“Subtle Poison” by Lucas J. W. Johnson from Speaking Out: LGBTQ Youth Stand Up (Bold Strokes Books, 2011).

Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t this the first story in the project to feature a transgendered protagonist? This anthology is the most diverse one featured so far. Go back to number 102 and read forward to see for yourself if you don’t believe me.

Why is this is such a difficult concept for some people? A person is who they feel they are, period. I have a friend from back in the day whose outward appearance didn’t match the person she was inside. And by “back in the day” I mean when we were part of a group that lived by the motto “invoke often” and words like, oh, “skyclad”. It still wasn’t that difficult. Listening and hearing – are they really that much of an imposition?

Alex comes out as a boy to his friends at the start of this story. School is a scary place for all of them, but for Alex, whose parents are fundamentalist Christians, there’s no semblance of refuge anywhere. I’ve noticed with this collection that the story worlds are getting darker as we go, moving from total acceptance; to sometimes tense interactions; to name calling; to the threat of physical violence; and now to actually experiencing that violence, and more. I’ll let you find out for yourself where else the story goes. I will say there’s one more element to this piece that we haven’t seen up until now: substance abuse. Alex, the narrator, and their friends get drunk before school and re-fuel while there every day, desperate to escape whatever way they can.

One last thing. There’s a device that makes the ending of the story work. Coming from a quirky family, I didn’t bat an eye at it. Therefore I did not foresee how it would impact the outcome of the tale, and I was fully immersed by the conclusion and moved by it. Which is exactly how it should be.