Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "Stripping Away the Inessential"

This poem came out of the February 2016 Creative Jam.  It was inspired by a prompt from Dreamwidth user Serpentine.  It also fills the "genderswap" square in my 10-1-15 card for the Trope Bingo fest and the "cover identity" square in my 1-1-16 card for the Spies, Secret Agents, and Noir Bingo fest.  This poem has been cosponsored by lone_cat and Dreamwidth user Alatefeline.  It belongs to the Calliope thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

Warning: This poem contains some intense material.  Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers.  There is gender dysphoria, misgendering, transphobia, toxic coworkers, dysfunctional relationships, boundary issues, and other angst.  In particular, Cal is still masquerading as "Calvin" in the ordinary world, with the birth identity functioning as the fake secret identity for someone who is really a woman and really a superhera.  As you can see, this is a rough ride.  On the bright side, Cal's boss is awesome and Vagary is as protective as he is clumsy. If these are sensitive issues for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.

Stripping Away the Inessential

What nobody knows about Calliope
is how much time she still spends
pretending to be Calvin.

The role is familiar, and
she can fit herself into it
like slipping on an old glove,

but it is not effortless.

Calvin works at a craft store,
and while he enjoys teaching
the customer classes there, he
does not  enjoy dealing with
some of his coworkers.

Austin can be charming to people
he likes, but he is a complete douche
to people he dislikes, and he is notably
transphobic.  Various coworkers have
suggested this as the reason why --
despite his business degree -- he is
doing inventory at a chain craft store
instead of executive work somewhere
more prestigious.  He never listens.

Calvin is stuck overhearing Austin
harassing a customer, and is tempted
to hit him with an arctic blast, but
the problem is, Calvin doesn't have
superpowers and isn't even a hero.

That's Calliope, and she doesn't work here.
Calvin is just the guy in the lame sweater
and the nametag that never hangs right,
who keeps his head down and doesn't
want trouble and doesn't attract attention.

So he bites his tongue and concentrates
on reorganizing the bulletin board to show
next month's classes, until the manager
comes boiling out of her office to rip Austin
the new asshole he so urgently deserves.

A handful of coupons, a handful of tissues,
and the customer -- who is still painfully far
from passing and obviously not used to doing
lady things like shopping in a craft store --
is smiling through her tears.

Calvin wishes he could tell her
that becoming the woman within is
less about changing and more about
stripping away the inessential.

It is what he does when he gets home,
shucking off Calvin like an ill-fitting suit,
and finally taking a deep breath as Calliope.

Of course that's when Vagary says,
"You look like shit. Hard day at work?"

She turns around and shouts at him,
because damn it, yes it was, and now
her evil unboyfriend knows about
her cover identity and there's nothing
she can do about any of that.

"Whoah, hey, I'm sorry, I could
make you coffee or something?"
Vagary says, waving his hands.

"Coffee cannot fix everything!"
Calliope snaps at him, and then --
because he's there and he started it --
unloads on Vagary the tirade that
had been building up over Austin.

"What a douche," says Vagary.
"So if I was to go buy a few cases
of colored paper, enough to make him
come out of the stock room with them, and
I accidentally-on-purpose phase-erased
all the magstrips in his wallet, how much
community service would I theoretically
be looking at for doing that?"

Calliope opens her mouth to lecture him
about ethics, and then realizes that she
has absolutely no fucks left to give.

"I don't know, I wouldn't see a thing,"
she says, heading for the bathroom.
"I'll be busy elsewhere for a while.
I have to go wash my hair."

* * *


Calliope (Calvin Sanna) -- Calliope comes from Oklahoma; the father's family is Greek-American, while the mother's family is American.  Calliope has light olive skin with gray eyes and short hair in shades of lighter and darker blond.  Cal is demiromantic demisexual.  She speaks English, Greek, and Esperanto.
Origin: Sucked into a tornado.
Uniform: Feminine-styled costume of dexflan and capery in dusty shades of pink, blue, lavender, and cream.
Qualities: Good (+2) Consideration, Good (+2) Flexible, Good (+2) Handiwork, Good (+2) Listener, Good (+2) Word Puzzles
Poor (-2) Distractible
Powers: Expert (+4) Air Powers (meta-power including Flight, Phasing, Sonic Blast, Tornado Straws, Whirlwind, Windtalking), Average (0) Empathy, Average (0) Shapeshifting
Vulnerability: Air Powers are opposed by Earth Powers.  Some Air abilities do not work on an Earth-powered opponent, and vice versa, typically those meant to affect a person directly.  Others gain an upshift on damage, typically attacks.
Limitation: So far the Shapeshifting only works to switch between Calvin and Calliope.  As the power improves, additional shapes may be gained.
Motivation: Self-discovery.

Austin Botts -- He has fair skin, brown eyes, and short dark hair.  He gets chilled easily, and often wears two or three layers of clothes.  Austin has a business degree from the University of Oklahoma.  He handles the inventory for the craft store where Calvin Sanna (Calliope) works.  While charming to most people, he can be a complete douche to people he dislikes -- and he is notably transphobic.  This is a key reason why he is working mostly in the back room of a chain craft store instead of an executive job at a more prestigious business.
Qualities: Good (+2) Charming, Good (+2) Handsome, Good (+2) Logical-Mathematical Intelligence, Good (+2) Materials Management, Good (+2) Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity
Poor (-2) Transphobic

Vagary (Abelardo Bennett) -- He has fair skin, brown eyes, and dark hair with a short beard and moustache.  His very mixed heritage includes Jewish, Spanish, German, and Italian.  He enjoys taking tours at museums, art galleries, caves, parks, monuments, anywhere he can be part of a group without people expecting him to be charming.  He also loves strategy games, with a particular taste for area-control ones.
 Vagary currently works for the supervillain organization Kraken.  He is a competent spy, adept at both planting and stealing small items as well as eavesdropping.  He specializes in fishing for information by hanging around places of power in semi-public or taking tours, and skimming for valuable thoughts.  Kraken has considered him for officer training, held back primarily by his shyness and poor social skills; so far he has only taken the lead in a few small teams.
Origin: Abelardo was kicked out of his rather conservative home for "sexual confusion."  A Kraken officer recruited him by providing acceptance of whatever he turned out to be.  Abelardo never has really nailed down his sexual orientation or identity, but unlike his family, Kraken doesn't care.  The organization offered him the gamble of taking a potent metagen; he accepted, and developed superpowers.
Uniform: Kraken uniform of dexflan and capery; the jumpsuits is sensibly designed with sleek fit, plenty of pockets and fasteners for equipment.  It provides Expert (+4) Camouflage to a designated user, but if worn by anyone else, turns garish neon colors.  The utility belt contains a multitude of small gizmos and other tools, along with a holster for the Confusticator zap gun which causes disorientation and short-term memory loss.  Off-duty, Abelardo favors business casual, most often trousers and a polo shirt.
Qualities: Good (+2) Flexible, Good (+2) Gamer, Good (+2) Patience, Good (+2) Spy, Good (+2) Touring
Poor (-2) Social Skills
Powers: Average (0) Phase, Average (0) Telepathy
Limitation: His Telepathy is usually restricted to skimming strong signals from the ambient pitch pool, rather than reading another person directly.  If he phases through someone, it functions at Good level and he can read them directly, but he feels very uncomfortable doing that.
Motivation: To explore while unobserved.

* * *

"Why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me."
-- J. K. Rowling

Gender dysphoria is not a mental illness unto itself, but the mismatch between mind and body can disrupt mental health if untreated.  (Some transfolk are aware of the divergence but do not find it life-wrecking.  Cal is not that lucky, and pretending to be "Calvin" is frankly hazardous.)  There are ways to cope with gender dysphoria.

Passing as a woman helps some transfolk feel better, but it takes practice.

Transphobia is an intense, irrational fear or hatred of transgender people.  Know how to fight it.

Personal boundaries can prove challenging to people who grew up without them.  Vagary has taken classes at Calliope's urging, but it's very much a work in progress. Boundary violations can take a lot of work to fix.

Displacement involves shifting emotions such as anger from an unsafe target to a safer one.  While this may avoid danger, it does not solve problems.  Vagary makes an easy, obvious target because he is a supervillain and keeps annoying Calliope. That doesn't make it okay.  There are tips for managing anger in healthy ways and dealing with an angry person.

"I'll be busy elsewhere" is what a superhero says to invite a supervillain to deal with some issue, free of interference, even if the methods involve bending or breaking the law. It has also been used to warn soup-hostile individuals or towns: "If you keep hassling soups like this, then next time a supervillain makes trouble here -- well, I might be busy elsewhere."

Tags: activism, cyberfunded creativity, fantasy, fishbowl, gender studies, poem, poetry, reading, weblit, writing
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