“What’s your voice?” the Legend said. “That’s what they all wanted to know after a while. After they stopped with the other shit. All that, ‘Did they give you a penis in surgery? Are you ever going to go back? How do you fuck?’ That one was always my favorite. How do you fuck. What kind of question is that? How do you fuck?”
He paused to hold up the pour of tequila he’d been holding onto. He pondered it. Adrian noted he had yet to take a drink. Ever since the interview started, the Legend had clutched at the glass, but hadn’t raised it to his lips.
Adrian, for his part, was typing furiously. His fingers skittered over the keyboard trying to keep up with the Legend’s narrative. He’d been surprised that he’d been allowed to keep it. Rumor was the Legend wouldn’t allow anything more sophisticated than a number 2 pencil and notepad during interviews – which he gave so infrequently that no one was sure when the last one he’d given even was.
“Tequila is the same as wine,” he said, nodding at the glass. “Most people don’t realize the work that goes into it. It’s a drink you should enjoy instead of just shooting it to get drunk. Never understood the appeal of that. Someone goes to the trouble of crafting this masterpiece – we’re talking years of work if you count the aging process – and all you want to do is turn it into piss as fast as you can.” He shook his head. “I’m rambling. You get old and you start losing track. One story turns into ten. Where was I?”
He was getting old, that much was true, Adrian decided. Older, anyway. But he wasn’t sure about the rest. A light beard covered the boyish face that had been almost as famous as the rest of him in his younger years. And the eyes belied a cleverness that modest wit couldn’t completely disguise.
“How do you fuck,” Adrian said.
“Yeah, yeah, right. All that stuff used to get to me. Sometimes I’d want to grab someone by his collar,get in his face and just scream, would you ask anyone else that? In what world is this okay?”
“But you got over that?”
“Got over, grew out of it. I don’t know, it just stopped mattering to me after a while. Ignorance breedscuriosity. People are always going to ask questions.”
“Some people might say it breeds hate.”
“They’d be wrong. Fear breeds hate. Hate perpetuates ignorance. But ignorance on its own? That just means you don’t know something. People were curious. And I was the most famous example of a girl turned boy at the time. So, to most, I was the only example. It was natural for them to wonder about me.”
“Tell me about that. The fame.”
The Legends snorted. “Fame is nothing more than having your entire life on display for everyone to analyze,” he said. “It’s a side-effect. In the case of porn it’s even more fleeting, because everyone has already seen you naked. Who cares if nude selfies get posted on the Internet.”
Adrian said, “How did you get into porn?”
“Right place right time. Or wrong place right time. Right place wrong time. Spin it how you like. I wasthere and the opportunity arose. There’d been enough of the male-to-female films out that people knew that being trans was a thing,” he said. “It wasn’t a big genre, but smut-watchers knew the word shemale and that it meant something like a crossdresser, but not really – that was the perception of most. I was the first one to come along who’d gone the other direction. There wasn’t even slang for meyet, derogatory or otherwise. My first video was a freaks feature. The kind made for those who’ve jerked off so much to everything else that they need something different, otherwise they’re just flapping rope around in their hands for all the good it does them.”
“Why porn?” Adrian said.
The Legend studied him. It was a gaze that might make you uncomfortable on a different face. But the older man’s features only made you think of a guy who’d stop to help you change a tire, then take you up on your offer of drinks afterword and wind up paying for the rounds himself.
“You a good writer?” the Legend asked.
“How do you mean?”
“Just that. Are you a good writer?”
“I always figured that was in the opinion of the reader.”
The Legend swished his glass in a slow circle. The ice cubes clinked. “That’s a shit answer and you know it. In your own opinion of yourself – which we all have, usually secreted away so that others won’t think we’re egotistical assholes – are you a good writer.”
Adrian felt a flush bloom in his neck and creep up to his face. He tried to think of a good answer, and finally decided to go with the truth.
“Yes,” he said. “I’d say I’m pretty good.”
“I have a good measure of talent.”
“And you discovered that from an early age. Probably developed a bit of a passion for it, that thing you were good at. Followed it through.”
“More or less, yeah. I’m sorry, what are you getting at?”
“I never had that,” the Legend said. “Never found that thing that said this is what you’re meant to do. My whole life growing up was spent running away from school, parents, you name it, because I wasn’t the person they insisted I was. That’s what I had. By the time I made myself, as best I could, into the person I knew I was . . . it was all I had. So I figured, why not do something with it?”
“So the porn took off.”
“Eventually. It was a rough start at first. Like I said, people didn’t know what to make of me, and that included producers. I was working out pretty hard at the time. Hormone therapy wasn’t what it is now, and I was terrified of my old body creeping back in. A doctor told me that weight lifting was a natural way to bump testosterone production, so I jumped on it. Add to that the tattoos I had, the piercings –anything to take away any perception of femininity – and I was a tough sell initially.”
“But you got in.”
“Sure. I made sixty bucks on my first shoot. A solo scene where I jerked off in an old hotel room for a guy who specialized in weird videos. Like I said, I was in the freak market to start.”
“But you got bigger.”
“Started my own company eventually. It’s still going strong, and I still pull a stipend from it, though I’ve left it to other people to run now. Younger generation and all that.”
Another silence fell between them, and Adrian thought about the question he really wanted to ask.
Seeming to sense it, the Legend said, “We about wrapped up?”
Adrian’s fingers klittered over the keyboard. He looked up and gave the Legend a smile. “Just a couple more questions?”
A gesture that said: Get on with it.
“You said everyone wanted you to have a voice. What did you mean by that?”
The Legend took his first drink of the night.
“You find yourself on a pedestal. All of a sudden what seemed like a few people that you knew because you found yourself in the same circumstances, suddenly that morphs into an entire movement. And you’re at the forefront of it. Because you’ve had the “courage” – that’s what they called it, courage, even though that was the farthest thing from what it was – to appear naked on camera, you were suddenly the spokesperson for every person in history who’d transitioned and had a hard time. I never asked to be put in that spot, but there I was. One day I’m working three jobs and doing porn, the nextI’m speaking on the radio, organizing rallies, protests . . .”
Here it was then. Adrian took a breath and asked his question.
“Tell me about the Middleton Protest.”
The Legend kept his gaze firmly fixed on some point past the line of trees.
“You don’t want people to know the truth?”
“People already know the truth. A major turning point in gay rights, riots, beatings. Blah-blah-blah. That part of me is long since gone. I don’t need to relive it.”
“It’s how you got your name, though. Isn’t it?”
“My name is Mark,” said the Legend. “Just Mark.”
They watched each other.
The Legend took the rest of his drink in one quick swallow.
“I thought you were supposed to savor that.”
“I’m the first to admit my own hypocrisy.”
Adrian smiled, and waited. The man would speak, or he wouldn’t. There was nothing more to do.
Finally, the Legend said, “We’ve always been a minority in a minority. We’re recognized now, but we’re still a tiny chunk of the gay population, and a tinier chunk of the population as a whole. The hell of it is, some of us are gay, some aren’t. The world doesn’t know what to do with us, but it likes things ordered and neat, so we get lumped in. So we were all queers. If you were gay, you were queer. If you were a transvestite you were a queer. Transsexual, queer. Just a bunch of faggots and sexual deviants. That’s how they saw us. You didn’t dare go outside the borders of your own neighborhood for fear of getting beaten or raped. Your life wasn’t off the table either.”
“And this led to what happened in Middleton.”
“It was part of it. The exact circumstances –“ he shrugged “– no one can say for sure. I’d been living there about a year at the time. It’s where most of the production companies I worked with were, so it made sense. The Middleton Club was in our neighborhood. Catered to us, and there weren’t many places that did, so we all flocked to it. The place was packed most nights. Anyway, there was this guy, Tony. Tony was gay, but he liked to cruise dressed as a woman. Well, that night I guess a few guys from the Porteco neighborhood decided they’d come down stir up some shit. It just happened they found Tony. Don’t know if he propositioned them or if they just caught him alone. Doesn’t really matter. They worked him over and left him with a skull fracture, a busted jaw, broken arm. At least one of them raped him. They left him in a dumpster in the alley outside the club.” The Legend swiped at his face, his fist balled tightly enough to make the skin white. “He would have died in there with the garbage if theowner hadn’t come out to empty the bins. Course he died the next day in the hospital. A little more dignified if things like that matter.”
“So you started the protests.”
“I don’t know if I started them. When a couple witnesses came forward and tried to identify the guys who’d done it and they were brushed off without an investigation . . . yeah, you get this sort of hivemind going. None of us had any idea what was going to happen. We couldn’t. I didn’t organize shit. We all were like . . . we just said, fuck it, enough is enough. Next thing we were marching.”
“How long before things erupted?”
“Not long. We marched the first night after Tony died. And no one cared. No reporters. No cops. So the next night we marched again, and took it further. Out of Middleton. People noticed then. We made the morning news. The next night when we took it even further there were cops. They didn’t do anything. Just stood with their shields raised. Night after we said, ‘we’re going to Porteco. That’s where the bastards who did this are from, that’s where we’re going.’ So we did.”
“And that set it off?”
“Yeah. That was the line, apparently. And we crossed it. It wasn’t just cops that night. Folks from the neighborhood lined up with the cops. And you could that this was it. Tonight was it. People talk about how the air feels different when something is about to go down. It’s not bullshit. You could feel it.” The Legend looked down at the empty glass like he wanted to pick it up, but he left it alone. “Someone looked at someone else the wrong way, or said the wrong thing. I don’t know. But one minute we’re mid-chant, the next there’s this wave, this wall of cops and pissed off folks crashing into us. It happened from everywhere. All sides, like a bunch of them had slipped around and flanked us. Everywhere we tried to turn there was a cop swinging a club, someone from the neighborhood trying to stick a kitchenknife in you. I guess we shouldn’t have been surprised considering what we were attempting. We were the lone gazelle surrounded by a bunch of lions that hadn’t decided if they were hungry or not. So what did we do? We pranced over and shook our tails in the lions’ faces. What did we expect to happen?”
“Do you regret what you did?”
“It doesn’t boil down to something as simple as regret. That implies you had some sort of control over things. We didn’t. All of us were just swept up in what was happening. And some good did come of it, so no I don’t regret it. But things like that, you look at them from the outside and they’re just too big. They’re too big for you. In the end you can’t change how a person is. If they’re gay, or straight, or trans. You can’t change if they’re a hateful creature trying to get back at the world for letting them exist in the first place. So you just look at these things and you feel this sadness. The kind that settles down into you and never really goes away.”
The sun had set. They were in the dark now, the only light coming from the stone fireplace on the patio, which the Legend had lit before they’d started. He got up and tweaked the control knobs, giving the flames a little more to burn. Shadows danced and flickered.
“Old bones don’t stay warm so well,” he said as he sank back into his chair. “And I really don’t mean to be rude, but we have to wrap up soon.”
“Just one more question,” Adrian said.
The Legend nodded.
“Tell me about the picture in the paper.”
The Legend’s smile was tired.
“I was wondering when you were going to get around to it,” he said.
“It’s what everyone wants to know.”
The picture was as famous as the riot itself. The woman over the bridge, her child dangling from her arms, the two of them screaming up at each other. And him, Him, the Legend. Flat on his stomach holding on to the woman by an ankle, the cop above him with club raised, oblivious to what was happening. All of them Immortalized in black and white.
But people always wanted to hear their stories again. Again, and again. And again.
It was probably good that way, Adrian thought. Less likely to forget. Or so you could hope.
“People heap such praise on it.” The Legend shook his head. “I don’t know, I was just there. We’d been herded onto this bridge over the river. Cops on either end. Might as well have been a shooting gallery – if they’d been using their guns, thank God they weren’t. I don’t know what the hell she was doing there. Maybe she was out for a walk with her kid and just got caught up in, but I saw here there against the rail, squeezing that kid of hers tight to her chest and looking scared as all get-out and the next thing I see someone fall into her and she’s going over. I don’t really remember much, just that I went after her. And the next thing both of my hands are around her ankle and my shoulders are wrenching loose of their sockets. I look down and see her dress up by her chin. She’s screaming, the baby is screaming, I’m screaming. Don’t even know what the cop was thinking when he started into me with his club, but I stopped screaming right quick. Hard to holler when your ribs are busted and blood is coming up in yourmouth. I only felt the first blow. Guess what they say about that is true, you. You only feel the first.”
He lifted his shirt and pointed.
“You can still see the scars where a couple of the ribs broke through.”
Adrian could, indeed, see the jagged, pale lines of flesh tracing around the side of the man’s torso.
The Legend let his shirt fall.
“I honestly don’t remember any more. I guess I hung on long enough that the cop saw what was going on and helped pull her up. That’s what they tell me happened. Don’t know who snapped that photograph, the one everyone goes on about, either. All I know is I woke up a few days later in the hospital, and that it hurt to breath for a few months after.”
This time when the silence came, Adrian knew they were done. He stopped typing and closed the lid on his computer.
“So,” he said. “Hence your name.”
“I told you,” the Legend said. “My name is Mark. And if you’ll excuse me . . .” He stood up.
Adrian rose and shook the other man’s hand when it was offered, then turned to go. He stopped as he got to the patio gate, the one that opened to the path leading up to the road, and his car that would carry him home, back to the city, and people, but he stopped and turned.
“One more thing? You don’t have to answer.”
“I know I don’t, but go on then.”
“Why did you disappear from the movement, drop out so completely?”
The old man shrugged.
“I guess I realized the world could get on without me,” he said. “Progress didn’t need me, and I wanted my life back.” He nodded to Adrian. “You go on and print your story. Maybe it’ll do some good, maybe it won’t. The sun will still come up in the morning either way.”
The Legend disappeared into his home, and after a moment Adrian went up the path to his car, but didn’t get in right away. From here he could see the ocean, grey in the moonlight, and he wanted to watch it for a while.