Warning: This poem contains some intense and controversial topics. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. It includes shifting affinities, interpersonal friction, changing alliances, homophobic actions. harsh homophobic language, bullying, gender discrimination, gender identity issues, emotional injury, ambivalent help-seeking behavior, Coach Bo Ray being an absolute asshole, Stan not knowing his own strength and clocking the coach verbally, extreme stress reactions, Stan quitting the football team, other players complaining about Stan quitting now that their crappy behavior is costing them something they want, Lawrence trying to clean up the mess, awkward conversations about sex and gender stuff, massive teen angst, and other challenges. If these are sensitive issues for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.
Stan had been studying football plays
since he knew what football even was,
and diagramming them since junior high.
It surprised him how easy they had gotten
for him to read, after he began playing chess.
He could glance over the field and predict,
pretty accurately, what people planned
to do, and adapt his plays on the fly.
He'd gotten so used to thinking
several moves ahead that football just
didn't seem as challenging as it used to.
The victory conditions weren't the same,
but the deep thinking still made a difference.
That annoyed Brant, because that kind of
strategy was usually a quarterback's job,
but Stan was the team captain so there
wasn't much Brant could do about it.
Meanwhile Jayce, the strong safety,
took to watching Stan for guidance,
enthusiastically following his lead.
Jayce's firm grasp of teamwork
made Stan's position stronger.
Fortney, a cornerback, wasn't
as fond of Stan as she used to be,
but she still minded him on the field.
Since they had enough players
to field an offensive and a defensive line
at the same time, they often practiced
that way. It meant that, increasingly,
the defense creamed the offense since
Stan could see right through them.
"Man, I don't know how you do it,
but that was amazing," Jayce said,
throwing an arm over Stan's shoulders
as they walked off the practice field.
Stan looked up to find Lawrence
watching him from the bleachers.
Lawrence gave him a little wave,
and Stan grinned back at him.
"It's the chess," Stan told Jayce.
"Playing a long game is really
improving my strategy."
"I'll say," Jayce replied.
"You two are chummy enough
on the playing field," Brant said.
"You don't need to ham it up
in the showers too."
"Teamwork is important
everywhere," Jayce said.
"Hey, watch where you're
going," Stan protested as Brant
shouldered his way between
them. "It's just a game."
"It's not just a game!"
"Okay, don't lose your shirt,"
Jayce said, patting the air.
"You need a haircut," Brant said,
tugging on Jayce's hair where it
brushed his collar. "People
will think you're a girl."
Jayce's sturdy build and
strong rectangular face made
him seem anything but feminine,
yet his stricken look caused Stan
to pay closer attention.
"Knock it off, Brant," Stan said
as they went inside. Then
he turned to Jayce and
asked, "Are you okay?"
Jayce just shook his head
and disappeared into the showers.
Stan washed hastily, toweled
the water out of his short hair, and
went looking for Jayce again.
Jayce was scrambling back into
his clothes with a desperate haste
that made Stan worry even more.
"Hey, you seem pretty freaked out
about something," Stan said to him.
"You don't have to talk about it if
you don't want to, but it might help.
You know I won't razz you over it,
no matter what it happens to be."
Jayce slumped on the bench,
leaning forward to brace his elbows
on his knees. "I don't think I can
do this anymore," he whispered.
"Do what?" Stan asked.
"Pretend to be a boy."
"O...kay," Stan said slowly.
"That's a big one. Tell you what,
let's talk to my boyfriend Lawrence.
He knows way more about sex
and gender stuff than I do."
Jayce looked away. "I know
you're sweet on him, Stan,
but he's kind of a jerk."
"Well, he was for a while --
drove me nuts for a couple years,"
Stan admitted, rubbing the back
of his neck. "He's changed, though.
Let me ask you this: have you ever
seen him tease anyone about sex stuff?
Or make a blonde joke, or anything?"
"Now that you mention it, no," said Jayce.
"See, he's been a jerk, but he's never
been a jerk about that," Stan said.
"Come on, give him a chance."
"I don't know," Jayce said
as they grabbed their stuff
and left the locker room.
"Okay, we could talk to the nurse
instead --" Stan began.
"No way, I can't stand the thought
of that," Jayce said, waving his hands.
"I'd rather risk it with your boyfriend."
"He won't let you down," Stan promised.
As they came into sight of the bleachers,
Lawrence stood up. Something must have
alerted him to trouble, because he snatched
his books off the bench and hurried toward them.
"What is going on here?" Coach Petersen said
as he came alongside Stan and Jayce.
"No big deal, Jayce just wants to talk
about some personal stuff with
Lawrence," said Stan.
"Oh, not that sissy shit again,"
Coach Petersen said, rolling his eyes.
"I told you to keep it in your pants
and quit whining about it!"
"You knew about this?"
Stan rounded on him. "Coach,
this isn't the kind of thing that
you can just bottle up."
"And I don't need you turning
every boy on this team into
a damn pansy," the coach said.
"Hey, let's not get all wound up,"
Lawrence said, stepping into the fray.
"Think it through, there has to be --"
"Well, of course you'd stick up
for him," Coach Petersen snapped.
"You have no idea," Lawrence breathed.
Coach Petersen went right on haranguing
both Lawrence and Jayce, with no sign
of slowing down any time soon.
Stan started to feel like everything was
getting out of hand, and he wasn't
sure what he could do to stop it.
Until he was.
"I quit," he said.
"What?" the coach said,
finally turning back to him.
"I resign from the team,"
Stan said. "You can promote
someone else to my position."
"You can't do that," Brant squawked,
suddenly alarmed despite his lack
of recent support. "We need you!"
"Brant is right," said Coach Petersen.
"You've got a responsibility to the team.
You can't just bail out because you
got your precious feelings hurt."
"I'm sorry, Coach, but football
just isn't as much fun anymore,"
Stan said, shaking his head. "I
don't want to follow someone who
picks on his own team members."
"Stan, think about this, it's
a really big step," Lawrence said
as he laid a hand on Stan's arm.
"I've been thinking about it
for a while, and it just now
snapped into focus," Stan said.
"Don't worry about me. I'm sure."
Coach Petersen started shouting
at them, his face turning red like it did
when they fumbled a play in practice.
Jayce edged behind Stan, and
Lawrence stepped in so that Jayce
was completely hidden behind them.
"You can't keep someone
on the team who doesn't want
to be there," Lawrence said.
"I asked and Stan said that
he's sure. Just let it go."
"I am not going to stand back
and let you two fairies destroy
a team I've spent all year building!"
Coach Petersen roared.
"With all due respect, sir, I'm not
the one destroying the team, you are,"
Stan said evenly. "Just because you don't
choose to pursue your interest in men,
doesn't make it okay for you to pick on
other people about their gender identity
or their sexual orientation, so stop it."
In a split second, Coach Petersen
went from red to white. He froze in place.
Then he turned and hurried away.
"That does not look good," Lawrence said,
watching him leave. "I really think we
need to take this to the office now."
"Stan said you'd talk to me about ...
gender stuff," Jayce said uneasily.
"I don't want the nurse involved, she's
nosy and makes me uncomfortable."
"Me too, but I don't feel right turning
my back on this situation," Lawrence said.
"You and I can talk afterwards, okay?
Stan's right, I'm happy to help with
gender studies stuff, it's a favorite."
"Besides, the coach shouldn't have
said all that stuff to us," Stan added,
gently steering Jayce toward the office.
"The school has rules about conduct,
and that ... broke kind of a lot."
The school was mostly empty, except
for a handful of students and teachers
pursuing their own extracurriculars.
In the office, Mr. Marshall was discussing
a near-miss from his science class with
Nurse Rosenbaum as he leaned casually
over her desk. He straightened up
when he saw them coming, though.
"Lawrence, what's wrong?"
Mr. Marshall asked, frowning.
"I'm kind of concerned about
Coach Petersen," said Lawrence.
"There was some argument in
the locker room, I think, and he
said some awful stuff to us, but
then he got real quiet and just left."
"What's the last thing you said
to him?" Mr. Marshall asked.
Lawrence looked at Stan.
"He was way out of line," Stan said.
"I quit the team, and he did not take it
well. So I told him that just because
he hasn't chosen to act on his interest
in men, doesn't mean he can pick on
other people about our choices."
"Oh shit," said Mr. Marshall, then turned
to Nurse Rosenbaum. "I've got south!"
"I've got north," she replied. "Boys,
you stay right here until we get back."
Mr. Marshall ran out of the room, with
Nurse Rosenbaum right on his heels.
"What just happened?" Jayce said faintly.
"Stan doesn't know his own strength,
is what happened," Lawrence said,
shaking his head. "Sooner or later,
someone was bound to get hurt."
"I didn't think it would upset him
that much," Stan said. "I just
wanted him to quit bullying us."
"Well, you sure did that, but you
have got to be more careful about
what you say," Lawrence replied.
He turned to a rack of brochures on
the wall. "Belting out intimate details
like that is especially risky stuff."
"But it's just part of who people are,"
Stan said. "I don't get it."
"Yeah, you deal with that in a totally
different way than most people do,"
Lawrence said. "I didn't even realize
that your gaydar had turned on yet,
or I would've warned you about this.
We can go over it in more detail later."
His fingers flicked over a brochure
on stress and another about suicide.
"Jayce, what did you want to talk
with me about, now that we've got
a few minutes more-or-less in private?"
Lawrence asked, glancing at him.
"I um ..." Jayce mumbled, then turned
to Stan for support. "What do I even say?"
Stan wrapped an arm around him.
"Just tell Lawrence the same as you
told me in the locker room," he said.
"He won't tease you, I promise."
"I look like a boy, but I don't feel
like one inside," Jayce said, and
swallowed hard. "I don't think that
I can keep faking it much longer."
"Okay, that's a gender identity thing,"
Lawrence said smoothly. "Are you
questioning, or are you pretty sure?"
"I don't know," Jayce said, curling
his shoulders around his chest.
"Let's go with questioning for now,"
Lawrence said. He riffled through
the brochures and picked out ones
on transgender, respect, hate crimes,
mental health, coping skills, self-esteem,
and life balance. "I'll just add some websites
that cover the questioning part of the QUILTBAG."
He pulled a pen out of his pocket and added
those addresses in dainty handwriting. Then
he handed the stack of brochures to Jayce.
"Thanks," Jayce said as he looked at them.
"At least this gives me a place to start."
"Thumbnail version: it's okay to question
your gender or your sexual orientation.
You might feel confused for a while;
that's also okay," Lawrence said.
"What's not okay is anyone -- even
teachers -- harassing you over it."
Jayce sighed. "It happens a lot, though,
because I look like this," he waved a hand
at his muscular body, "but I like a lot of
girly things. It just throws people for a loop."
"I know that feel," Lawrence muttered.
"What do you mean?" Jayce asked.
"I thought all this was just me."
"Okay, look at me," Lawrence said. "I'm
slender and I like to wear my hair long.
Also I'm gay. Some people think I look like
a girl, but I'm not, and that causes problems."
"Yeah, I've seen it," Stan said. He recalled
several unpleasant scenes when he had
interrupted people bullying Lawrence.
"Anyway, you can learn to cope with it,"
Lawrence said. "Try to think if you know
any grownups who are trans. They can
help a lot. If not, think about your parents,
other relatives, favorite teachers -- anyone
you really trust who might support you.
Telling someone that you're questioning
is a good first step to figuring it out,
but make sure it's the right person."
"It is," Jayce said, looking right at him.
Then he twisted over his shoulder and said,
"Thanks, Stan. I never would've thought of
asking Lawrence, but you were right."
Lawrence pinked a little across his cheeks.
"I'm just lending a hand like other people
have done for me before," he said.
"Teamwork," Jayce said softly.
"Yeah, I can manage that. I'll think
about who else I need to tell."
"I know we haven't done much more
than pass each other in the hall, but if
you need to talk, I'm here," Lawrence said.
"Some stuff is important, and gender issues
aren't anything I want to leave someone
floundering through all by himself."
He offered Jayce a hand, and
the larger boy shook it tentatively.
"I really appreciate this," Jayce said.
The office door opened then, and
Mr. Marshall came back in. He looked
tired but not frantic or grieving.
"Oh good, you're still here," he said.
"You told us to stay," Stan said,
grateful that Lawrence hadn't tried
to skate out of it, but he seemed
to mind Mr. Marshall better than
he did most other adults.
"State of the reaction?"
Lawrence said cryptically.
"Stabilized," said Mr. Marshall.
"Thank you for catching that so soon.
It could've blown up very badly."
"Is Coach Petersen okay?" Stan said.
"I didn't mean to run him off like that,
it's just he was saying the worst things,
and I really needed him to stop."
Mr. Marshall sighed. "It's not really
your fault, Stan, you just stepped on
something that goes back a long way,"
he said. "Florence and I have known
Bo Ray since we were in high school,
so we know how to handle this. All I ask
of you is that you not push it any farther."
"Yes, sir," Stan said, lifting his chin.
"Am I in trouble for this?"
"No, not as long as you drop it,"
said Mr. Marshall. "You weren't wrong
in your observations, but it's an old issue,
and mucking around with it could
make it worse. Understand?"
"I'll stay out of it, as long as
he doesn't bother us," Stan said.
"We'll definitely talk with him about
that too," Mr. Marshall promised. "You
were right about him being out of line, but
I wish you'd chosen a safer way to address it."
"Sorry, sir," Stan said, looking down.
"I'll try to be more careful in the future."
"I'm sure you will," Mr. Marshall said,
and patted him on the shoulder. Then
he turned to Jayce, who was trying to fade
into the wall, and not succeeding at all
because he was a pretty big guy.
"What do you want with me?"
Jayce said. "I didn't start anything ..."
"You're not in trouble either," Mr. Marshall said.
"I just want you to know that I'm here if you need
to talk about anything, especially since you're
not getting along with your coach right now."
"Lawrence is helping me, but thanks for
offering," Jayce said. "I'll think about it."
"All right then, you boys can go,"
said Mr. Marshall. "I think you can
still make it to the bus stop in time."
Stan looked down at his vidwatch.
"Yeah, if we hustle," he said, and then
herded the other boys out of the office.
Jayce was quiet as they jogged to
the bus stop, but he didn't seem to be
losing his grip, so Stan didn't press him.
It would all work out eventually.
"Are you really sure about quitting
the football team?" Lawrence said again.
"Yes," Stan said, thinking about moves
and diagrams and victory conditions.
"It's not where I want to be anymore."
Lawrence did that thing with his hair
that made it slide over his shoulders,
rippling like starlight on river water.
"Where do you want to be?" he asked.
Stan felt his mouth curling into a smile.
"What does it take to join the chess club?"
* * *
Stalwart Stan -- Stanley Wood is a high school student with a gallant personality, although some people think he's too good to be true. He has a sculptured body with light brown hair and hazel eyes. His naturally tan skin darkens further under the sun. Stan is the son of Stuart and Sharon Wood. He is the older brother of Stephanie, Sloane, and Susie. He is the nephew of Gabriel and Jenna Kay and older cousin of Huckleberry and Mackenzie; and related to Mason and Miranda Kay, who are about a year older than him. Stan is bisexual, with a previous girlfriend Angelica Young and current boyfriend Antimatter (Lawrence Cunningham). His scouting friends include Tycho "Tyke" Norris and Maurice Stevenson.
Stan and his family live in Omaha, Nebraska. He has played several different sports at school, most recently inside linebacker and captain of the football team, but is increasingly drawn to chess instead. Math is challenging, but Lawrence helps him with it. Stan goes from one part-time job to another, because he wants to be industrious but he keeps losing his current job for hero-related reasons. He spends a lot of time patrolling Omaha to deal with supervillains and smaller problems, particularly in the Gene Leahy Mall and other downtown areas.
Origin: His scouting troop got lost in the woods during terrible weather, everyone afraid they might die. Stan found a weird fetish that gave him superpowers, enabling him to call for help and save the day. He earned the Honor Medal for saving lives at considerable risk to himself.
Uniform: Tan shirt and trousers reminiscent of a boy scout uniform but without insignia, plus a matching safari hat with a clingy mask obscuring the top half of his face.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Moral Compass, Expert (+4) Such a Boy Scout, Good (+2) Athletic, Good (+2) Handsome
Poor (-2) Math Is Hard
Powers: Good (+2) Invulnerability, Average (0) Communicator, Average (0) Super-Strength
Limitation: All powers require the fetish to use; Stanley wears it around his neck.
Motivation: Be prepared to help those in need.
Bo Ray Petersen -- He has ruddy skin, blue eyes, and short brown hair. He goes by Ray. He serves as the boys' coach and one of the P.E. teachers at the Omaha, Nebraska high school where Stan and Lawrence go. He and the science teacher, Bruce Marshall, squabble the way jocks and nerds usually do. Ray is known for making excellent chili.
Qualities: Good (+2) Crockpot Cook, Good (+2) High School Coach, Good (+2) Physically Fit
Poor (-2) Not the Sharpest Marble in the Stack
Jayce Olson -- He has pinkish-fair skin, blue eyes, and straight brown hair. Jayce lives in Omaha, Nebraska where he plays on the same football team as Stanley Wood. As a safety, Jayce relies on tackling, coverage, and speed with a good balance between intelligence and intuition. His teamwork skills also make him an asset. Jayce excels at civics class and enjoys social studies too. He has taken all the opportunities for fundraising and community service, earning a lot of extra credit that way, and he volunteers for local charities outside of school too. However, he has been struggling with identity issues for some time, and is running out of energy for pretending to be a boy when he feels like a girl inside.
Qualities: Good (+2) Charity, Good (+2) Civics Student, Good (+2) Left/Right Brain Balance, Good (+2) Safety Football Player, Good (+2) Teamwork
Poor (-2) Transgender
Brant Owens -- He has tawny-fair skin, brown eyes, and short straight brown hair. He is the oldest of three brothers. He lives in Omaha, Nebraska where he plays on the same football team as Stanley Wood. As quarterback, Brant has excellent throwing and aiming skills, but lacks the leadership that usually accompanies the position. He also has an unfortunate habit of ostracizing or bullying less popular people.
Qualities: Good (+2) Quarterback Football Player, Good (+2) Popular, Good (+2) Work Ethic
Poor (-2) Leadership
Fortney Sullivan -- She has pinkish-fair skin, brown eyes, and light brown hair usually pulled back in a short braid. She is tall and beefy, but quick on her feet. Her four older brothers have inspired her to keep up with the guys. She lives in Omaha, Nebraska where she plays football on the same team with Stanley Wood. As a cornerback she excels at agility and catching the ball. Hyperconscious of her precarious social position -- football is respected but girls are unwelcome there, and playing football is seen as unfeminine -- she is always looking for ways to move up the popularity ladder.
Qualities: Good (+2) Determination, Good (+2) Cornerback Football Player, Good (+2) Student
Poor (-2) Unpopular
Antimatter -- Lawrence Cunningham is a high school student with a keen interest in science. He has a wiry build, pale skin, and pale blue eyes. He has just a hint of beard at the end of his chin. Born with straight black hair, it turned a radiant starlit silver after the accident. He used to dye it black, but now typically leaves it silver. It currently reaches his elbows. Lawrence lives with his mother in Omaha, Nebraska. His father has been removed from their home for domestic violence, and Lawrence still has very mixed feelings about that. They don't have much money.
Lawrence is comfortably gay, and growing closer to his boyfriend Stalwart Stan. A friendly acquaintance of his is Han Gordon from the chess club. Lawrence's handle on BlackSheep is Positron. Antimatter is shifting from supervillain to superhero, due to his association with Stalwart Stan, which is awkward.
Origin: Determined to win the science fair, Lawrence attempted to create a new universe inside a cola bottle. It blew up. The accident left him with superpowers, but no science fair entry, and everyone laughed at him.
Uniform: All white, including the hat, with a black lab coat thrown over the top and a black-and-white atom patch on the chest; and goggles to obscure his face.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Intelligence, Good (+2) Agility, Good (+2) Captain of Chess Club, Good (+2) Gender Studies, Good (+2) Gizmology
Poor (-2) Such a Dork
Powers: Expert (+4) Manipulate Physics (Signature Stunts: Greater Than Equal Reaction, Immovable Object, Irresistible Force, Neutralize Mass, Remove Friction; Speed-Healing, Spin-Off Stunts: Energy Transfer, Thicken Air)
Motivation: Mind over matter.
Bruce Marshall -- He has fair skin, brown eyes, and wavy brown hair with a short beard. He wears large geeky glasses. He favors ties with geometric or scientific designs. Mr. Marshall teaches science at the high school in Omaha, Nebraska where Stan and Lawrence go. He also sponsors the science team and the chess club. He has a good eye for which students can handle more responsibility or need extra help.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Science Teacher, Good (+2) Dexterity, Good (+2) Negotiation, Good (+2) Patience, Good (+2) Teen Support Contacts
Poor (-2) Overworked and Underpaid
Florence Rosenbaum -- She has fair skin, blue eyes, and short strawberry blonde hair. She loves making her own sourdough, sauerkraut, yogurt, and anything else that depends on a live culture. Florence serves as the school nurse at a high school in Omaha, Nebraska where Stan and Lawrence go. She is a busybody who often acts on immediate concerns without considering the long-term fallout. Consequently she has a touch-and-go relationship with the science teacher, Mr. Marshall. They both love talking about science, but when it comes to handling the kids, they tend to butt heads a lot.
Qualities: Good (+2) Deduction, Good (+2) Ferment Anything, Good (+2) School Nurse
Poor (-2) Considering Implications
* * *
Game mechanics specify the victory conditions for each game. Explore the ways to win or draw a chess game. Chess is prone to developing varations with new rules.
Reading football plays is as much art as science. It helps to know how to draw a good diagram and add a defense. Check out the symbols used and an example. Learn how to identify football formations and play diagrams.
There are also diagrams for chess. Learn how to read and write chess notation.
Chess teaches people to think ahead, and it stimulates the brain, among other benefits. Chess principles lead to better corporate strategies. Likewise, football and chess share some similar strategies, Therefore, some football players take chess lessons.
The number of players on a football team varies; in high school, typically 40-50 players. Positions include quarterback, cornerback, inside linebacker, and safety. Take a look at traits for NFL players. Some football positions are challenging to fill in school. Typically the team captain is either a quarterback or inside linebacker. Choosing a team captain requires balancing different strengths and weaknesses.
Transgender teens may question their identity. There have always been gender-variant people, just the visibility changes. Trangender teens do face serious issues, and often wonder what to do. Many prefer to ask peers instead of adults about sex and gender, and Terramagne-America provides education for teens wishing to provide such answers. This is one of Lawrence's specialties, and has been for several years. There are support groups and counseling available for trans youth. Learn about how to know if you are transgender, come out as transgender, or transition from male to female. Understand how to support a trans friend.
According to school standards, coaches are supposed to be good role models, but some of them fail miserably. Abusive coaches can do a lot of damage, particularly with the kind of homophobic language shown here. Athletes hesitate to complain about abusive coaches for much the same reason as anyone stays with an abuser: fear. Recognize the techniques that coaches use to bully athletes in order to stop the abuse.
Gaydar is a perception of sexual orientation, generally looking for people receptive to homosexual advances. Science suggests that gaydar is real and fairly accurate. There are ways to improve your gaydar.
Outing means revealing someone's trait without their consent. It causes problems, and can be fatal. Stan isn't being deliberately destructive; he simply doesn't have the background to understand this yet, and it's impossible to learn everything at once about a newly discovered trait.
Internalized homophobia is an involuntary, negative opinion of one's own same-sex orientation acquired from a hostile society. Bo Ray has been struggling with this for years; he feels the attraction to other men, but chooses not to act on it because it clashes with his self-image. And yes, sometimes that spills over into suicidal ideation or other self-destructive behavior. Learn how to fight internalized homophobia.
A nurse's office typically stocks brochures and other resources with basic information about a variety of issues. Lawrence looks over some on stress, gay suicide exterior (and interior), trans youth outside (and inside), respect, hate crimes, mental health cover (and middle), coping skills, self-esteem, and life balance. Gender identity is a complex topic including teen issues, curiosity, questions to ask yourself, and Q is for Questioning.