This is a continuation of last week’s story, and is meant to start conversation in how how we can love our neighbor as ourselves in the way Jesus described when he gave the parable about the “Good Samaritan.”

This week Natasha wrote the story, and I edited it, though Mari and Julia are also readers, before the stories go to print,

“An honest confession is good for the soul, but bad for the reputation.”

Thomas Dewar

The sushi was almost too good for the conversation. Dan closed his eyes as he bit into the first piece, savoring the familiar clean-salt flavor of the fish, before opening his eyes and smiling.

“Well . . . what would you like to know?” Dan asked. “I could just talk at you, but that feels weird. Like giving a lecture. Remember our undergrad TA days?” Dan wrinkled his nose.

Ranger didn’t smile.

Dan had experienced the gamut. Mom’s open weeping. Dad’s uncomfortable laughter, then open rejection. The cut-flower slow death of friendships. While Ranger fiddled with his straw, Dan ate another piece of sushi to keep his hands from trembling.

“Why?” Ranger asked at last.

 Dan looked down, at the plate of cut fish, lined up in neat little rows. “I had to, eventually,” Dan said. “I was so dysphoric, all the time. It was grinding me down. I got really depressed. Stopped taking care of myself, stopped talking to my friends. Started thinking about suicide a lot.” He shoved some ginger around, having trouble looking Ranger in the face. “I—”

“Wait, wait,” Ranger said. Dan looked up, a little surprised. 

“‘Dysphoria’? I don’t even know what that is.”

“Sorry,” Dan said, with a crooked smile. “I’m so used to talking about this stuff . . . Sometimes I forget not everyone’s been obsessing about their gender for decades. Gender dysphoria just means how bad it feels when your body doesn’t match the gender your brain expects. It’s . . . I dunno, like carrying around a backpack full of weights all the time, because everyone insisted you had to. You’d get tired, right?”

Ranger nodded, but he did not look convinced.

Dan let out a long breath. “Sorry. It’s hard to explain. I used to cry myself to sleep over how wrong my body was. Just sob hysterically until I was tired enough to sleep.”

“You say that like it’s normal.”

Dan shrugged a shoulder, dipped a piece of fish into the soy sauce and ate it.

“It was my normal. For a long time. Then it just got to be too much. I had to face facts.”

“Feels like that time when we finally figured out Mark was a doppelgänger,” Ranger mumbled. He sighed, and finally started eating his own sushi. “Were you . . . were you, what? Faking it? The dresses, the laugh?” He could hardly talk, his throat ached.

“I wasn’t faking it, Ranger, I was trying my best to live up to what people expected. I wanted . . . I wanted to fit in, be accepted. I didn’t know I was a man. I didn’t pretend to be a woman.” Dan could feel his stomach clench, remembering.

“It was terrifying accepting I was trans. A lot of people are pretty awful about it.” He stopped again, then said, in a low voice, “Church people, especially.”

“Yeah, what about that? Aren’t there—aren’t there Bible passages about that?”

Dan nodded. “There’s arguments about what they all mean. And I . . . I just have to trust that God still loves me, you know?” He swallowed hard. “I feel like the church should love me, too.”

Dan leaned in, “’You shall love the Lord your God,’” he started, “‘with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” Dan was hitting the table with his finger for emphasis. “’On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.’”

“That’s Jesus talking, in Matthew 22:37-40.” Dan stabbed a piece of octopus with his chopstick and ferried it to his mouth. Chew, swallow.

“You sound kind of . . . bitter?”

“Yeah. Sorry.” Dan pressed his lips together, then hung his head.

“I’ve had a hard time with some of my fellow Christians,” he said softly. “It’s hard not to build up a wall. But I’ve met some really great believers, too. They don’t all agree with me about stuff. But they love me.” Dan looked up. “They treat me like a friend.”

“I know this has to be weird for you.” Dan tried out a smile. “But . . . I’m really grateful you’re having lunch with me, still.”

“Well… yeah. It’s really weird. But you’re still my friend.” Ranger smiled too, weakly.

But for Dan it was like watching the heavens part.

“Just one more question . . . can I buy you lunch, Dan?”

[sushi |]

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