In her own teenage years, Sam, hyperconscious and pre-HRT, would have burned an hour getting ready, even if just for a late-night run to the gas station. But her brother Chris–she guessed Chris was technically sort of her brother; maybe science had no word yet for Chris–just threw on a terrible science camp T-shirt, one Sam swore she remembered tossing out years before, and was ready to go. Sam’s ex Roland was waiting for them in the car, the idle exhaust a dark swirl against the South Bay fog as Sam ushered Chris into the backseat. It was 3 in the morning; it was cold.
Chris laughed. You’re not taking me out to murder me, are you?
Sam laughed too, and then she shut the car door over Chris’ face. The satellite radio was broken, so they listened to nothing at all as they headed for the coast.
Chris’ existence had been Sam’s mother’s Thanksgiving surprise. Sam had first seen him earlier that day as she climbed the iron lattice steps of her family’s house in Los Altos Hills: her former self, sitting on the living room couch. Seeing Chris’ face was less of a shock, she figured, than it would’ve been two years earlier, before the estradiol. Chris didn’t look like her current reflection, more like a cousin who’d hacked off Sam’s stringy braids and replaced them with dire gel spikes. He wore a hoodie emblazoned with Sam’s high school logo.
Oh, hey, he said. You’re Sam, obviously! It’s a pleasure to meet you. I’m Chris.
Sam flinched; he’d taken her deadname. Chris’ eyes passed over her, much as she supposed hers had done to him.
You look very nice, he said, and she could tell he meant it, which surprised her–less the sentiment than the idea that someone who looked like a teenage Sam could say things and mean them.
She returned to the car to find Roland. I think my mom cloned me and made the clone cis somehow, Sam said. Can we go?
Roland’s eyes grew wide. I wish my parents would make a cis clone of me, he said. I’d never have to let them down again.
But they couldn’t go. Her dad, emerging like a crab from the shadows, scuttled her bags upstairs over her protests, and in short order the five of them were awkwardly assembled around the plastic-coated table. Chris initially took Sam’s usual spot, his back to the living room with the old clock behind him, but sheepishly surrendered it to Sam on request. Her mother sat at the table’s head, elated to begin explaining the situation. Sam could see how elated she was, could see it all over her face.
Sam’s mother owned a genetic research company, and her research had led her into the areas of the brain responsible for the expression of sexuality, an interest she’d developed roughly around the time Sam had come out. She had finally isolated the L7 gene: the gene that, flipped on, caused a kid to become trans and, flipped off, left their internal anatomical map comfortably congruent with their body. And as she had already developed technology that would accelerate the growth of cell tissue, as well as technology to program memory engrams from online text and video samples, it would be impossible and uncouth, she felt, to decline to assemble the puzzle. She also had easy access to a supply of raw trans genetic material: Sam’s shower drain and linens, following her last visit. The necessary proof of concept would begin at home.
So a viable clone had been produced, his growth accelerated to adolescence in a short 12 months. Chris would henceforth age in real time, just like a real child. The company was working on a way to develop consumer applications for the basic technology as well as on proofs of concept for variations involving other queer identities, as soon as the company’s legal office could figure out good solutions to get around the stronger protections those identities enjoyed. Right now, Chris was the prototype in whom all their resources had been invested. After another series of tests and what would surely be an emotional personal testimony at the UN following the anniversary of the resolution next year, the company could secure international funding for additional human trials.
Are you Satan? Sam asked. Her mother laughed.
I thought that your, you know, your buddies would be the ones who’d be most excited about the news that we’d isolated the L7 gene, she said. It’s final, scientific proof positive that you aren’t deluded or lying to get attention. If you want to know, proving that you and your kind weren’t lying is one of the major reasons I even did this, Sam. And to make the burden you’re carrying a little lighter for you. We’re working on a urine-based system, ideally effective from infancy so that parents can perform early interventions.
By interventions, Sam began, do you mean giving parents the high sign that it’s cool to abandon their L7-positive newborn trans girls to die on the shelf while they brew up cis clone abomination boys to replace them?
Yes, that’s exactly what I mean, Sam, her mother said. Brewing abominations and promoting infant death by exposure. Or, you know, maybe letting parents know early to purchase the right kinds of toys and clothes for their trans daughters. Getting paperwork and surgery schedules in order.
Her dad cleared his throat. You shouldn’t call your brother an abomination, he said.
Sam pointed at Chris. Abomination, she pronounced.
Chris shook his head. I’m sorry, he said. I get that this is hard.
What are you doing with him? Sam demanded. Does he just live here, rent-free? Are you making him work at your company?
You don’t have to talk about him as if he’s not here, her mother said. Since the UN resolution last year, he’s legally a person who gets to make his own decisions.
What decisions is she getting you to make? Sam asked, propping her face in her hands and blinking at Chris. He blinked back. Panicking, she suspected he was embarrassed for her.
I suppose for now, I’ll work for the company? he said. I’m still sort of … figuring things out, I guess.
His face tensed into some configuration between awkward and polite, Chris looked into his plate of congealing rib sauce. It was late in the day, and the hair Sam had long ago scorched from her cheeks (yet another stupid thing she’d spent money on, she knew her mom thought, rather than saving for retirement) bloomed blondly from Chris’ lip and jaw. Sam tried to remember what she’d felt like, prior to transition; if she’d ever held her head and jaw in the same way that he held his. It was a hard thought to fixate on, like trying to remember what her elementary school had looked like in the days she’d attended it. She’d since driven by, in adulthood, and the sight of the renovated playground had done something to her mind: She had pictured herself, a 6-year-old trans girl dressed in boy drag, swinging from monkey bars that hadn’t existed until long after her pubescence. The revision had replaced the original.
She thought about this while they finished dinner and Roland talked about a project he was working on with Sam’s mom. He’d freelanced for Sam’s mom’s technical support department for a while, both before and after the dissolution of his and Sam’s relationship; Sam’s mom paid their rent. Sam’s mom was brilliant, Sam knew, and in the end she would pay everyone’s rent. Everyone would all end up working for her.
She kept thinking about this as she failed to sleep later that night, downstairs in the rec room, with its giant TV and squeaking air mattress. (Chris had tried to offer Sam her old bedroom, which he had been sleeping in since coming home from the lab; Sam had demurred.) Roland was snoring on the futon across the rec room, and down the stairs, from the hallway to her mother’s separate bedroom, she could hear the white noise her mother claimed helped her sleep. Over Sam’s face loomed the regional sculptures her mother collected every time a new country honored her work; to her right sat the plastic Christmas tree, the box it came in unfestively stacked just behind it. It was a hideous tree, and Sam had picked it out. Why hadn’t her mother replaced it? Apathy, Sam supposed, or else some impulse she found difficult to name.
She thought about the tree for a while, and then she got up, the air mattress sliding along the parquet beneath her.
Roland, she said, shoving him lightly three times, then punching him hard a fourth. Get dressed. Pull your truck around the block.
Roland drove; Sam sat in the passenger seat with the air vents angled toward her; Chris sat in the back, propped a little forward on his hands like a surveyor on a stagecoach board, yawning at the winding miles of moonlit asphalt.
So what’d you want to talk to me about? Chris finally asked.
Goose-pimpling, Sam remembered that Chris had some of her memories. Just which ones did he have?
How’s my old bedroom? she asked carefully. Comfy?
Chris bared his teeth. Look, I get why you wouldn’t like me, he said. I came out here because, I don’t know, I thought we should talk about it, not in the house.
He stressed the words the house the same way she did; she noticed that.
I mean, I didn’t ask for this, he continued. I don’t know how to deal with all these weird memories I just have. I’m nothing like you, I know that.
I’m glad you realize you’re nothing like me, she said. I hope you think about that while you slowly take over every function of my emotional life. I mean, I’m glad I got one last Thanksgiving, anyway, before I stop getting invited.
Whoa, said Roland. That’s maybe–unfair?
Oh whatever, Roland, Sam said. Don’t side with my mother! I know her. She’s only two years into coping with the whole “having a trans daughter” project. That’s hardly any sunk cost. Are you seriously telling me that any sane parents wouldn’t do this, given the chance? She pointed at Chris, like a stab. That’s his whole purpose. Poster child for the Cis Lebensborn Program. The final cure for gender identity disorder.
I’m sorry, Chris echoed, and then he got quiet. Roland drove, biting his lip.
The car crested the hills and was slowly descending to the shore. From the backseat, the sound of snot sucked into a familiar nose. Disgusting, Sam thought. She turned the fan up as high as she could, the better to drown it out, and then she turned it off.
What? she asked. What’s wrong?
Nothing, Chris said. I don’t want to bother you with it. You’re right. I’m sorry.
She turned again, looked at him, their dark blue eyes meeting.
Do you and Mom–get along or anything? she asked.
He took a moment before answering.
She tries, he said. I mean, I try too. I’m not real, you know, so I have to try harder to make it normal for her. I hope this is OK to talk about with you?
It’s cool, Sam said. Do you, like–I don’t know anything about clones. Do you have other clones you can talk to about this?
Chris shook his head. None I relate to, he said. I mean, we were developed to be expendable, and that means we have like–problems? There’s the ones missing limbs and kidneys and the ones with cosmetic testing scars–you know, from before the UN resolution. And there’s the wealthy ones whose immortality stasis crypts opened on the death of their originals. There are street crazies. How am I supposed to relate to people like that? I grew up in Los Altos Hills, in Mom’s house.
Sam didn’t reply.
I just think about having friends, he said. How nice it would be to have friends. Like that photo Mom has on the fridge, from that summer trip I took–I mean, you took–in high school. I keep staring at it whenever I see it. All those memories that aren’t mine: me and Jared, ordering porn at the hotel, the guitar player in Washington Square while Jared lost all that money to that chess dude, racing back and forth across the Brooklyn Bridge to see if we could make the whole circuit before the trip schedule’s two-hour time slot for doing laundry was up. You know? He frowned. The process can’t fill in all the gaps. I mean, I have no idea what even happened to Jared. I couldn’t call him up to go hang out even if I wanted to.
Again, Sam didn’t reply.
Roland pulled the car into the lot just in sight of the visitor center. The noise of the engine stopped, and there were only the waves and the sound of other cars like breaths coming down the hills from the city on the other side. Sam’s cheeks were growing warm.
Half Moon Bay, Roland announced. All ashore that’s going ashore.
Sam and Roland had gone to Half Moon Bay once, toward the end of their thing. He’d recently started hormones, she hadn’t, and she’d watched him cross the sand. Her hair was still short then, and her arms had shivered in a bare-armed Ian Curtis dishabille. Their relationship hadn’t survived both of them transitioning, for the reason that Sam sucked. But they trusted each other–or Sam trusted Roland, anyway, enough to remember the section of natural seawall they’d staggered down together, the place where they’d sat on an overturned trash can and talked about how this fragment of beach would be an ideal place to murder someone.
The three of them split up as they descended to the strand, Pacific wind blowing around them under the starlight. Sam stomped in as straight a line as possible toward the breaking surf, and then, just at the moment of plunging in, she turned 90 degrees and walked parallel to the water, following the tightrope line of the surf.
The others’ voices were faint. She thought she heard Roland asking Chris if he remembered the times they’d come here before.
Sam didn’t think often about the photograph on the fridge; she tried to avoid it whenever she was home. She hated every person in it. Chris’ description of her memories, Jesus–this grotesque major-key transposition of everything. She remembered that high school trip, hiding in the bathroom and running the shower water while Jared and his buddies hooted over the women’s bodies that writhed and crashed into one another like F1 cars on the hotel big screen, loudly asking Sam how her masturbation was going, and then the teacher demanding an explanation for the hundreds of dollars of room charges in front of the assembled class, as she blushed and Jared beamed. And Washington Square: the quiet NYU student with bangs and serious Moleskine and books and peacoat who stood next to Sam, watching the guitar player while Sam watched her and thought about how badly she wished she could trade her own life for that student’s and wondered why the woman would ever change her own life for one as bad as Sam’s, all while Jared said racist shit to the elderly grand master who was taking his money.
Chris remembered none of this. He had the facts, not the interpretations. It was her L7 gene in operation: a gene that created its own interpretations, like dosing spiders with hallucinogens then marveling at the faulty webs they start to spin. She marveled at her mother’s ingenuity. Soon transsexuality would be over. Miserable people like Sam would be gone, and everyone could be happy.
Did one of your friends put you up to this? her mother had asked when Sam came out to her two years ago, as a deprogrammer might ask. Communication with other trans people was, clearly, brainwashing. Your new friends chased out your old friends; bad crowds stole your kids away. Against their lies, data was the only reality, the pretext you could believe in. Her mother had invested so much money and research into finding a pretext for believing what her daughter had told her. It was, in a way, love. And now her mother could give the pretext she’d found to the whole world, so that the rest of the world could love as well.
Up on the hill, she could see, Chris was standing close to the section of seawall she and Roland had long ago picked out. Chris was watching Sam; seeing her turn, he waved at her. She waved back. He had the facts about the seawall. Did he have the interpretation? What did he want her to do? What did she want to do?
She started back in his direction. And with each step, as she slowly climbed toward land and her brother–her abomination on the shore, who lined up with her in the old family force field, who kept his eyes on her now like fishing line–she thought very carefully about the sequence of actions she would take and which actions she would not take. It was very important, she knew, to be clear about the ethics of the situation: the people she ought to be obligated to, the people she actually was.
Tales From an Uncertain Future