by Stephen Measure
Miss Clarke, a petite woman in a dark sweater and jeans who looked barely older than the high school students she taught, stormed into Principal Allen’s office. The office was a perfect square, with a single window behind Principal Allen’s desk, two chairs positioned in front of it, and a handful around the walls on both sides. Principal Allen was already seated behind his desk, a man and woman in their forties sitting in the chairs facing him. Miss Clarke strode to a chair along the wall and sat perched on the edge, her hands clasped, her eyes blazing.
Principal Allen’s eyes narrowed as he looked at her. “Thank you for joining us, Miss Clarke.”
She gave a jerky nod. “Is this them?”
“Yes,” he said. “But I’ve just been told there’s more to the story than you shared with me earlier.”
“The little prick pissed on my desk in front of the entire class! What more to the story could there be?”
The man and woman in the center of the room stiffened. “Now wait just one minute,” the woman began, but Principal Allen held up a hand.
“This is a student we’re talking about,” he said in a stern voice to Miss Clarke.
“Yeah, well he shouldn’t be,” she said. “Not after what he did.”
“He?” the woman exclaimed. She grabbed at her necklace and started to yank it out from underneath her shirt.
“Yes, Todd is your son, isn’t he?” Miss Clarke said.
“Tonya,” Todd’s mother said. “Her name is Tonya now.” In her hand Todd’s mother clasped a rainbow talisman she had just pulled out from her shirt. She gripped it tightly, its colors worn and faded together.
Miss Clarke sat back in her chair and folded her arms. “His records still show his name as Todd.”
“Which we will fix right away,” Principal Allen said apologetically to Todd’s parents.
“And it’s ‘her’,” Todd’s mother said. “Tonya’s preferred pronoun is ‘her’.”
Miss Clarke rolled her eyes. “I’ll be sure to file that information right next to his Hindu caste, his office in the priesthood, and his astrological sign.”
Todd’s parents looked confused.
“Would you like to also tell me what animal he was last reincarnated from as well?” Miss Clarke asked.
“I don’t understand why you’re saying that,” Todd’s mother said, her hand tight around her rainbow talisman. Todd’s father pulled his rainbow talisman out as well, mirroring his wife.
“And this,” Principal Allen said, raising a finger for attention, “this is what I meant when I said there was more to the story. Miss Clarke, Tonya’s mother informed me you have been constantly antagonizing Tonya, refusing to call her by her preferred pronouns, not letting her use the girl’s bathroom if girls were inside. In short, you have been misgendering her!”
“Misgendering?” Miss Clarke scowled at Principal Allen. “Their a-hole of a son pissed all over my desk in full view of my class, and you want to talk to me about ‘misgendering’?”
“Because Tonya was provoked!” Todd’s mother shouted. “How did you expect her to react? Why don’t you tell Principal Allen what you taught in class today?”
Miss Clarke shook her head. “I have no idea what you’re talking about. Nothing I said would justify what Todd did.”
“What was your lesson on today?” Principal Allen asked.
“Yes!” Todd’s mother said. “Which frankly shouldn’t be taught anymore given how often it leads to discrimination. And what did you say? What did you say? You said that ‘women get pregnant’. That’s what you said!”
Miss Clarke raised an eyebrow. “Yes … because that’s biology. I’m a biology teacher.”
“But not all women are the kind of women that can get pregnant!” Todd’s mother said. “Tonya won’t be able to! How was she supposed to react to an offensive statement like that?”
“In the first place, maybe the fact that it’s biologically impossible for someone like Todd to get pregnant should make you rethink your ridiculous beliefs. But more importantly, how does that justify in anyway what Todd did? He pissed all over my desk! In front of the whole class! I assure you, no one in my class has any doubt now what gender Todd really is.”
“Not all girls look like girls,” Todd’s mother said.
“If Todd doesn’t look like a girl, what makes you think he is a girl?”
“Because she told us she is!”
“And that’s all it takes? He tells you what you have to believe, and you just believe him? No proof necessary?”
A knock came to the door, and Principal Allen called, “Come in.”
The door opened and a middle-aged caucasian man stepped in. Polished shoes, khaki pants, a brown blazer over a blue button-up shirt. He was slightly overweight and had the enlarged face that went with it. He wore small round glasses, and in the center of his forehead, a large eye was painted in bright rainbow colors.
“Please have a seat,” Principal Allen said to the man, gesturing at the opposite wall from where Miss Clarke was sitting. Principal Allen then turned to Miss Clarke. “This is Tonya’s psychologist. We asked him to join us to help straighten out this matter.”
“I don’t see the point of bringing a psychologist here,” Miss Clarke said. “And why aren’t we focusing on what really matters: The outrageous behavior of their son!”
“Tonya is a girl,” the psychologist said with authority after he had sat down.
“See!” Todd’s mother said to Miss Clarke. “He’s a psychologist! He would know!”
“Like I said before. Todd exposed himself to me and my entire class. There’s no point in claiming he’s a girl. Speaking as a biology teacher, I assure you: Todd is 100% boy.”
“Tonya’s sex might be male, but she identifies as a girl, which means her gender is a girl, which means that Tonya is a girl,” the psychologist said.
“Why in the world should I believe that?” Miss Clarke asked. “Just because he said so? Just because you say so?”
A look of confusion crossed the psychologist’s face, who had never been confronted with that question before and who noticed for the first time that Miss Clarke wasn’t holding a rainbow talisman. But he was quickly rescued by Todd’s mother, who repeated faithfully, “He’s a psychologist. He would know.”
And so, reinflated by this statement of faith, the psychologist sat up straight, and said, “Quite right. Now it seems to me that what’s causing your confusion is a lack of understanding of the difference between biological sex, which you as a biology teacher are familiar with, and gender, which falls under my domain.”
Todd’s mother nodded fiercely.
“What in the world are you talking about?” Miss Clarke asked. “The word ‘gender’ is a synonym for sex! You say gender. I say sex. We’re talking about the same thing!”
“Absolutely not,” the psychologist responded. “Our sex might be assigned physically, but our gender is something we have to find out for ourselves. It is what we are happiest to be, and what we are happiest to be treated as. Gender is not sex.”
“Exactly!” Todd’s mother said, holding her rainbow talisman in a fist that she shook with enthusiasm. “He’s a psychologist. He would know!”
Miss Clarke snorted. “What makes someone happiest? That’s what you want to base reality on? Stop being so absurd. Happiness doesn’t define reality. Reality defines reality. And, guess what, sometimes reality sucks, but that’s just reality.”
“I beg your pardon,” the psychologist said.
“And that line of yours that gender is different from sex is the most deceitful pile of — and you know it. So you invent some invisible, imaginary construct, discoverable only by psychologists, a construct you claim is completely different from sex, and then you purposefully choose the word ‘gender’ to describe it, knowing full well that the word ‘gender’ is commonly used as a synonym for sex. And do you stop there? No. You take the words “boy” and “girl”, “man” and “woman”, and you claim them for your imaginary construct as well, again knowing full well that they are used as synonyms for “male” and “female”. So why did you do that? If the imaginary construct that you call gender is completely different from sex, then why did you purposefully choose synonyms for sex to name it? Why didn’t you choose a completely different word? You could have called it someone’s aura. You could have said that Todd has a green aura, and someone else has a blue aura, and someone else has a polka dot one. You could have said that, so why didn’t you?”
The psychologist had no response.
“I’ll tell you why,” Miss Clarke continued. “It’s because if you called it something completely different, then everyone would treat it like we treat other religious beliefs we don’t believe in: We’d ignore it. And you don’t want it to be ignored, do you? Oh no. You want it to be believed. You want to force people to believe in it. So what do you do? You steal a synonym for sex, and then you demand that your imaginary construct overrides biological sex itself!”
“Now don’t be ridiculous,” the psychologist said. “That’s not what we’re saying at all.”
“Then why are we even here?” Miss Clarke asked. “We should be here talking about what that little SOB Todd did in my classroom, but, no, apparently we’re here because I ‘misgendered’ him. And what did I do to do that? I’ll tell you what I did: I described human reproduction according to the reality of biological sex! I used pronouns based on the reality of biological sex! And so you have your imaginary construct you call gender, which I guess I’ll call psychological-gender, and we have the real fact of biological sex, let’s call that biological-gender, and the only reason we’re here is because I refuse to let psychological-gender override biological-gender. That’s why we’re here!”
“That’s not it at all,” the psychologist said. “Gender is different than biological sex. What we’re asking is that you affirm Tonya’s gender identity.”
“Oh, come on. Stop treating me like I’m an idiot,” Miss Clarke said. “That’s a complete pile of — and you know it! In one breath you claim that psychological-gender is different than biological-gender, and then in the next you demand that we replace the use of biological-gender with your made-up psychological-gender in every situation we would normally use biological-gender!”
“That’s not true at all.”
“Oh, please. Let’s go through the list. Pronouns: Different pronouns only exist because of biological-gender, now you demand we base them on psychological-gender. Bathrooms: Different bathrooms only exist because of biological-gender, now you demand we base them on psychological-gender. Sports leagues: Different leagues only exist because of biological-gender, now you demand we base them on psychological-gender. Sexual attraction: Different types of sexual attraction only exist because of biological-gender, now you demand we base it on psychological-gender. Shall I go on?”
The psychologist was once again at a loss for words.
“You claim psychological-gender is different than biological-gender,” Miss Clarke said, “and then you demand we replace biological-gender with psychological-gender in every case we would normally use it. You deceitful sack of —. What you really want to do is to redefine reality as whatever you want it to be, whatever makes you ‘happiest’, but when it comes to biological-gender you know you stand no chance to justify your beliefs with proof like science actually requires, so you come up with this BS line that psychological-gender is different than biological-gender and therefore doesn’t have to contend against the empirical proof that biological-gender is based on, yet at the same time you demand that psychological-gender should override biological-gender in all cases. To which I say: Absolutely not! Biology is a science. Everything it claims about reality is based on proof, on empirical evidence. When we want to know something about reality, we pull out our microscopes and we discover it. We don’t sit in our chairs and pick our noses and ask someone what fantasy would make them the happiest and then demand that the whole world believes that fantasy.”
“I’m not going to just sit here and let you belittle my profession!” the psychologist said.
“How could I belittle your profession more than psychologists like you already have? Seriously, what has happened to psychology? You were supposed to help people come to grips with reality. Did you decide that was too hard and gave up? Because you certainly aren’t doing that anymore. My grandfather was a psychologist. He would be ashamed of what his profession has become. But that’s because he was a reality-affirming psychologist, not a fantasy-affirming psychologist like so many of you are today.”
“That’s absolutely not true,” the psychologist said. “We help our patients come to grips with the reality of their gender identity.”
“Based on what proof?” Miss Clarke said. “What is the proof that gender identity exists and isn’t just a fantasy? What is the proof that it is anything more concrete than any other religious belief? What is the proof it’s so important we should force the world to let it override the provable reality of biological sex?”
“There have been many, many studies done on this …” the psychologist began.
“Psychological studies,” Miss Clarke said.
“Well, yes, of course.”
“Which means they’re completely irrelevant. You are asking the world to let psychological-gender override biological-gender. Well, psychology doesn’t have authority over biology, so your psychological studies are completely useless to justify that. Where is your proof, real proof, not ‘I talked to my patient a lot and determined this is what makes him happiest’ nonsense.”
The psychologist squirmed in his seat. “There have also been brain scan studies that have demonstrated evidence for gender identity.”
“Great!” Miss Clarke said. “And what does Todd’s brain scan show?”
The psychologist just stared back at her, his eyes as vacant as the rainbow eye painted on his forehead, so Miss Clarke turned to Todd’s parents.
“If brain scans are proof of gender identity, then surely you got Todd’s brain scanned before you decided he was a girl, right?” Miss Clarke said. “Right?”
Todd’s parents looked at the floor.
“The science isn’t quite there yet,” the psychologist explained.
“Ah, then it’s strange you brought it up at all, but we’ll forget you mentioned it in order to spare you further embarrassment. So tell me then, what is the proof exactly that Todd is a girl?” Miss Clarke turned to Todd’s parents, awaiting an answer.
But Todd’s mother didn’t seem to know what to say. Clutching her rainbow talisman tightly, she avoided looking at Miss Clarke. Finally, she gestured toward the psychologist. “He’s a psychologist,” she said weakly. “He would know.”
“So, it was counseling sessions then, wasn’t it?” Miss Clarke said. “That’s the proof your son is a girl? Amazing. What science will psychologists override through counseling sessions next? Perhaps they’ll discover a new element. Won’t chemists be surprised! Or maybe they’ll discover there’s a black hole hiding behind the sun. Good luck explaining that, physicists and astronomers! Or …” Miss Clarke paused before continuing, “or we could come to our senses and acknowledge that psychology doesn’t have authority over chemistry, and psychology doesn’t have authority over physics or astronomy, and psychology certainly doesn’t have authority over biology!”
The psychologist glared at Miss Clarke. Any attempt to use logic or reason stood no chance against someone like her, that was obvious. What mattered was faith, something Miss Clarke clearly lacked. Then the psychologist turned toward Principal Allen and what he saw made him smile. What mattered was faith, yes, and what really mattered was that the authorities had faith; and Principal Allen was sitting there, red faced with anger, staring at Miss Clarke, gripping a rainbow talisman tightly in his hand.
The psychologist turned his smile toward Miss Clarke.
“Did anyone tell you how creepy your smile looks underneath that rainbow eye?” Miss Clarke said, and Principal Allen yelled, “Enough!”
Everyone in the room turned toward him. “I’ve heard enough of this! All of you can go.” He shook a finger at Miss Clarke. “Except you. You will stay.”
The psychologist winked at Miss Clarke as he stood up. Let’s see how far logic and reason get you now, he thought, smiling as he followed Tonya’s parents out of the office. A heated conversation ensued between Miss Clarke and Principal Allen, the voices growing softer the further the psychologist walked from the office, but he heard multiple colorful obscenities from Miss Clarke, and he heard a loud authoritative statement from Principal Allen: “He’s a psychologist. He would know.”
Because really, what more was there to say?
The psychologist stepped out of the high school out onto the sidewalk. What a glorious day! His spirits had been buoyed up by the intense thanks he had received from Tonya’s parents and from his victory in the confrontation with Miss Clarke—thanks to the faith of Principal Allen, and he felt so good he decided to not call a rideshare to return to his office but instead to walk there and enjoy himself along the way.
Taking a right as the quiet residential street came to an end at busy Center Street, he happily lost himself in the crowds of people walking with him or against him along the wide sidewalk. He nodded at the people he passed, always pleased to see them offer him a deferential bow after they noticed his rainbow eye.
A small line of people at a street vendor all bowed in unison, a sign of deference that so delighted him he stopped to understand the crying he heard there.
“But I don’t like orange soda. I wanted root beer!” a young boy said to his mother, looking disappointed at the orange drink she had just handed him.
The psychologist turned to the boy’s mother. “What seems to be the problem?” he asked.
The woman was paying the street vendor and didn’t look at the psychologist as she responded, “Oh, he’s just upset they were out of root beer.”
“Would he be happier if his soda were root beer?” the psychologist asked.
“Yes, root beer is his favorite,” the woman said, returning her credit card to her purse.
“Then it is root beer!” the psychologist said with authority.
The woman laughed without looking up. “Listen, I appreciate you trying to help, but my son is just going to have to learn to live with—” But then she noticed his rainbow eye and froze.
“I’m so sorry,” she said. Frantically she pulled her rainbow talisman out and held it tightly. “I didn’t realize who I was talking to.”
“I understand,” the psychologist said. “I’m just happy I was able to straighten it out.”
“Of course,” the woman said. “Thank you. Thank you so much.” Then she turned to her son. “Did you hear what the psychologist said? Your soda is actually root beer! Isn’t that wonderful?”
“But it’s orange,” the boy said, looking at his soda with a scowl on his face.
“No, honey, it’s root beer. That’s what the psychologist said. He’s a psychologist. He would know. Why don’t you take a little sip?”
The boy looked dubiously at his mother. Then he took a quick sip. “It’s orange!” he wailed.
“No, no,” the mother said. “Sometimes root beer just looks and tastes like orange soda. But it’s root beer. You have to believe it’s root beer!”
“It’s not root beer. It’s orange!” the boy wailed.
By this point, every person standing in line had pulled out their rainbow talismans, as did a small crowd of onlookers who had stopped to see the commotion. The mother blushed as everyone’s stares started to change into glares.
“I’m sorry,” she said, dragging her wailing son away. “I’ll teach him better. I will!”
The psychologist shook his head. It was tragic when someone refused to accept what would make them happy. He shrugged and turned in the direction of his office once again, his mood quickly returning to his prior cheerfulness.
But his expertise was needed once again on the next block. He had paused to acknowledge a small group of young women in front of an ice cream shop who had all bowed with great reverence to him, when the chocolate ice cream one girl held in her hand fell out of its cone onto the sidewalk.
“Oh no!” she said, half sad, half laughing.
“You’re such a klutz,”” her friends laughed cheerfully at her.
“That was quite unfortunate,” the psychologist said. “But tell me, would you be happier if you still had ice cream?”
The girl laughed. “Of course.”
“Then you do!” the psychologist said with authority. “Your ice cream scoop is still there. It never fell to the ground!”
The girl gave a nervous laugh, but then stopped when he didn’t join in. “Wait, you’re serious?”
“Your ice cream is right there,” the psychologist said, pointing at the empty air above her cone. “Why don’t you taste it?”
The girl looked from the psychologist, to her empty cone, and then to her friends, who by now had all pulled out their rainbow talismans. She pulled out her rainbow talisman as well.
“It’s good to know you didn’t actually drop your ice cream, isn’t it?” one of her friends asked, the earlier cheerfulness replaced with a hollow falseness.
“Go ahead and taste your ice cream,” the psychologist said, pointing at the empty cone.
The girl flushed red with embarrassment, but she gripped her rainbow talisman tightly in her hand and licked the empty air. “Mmmm,” she said unconvincingly. “I love chocolate.”
The psychologist smiled in self-satisfaction. “I’m happy to have been of service,” he said. Then he nodded and continued on his way.
The next block held no dilemmas for the psychologist to solve, so he found himself waiting at the intersection for the light to change. To his left, the busy traffic of Center Street buzzed past. Suddenly, he felt a pain in his right shin as something crashed into his leg and almost knocked him over.
“Ow!” he yelled in anger, looking down at the bratty tomboy that had run into him with her skateboard. “Watch where you’re going!”
The tomboy was twelve, maybe thirteen. She wore a sports jersey and boy’s shorts and her short hair was hidden completely by her helmet. “Sorry, mister,” she said without even looking up at him. Picking up her skateboard, she rose to her feet and walked over to the other crosswalk, waiting to cross the busy six-lane Center Street.
The psychologist scowled at her, his shin aching.
“Why are you standing there?” he asked the tomboy.
“I’m waiting for the walk sign,” the tomboy said.
“But it’s blinking right now,” the psychologist said, pointing across six lanes of speeding traffic. “Can’t you see it?”
The tomboy looked at the pedestrian signal, a red hand clearly visible on the other side of all the passing cars, and then she looked at the psychologist. Her eyes widened when she saw his rainbow eye.
“The walk sign is on,” the psychologist said with authority. “There is no traffic. You should cross the street now.”
The tomboy looked up at the psychologist’s rainbow eye. She looked at the cars and trucks rushing by. She looked at the psychologist’s rainbow eye again.
People were stopping now, curious at what was happening. One by one, they pulled out their rainbow talismans.
“He’s a psychologist. He would know,” one said.
“He’s a psychologist. He would know,” another agreed.
The tomboy looked again at the busy street. She looked again at the psychologist. She looked at the crowd that had gathered around them.
“He’s a psychologist. He would know,” a woman carrying a grocery bag said.
“He’s a psychologist. He would know,” a man in a suit said.
The blood had all drained from the tomboy’s face. Slowly she reached into her shirt and pulled out a rainbow talisman. She looked down at it for a moment. Then she looked up at the busy street. Then down at her rainbow talisman again.
“He’s a psychologist. He would know,” the crowd said.
The tomboy looked up at the psychologist again, her rainbow talisman clutched tightly in her hand. The psychologist give her a sharp nod toward the road.
Gripping her rainbow talisman tightly against her breast, the tomboy closed her eyes and stepped out onto the crosswalk. Three steps later she was hit by a delivery truck going forty miles an hour. There was a bone-crunching thud and a spray of blood followed by a squeal of brakes as the tomboy’s body flew dozens of feet down the street, bouncing and skidding, a trail of blood and gore smeared onto the pavement behind her until her body finally slid to a halt.
The air filled with screams. The truck had stopped and the driver was getting out. People were running toward the tomboy’s body.
The psychologist shook his head with annoyance. Lifting his hands high into the air he shouted, “Stop!”
Everyone froze and turned to look at him.
“What are you doing?” he asked. Then he paused to wipe some blood from his cheek.
“There was no accident,” he continued. “There is no body. There is nothing to see, nothing to be upset about.”
The crowd looked at the tomboy’s motionless body. Then they looked at the psychologist’s rainbow eye. Then they looked at the tomboy’s body again. Slowly, one by one, they pulled out their rainbow talismans.
The psychologist nodded. “There was no accident,” he repeated. “There is no body. There never was a tomboy at all.”
He pointed at his rainbow eye. “I’m a psychologist. I would know.”
Update 09/06/2023: Fixed typos.