Warning: This poem contains some intense topics. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. It features anxiety, foster care (which is actually going well), sex/gender issues, intimate medical matters, and other challenges. If these are sensitive issues for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.
Riley fidgeted as thon rode alongside
Dr. G. After thon's experiences, doctors
scared thon, and thon had never met a healer.
"Nervous?" Dr. G asked, turning a corner.
"Yeah," Riley admitted. "I'm really not
looking forward to today's appointments."
"That's natural," Dr. G said. "How
are you doing in your new home?"
"Pretty good," Riley said. "Some of
my foster siblings are fun, and I like
the houseparents. Torin took me out
shopping. We got that capsule wardrobe
in blue, plus I got to pick out some extras."
"I thought so," Dr. G said. "You look nice.
How do your new clothes suit you?"
Riley wore a dark blue t-shirt and jeans
under a gray argyle vest scattered with
diamonds of navy, turquoise, and burgundy.
Thon liked the way that the mixed colors
hinted at more than just boy clothes.
At least nothing said "dude" anymore.
"Better than before," Riley said,
smoothing hands down thon's vest.
"I even found a tie-dye shirt that's black
down one side, pastels on the other, and
it says Broken Promises. I like to think of it
as showing the past and the future both."
"That sounds very colorful," Dr. G said.
"I bet it brings out the tones in your hair."
"That's what Ellen told me when I
came home with that one," Riley said.
"I'm still confused about how I feel, though."
"Be confused, it’s where you begin to learn
new things. Be broken, it’s where you begin
to heal. Be frustrated, it’s where you start
to make more authentic decisions. Be sad,
because if we are brave enough we can hear
our heart’s wisdom through it," said Dr. G.
"That's me all right, feeling everything at once,"
Riley said. "I don't know what I am anymore.
It just makes me want to curl up and hide."
"Be whatever you are right now," Dr. G said.
"No more hiding. You are worthy, always."
That warmed the cold spot in Riley's chest
left over from thon's birth father ignoring
everything that thon said to him.
Sometimes, listening to Dr. G was
like magic; it made Riley feel better
even if it didn't change anything.
"Guess I'll figure it out," Riley said.
"Of course you will, and you have help,"
Dr. G assured thon. "I'm not just here for
today, I'm with you for the long haul."
"You don't think my houseparents will
mind that I didn't pick one of them for this?"
Riley said. The thought itched at thon.
"I'm sure," Dr. G said. "Like you told them,
you don't know each other well yet, and
you've known me a little longer. I'm happy
to provide support during appointments."
"Thanks," Riley said. Thon was trying
really hard not to cling, or cry, or worse.
"And here we are," Dr. G said, pulling into
the parking lot of an elegant brick building
with real terra-cotta tiles on the roof.
Riley's stomach flipped over as they
climbed out of the car. "Yippee."
Thon tried the shielding exercises
in hopes of keeping thon's mind private
and ignoring everyone else's thoughts.
Inside was all dark wood, leather furniture,
and tables covered with new magazines.
"This looks expensive," Riley muttered.
"Don't worry about that," Dr. G said.
"Right now, Family Services is covering
your regular health care and SPOON
is handling the superpowered stuff."
"Better that than where I was going,"
Riley said, flopping onto a couch.
Thon watched as Dr. G stepped up
to the reception window, chatted a bit,
and then came over to join thon.
"Here," Dr. G said, handing Riley
a name-and-pronouns tag from a basket
that set on the ledge of the window.
Riley filled it out. That was already
much better than anything thon had
seen at previous doctors' offices.
When a nurse came to fetch them, Riley
clung to Dr. G all the way to the exam room.
There again they could see little luxuries,
from the wooden cabinets to the chairs
covered in something like velveteen.
Surprisingly, the healer was already
waiting for them, a cheerful young man
in a mint-green polo shirt that Riley
coveted upon first sight.
"Hi, I'm Brett Edgerton and I'd
like to be your healer," he said,
wrapping one hand over the other.
A prior school program allowed Riley
to recognize the Rock-and-Water salute,
which thon returned with shaky hands. "Hi."
"I read your file," Brett said. "It says that
you have abdominal cramps due to issues
relating to your intersex condition, right?"
"Yes," Riley said. Thon wasn't used to
anyone actually reading the medical file,
let alone chatting thon up first. Usually they
couldn't wait to get their hands on thon.
"They're getting worse over time."
"Hop up here and let's find out
what's going on," Brett said,
patting the exam bed.
Riley climbed onto it,
trying not to panic, and
the thick foam padding
molded itself to thon's butt.
"I can feel you freaking out,"
Brett said. "Are you attached
to all that fear, or would you
like me to turn it off for you?"
"You can do that?" Riley said,
looking at Dr. G for confirmation.
"Yes," Brett said, at the same time
Dr. G said, "Most healers have
some influence over emotions."
"Feelings are just what you get
from the chemicals in your brain
sloshing around, like bubbles
rising in soda," Brett explained.
"Shall I turn it off, then?"
"Yes yes yes," Riley said.
"When you're ready, take
my hand," Brett said as he
reached toward thon.
Riley grabbed his hand
as if snatching a life preserver.
A flare of warmth, like walking
through a sunbeam, and then
the cold terror evaporated.
"Wow," Riley said. "If you
could just bottle that ..."
"I'd be rich," Brett said
as he let go of Riley again.
"It's not that simple, though.
I can feel what your body's doing
in real time, and what it needs
in order to calm down. Pills
are static, although they do
help with stable problems."
"Anything that might need
medicinal support?" Dr. G said.
"I won't know that until I can
get a closer look," Brett said.
"Riley, I would like to start with
a basic health check, if that's okay
with you. If you feel too uncomfortable,
just tell me and I'll back right off."
That was new. Without the fear
strangling Riley's brain, though,
thon found it easier to take Brett
on his own terms. "Go ahead."
The healer's hands were warm and
gentle, and Riley leaned into them --
at least until the prodding went
low enough to make him flinch.
"I know, that's a tender spot,"
Brett said, letting go without even
waiting for Riley to say anything.
"Yeah, it's the same on the other side,"
Riley said, pointing out the match.
"That brings us to the super part,"
Brett said. "I want to take a look
at what your body's trying to do."
"Look how?" Riley said. Thon had
a lot of unpleasant memories of
doctors indulging their curiosity
at thon's expense, and rarely
with any benefit to Riley.
"Well, there are three levels,"
Brett said. "A passive scan just
reads the energy that your body
gives off naturally. An active scan
uses my superpower to go looking
for things. A deep scan lets me read
all the way down to your genes."
"Wow," Riley said. "That's a lot.
Can we ... do a little at a time?"
"Sure," Brett said. "Tell me when
you're ready and I'll check passive."
"Yeah, do that," Riley said.
Nothing happened except for
Brett waving his hands over Riley,
but after a minute he said, "Well,
your hormones are out of balance
and your abdominal muscles are
going nuts because there's nowhere
for them to push your ovotestes, but
the rest of you is in great health."
Riley sighed. "Pretty much what
we knew already," thon said.
"It's always good to confirm,
though," Dr. G murmured.
"Active scan?" Brett offered,
holding out his hand. "You might
feel this one as a tickle or a hum.
It shouldn't hurt, though."
"Okay," Riley said, and
reached out to touch him.
Brett's power shimmered
in shades of green and gold,
like watching the big aquarium
that Riley had seen at the zoo.
"You're beautiful," Riley said
after Brett backed away. "Inside,
it's like ... sun through water."
"I'm flattered," Brett said. "You
have a lot of scar tissue, but we
knew that already." He traced
the lines over Riley's lap. "I also
have some big news for you."
Riley cringed. "How bad is it?"
"That's up to you," Brett said.
"This news could be good, or bad,
depending how you feel about it."
"Just tell me," Riley said. "With
my luck, it's probably awful."
"You have a uterus," Brett said.
"What?" Riley yelped.
"But I'm not a girl!"
"Okay," Brett said.
"You don't have to be
a girl to have a uterus."
"How did people not notice
this before?" Riley said.
"It may not have been there,
or they weren't looking for it,"
Brett said. "It's there now, and
it's perfectly healthy, not even
tangled up in the scars."
"So not just ovotestes, but
other features of dual sex,"
Dr. G said. "That's interesting."
"I really think we need to do
that deep scan," Brett said.
"Riley, let me push you down
a little farther this time, you're
getting all wound up again.
It'll be easier on both of us."
Well, body horror would
do that to you every time.
Brett had helped before,
though. "Do it," Riley said.
"Lie down first, I don't want
you to fall off the bed," Brett said.
"This should be very relaxing."
So Riley stretched out on
the bed and let Brett put
a hand on thon's forehead.
And then Riley melted.
This close, Brett's power felt
like warm water running under
thon's skin in slow waves, and
the healer's mind was a golden sun
through the emerald ripples of energy.
When Riley finally floated back
to awareness and opened thon's eyes,
Brett and Dr. G were chatting quietly
like they'd been doing it for a while.
"How long was I out?" Riley said,
pushing up on one elbow.
"A good ten minutes," Brett said.
"I guess you needed the nap.
How do you feel now?"
A little stoned, but Riley
wasn't about to admit that.
"Better than I did," thon said.
"It reminded me of this time that
I tried a sensory deprivation tank in
therapy -- like I didn't have any edges."
"Pretty cool," Brett said. "Do you
want to hear the rest of what I found?"
"Yeah, now I'm curious," Riley said.
"As best I can tell with your body still
immature, you are a true hermaphrodite,"
Brett said. "Among other things, your uterus
is starting to reach toward the outside."
"You mean I'm, what, growing
a vagina?" Riley exclaimed.
"Something like that," Brett said.
"There may be structural differences,
but the functionality should be similar.
That means don't panic when it opens,
and use birth control if you decide
to have sex with anyone."
"I guess it's a good thing that I
signed up for that SPOON class
on sex ed," Riley said faintly.
"That's why I recommended it,"
Dr. G said. "Superpowers that
touch on sexual characteristics
can have all kinds of surprises.
It's best to be prepared."
"I'm glad somebody thinks
of this stuff," Riley said.
"That's my job," Dr. G said.
Then he turned to Brett. "What
about treating the cramps?"
"Well, the implants definitely
need to come out. That was
a hack job to begin with, and
now they're just in the way,"
Brett said. "Plus there's a lot
of scar tissue to clear away."
"Talk to us about options,"
Dr. G said. "Is this something
you can handle yourself, or do we
really need that appointment with
a genital surgeon later today?"
"I could do all this with healing,
but it would be exhausting for
both of us," Brett said. "It'd be
easier to let the surgeon take out
the implants and at least some of
the scar tissue. Then I can come in
and heal everything so that it works
the way it was originally meant to."
Fortunately Riley was still
too relaxed to freak out over that.
"I still can't believe that I have
girl parts on the inside," thon said.
"You have Riley parts inside,"
Brett said. "They're not exactly
like what girls or boys have, and
that's okay. Think of this like
your coming-of-age adventure."
"Yay rah," Riley drawled.
"It's okay," Dr. G said.
"You don't have to make
any major decisions right now.
We still want to talk to the surgeon
about ordinary reconstructive options."
"By all means, meet with your surgeon --
they have more experience with sculpting
delicate body parts," Brett said. "If you run
some tests, we can compare data."
Riley's mind gave a little twitch
at that, but then mellowed out again.
It really was a lot like magic.
"You're sure I'm not just ...
broken?" Riley whispered.
"A little bit," Brett said, pinching
the air between his fingertips.
"It's all right to be broken, though,
because this is where you begin to heal."
Riley dared to reach out and brush
just the edge of Brett's green-gold energy.
"Okay," Riley said, wanting to believe it.
* * *
Torin Roche -- He has fair skin, brown eyes, and wavy brown hair. He serves as a housefather in the St. Elmo Sankofa Home in Santa Cruz, California. (In the picture, he is hte first adult on the left.) His outgoing nature and love of crafts make him popular with the children, including Riley Bessonet.
Qualities: Good (+2) Extrovert, Good (+2) Handicrafts, Good (+2) Housefather, Good (+2) Tall, Good (+2) Visual-Spatial Intelligence
Poor (-2) Book-Learning
Brett Edgerton -- He has fair skin, hazel eyes, and short dark hair. He has minor executive impairment from a head injury sustained in a bus accident, so he uses memory aids to keep track of important things. It doesn't impair his Healing but does make everyday life a bit challenging. He makes enough money to hire a personal assistant who also helps keep him on track. Brett works at the Revision Surgical Center in Santa Cruz, California.
Origin: He gained Super-Immunity from the Aegis vaccine as a child, and that was all for years. Then in high school, a truck hit his school bus, injuring many people. He developed Healing, saved a dozen lives, and put himself into an overstrain coma for three months.
Uniform: Casual men's clothes, most often a polo shirt and khakis. He loves pastels even though they aren't the best match for his coloring.
Qualities: Good (+2) Bedside Manner, Good (+2) Registered Nurse, Good (+2) Stamina
Poor (-2) Absent-Minded
Powers: Good (+2) Healing, Average (0) Super-Immunity
Motivation: To save what he can.
* * *
"Be confused, it’s where you begin to learn new things. Be broken, it’s where you begin to heal. Be frustrated, it’s where you start to make more authentic decisions. Be sad, because if we are brave enough we can hear our heart’s wisdom through it. Be whatever you are right now. No more hiding. You are worthy, always."
-- S.C. Lourie
The Revision Surgical Center in Santa Cruz, California caters to wealthy or otherwise important clients. The building has beige brick walls and a terra-cotta tile roof. See the floor plan. The waiting room has leather chairs and mahogany bookcases. The consultation rooms have desks and chairs for private conversations. The dottie is handicap-accessible. The exam rooms have fine wooden cabinets for supplies, a sink, chairs, and an exam table. Exam Room #3 is the Minor Procedure Room wtih a treatment chair, carts, and other materials. The Procedure Room in the upper right corner of the floor plan has more advanced surgical equipment. Exam Rooms #4 and #5 are the Recovery Rooms which can be divided into smaller rooms or opened up into one larger room, with hospital beds and supportive equipment. The staff breakroom features mahogany cabinets, a kitchenette, a couch with matching ottoman, a dining table and chairs.
Compare Riley's previous set of boy clothes with thon's new capsule wardrobe of unisex to slightly masculine clothes. The argyle vest and tie-dye shirt are good examples of accent garment, which liven up the basics.
(Some of these links are explicit and others are heinous.)
Intersex conditions fall between the typical male and female configurations. Some are basically harmless, just unfashionable, while others come with more physical difficulties. Such infants may grow up to identify as masculine, feminine, or nonbinary -- and the portion of nonbinary seems higher than average in this population. Intersex people have high risk of abuse because they are born with traits that bother adults and the infants are defenseless. Among the most common and devastating abuses are concealment and forced sterilization. Advocates recommend a patient-centered approach, using surgery only in cases of immediate medical need until the intersex person can develop and communicate their own wishes. There are ways to cope with being intersex. Parents of intersex children should seek input from older intersex people. Other people can show support as well.
Gender-neutral clothing for children and adults has many benefits . It is more common in Terramagne-America than here, though not always easy to find.
(Some of these issues are controversial.)
Intersex people (like everyone else) may choose masculine or feminine pronouns, or alternative pronouns, depending on their gender identity. However, understand that natural languages have a limited number of pronoun sets -- rarely more than three or four, sometimes only one -- because people struggle with infinite sets. Using a person's preferred pronoun set is polite. Pronoun tags offer a helpful way for people to remember and use diverse pronouns. However, asking people to use a rare set of pronouns is asking them to do extra mental work, which is easy for a few people, challenging for many, and impossible to get right for some. This is one reason why some folks are bailing on the idea of variable pronouns and cutting it down to one generic set for everyone, often "they/them/theirs." And that's one way that a language can evolve into using a single set of personal pronouns.
Waiting makes people cranky. It's not just boring, it's a disrespectful situation -- the less important people are forced to wait on those whose time is considered more valuable. Doctors routinely disrespect patients by making them wait, even after the time the appointment should have started. You can spot the good ones because their office is competent at scheduling and has a wait time of no more than five minutes. I've even heard of a few that called people in a little early.
Here's a poster and description of the Rock and Water Salute. These versions describe making a fist with the left hand and covering it with the right. I learned it the opposite way -- and the last time someone presented it, the men and women were supposed to do it in opposite ways. So it varies.
Healing is among the more common superpowers, but also among the most popular, so the demand always outweighs the supply.
Telepathy and Empathy, called Telempathy when they occur together, rank among the most common superpowers in Terramagne. There are ways to improve telepathy and strengthen empathy. You can also learn to turn them down. All of this takes practice; most folks don't have much control at first, which makes life challenging.