Do you remember cancer? In the old days people fought long heroic battles with it, usually in a scorched body campaign. Destroy enough tissue and the cancer will run out of food and shrivel away. When the original Nano Factory came up with the first cancer nannies the designers gave them to doctors who fitted them out like miniscule robo-soldiers and sent them off to war. Cut and burn. Cell by cell. Retake the ground and wall off the infected village, kill the organs in order to save them.
Then it struck someone. Maybe we’d misunderstood cancer. Maybe cancer was the body’s desire to become immortal. Cancer cells refused limits, refused to decorously die, they invaded wherever they could go, wherever the medical empire couldn’t firebomb them. So over the outrage of the doctors the Factory (already partly in the hands of the Revolution) began to send in nannies to run with the cancer insurgency. See what cancer really wants, see how we could use it to overthrow the body’s commitment to limits and death. Out of this campaign came the Immortalist program, with all its possible bodies no one ever thought of.
The someone who first saw all this was Annie O, one of the Ancient Trannos, that group of us who managed to survive the rapturous leap into the new world of unlimited nano-transformo. In the old days, Annie was the secret king of America. A homegrown Kansas transgirl, a Colorado Biber Baby (named for the cowboy doctor and his sex change clinic in the Plains town of Trinidad), Annie had a brief career as a transgender terrorist before she discovered the Hijras of India, the world’s oldest ongoing trans religion. She arrived in Delhi just as Hijras were starting to win seats in Parliament under the platform “Men have fucked up and women too, so why not try something else?” Like some sort of tranno-anthro-pologist, Annie came to film and take notes. She stayed to put on a sari and dance in the streets. She’d already passed the Hijra initiation test—“made the cut,” as someone once put it—and the Hijras embraced her American trans-formed body, sending her back as “king” to an America that had no idea it needed one.
Annie could see cancer in a different way because she understood desire. The desire to die and the desire to live, entwined like two snakes around a tree older than the world. This is the tranno secret, that we are not just willing to die, we long for it, passionately, as the pathway to life. Cut open, emptied out, boiled and cleaned and reassembled. These are old stories, from long before the Nanochine Society took over the Factory and began to get it right, creating new people out of old longings.
Do you know about the birth of Aphrodite? Ouranos, the Sky, was hurting the Earth, Gaia. Actually, he was suffocating her and killing all their children. Clever Gaia managed to save one of their kids, Kronos, and as soon as he was old enough, Momma gave him a stone sickle and told him to take care of Daddy. Kronos didn’t go for Pop’s throat. He aimed further down and cut off Ouranos Jr. and threw it into the sea. Ouranos gave up after that. The Sky pulled back a safe distance from the ground, crossed only by birds and rockets, neutrinos and weather nanos. But those missing pieces—they stirred up a torrent of foam on the water and out of that foam stepped Aphrodite the Passionate. This is a very old story.
Here is another one. Osiris, gentle God of Egypt, inventor of beer, brother-sister of Isis (who Is and is, forever and ever), lover of sister Nepthys, the Goddess of alchemical mud, Osiris was also brother and brother-in-law of Set, a nasty piece of work if ever there was one. Jealous like Iago, Set chops his brother into fourteen pieces and hides them all over the world. Isis, never one to give up easily, searches up and down the old creation until she can reassemble her jigsaw puzzle husband. Only, there’s one part missing. A hungry fish has gulped down the penis and dropped down to the oozy black at the bottom of the Nile. So what’s a wife (and sister) to do? Isis creates the world’s first—everything in myth is first, that’s the point of myth—Isis creates the world’s first strap-on. With the help of a God named Thoth, inventor of writing, science, magic, and Everything Worth Knowing, this wooden cock crows Osiris back to life.
This is what we mean when we say “sex change.” Ripped apart, cut to pieces, and put back together. You have to want it. All of it.
And Thoth, the God of geeks—if the name sounds familiar, it should. You know the ibis nano-tattoo on the upper thigh that marks someone as a member of the Nanochine Society? You know how some nons talk about fucking a nano-tranno as “entering the Palace of the Ibis?” That ibis is Thoth. The Egyptian scrolls depicted the God as a bird-headed techie writing on papyrus. Sometimes the old Gods don’t die, they just keep busy until humanity catches up with them. In the ancient world, Thoth revived the dead, he taught the secret sciences, he steered the boat of heaven through the sky and the dark underworld. Sound familiar? When the nannies launch their expeditions into your cells it’s Thoth who guides them. When you pass through the nano Cloud of Unknowing, and you hear that distant flutter of wings, that’s Ibis-Thoth.
Dismemberment. Trans (trance) formation. The desire to die is the desire to live. Cancer, the desire to live forever. It took a tranno terrorist street dancer to see it.
As they say in the Society, let’s not beat around the burning bush (and if you can’t figure out a bush that burns without being consumed, well, honey, there may be no hope for you). The nons—the non-transsexuals—who first built the Factory wanted their nan-o-ma-chines to make them better, to cure their sicknesses and keep them young, and make everyone pretty, but not actually different. They didn’t want to stop being who they were, or thought they were, to become something seriously new. And they didn’t understand why their tiny machines seemed to come up against unexpected limits, why nothing really worked. That’s when the Society took shape, for the tranno Ghost Healers (as they called themselves) understood that these manufactured machines were not robots at all. They were the elementary particles of desire.
A TRUE STORY OF THE PAST
As I write this I am 108 years old. I do this now because 108 is a special number, 1/240th of the Great Year, the time it takes for the constellations to make a complete rotation around the earth. But hey, who’s counting? Apparently, only us Ancient Ones, the refugees from the Old World who managed to sail across the Nano Sea into the land of forever. We came to consciousness in a different world, marked by life spans and decay, birthdays and fixed identities. My lover, Callisto, a bright singer in nano-paradiso, likes me to tell her stories of those days. She says it reminds her that everything, including the nannies who release us from form and limitation, all come from the dust of dead stars. So here is something that happened long ago, in the year 1972, Old Calendar.
I was living in London back then, a baby pre-op (as we used to say in those days of scalpels and drugs), and I and my girlfriend held a Trans-Central Station open house on Tuesday nights. For awhile a Japanese woman named Reiko was one of our regular visitors. Truth is, Reiko wasn’t really her name, I don’t remember her name, it was so long ago. Reiko is the name of a friend of mine who gave me permission to transplant her name into my memory.
Truth is, Reiko wasn’t really a woman, at least not by the rigid standards of 1972. She was a Japanese businessman assigned to a dreary job in a London office. But when she came to us she was beautiful. And I don’t mean just in our sympathetic loving tranno eyes. I don’t know what Reiko looked like as a man, but as a woman she was tall, austere, and stunning, even by the rigid standards of 1972.
One evening she left her drab businessman body at home and stepped out as Reiko. I imagine her walking in Mayfair, or Bond Street, both graceful and nervous, her movements more elated with every step. At a certain point she stopped before a store window, maybe to look at a sapphire necklace, or something as simple as a purple shawl. She was standing there when she heard people talking in Japanese about a beautiful woman. They were admiring the woman’s dress, her hair, her bearing. Quietly, Reiko glanced around to see who it was, and discovered that there was no one else, they were talking about her. What they said thrilled her, except—they were speaking in her own language. They were standing a few feet away from her, and talking about her as if they could not imagine she would understand a word they were saying. Suddenly she realized. They did not know she was Japanese.
She was tall, taller than most Japanese men, in her high heels impossibly tall for a Japanese woman. Or maybe they saw she was trans, and while they admired the style and performance they could not imagine that a Japanese man, whether executive or salaryman, would ever do such a thing. Standing before that shop window, bathed in the thrill of her true self, Reiko had lost her nationality, her language. She’d become an exile from a people who could not comprehend the possibility of her existence.
A TRUE STORY OF THE FUTURE
Callisto saw her first High Tranno when she was young enough that she’d just undergone her third round of nano-vaccination. Five or six, I would guess. She herself just shrugs her soft wide shoulders like pillars of air and says she doesn’t remember her age. Oh, but she remembers every detail of that first glimpse of the Living World.
From Callisto’s description it must have been Katrina Harp, one of the five original Ghost Healers who founded the Nanochine Society. She remembers that the woman—man—creature—floated a little off the ground. Probably what she was seeing were the visible traces of the nano cloud that swirls all about a High T. Callisto had been out walking with her mother, who may or may not have suspected that her sweet boy was infected with the Germ of Becoming, as someone once called whatever it is that makes us trans. If Mom did know, she probably suppressed the thought—even now, mothers still want to believe their children are normal—but she must have worried about something because she tried to keep little C. from looking. No chance. That five year old probably would have wrestled Mom to the ground if it was the only way to view that wondrous sight.
Harp, if that in fact is who she saw, was very tall, with gentle breasts and hips softened by a sheen of water that flowed up and down her body. Her long hair moved constantly, changing not just color but form, sometimes a stream of bright particles, sometimes waves of light. She was wearing a ragged dress of many colors, probably nano-silk, while up and down the arms long wavery strands of light emerged directly from her nearly black skin. And there was writing on her. Words and symbols in unknown alphabets, diagrams and drawings, they were written directly on her skin in yellow, blue, and lavender. She looked, Callisto said, like a treasure map to another universe. Which, of course, is what she was.
Harp bent down to face her. She was so tall, Callisto said, her knees looked like mountains, her face like the sun rising between them. “Don’t be afraid,” Harp said. “You and me, we dream the world.”
“No,” Callisto’s mother said, but without much conviction. But when Harp opened her mouth to breathe on the child, and Mom saw the famous perfumed cloud, she grabbed her darling boy-child and ran off down the street as fast as she could wobble with a five year old pressed to her chest and belly.
“Poor Mommy,” Callisto said to me once, as she rolled herself tighter into my arms. “I was struggling so hard to get down, or just to see, I’m surprised we didn’t both collapse in the street.”
“She should have let you,” I said. “She was only delaying what had to happen.”
“But she didn’t know that, did she? She was just trying to protect me.”
“You? Or herself?”
She shrugged, and the way we fit together it shivered sweetly through my body. “I don’t know,” she said. “Maybe in her mind they were the same.”
Two days later Callisto was missing. Her parents ran up and down the streets, with her father convinced that “that creature” had kidnapped their child. It was laughable, really. If Harp had wanted the child, she could have just sent a government team to adopt her. But why? We don’t recruit. If you’re not born a T. cell in the body of God no nano sex change will make a difference. And it’s not as if we’re dying out. The fact is, many parents, either poor or just ambitious, dress their children in whatever they think looks trans in hopes they can propel the kid into the ranks of the people who rule their world. We send them home.
Callisto’s parents finally found their baby at the edge of a river that ran past the housing complex a couple of miles from Callisto’s home. Callisto had stolen one of her sister’s dresses, a ruffly thing in white, and used the baby pocket knife Daddy had given her (she still has it, sometimes wears it on a gold chain around her neck) to slash it into tatters. She’d taken one of Mom’s scarves as well, and cut streamers from it to tie on her arms and legs, and with a couple of crayons had written meaningless signs and pretend formulas in some imaginary language up and down her body.
She didn’t hear her parents at first. She was staring at the water, imagining the river was her, and she was swept away, formless and bright, into an ocean of mystery at the end of the world.
Her mother screamed and ran up to grab her, though I’m sure she knew it was too late, it had always been too late. Callisto turned and spoke calmly, but not in any human language. “It was all squeaks and clicks,” she said to me. “I didn’t really have any idea what it was supposed to mean. I just thought it was what I’d seen written on her body.”
Her mother started crying, but her father, a man of action, hit her across the face. Hearing this, I let my Old World instincts take over, and I assumed her father was “queerphobic,” or whatever quaint term we used before genuine civilization came into the world. But no. He was a man of his time, after all. What he yelled was “You think you’re better than us? Gonna leave us behind and laugh at us? Gonna become one of them? You think creatures like that, with all their money and their nanomachine factories, you think they care about people like us?”
Callisto ran away five times growing up. It wasn’t to escape her parents. After that first time they were more than a little afraid of her, and not very likely to harm her. And if they tried she had learned from a trans boy in school that she could report them to the Transgeneration Child Protection Agency. No, my little Callisto wasn’t really running away. She was looking for people with writing on their bodies.
Over the years she found a few, including a lover, Hermes Tree, whose penis was so cleverly inscribed it displayed Orphic love poetry when collapsed, but when it opened up those same markings became part of detailed alchemical diagrams, what Hermes Tree called “the nano codes of creation.” But she never found Harp again. Truth is, no one has seen Harp for thirty years. People claim to have sensed her, to feel her all around them, but her body seems to have freed itself from a fixed reality altogether.
When Callisto first transformed she spent the entire seclusion time after the insertion talking to her nannies in that same made-up language in which she’d answered her mother years before. She’d decided not to write it out on the surface. It was only for her and “the children,” as she called the microscopic tribe that created her and still lives inside her. But sometimes, when we make love, I can see the messages come awake under her skin, I can hear the nannies in her blood whistling and clicking to each other.
SOMETHING THAT HAPPENED LONG AGO
For two years in the last century before the world changed I wrote a comic book. It was called Doom Patrol, and it told of a group of superheroes who all had terrible problems with their bodies. There was a head with no body at all, and a robot with a human brain, and a couple who were pure energy contained in bandages to give them a physical form, and a girl who was so ugly no one had ever loved her so that she created imaginary friends, each with its own super-power. Into this mix I introduced Kate Godwin, aka Coagula, a transsexual lesbian superhero. Kate could dissolve and coagulate any form of matter (the result of sex with an alchemist) but her real super-power was much simpler. She accepted herself. She became the team’s emotional leader, guiding them through various close calls with the end of the world (the book was prophetic) because she trusted desire.
After several months of Kate’s stories a letter came to us from a reader in England. She called herself M.A. She wrote “you have given me the courage to realize I do not have to feel ashamed of who I really am.” And, “For as long as I can remember I have been miserable and only carried on living because I was too afraid that death would hurt too much. I did not realize that I was dead all the time. When I was a child I would pray to God every night that when I woke up in the morning I would have changed, of course I never did.” And, “thanks to the message you have conveyed using ‘Kate,’ and the support I have gotten from friends since I told them, I now feel that I can do something about my situation, that before I never really perceived I could alter.”
Several years later I went to a movie called A.I. in which a woman rejects her android son. Imprinted with love for his mother forever, the android remembers the story Pinocchio, in which a Blue Fairy changes a puppet to a real boy. The android boy thinks how if he became real then his mother would love him. He travels across the country until he finds a statue of a woman in a sunken amusement park. The woman is blue, and the android sits in front of it, underwater, for a thousand years, saying, over and over, “Please, Blue Fairy. Make me a real boy. Please, Blue Fairy. Make me a real boy. Please, Blue Fairy. Make me a real boy.”
I sat in the movie theater, and I watched the child, knowing it didn’t matter whether it was boy or girl, the prayer was to become real. And I thought to myself, The Blue Fairy couldn’t do it. God couldn’t do it. I did it.
The magic formula to make someone real is very simple. Trust their desire. Believe in passion.
This is a true story. It is all a true story, and a very old one.
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