It’s A Genderful Life

Zanne Nilsson
Feb 8 · 12 min read
Silver bell hanging on a Christmas tree. Photo by Oleg Magni on Pexels.

See the thing is, I never asked for this nonsense. I wasn’t sitting around wishing I’d never existed (for fucking once), I just woke up one morning and there he was: my Guardian Fascist, sitting on top of the bookshelf beside my bed.

“Rise and shine, scum,” he said.

I sat up and looked from him to the pile of knick-knacks he’d knocked onto the floor, then back to him. “Who the fuck are you? And what are you doing in my bedroom?”

“I’m Donny, your Guardian Fascist,” he replied.

I blinked. “I’m sorry, my what now?”

Donny heaved a long sigh, as if this was something I was supposed to know. “Listen, scum, you know about guardian angels, right?”

“I mean yeah, but I don’t really believe in them. I’m not exactly Christian.”

He pulled his phone out and started tapping on it furiously. Was he texting someone or taking notes about my religious affiliation? Either way, rude. “You’re not making this any easier for yourself, you know,” he said.

“Well, sorry, but I’m still a little stunned from waking up to find a fascist in my bedroom. Especially one who doesn’t really look like a fascist,” I said, gesturing to his polo and khakis. “Least you could do is dress like a racist skinhead or have a swastika tattoo or a cartoon frog pin or something. If you’re gonna be a fuckwit, you might as well own it.”

“Point is, scum,” he continued, ignoring my comment, “the same way that every person is assigned a guardian angel, every misfit has been assigned a Guardian Fascist to bring them in line.”

“Assigned by who?” I asked.

“Doesn’t matter.”

“Matters a hell of a lot to me, Donny.”

“Look,” he said, “if you ask me one more of your goddamn inane questions I’m going to kick your sorry ass.”

I’d’ve liked to see him try; it would’ve given me a chance to prove that my hefty unicorn-headed wand vibrator really was a machine that kills fascists. But it wasn’t quite within reach, so I shut my mouth for the moment.

“Good. Now, your little ‘nonbinary’ articles — as poorly-written as they are — haven’t gone completely unnoticed. You seem to think you’re one of those oh-so-trendy little genderfluids.”

“So?” I asked.

“Well, genderfluids don’t really exist. According to official records, you’re female. Now, I’m going to give you the option to give up this genderfluid and ‘queer’ bullshit and accept the fact that you’re a straight female. If you do, we can avoid all this unpleasantness and you can go back to your normal life. Not everybody gets this chance, y’know.”

He quickly added, “Of course, there’s still the problem of all your pathetic little anarchist friends, but we can deal with that another time. For now, just acknowledge that you’re female and I’ll leave you alone.”

“Fuck no,” I replied. “I can’t just change who I am.”

Donny’s phone-tapping intensified. “I see. Well then, scum, I’m afraid you leave me no choice.”

“Oh? So what’re ya gonna do now, kill me?”

He looked up from his phone. “Oh no, that would hurt our image. Hold on just a sec.” He made a few final taps on his phone. “There we go. You’ve officially been taken out of existence.”

I raised an eyebrow, threw back the covers on my bed and looked down at my body. “Huh. Still there. Are you sure?”

“Listen, scum,” Donny said, putting away his phone, “when I say you’re gone, you’re gone. If genderfluids don’t exist, then it stands to reason that you — a genderfluid — don’t exist either.”

“Ah,” I said, wondering if this meant I still had to pay taxes.

Half-forming a plan, I climbed out of the side of my bed opposite Donny. I know turning your back on a fascist is a terrible idea, but it was necessary if I wanted to find the only weapon I had. I started fishing through a pile of things under the bedside table and tried to stall for time.

“Well then, Donny, I’m sure you must have a busy day of unpersoning ahead of you. Would you like something for the road? I have a can of soda here somewhere.”

“No thanks, scum,” he said as my hand closed around my lethal vibrator. “I really gotta go.”

“What’s the rush? Besides, if I don’t exist, I definitely won’t be needing it.”

I tried to pull the massive wand out as quietly as I could, but it seemed to be a load-bearing object in the pile. Finally I got it free. Deciding I’d have to throw it, I tried to pull together a witty one-liner.

“DIE, YA FASCIST BASTARD!” was the best I could do as I whipped around and threw the vibrator. But Donny was gone. The wand bounced off the wall with a loud thunk, leaving a dent. Fuck.

Oh well, at least I wouldn’t have to pay the landlord for the damages.

When I left my bedroom after Donny’s disappearance, I stepped into a gray and foggy landscape.

I stopped dead in my tracks. “Nope. Not dealing with this bullshit.” I turned around to go back in my bedroom, but it was gone. Nothing behind me but more fog.

“Of course,” I muttered. “If I’m nobody now, the only place I can be is nowhere.”

I wandered through foggy Nowhere for at least an hour or two wondering if I was going to encounter a demon or my shadow-self or some other shit. But instead, I encountered a bar called the Krazy Kat.

The place was packed to the gills. When I entered a staircase appeared in the corner and at least twenty people sighed with relief, pushing their way towards it. I guessed that I’d pushed the place over capacity and it added another floor to compensate. Why not? Anything could happen that day, apparently.

As I moved through the crowd I looked around to try and figure out who else was there. Suddenly a familiar voice called my name and the woman it belonged to waved me over to her table. It was one of my punk friends, Can’t Eve, who I’d last seen running straight into a cloud of tear gas during a riot. Though I was kind of glad to see a familiar face, I was sad too — it meant the fascists had unpersoned all the transgender folks, not just the enbies like me.

“Sucks, right?” Can’t Eve said after I got my drink. Her usually-sparkling brown eyes looked as dull as ruined rhinestones. “Always thought that if the fascists got me I could at least become a hashtag. But now?” She shrugged. “Guess not.”

I nodded glumly, staring into my Mango Martini. It may have been in the middle of Nowhere, but the bar had good drinks.

“Yeah,” I said. “At the very least I thought if I ever got erased from existence I could see what the world would’ve been like without me. Instead I’m trapped in some weird purgatory. Frank Capra lied to me.”

Can’t Eve laughed. “I think that’s the least of your problems right now, dollface.”

“Don’t you wonder, though?” I asked. “What it’s like now without any of us there? Without any of us ever having been there?”

“Shitty, I hope,” she replied bitterly. “It’d serve them right.”

Suddenly I thought of my favorite cartoon — one created by a fellow enby. “Damn,” I said, “I guess Revolutionary Boy Steven doesn’t exist anymore either.” I took another sip of my strong-sweet drink and shook my head.

Can’t Eve snorted. “I take it back: that is the least of your problems right now.”

We both laughed a little hollowly, sighed, and sipped our drinks.

The booze didn’t stop coming, and neither did the new customers. More and more friends of ours arrived, and friends of theirs, and friends of their friends. Soon we had to move our party up to the seventh floor, which still wasn’t the highest one. By then, I already felt sick and sad.

The bar on the seventh floor seemed to have an Edgar Allan Poe theme with gothy pseudo-Victorian décor. Under the glass-top bar, a fake human heart thumped along to the beat of whatever song was playing on the dance floor, and the area behind the bar’s liquor bottles had been made to resemble a half-bricked-up wine cellar with a skeleton inside. Looming over the bar was a giant black raven with flashing red eyes.

The theme would’ve worsened my dark mood even if it hadn’t reminded me of a place I used to frequent in the real world. Even the best queer bar in the void couldn’t compare to the shittiest straight one in the world I’d been kicked out of.

At that point I downed a Corpse Reviver, hoping to lose myself in a pleasant haze of gin and absinthe. What I’d forgotten — what I always forgot when I ordered a Corpse Reviver — was that the drink always put me on or past the brink of crying. Soon I was fighting back tears the way people fight back vomit. Like vomit, the tears won.

After all the ugly sobs were out, I wiped my tears away and tried to remind myself of good times my friends and I had together to cheer myself up. I looked at Alex, over at the bar. I’d met him back in college and we’d bonded over our favorite video game series; the previous summer, we’d gotten matching tattoos of a gender-shifting character in those games.

Next to him was our mutual friend Riff, who’d been in a movie shadowcast with us. Riff was wearing the same black bandana they’d had on a weekend earlier when we got shitfaced at a queer-friendly bar and wandered to the Korean restaurant downstairs, where we shared some kimchi and ranted about do-nothing anarchists.

Can’t Eve was at the table next to mine, chatting about music with some folks she’d just met. I thought of the time I’d written a poem about her to try and convince her that, yes, she really was a good person. When I messaged it to her she’d replied: “Oh my god, now I’m crying in the middle of my college library. I look like such a fool!”

But reminiscing only made my mood worse — it made me even more painfully aware of what had been taken from us. The worst part was that through it all I kept thinking how glad I was that my trans fiancé wasn’t alive to see this shit. I wondered if he’d still been alive at all in this new reality or if they’d managed to erase him too.

I buried my face in my hands.

“Fuuuuuuuuuuuck thiiiiiiiiiiiiiis,” I groaned.

“Same, bro,” Alex said, sitting down beside me and patting me on the shoulder. “Same.”

I looked back up and we watched the people shuffling listlessly on the dance floor for a few moments. Then Alex pounded his fist on the table, making me and the ice cubes in our drinks jump.

“This is bullshit!” he shouted. “This whole goddamn thing! What are we supposed to do, stay trapped in the middle of Nowhere?”

Riff wandered towards us. “Could be worse I guess,” they said. “The bar could have a shitty beer selection.”

A few of the folks nearby laughed with me, but Alex was beyond done with the situation. He stood back up. “I don’t care if it could be worse! It’s still bullshit! They can’t just erase us like that, right?”

“Looks like they can and did, bro,” I muttered.

“No! Fuck that! There’s got to be a way out of this horrible gray-fog purgatory.”

“Oh sure,” Can’t Eve said in a viciously sarcastic tone. “We’ll just find our Guardian Fascists and politely ask them to let us exist again. That’s always worked in the past.”

“You know that’s not what I meant,” Alex said. “All I’m saying is, if there’s a way into this place, there’s got to be a way out. They unpersoned us with some app, right?”

I shrugged; it hadn’t occurred to me to ask Donny the Guardian Fascist how he erased me from existence. But a couple people at the surrounding tables murmured “yeah” and “I guess so.”

“Well then, there must be a way we could use that app to re-person us.”

“Oh come on, man,” Riff said, “that’s like reasoning that an IKEA bookcase must also come with dis-assembly instructions.”

“Besides, how are we even gonna get ahold of it?” I asked. “Pretty sure we can’t just find it in the app store or something.” As if we could even get reception or wi-fi in the middle of Nowhere.

“Fuck it then, we’ll make our own app and re-person ourselves!” Alex said.

A few friends of friends of friends of friends wandered to the edges of our group and asked what all this yelling was about. Can’t Eve summarized Alex’s “cockamamie plan.”

“It could work,” Alex insisted. “Anyway, it’s better than sitting here drinking ourselves into oblivion.”

“We’re already in oblivion,” Riff pointed out.

“Listen,” Alex started, but one of the friends-thrice-removed interrupted him.

“It’s actually not a bad idea,” they said. “If a bunch of fascist fuckwits could bend reality, why can’t the collected power of all the trans and nonbinary folks do the same?”

We all argued over it a little while longer but eventually realized Alex was right: there must be a way out of Nowhere, and we had to find it. At the very least, we had to try.

Word about our project spread quickly around the Krazy Kat and we started assembling volunteers of every expertise that might even possibly be useful. Programmers, engineers, hackers, computer nerds, physicists, anyone even tangentially STEM-y was brought in to help. We even brought in some witches, occultists, paranormal experts, and astral thieves just in case they had any additional insight on the reality-bending part of the equation. Every computer that anyone happened to have on them when they arrived in Nowhere was brought in for the project.

We expected our first roadblock to be something technical. Instead, it was something ideological.

Half of the app group wanted to include a feature which would allow us to unperson the fascists who’d unpersoned us. The other half insisted that this would make us “just as bad as they are.”

A full-scale argument broke out that started to consume the operation’s entire headquarters on the eleventh floor. Thinking that maybe I had a compromise, I climbed up on the bar and shouted at the top of my admittedly small voice: “WHAT IF WE GAVE THEM AN OPTION?”

Things gradually quieted down and I explained, “When my Guardian Fascist came to unperson me, he gave me an ‘option’ that would’ve let me continue to exist. Naturally it was a bullshit one, but if we gave them a better option – like ‘cut this fascist shit out or we’re zapping you out of existence’ – maybe they’d take it. Then we’d only be unpersoning the unrepentant fascists.”

“Which’ll probably be most of them,” Riff pointed out.

“Right. But we can’t change who we are; at least they can change how they think.”

Eventually everyone agreed on the compromise and went back to work. If day and night had existed in Nowhere, we would’ve been working through both of them. Finally, we reached the point where we could test the app on something. We chose an orange and duct-taped a cell phone to it, to record where it went. If we could successfully send the orange to the real world then bring it back to Nowhere unscathed, maybe it would be safe to try on a person. Maybe.

We knew it was terrible reasoning, but we didn’t have any better options. It was cell-phone-orange or nothing. So we started recording video on the taped-on cell phone and set the orange on top of a barstool. Everyone stood back.

“Godspeed, little citrus friend,” Alex said, and tapped on his phone screen.

The orange disappeared with a small pop.

A few agonizing moments passed in silence.

Finally one of the programmers said, “How long do we have to wait?”

“Just wanted to make sure I gave it enough time to record where it was,” Alex said, and tapped his screen again.

Another pop. The orange was back, perfectly unharmed. We all held our breath and crowded around as Alex removed the cell phone and played back the just-recorded video. It showed a sunny field; birds sang in the background. We heard the crunch of footsteps on grass and suddenly saw a man lean down and pick up the orange.

“What the hell is this?” the man asked.

Then the video cut back to the bar.

“It worked!” Alex shouted.

Screams and cheers erupted all around us. We were finally going home.

And we could make sure this didn’t happen again.

Soon I found myself sitting on the end of an unfamiliar bed in an unfamiliar bedroom, staring at a very familiar person.

“Rise and shine, Donny,” I said.

“Who the fuck are you?” he asked.

“I’m your Guardian Enby.”

“My what?”

“I don’t have time for your inane questions, Donny,” I said, pulling out my phone. “Now, you have one of two options...”

The New North

// Home of storytellers // Facebook: @thenewnorth

Zanne Nilsson

Written by

Just another queer punk librarian who wants you to know you’re not broken. Rarely serious, always sincere. (They/them)

The New North

// Home of storytellers // Facebook: @thenewnorth

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