Gary Couzens is a British writer whose work has been published in The Magazine of
Fantasy & Science Fiction, Interzone, The Third
Alternative, Peeping Tom, Psychotrope and Urges, and in the anthology
Bizarre Sex and Other Crimes of Passion (Richard Kasak Books). This story previously appeared in
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by Gary Couzens
Penny has a migraine.
She's suffered from them since her early teens, enough to know their onset: the sick feeling
in her stomach, the one-side-of-the-head ache, the visual disturbance. "I'm sorry," she mutters.
She gets up from her VDU and hurries to the Ladies'. She leans against the washbasin, gazing at
her reflection. Someone has cleaned up in here; the air is sour with disinfectant. Penny's face is
pale. But despite the churning inside her, the dizziness, at least she's unlikely to vomit.
She holds her breath and counts to ten, then strides purposefully back into her office, past
her desk and up to the end of the room where Pam, the supervisor, sits. Pam looks up, eyes large
behind her glasses. "You don't look too well, Penny."
"I'm not," says Penny, rubbing at the pain, over her right eye.
Pam tuts. "You really ought to see a doctor."
"I've seen a doctor." Several, in fact. The first, a man, was inclined to blame it on PMT.
But the headaches don't coincide with her periods, more like halfway between them. My
"How are you going to get home?"
"My bus goes at half past."
"You will be all right? You don't want me to drive you home?"
"No, I'll be all right, thanks."
As the bus tails through the outskirts of Birmingham, Penny lightly closes her eyes. A hazy
winter sun glares painfully through the window. The noisy chatter of schoolchildren assaults her
ears. When she got on this bus, she made sure she sat alone. She wrapped her arms about
herself, folded one leg over the other, tugged at her skirt to cover her knees. Self-contained,
untouchable. Contact hurts. But the bus has filled up with children returning home; she now has a
boy of fifteen sitting next to her, leaning across to chat up the girl across the aisle. The girl is
laughing at what he says. Penny is not impressed, but then she's twenty-five now, not fifteen any
She lets herself into the house she shares with four others. In the kitchen she eats nothing,
drinks only water. She doubts she could keep anything else down. She goes to her room, shuts
the door, draws the curtains. Silence, apart from the creak of a loose floorboard. She's the only
one in the house. That's the way she likes it: Mark across the corridor has been known to play
high-volume heavy metal in the evenings. Normally it's an irritant; now it'd be like needles raking
She undresses down to her bra and knickers. She shivers in the cold air and hurriedly
climbs into bed, pulling the sheets and blankets up to her neck. She closes her eyes and tries to
sleep, the only relief from the thick pulsing inside her skull.
She sleeps fitfully, if at all.
Today was the day one of my colleagues, Sarah, left to go on
maternity leave. Another colleague, Sammi, who had done likewise a year before and never came
back, also called in to visit, baby in tow. Sammi and Sarah and other women in the office who'd
had babies -- and a few broody non-mothers as well -- compared pregnancy notes, admired
Sammi's young son. At the centre of it all Sarah sat, self-evidently happy, full, fat and
My name is Peter. I was one of three men in the office. One of the others, who couldn't
stand young children, took the opportunity to go for a coffee. I, on the other hand, stayed and
watched, in between phonecalls glancing up.
Envy is a destructive emotion. And inaccurate: I didn't envy Sarah. Not her happiness, at
least. But in a way she took her good fortune for granted. If, as I ardently hoped, I could live as
a woman - the operation being the final stage of it - I could never be pregnant, never have a
child of my own. It was, quite simply, medically impossible.
And babies were back in fashion, of course. Farewell to the careerist Eighties, welcome to
the brand spanking new green caring sharing Nineties. Hail the 1992/93 birthrate bulge. If
the Eighties were symbolised by the yuppie, than the key figure of the Nineties was the Earth
Oh cruel nature. Stick in the knife and twist it home.
In the evening I went home. I was tired - I was always tired after work now. There were
not enough staff to answer the volume of calls that came in day after day, so we all went home
mentally poleaxed, often with a stress headache.
I shared a house in Aldershot with four other men. One of them was rarely in and, when he
was, he was more concerned with fucking his girlfriend than with socialising. It wasn't a
household as such, just five individuals under one roof. I kept myself apart, and was content to
keep it that way. No-one came into my room unless invited. For there I kept my secret. I had
never told my mother (my father died five years ago), nor my elder brother Richard, living in
Southampton. And speaking of fashion...Richard's wife Michelle was soon to produce the first of
their 2.4 children.
Consider: if I revealed all to any of them (housemates or relatives), how would they react?
Would they think I was gay? I was not, though I'd had one (and only one, thoroughly
unsuccessful) homosexual experience. That I was a transvestite? No, a transvestite knows that
under the lacy bra and frilly panties, the schoolgirl dresses, the wigs and makeup, is a
fully-functioning masculine body ... with an erection. Many drag queens despise women, and no
transvestite wants to be one. There is a divide between acting and reality.
A male transsexual wants to close that divide. To be a woman. I am a male
Often I stood naked in front of a mirror, the full-length one in my wardrobe. However
much I tried to rationalise it, I looked wrong. My mind and my body were out of phase. Where
were my breasts? (In my imagination I had magnificent breasts, say 38D.) What was that
useless knot of tissue, like a twisted sock, hanging between my legs?
My clothes. I had quite a collection, carefully gathered over the years. I'd shopped for it,
an item at a time, different shops in different towns so that no-one might recognise me as a
regular. Often the assistants would offer to help; perhaps I looked like the man buying his
girlfriend/wife a present for her birthday or - at the appropriate time of year - for Christmas.
A bra here (which I'd pad out with socks when I wore it), a pair of knickers there, some tights,
some pairs of one-size-fits-all stockings. Some old skirts I'd bought at a jumble sale.
Lipstick, eyeshadow. When I wanted to feel sexy, I had a black suspender belt. And the pride of
my collection: a long lavender evening dress. When I was alone in the house and knew I wouldn't
be disturbed, I'd put them on. And for a while I'd cease to be Peter and I'd become ... Marie. She
is me and I am she.
Go On To Part Two