WARNING: This poem deals with some intense personal topics. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. The two main characters are dealing with very difficult issues around gender identity and sexual orientation. They are at the stage where they're realizing their current circumstances are untenable, but they are not yet ready to make the major changes required for happiness. However! They do get there, because this is actually a prequel for Hyperspaceman and Professor Nigel Bonneville, both of whom we've seen in much better circumstances farther down the timeline. If these are sensitive topics for you, please consider your headspace before reading onward.
"If You Do Not Change Direction"
Denise slips into the little cluster of chairs
reserved for the QUILTBAG Literary Sewing Circle.
A secondhand copy of Breakfast on Pluto, the cover
creased where sweaty hands had clutched it while
reading, keeps threatening to slide off the bump
that would become a daughter.
Denise is early, but then that always happens;
it is pleasant to sit in the quiet bookstore
and watch people milling around.
It helps distract from the mess of Denise's life.
Sometimes, Professor Bonneville comes early too,
drifting between the bookcases in his denim shirt
and blue jeans, his sophisticated speech
at odds with his casual clothes.
The Professor's personal life has been crumbling
around him, taking with it most of his ability
to structure it, and his possessions,
and his professional life.
"Rough week?" he asks as he
settles into a chair beside Denise.
"Yeah, I just ... don't know how much longer I can
do this," Denise replies, tucking long dark hair behind
one ear. It helps, a little, to talk with a friend about this.
Hopefully the Professor gets the same satisfaction.
His eyebrows go up. "Is anything
wrong with the baby?"
"No, no, I'm happy about the baby,"
says Denise. "I'm just not happy
being pregnant. Using these --"
A hand fluttered. "-- woman parts.
I thought I could pretend, make it work,
but this really isn't me. I feel like
I was born in the wrong body.
I should have been a man."
"You could be," the Professor points out.
"People do that sort of thing."
"I have a family," she whispers.
"I have to be here for them.
So how is school going?"
He winces and looks away.
"It's ... going," he says.
"Badly, for the most part."
"I'm sorry to hear that," says Denise.
"It is not your fault the Dean is a bigot,"
says the Professor. "He was content enough
with me teaching Medieval Literature, but
lobbying for Queer Literature has likely
run my tenure track off the rails."
"People move, Professor," says Denise.
"Maybe you'd be happier at another university.
You might even meet some cute guy, settle down,
and start a family of your own."
"That is easier said than done, alas,"
he says with a sad smile. "Besides,
I have to stay for my students."
More members of the book club
drift into the group of chairs,
and the conversation stalls out
as Denise and the Professor
drop their personal topics.
One thing that Denise likes about
this group is its custom of 'sewing together'
queer literature with works of philosophy,
to show how different ideas can connect.
Today the matching text turns out to be
something about Lao Tzu, and
the speaker reads out a quote for
everyone to consider:
"If you do not change direction,
you may end up where you are heading."
Denise looks up and catches
the Professor's gaze, solemn and
shaking with the weight of
what they have heard.
It hangs there,
in the air between them like
a curtain, the need for change which
they must pass through on the way
to who they need to be.
They aren't ready yet,
neither of them, and
they both know it.
But someday they will be.
* * *
"If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading."
-- Lao Tzu
QUILTBAG spans the whole alt-sex front.
Breakfast on Pluto is a queerlit classic.
Some transfolk don't realize their identity until rather late in life, although they often feel some kind of tension long before they recognize why. There are tips for identifying your gender identity.
Homophobia in academia is a problem. It complicates the coming out process for students and faculty alike.
Major life changes can be scary and confusing. This often entails going through stages to reach acceptance. Understand how to work through the process of change.