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The Tough Questions

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Scot lands what Eric is about eighty percent sure is called a waltz jump and calls from fifteen feet away, “Eric? Do you think I’m transgender?”

“Uh,” says Eric, and, for lack of a better idea, faceplants onto the ice.

*

“A bone contusion,” says Sam.

Eric refuses to look at him.

“You didn’t want to answer Scot’s question, so you gave yourself a bone contusion.” Sam leans into Eric’s field of vision, forcing him to endure the judgy eyebrows point-blank. “On purpose.

“Not on purpose,” Eric mutters. “The bone contusion was not—okay, I fell over on purpose, but I didn’t intentionally—what, what was I supposed to do here?”

“I hope I don’t actually have to spell out a list of alternative ways you could have handled that situation,” Sam says flatly.

“He took me off-guard! I panicked!” Eric rubs his arm and winces. “Why does he always spring this shit on me out of the blue in public and expect me to just have an answer? Why can’t he ever come up to me in the living room after a nice solid dinner and say, hey Eric, I have a question, and it’s fine if you need to take a minute to think about how to react in a way that isn’t going to permanently fuck up my self-image and traumatize me and, and ruin every adult relationship I ever—“

Sam touches his uninjured elbow gently. “Stop messing with your arm.”

Eric balls up his fists in his lap and relaxes them. “What would you have said?” he asks, half belligerent and half sincere.

Sam thinks about it for a minute. “I guess I’d say it doesn’t matter what I think or what anyone else thinks, because he’s the only one who knows how he feels inside and that’s what’s important.”

“Well,” says Eric. “I bet you wouldn’t have come up with that halfway through a crossover while a hostile Russian teenager in a leotard threatened you with a toepick to the face. With ‘Oops I Did It Again’ playing over the loudspeakers.”

“You’re absolutely right,” Sam agrees. “The emergency room was the only way to go.”

“You’re not a good person,” Eric complains, and starts poking at his bruised arm again.

*

“You didn’t answer my question,” says Scot. They’re three cars away from the front of the middle school dropoff line, because of course they are.

“What question?” Eric asks, hoping there might have been a different question he forgot about.

“Do you think I’m transgender?”

Eric drums his thumbs on the steering wheel. “Doesn’t matter what I think,” he says. “Only matters how you feel.” He’ll fess up to Sam later about ripping off the line.

“What if I don’t know how I feel?”

Shit. Sam didn’t prepare him for this. “You’ll, uh, you’ll figure it out?” Eric offers weakly.

Scot doesn’t seem traumatized for life, but he doesn’t look entirely satisfied, either. Eric is saved from further interrogation by the line monitor tapping on the window. “Have a good day!” Eric calls as Scot hops out, and peels out of the parking circle like a bat out of hell. Joey Morita in his little orange vest literally shakes a fist after him, which is hilarious.

So. He’s going to have to do some research.

*

“How do transgender people know they’re transgender?” he asks Nula over lunch.

Nula narrows her eyes at him. “Fun fact: there is more to parenting than asking women questions you’re not articulate enough to google.”

“What about questions I don’t want in my browser history in case someone draws the wrong conclusions about why I’m asking them?”

“Grow up,” says Nula, and disregards her own advice by stealing his french fries.

So. He’s actually going to have to do some research.

*

The internet says that transgender people are certain of their gender identity from a very young age. The internet also says that gender is fluid and the gender binary is a bullshit construct of the kyriarchy and no one should be expected to even have a gender. The internet says many, many things. Eric reads some of them and skims a lot more.

Scot doesn’t ask about it again. Eric is waiting for it, and he has Wikipedia articles lined up for reference when it happens, but weeks pass by and Scot seems to have forgotten about it. That, or he’s come to the conclusion that Eric doesn’t care about his gender identity and he’s bottling up his anxiety about it. There’s no way to tell.

In the end, Eric gets antsy enough to bring it up himself. In the living room after dinner, which is a reasonable time and place to initiate difficult discussions, he casually says, “So, Scot.”

Scot freezes. “What did I do? I didn’t do it. It was Ryan’s idea.”

Eric frowns. “What was Ryan’s idea?” Ryan’s ideas are never good news.

“Nothing,” says Scot quickly. “What?”

Eric had this part planned out in his head, but now what he was going to say sounds dumb. “Just… wondering if there’s anything you want to talk about. About gender. Or anything.” Great. That didn’t sound dumb at all.

“No,” says Scot, already going back to his embroidery. “I decided I’m a boy.”

Eric waits, but apparently that’s it. “Oh,” he says. “Okay. I thought you said you weren’t sure.”

“Sam told me about gender identity and expression.” Scot ties some kind of complicated knot in the thread. “I like a lot of girl things, but that’s different from what’s inside my head. In my head I’m a boy.”

“Oh,” Eric says again. “Well. Glad you got that figured out.” Then, not to be outparented, he adds, “It’s okay if that changes, too. Sometimes the way people feel in their head doesn’t stay the same all the time.”

“I know,” says Scot, and unceremoniously disappears into the den where the lamps better simulate natural light. (Eric can’t tell the damn difference, but he’s listened to Scot and Nula talk makeup enough to know there definitely is one.)

*

“What’s wrong?” Sam mumbles, because even when he’s basically unconscious he can always tell when Eric can’t sleep.

“Nothing,” says Eric, and decides to skip forward past the part where Sam doesn’t believe him and Eric insists he’s fine and Sam fakes like he’s giving up and Eric keeps stewing on it until he gets grouchy enough to let it out. “You knew what to say. He asked me, and I didn’t know what to do, and you did.”

Sam rolls onto his side and tucks an arm around Eric’s waist. “I’m the one who does the feelings, you’re the one who helps him get a lift with his slapshot. We’re a team.”

“Get lift. You get lift on a shot, not get a lift with it.” Eric stares at the dark ceiling for a moment longer, then slips his hand into Sam’s where it’s resting on his belly. “He came to me, though. When he comes to me, I should be there for him. Not… putting myself in the hospital to avoid the conversation. Fucking Ryan could help him with his shot, that’s not the important shit.”

Sam kisses his shoulder. “We got this,” he says quietly. “Both of us, together. You step up when I need backup, I step up for you. Nobody’s keeping score.”

His hand in Eric’s is warm and solid, and stays put as Eric falls asleep.

*

The sunlight is barely shining through the blinds when Eric wakes up with a full bladder. He clambers blearily out of bed into the bathroom, pisses, and nearly has a heart attack when he opens the door to reveal Scot in his bathrobe.

“Why do people take drugs if they know it’s bad for them?” Scot asks.

Eric stares at him, blinking, for a long moment. He thinks of half an answer, then starts over and pulls together a different one, and then he says, “That… is an excellent question. Which I will be happy to address after I’ve had two more hours of sleep and a cup of coffee.”

“Okay,” says Scot. “Move out of the way please, I have to poop.”

“Godspeed, kid,” says Eric, and stumbles back to bed.