Rita-Mae Burle never takes shit from no one. That’s what Rita-Mae liked best about being Rita-Mae. That was also the biggest reason she became Rita-Mae to begin with.
Rita-Mae used to be a young man named Rich Burle, but she hadn’t really been very good at it. Rita-Mae remembered the first time she’d heard the phrase ‘woman trapped in a man’s body’. It had sounded so weird, she remembered laughing. It took years of soul searching to understand that she hadn’t really been laughing at the idea of being a woman trapped in a man’s body. Even as a young boy, she’s suspected something like that was responsible for her constant state of ill at ease.
Where Rita-Mae came from, in the Far East end of Head-on-the-Lake, the idea of preferring boys over girls was not unheard of; it just wasn’t encouraged. In fact, it was actively discouraged, often with brute force. This message had a way of informing the curious and the confused. The message was: We don’t want no fuckin’ queers around here.
Rita-Mae eventually learned that this went for women as much as men. Women, on the whole, were usually smarter and stronger than men, she had eventually realized, and that may have been what eventually lead to her wanting to become a woman. But it definitely meant that gay women didn’t get beaten up quite as often as gay men. It happened, and some of the things that happened instead of being beaten were at least as bad, if not worse. Rita-Mae learned about some of that after undergoing her change.
Fortunately, Rita-Mae did eventually realize that she was in fact a woman trapped in a man’s body. She didn’t regard herself as a modern transgender with no specific binary sexual identity. She knew she was definitely a woman, and happy to be seen as such.
That she wasn’t often seen as such was dismaying, even though she’d spent a great deal of money to make the change as seamless as possible. She’d been born with particularly effeminate features that hardly changed throughout the first twenty-five or so years of her life. She had, up to that point, been a successful writer of comedy for a number of local acts, and was even beginning to delve into stand-up herself. However, she felt like her life was a lie, and it started coming out—along with herself—in her comedy.
Fortunately, it was the Nineties, and lots of people were coming out and making a good living off of their pro-queer activities. Sure, it eventually back lashed with the continued accusations of a so-called Gay Agenda, but the only agenda any gays she ever knew had was to live and love in peace, without being hit in the face with bottles if they so much as smiled the wrong way at another person of their birth sex.
As she approached her thirties, however, she started finally developing some serious masculine traits that had long eluded her. She immediately began researching her options. Deciding that she wasn’t going to be happy just dressing up in man-sized women’s clothing, and certainly wasn’t content to remain a gay man in a gay man’s body, she opted for the medical procedures it would take to make her truly a woman.
She had now been a woman in fact for about ten years. It hadn’t been easy for her. Of course, there was the traditional ‘being disowned by your family’ event, followed by ‘your lover growing apart from you’ cycle, and finally, the ‘career death by being openly transgender’ press release.
Rita-Mae didn’t write for comedy any more. No one wanted to tell the kinds of jokes she found funny, even though it was now the 21st Century. After the self-interested days of the Eighties made way for the nouveau-hippy enlightenment of the Nineties, Rita-Mae had been lulled into a false sense of security that the world was changing, and becoming more tolerant and understanding of LGBT issues.
Then the new millennium arrived, and a backlash so deep and wide happened that, for every step the queer community took forward, they were forced three or four steps backward, or so it seemed. In 2014, there were African countries, quietly supported by bigoted neo-conservative groups in North America, that were passing legislation making it legal to beat and kill queers in their communities. Russian politicians approved anti-gay laws that lead to the arrest and imprisonment of numerous publicly gay and lesbian peoples, foreign and domestic. And in the good old US of A, progressive thinkers were becoming increasingly alarmed at the surging upswing in unbelievably feverish anti-gay, anti-progressive, bigoted, and downright fascist behaviour, both in state and municipal legislatures. There were billions of dollars being pumped into every neo-con program going, and that was cultural as well as financial conservatism, which surprised a lot of gay conservatives when they woke up to find the shoe on the other foot.
And back home in her beloved Canada, in her hometown, which was almost perpetually in a cultural time warp, they queer community had just begun to peek out from the closet when the door got slammed right in their eye. Eventually, there were movements to make this change, but nothing of lasting value, except perhaps the attitude that Gay was Okay, just as long as it Stayed Away from me and mine.
This had led to numerous black listings from writing jobs, and, on one memorable occasion she never discussed, a gang rape, which had left Rita-Mae in hospital, followed by the women’s shelter, for several weeks, until the women of the shelter got her forcibly evicted for being a Fake Woman.
These days, Rita-Mae kept a low profile, and though she still occasionally did stand-up comedy when the more enlightened impresarios would have her on stage, she mostly stuck to her day job.
While Rita-Mae had been in the hospital, she’d had to have some reconstructive work done on her voice, as there had been a knife involved in her rape. As her voice therapist coached her back to the land of the audible, she picked up a few things about sound engineering, and soon after, began studying music engineering in her spare time.
After she’d felt safely recovered, she made a series of comedy albums, which she recorded in her home studio, and used these to obtain the occasional gig engineering albums for other musicians. This eventually led to her getting a gig as a session engineer, and then a house engineer, working for a couple of indie producers who were making their own music more or less whenever the studio wasn’t in commercial use, and needed someone to take up some of the slack for them.
Now Rita-Mae was in-demand as an engineer, and was even starting to dabble in record producing on her own. It was funny how life worked out. Things weren’t perfect. But sticking to your guns could lead to better things than you might ever have experienced if you stayed hidden in your shell.
It was that crazy little guy who saved her that night who taught her that. It took him beating one of her rapists senseless, followed by them seeing his blood after one of them knifed him, to break up the brutal act.
She hadn’t been able to speak, and almost all she could see was blood, but she still remembered his words, as he held her and stroked her matted hair:
“Just remember… this too shall pass. Just give it time.”
And then he died.
She never learned his name. It was the one thing she’d never forgiven herself for, in a lifetime of things she’d been told she must repent for. The only thing.
Rita-Mae turned off the recorder, locked up the studio, and walked home in the quiet of a late winter evening. There wasn’t a soul around. She used to be terrified at times like these, but these days, she revelled in it. She had a new job, a new life, a new lover, and a new outlook on life.
“Thank you, stranger,” she whispered to no one in particular. She almost imagined she could hear his reply on the cold winter breeze.
© 2015 Lee Edward Mcilmoyle