I hadn’t been home to the Yukon for over a year, and had been absent from the fold the last three Christmases. I could hardly wait: I love how rush hour in Whitehorse is seven cars long, and how nobody washes their vehicle until the end of May.
I think my body was designed to function at minus 16 degrees, in the clear, blue cold. I like when the air just starts to sting the backs of your hands, inside of your nostrils and the back of your mouth. I like to skate on lakes. It was only December, and I needed a fix, to shake the grey edge of Vancouver off my shoulders.
I got a chance to go up for the Longest Night Storytelling Festival, and jumped on it.
I hadn’t seen the boys since September 2001, and they were all a foot taller now. It was intermission, and I snuck the three of them backstage.
Galen is five and wide eyed, standing dwarfed in front of the timpani drums. Emile is nonchalant and eight. “I know that,” is his cool response to each of my explanations of rigging and scrims and backlights.
And then there is Frances. Seven and topped with a crown of brown, he is most impressed with my dressing room and the remnants of the backstage fog remaining from the rock star’s set just before intermission. Frances has recently taken up the ukulele, his mother tells me.
I notice Frances is wearing just jeans and a T-shirt, even though the show is more than enough reason to dress up, and he usually never passes up a chance to break out one of his velvet skirts or long, flowing ladies blouses.
My stomach drops for him. Chris, his mom and one of my fondest loves, told me a few months ago that it has started. They have started calling him faggot at school. He is allowing it to fold up the little flower inside him and he now mostly keeps his dresses in the closet and wears them only in the safety and freedom of his own home.
Chris tells me later, when the kids are in bed, that Frances had initially pulled on his long copper velour lace-up blouse, bell-bottoms and pumps when he heard tonight was going to be Uncle Ivan’s big show and they were going to the Arts Centre. When he swooped down the stairs and looked for his mittens Emile reminded him that Sebastian from school was going to be there.
Frances went back to his room and changed into jeans without a word.
I take him alone (after quite a bit of bickering with his brothers about us needing special time alone) to see the second Lord of the Rings movie. I, for one, am scared shitless of the Dark Riders or Ring Wraiths or whatever, and thought maybe it was too scary for a seven-year-old, but he reminds me that I said he could pick and so he, my big old Cheshire Cat-grinning dyke buddy Brenda, and I set off for a little queer quality time together, as per the requests of his mother.
Frances wastes little time. He spends $3 on those plastic eggs with rings and miniature tea cups in them, buys popcorn with his own money and starts asking questions, the first series of which are brought on by me going to the bathroom.
Frances leans across my empty seat to enquire of Brenda just which washroom I use when out at the movies.
Brenda tells Frances that, to the best of her knowledge, I utilize the ungendered handicapped facilities whenever possible, so as to avoid confusing anybody in the men’s or scaring anybody in the ladies.
Frances then asks Brenda if she knows for sure if I am a boy or a girl.
Frances has asked me this himself on several occasions in the past, and each time I explain myself to him as best I can. I’m not sure if he forgets when I’m away, or just needs to process it all again as a three-, then five-, and now seven-year-old might. Brenda tells Frances she figures that I am technically a girl but that I have a whole lot of boy in me as well, and then I sit back down.
Brenda brings me up to speed, and then Frances’ eyes lit up in recognition and he grabs my wrist. “I’m just like you, but the reverse,” he nods repeatedly and sits up on his heels in his seat. “I’m a boy but I have a little girl in me, too.” He lowers his voice and looks left, then right, and continues. “I like to wear dresses,” he whispers in his most conspiratorial voice.
My heart feels like it is going to climb out my mouth for the love of him at that moment, and I hug him over the armrest between us. He is warm and sinewy and smells just like his brothers, but isn’t. I don’t love them any the less; it’s just that I love him more.
“I know you like to wear dresses. I’ve known you since you were a baby, remember?”
“Since I was inside of my mom? Since Emile was?” I tell him I knew his mom since before she even met his dad, and he shakes his head in amazement, like he couldn’t fathom a time that long ago.
“Is that why you like to kiss her so much all the time?” he asks loudly, in the not-so-innocent way of babes, and I shush him because the movie is starting.
Turns out that the Two Towers is too scary for both Frances and I; at one point he grabs my hand and bravely whispers, “If this is scaring you too much, I wouldn’t mind if you wanted to leave early.”
We stick it out, and then the three of us drive up Grey Mountain and look over the tiny, snow- silenced metropolis. Brenda and I tell Frances all the way up the mountain about our people. Those of us who are boys with girls inside, and girls with boys inside and all of the beautiful in-between and shape-shifters that are his ancestors, how since before even his older brother was in his mom’s belly there were people like us.
Brenda tells Frances that she is like me too, a girl with a whole lotta man in her, just it was harder to tell on account of her gynormous breasts.
“Yes, they are big,” he responds with almost reverence at her frame, which has for years now been nicknamed by her guy friends as Tyrannosaurus Rack.
We tell Frances that his people have forever been artists and mystics and healers and leaders.
We talk a lot about bullies and their ways. Frances blows me away, as seven-year-olds are known to do with relatives who don’t see them everyday as their brilliance unfolds, by explaining that he reckoned that his bully was mean ‘cuz he’d failed Grade 2 twice already, and his mother drank alcohol when he was in her tummy.
I wonder, as Frances’ fairy godfather should, when is too soon to warn my young friend about gay-bashers and how I will explain to a northern boy-girl a thing as incomprehensible as what happened to Aaron Webster?
I cry at the sight of his face, so determined and sure and self- aware of his difference. So void of shame. I cry with relief in the knowledge that my very existence in his life will make it easier to make it through Grade 3. I cry for the hope he makes me feel, now that I’m not the only faggot cross-dresser born in the Yukon in the family. I will never be alone again. My own seven-year-old loneliness forges my promise to him to see that things will, indeed, be different for us as a team.
Guess what I got Frances for Christmas? Earrings, both dangly and sparkly, and fancy French cologne, the same stuff I wear. They fit perfectly in the jewellery box he got from his older brother.