move in together. Kevin gave up his place on Level Three and elevated himself to her place on the Sixth. They ended every night at Destiny Gambol, as Sex Clash Club Crash had since taken permanent residence there. No longer a fly-by-night community experiment, its influence had quickly spread not just to the other blocks, but was now happening in every major city as a conscious alternative to the mundane.
NOWTV even saw its first dip in ratings – a substantial percentage of Sex Clashers began to associate staying home and binge-watching with defeatist boredom and the old guard of disaffection.
It was a time of firsts for people like Kevin and Tracy as well. It was a Saturday night, and while Kevin was now the one who spent too much time in the bathroom applying his make-up, Tracy was mysteriously hogging it while he paced around impatiently. Before he could holler for the third time that they were going to be late, she dramatically kicked open the door, standing hands on hips, glaring at him with a freshly shaved head.
“HOLY SHIT, HONEY! You look so cool!” She could do no wrong in his eyes.
“HA! Thanks. I figured I should step it up since you bought the wig. You know, I was thinking – what if you changed your name? I mean, I’m Tracy, which can go either way. Kevin just sounds so unlike you now.”
“Great point, Tracy. From now on, I’m Kylie. Always loved that name for a girl.”
“Aaaawesuuuuuum! I actually already got you the legal petition form. I put it on your desk while you were doing your make-up. See, I’m a man – I get stuff done!”
He did a double take, interrupting his smile with a bitten lip. “Thank you baby. We’re really going past the point of no return, aren’t we?”
* * *
That night of firsts continued down at Destiny Gambol. Little did they know they’d be walking into an impromptu celebration for their friend Blair, who had just went all the way. While a female to male sex change wasn’t the rarest thing in the world anymore, it was the first time any of these new Destiny Gambol regulars had achieved it. Like the dawning of a new era where anything was possible.
“Honey, this would have gone down two years ago if it wasn’t for the mandatory therapy! PULEEZE! As if I don’t know what I want and shouldn’t get it when I want!” Blair replied after Tracy congratulated him for the perseverance.
Another first, and on an even more enigmatic note: it appeared Tracy was behaving far more boisterous than usual. First, Kevin noticed she was making every single person high-five her – even doubling down on those caught off guard. Then, she was trying to bump chests with each person who happened to nod in agreement with her during conversation. But when they’d recoil in confusion, she would save it with another last-ditch high-five. Second, she was drinking far more than usual. She continued ordering shots and double-fisting beers, but this was clearly a result of the aggressive body contact language and not the other way around.
Third, she was referring to everyone as bro and dude, even slipping into a displaced Staten Island accent, even though she had lived on the West Coast her whole life. Kevin couldn’t help but laugh – it was becoming absurd. But every time he would giggle, she would sock him in the chest.
“Bitch!” she would say.
Kevin could take hits, but it was getting embarrassing. He resisted until he could no longer bear it, finally taking her aside.
“Hey, baby… Can I ask you something if you promise not to take it the wrong way?”
“Yo, what’s up?” she responded with an arcane hip-hop hand gesture.
“Do you… actually know what it’s like to be a man? Like, just a normal guy? It’s not at all like how you’re acting tonight.”
Tracy’s eyes became far away as she went silent, unresponsive even to Kevin’s third attempt addressing her.
“Okay, let’s get you home…” he said, as he tried in vain to put his arm around her. She walked ahead the whole way back as Kevin obediently trailed behind. The only moment they walked in sync was when they both noticed a group of hard hats putting the finishing touches on a new business opening, though indistinguishable, as they had just began applying the letters to their brand name marquee.
When they got back to their apartment, Kevin tried once again to pierce the disarming silence of her steely gaze.
“I… don’t want to talk about it,” she finally blurted out. “Yeah, maybe something happened to me years ago, but you’re still a man under all that make-up, so you wouldn’t get it. And it’s none of your business.”
Even with his ribs still throbbing from her unprovoked roughness earlier, these words were like a punch in his stomach. After all the intertwining intimacy they shared, she was suddenly a stranger. A profound sadness overwhelmed him while he scrambled for something, anything to save the evening on a decent note, maybe something they’d never done before?
“I know it sounds sort of mediocre, but why don’t we just sit and watch NOWTV? We’ve never done that as a couple, and we need to just turn off our brains for a bit, I think?”
Tracy shrugged her shoulders as she sat on the couch. Kevin took this as a yes as he flipped on the big screen in front of them and joined her right in time for a commercial while they got comfortable.
A vanilla man and woman, both platinum blonde, appeared on the screen while a horrid MIDI-horn version of Bowie’s “Changes” played beneath their pitch.
Hi, I’m Greg!
And I’m Peggy!
(Together) And we’d like to welcome you to GREG AND PEGGY’S SPARE PARTS FOR BROKEN HEARTS, the world’s first franchised walk-in gender fixer-upper!
“Wait, is this a show, or a commercial… or some kind of joke?” Kevin wondered out loud.
“It’s obviously a commercial, Kylie,” Tracy mumbled under her breath. “Remember you were too cheap to get the upgraded NOWTV with no commercials? Great, I think it’s modeled after one of those vintage half-hour long infomercials too, in front of a rehearsed studio audience,” she groaned, rolling her eyes as the invasive commercial raged on.
“Are you one of those people that, just, never felt comfortable in their own skin? Like you were born in the wrong body? Folks, in our ever changing world we see the blur of progress practically erasing our histories, sometimes we can’t remember what an old city block used to resemble, anymore than who WE used to actually be. Can you remember, what used to make you YOU?”
“Well, if the answer is no, we’ve got good news for you: You’re only human. These estranged feelings we get as we usher in the new world aren’t just perfectly normal – they’re EXCITING! There’s a shift going on – a revolution – and here at Greg and Peggy’s Spare Parts For Broken Hearts, we’re getting in on the ground floor of this magic moment!
(YOUR MAGIC MOMENT! OUR MAGIC MOMENT! The audience screamed in unison)
“Folks, we feel that all the strife and conflict in our world, since the beginning of time, has been a result of The War of The Sexes – the eternal inability to truly empathize with the opposite sex, bringing those existential feelings of self-loathing that often results in aggression towards others. While we can’t stop being human, what we have now are OPTIONS to take control and become somebody brand new… and while the practice has been around for quite some time, we’ve got a patent on the most streamlined version of sex change technology, and we are calling it GENDERCIDE!
“Wait, did they just say Gendercide?” Kevin asked.
“Tracy, that’s already a term. It has nothing to do with sex change. Gendercide is the systematic killing – you know, genocide – of members of a specific gender. Sort of like what happened to all those women in Juarez thirty years ago…”
“Oh quit mansplaining, Kylie… I honestly don’t even remember that ever happening and I doubt anyone would. Stop interrupting the infomercial, PLEASE!” Tracy was suddenly more focused on the TV than she had been with Kevin for the last month.
“That’s right, Gendercide! Folks, let me ask you a question: Who made the decision what gender you were going to be? God? Your parents? SO-CI-YO-TEE?”
“Well, not YOU, that’s for sure! Now, let me ask you another question. What IS GENDER? Is, like, that even a thing?”
“Now, let’s look at sex. Our so-called GENDERS seem to have been revealed as a mass-conspiracy from the powers that be to procreate – to propagate our species. Well, guess what? NO ONE IS EVEN HAVING SEX ANYMORE!!! I mean, GET WITH IT, PEOPLE!!! THE WRITING IS ON THE BEDROOM WALLS!!!”
“Sex. The old ‘in-out,’ right? Well, just because we are no longer having sex doesn’t mean we can’t GET INSIDE
each other anymore. With Gendercide, the ‘getting inside’ one another has taken on a whole NEW LEVEL OF COMMITMENT!”
“Now, you seem like a crowd that knows what they want when they want it, right?”
“Well, the best part of Greg and Peggy’s Spare Parts For Broken Hearts is that there is NO MORE WAITING with our newly patented hour-short Gendercide operation! Who says you have to spend two grueling pre-op years with some hack shrink making sure you really want what you really, really want?!?”
Within the span of the commercial, Kevin went from fascinated to disgusted.
“Broken hearts? This is trite. And just fucking creepy. It’s not as if every single one of us are broken people or something… I feel like these people are trying to profit from us, like co-opting our whole lifestyle. They’re just creating more anxiety in people like us who happen to be more susceptible to it, in order to tap into our vulnerabilities, then right into our wallet. And I mean, look at this Greg and Peggy couple – they’re as straight as they come!” he said, pointing to the screen.
Tracy said nothing, remaining transfixed by the screen.
“NOW I’VE GOT JUST ONE LAST QUESTION FOR YOU, STUDIO AUDIENCE… WHAT SIDE ARE YOU ON?!?”
“THAT’S RIGHT!!! Now, can we have a volunteer…”
“Alright, I’ve had enough. You want to get ready for bed?” Kevin looked forward to slipping into his nightgown,
thankful to have a partner like Tracy who understood these little things about him.
“No, I’m good. I’ve gotta see how they do this…”
* * *
The next night, as the regular crowd assembled at Destiny Gambol, Kevin opted to stay home while Tracy joined them solo. He thought he might change his approach – this time, to challenge her new abrasive personality with nothing but kindness and hospitality. After she left for the bar, he snuck downstairs to GROCERY ISLE, their block’s new Tiki-themed food market, to grab some quick ingredients to make them a candle-lit late night dinner when she got home. He was giddy, brimming over with anticipation of her surprise.
On his way back to the apartment, Kevin noticed the new storefront they passed the previous night had just opened that day. A grand opening it looked like. For a split second he was amazed at their progress. Two seconds later he filled with dread, peering up to the sign above the glass windows.
GREG AND PEGGY’S SPARE PARTS FOR BROKEN HEARTS.
GRAND OPENING FULL SERVICE SPECIAL – $100!!!
OPEN TWENTY-FOUR HOURS SEVEN DAYS A WEEK!
He nearly fainted at the sight. What was one of the most surreal nightmares he had watching a television commercial was now a reality.
Now, he had to believe it.
Another sign boasted all of their other locations at nearly every other block in a ten-city radius, like a Starbucks for the sex change set.
He walked faster, back to the confines of his apartment, which was in the confines of the shopping center, in the confines of the block, and so on. He got to his door, fumbling with the keys as he raced inside. He nervously started chopping meat, then unwrapped the vegetables, forgetting exactly what he was doing and why he was doing it every ten seconds or so.
An hour passed and Kevin had successfully gotten everything into the oven. He knew Tracy would be home around ten since it was a work night, so all he had to do was re-heat the casserole dish if it finished early and she wasn’t home yet.
He waited. It was now 10:16 and there was no sight of her, no text from her appearing on the NOWTV screen where he was watching the World War Three special on the History Channel, just to pass the time.
10:47. He was starting to get worried. He texted her twice and even tried calling. No response.
It was now eleven. He began to pick at the food, starving as he gingerly stuck a fork into the dish in the oven to tide him over.
11:30 came and he was in a cold sweat, wondering if he should just get into his nightgown and call it a night, when Tracy opened the door. He felt dizzy with relief as he ran to the door, his arms outstretched to embrace her.
“DON’T FUCKING TOUCH ME!!!” she screamed as she recoiled. “DON’T YOU DARE FUCKING TOUCH ME!”
She had changed again. Kevin’s mouth dropped as he tried to push words out, but he could muster nothing but a sad stutter.
“YOU COOKIN? SMELLS LIKE YOU’RE COOKIN’, BUT I DON’T SEE MY DAMN FOOD ANYWHERE…”
She pushed him aside as she walked passed to follow the smell into the kitchen. Kevin followed her, frantic and on the verge of tears.
He began apologizing, he wasn’t sure why.
“SHUT UP! JUST SHUT THE HELL UP AND WHY AM I COMING HOME TO A MESSY KITCHEN?”
Kevin shook his head in disbelief, his legs weak. He felt a gravity beckoning him to crumble into the linoleum, but he finally found the words through his tears.
“Wha… why are you acting like this? You know this isn’t how we act, right? Where are you getting this fro…”
And before he could finish, Tracy’s open hand came swinging down on his cheek, a force like a Louisville Slugger that knocked him to the floor.
She pointed at him, now curled up fetal, trembling in hysteric sync with his own sobbing.
“YOU. DON’T TELL ME. WHAT IT’S LIKE TO BE A MAN. ANYMORE.” She dropped trou. A gore-streaked appendage hung from between her legs, something masquerading as a phallus in lieu of truly caring for what was beneath it all.