Malory Campbell

Mixed Bag

Open monologue to an empty house: There is a dream of a cis boy inside of me. My worst indulgence is to imagine him in long-legged, trim-physique glory. Never mind that my genes may not have inclined that way, regardless of the hormones I encountered during puberty. Never mind the fact I’ve internalised a large degree of fatphobia, digested self-disgust alongside innumerable other toxicities. Never mind the fact that, for all I struggled being a teenage girl, I would have had it much harder as a teenage boy. There is a dream of a cis boy inside of me and, in lapses of good judgement, I fantasise about his body, his life, the way he would have grown up watching action movies I haven’t come to love until my mid-twenties. 


The antagonist: A homunculus built inside myself, a construct of half-baked masculinity. I can see him in his youth, based on the boys I knew, and the boys I knew I couldn’t be. I can envisage him aged 40, lycra-clad and still listening to the bland indie crap that dominated his twenties. His foundations are a scaffolding of muscles, walls of intellectual books and insulation of just enough body hair to be alluring. I don’t imagine plumbing or other mundanities. I don’t think about how the years would chip the paintwork or the way his hair would undoubtedly grow sparse with time. He’s my invisible friend, my forsaken past and improbable future. It’s conspicuous on reflection that he never appears to me as the age I am now.


What this narrative is supposed to say: My relationship with masculinity is a mixed bag, a work in progress. More to the point, my relationship with hormone replacement therapy  remains unsettled. 


Introducing the plot, in barest details: Testosterone was in the early stages of becoming a known quantity last May, with administration of a slim quarter-vial dosage every three weeks—early stages, but enough for my voice to begin to splinter and crack. My voice is no longer broken and no hoarseness seeps through. It’s an unsubtle allegory, intended to establish that at one point, my life fell apart a bit. It’s back together again now, for the most part. But I stopped testosterone and I haven’t resumed since.  


Building on the backstory: I was broken up with in a pretty undignified fashion and, in the wake of separating out two lives intertwined, I stopped. Narratively, it’s convenient, a definitive before-and-after on which I lay my foundations. I can delineate memories into two clear categories, solid as the bedrock I need them to be as though any ambiguities I felt were so sharply divided. But, there are spaces that remain ungrouted, voids in which I find myself inert and unsure. My self-made man has years gone and years still to come. Yet, in this year that I am living through, day upon day, weeks pass and I am still ignoring the note that says “CALL GENDER CLINIC KEY WORKER”. 


In case there weren’t enough clichés, a flashback: One of the last joint activities my partner and I did together was to go to the local gender clinic. An impossibility up until then: trying to get time off work for even one of us was a struggle. But necessity demanded and COVID was surging through staff already stretched thin: self-administration, where possible, was preferable. The preparations for self-injection were becoming second nature to me, the drawing up of oily solution easy enough to do. But I’d not been able to stick the landing. So, this time, my partner was there too.


Narrative inconvenience: I have an abysmal memory. I cannot recount the texture of the appointment, don’t even remember who ended up doing the injection. I think I remember sitting on a hospital bed, paper lining rustling over that distinct shade of healthcare aqua. If really pressed, I could probably remember crying—the threat of a needle never failed to turn on the waterworks. But, from what I do recall, it wasn’t particularly remarkable: we came and then we went home to a new flat that we’d just signed a lease on together. I haven’t been back to the clinic since.


Flashback finished, we return to the present with a confession: I’ve not been doing injections at home either. It was surprising how long my prescription lasted after I de facto quit, the chemist still supplying me with vials on a regular basis. It’s alright because I figure my stock of testosterone will no doubt be good barter if the market collapses and/or the apocalypse comes early. The more obtrusive object that remains, detritus of the general collapse, is a yellow sharps container sitting in my wardrobe, unused.


Returning to metaphor, in search of meaning: There is a dream of a cis boy inside of me. But said boy (categorised as said girl in most social scenarios) could not stomach the idea of being alone with an unintelligible gender. Never mind that incomprehensibility has its appeal. Never mind that I see anyone else transitioning as loveable, perfect. On the path that I set out for myself, it was one thing to have dependent companionship and declare, I will upend my body. It was another to be alone and say, I will remake myself solely on my terms; I will raise the foundations of a house for one. I can’t say it yet.


Switching tack, another metaphor, in case you were still hungry for more: I can abandon my self-made man, leave him by the wayside with other tired clichés and half-realised projects. In the hinterlands of ill-suited dreams, I’ll let the skeleton of his house swell and become water-logged until I can return one day to pull out the floorboards and sand it down for a new life. 


The antagonist disposed of, the curtains begin to close: Grasping at straws now, another way to pick this scab and present it to you as something else. I can still recast this story. I can take this unparsable miasma, turn it into some kind of unlovely soup; an inedible morass of sexuality, gender and memory. For all the analogies I’ve explored, I think soup is especially fitting: it’s theoretically comforting, hearty and appropriately domestic too. Yet, in practice, I find there’s no meat to it. Another attempt at narrative spin leaves me swimming in a gazpacho of confusion; I’m caught in eddies of identities that tug me to either side before stranding me once again. Every night, all I have to eat is a full pot of mixed metaphors and gross matter that has boiled down to unpalatable mush, and I can’t choke down the mess I’ve made. 


But, the promise of a future, a redemption arc: No soup is beyond saving. I’ve just got to imagine a way to make it loveable again: add more seasonings, more salt and a side of bread.

Malory Campbell

When people ask Malory what they do, they usually say “not much”. In their free time, they are a SFF devotee, who only writes when their feelings get too big to be dissipated by a walk to their local library.