Gender Identity and the Invisible Pasta God

Kale, a wannabe pickup artist, attends a Pastafarian meetup to mock the religious and hopefully hook up with his sufficiently-hot co-worker Jezzie. But when a peg-legged Pastafarian Minister shows up in pirate garb and leads them all to the school board meeting next door where a debate about bathroom policies is underway, it becomes obvious that those who arrogantly claim to be non-religious actually have a religion after all.

a short satire

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Gender Identity and the Invisible Pasta God

by Stephen Measure

Kale was a twenty-year-old virgin and that was just freaking unacceptable. Oh, it’s not that he hadn’t tried. You have no idea how hard he’d tried, the dozens of first dates in high school: dinners, movies, dances. And how many second dates had that translated into? Less than you could count on one hand. And how many third dates? A big fat zero. Kale had been friend-zoned more times than he could count, been “like a brother” to half the girls in his graduating class, and altogether been the most non-nice guy to have ever been afflicted with the “nice guy” curse.

Now Kale was in his second “gap year” between high school and college, adrift, no aspirations in his life, nothing going for him except a bi-weekly paycheck from Infinite Word Worlds, the only remaining bookstore in his town, where he worked the day shift. He spent the night shift alone, assuaging his loneliness through pixels on his computer monitor. Sunrise followed by sunset. Rinse and repeat.

But no more. Last night, Kale had discovered inspiration. Last night, Kale had had a revelation. Not a boring, stuffy revelation you might hear about from your ninety-seven-year-old Sunday School teacher. Not a vision, not a voice, not a bright light, a burning bush, or a talking donkey. No, Kale’s revelation had come from that most accurate of sources: the Internet. There he had been, just like every other night, jumping from site to site, as was his habit, demonstrating his manhood to himself through the sheer variety of bodies he might objectify, when he had discovered that which would turn his life around, give him purpose, and translate the digital ones and zeros he fixated on into real flesh and blood objects he could use and leisurely discard. Praise be, Kale had discovered a pickup artist message forum.

These were giants among men, Michelangelos who nightly crafted masterpieces of personal pleasure out of willing canvases of makeup, hairspray, and low self-esteem. The notches on these men’s bedposts were legendary: dozens … hundreds. It was awe inspiring. Did a single night go by when these men among men were not bagging a new conquest? Was there a woman alive who was immune to their charisma and their carefully choreographed playbook that was guaranteed to transform ice queens into raging volcanoes? Kale didn’t think so, and the thought made his palms sweat.

Could he really be like them? Could he exude testosterone like some bathroom dispenser of male musk? Could he follow in the footsteps of such heroes of the pickup artist message forum like AlphaAlphaInfinity, LadySlayerX304, or NeggingMasterW? They claimed he could! To think that a beta male like him could reach such heights of alphaness, it was wonderful. And the steps were all right there on the Internet! All explained through message post after message post, or available as downloadable lectures for the low cost of three of his paychecks.

The pickup artists had byzantine levels of seduction. If a woman was here, then you should do this to raise her to the next level. If that didn’t work, then try this. It was all very complicated, and in truth it was a little too much for Kale to understand, especially after only one night of study. But he did remember a few key points.

The first was negging. The idea was simple: you insult a woman until her self-esteem is so battered and broken that she’ll be willing to have sex with you. Some pickup artists like NeggingMasterW seemed to have raised it to an art form. He had once negged the valedictorian of an Ivy League college on graduation night, only hours after her valedictory speech. The evening had started with her riding high on confidence, being honored in front of hundreds of people, and had ended with NeggingMasterW riding her, the valedictorian reduced to just one more notch on his bedpost. No woman could resist a master of negging.

The second was the touching technique. It was named something that started with a “k”. Kino? Kilo? Kale couldn’t remember. He just thought of it as the touching technique. The idea was to make progressively more and more physical contact with the woman you desire, getting her used to your presence and moving her along the path to hooking up with you, all the while trying your hardest to not give her the impression that you’re a creep. LadySlayerX304 had written hundreds of words on the topic. Kale had only skimmed the guidelines, but he thought he had the gist of it.

Before the night was over, he had already decided on his first target: his co-worker Jezzie. She was a recent hire, and he hadn’t worked up the nerve to actually speak to her yet, but she was young and the only cute girl who worked at the bookstore, and given Kale’s recent lack of socialization outside of work, she was his best bet.

Jezzie shaved her head, which was weird and honestly lowered her a few points on the bangable scale, but she was still sufficiently hot to be the first notch on his bedpost; and at the same time, thanks to her shaved head, she wasn’t extremely hot, so Kale wouldn’t be too intimidated to try out his pickup artist techniques for the first time.

And so Kale found himself the next day near the end of his shift, peeking out from behind a bookshelf at Jezzie, who was sitting on the floor next to a pile of books in the religious books section. Kale tried to work up the courage to approach her. AlphaAlphaInfinity said you should swallow your fear and let your body convert it into testosterone, which sounded easy when looking at pictures of women on the computer screen, but turned out to be not quite so easy when faced with a real flesh and blood woman in real life.

Kale struggled to think of an opener, something, anything, to break the ice and put her on the path toward becoming a notch on his bedpost, but his mind was blank. What would LadySlayerX304 say? How about NeggingMasterW? Kale couldn’t think of anything. And as he stood there, hiding behind a bookshelf in the self-help section, the excitement he had felt the night before slowly morphed into despair. Who was he kidding? Kale was pathetic and he knew it. He wasn’t just a beta. He was an omega. The lowest of the low. He would die a virgin and his obituary would only have three words: “What a loser.”

“Hey, can you help me with this?”

Kale froze and for a moment he worried he might have wet himself. Jezzie was staring up at him. “Can you help me with this?” she repeated.

“Uh, sure,” Kale said, forcing himself to move forward. Swallow your fear and turn it into testosterone. Swallow your fear and turn it into testosterone. Kale could do this. He was sure he could. And sure enough he made it the six feet to where Jezzie sat. Bending over, he bravely picked up a translation of the Bible and stuffed it on the shelf with the rest of the Bibles. Here he was, standing next to the woman who would be in his bed by the end of the night. Kale’s despair was forgotten, replaced by excitement over what might be to come. But how to open? NeggingMasterW always opened with a neg. That sounded like a good idea, so Kale said the first insult that came to mind.

“You look too smart to be here in the religious books section.”

It was a crappy neg. Kale recognized that as soon as he had said it. Sure, there was the little insinuation that, because she was in the religious books section, she must be stupid, but the related compliment was too large, making the neg lopsided.

Jezzie just shrugged. “The manager told me to shelve these books.”

“Oh,” Kale said, disappointed in himself that he had failed his first neg. Surely there should be something he could say to insult her? Something about her looks maybe? Girls cared so much about their looks it was a great way to bash their self-esteem. Maybe something with her clothes? The bookstore had a casual clothing policy and, like Kale, Jezzie was wearing a t-shirt and jeans, but Kale couldn’t see anything wrong with what she had on, nothing he could neg her about.

“Although, if you ask me,” Jezzie said. “We should be filing all these religious books in the fiction section, don’t you think?

“Uh, yeah,” Kale said, noncommittally. He still couldn’t think of a neg. He was standing so close to her, he could smell her faint perfume. It was all so overwhelming. How could a man insult a woman who was so attractive? But he had to. There was a neg he could say. There had to be. Maybe something about being too stupid to understand the book classification system? No, no, that had no style. How did pickup artist masters like AlphaAlphaInfinity do it? They made it seem so easy. This felt like actual work.

“I was watching a documentary on religion last night,” Jezzie said. “Hilarious. I haven’t laughed so loud in my life.”

I’ll bet you have a stupid laugh. Kale tested the neg out in his head. No, no, no! This was hopeless. He couldn’t think of a neg here in the heat of battle. He needed time to think. He needed time to prepare. But all was not lost. There was still the touching technique. The pickup artists in the message forum had discussed it at length. To start he had to touch her in a nonthreatening way. He should make it seem almost accidental, like it meant nothing to him. And then the next touch would be more significant, and then more, and then more, and then she’d be in his bed—but he was getting ahead of himself.

Where to touch her first? He considered putting a hand on her shoulder. That seemed normal enough. But with her sitting on the ground and him standing up, Kale worried he might fall over. He considered other options but none presented themselves. He would have to go for it. And so, swallowing his fear, he moved his hand toward her shoulder. But right before he could touch it she leaned forward to place a book on the shelf, leaving Kale’s hand sitting alone in the air. Not wanting to look like an idiot, he patted her shaved head.

“Did you just pat me on the head like a dog?” Jezzie asked.

Kale stepped back and cleared his throat, clasping his hands behind his back. “Yeah, religions are all pretty hilarious, aren’t they?” he said, trying to pretend the last few seconds hadn’t happened.

Jezzie looked at him for a moment and then smiled. “You’re a funny guy. What’s your name again?”

“Kale” he said. And you’re funny looking, he thought, but he didn’t say the neg out loud. He felt like such an idiot.

“Well, my name’s Jezzie”

Why did her name matter? It’s not like he’d be bagging her tonight anyway. Kale had failed the pickup artist brotherhood. He was a failure, a loser, an omega male forever. His obituary was pre-written: “What a loser.” It would probably be carved on his tombstone too, a big neon sign pointing down to where the loser was bur—

“Hey, do you have plans tonight?” Jezzie asked him.

A dizzying procession of emotions overcame Kale. First, he worried again that he might have wet himself, but then it was as if a light shone down from above and church choirs broke into singing all around. AlphaAlphaInfinity, LadySlayerX304, NeggingMasterW, you are all geniuses! The Pulitzer Prize, the Noble Prize, the Powerball lottery—all of them, you deserve! He hadn’t even done the negging or the touching technique right and yet here she was, practically begging him to bed her.

“No,” Kale answered, but then he reconsidered. Think like an alpha, think like an alpha, he reminded himself. “I mean, yeah, but it’s no biggie. Why,” he asked casually, “what did you have in mind?”

“There’s a Pastafarian meetup scheduled at the civic center,” she said. “It’s supposed to be a lot of fun. Mocking the religious, awesome, right? But I’ve never been, and I would feel weird showing up all by myself. Want to come with me?”

“Sure,” Kale said, “a Pastafarian meetup sounds fine. And then we could …” But he wasn’t brave enough to finish the sentence, so he left it hanging, hoping she would fill it in. She didn’t.

“You know about Pastafarians, right?” Jezzie asked.

“Of course,” Kale said, assuming it was some sort of carbohydrate-heavy dinner party.

“Great! It’ll be fun. And hilarious! I’m off at six and it starts at seven. I’ll meet you there. Civic center, like I said.”

It wasn’t exactly a date, but Kale would take would he could get. It was a solid beginning, and he was super optimistic about the ending. He didn’t know what this Pastafarian thing was, and frankly he didn’t care, but it sounded like it should include dinner, so he wouldn’t have to worry about eating beforehand. He’d spend the hours from now until then coming up with some really confidence-destroying negs. He’d be more assertive and alpha-like in his touching technique, and before you know it, he’d have left his virginity behind and gotten the first notch on his bedpost.

Kale arrived half an hour early at the civic center, an ugly brown building surrounded by lackluster landscaping. He peeked into room 5b, where the announcement board in the hallway said the Pastafarian meetup was scheduled to occur, but no one was there yet. There was a bench outside the room, and Kale considered waiting there, but he decided that would make him look too desperate. He needed Jezzie to be desperate, not him. That was the whole point of being a pickup artist: making the girls desperate enough to give you exactly what you want. He had already figured out the perfect neg, one that would lower her self-esteem to the gutter and make her beg him to lift it back up.

Wanting to be out of sight when Jezzie arrived, Kale hid in a janitors closet down the hall. It was dark and smelled like something small and disease-ridden had crawled into a corner and died, but beggars couldn’t be choosers, so Kale ignored the smell as he peeked through the crack between the door and doorframe and watched everyone walk past. His stomach began to growl. These Pastafarians had better have some good food, Kale thought, because he had skipped dinner for this.

After twenty-five minutes of waiting, Kale began to wonder if Jezzie had played a trick on him. It figured, he thought. Why did girls always treat nice guys like him so bad? But then he reminded himself he wasn’t just some beta-male nice guy anymore. He was a pickup artist now. And he had thought of the perfect neg to use on her. If only she would actually show up …

His heart leapt when he saw Jezzie finally walk past the janitors closet. She had actually came! Jezzie was carrying something loud and bulky in a shopping bag that clanged against her leg with each step. Kale counted to ten after she passed and then scurried out of the closet and called her name right before she went into the meeting room.

“Oh, where’d you come from?” Jezzie asked. “I didn’t see you in the hall.”

“I just got here,” Kale lied leisurely.

He opened the door for her to enter the room, then he wondered if pickup artists were supposed to do such things for their conquests. He would have to seek the wisdom of AlphaAlphaInfinity and the other pickup artist masters from the Internet message forum later. Hopefully by then he’d have an exploit of his own to brag to them about.

The room was small, setup with two rows of faded orange plastic chairs arranged in a semicircle. The tile on the floor was old and scarred. The walls were faded white, with posters of various community events or public announcements scattered here and there. All in all, the place reeked of bureaucracy and boredom.

There were a handful of people in the room now. Everyone was sitting apart from each other, no one talking. Kale understood now why Jezzie didn’t want to come here alone. They didn’t seem like the friendliest bunch. He scanned the room, paying attention first to the men. The pickup artist message forum had made it clear how important it was to be the alpha male in the room. All of these men were his competition one way or another. He would have to assert his alphaness over all of them … somehow.

Of course he spent time checking out all the women as well. None were particularly hot, certainly nowhere close to Jezzie on the bangable scale, even with her shaved head. Sure, he would have gone for some of them on a normal day, but today was not a normal day. Today he was guided by the wisdom of greats like AlphaAlphaInfinity and LadySlayerX304. Today he had no reason to be desperate or to settle for anyone that wasn’t sufficiently hot, and Jezzie certainly was sufficiently hot.

Kale and Jezzie sat down at one end of the back row, their seats next to each other. Kale subtly scooted his chair slightly closer, causing their shoulders to touch. Jezzie didn’t flinch at this, so Kale figured it kind of counted as the first level of the touching technique. He was getting the hang of this.

Kale had come dressed for the kill. He had worn his best dark polo shirt and had matched it with his only pair of clean khaki pants. Jezzie, on the other hand, hadn’t changed since work. She still wore the t-shirt and jeans she had been wearing earlier. He could smell her perfume once again. It was intoxicating. There was a little bit of sweat stink mixed in there too—she obviously hadn’t taken the time to freshen up after a full day of work—but Kale chose to ignore that. Things were going great. Here he was, sitting next to her, shoulders touching. Now was the time for the awesome neg he had planned all afternoon. It was about her looks, the best kind of neg for a woman, and Kale was positive it would have the desired effect.

Kale leaned back in his chair with forced casualness and looked over at Jezzie. Injecting a cocky swagger into his voice he had never used before, he said, “You must be really confident to choose such an unattractive hairstyle.”

Kale smiled inwardly and congratulated himself on his perfect delivery. Negging wasn’t so hard. He might actually finally be getting the hang of this! NeggingMasterW would be proud.

Jezzie frowned and was quiet for a moment. Kale imagined her turning to him, desperation in her beautiful brown eyes. “Oh, Kale,” he imagined her saying. “I need a strong man like you to make me feel better about myself.” Kale would then put his arm around her shoulder and say, “How about we stop delaying the inevitable and just head back to my place and get it on?” To which Jezzie would reply “Oh, yes! Oh, yes! I thought you’d never ask!”

But that wasn’t quite how the conversation went. Instead of following Kale’s fantasy, Jezzie said, “My little sister has cancer and I shaved my head to support her.”

Alarms blared inside Kale’s head. DANGER! DANGER! NEW SUBJECT! NEW SUBJECT! In his mind he formed a little checklist of pickup artists do’s and don’ts and in the first line he wrote, highlighted, bolded, and underlined: “Don’t ever neg a woman about her shaved head. She probably has a family member with cancer.” He worried he might have ruined everything. Desperately, he tried to change the subject. “That sucks, so, uh, what do you have in your shopping bag?”

Jezzie’s frown didn’t go away, and frankly she looked a little pissed, but she lifted up her shopping bag and opened it, showing what was inside: two metal colanders, shiny and new from the store. Kale figured they would be used to strain the pasta for the Pastafarian dinner party, although now that he came to think of it, there were no tables or stoves or anything of that nature in the room. How were they supposed to eat? His stomach gave a soft rumble.

And then Kale had a moment of inspiration. All this time he had been fixated on just two of the techniques in the pickup artist’s arsenal, but there was far more to it than that. He remembered a third technique AlphaAlphaInfinity had given advice about: peacocking. The idea was simple: just like a male peacock spread its tail feathers to stand out from the crowd and assert its alphaness, so too could a pickup artist dress or act in a way to make him standout, thereby heightening his attractiveness and transforming women into putty in his hands.

Kale swallowed his fear before he had time to second guess himself. Quickly he leaned over and grabbed one of the colanders from Jezzie’s shopping bag, then with the confidence of AlphaAlphaInfinity, LadySlayerX304, and NeggingMasterW all rolled together into one unstoppable alpha male, Kale put the colander on his head. Turning to Jezzie, he gave her his best flirty smile. “So, how do I look?”

And it worked! Jezzie’s frown and anger melted away. She actually laughed! Kale couldn’t believe how great things were going. Pickup artists truly were geniuses. Was there anything they couldn’t accomplish?

Then Jezzie reached into the bag and pulled out the other colander. She placed it on her own head, just like Kale had done, and turned and smiled at him.

This was unexpected and Kale was confused. Was she trying to peacock as well? Did girls do that sort of thing?

He heard a nervous giggle from one of the others in the room, and one by one everyone else reached into bags or backpacks, pulled out colanders, and placed them on their heads.

What in the world had he gotten himself into? Kale wondered. Now they were all wearing colanders on their heads. How was he supposed to peacock in a room full of people that were peacocking just as well?

“So you do know about Pastafarians,” Jezzie said.

“Uh, yeah, of course,” Kale said, wondering if he should keep the silly thing on his head now that everyone else in the room was wearing the same thing. A young man on the opposite side of the room had put a fake plastic eye patch over one eye. A woman in the first row quietly put some sort of long beaded belt around her waist.

“Ridiculous,” Jezzie giggled. “Don’t you get it?” she said, pointing at the colander on her head. “It’s just like the clothing real religions wear. Ridiculous! If they get to wear their silly stuff, then we get to wear silly stuff too. That’s why we wear colanders on our heads. It’s a sign of respect for the Flying Spaghetti Monster.”

“The Flying Spaghetti Monster?” Kale said, and his stomach grumbled at the mention of food.

“Of course, I thought you said you knew about Pastafarians?”

“Yeah, a little,” Kale said, beginning to realize that there might be no dinner party after all. His stomach whined in protest.

“It was about a decade ago,” Jezzie said. “Some Midwest hick state, probably Kansas—it sounds like something Kansas would do, doesn’t it?”

Kale shrugged his shoulders, having no idea what she was talking about. He had to get things moving in the right direction again. But how? Did he dare try another neg? He had messed up his last one, and that was after hours of preparation! And peacocking didn’t appear to work in a room full of people who wore colanders on their heads for fun. Time to try the touching technique again, Kale decided.

Jezzie went on: “Anyway, in Kansas about a decade ago, they decided they should teach Intelligent Design in their classrooms alongside evolution. Can you imagine that? Intelligent Design being taught in a public school right there along with evolution. Ridiculous!”

Kale stared at her blankly.

“You know what Intelligent Design is, right?” Jezzie asked.

Kale shrugged again. His mind was preoccupied on his next line of attack. He couldn’t be too forward. That might creep her out. He had to be sneaky about it. Yet at the same time, he had to somehow make her want more. Her elbow seemed like a safe bet. Jezzie’s looked tan and inviting.

“Intelligent Design is just Creationism, dressed up to pretend to be a scientific theory. But it’s not scientific at all. It’s pure religion,” Jezzie said. “Of course it’s religion. Science can be proven. Science is based on empirical evidence. You know, stuff you can see, feel, touch; stuff you can measure. That’s science. And Intelligent Design isn’t science. ‘It’s all too complicated for evolution to be true. Evolution couldn’t have created life in this complicated manner.’ That’s what Intelligent Design says. ‘So there must have been a creator,’ they say. And we’re supposed to just believe them. No proof! No evidence! Just believe them because they say it’s true, like their words should overrule physical reality!”

“Uh-huh,” Kale said. Jezzie was sitting to his right, their shoulders still brushing together. He decided that touching her left elbow would be the best next step. Leaning over her body to touch her right elbow would just be too weird, and the colander might fall off his head. What if he lightly brushed her left elbow with the fingertips of his right hand? Would that work? She might think it was just accidental. Would that be good? Would that be bad? Or should he reach across and grab her left elbow lightly with his left hand, making it obvious he was touching her? That seemed more alpha-like, but was it too soon? He wished he could consult with AlphaAlphaInfinity, LadySlayerX304, or NeggingMasterW. He needed their advice.

“Do you know how you can tell someone is preaching religion to you?” Jezzie asked him.

Kale muttered a non-committal reply. He would lightly grab her left elbow with his left hand. Bold. Brave. Alpha-like. This was going to be great. Swallow your fear and let your body convert it into testosterone. That’s what AlphaAlphaInfinity would say. And AlphaAlphaInfinity was a master at this. Holding his breath, Kale started to lift his left hand.

But then Jezzie’s body tensed and she raised her left elbow to her nose, letting out a huge sneeze. “Excuse me!” she said. She lowered her elbow back down beside Kale. “You know someone is preaching religion to you when they tell you to believe something that contradicts your own eyes. That’s religion for you!” she said.

Kale stared at Jezzie’s left elbow, imagining the millions of molecules of snot and germs she had just contaminated it with. He dropped his left hand back down. Foiled again. It’s like the universe hated him.

Jezzie just kept on talking. “So when Kansas wanted to teach Intelligent Design in public schools, that was obviously wrong. Religion doesn’t belong in public schools. Public schools are supposed to be secular. But they kept arguing that it was reasonable, blah, blah, blah, masquerading their religious beliefs like they were scientific.”

Kale imagined the hundreds of alphas who posted on the pickup artist message forum. They were all probably out prowling the city right now, scoring again and again with nines and tens on the bangable scale when he couldn’t even score with a girl who shaved her head. What was he supposed to do now? Grab her other elbow? Go for the knee?

“Anyway,” Jezzie continued, “there was this guy, I forget his name. Genius. Hilarious. He’s the one that came up with the Flying Spaghetti Monster. He wrote an open letter to the Kansas school board, explaining it was just as reasonable to believe that the earth was created by an invisible Flying Spaghetti Monster as it was to believe it was created by Intelligent Design. So if they were going to teach Intelligent Design in the classroom, they should teach about the Flying Spaghetti Monster as well. After all, they both had the same amount of proof. Brilliant!”

Kale’s stomach jumped at the mention of spaghetti. He really regretted not grabbing a before-meetup snack.

“And that’s the whole point of Pastafarianism,” Jezzie said. “It’s a way to highlight the difference between science and religion and to point out the ridiculousness of religion. If you can’t prove it, then it’s not science. If it goes against what you can see or measure, then it’s not science. I mean seriously, we have all these fossils lying around, which are carbon-dated back millions of years, and what do Creationists say about them? They say God put them there just to confuse us or something like that, so that’s what Pastafarians say too! The Flying Spaghetti Monster placed the fossils in the ground to confuse us. He did it to test our faith. See how it works? And anytime a scientist makes a measurement—to perform carbon dating or something like that—the Flying Spaghetti Monster reaches down from the heavens and alters it. Imagine a stringy spaghetti noodle reaching down and changing scientists’ measurements. Except he’s invisible, so you can’t see it, and the Pastafarians call it a noodly appendage instead of just a noodle because that makes it sound more formal and religious-like. So he reaches down with his noodly appendage and changes scientific measurements to make the Earth appear older than it really is, and he does it to test our faith.”

Jezzie adjusted the colander on her head. “And that’s the point of Pastafarianism: mocking the religious and stopping people from passing off religious beliefs as scientific ones, because if there is just as much objective evidence for the Flying Spaghetti Monster as there is for your own beliefs, then it’s obvious your beliefs are religious, not scientific. So they wear colanders on their heads and dress like pirates. Oh, I didn’t explain that part, did I? They dress like pirates because pirates are the Flying Spaghetti Monster’s chosen people. I forget why, but I’m sure there’s a funny reason. So dressing like a pirate is another way to show respect to him.”

That explained the cheesy plastic eye patch the guy on the other side of the room was wearing. Perhaps that explained the beaded belt the woman on the front row had put on as well. Kale wasn’t sure since he didn’t know much about pirate garb. But really, none of that nonsense mattered. The only important thing was getting Jezzie in bed with him and as for how to achieve that, Kale was at a loss. He didn’t dare touch her knee or reach across her body and grab her other elbow. That just seemed too advanced. And her left elbow was contaminated with germs and nastiness. Could he somehow change seats with her? Then he could go for her right elbow more subtly.

Jezzie looked around the room. Everyone was quietly waiting. “I wonder when it will start?” she said to Kale. Then she leaned close and whispered in Kale’s ear, causing him to tense nervously. “Do you think the other women here are lady pirates, or do you think they are wenches?”

Kale had no idea how to respond. Was she coming on to him? Were the pickup artist techniques actually working? But how? Nothing had gone right! His perfect neg had backfired, his peacocking hadn’t accomplished anything, and touching her elbow now would probably put him in the ER. But here she was whispering in his ear about wenches. Was she trying to tell him something?

Jezzie kept whispering in his ear. “Pastafarianism was made up by a guy—Pastafarian heaven has a beer volcano and a stripper factory, that explains that, right? And there’s a lot of talk about pirates getting wenches, which is great for guys, but kind of awkward for girls. So I wondered, do the women Pastafarians think of themselves as lady pirates, or do they think of themselves just as wenches for the Pastafarian guys?”

Kale knew exactly how he wanted Jezzie to think of herself, but how could he get her there? Perhaps another neg? She seemed too confident right now to be willing to give it up to him. Kale wasn’t a fool. He knew he was just pretending to be an alpha. The truth was he was an omega at heart. No smart, self-confident woman would ever go for him, not until he had knocked her self-esteem down a few levels. But he had to do it with style, with finesse. He couldn’t just make Jezzie mad like last time. He thought of his heroes, those incredible alpha men who graced the pickup artist message forum with their wisdom, masters of the female psyche like AlphaAlphaInfinity, LadySlayerX304, and NeggingMasterW. What would they do? Kale’s stomach rumbled.

The door slammed opened and Kale’s miserably empty stomach jumped in surprise. Everyone in the room turned around. There in the open doorway stood an old pirate. The man had sun-wrinkled caucasian skin and gray hair spilling out of his blue tricorn hat. He wore a faded eye patch over his left eye, real leather not cheap plastic, and he had large gold hoop earrings which hung from each ear, reaching down half the length of his gray, scraggly beard. His rough white shirt with ruffled sleeves was tucked into baggy black trousers that had vertical stripes, and when he started walking toward the front of the room, Kale’s mouth dropped open. The old pirate had a peg leg. He had a real bleeping peg leg! There is peacocking and then there is peacocking … Wow! AlphaAlphaInfinity had nothing on this guy.

But any comparison to the heroic pickup artists from the message forum faded away when Kale saw the woman who followed closely behind the pirate. She appeared to be pushing ninety years old, with white hair and wrinkly caucasian skin sagging out of her cheap “Sexy Pirate” costume. The peg-legged pirate looked like he’d just stepped off a pirate ship. This woman looked like she’d just walked out of a Halloween store. She was a walking argument to putting a maximum age limit on such skimpy costumes, and she followed after the peg-legged pirate like a love-struck puppy, making it clear she saw herself not as a lady pirate but as this old pirate’s wench.

The peg-legged pirate strode quickly to the front of the room (as quick as a man with a real bleeping peg leg can stride) and help up a piece of paper for the whole room to see. His pirate wench stood to his side, slightly behind him, and declared loudly. “See his certificate!”

“Aye, me mateys,” the old pirate said. “See me certificate, printed fresh from the Internet this afternoon, declaring me, yer humble pirate, an official Pastafarian minister.”

“An official Pastafarian Minister!” the pirate wench echoed.

“Aye, and thereby worthy to speak to ye, me mateys, about His Noodliness,” the minister said.

“His Noodliness!” the pirate wench echoed.

“Arr. The Noodly Creator has touched me with His Noodly Appendage. Perhaps He has touched ye as well. I see ye all are wearing yer colanders, showing proper respect to the Flying Spaghetti Monster as ye should.”

All the Pastafarians in the audience nodded and smiled at each other.

“This is so awesome!” Jezzie whispered to Kale.

The minister folded his certificate and placed it in a pocket. Then he raised his arms out wide and spoke with enthusiasm. “Do ye want to be taught about the Flying Spaghetti Monster?”

No one was brave enough to answer.

The pirate scowled. Clearly he was expecting more enthusiasm. A small fire burned in his unpatched eye, revealing that this was a pirate with a nasty streak. The pirate wench glared at the small group. “Answer him! Answer him!” she said shrilly.

“Uh, yes,” said the young man with the fake eye patch.

“What was that?” the minister asked.

“Um, I mean, aye?” the young man said. Other members of the group, including Kale, offered their mumbled agreement.

The minister relaxed and the pirate wench returned her fawning attention back on him. He began to walk back and forth in front of the room, his peg leg making a distinct clunk with each step. “And what should be said about His Noodliness? Do ye know what He looks like?” The minister clunked a few steps. “Ha! That be a trick question for He be invisible!”

“Invisible!” the pirate wench echoed.

“Aye, invisible,” the minister said, “and able to pass through walls like they be air. Yet we do know what He looks like for He hath revealed it onto us. The Flying Spaghetti Monster, His Great Noodliness, doth be a tangled clump of spaghetti, with two glorious eyestalks atop Himself, and two large meatballs. Can ye imagine … can ye imagine the glory of His being? Can ye imagine the power of His Noodly Appendages?”

The minister clunked back and forth in front of the room for a moment while the Pastafarians basked in the wonder of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Kale, for his part, wished the Pastafarian minister would stop mentioning spaghetti so much. It made him hungry.

“And this Glorious Being,” the minister went on, “this Carbohydrate-Rich Celestial Entity, does He just sit yonder in the heavens and relax and watch the comets go by? No!”

“No!” the pirate wench echoed.

“For He created the universe,” the minister said, “the Earth, everything in it. All of this only a few thousand years ago. Can ye imagine? And then He rearranged things, making everything appear to be older than it truly be. The fossils in the ground—ye know of the fossils in the ground, do ye not?”

“Aye!” many Pastafarians replied, laughing.

“Aye, the fossils, He put there,” the minister said. “The Flying Spaghetti Monster put them there Himself, giving the scientists something to dig up. And why did He do this?”

Jezzie yelled out “To test our faith!”

“Aye,” the minister nodded in approval. “That be correct! The Flying Spaghetti Monster wants to test our faith! The fossils haven’t been there for millions of years. No! The Flying Spaghetti Monster just put them there a few thousand years ago.”

“A few thousand years ago!” the pirate wench echoed.

“And what of the measurements that scientists make?” the minister asked. “They date the carbon, do they not? Ha! Date the carbon!”

“Scientists date carbon!” the pirate wench said with a shrill mocking laugh.

“Aye, and how be it that scientists believe fossils are millions of years old when they truly be only a few thousand years old?” the minister asked.

“Because the Flying Spaghetti Monster alters their measurements with His Noodly Appendage!” Jezzie shouted out.

“Aye,” the minister said. “He reaches down with His Noodly Appendage and He changes the measurements. Ye cannot trust yer eyes! Ye cannot trust yer tests! And why does His Noodliness do this?”

“To test our faith!” they all answered.

“Aye! He alters things to appear to be what they do not be, and He does this to test our faith. But ye all have faith, do ye not?” the minister said. “Ye all have been touched by His Noodly Appendage. I can see it in yer eyes. I can see it from the holy colanders ye wear upon yer heads. But how do ye show yer faith?”

“How do you show your faith?” the pirate wench echoed.

“By dressing like a pirate!” said the young man with the fake eye patch.

“By wearing colanders on our heads,” said the woman with the beaded belt.

“Aye, aye, me mateys,” the minister said. “Those all be good ways to show yer faith in His Grand Noodliness. But ye are in luck today for ye have an extra special chance to show yer faith. Right now in the room next door there be a decision being made. Will we follow the Flying Spaghetti Monster? Will we acknowledge the work of His Noodly Appendage? That be the question before us in the room next door. That be the chance ye have to show yer faith! So get ye next door. Go on, get ye next door!”

The minister waved his hands, trying to shoo them out of the room. Kale was the first to jump to his feet. He hadn’t expected a room change and, being so hungry, he didn’t relish the idea of moving much, but if they found seats in a different room, that gave him a chance to grab a chair on Jezzie’s right instead of her left and thereby avoid her snotty elbow.

“We’d better go,” he said, trying to speak with the self-confidence he imagined came naturally to pickup artist heroes like AlphaAlphaInfinity; and to his amazement, Jezzie actually stood up and followed him toward the door. The other Pastafarians, however, moved in the opposite direction, crowding around the Pastafarian minister and bombarding him with questions. The minister began answering them passionately but Kale and Jezzie were already in the hallway and didn’t hear the discussion.

“Isn’t it awesome?” Jezzie said. “I told you, everything religious people believe without proof can just as easily have been done by the Flying Spaghetti Monster. That’s how you know it’s a religious belief instead of a scientific one! Take Intelligent Design for example. Believers claim it’s a scientific theory, but it has no more proof than the Flying Spaghetti Monster, which means it’s actually a religious belief!”

Kale nodded his head absently, eager to get Jezzie sitting down next to him and to move forward with his pickup artist techniques. Maybe a good neg would come to him if he thought hard enough.

The room next door proved to be room 5a, where a school board meeting was taking place according to the glass-covered bulletin board next to the door. Kale opened the door and went in, Jezzie following behind. It was much the same as the other room, the same old tile floor, the same miscellaneous posters on the walls. But the chairs here were metal folding chairs rather than orange plastic ones, and they had been organized into rows, the seats half-filled with people. The chairs all faced the front of the room, where there was a wooden table with five people sitting behind it, a single microphone in the center of the table. A propped-up folded piece of paper declared the man sitting in the center of the table to be the school board president. He had dark brown skin, closely shaved hair, and thick glasses with black rims. Sitting on both sides of him, two on each side, were a pair of graying men and women, all with caucasian skin and unreadable expressions on their faces. Those must be the school board members.

“What do you think is going on?” Kale asked Jezzie quietly as they walked toward the back row.

“I don’t know,” she whispered in return. “Maybe they’re trying to put Intelligent Design in their science curriculum or something like that. Maybe that’s why the Pastafarian minister wanted us to come here, so we could stop them from imposing their religious beliefs onto a public school.”

Between the audience and the school board, there were two microphones, which faced the school board, where members of the public could stand and speak. There were two men at the microphones right now. The one nearest to Kale and Jezzie was a chubby man with caucasian skin, his brown hair long and pulled back in a ponytail. He appeared to be in his late forties and wore a rainbow shirt above black dress pants. The other man had the same skin tone and hair color but looked a few years younger and was sporting a goatee. He wore a button-up shirt, tucked into blue jeans, his outfit revealing a fairly standard dad bod.

The man with the goatee was speaking, alternating his attention between the man with the ponytail and the school board sitting behind the table. “These are existing words that already have a meaning,” he said, “yet we’re supposed to change that meaning just because you say so? And what’s worse, even though the meaning of the word has completely changed, we’re supposed to keep using it the same way we did before you changed its meaning?”

The last two rows of seats were empty. Kale hurried and sat on the second seat of the back row, leaving the end seat open. He gestured for Jezzie to sit down next to him, congratulating himself on perfectly positioning himself to progress with the touching technique. Now her snot-contaminated elbow would be safely away from him on the other side of her body.

Goatee man continued, the frustration heavy in his voice. “It’s like you took a Coke bottle, poured Pepsi inside, and then demanded that Coke lovers still love the drink, despite what’s inside, because the bottle still says ‘Coke’ on the label.”

Jezzie sat down and Kale began to plan his angle of attack. He had to be subtle, but it had to also be noticeable enough to start increasing her attraction to him. The pickup artists in the forums made it seem so easy, but here in the real world sitting next to a real woman, it didn’t seem so easy at all.

“‘Man’ and ‘woman’ are real words with real meanings,” goatee man said. “They aren’t just made-up words you can change the definition of because you feel like it.”

Ponytail man rolled his eyes and spoke with a condescending tone. “We’ve already gone over this. Gender is a social construct.”

“Says who?” goatee man said. “Are urinals a social construct too? Why do we put urinals in boys’ bathrooms but not in girls’ bathrooms? Or should we change that too?” He threw his hands up in the air in exasperation. This man was clearly upset. “Let’s do it! A bathroom with nothing but urinals from wall to wall, and then we’ll say it’s a girls’ bathroom. Why not? Gender is a social construct, right? So what if we just poured Pepsi into that bottle, the label says ‘Coke’, and that means it’s Coke! Drink it up! It’s Coke! It’s all just a social construct, right?” He was practically shouting into the microphone, electronic feedback from the speakers overpowering the end of his sentence.

The school board president leaned toward the microphone on the table in front of him. “Sir, I’m going to have to ask you to calm down. This is the public comment period for our decision about the school district’s bathroom policies. You have been given permission to share your opinion with the school board, but if you cannot keep your comments civil, you will be removed from this meeting.”

Jezzie was sitting with her arms folded. Kale still wanted to go for her elbow since that seemed like the safest target and he had gone to such trouble to sit on the non-snotty side of her, but the angle of her arms made it a little awkward. He pulled his left arm back, ready to bring his hand forward and “accidentally” brush her elbow. His stomach fluttered, with nervousness this time instead of hunger.

Goatee man paused for a moment to compose himself. “I’m sorry,” he said, looking at the school board president. “You’re right. Being angry isn’t helpful. I’ll calm down. But you’ve got to understand … you see … I’m a religious man—”

“That’s no surprise,” ponytail man said, using the same condescending tone as before. “But public school policies cannot be based on religious beliefs.”

“But that’s my whole point,” goatee man said. He pointed a finger at ponytail man. “You’re the one trying to impose religious beliefs on the school, not me.”

Ponytail man laughed. “Don’t be ridiculous. I’m an atheist. I don’t believe in God, and I don’t believe in Allah, and I don’t believe in Odin either. I’m an atheist. I don’t believe in any religion, which means I don’t have any religious beliefs to impose on anyone.”

“But you believe in gender identity,” goatee man said. “You believe that a biological male, with XY chromosomes and a male anatomy, is a woman if he says he’s a woman—if he identifies as a woman.”

“What’s your point?” ponytail man replied. “Gender is a social construct and it’s determined largely by identity. That’s not a religious belief.”

“So it’s scientific then?”

“Of course it is. Why else would an atheist like me believe it?”

“So it’s based on empirical evidence?”

Jezzie’s eyes lit up at the mention of “empirical evidence”, and she leaned forward, the colander on her head almost falling off, as she rested her elbows on her knees. Kale cursed under his breath. There was no way for him to touch her elbow now without making it too obvious. He would have to change tactics.

“Well ...” ponytail man said, his condescending tone gone, replaced by uncertainty.

“Russell’s teapot,” goatee man said. “You’re an atheist—as you have repeatedly told us—surely, you’ve heard of it?” He paused for a moment before going on. “There’s a small teapot orbiting in space between Earth and Mars. It’s too small for our eyes to see, too small for our telescopes to see, but it’s there. It’s there because I say it’s there.”

Jezzie hit Kale’s leg and gestured toward the man with the goatee. “This is what I was telling you about,” she said. Kale thrilled at the physical contact. Didn’t that mean she was starting to come on to him? He tried to remember what the pickup artists had said about it in the message forum.

Ponytail man seemed confused at what goatee man had said. “Yes, but Russell’s teapot is an analogy that is used to deal with religious claims. If you make a claim that can’t be disproven, then no one is obligated to believe it. It’s your responsibility to prove it.”

“Right,” goatee man said, “So, tell me something: How can I prove that someone isn’t a transgender?”

“What?” ponytail man spurted. “But that’s … that’s not …” He struggled for an answer. Then his eyes lit up. “Well, you can just ask them! It’s based on their identity!”

“No, no, no, no, no, no, no,” goatee man said. “I asked you for empirical evidence. I asked you for something I can see, something I can touch, something I can measure, something I can independently verify. That’s science, isn’t it? Objectivity. Repeatability. Isn’t that what science is? Physical, observable reality. There are urinals in the boys’ bathroom but not in the girls’ bathroom. There is Coke in a Coke bottle. These are real words with real meaning in a real world. If you needed to know how tall someone was, you wouldn’t just ask them what height they identified as, you’d measure their height. If you needed to know how heavy someone was, you wouldn’t just ask them what weight they identified as, you’d measure their weight. And if you needed to know if there really was a teapot orbiting out in space, you wouldn’t just believe someone who claimed it was there, you’d get out a telescope and find out for yourself. Real evidence. Objective evidence. Empirical evidence. That’s what science is. So let me ask you again. How can I prove, using empirical evidence, that someone isn’t a transgender?”

Ponytail man answered softly. “You can’t.”

Goatee man spread his arms out wide. “I rest my case. Gender identity is a religious belief and it therefore should not be used as a basis for public school bathroom policies.”

Ponytail man spoke excitedly. “It’s not a religious belief! I told you: I’m an atheist! Gender is a combination of chromosomes, hormones, anatomy, and identity.”

“Says who?” goatee man asked. “What reproducible test based on empirical evidence proved that identity should be included in that list?”

“He’s right, you know,” Jezzie whispered to Kale.

Kale was still racking his brain trying to remember if her hitting his leg like that should be interpreted as a come-on or not. But hearing Jezzie refer to a different guy sent warning bells off in Kale’s head. He knew it wasn’t good if her attention was on someone else instead of on him and his game.

“You think you’re so smart,” ponytail man said to goatee man. “You think you’re so clever. Well, what about the intersex then? A person can have XY chromosomes and female anatomy. Explain that! That proves that gender isn’t just based on chromosomes.”

“Yes, you’re right,” goatee man began.

“Ha!” ponytail man said. “I told you: I’m an atheist. Accusing me of believing a religious belief … How ridiculous.”

“I wasn’t finished,” goatee man said. “You’re right that there are birth defects that cause physical ambiguity about what gender a person is, biological anomalies where chromosomes and body parts don’t line up like they should, causing actual, physical, observable ambiguity between the two genders. Thankfully this is rare, like other birth defects, but here’s the key point: You can prove that someone is intersex, and more importantly, you can prove that someone isn’t intersex. People aren’t intersex because they identity as intersex. They are intersex because they actually are intersex, because there is actual, real, provable ambiguity in their physical bodies.”

“But there is ambiguity in transgender bodies as well,” ponytail man said. “Their physical bodies are one gender, but they identity as another.”

“And there’s a small teapot orbiting out in space. That’s my claim. I can’t prove it. I have no empirical evidence, nothing you can measure, no way for you to prove me right or prove me wrong, so I guess that means you just have to believe what I say, right?” goatee man said. “Wrong. That’s not how science works.”

Jezzie gestured at the goatee man, whispering to Kale, “This is what I was telling you about earlier. You can’t just say something and expect people to believe it with no proof. That’s not how science works!”

Kale glared at the man with the goatee. This stupid man with this stupid facial hair making his stupid points. Jezzie’s attention was all focused on what goatee man was saying. None of Kale’s pickup artist techniques would work if Jezzie wasn’t paying attention to him! Kale wondered what AlphaAlphaInfinity would do in this situation. Something alpha-like certainly, but what?

“I told you earlier that I’m a religious man,” goatee man went on, looking at ponytail man. “But that doesn’t mean I don’t also believe in science. These are two separate things, religion and science, each providing two separate reasons to believe. I believe things for scientific reasons because they can be proven to me. I believe things for religious reasons because I choose to believe them. When you argue on behalf of gender identity, you’re using a religious argument. You aren’t proving to me that a biological man is a woman. You’re telling me that he says he is a woman and therefore I should believe him. That’s a religious argument. And I don’t choose to believe it.”

“It isn’t a religious argument,” ponytail man said. “Am I referring to God? Am I referring to scripture? Am I invoking some authority you have to believe because they are an authority? No!”

“Who says religion requires a god or scriptures?” goatee man said. “You are asking us to have faith in some unseeable, unknowable, unprovable identity, not something we ourselves can prove, not something we ourselves can ever objectively know. You are asking us to take it on faith, not proof. What else would that be besides religion? I’m a religious man. I understand the difference between scientific facts and religious beliefs, and I’m telling you that gender identity is a religious belief.”

“That’s ridiculous,” ponytail man said.

“Is it?” goatee man said. “Religious beliefs are believed to be true because they are believed to be true, not because they have been scientifically proven. They have been placed outside of scientific inquiry. We believe a religious belief because we choose to believe it. Is there proof for resurrection? Yet some people choose to believe in it. Is there proof for reincarnation? Yet some people choose to believe in it. Is there proof for gender identity? Yet you choose to believe in it. You choose to believe the religious belief of gender identity the same way other people choose to believe in resurrection or reincarnation.”

“It’s ridiculous to claim that gender identity has no proof,” ponytail man said. “There have been multiple brain scan studies that show a statistical correlation among people who identify with a different gender than their cisgender.”

Jezzie leaned toward Kale. “What’s cisgender?” she whispered. Kale had no idea, but he was thrilled to have her attention back on him and even more thrilled that she had just walked into a perfect neg he could use on her.

“What? You mean you don’t know? I thought everyone knew that,” Kale said. He was pleased with himself. Now he could get things back on track! Except the insult didn’t seem to make her more attracted to him like it was supposed to. She just glared at him and then turned back to the two men arguing in front of the school board. Dealing with real women was hard!

“Cisgender, you mean biological gender, right?” goatee man said.

“Right. The studies—the scientific studies!—show a correlation in the brains of those who identify with a gender different from their cisgender,” ponytail man said, smirking.

“A correlation?”

“That’s right.”

“A statistical correlation?”

“Exactly, and that’s proof,” ponytail man said. “Gender is more than just DNA. Gender is more than just anatomy. You wanted empirical evidence, and there you have it!”

Goatee man tilted his head, his lips raised in a slight smile, giving the impression that ponytail man had just made a profound mistake. “Empirical evidence, eh?” goatee man said. “But you told me earlier it wasn’t possible to prove someone wasn’t a transgender through empirical evidence?”

“What? No, that’s not what we’re talking about here,” ponytail man said, trying to regain his rhetorical footing. “This isn’t a way to prove someone isn’t a transgender. This is just proof that gender identity is real—that it’s scientific!”

“Okay,” goatee man said. “First off, I fail to see why a diagnosis from brain scans would be used to trump physical reality. Schizophrenia has signs and symptoms that can be seen in brain scans as well, did you know that? Someday we might be able to diagnose it entirely through brain scans. And when that day comes, does that mean we’ll stop trying to cure it? Will we expect everyone else to bend reality to the viewpoint of the person suffering from schizophrenia? Of course not. We won’t bend physical reality to match their delusions, so why would we do that for those who reject the physical reality of their gender?”

“You asked me for proof and I provided proof!” ponytail man said. “Studies have shown that the brain scans of transgenders have similarities to the gender they identity with! That’s proof!”

“Once again, you didn’t let me finish,” goatee man said. “So what you’re saying is that everyone who claims to be transgender has had their brain scanned and it’s been proven through their brain scans that they are transgender? Each and every one?”

“Well, no … “

“And if someone identifies as a transgender, yet their brain lacks the correlations, the similarities, the whatever that you claim proves gender identity, then you would agree that that proves they aren’t really transgender?”

Ponytail man squirmed in front of the microphone. “No, of course not. That’s determined by their identity!”

“So, no matter what the brain scans say. If a biological man says ‘I am a woman’, you’re going to believe him?”

“Yes, but brain scans are proof that gender identity is real!”

“Oh, please. Brain scans can’t be proof if you don’t accept them as disproof. That’s not how science works!” goatee man said, shaking his head. “That isn’t science. That’s religious apologetics. Can people scientifically prove there was a worldwide flood? No, but they can find nuggets of scientific evidence here and there which, taken by themselves, can make those people comfortable with a belief that otherwise contradicts current scientific understanding when taken as a whole. Would those people ever allow their belief in a worldwide flood to be disproven by the evidence they claim proves them right? Of course not. Because they aren’t really engaging in science, they are engaging in religious apologetics. They aren’t trying to prove something, not scientifically at least—because to scientifically prove something puts you at risk of having it disproven instead. They’re just trying to pick and choose the facts that justify the religious belief they’ve already chosen to believe.”

Goatee man looked back and forth between ponytail man and the school board. “Don’t get me wrong,” he said. “I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. It doesn’t mean they’re stupid, and it doesn’t mean they’re wrong, at least not in the ‘once we know the truth of all things’ religious sense. But it’s not science either. Science and religion are different. And gender identity, as you have just demonstrated, is religion. You don’t care about proof. You don’t care about empirical evidence. DNA, physical anatomy, brain scans, all of those bow down to the magical words ‘I am whatever gender I claim to be.’ You just listen to what you’re told, and you believe it. Because there’s an unseeable teapot flying through space between Earth and Mars. You know it’s true because someone told you it’s true. And you’re not going to give anyone a chance to prove you wrong!”

“You misunderstand me,” ponytail man said, his face beginning to turn red. “The science of brain scans is still in its infancy. But if you look at the evidence so far, it’s clear that one day we will be able to identity a transgender mind.”

“So you say,” goatee man said. “Just like every other religious person says. No one believes their religious beliefs are wrong. Everyone expects science to one day prove their religious beliefs to be right. You aren’t unique in that regard. Perhaps that day actually will come for gender identity. I seriously doubt it, but perhaps it will. Either way, that day is not today. And until that day comes, gender identity remains a religious belief just like any other unfalsifiable, unprovable religious belief.”

Ponytail man muttered something under his breath. His face was getting redder.

“Besides, even if that day did come,” goatee man went on, “even if science one day proved gender identity through empirical evidence, what happens the next day when science, being science, reverses itself based on new evidence and once again provides no proof for gender identity? Would you reject gender identity at that point? Would you say, ‘Well, science decided there is no proof, so I guess I won’t believe it anymore.’? No, you wouldn’t, just like you don’t reject your belief in gender identity today despite its lack of scientific proof. You don’t reject your belief in gender identity because your belief in gender identity is a religious belief, not a scientific one. You don’t believe in gender identity because it has been scientifically proven to you. You believe in it because you choose to believe in it. Someone told you there is an unseeable teapot orbiting out there in space and, by golly, you believe them.”

“I’m an atheist!” ponytail man said, face now bright red. “I’m not religious! Stop claiming I’m religious! You’re the idiot who’s religious! You said so yourself. You’re the religious one! Any disagreement between us is because of your religious beliefs, not mine!”

Goatee man’s eyes narrowed. “How convenient for you. And that’s how you really see it, isn’t it? You’ve grown so accustomed to always being on the secular side, the scientific side, of an argument that you can’t even conceive that you might unknowingly have slipped into fighting for the religious side, and me, an openly religious man, fighting for the scientific side. Wow, the cognitive dissonance must be overwhelming you. You, a smug, arrogant atheist, suddenly realizing that you’re arguing on behalf of an unseeable teapot you claim is orbiting out in space because someone told you it was.”

“F— you!” Ponytail man exploded, spittle spraying down on his rainbow shirt.

Microphone static filled the room as the school board president broke into the conversation. “Let’s calm down and keep this civil.”

“Don’t tone police me!” Ponytail man yelled at the school board president. “This is important, and when something’s important, then civility can just f— off!”

“Enough!” the school board president said, his voice firm. “This is a public discussion on whether or not this district should permit its students to use the bathroom of the gender they identity with rather than the bathroom of their biological sex. You have been permitted to provide feedback on this decision, but as I stated at the beginning, those who cannot speak civilly will be asked to leave.”

Ponytail man muttered, glaring at both the school board president and the man with the goatee, but he relented, pausing for a moment to compose himself, before speaking slowly. “I am not arguing for the religious side. I am an atheist. I fight for science! This is not something I just believe because I choose to believe it, like you keep saying. It’s not some wacko theory that respectable people think is nuts. If you ask someone who is knowledgeable in the area, someone who is properly educated, someone who has expertise, they will tell you it is the truth. Gender identity is real! It is as real as DNA or anatomy. It is as real as this microphone I am speaking into right now. Just ask a psychologist. Go ahead and ask them! They will tell you that a person’s gender identity is real and should be respected.”

“That’s what a psychologist would say, is it?” goatee man said, also speaking slowly. “How embarrassing for members of that profession. Gender identity is either a religious belief or it is a delusion. If psychologists are preaching gender identity, then either they have inverted the loony bin and admitted us all, allowing the inmates to run the asylum, or else their profession has warped into one of religious evangelism.”

“It’s not religion! You act as if the gender binary is some undeniable reality, but it’s not! Other societies have recognized more than two genders before. There’s the proof you are asking for!”

“Other societies have also believed in prophets, and oracles, and witches, and wizards,” goatee man said. “Does that prove those are real too?”

Ponytail man looked dangerously close to dropping the f-bomb again. “Gender is not determined solely by DNA,” he said. “Look at the case of the intersex. Their anatomy doesn’t follow their chromosomes like you claim it should.”

“Back to the intersex again?” Goatee man shook his head. “I agree that’s a really crappy birth defect, but you’re trying to treat the intersex condition like a Trojan horse. We let that condition through the door and deal with it since it’s actually physically provable, and then suddenly you burst out of the Trojan horse and demand that we let people identity as whatever they want despite the complete lack of physical evidence. No, those are two completely different things. I already said this before: People aren’t intersex because they identity as intersex. They are intersex because they actually are intersex. It’s a real condition, in the real world, provable through real evidence. It’s completely different from gender identity.”

“But that doesn’t mean you should insult people by claiming gender identity is just a religious belief.”

“Why in the world would it be insulting to think of something as a religious belief?” goatee man said. “Look who you’re talking to. Did you forget I told you I’m a religious man? It’s not my fault if you have a condescending attitude toward religious people. That’s your problem, not mine. I have no problem if people believe in things for religious reasons. Unlike you, I don’t think that makes them stupid. I think openly religious people are just as smart as you are. Frankly, I think they’re smarter. At least we understand the difference between science and religion. Science is shared through proof. Religion is shared through persuasion. You can’t prove to me that a biological male is a woman, but you certainly can try to persuade me to believe it. Except, as I keep repeating, that would be religion, not science.”

“You can’t just claim that a secular belief is religious!” ponytail man said.

“And you can’t just claim that a religious belief is secular! You can’t expect us to teach it in public schools. You can’t expect us to base our bathroom policies on it. And gender identity is a religious belief,” goatee man said. “If you can’t prove that someone isn’t a transgender, then you can’t prove that someone is. Science demands a two-way street. If you find yourself on a one-way road where only supportive facts are allowed and all contradicting facts are ignored, then you’ve entered the realm of religion, where something is true because it’s true, not because it’s been objectively proven. There’s nothing wrong with one-way roads like that—I’m a religious man myself, and I travel them when I choose to do so—but you need to be honest about what kind of road you’re traveling on.”

“Gender identity is supported by facts! It’s supported by just as many facts as your beliefs about gender!”

“Oh, please.” Goatee man rolled his eyes. He gestured at the people all around him. “Strip off everyone’s clothes in this room, and I’ll wager I can identify each and every person’s gender. And I’ll be able to do it using provable, repeatable, observable, measurable, falsifiable standards. Can you do that using gender identity?”

“Gender is a personal … an intrinsic …” ponytail man started to say before switching tactics. “I would never presume to dictate someone’s gender to them! It’s something they must determine on their own.”

“Ah. So there is no test. There is no proof. This is nothing observable, nothing measurable.”

“Of course there is. There is their identity! They can tell you what gender they are. That’s the proof!”

“Ah, of course,” goatee man said. “Their words. Such powerful words. Words more powerful than physical reality, evidently. They sound magical. Magical words. Magical, mystical words. Magical, mystical— religious words.”

“They are not religious words! A person’s gender is their personal truth! Who are you to say what is someone else’s personal truth?”

“Who am I? Who am I indeed. Who is anyone for that matter? How dare we tell someone they are 5’ 8” when they identity as 6’ 2”. How dare we tell them they are 47 years old when they identify as 29.”

“That’s completely different,” ponytail man said.

“So you say,” goatee man said. “So you say.” Then his eyes brightened and his lips showed a slight smile. “Identity is so powerful for you, isn’t it? Your world revolves around it, doesn’t it? Well, tell me something, are you familiar with the beliefs of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?”

“No, and I don’t see why that’s relevant,” ponytail man said.

“They’re often called ‘Mormons’. Are you familiar with their beliefs?” goatee man asked.

“I’ve seen the play,” ponytail man said, dismissively.

“They believe the president of their church is a prophet, a modern-day Moses, did you know that? And he believes that about himself as well. He identifies as a prophet. So tell me: Do you have to accept his identity? Do you have to believe his personal truth that he is a prophet?”

“Well … that is … well ...”

“He’s caught him now,” Jezzie whispered to Kale. Kale just wished both men would shut up and stop ruining his game. His stomach wouldn’t stop rumbling. Stupid Pastafarians and their stupid meetups without food.

“Be careful here,” goatee man said to ponytail man. “Keep in mind there are real consequences to your decision. The word ‘prophet’ is a real word with a real meaning—just like the words ‘man’ and ‘woman’ are real words with real meanings. If someone is a prophet, then their words are authoritative. A prophet speaks for God. So suddenly any pronouncements they make about the meaning of life—or about sin—have to be taken seriously because they are a prophet. So let’s be clear about the consequences to my question. Now tell me, do you accept his identity as a prophet with all the consequences that word entails? Or do you reject his identity?”

Ponytail man waved a hand dismissively. “That’s not what we’re talking about here.”

“That’s exactly what we’re talking about here,” goatee man said. “You’re privileging identity over everything else—over proof, over physical reality itself. I am merely showing you the consequences of your point of view.”

“But that’s completely irrelevant. We’re talking about gender here, which is nothing more than a social construct.”

“So the only time that identity trumps reality, the only time out of everything in the world, is with gender?”

“Exactly, because gender is just a social construct.”

“Who gave you the right to declare that gender, out of everything else, should be based on identity when everything else should not?” goatee man said. Then he added, “Perhaps it’s you that is the prophet.”

“I’m not claiming to be a prophet!”

“No? Yet you decided that with gender—and only with gender—magical words can overrule physical reality itself. What gives you the right to make that declaration? Who do you think you are? God?”

“Blasphemy!” The whole room shook with the angry cry, and Kale almost jumped out of his seat in surprise. Everyone turned and looked at the back of the room, where the Pastafarian minister, his pirate wench, and the rest of the Pastafarians all stood by the open door. The Pastafarian minister was glaring at the goatee man, his eyes filled with white-hot fire. “There be only one God,” the minister said, his words slow and hard, “and He be composed of a clump of spaghetti with willowy eyestalks and two large meatballs!”

Goatee man looked at the Pastafarian minister in his pirate garb and at the pirate wench and at the other Pastafarians standing beside them wearing less enthusiastic renditions of pirate apparel. “What is this,” he asked, “some sort of pirate fetish cosplay convention? And what are you all wearing on your heads?”

The Pastafarian minister strode further into the room, raising an accusing finger at the goatee man. “This landlubber hath committed blasphemy!” he yelled. “Seize him!”

The Pastafarians in the back of the room all surged forward, their faces grim. They grabbed goatee man by both arms.

“And what do we do to blasphemers?” the pirate wench asked, looking devotedly at the Pastafarian minister, who smiled darkly, his tricorn hat tilted down and casting a shadow over his face. “We make them walk the plank,” he said.

“Ha, ha,” goatee man said, struggling against the Pastafarians holding his arms. “Very funny. But this isn’t a ship, and in case you didn’t notice, we’re in the middle of a discussion.”

The Pastafarians started dragging him toward the far wall. “Wait,” goatee man said. “What are you doing? Are you serious? There isn’t even a plank here!”

“Aye,” the Pastafarian minister said, his dark smile not showing in his eyes. “But there be a window!”

“What are you doing? Stop it!” Goatee man struggled, but there were Pastafarians dragging him by both arms and Pastafarians pushing him from behind. “This is a public meeting,” he said. “I have a right to share my opinion. What are you doing?” The Pastafarian with the plastic eye patch opened the window and then, with a heave-ho, they all tossed goatee man out the window. Then the Pastafarian with the plastic eye patch slammed the window shut and they all turned back to their minister, as if awaiting further instructions.

“Did they seriously just do that?” Jezzie whispered to Kale, a look of disbelief on her face.

“I know,” Kale said. “These guys are awesome, aren’t they?”

“Are you kidding me?” Jezzie asked, looking between Kale and the Pastafarian minister, who was now hobbling to the front of the room, his peg leg clunking with each step. When he reached the two microphones, he shoved ponytail man out of the way. Ponytail man didn’t argue. He just meekly sat down in the front row.

The school board president stood up. “What is the meaning of this? This is a public meeting. You can’t come in here and throw people out and push people around! Do you want us to call the police?”

But the school board member to his right reached up and grabbed his elbow. “Let’s hear what he has to say.”

Kale thought that was a wonderful idea. Jezzie loved this Pastafarian crap. She loved making fun of religious people and their willingness to believe things without proof. The more the Pastafarian minister talked, the happier she was and the better his chances, he figured.

The school board president eyed the Pastafarian minister warily.

“This is a public discussion,” another school board member said. “We let those other two share their opinions. Surely we can allow some time to hear what this pirate thinks about it?”

It seemed odd to have a school board member refer to the Pastafarian minister like that, but Kale didn’t care since it got him what he wanted. The remaining two members of the school board voiced agreement that they wanted to give “the pirate” his turn to speak, and the school board president relented. “Alright,” he said, sitting down, “but no more roughness out of you,” he said to the minister, “do you understand me?”

“Aye, Captain,” the minister said, winking at the school board members.

The pirate wench came and stood in front of a microphone, and the Pastafarian minister started to pace back and forth, his peg leg clunking impressively on the tile floor with each step as he divided his attention between the audience and the school board.

“I see there be few here who be wearing the holy colander on yer heads, so there be many here who be needing to learn about yer Noodly Creator, the Flying Spaghetti Monster.”

The minister stopped pacing for a moment to rest a hand on his chest. “I, yer humble pirate, be an ordained minister of His Noodliness.” He reached into his pocket and unfolded his printed ordination certificate, holding it high for the crowd to see. “Which makes me qualified to preach to ye all and to teach ye of the truth.”

“The truth!” his pirate wench echoed.

“Aye, me wench, I will teach ye all the truth,” the minister said, placing his certificate back in his pocket and starting to pace again. “Do ye know of the Flying Spaghetti Monster? Have ye heard of His Noodliness? He be a mass of noodles with two large meatballs and two eyestalks, floating here, floating there, floating who knows where. And have ye seen him?”

“Have ye seen him?” the pirate wench echoed.

“No,” the minister shook his head. “No, ye cannot. For He be invisible! Ye cannot see Him but ye know He be there because ye can see the effects of His Noodly Appendage!”

“Effects!” the pirate wench said. “Noodly Appendage!”

“Aye, our Noodly Creator created the earth. He created the land and the sea. And we be His creatures, for He created us too, starting with a midget.”

“A midget!” the pirate wench echoed.

“Aye, our Noodly Creator be a good god,” the minister went on. “There be a beer volcano and a stripper factory in heaven. Everything a pirate be needing to be happy.”

“A stripper factory in heaven!” the pirate wench said.

“But here on Earth He tests us,” the minister said. “He put fossils in the ground. And every time a scientist makes a measurement to test the age of the Earth, the Flying Spaghetti Monster alters it with His Noodly Appendage. And why does He do that?”

“Why does He do that?” the pirate wench echoed, looking at the audience.

“To test our faith!” the minister answered. “We need to show our faith in the Flying Spaghetti Monster. We need to show our faith in His Noodly Appendage. Evidence, measurements, physical reality—pshaw!”

“He tests our faith!” the pirate wench said.

“Aye, me buxom wench, aye. His Noodliness do be testing our faith. And not just about creation. No, His Noodly Appendage be altering and changing and hiding—many things, many, many things.”

“His Noodly Appendage!” the pirate wench said.

“And that be the reason why I be standing before ye today, me mateys. I, yer humble pirate, yer ordained minister of the Pastafarian religion, I be here because ye have a choice to make. Will ye follow yer weak human minds, or will ye show yer faith in the Flying Spaghetti Monster?”

“Will you show your faith!” the pirate wench said.

“Aye, and let me tell ye about yer faith,” the minister said. “Supposing ye be a lassie. Supposing ye be, aye? And supposing ye be showering in the girls’ locker room, aye? And supposing a matey of yers comes into the girls’ shower, and supposing ye look down yonder and see that yer matey has a pe—”

The school board president cleared his voice loudly in the microphone. “I will have to ask you to avoid such language please,” he said.

The Pastafarian minister paused his pacing and eyed the school board president, a flash of anger flaring on his face but quickly passing. “Arr ...” he said. “Very well. Very well. Supposing,” he said, resuming his pacing, “supposing ye look down and this matey of yers, who just be entering the girls’ shower, supposing ye see that yer matey has boy parts down yonder.”

“Boy parts!” the pirate wench said.

“Aye, supposing that be what ye see,” the Pastafarian minister said. “What would ye do? Would ye scream like a ninny? Would ye shout and say there be a lad in the girls’ bathroom?” He shook his head. “No, I be hoping ye wouldn’t be doing that. For that not be a lad, me mateys. For if yer matey be a lad, why would he be going in the girls’ shower?”

“She,” the pirate wench corrected him.

The Pastafarian minister looked at her, confused at her interruption. Then he shrugged and went on. “Aye, me mateys, that be no lad, that be a lassie. Remember, me mateys, the Flying Spaghetti Monster always be testing yer faith! And remember, me mateys, His Noodliness tests yer faith by altering things with His Noodly Appendage. Ye cannot see it—for He be invisible. But ye can know it be there because ye have been told it be there. And so when ye look down and see yer matey has boy parts, ye should be knowing that the Flying Spaghetti monster be reaching into yer eyes with his Noodly Appendage, and He be tweaking yer corneas and He be twisting yer pupils and He be making ye see what no be there. Yer matey has no boy parts. Pshaw! Yer matey be a lassie and a lassie no be having no boy parts!”

“Girls have no boy parts!” the pirate wench said.

“Aye, me wench,” the Pastafarian minister said. “Aye. So, those boy parts must not really be there! It must be the Flying Spaghetti Monster. He be testing yer faith. And ye need to show yer faith. Ye need to call yer matey a lassie. Ignore what yer eyes see. Show yer faith in the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Show yer faith!”

“Show your faith!” the pirate wench echoed.

“Aye, show yer faith,” the minister said. He paced across the room, his peg leg clunking on the floor, everyone waiting in anticipation for his next words. “And how be it,” the minister went on, “that yer matey knows he be a lassie?”

“She,” the pirate wench interrupted him.

But the minister didn’t appear to have heard her. He just kept on preaching. “When yer matey looks down, there be boy parts, so how be it yer matey knows he be a lassie?”

“She,” the pirate wench said again.

The minister ignored his wench. “Because yer matey has faith in the Flying Spaghetti Monster! Yer matey knows of His Noodliness. Yer matey knows of the power of His Noodly Appendage. Yer matey knows the Flying Spaghetti Monster reaches down into our brains with His Noodly Appendage and touches us, telling us what gender we truly be. There be no reason to look down yonder,” the minister said, gesturing at his crotch. “We only be needing to look up here,” he pointed at his head. “We only be needing to listen to the Flying Spaghetti Monster, to let His Noodly Appendage touch us and tell us what gender we be!”

“The Flying Spaghetti Monster will touch us with His Noodly Appendage and tell us what gender we are!” the pirate wench said.

“What nonsense,” Jezzie whispered to herself, barely loud enough for Kale to hear. “It wasn’t supposed to be like this. It was supposed to be funny. No one was supposed to actually believe this crap!”

Kale wasn’t sure what to make of that. She was the one that had dragged him here. This was her idea of a good time. Apparently it wasn’t turning out how she had expected?

“Can ye understand?” the Pastafarian minister said as he started to pace in front of the room again. He looked from the school board to the audience. “Can ye see ye are being tested? Or do ye be needing to hear one more example?”

“One more example!” the pirate wench said excitedly.

“Arr … very well,” the minister said. “Supposing ye be a lad and there be a school dance approaching. Girls’ Choice. And supposing one of yer mateys asks ye to go to the dance, but supposing when ye look at yer matey, yer eyes tell ye yer matey is another lad like ye, supposing that all be true. Well remember, me mateys, the Flying Spaghetti Monster be testing ye! His Noodliness wants to see if ye have faith! Yer matey don’t be no lad. No, he be a lassie.”

“She” the pirate wench corrected him.

The Pastafarian minister looked at her. “It be a lad that was asked to the dance.”

“Yes, but it was a girl that asked him,” the pirate wench said.

“Aye,” the minister said, “and ye can’t see that yer matey be a lassie because the Flying Spaghetti Monster has touched ye with His Noodly Appendage. Yer eyes have gone bonkers. They be seeing stuff that no be there and not seeing stuff that be there. But ye need to have faith! The Flying Spaghetti Monster be a loving deity, He shows great favor to every man who shows faith in Him. There be a stripper factory in heaven, after all! So ye, being a lad who was just asked to the dance by a lassie who ye can’t tell is a lassie, why ye, if ye have faith, can have confidence of two things.” The minister paused to hold up two fingers. “One, ye can know that, no matter what yer eyes be telling ye, yer matey has girl parts, not boy parts. That be the truth, hidden by His Noodly Appendage. And two, owing to the great benevolence of His Noodly Goodness, which is shown to all men that be faithful, ye can know that not only does yer matey have girl parts, but he surely also has the most bountiful bosom ye ever be knowing.”

“She,” the pirate wench corrected him again.

“I told ye, me wench,” the minister said, “it be a lad that was asked to the dance.”

“Yes, but it was a girl that asked him,” the pirate wench repeated.

“Aye,” the minister said, “and one with a most bountiful bosom, ye can be sure. Arr … ye can’t see them, and ye can’t feel them—thanks be to the mysterious and mischievous workings of His Noodly Appendage—but they be there, and ye be needing to have faith. We all be needing to have faith. Faith in the Flying Spaghetti Monster! Faith in His Noodly Goodness!”

The Pastafarians in the room all broke out in a cheer.

“What a load,” Jezzie muttered. She took the colander off her head and set it on her lap.

Kale wasn’t sure how to react. Why had she taken her colander off her head? Wasn’t she into this stuff any more? Should Kale not be into it either? Or would it be bad for him to change what he liked just because she had changed what she liked? It certainly didn’t seem like a very alpha thing to do. He wondered what AlphaAlphaInfinity would have to say about it.

The minister was still preaching, talking about the glories of the Flying Spaghetti Monster and His Noodly Appendages. It was all becoming quite repetitive at this point. The Flying Spaghetti Monster likes to test us. We need to have faith in Him. We need to trust in the Flying Spaghetti Monster instead of our own eyes. Any tests or measurements we might do are worthless because the Flying Spaghetti Monster likes to mess around with things. That was the gist of it all, repeated over and over again.

“What if there’s an unseeable teapot orbiting out in space?” Jezzie suddenly shouted out, shocking Kale and the rest of the room with her outburst.

The minister didn’t even miss a beat in his preaching. “Then the Flying Spaghetti Monster put it there!” he said, raising his hands high above his head in excitement. “And it be held in orbit by His Noodly Appendages, just like the planets be. And if ye be touched by His Noodly Appendage, ye can know if it be there or not. Ye don’t need yer eyes. Ye don’t need yer tests. Ye only need yer faith in the Flying Spaghetti Monster! Then ye can know, me mateys!”

Jezzie swore under her breath and shook her head. “I can’t believe I wasted a night for this,” she muttered.

Kale needed to show his alphaness. He needed to show he wasn’t some weak “nice guy” that would just follow a woman around like some loser, liking whatever she liked, disliking whatever she disliked. That was the Kale of the past, but Kale was a new man now. The pickup artist message forum had shown him the way. “I think it’s great,” he lied, putting as much confidence into his voice as he could fake.

Jezzie glared at him.

“The choice be simple,” the minister said, now facing the school board, his tricorn hat leaning dangerously over his eye patch. “Do ye want to be slaves to the wiles of naturalism? Do ye want to follow what ye can see or ye can measure like ye be faithless fools, or do ye want to show yer faith in the Flying Spaghetti Monster!”

The room fell silent. No one sure what to say. Finally, the school board president spoke. “Thank you, Mr … er … Pirate,” he said. “I believe we have solicited sufficient feedback from the public, do you all agree?”

The four school board members all nodded.

“Alright,” the school board president said, then he lowered his voice into a more formal tone, “A proposal has been brought before this school board to allow admittance into the girls’ or boys’ bathrooms based on a student’s gender identity rather than their biological sex. This proposal will now be voted on by this school board, and their decision will take effect immediately. All those in favor of this proposal?”

The audience looked at the school board in anticipation, no one making a sound. The four school board members shared a glance with each other and then broke out into smiles. Simultaneously they reached beneath their seats and picked up a colander and placed it on their heads. Then they all raised their right hands, banging their left hands on the table. “Aye, Aye, Captain!”

The Pastafarian minister nodded vigorously in approval, the pirate wench clapped in excitement, and all the Pastafarians in the audience let out a huge cheer.

“What a load of BS,” Jezzie said. She turned angrily to Kale. “You can keep this stupid thing,” she said, shoving her colander in his lap. Then she hurried out of the room. Kale watched her leave, wanting to follow her but knowing it wouldn’t be a very alpha thing to do. He was supposed to convince women to follow him, not the other way around! So he sat there all alone, trying desperately to look manly, wearing a colander on his head.

Update 09/06/2023: Fixed typos.

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Status: Released August 2018 by Silver Layer Publications.