Perhaps this can serve as a eulogy for my beloved friend and roommate, Maya. She didn’t deserve what happened to her. No one does.
I guess it started with a lecture on the first day of classes that semester. Everything just seemed to go south after that.
The professor’s name is Laura Oxley-Vereen. Remember that. She’s taught here for thirty years, is tenured, and is politically connected. She is untouchable.
Her course is mandatory.
“It’s important to remember who are and who are not your allies,” Oxley-Vereen lectured. “It’s simple, really. Only women are your allies. Real women. Not crossdressers, or ‘transgenders’ as they like to be called. They’re gay men in costumes. Don’t let them convince you they’re anything more than that. They will never experience the issues women endure, no matter how they dress or what they change their names to.”
Low murmurs circled the lecture hall. Maya sank into her chair. Even I could feel the eyes on her. I seethed.
“I know this isn’t a popular opinion nowadays,” the professor continued, undeterred, “but it is a fact of biology. They will never menstruate. They will never be raped and forced to carry the rapist’s baby. And hell, if they worry they’re making less money than their male-presenting coworkers, they can just take off their wigs and scrub away their makeup for a quick raise.”
The lecture went on like this for the remaining 45 minutes.
When it was over, I rushed Maya out of the hall and into the bathroom.
She’d done a tremendous job keeping herself together. But once out of the lecture hall and free from the judging eyes, the floodgates opened. I held her as she sobbed.
Another students entered the restroom. When she saw Maya, she huffed and walked out.
“He shouldn’t be in here!” she shouted as the door closed.
“Ignore her,” I whispered, holding Maya’s shoulders. Her makeup was running down her face in dark streaks.
“I hate this,” she said. “I thought this would be over when we got out of high school.”
“I know,” I replied, dabbing away the streaks with a paper towel. “But it will get better. I promise. It has to.”
Maya nodded and sniffled, forcing a smile. “You’re right,” she agreed. “It has to.”
I don’t think she believed it. I know I didn’t.
That afternoon, I convinced Maya to file an official complaint against Oxley-Vereen with the university, detailing the hateful commentary and radical political positions we thought had no place in a classroom.
For a day or two, I was optimistic. The university code of conduct, which applied to both students and professors, was clear about discrimination policies relating to marginalized groups and individuals. The professor’s commentary was clearly meant to make transgender students feel unwelcome. Unsafe, too.
At a university that prided itself on its progressive values, we believed action would be taken.
On the morning of the third day after the complaint was filed, Maya woke me to show me an email she’d received from someone in her class. It contained a link to a heavily-trafficked feminist blog popular with activists at our university. It was a blog I knew well and had liked for years until they began espousing positions similar to those of our professor.
The headline read, “Men at Skye University Have a Misogyny Problem and Students and Professors are at Real Risk.”
I stared at it for a minute as my blood ran cold.
It wasn’t the article that was most alarming. It wasn’t the exaggerated sensation of danger the author claimed to feel or even the fact it was obviously written by Oxley-Vereen herself – even using some of the same expressions she’d used in her lecture.
It was the photo used right under the headline. It was of Maya – her eyes barely hidden by the thinnest of black bars. It was of the bold, red text over her body that read “DANGER.”
“What am I going to do?” Maya whispered. I could barely hear her.
“Stay here,” I ordered. “I’m going to the university administration.”
And I did.
And. Nothing. Happened.
“There’s nothing here to show that your professor is the author of this article,” I was told. “And Professor Oxley-Vereen was spoken to about the complaint made earlier this week. The source of the complaint was kept anonymous by us, and the professor herself assured us no language that might be considered discriminatory would be used in the future. As far as the photo in the article, we will ensure security is alerted in case there is any backlash against Maya.”
That was it.
We had our next class with Oxley-Vereen that day.
“You don’t have to go,” I told Maya. “You can afford to miss a day or two.”
“No fucking way,” Maya protested. “No fucking way am I going to make it look like that piece of shit scared me away from her class.”
There was fury in her eyes, but also determination. I knew I couldn’t convince her otherwise, and I didn’t think I should try, either. Had I been in her position, I would have done the same.
Maya and I sat next to each other in the lecture hall. We were toward the back, but not all the way. Not so far away it looked like we were hiding.
The lecture began. There were fewer pontifications, as the lecture was more about certain historical figures. I was grateful for that. I had no doubt Maya was, too.
In the final ten minutes, the professor started asking questions to people in the class. It was the classic “have you been paying attention for the last 50 minutes” thing that all teachers do, and that was fine. I had been. Judging by her notetaking, Maya had been too.
A few students were caught off guard by the questions and had to endure the professor’s look of disgust. I got mine right, though. Oxley-Vereen moved on to the next one.
“And Mariusz, what was Abzug’s reason for supporting what is essentially still an apartheid regime?”
No one said anything. I felt my blood pressure rise so quickly I thought I might have a stroke.
“Mariusz? You awake?”
Oxley-Vereen glowered. “Mariusz Nowak, are you ignoring me on purpose or are you just daydreaming?”
I looked at Maya. Her mouth was half open in disbelief.
Mariusz is Maya’s dead name. She hadn’t used it since she was eight years old. Her name was legally changed to Maya at fourteen. No one, not her parents, friends, or even the few angry exes she had, ever called her Mariusz. They would never.
“What the fuck is wrong with you,” I muttered in the professor’s direction. I don’t think I’d ever been so angry. The room narrowed until Oxley-Vereen was just a person-shaped dot in the center of my vision.
“It’s okay,” Maya said, and put her hand on my arm. Speaking in a clear, calm voice, she answered the question.
“Excellent!” the professor crowed. “I knew he’d know.” A few women in the class laughed.
I looked over at my friend. She just stared straight ahead. I turned back toward Oxley-Vereen, who’d moved on to another student. In the corner of my eye, I watched Maya sink down in her seat. In my rage, I saw her whole body flicker like a candle flame.
I needed to calm down.
I held it together for the remainder of the lecture.
When the class ended, I walked with Maya into the hallway.
“Enjoy the rest of your day, Mariusz,” a classmate yelled. Her cadre of friends laughed. I knew them. Young Oxley-Vereen disciples.
Maya all but held me back from knocking the woman’s teeth out.
“Just leave it,” she insisted. “It’s fine.”
But I knew it wasn’t fine.
Nothing was fine.
Over the next couple months, Maya withdrew from the general public. She attended her classes, but didn’t volunteer to answer questions or stay to chat with acquaintances. All she did was go from our dormroom to class and back. Nothing in between. I brought her her meals.
Maybe about a month into her withdrawal, she stopped wearing makeup. She looked leaner, too.
“Maya, what can I do? Please,” I implored.
“Really, Cass, I’m okay. Pretty good, actually. You saw how well I did on my midterms.”
“I know, but there’s more to this than just good grades.”
“Yeah. Well. Let’s take things one step at a time.”
I let the matter drop for another few weeks. In that time, she stopped taking her hormone replacement therapy. When her mustache and beard started coming in, she didn’t shave it. And I’d never seen her so thin.
“I don’t think I’ll be coming back here after this semester,” Maya informed me one night over dinner. I was having some kind of pasta with meat sauce from the dining hall. She picked at pieces of a bagel — the only food she’d had all day. I knew she wouldn’t eat the whole thing.
“That’s probably for the best,” I answered. “You need to get better.”
“I got a notice that if I come back next semester I’d have to be in the guys’ dorms. I guess stopping the HRT was all they needed to tell me that.”
“You can resume it if you wanted to stay…”
Her long hair was unkempt and her nails had gone uncut and unpainted. Flecks of polish had chipped off, revealing paleness underneath. Her scraggly facial hair was still patchy.
“Only one more class left with the cunt,” I said brightly, using my preferred nickname for Oxley-Vereen.
“Yeah.” Maya’s face was blank. I couldn’t help but think how much she looked like her father, but somehow older. I felt terrible for thinking it.
“Is that the last one you have? I have another one after the cunt but that’s it. I’ll be done by two.”
“Yeah. I’m done after that.”
We finished our meals in silence.
The next day, our last of the semester, was a rainy one. We went to our first class. The cunt was there with our exams. When I looked mine over, I grinned. Nothing seemed difficult. I knew I’d ace it. Maya, too. She’d always been a better student than I, anyway. At least the horrorshow of this class could end on a high note.
I finished mine first and handed it to the professor. She didn’t even look at me. I waited near the door for Maya to finish up so we could leave together.
I watched her get up and walk the exam over to Oxley-Vereen’s desk. The professor eyed her the entire way. When she handed it in, Oxley-Vereen glanced at it and broke into an enormous, toothy grin.
“Sorry for the interruption, everyone, but this is important. I just want to congratulate this student for growing so much over this semester. I’ve never seen such a transformation for the better and I want everyone to know how proud I am.”
Maya turned around and walked away while the professor continued. Tears leaked down her cheeks.
“You should be proud of yourself. Truly. And look, you even started using your real name! Bonus points!”
She pointed at the letters scrawled on the exam booklet. Even though I was too far to see exactly what it said, the shape of the letters were obviously “Mariusz Novak.” Not Maya Novak.
“Give Mariusz a hand,” Oxley-Vereen insisted. A few people, mostly her hideous disciples, cheered.
I saw that flickering in my vision again, like a candle being blown by a light breeze.
“Who knows,” the cunt called after her, “maybe if you ace this exam I’ll have to reconsider my position about men being allies!”
More flickering. But it couldn’t have been my vision. The rest of the room was clear. Too clear. Only Maya flickered. In and out, faster and faster as she got closer to the door I held for her.
More muttering filled the class, except this time it was confusion.
Oxley-Vereen beamed as she watched Maya walk away.
“Maya, what’s happening?” I whimpered, as she flashed and flickered in my vision.
She approached me quickly, her face a mask of confusion and suffering. When she got to the door, I could see through her. On the other side, the eyes of the professor shone with something like joy.
I yelped in horror as Maya’s arm passed through my own. I felt nothing but a soft rush of air.
“Goodbye,” Maya mouthed. Before my eyes, she faded into nothingness.
And she was gone.
© Max Lobdell, 2019. May not be reproduced in any format without express written permission.