John Watson asks, is that your real name, and you pause for a second and say no.
You were born Anthea Westermarck, christened in a pink dress with bows on the collar. Anthea, Greek for flower: you were livid when you found out, jealous of all the other girls whose names meant strength or courage or power. Your very name condemned you to femininity, to short skirts and the demure flutter of eyelashes, because it was what was expected of you.
You were born Anthea Westermarck and you lived as Anthea Westermarck for over two decades before you ever realized there was an alternative. Your life was a series of thought-you-weres: at seven, you thought you were a tomboy; at thirteen, you thought you were a lesbian; at eighteen, you thought you were a freak, caught between two extremes, confused and unable to compromise.
At twenty-one, you found a sort of equilibrium. You dressed androgynously, trimmed your hair, pressed yourself into the liminal space between male and female where you fit, almost perfectly, for years. When you started to outgrow it, when the compromise became erasure instead of freedom, you panicked: you picked a direction, and you fled.
At twenty-three, you started to live as a man. You threw out your old wardrobe and quit your job and picked your brand-new name out of the paper: James Moore, round and smooth like a glass marble on your tongue. You rented a tiny flat and got hired as an office boy; your coworkers drew their own conclusions, and you let them. You taught yourself how to walk with your hips stiff and your shoulders squared, how to knot a tie around your own neck, how to give up your seat on the tube, how to buy a woman a drink. You thought you had finally found who you were meant to be.
You were James Moore until the morning you turned twenty-five and the name fell to sand in your mouth. All that remained was Anthea, and you tucked her close to your heart and held her there, still and quiet and scared.
You never expected to end up working for the British government.
But then again, you've never expected most of the things that have ever happened to you.
The first day you came to work as Anthony went like this:
You woke up, brushed your teeth, took a shower. Made a quick breakfast and checked your Blackberry for any new messages, thumbed perfunctorily through the Times. You took only eight steps from your front door before suddenly the outfit you were wearing felt abhorrent, felt wrong; you nearly broke your ankle in your rush to get back inside, to toe off your heels, to unzip your skirt and fling it hastily to the floor.
For one and a half years, you'd kept a box taped shut in the back of your closet, covered by your spare duvet. You'd never needed a label to know exactly what lay inside.
You arrived at the office wearing an extra layer under your shirt, sharply-pressed trousers instead of immaculate, run-less stockings. Your passcard let you in (a face that wasn't yours, not that day), and you made your way up the endless staircase to your boss's office, feeling something vaguely akin to fear in the pit of your stomach.
You took a breath, and knocked once before walking inside.
If he was surprised to see you (and he must have been—or perhaps he wasn't, perhaps he'd read this in you from day one and was simply waiting for it to happen), he didn't let on. He regarded you with the same cool, calm interest with which he had always regarded you, taking in the low ponytail at the back of your neck, the minimized swell of your chest that you'd never completely be able to hide without surgery, the way you stood with your feet shoulders' width apart, just so.
He folded his morning paper crisply along the lines, rose behind his desk, said: Mycroft Holmes. I don't believe we've met.
You tried not to shake as you held out your hand. Anthony Westermarck, you said. The pleasure is mine, sir.
As Anthea, you look nothing like your mother.
As Anthony, you look everything like your father.
Your last girlfriend thought it was cute, at first. She ran her hands over your lapels and down into the waistband of your altered trousers, leaned up to kiss you with a laugh in her mouth. My charming man, she said; two weeks later she was no longer charmed, and she cried for the remainder of the month before finally handing back your spare key, entirely willing but entirely unable to understand.
Your last boyfriend loved men. He adored the outside of you, your sharp sense of style, your low-pitched laugh, your precise mannerisms; but he would only fuck you in the dark, hands searching in vain for the nonexistent sharp edges of your body. You asked him to move out four days shy of your one-year anniversary, sat at your kitchen table with your head in your hands, your chest heaving underneath your bonds.
Your last boss claimed he fired you for the quality of your work. You had never been anything less than perfect, and this you both knew.
You're given a substantial bonus a few months afterwards, seemingly for no reason (the date bears no significance, but only within your own personal knowledge). Your salary is already far above that of a typical PA, but your employer is eminently practical, and you've never been one to question generosity. That weekend you buy Chanel pumps, two new dresses, and a handbag to match; one weekend later you blow the other half of the cheque on a new suit and a set of Yves Saint Laurent loafers. The first time you wear them, you end up glancing at your feet so often you nearly trip down your own front steps.
Gradually, the closet in your flat begins to split: neatly divided like that of a married couple, one side hers, one side his, a row of delicate blouses across from starched shirts. The harmony pleases you in a way you can't define, the two halves complementing each other perfectly. Each item is quietly stylish and extremely well-crafted: you're expected to look your best at all times, no matter which one of you shows up to the office on that particular day. Appearances are everything, after all.
There are certain people you are constant around. You know their susceptibility to a flash of cleavage or a whiff of cologne, or you might see them so infrequently it's an inconvenience to have to explain. You are female for instances when it's to your advantage to appear approachable, submissive, or even vulnerable; for the sake of boarding airplanes unimpeded. You are male for the authority it gives you, for the way people take your words more seriously, for the greater distance afforded to you by strangers.
The younger Holmes brother is callously misogynistic, and you learned early on that you had to be Anthony to merit even the barest courtesies. In a skirt you're invisible to him; even when you're wearing men's clothes he still calls you Miss Westermarck, smirking with one side of his mouth, daring you to correct him. You've learned to cope with it: to tamp down the bile rising in your throat when someone uses the wrong pronouns; when you're Anthea and someone asks if you're in drag; when you're Anthony and someone calls you beautiful instead of handsome.
You are always Anthea to your mother until the day you choose not to be. (The two years that you were James, she thought you were travelling abroad: you weren't ready to break her heart just yet.) You sit across from her in your parents' kitchen, wearing your finest suit, as she cries delicately into a handkerchief; you are expecting the worst and it surprises you when she reaches for your hand, says, I always knew you were a boy, asks if she can be there for the surgery.
It takes a second, but then the disappointment materializes: it's only a shade of what might have been, but still it weighs heavy in your chest. Your shared blood hasn't given her insight; she can't comprehend that what you are trying to explain is something bigger, something more vast and complicated than simply choosing which road to take, which door to open.
You've thought about surgery before, about how much easier it would be to pass for male, how much dissonance you could eliminate on those days when your female body doesn't quite match your mind. The days when you wake up and there is a strange, foreign weight on your chest. The days when you can't bear to touch yourself intimately, knowing fully what your body lacks. But other times, you feel absolutely at peace with your body, and you find yourself beautiful: the roundness of your breasts, the soft skin of your abdomen, the curves of your hips and thighs, the slickness of your sex. Other times, you feel gloriously right.
Maybe you're making it hard on yourself. Maybe it would be easier if you relinquished the struggle, picked a side, stood firmly in one place. You never chose this, and it's never been easy, but recently you've wondered if you might be one of the lucky ones: standing with a foot on either side of the spectrum, straddling the world.
He touches you one night. Just the barest brush of fingers against wrist, light enough to be accidental if he were a less purposeful man, a less calculating man. But if there is one thing Mycroft Holmes is not, it is careless—and the context terrifies you, makes the worry coil in the pit of your stomach. You excuse yourself politely and lean against the other side of his closed study door, panicking for the first time since you first introduced him to your other self. It's Anthea he's touching, your feminine grace and lush figure he wants, not your masculine solidity and flattened chest; the small, simple gesture has upset the balance irreparably.
You stay Anthea for three entire weeks after that night, waiting (hoping, willing, needing) for it to happen again. You take late-night brandies in his office, sit a hair's-breadth closer to him in the back of the car; terrified he'll make another move, desperately wishing he would. You give him every opportunity to repeat himself, and he takes none of them.
Eventually you return to work as Anthony, even more buttoned-down than usual: covering your uncertainty with professionalism, looking sharper and crisper than ever. And that's when he kisses you for the first time, soft and chaste, a half-empty glass held steady in the space between your bodies. You start to protest, to push him away, but he cuts you off. His eyes are very, very blue.
I would not have done this, he says, had I not been fully accepting of all that this entails: of all that you are. And then he kisses you again, full of heat this time, and you let him.
Sometimes there is lace and silk strewn across the bedroom floor; sometimes there is a second dress shirt, a second pair of trousers, a second tie. Sometimes his fingers peel away stockings and garters, sometimes a compression shirt and plain cotton shorts. But it doesn't matter: his hands on your body are always the same. Gentle and reverent, unwrapping you slowly, never disappointed with what they find underneath.
John Watson asks, is that your real name, and you pause for a second and say no.
That would imply you only have one.