About Leland William Howard

Leland William Howard was born in Jackson, Tennessee and attended the University of the South at Sewanee, Tennessee. He performed at the Hampton Playhouse, the Light Opera of Manhattan, and with the St. Cecelia Chorus in the 1970s. He was a member of the New Orleans Gay Men’s Chorus in 1983 and performed at the First National Gay Choral Festival held at Lincoln Center in New York City in September of 1983. He was a member of the Louisiana Gay Political Caucus (LAGPAC) from 1984-85 and a member of the Crescent City Coalition in 1985. From 1986 to 1987 he resided in Paris, France, where he studied 19th and 20th century French literature at the Cours de Civilisation Francaise de la Sorbonne. Mr. Howard performed several Shakespearian heroines (Rosalind, Portia, Katerina, and Celia) in Herbert Berghof’s Experimental Shakespeare workshop at the HB Studio in New York City in 1988, and while a publicist for The Millbrook Playhouse in the summer of 1990, portrayed a transgender female producer in a mystery play. Mr. Howard is the author of three published books, Pirouettes Get No Applause in Goldengrove (AuthorHouse 2002), a novel; The Grass Hut (AuthorHouse 2009), a novel; and Portrait of Betsy (AuthorHouse 2011), a fictional memoir. Mr. Howard is a graduate of Hunter College of the City University of New York (B.A., English, 2004) and New Mexico Highlands University (M.A., English Literature, 2008). Mr. Howard’s master’s thesis was Changing the Face of Gender: Hollywood 1939-1949, in which the author explored how, during the aforementioned decade, the patriarchal Hollywood establishment challenged traditional female social roles while reinforcing traditional masculine roles and values. For several years he was an instructor in English composition at New Mexico Highlands University and Luna Community College in Las Vegas, New Mexico. “Elizabeth” originally was published in the fall 1999 issue of The Olivetree Review, a student literary publication at Hunter College.


©2017 by Leland William Howard

The thumbnail illustration is a waxed colored pencil sketch by the author, showing his desk and the view from his New Orleans apartment. Elizabeth was originally published in the fall 1999 issue of The Olivetree Review, a student literary publication at Hunter College



By Leland William Howard


Jamie hadn’t reached Gravier Street when he heard the crowds in the French Quarter, their voices as tremulously resonant as the unfurling of a sheet of aluminum siding. Periodic whistles rent the air, sounding like the screeches of bats. When he rounded the corner, Royal Street loomed into view, its ordinarily tranquil perspective of antique shops and art galleries mobbed with revelers who swarmed erratically about one another like cockroaches.

Jamie had reached his destination without incident. Perhaps it was pure luck. All the way down from the Garden District he had been sure some redneck, out of drunkenness, malice, or a mixture of both, would lift the hem of his gown to confirm or refute any speculation he might have had about the gender of its wearer, or even worse, snatch off his auburn wig. Fortunately, neither had happened, nor had his passage been followed by those cruel epithets he had been conditioned to hear from childhood. He saw only the backward glances of those who passed him and heard only the beer cans and plastic cups which were as easily swept up beneath the train of his gown as by a vacuum cleaner nozzle.

He could hear their clunk and clatter now on the sidewalk behind him. He smirked with exasperation. Christ, if he wanted to sound like a honeymoon getaway car, he would have plastered a Just Married sign on his back. It would have made a good joke. But for him this was no joke, as it was with the queens who continually flitted in and out of his friend Barry’s apartment, wearing wigs and dresses which, at most, passed only as travesties of femininity. No, Jamie wanted to pass as the real thing. If there was anything in his appearance or deportment that might have struck a passerby as strange, it was only that he had stepped out of another era.

The sky-blue gown he wore, a drama department designer’s dream of an eighteenth century American colonial lady’s ball gown, was so long and full that if passersby hadn’t inadvertently stepped on its now begrimed hem, his own feet had when he forgot to hike it up from time to time. The openings of its elbow-length sleeves were circumscribed with fluted lace in the configuration of flower petals, and beneath its low-cut bodice gently swelled the bra Miss Eulalie had lent him, judiciously stuffed with a couple of wadded up undershirts.

He looked up and down the wide expanse of Canal Street, along which all traffic had been suspended and the surface of which was littered with sandwich wrappers, plastic cups, beer cans, streamers, doubloons—enough waste to keep the sanitation department busy for several weeks. He surveyed the entrance to Royal Street.

Jamie hesitated, studying the crowds before him, cautious as an explorer who, when looking across the rapid river separating him from the other side, weighs and measures the risks involved in swimming and the odds of whether he will drown. Gathering courage, he crossed.

Licked by the occasional rustle of satin, his legs felt more bare than they usually did, and yet how free! They could breathe! There was something about a woman’s dress that granted a bodily freedom a pair of trousers never could. And not only freedom, but the license to improvise appearance, to soften the lines, the shape, whether in artful concealment or revelation, of the dictates of nature. A man’s clothes amounted, stylistically speaking, to no more than a uniform, demanding of its wearer as much restraint in behavior as the cut of a sleeve or trouser leg allowed.

The first time he had done something like this he was eight, but he had at least performed it in the privacy of the family basement where some thorough rummaging revealed an old Molyneux gown his mother had worn as a young woman. In conjunction with a female bathing cap, he fancied himself before the mirror as Kay Francis in some old 1932 flick. It was all giggles and delight until the voice of judgment descended.

“What is this?” his father demanded. “You should be out playing ball!”

He played ball now, but not the kind of ball which would have made his father proud.

Jamie now stood at the entrance to Royal Street, but despaired of making the least headway into the French Quarter. Big burly strapping Cajuns with bellies so bloated they looked as if they were nine months pregnant, their fat reddened forearms swinging so far out from their sides that they looked like the pincers of crabs, seemed likely to push him out of the way if he got in their paths. They were the very kind of men who used to sit around playing checkers in front of Harrison’s Dry Goods store when he was a boy. The same sort of good ‘ol boy his Daddy went hunting possum hunting with. The same kind of man who used to shake their heads ruefully when they saw him, and say, “I don’t know about you, boy.” They didn’t have to explain what they meant. He knew. Everyone did, from Father Paul to Sheriff Thatcher.

“Hey, boy, do you suck mens’ dicks?” a group of rowdy rednecks had yelled from a passing car window the days he walked to Scheinfeldt’s nursery to plant trees when he was teenager.

Time and distance had not effaced the conditioned response. He expected it now no less. But something happened which Jamie had not expected. As he approached, they parted, one and all, as the waves of the Red Sea had parted for the children of Israel when they escaped bondage in Egypt, each passing at a discreet distance on either side of him, and none of them unleashed the invective he had expected to hear. Was it possible, Jamie asked himself, that he had passed?

As he reached the Monteleone Hotel, crossed D’Iberville, and walked up to St. Peter Street, several men eyed him delectably. Sometimes he captured a woman’s glance, more speculative than those of the men.

“Excuse me?”

Jamie heard a young man’s voice behind him as he prepared to cross Orleans Street. He stopped, and turning around, found himself face-to-face with a tall, lean, good-looking young man wearing bermuda shorts and a knit shirt. Near him stood a young woman in similar attire. They both were smiling.

“Yes?” Jamie asked, his face cautious. He braced himself for the crucial question he had expected all day.

“May we take your picture?”

Having grown up in a world where ridicule was only a stone’s throw from where he stood, Jamie suspected a joke.


“You look so pretty,” the young man said.

Jamie tried hard to see if he could detect any hint of irony in the young man’s demeanor or tone, but hearing none, agreed to the proposal, and struck a fitting, if somewhat conscious pose, his only concession to facial expression a tentative smile.

Jamie walked on. Had he really passed? Or had the couple wanted a picture only so that when they got back to Des Moines or wherever it was they came from, they could point to it and ask the viewers, “Would you believe this is a man?”

If there was a joke, it was certainly on him. But then, hadn’t it always been that way?

One afternoon, when Corporal Heiniker radioed him a request that he telephone the D.A.’s office and he complied, the Corporal responded by saying, “Thank you, ma’am,” and then, waiting a few moments for the dig to sink in and for the other field officers to release a chuckle or two, amended his address, in an apologetic tone to, “I mean 542,” the appellation given to every dispatcher who worked in the security department, irrespective of whether they were male or female.

542. Just a number. Ma’am was certainly better than a number. But it hurt, striking some deep subterranean chord of guilt within him. Why did it hurt so much, he wondered? Having always fancied himself a woman, he ought to have been happy others shared his viewpoint to the extent that they addressed him as one. But he wasn’t happy. To Jamie it might have been a compliment, but according to the standards of their world—the world in which he found himself saddled with the role both biology and cultural conditioning had assigned to him—it was intended as an insult. That world might have long extolled the feminine virtues of soft speech, delicacy, and modesty in poetry and song, but it found the same virtues despicable in a man.

He now passed beneath a balcony, below which a large crowd of men were standing, chanting, “Show your tits! Show your tits!”

A moment later, a tall blonde strode out onto the wrought iron balcony, majestic as a queen presenting herself to her subjects, and popped off her brassiere to the boisterous hand-clapping and wolf calls of the men below. Jamie thought of his own tits.

“You’re a little flat here,” Miss Eulalie had said, patting her own bosom, when, meeting her on the stairwell landing, he asked her how he looked. ”I might have an old bra you could wear.”

He reflected that if he ripped his off, all the crowd would get would be a couple of crumpled up Van Heusen undershirts.

As Jamie was passing the A&P on St. Peter Street, his shoulder was roughly jarred. For sure he was in for a bashing, but no.

“Oh, I’m so sorry, miss,” he heard a young man say with a North Carolina drawl.

“It’s all right,” Jamie said in a whisper that would not betray a deep vocal register. He averted his gaze lest closer scrutiny convince the young man his apologies had not only been in vain, but extracted by devious means. Jamie moved on as quickly as possible.

Jamie heard the same voice, this time at closer range. “That was really very stupid of me. I should have watched where I was going.” His pulse quickening as much as his pace, he tried to pretend indifference. But curiosity getting the better of him, he a cast stealthy, sidelong glance to his left, which revealed only a plaid checked shirt. He wasn’t about to extend the visual contact. It would only end in conversation. He kept walking.

“Say, what’s a beautiful girl like you doing in a place like this?”

Reassured by the absence of irony in the young man’s voice, Jamie felt stirring within him a pang of gratified vanity. But no sooner had it stirred than he squelched it. Maybe the young man was on to him and was only calculating the best means of drawing him into a net where, once ensnared, he would be subject to the cruelest humiliation.

“Isn’t it Mardi Gras?” Jamie asked, careful to maintain a fixed forward gaze.

“Y-y-ess,” the young man conceded, with some hesitation.

“Well, then?” Jamie said, striding on with the hope the young man would be swept up in the crowd heading toward Canal Street—but the plaid checked shirt still followed at his side. Christ, how long can I keep this up, Jamie wondered?

“What’s your name?” the young man asked.


Funny. He hadn’t reckoned on a Christian name for his new identity, but, considering that it was his mother’s name, it seemed fitting.

“Elizabeth,” the young man repeated, as if it evoked every romantic feeling in him.

Jamie would have kept on, but stopped when he felt the gentle pressure of the young man’s hand upon his arm.

“Elizabeth,” the young man began with gentle admonition, as Jamie lowered his gaze. “Look at me.”

It was a dangerous moment. Even if Jamie’s makeup had been carefully applied, there was one dead giveaway—his neck. Well, it was better to find out now than later. Here goes, he thought, raising his chin and studying the young man’s cornflower blue eyes for signs of suspicion. There were none.

“A girl like you’s got no business in a cheap and tawdry place like this,” he said.

“Why not?”

“Because—well—because you’ve got more class than most of these gals.”

Jamie couldn’t help but repress a smile of delight. He thought of the many women he had passed on the street, most of them wearing hot pants, tank tops, blue jeans, sweatshirts, and felt a sudden feeling of victory. At the same time, he thought it sad when it came to pass that a man would find a man in drag classier than a real woman. But so he had.

“How so?”

“Well, you shore dress pretty,” the young man said. “And there’s this way you carry yourself, kind of dignified-like. Now, that’s the mark of a real lady. That’s what my Mama always says.”

Jamie couldn’t believe it. The young man had actually fallen for him. Was the guy just plain stupid, or had he passed?

“Say, Elizabeth, I hope you don’t think I’m being too forward and all, but, well, would you care to come back to my hotel room for a drink?”

Jamie looked the young man over. He was awfully good looking. Not over-bright, of course. How like an overgrown boy, his wide open eyes, his hopeful smile hanging on Jamie’s answer as if he were asking a girl for his first dance.

The look only made Jamie feel sad. No man had ever asked him back to his apartment or hotel room with a look as innocent as a puppy’s. No. The men he had known had all looked confident of their quarry and confident that if a privilege was being bestowed, they were the ones who were bestowing it.

“I can empower you,” the tall football-player-built guy sitting next to him in the Refuge had said, as he ran his hands up and down Jamie’s chest inside his shirt, biting him on both ears.

And that’s what it was really all about. Power. Male power. That’s how it was with a boy and a man. The boy should not only count himself lucky if an attractive man desired him, but should be grateful for it. He should ask no questions, expect nothing, only what was granted by the man. This was a pleasant switch. Now he was the one who was being deferred to, and it was a most pleasant sensation.

Jamie was also sad because he would like to have gone with the young man. If I were a woman, he thought, he would make love to me, tender and respectful. Which was not always the case with the men he had known. Usually it was nothing more than slam, bam, and thank you, ma’am. He was up against it again, no matter how attractive he found the man, no matter how his pulse quickened, no matter how the residue of inflamed passion dampened the jockey shorts beneath his gown. Biology, pure and simple. Of course, he could take his chances, allow nothing more than a chaste kiss. But no, it would go further than that. And once the brassiere and panties had been removed, he’d be lucky if he got out of the hotel room with his life. It’s all right to be a lady if you’re a woman, but a man? And especially to a country boy like this one? No way.

“Thank you for asking,” Jamie said, “but no.”

“If you’re afraid I’ll violate your honor, you can rest easy,” the young man returned. “I’d never go as further than you want.”

Jamie knew all about that one. Yes, we’ll just lie in bed with our underwear on and not do anything. He had been through all that.

“I’m sorry,” Jamie said.

The young man beamed exultantly, as if a refusal were the best thing he had heard.

“You really are a nice girl!” he said.

Jamie felt ashamed. If this young man only knew, oh, what a change there’d be.

They had come alongside the Refuge now, a bar where Jamie had been picked up on several occasions, and where one man in particular, a guy from New York City, had taught him the facts of life.

“Would you like to join me for a drink?” Jamie asked.

The young man stared at Jamie with bewilderment and amazement, almost disbelief.

“Elizabeth, do you know what kind of bar this is?”

“No. What?”

“It’s a gay bar,” the young man said, as if it were a leper colony. “All kinds of weirdos and faggots hang out there.”

Like me, Jamie thought. Like me. How strange to be courted and praised by a guy who would hurl every ugly epithet at him if he were wearing his usual attire. And yet, what made it so strange was that he was the same person. So strange what a wig, a little artful make-up, and a dress could do. It could change a curse to praise and hate to love, and in that gap which only an artful disguise could fill, the anger of betrayal could be so easily triggered.

Father Paul used to say it was what was inside a person that was important. How they felt, what they thought, what they believed, how they behaved—but the degree to which such feelings, thoughts, beliefs, and behavior would either be praised or damned depended largely to the appearance of the temple which enshrined them.

“Now, tell me, why would you want to go in a place like this?” the young man asked.

Remembering something his friend Peggy had said about her predilection for the company of gay men, Jamie answered, “Well, when I’m with a gay man, I feel as if he’s interested in me as a person and not just a sex object.”

The young man’s lips contracted a little, and his eyes looked sheepish.

“They’re not the monsters you think they are,” Jamie said. “Have you ever known a gay man?”

The young man drew up his shoulders and lifted his chin.

“Not if I can help it.”

“Then how can you judge?”

The young man began toeing the sidewalk and looking down.

“You’re right,” he conceded with a shame-faced smirk.

Jamie realized that it was only by virtue of his womanhood that he could ever win a point from a man. The young man would never have taken it from a boy. Never.

“It was nice talking to you,” Jamie said, and started to enter the bar; the young man took his hand. Jamie grew frightened. Though his hands were soft, the calluses he had acquired while working in that tree nursery several years earlier still remained, and contact with them might give him away. He quickly retracted his hand.

“May I kiss you?” the young man asked.

Could he tell, Jamie wondered? Just by the feel of these lips? He wasn’t sure.

But the young man stood there with such a morose look on his face that Jamie didn’t have the heart to refuse.

“All right.”

The lips came close and Jamie instinctively closed his eyes. The kiss was brief and chaste.

“It was a pleasure, Elizabeth,” the young man said. “I doubt I’ll ever meet another girl here as sweet as you.”

When Jamie entered the Refuge, he felt almost maternal toward the men sitting around the horseshoe-shaped bar. He had seen many of them before. There was Jake Carter with his bald head and leering grin. There were Aaron and Orestes, both dressed as Arab sheiks, Aaron’s face looking so cadaverous he might have fared better in a devil costume, and Orestes, with his round, pock-marked face, would have fared better as some old lecherous Friar. But then, such attire would only have been a cruel reminder that he was a defrocked priest.

He still remembered the day they offered to drive him home, only to take him instead to their house on Esplanade Avenue, which had at one time been the New Orleans home of the French painter Edgar Degas. Little did he know when they offered to show him the studio where the great master had worked on his creations that they also indulged the creative impulse there, even if it was more carnally than artistically inspired. Now their eyes grazed over him without the slightest sign of recognition.

He also spotted Fernando, attired in a natty suit as usual, his new suntan enhancing his Latin good looks. Little did he realize when Fernando had asked him to join him for lunch in his slave quarter apartment one afternoon that he would end up being the dessert. Fernando, too, failed to recognize him. But none of these guys looked the same to him either. None of the men did. When he used to come in here, they all seemed mighty and all-powerful. Now they all looked like little boys.

Jamie was trying to order a drink at the bar, but there were a couple of men huddled close together in his way. He gently tapped one of them on the shoulder.

“Please?” he said.

The big man, his fat hairy arms emerging from the round loops of a black leather jacket like a couple of ham hocks, scowled at him.

“Don’t you realize this is a men’s bar?”

There was a shade of resentment in his voice.

“Yes,” Jamie answered with a sweet smile. “But isn’t a lady occasionally welcome?”

The man seemed on the point of speech, but nothing more than a low growl came out, and he turned his face away.

Oh, the power of Woman, Jamie thought. Only she is capable of shaming a man with such a gentle voice. Another man never could. Because gentleness in a man can never be respected. At least not by another man.

He took his drink and stood over against the wall, watching the men talk and drink. What is it these men want from one another, he wondered, that a woman cannot give them? Is it the acceptance their fathers or brothers never gave them? Or is it they are so weak inside that a woman, and particularly a strong woman, frightens them? There were so many strong women now. Stronger than ever before.

Jamie felt safer than he had ever felt before in this bar. No longer did he feel he had to act cute, slouch his hip sexily to one side so a besuited middle-aged lawyer could better divine the size of his pelvis and the shape of his ass. Or, sit there, with hands clasped, and nervously smoking one cigarette after another, dying a thousand deaths because no man over thirty gave him so much as a passing glance.

“Do your parents know you’re here?” some had even asked.

Nor had he forgotten the humiliation he felt when, having been introduced to one of Fernando’s friends, the latter, when he thought Jamie wasn’t listening, nudged Fernando in the side, chuckling, “Robbing the cradle, eh?”

In his usual attire he was just a boy. An object of enticement, a candidate for conquest, but a boy nonetheless. Never an equal. Now, however, he not only felt equal, but in a strange way, superior.

“Would you like my seat, Miss?” asked a handsome boy with bulging biceps.

“Thank you,” Jamie said.

There was no desire in the glance the boy gave him. It was something much better, something he had never gotten in his usual attire: respect. No man had ever offered him a seat in this bar before. Sexual attractiveness might have resulted in a good lay, but it never insured simple courtesy or respect.

A middle-aged man in a business suit, his temples graying, passed him and gave him a deferential nod. It was the same man who, in passing weeks before, had given his ass a squeeze and walked on to join some other men in a conversation he was sure would be over the head of such a cute boy.

No sooner had the thought struck him than the voice of Aretha filled the bar.

“R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me, R-E-S-P-E-C-T!”

But even respect became tiresome when it didn’t lead to conversation. So, finishing his drink, Jamie left the bar, and walking over two blocks to Decatur Street, entered the Galley House, a bar which, unlike all others, catered to clients both gay and straight.

Jamie had always liked this bar, primarily because its music was neither so loud that one had to resort to sign language or lip syncing as a means of communication, or lyrically and rhythmically calculated to arouse the hormones in its hearers, but rather recalled a more romantic era, the era of his own parents, music in which the word love figured as prominently as the word satisfaction figured in contemporary music. No. Here, the likes of Ella, Sarah, Billie, and Frank presided, musically speaking. In the middle of the floor, two couples slow danced. In a far corner, near the entrance to the billiards room, two girls and two guys were playing darts.

A couple of men became rooted to their spots when he entered the bar and stared at him, almost with wonder. Jamie became self-conscious and went to the end of the bar, where he wouldn’t be conspicuous. He hadn’t been standing there long when he heard a voice near him say, “Pretty dress you’ve got on.”

Jamie turned to his right. He saw a good-looking man with warm, cheerful eyes in a fleshy, fair face which, along with his abdomen, had somewhat spread in middle age. He wore a natty sport coat with patched sleeves, and a colorful floral-patterned silk tie. His blond hair, somewhat thinning in front to reveal a shiny bald pate, was blow-dried. His attire was a striking counterpoint to the sea of blue jeans, T-shirts, and baseball caps in the bar. He leaned sexily forward on one forearm, his smile broadening the flare of his wide nostrils.

Already, Jamie could feel his jockey shorts expanding under the force of his own passion, and was glad he wasn’t wearing his tight-fitting levis. What was it about these middle-aged men? It was power, to be sure, that recommended them. But coupled with a warm smile and twinkling eyes, it spelled acceptance.

“Thank you,” Jamie said.

“You’re pretty, too,” the man said, never once taking his eyes off him. Jamie lowered his eyes.

“I’m Jack,” the man said, thrusting out his fleshy, soft hand. Jamie, reluctant on account of his own calluses, contented himself with a gracious forward nod of the head. Not too little and not too much. My, he was really mastering this lady thing!

“And yours?” Jack asked.

“Elizabeth,” Jamie said, still consciously maintaining his voice at a higher octave, and studying the man for any signs of  suspicion or doubt. There were none.

“Same as my wife’s,” Jack said.

A married man, Jamie thought. This was going to be a difficult challenge, more difficult than any he had yet encountered.

“Here all alone?” Jack asked.


“Strange, a young woman as lovely as you.” Jack expired a ribbon of cigarette smoke, smiling, and stubbed out his cigarette. “You didn’t get stood up, did you?” He leaned forward, planting his hands on a pair of thick thighs.

“No,” Jamie returned with a shy smile.

“I’m alone, too,” Jack said.

“Where’s your wife?”

“Back home. St. Paul, Minnesota.”

“Oh,” Jamie looked down, wishing the bulge in his jockeys would go down too. But it didn’t.

“She just let you come down to Mardi Gras all by yourself?” Jamie asked.

Jack leaned closer to him.

“I’m on a business trip,” he said in a voice which left his lips as soft as a caress, and which carried with it the stale odor of gin. “Besides, my wife is a very open-minded individual.” He stared steadily into Jamie’s eyes with the kind of paternal affection Jamie had never known as a child.

“Obviously,” Jamie said, relieved that the more visible signs of his passion were beginning to subside.

“But then, for an ex-nun who’s married and has six children, I suppose she’d have to be, wouldn’t she?” Jack said.

“Ex-nun?” Jamie asked, wondering if the guy was playing some kind of a joke.

“Let me show you something,” Jack said, straightening himself and ferreting in the breast pocket of his sport coat. Bringing out a wallet, he opened it, and. taking out a photograph, handed it to Jamie. At one end of a long line stood a pretty dark-haired woman, holding a baby. As the line proceeded to the left, the height of each sibling increased until it ended in a handsome young teenaged boy wearing a pair of tight-fitting levis, one hip slouched sexily to the side.

Jamie’s jockeys bulged again.

“Who’s this guy? Your brother?”

“My son. My oldest. He’s seventeen.”

Jamie looked at that slouching hip and tight Levis and then pictured himself in the Refuge with all the handsome middle-aged men ogling him.

“Seventeen?” Jamie repeated, as if in disbelief.

Jack smiled, flattered that a son that age could inspire surprise.

“I’m forty-five. And you?”


Jamie’s jockeys were expanded now almost to the bursting point. He looked back at Jack, who sat there, smiling affectionately at him. Jamie was conscious of how the man’s legs were spread apart, of the zippered fly of his dress trousers, though he didn’t—wouldn’t—look directly at it.

Such a man has made me, Jamie thought, on many a night when the music was suggestive enough and both had had enough to drink. But such a man could also have literally made him, in the biological sense of the word.

Jamie looked back at the picture of Jack’s son, hip slouched lazily to one side. Christ, it’s like the same thing, Jamie thought. There was no difference. They had both been made by the same kind of man, but in different ways. Though both creations were realized through intercourse, the fruits of that intercourse were different in terms of conception; one that was physical, the other spiritual. But wasn’t such conception really the same, relationally speaking?

At that moment Ella Fitzgerald’s velvet-toned voice suffused the room with her unique magical rendition of “Blue Moon.”

“Wanna dance?” Jack asked.

Jamie no longer felt as if he were wearing a gown. He felt as if a pair of tight-fitting Levis, a baseball cap, and an excursion to a ball game would be more appropriate with this man.

“Oh, I don’t think so,” Jamie murmured apologetically.

“Come on!” Jack insisted, and, taking Jamie’s hand, led him out onto the floor.

With a hand on one another’s respective waists and shoulders, the pair turned slowly to the music, Jamie always careful to keep Jack at a discreet distance. But, as the dance progressed, Jack tightened his hold on Jamie, and occasionally allowed his hand to slip down to his buttocks, which were given a generous squeeze. Jamie didn’t bridle at this. His buttocks could have passed for a woman’s any day.

“You follow very well,” Jack smiled.

Strange remark. Wouldn’t a man expect that from a woman as a matter of course?

They kept dancing. Jack now slid his hands up and down Jamie’s sides, but this time he went further, doing something that Jamie had feared, not only since they had begun dancing, but since he had left his Harmony Street apartment that afternoon. With sudden force, Jack’s fleshy hand grabbed one of his breasts, or, rather, what passed for his breasts.

It was bad enough that Jack’s hand had squeezed a Van Heusen undershirt, but what if he had used the water balloons he had initially suggested to Miss Eulalie? Even lactation wouldn’t have passed as an excuse! With a little yelp of alarm, Jamie pulled quickly away from him, flushing all over. Jack was almost doubled over with noiseless laughter. He knows, Jamie thought. He has to know. Only a perfect fool wouldn’t know the difference between mammary glands and cotton polyester.

Wiping some tears from his eyes, Jack led Jamie by the hand back to the bar.

The jig is up, Jamie thought. Frankly, he was lucky he had gotten as far as he did with this ruse. But now it was definitely time to make accounts.

Sitting on a barstool, Jack leaned on the bar, and asked, “What can I get you?”

What was this, Jamie wondered? Was it possible he still believed he was Elizabeth? Or was he simply playing him along?

“A bourbon and coke,” Jamie said.

“Up north, we have rum and coke,” Jack said, giving Jamie a sly wink. “Now, Elizabeth,” he said, planting his hands firmly on both his thighs and leaning close to him, “let’s hear about you.”

“Me?” Jamie asked, backing away, a look of dread on his face.

“Yes, you.”

“Well, what do you want to know?” Jamie asked with as much embarrassment as if he were answering a doctor’s questions about his bowel and urinary habits.

“For starters, what do you do?”

Careful, Jamie thought. If he told the man too much, it might come back to haunt him. He could see it now. Jack calls the Security Office and asks for Elizabeth. And he could just hear Cynthia asking, “Elizabeth? We got no Elizabeth here!” Of course that wouldn’t be so bad, but what if Peggy were to answer the line.” She was the one who had teased his wig. And friend though she was, or he at least hoped she was, she did pal around an awful lot with an officer, and if word got out there’d be no living it down. Ever.

“I’m a librarian,” Jamie answered.

A dreamily-entranced expression came into Jack’s eyes.

“I knew you had to be one of three things,” he said.

“And what are they?”

“A poet, a painter, or—a librarian,” he smiled.

Jack bought him a drink and then another. The two of them had become so engrossed in conversation that the next time Jamie shifted his focus from Jack to their external surroundings, he saw that the plate-glass windows looking out onto Decatur Street were pitch black. The jukebox was long since silent, and a litter-strewn floor was the only testimony to the presence of other patrons.

Jamie was interested in hearing more about the ex-nun, Jack’s wife.

“You don’t mean to tell me you robbed the cloister?”

Jack chuckled.

“No, she had already given up the veil when we met.”

“Well, to judge by the size of your family, she’s still a good practicing Catholic.”

Jack who, by this point, has become so drunk he could hardly sit up, straightened himself, and planting his hands on his own thighs, said, “Religion has nothing to do with the size of our family.”



Jack took a while before resuming. It seemed he was having trouble collecting his thoughts.

“You want to know why Jan and I have had so many children?”


“Because we feel it’s the duty of every intelligent person on the face of the earth to have as many children as possible.”

“Don’t you think the world is overpopulated enough as it is?”

“Yes, but with what?? Jack stretched out his arms, as if to include everything in sight, an expression of repugnance on his face. “A lot of illiterate, stupid, and oafish people. Now what Jan and I believe is that if enough intelligent people had as many children as the illiterate and ignorant segment of the population do, the number of intelligent people would equal or exceed the number of ignorant people.”

“That makes for an awful lot of people,” Jamie said, shaking his head. “Do you think there’d be enough room for them on the globe?”

“Well, if there’s enough room for stupid people, why not smart ones too?”

“I suppose,” Jamie said, sipping his drink.

“Let’s take you for example,” Jack said, leaning forward, planting his hands on his thighs, and getting that look of intense enthusiasm that still unnerved Jamie.

“Me?” Jamie asked.

“Yes, you! Now, you’re an intelligent young woman. You have a sacred obligation to bring another enlightened person into this world.”

Jamie tried to picture himself lying flat down on an obstetrics table, feet up in the stirrups, and hearing the doctor express an order for an episiotomy. He almost laughed, but didn’t.

“Oh, I’m not so sure I want to have children,” he said.

“But you must!” Jack insisted, his eyes ablaze with an almost fanatical gleam. He tapped Jamie’s knee. “If your lamp goes out without another one to take its place, the world will be a darker place for it. You’re twenty-four, you say?”


“You’ve still got time. Maybe another sixteen years. But don’t wait too long. Already, your biological clock is ticking away.”

Jamie tried to look serious.

“How are your menstrual cycles?”

“Oh, pretty regular,” Jamie said. How strange it was to say this when he had a hard-on.

“That’s good!” Jack slammed a flattened palm down on the wet bar. “Which brings me to my main point.”

“Yes?” Jamie eyed him anxiously. He never knew what to expect from this man.

“Elizabeth,” Jack continued, “my goal is to bring another intelligent person into this world, and very soon. There’s some spirit out there clamoring for conception.”


“Yes, really,” Jack returned with emphasis, hiccupping.

“Well, then,” Jamie said, “you and your wife ought to get to work on it.”

An almost painful grimace distorted Jack’s face.

“Ah, but Jan’s too old now.”

“How old is she?”

“Forty-three,” Jack said in the tone of a physician when he tells the relatives of a terminally ill patient his condition is hopeless.

“Forty-three’s not too old,” Jamie said. “Some women have children all the way up to the age of forty-seven.”

“But the risks!” Jack said, raising his chin, biting his lower lip, and raising his eyebrows. “No! I want to have a normal, healthy baby from a young and reasonably healthy young woman.”

“I see.”

Jamie didn’t like the way Jack looked at him when he said this. It made him feel cornered. He wanted to change the course of the conversation, but Jack went on.

“Like yourself,” he said.

Oh God, this was too much. It was hard enough when that country boy asked him back to his hotel room. But this? No! He couldn’t be serious! Now he’s going to break into a loud laugh, just like when he squeezed my breast, Jamie thought, and tell me to come clean.

But he didn’t. The look of ardor in Jack’s eyes was dead serious.

“Elizabeth, why don’t the two of us bring another enlightened person into this world?”

Jamie looked around himself, as if for something he mislaid.

“I really think I’ve got to be going. I have to work tomorrow.”

“Well?” Jack said, as if he hadn’t heard what Jamie said.

“Well what?”

“Do you want to?”

“Do what?”

“You know what,” Jack smiled. “Let’s make a baby.”


Jack threw out both arms.

“How else? You can’t very well do it alone.”

Jamie suddenly had a vision of Jack whistling to himself as he crawled in alongside of him in the bed of conception, and beginning to fondle him between the legs, saying, “My, that’s the biggest clitoris I’ve ever felt!”

Christ, how was he going to extricate himself from this proposition without blowing his cover? His answer came in an appeal to marital fidelity.

“But you’re married. What would your wife think?”

“Oh, she won’t mind,” Jack casually chuckled. “There’s no one more open-minded than an ex-nun.”

“But what about me?” Jamie asked.

“What about you?”

“I’m not married!”

“So what? There are a lot of single mothers around.”

“Yes, but what will the people say when I go to the library in the family way?”

“They’ll get over it.”

“No, they won’t! Besides, raising a child is a big responsibility. It’d be difficult doing it alone.”

Jack leaned close to Jamie and gave him a sly wink.

“Let me tell you a little secret. You won’t have to worry about taking care of your children. They’ll end up taking care of you.”

What did Jack mean by this?

“Take care of me?” he asked.

“You’ll find out,” Jack said, his mouth moving as delectably as if it were munching on a sugar cookie.

“Having a child must be a painful experience.” Jamie tried to sound frightened.

“Oh, it’s nothing at all,” Jack said with a snap of the finger. “Like rolling off a log!”

Jamie doubted that Jack’s wife would have concurred with this rather off-hand dismissal of the physical pain suffered by a woman during delivery.

“Come on, Elizabeth,” Jack growled good-naturedly. “What do you say?”

“No,” Jamie said.

Jack doubled over with noiseless laughter. What was so funny, Jamie wondered? He wants me to have his child, begs me to have his child, I say no, and he laughs. It made no sense. No sense at all. Unless, of course—of course—it had all been—but why?

Jack looked around himself and asked, “What time is it, anyway?”

“Late enough,” Jamie said.

Jack stood up and began weaving back and forth so much that had not Jamie taken hold of him under his armpit, he would have fallen flat on his face. Jack started to chuckle.

Jamie wasn’t as amused. There was no way this guy would ever get back to wherever he was staying without falling into a gutter, or worse, getting rolled into the bargain.

“Where are you staying?” Jamie asked.

Jack’s face brightened.

“You mean you will?” he asked.

“Will what?”

“Make our child?”


“But why not?”

“Because I’m not ready yet,” Jamie said. “Now, what we’ve got to do is get you home.”

“I’m all right,” Jack said, shaking his arm free.

“No, you’re not,” Jamie firmly insisted, and felt maternal again. “Where are you staying?”

“The Sheraton.”

Jack’s words were so slurred when he said this it sounded as if he had said “the harridan.” Jamie took his arm.

“Come on, let’s go,” he said.

The walk back toward Canal along Decatur was interminably long, retarded by Jack’s uneven gait and periodic loss of balance which, had it not been for Jamie’s support, would have landed him by a curbstone. A light drizzle fell, and the ancient street lamp fixtures, shaped like teardrops, were haloed with the colors of the rainbow. Most of the revelers had long since gone home and were most likely sleeping it off, and the only other sound was the clop of horse hoofs as a carriage rolled down the street.

“They’ll take care of you,” he remembered Jack saying in the bar and wondered if Jack’s seventeen-year-old son had been obliged to perform a similar service for his dad. On any other occasion, to go back to a swank hotel with an attractive middle-aged man would have held great appeal to Jamie, but this middle-aged man’s drunkenness, his apparent impression that Jamie was a woman, and most importantly, that Jack wanted him to have his child had killed the lustful urge of the night and filled him with a feeling of kinship with the man’s son. He couldn’t get the image of that sexily-slouched hip out of his mind, and if he had experienced the physical manifestations of desire in his conversation with Jack, it was only because the latter had played a part in the creation of that hip.

Jack stumbled and fell all the way back to Canal Street, laughing every time he did so, much to Jamie’s exasperation.

When they arrived at the Sheraton, it was obvious from the looks on the faces of the desk clerks that the illusion Jamie had created earlier that afternoon still persisted. But already he felt it fast fading from his own heart. He wanted to put on those tight-fitting levis again.

Taking the elevator to the eleventh floor, the two emerged into the hallway more in the attitude of a nurse helping an invalid than a pair of lovers. Once they were inside Jack’s room, a clean though colorless affair of functional furniture, Jack plopped down on the edge of the bed and said, “Wanna drink?”

“No, thanks,” Jamie said.

Jack reached for a bottle on the dresser.

“And I think you’d do better not to either,” Jamie added. “It’s time to sleep.”

“Ah, yes, sleep!” Jack said, and taking Jamie’s hand, looked with boyish glee up into his eyes. “Tonight’s the night,” he said.

“Tonight’s the night?”

“Why, yes. We’ve got to get that baby going!”

If Jack hadn’t been so drunk, Jamie would have been terrified out of his wits. As it was, Jack wasn’t in condition to get it up, much less rape him.

Jamie smiled down reassuringly at him.

“You’ll find some woman to have your baby with,” he said.

“But I already have!” Jack laughed.

“No, you’ve got the wrong number. I’m a career girl.”

“I know why you won’t.” Jack turned an insinuating little smile upon him. “You’re a virgin.”

Jamie almost burst out laughing and even wondered if he should strip off his clothes and show the man who and what he was. But Jack looked so cute sitting there, looking up at him, and kind of helpless too, like a little boy. Whether Jack believed he was a woman or not no longer mattered. It was obvious he wanted to believe it. And that was all that was important about faith of any kind. Wanting to believe. He, too, had wanted to believe it, at least until he saw the picture of Jack’s son, and then he realized he could only half-believe it. Biology had reared its head. The past too. And of course, the generational difference.

But Jamie could take the realization. He wasn’t sure Jack could. And to test it out on him would be unutterably cruel.

Jamie had created this fantasy, and was responsible that no one other than himself suffer its destruction.

“I’ve got to go,” Jamie said.

Jack raised Jamie’s hand to his lips and kissed it no less fervently than the Count Axel de Fersen might have kissed the hand of the queen he tried to save, Marie Antoinette. For a fleeting second, Jamie almost wished he really were a woman, and could enjoy to the fullest that moment when, exploding after a wild frenzied pushing of pelvises, man and woman exchange identities, if only for a fleeting moment, and became whole people.

“Wait,” Jack said, as Jamie opened the door and entered the hallway.

But Jamie kept walking toward the elevator. He stopped only when he heard, reverberating from the walls, that mournful, plaintive sound that evoked fields of heather, misty bogs, and ruined, abandoned castles overlooking a rocky slope, that sound which never failed to make the hair on his scalp tingle as if shot through with an electric current, made goose bumps crop out on his forearms, and ultimately made him break into convulsive sobs. Why this was so, he didn’t know. Maybe it was because, for him, the sound told of lost love. Looking down the corridor, he saw Jack, looking remarkably sober, bearing a pair of bagpipes.

His friend Peggy once loved a Scotsman and would have died to have a serenade in her honor played like this. In fact, he doubted there was another woman in New Orleans whose femininity was receiving such a high tribute. Peggy would have really drunk this all in. But he could only drink it half in. Jack’s son still occupied his thoughts, and the consciousness that he was but a boy gained greater hold of him. And as it did, the gown felt more strange against his legs, and the situation more ridiculous.

Down the elevator, across the lobby, and on the Streetcar home, he felt Elizabeth slip away from him with greater and greater speed, her gentle voice and manners replaced by the boy in tight-levis with the sexily-slouched hip, the cool dude who said cool things and could get it on with anyone without an ounce of emotional investment.

Was he a woman? Had dress tricked him into believing he was? Or had dress been the key to letting the woman in him out? Was everyone what they looked like, or was all physical appearance only a deception? Are we not what we feel and what we choose to be at any moment?

Troubled by these reflections, Jamie was borne home above the grinding of the streetcar’s wheels before the coach-and-six turned into a pumpkin and six white mice.