“I need my artwork back, all 12 of the inks and the two large chalk drawings. You can keep the two smaller chalks as my thanks for the time you’ve put in on my behalf.”
The man to whom I was speaking was Lance Roll, my former art agent. He was just learning about the former part. I was in the process of firing him.
“Not fair, Tanya. The way the deal works is for me to secure a gallery show for you and receive 25% commission on any sales. I upheld my end of the contract.”
“The gallery showing never occurred, as you well know.” I refused to let Lance’s insistence on using my birth name throw me off focus. Some people simply refused to accept my gender expression, and name, of choice. There was nothing I could do except limit their role in my life, exactly as I was doing now.
“If you would just be reasonable about,” his eyes scanned me, distaste pulling his mouth into a grimace “all this, Gallery Axis would reinstate their plans for your show. The only thing holding you back is your insistence on this weird, what do you call it…this gender queer thing. I don’t understand why you’re doing this. You don’t need it; your art is extraordinary enough as it is.”
“Exactly Lance,” I sat back in my chair.
My gaze traveled his office, cluttered with an array of oils, inks, watercolors, sculpture and various multimedia pieces. When he didn’t respond to my comment, I spelled it out for him.
“My gender expression doesn’t matter to my art. Whether I sell it as Tanya and wear a skirt or flatten my chest and go by Tango, the drawings look the same. My gender is not a gimmick for attention. It’s me.”
Lance gave a regretful shrug. “The fine art galleries in this town are conservative and more importantly, so are the people who purchase from them. Gallery owners just aren’t going to take a chance on an unknown artist if they can’t present you to potential customers.”
What Lance said was true, as I had learned firsthand. One of the most prestigious galleries on the west coast had arranged to show my work, a coup for a young artist like myself. In the months leading up to the show, however, I had begun living full-time in that space where I looked neither distinctly male nor female. Immediately after my first in-person meeting with the owner of Gallery Axis, a certain Miss Madeleine Tweed, Lance had received a call with a laundry list of concerns – my appearance, my name, my request that my bio use non-gender specific pronouns. The show had soon been cancelled. Ever since, I’d been working part-time gigs while Lance alternately bemoaned the loss of the Axis contract and waited for me to outgrow what he saw as an unfortunate artistic phase.
“No one wants to host a freak show,” he’d told me.
I had drifted since the show’s cancellation some months ago. Grateful for the job Dale offered me in his coffee shop, I fell into the habit living day-to-day. I’d produced not a single piece of art and avoided all thoughts of my previous ambitions. Though coming out had been my choice, I still grieved the loss of the artistic career I had come to expect. I couldn’t remember a time when I didn’t draw, doodle, sketch. My talent had been cultivated early and commercial artistic success had, perhaps arrogantly, been a forgone conclusion in my mind.
The hostility from sectors of the artistic world had surprised me. Naively, I had expected my drawings alone to be judged. I hadn’t been prepared for the harsh judgments leveled at my person, my sexually ambiguous self. I’d retreated, confining myself to a small circle of acquaintances who accepted me, who celebrated my queered gender expression. The encounter with Hudson a couple nights ago had disrupted my complacency. It was time for me to figure out how to deal with the world on my terms. Although I’d avoided reliving the night itself, the exhilaration I’d felt after leaving that drawing in Hudson’s loft stayed with me. I’d begun crafting a new career path.
“Are you sure I can’t convince you to go about as Tanya again, even for one night at a gallery? It’s against my nature to let a talent like you walk out the door.”
“I’m sure.” The question was one I’d also asked myself, but consciously adopting a girl role seemed like a deception now. “Hang on to my two chalk drawings, Lance. Someday my art will have a following. You’ll be able to say You knew me when…”
He shook his head and spread his hands. “I’ve no doubt of your eventual success, young friend. You’re just making it much harder to come by. What are you going to do with all your fabulous pieces?”
“Find another route to getting noticed.” I didn’t feel an obligation to discuss my nascent plan with Lance.
Leaving his office after making arrangements to collect my drawings, I lifted my face to the sun and drew in a deep breathe of ocean air. I’d freed myself from my old life, my old expectations. My new plan wasn’t a grand one, but it was a plan, and it was coming together. On a wave of optimism, I thought about contacting Hudson, maybe dropping by his home and leaving a note with the doorman.
Now. I thought. Now I am ready to reveal myself. I hadn’t been willing to answer when he’d made his inquiries the other night.
“What do you do when you’re not flirting with jetlagged businessmen in bookstores?” he’d asked me as he licked his way up my stomach. His tongue drew sensual circles along my lower rib.
“I got a degree in fine arts.” He’d raised his head, dark eyes finding mine. Propping his head on his hand, he’d encouraged me to tell him more.
“I moved here last summer, after I won an art competition my senior year. First prize was a two year contract for representation by one of the premiere agents on the west coast. It was basically the equivalent of winning the lottery.”
“Except that the lottery is a game of luck. You won a talent competition.”
“Hardly matters now. Things are stalled. I had a show lined up, but it was cancelled before opening night.”
I was uncomfortable with where the conversation was going. During the panel discussion after the book reading, Hudson had summarized the story of his success in starting his business. He’d described repeatedly pitching his proposal to investors. He had finally found one willing to take a chance on his idea, even if that idea came from a transsexual. In the face of that, I wasn’t ready to talk about losing the biggest opportunity of my life just for being myself, queer, a genderqueer. Maybe Hudson would understand. But, maybe he’d think I hadn’t tried hard enough, that I’d given up. I had given up. He had been successful where I had failed. A strange sort of shame silenced me.
Hudson traced my hairline, brows furrowed as he studied my face. He must have picked up on my reluctance to discuss myself further because instead of pushing, he said, “Ask me something about myself.”
I was taken aback. Jenna’s gossipy tidbits and more all jockeyed for position. “What did he do for fun? Was he as rich as everyone said? Did he have any regrets about transitioning? Did he like his job? Did he even work anymore? Would he ever consider dating a genderqueer long term? Tea or coffee? Regular of Decaf?
I wanted to know everything, and that realization overwhelmed me. This was too much. He was too much. What eventually came out of my mouth was “Do you like being rimmed?”
Sexual heat immediately rekindled in his eyes and my legs moved wantonly in response, capturing him between them. He rolled onto me and thrust a couple times. Like I had earlier, I thrilled at our sameness and our differences.
“Let’s go take a shower” he growled into my ear. “Then ask me that question again.”
Maybe the inadequacy that had driven me from his home that morning hadn’t started when I was viewing his art, taking in the luxury of my surroundings. Maybe it had started there in bed when I’d declined his invitation to get to know him better, to establish the emotional intimacy I always claimed to want. I did want it. I hadn’t realized emotional intimacy would feel so risky.
Walking now along the boardwalk as I headed back to my sublet, I lifted my head towards the building which housed Hudson’s loft. Sitting on one of the city’s high points, it was visible from nearly everywhere in town. The structure was an imposing and rather ugly concrete and glass building. The day’s blue sky reflected off the windows. I imagined Hudson standing up there, looking down at the boardwalk. I wondered what he thought of my parting gift. I was out of practice. I hadn’t had my usual sketch pad and pens. But I had been unable to depart the other morning without leaving something behind of my heart.