Who We Are
Can we talk about something when you get back? Important but not urgent.
Of course. I love you and I’ll be there for you no matter what you need.
I know you will.
That was the conversation via text between Kay and I this morning. It was awkward, especially since we spent so much time together, and I felt a little guilty. But this was something serious. Something I wanted to give both myself and her time to mentally prepare for. Kay was out buying groceries, and I was patiently waiting for her to return, hoping that she wasn’t internally freaking out over anything.
If I was being honest with myself, this was something a long time coming. The way I felt… alien in my own body. I accepted my body as my own, despite the lingering trauma and guilt over how I’d acquired it. Kay had worked through it with me every step of the way, even before we were dating. She compared it to dysphoria, although I still felt like I hadn’t earned the right to call it that.
The door beeped. I sat upright, closing my eyes and letting my circuits flow for a moment. This was going to be difficult to explain, no matter how I approached it. Kay rushed in to set her groceries down. “Hey, you feeling alright? Are you feeling okay to talk?” She was using a tone that I hadn’t heard in years. It was like when we first met at the outreach program. No teasing, no fun and games, just sympathy and patience.
“Yeah, I’m fine. Nothing’s wrong. I just… come on, sit with me.” Kay obliged and pulled up a chair, never taking her eyes off me. Even though I’d rehearsed many times in my head, it still felt difficult to get the words out. “I know you’re worrying, so I’ll tell you up front that it’s nothing about you, or about us as a couple.” Sure enough, the minute lines of tension faded and her chest declined as she silently exhaled. Kay had a good poker face, but I knew how to see through it. “It’s just about my body, and something I want to do with it.”
Kay shook her head. “It’s not just your body. It’s a part of who you are, and you deserve to be happy with it. No matter what that takes.”
I was ready to reply with another dismissive comment, but after a moment I thought better of it. Kay had a good point. “Right. Sorry. Anyway, you know how you’re doing maintenance or we’re swapping my parts out, I have to look away?” Kay nodded. “I have a hard time directly seeing my mechanical parts. Even if I’m fine with you messing around with them.”
“And that’s perfectly understandable. If you want to stop detaching your parts like we have been, I completely understand.” Kay was being patient and kind as usual, but she wasn’t getting it. Not that it was her fault with how I’d been rambling on and dodging the point.
“No, see I want to do the opposite. I want to be someone that’s okay with my body. I want to see the… inhuman side of myself, and be okay with it.” My voice was growing stronger as I spoke. “You know, I’ve never actually seen myself when disassembled. I always flinch and look away. Maybe with some exposure therapy, I can become more comfortable with myself.”
Kay pursed her lips. “I don’t know. You don’t need to feel ashamed of yourself for not being cool with everything. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with having boundaries, and it doesn’t make you any less of a person.” She paused for a moment, a look of concern in her eye. “Besides, I’m sure I don’t need to tell you this, but it’s a combination of trauma as well. This could backfire horribly and make you feel worse than before. Are you sure you want to risk it?”
I nodded. “Yeah, that’s what I’ve been going over in my mind. I don’t know if I’ll be okay or not. You’re right, and I could just end up freaking out and regressing even further.” I hadn’t had any flashbacks recently, but the threat was always lingering under the surface. “But if that does happen, I know you’ll be here for me. It’ll suck, but we’ll manage. And then at least I’ll know. On the other hand, if it does help me with my issues…” My voice trailed off. This was a weird choice, but it was one I felt I had to make. “I know I don’t need to ‘get over’ anything. But I want to at least try. Does that make sense to you?”
After a moment, Kay let out a deep sigh. “Kind of, I guess. I said that I’d support you no matter what, and I meant it. If you want to try it then I’ll be with you every step of the way.” Then all at once she snapped to a more commanding tone. “But we’re doing this properly. No messing around, no mind games, no lying to make me feel better or stop worrying. The second you feel it’s too much you say the word, and if I get the sense you stop responding, I’m pulling the plug. Capiche?”
“I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Although our bedroom was usually where I felt safest, today my nerves were on edge. My bravado from earlier had mostly faded away. I was still certain that I wanted to try this, but now that it was time, I was feeling a lot more anxious. I’d feel like a total ass if this did end up triggering another panic attack, and then she’d have to waste time making me feel better again. That didn’t mean it wasn’t worth trying though. No matter how much I hated it, or what the outcome was, I was ready to face my fears.
Or at least that’s what I kept telling myself.
“Okay. I’m going to start disconnecting you. Are you ready?” Kay’s words were steady, and it was a steadiness that I needed. Something to ground me to reality.
“Yeah, I think so.” Ready to see myself taken apart and dismantled like the artificial fake that I was. I shook my head, trying to dispel the thoughts. That was exactly the line of thinking I wanted to avoid. “Or at least, as ready as I’m going to be.”
Kay reached up and gave my hand a firm squeeze. “Hey, I’m proud of you. You’re taking a massive step out of your comfort zone, and no matter what happens, that counts for something. I’ll be here with you every step of the way, alright?”
I nodded. “Alright.” I didn’t like looking at myself with my parts removed, but that was because it reminded me of the day I was almost killed. I had been ripped from my body and forced into a new one for the amusement of others, and that feeling of danger had never really gone away. But this time I wasn’t with a group of strangers who thought I was basically an object. I was with someone who loved and respected me, and she would do anything to keep me safe. That made all the difference in the world.
The distinct ‘click’ of my genital plate being removed hung in the air. Normally this was where I would lay back and think about anything else, anything to distract me from what was happening down below. Not this time. This time I would force myself to look, to see every part of myself.
I opened my eyes and looked down. Down between my legs, where there was currently nothing. Just exposed joints and electrical parts where things were supposed to connect. The undeniable proof of my mechanical body, and the fact that I could be disassembled and taken apart by anyone with the proper knowledge. And I felt…
“How are you feeling?” Kay was, understandably, filled with worry. I’d been expecting some sort of visceral emotional reaction, but that hadn’t happened.
“I don’t know. It’s really not as jarring as I thought it would be, to be honest.” I stared down between my legs, and traced a finger along the line where my silicone skin met the exposed metal. Nova wasn’t less human when she had metal in her body, and I wouldn’t say that cybernetic implants took away from someone’s humanity. So why wasn’t I just the same? “I’m still me, and I know that. And I’m just not as bothered by myself as I thought I would be.”
Kay looked up at me, tears in her eyes and a proud smile on her face. “You have no idea how happy it makes me to hear that. Everyone’s different, and our differences shift and change all the time.”
I nodded along with her. It was strange, but it felt like I was more comfortable exploring my body now. Parts of my body that previously had been off limits. “It’s weird. I was expecting some sort of intense internal struggle, a harsh mental battle that I might not even win. But like… I’m just okay.” I thought about all the other things I had always shielded myself from, like when my limbs were going under repairs or seeing the lines of code in my brain. I’d never wanted to confront them directly before. “Is it weird that I’m almost more bothered by the fact that I’m not bothered at all? What the fuck is wrong with me?”
Kay pursed her lips. “Well, we all have different boundaries, and we all have boundaries that affect us in different ways. And sometimes those change, without us even noticing.” She let out a deep sigh before continuing. “This is something I haven’t really talked about with anyone before, but before I transitioned, I really hated my dick. I was fully expecting to get rid of it.”
That caught me off guard. “Seriously? You’ve never said anything about disliking it.”
“Because I don’t dislike it. I love my cock now. But for a long time, I was afraid to even touch it. Then at some point after I transitioned, and I was more comfortable with my body… I realised I didn’t have any problems with it.” She shrugged her shoulders. “Part of why I don’t like bringing it up is because I don’t want to say that someone's dysphoria isn’t real or that it’ll go away. But it did happen to me, and maybe you’re going through something similar. You built your walls up when you were first discovering yourself and then never thought about if those walls were still necessary.”
I stuck my finger into the hole between my pelvis, fully exploring the exposed circuitry. “I guess we’ll have to rediscuss boundaries and limits then. Now I have no idea what I’ll be okay with.”
Thankfully, Kay was nothing but supportive. “Want to start now? I can teach you how to put in your genitals so you can do it yourself.” I nodded along, and she began showing me how my own body worked.
It was a little fascinating, seeing how everything clicked into place. I’d always let her handle swapping my genitals around, and this was the first time I was actually watching it myself. I felt the familiar click as my vagina went in, but this time I was able to see how my skin instantly smoothed over to hide any creases. It made me wonder what else we could do.
There was no denying it, I was more comfortable with myself than I had been when we first met. Or even when we first started experimenting with the app. Although Kay and I had spent ages going over our limits, there was no reason we couldn’t go back and see if anything had changed. That, however, would be a discussion for another time. Although I was grateful this experience hadn’t been the trauma-inducing nightmare I’d expected, it still ended up being emotionally draining. And there was no better way to recover than cuddling on the bed with my girlfriend.
The serious conversation wasn’t finished yet though. I was thankful for all the support Kay had given me. For helping me understand myself better and getting over issues that had plagued me for years, or at least so I’d thought. But as great as it felt, there was one more topic that needed to be addressed, something that I couldn’t let fester until it spiralled into something worse. “Alright Kay, now it’s your turn. Talk to me about what’s been bothering you.”
Kay’s eyes bulged in surprise, and she quickly put on the world’s worst poker face. “Wha-what are you talking about?”
“Don’t try to bullshit me, Kay. I know you too well for that.” I wasn’t going to let her weasel her way out of this. “Earlier on, something was bothering you. And I want you to talk to me about what it was.”
“No, that’s…” Kay shook her head. “It’s not important. Today is about you, and the incredible step you took. I know how hard it must’ve been, and I didn’t want to distract you or shift the conversation when you were being vulnerable.”
“And I very much appreciate it.” I wrapped my arm around her and pulled her in for a hug. “But now we’re finished with my issues. We’ve spoken about this Kay, I don’t want you to take on everything yourself. I want you to confide in me when something’s bothering you. And I have noticed, something is bothering you. So please just talk with me.”
Kay was silent for a moment, but she did return my embrace. She waited a bit longer before letting out a deep sigh.
“Do you think we’re codependent?”
Her question hit me like a ton of bricks. I’d been prepared for all sorts of topics, but that was the last thing I’d expected. “I mean, we do rely on each other an awful lot,” she continued. “I don’t know what I’d do without you, Lina. I seriously mean that. And to be honest it’s probably not healthy.”
As much as I hated to admit it, Kay did have a decent point. “What brought this on? Have you been thinking about this for a while?”
Kay shook her head. “Just since our birthday. It got me thinking about just how much I rely on you, and how screwed I would be on my own.” She sniffled into the sheets as she spoke. “You’ve gotta admit, what we have isn’t normal. And I don’t really think that’s a good thing. Lina, I genuinely don’t think I could go a few days without you, and that scares me. What if I don’t actually love you and I’m just afraid to be alone?”
The guilt was crushing me. I hadn’t even thought of it that way, and I hated that she was worrying about it while I was wrapped up with my own emotional baggage. The worst part was I could see her point. Kay was talking about how much she depended on me, but I knew I depended on her even more. Without her I would literally have nothing. Instead of responding I just pulled her in tighter, knowing that my silence said more than any words possibly could. Kay’s quiet sobs only reaffirmed what we both had to acknowledge. Our relationship wasn’t the perfect flawless romance that I acted like it was.
But that didn’t mean I was ready to just give up on everything.
“Did you know that I sometimes wish the advent of sentient AI had never happened?” Kay let out a sharp gasp in shock. “Sometimes I just feel like it would solve a lot of problems, and the world would be a better place without anyone like me.”
“But…. but that would mean…”
I nodded. “I didn’t say it was right, or that I believed it. But sometimes I do feel that way.” Kay squeezed me even tighter, but I kept going. “And Kay, I know that you still sometimes go to those transphobic forums just to read the awful things people are saying. Even though you know it’ll just make you feel shitty afterwards.”
Kay shrunk in her seat. “I know, I’m sorry. I keep breaking myself down and then expecting you to put me back together, and it’s horrible.”
“That’s not- ugh.” I was doing a terrible job of getting my point across. “What I’m trying to say is that yeah, maybe we are codependent on each other. But is that really the biggest issue? I mean, fuck, I’m thoroughly messed up in the head in ways that there aren’t even therapists alive who specialize in it. And there probably won’t be for another decade or so.” I began gently stroking her hair as I spoke. “And I know you’ve got issues as well, as much as you try to act tough.”
Kay sniffled as she wiped her nose on the sheets. “So you’re saying we’re just broken beyond repair.”
“I’m saying that we’re all doing our best to survive in this godforsaken world. If we’re talking about unhealthy things that I do, being overly dependent on you is definitely on the list, but it’s also definitely not near the top.” I had to be careful with my words. The last thing I wanted to do was try to be cute and say something like ‘there’s nobody I’d rather have a toxic codependency on than you.’ “Aren’t we just allowed to accept the fucked up parts of our heads? Does every issue need to be something that we work on ourselves to improve on? You eat way too much junk food, and I sometimes go days at a time without leaving the apartment. And both of us are overly clingy. Yeah it’s unhealthy, but do we really have to beat ourselves up over every single vice? And don’t we have bigger issues overall?”
“I… I guess.” Kay let out a deep sigh. “We really are just all trying to survive, aren’t we.”
“Pretty much.” Her quiet tears had let up, and I was happy to hear that she was returning to normalcy. “But also, I think I understand how you feel when I say that I don’t know if I really love you or if it’s just my programming.” She looked up at me in surprise. “Because when you said you didn’t know if you really loved me or not, no offence, but that was the stupidest shit I’ve ever heard.”
Kay gave me a playful punch on the shoulder. “You ass, I was being honest.” But she said it with a giggle, a sound that always lifted my spirits. “And don’t worry, I was going to say something even stupider.” I cocked an eyebrow. “Don’t laugh at this, but when you were talking about our issues, I was thinking of the world's worst valentines card. ‘I want you to be my overly attached codependent partner.”
I couldn’t help it. I laughed. “Hey, I told you not to!”
“Sorry, sorry.” I kissed her on the forehead. “I love you babe, no matter what way or shape that looks like.”