Writings: Finding Out The Hard Way

[This post was previously posted on my Patreon blog.]

Recently, @DynamiteComics was called out on Twitter for featuring an upcoming cover which included the words:

"She was a He! I found out the hard way!"

I do not know the exact context of these words (the comic isn't published yet), but based on the cover, the tweets in response to the call-out, and the history surrounding those words, it seems DynamiteComics were trying to evoke an "old-school" feel of gritty transphobia in exploitation mags with stories intended to scandalize and titillate readers. The words "I found out the hard way!" conjure a situation where a man is pursuing a sex with a woman only to find her genitals aren't to his expectations: in other words, a trans-panic narrative that is still regularly used to justify the vile and inexcusable murders of trans women.

In short: This is transphobia and I urge folks to tell @DynamiteComics how inappropriate this is. They've said the words have been removed from the cover and they are having a meeting over the incident, but they need to hear this isn't okay with their readers so it doesn't happen again. It shouldn't have happened at all.

But this incident got me thinking on what would be an actual "hard way" to find out someone is transgender. Too often our coming out experiences are described in terms of the impact on others: authors focus not on the trans person coming out but on a cis person's hurt feelings at the world not being how they expected. This is a problem of framing. The "hard way" to find out someone is trans shouldn't be a way that centers a cis person's hurt feelings; this narrative teaches us that it's better to stay in the closet rather than risk "hurting" a cis person with the revelation of our identity. That's a pile of garbage we will not further indulge.

But if hurt cis feelings aren't the "hard way" to find out someone is trans, what is? Well, the obvious answer is a conversation held during a pirate battle on a boarded galleon. That is the "hard way" to find out someone is transgender, because pirate battles are hard. Alternate scenarios involving ninjas are also acceptable, as are pirate-ninjas.

Now you know, and knowing is half the battle.


---

Boots thudded onto the upper deck as Rhaden burst from the crew quarters below, free hand drawing his sword from its sheath. Tyb barreled into him from the other direction, a nasty gash over his eye streaking his face with blood and making the hulking giant of a man look even more fierce than usual.

"Pirates?" Rhaden barked the question as the two men tumbled out into the inky blackness of the night, the sky too clouded to grant the respite of even starlight.

"Got it in one, and thank you," Tyb panted, taking up the club Rhaden carried in his other hand with a nod of gratitude; the oaken weapon was one of the man's prized possessions, but not something he carried with him on watch. "Crew's doing their best, but I needed something proper to fight w--"

A screech tore through the night, drowning Tyb's words. Rhaden whipped his head around just in time to see a misshapen figure leaping from the deck of the merchant's vessel they'd bought passage on, only to land on a nearby pirate vessel that had pulled alongside the ship. The dark creature had the malformed shape of a monster, a segment of its back throbbing and pulsing in an unholy rhythm--

Another screech, outraged and muffled, issued from the creature and he realized the "lump" was a struggling body carried over a raider's shoulder. Rhaden gripped the hilt of his sword and threw himself towards the fray between them and the pirate vessel. "They have Arden! C'mon, we need to save her!"

Tyb flung himself into the fight with matching fervor, and Rhaden's blood sang with excitement. He'd never admit it to the others, but he missed this. Not the wounds and the interrupted sleep and the threat of death hanging about himself and comrades, of course, but the cooperation, the teamwork, the thrill of turning defeat into victory. Rhaden never felt more alive than when a battle was over and he still drew breath.

He heard the swish of a rope cut free and then another, and realized with the part of his mind not taken up with parrying his latest opponent's unskilled thrusts that the pirates were cutting the ties they'd used to tether the merchant ship to theirs. "Hurry! If they get away with Arden--" Another wild thrust. He jumped back from the swing and Tyb took the opening to club the man hard in the face; their attacker dropped to the deck like a swatted fly. "What do they want her for, anyway? You think they're affiliated with the guild?"

"Could be." Tyb's voice was a calm rumble of gravel in the dark night as he slammed into another opponent and grunted at the impact. "Arden said he got into a bit of business while you were training in Samicia."

Rhaden saw the glint of a throwing knife taking aim and ducked to roll along the deck; the weapon cut through empty air a good two feet above him before he leaped back to his feet. He couldn't make sense of these pirates. Most of the fighters on deck seemed barely competent, but here and there were warriors good enough to be death-blades. Yet they weren't top tier of the hired assassins or Rhaden and his group would be dead already, and in either case: who hired them? Something else, too, nagged at his mind. "He?"

His friend nodded as they ran, skirting the thickest of the skirmish. No time to help the merchant sailors if the pirate ship was pulling away; they had to get Arden first, then they could mop up the remaining boarders. "Aye, Arden. You weren't at dinner tonight when he told us. He wants us to call him a him."

Rhaden would have blinked at him were not the knife-thrower readying another missile. He ducked behind a fat barrel and swore an oath that would have scandalized his sword-master; like the rest of her Samician kin, she abhorred vulgarity and would not have cared to consider that a well-placed oath was the best way to express his frustration at not bringing a good set of fighting-darts on this expedition. Or a throwing axe; he could be flexible. "Arden wants us to call-- When did this happen?"

Another screech pierced the night, clearly from the same throat but different in tone from the first. Where Arden's first yelps had been surprise and outrage, that last cry was pure fury. They heard the splash of a body hit the water and Tyb whistled appreciation as he crouched beside Rhaden. "Sounds like he's doing good on his own over there. At least for the moment. I guess it happened while you were in Samicia? Or maybe it's been a thing forever and he just didn't tell us, I didn't ask. You know how rogues are."

"Well, but--" Rhaden ducked his head back as another throwing knife thudded into the barrel. They were pinned down; unable to move from cover while the pirate ship readied to launch. He swore again, louder now, but the word was lost in a roar of fire which lit the night and tore apart the clashing sounds of battle with freshly pained screams. A man, the knife-thrower if Rhaden wasn't mistaken, ran past them and flung himself overboard into the water to douse the magical flames engulfing his body. "Cerris, was that you?"

"I only have four more of those, boy! What the blazing hells is going on down there?" The wizard's gruff voice floated above the forecastle over the clash of metal around them.

"Arden's been kidnapped! We've got to get-- What do you mean you only have four?!"

Tyb nudged him in the side and helped him back to his feet. "He was up late with the rest of us. Probably still studying his spells when the attack hit."

A deep breath, a check of his limbs, and they were running again. Rhaden shook his head in exasperation with the wizard; it was one thing for Arden and Tyb to stay up all night drinking, but Cerris was old enough to know better. "That man needs to learn some discipline," he panted under his breath. Another pirate surged up in the darkness; a quick thrust of his sword and the man fell back clutching his shoulder and raining down harmless imprecations. Definitely not a death-blade, this one. "He's still a man, right?"

Tyb hit the railing as he did, scrambling to reach the nearest rope; it was already flying in the wind and even on his toes he couldn't quite reach. He peered left and right for another rope, a plank, anything he could use to cross--

"Coil! There!" Tyb pointed and Rhaden veered to scoop up the loose rope. "And, uh, actually, after Arden shared over dinner, Cerris mentioned he's been doing a lot of thinking about gender lately--"

"You're kidding me." Rhaden dumped the rope in his hands, doubling over to gulp air while Tyb's quick large hands knotted the end around his massive club in swift practiced movements; the man had spent the last six months in the king's navy while Rhaden trained his swordsmanship under his new master and now knew more about knots than half the old men in a port town bar.

"Nope." Another twist of the club and more knotting. Rhaden ached to rush his friend even knowing to do so would be counter-productive in the extreme; the creak of the vessel as it began to pull away haunted him. Only the fresh screams of agony--decidedly not Arden's voice this time--coming from the pirate ship buoyed his hopes. "I guess his gender isn't something he's completely certain of yet, or something."

"He's a wizard!" The words blurted out of Rhaden without the restraint of conscious thought or even good sense. "He's seventy years old, and then some! Gods, Tyb, please hurry!"

His friend ignored this last bit, hands still working with perfect care in the darkness. "Well, being a seventy-year-old wizard doesn't magically sort this stuff out for you. Who knew? Stand back, I've gotta wind up."

He swung the club in a tight circle over his head, letting out the rope bit by bit as the weight picked up speed. Rhaden watched, holding his breath at the continuous whoosh of air over their heads, trying not to count the time. Already the ship was further, but without someone at the helm the crew seemed in a panic; more screams rent the air as another body was tossed overboard. What was Arden doing over there?

The club soared through the air in a perfect arc, hitting the deck with a thud that was the most perfect sound he could imagine. Tyb made a quick sharp jerk of the rope and the weapon slid to tangle in the deck rigging. He tugged and the weapon held, then leaped to secure the loose end to their own railing.

"Quick, before they cut their end," Tyb said, clambering onto the rope in that monkey-hanging way he had. Already Rhaden's knees and thighs ached just watching him. Well, he'd managed before and this probably wouldn't be the last time. He sheathed his sword and grabbed the rope as soon as Tyb hit the halfway point.

"Look, I just want to know if everyone in the group is going to be doing this," he asked, conversation taking his mind from the burning in his hands and the churning sea below as he inched along the thin lifeline connecting the two ships. "Don't you think it's a little ridiculous? Changing genders?"

Ahead of him, Tyb grunted with the exertion of the sideways climb. "Rhaden, you have a magic sword. Secretly passed down your mother's side, because your grandfather was the king's bastard uncle."

"Yeah, but--"

Another heavy grunt, followed by the sound of Tyb scraping the side of the ship as he reached the railing. "And your girlfriend is the princess-heir of Mosenia and the great-granddaughter of an actual goddess."

"Hey! Nysia is--"

He nearly lost his grip as the rope shuddered at the loss of Tyb's weight; he hung on as hard as he could while the braid in his hands danced, then Tyb held him fast by the wrist and was pulling him up. "Trapped in the bowels of Tanacia-Under-the-Mountains." His friend overrode the impassioned he'd been about to launch into with his driest tone. "So I figure you can handle our problems with the same grace we show yours, Rhay."

Rhaden stared up at the man who'd saved his life dozens of times in the last year alone and nodded numbly, feeling like a complete mule. He knew better than to act like this with his friends. "Sorry, Tyb. You know how I am when I'm woken early by a melee. Maybe this was just the hard way to learn about--"

"Hell's bells!"

Rhaden whirled at the shout behind him even as he heard the telltale sizzle of black powder. "Cerris, watch where you're aim--"

The rest of his shout was lost in an explosion of heat and light, the merchant's vessel going up in an instant conflagration as a spark from a fire spell hit the ship stores. The few merchants still alive from the attack were thrown overboard into the ocean from the force of the blast and the hapless wizard at the root of the disaster was sent sailing through the air, already yelling the stream of incantations that would bring him drifting lightly down from the fall which would soon inevitably follow. Tyb flung up a hand to cover his eyes from the roaring assault blinding them, but Rhaden was too slow and red spots danced in his vision.

"Tyb?"

"I'm fine. The... ship isn't. So much for the passage we paid for."

Rhaden swore again, tugging his sword back out. "C'mon. If we're going to get anywhere, we've got a ship to take over. That means we gotta convince Arden he needs to stop carving things up and actually help us, then and we have to get Cerris down here on dry boards before the wind picks up and blows our wizard a league away. I'll take the pirates while you toss out lifelines for the sailors?"

"On it," Tyb rumbled, turning to go. "Rhaden?"

"Yeah?"

"I missed you."

"Yeah. I missed you too."

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