Read an Excerpt From Michael Palmer’s Essay, “What Else” in AJ 2015 ON SALE NOW

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Creative Nonfiction Finalist Michael Palmer of Lubbock, TX : What Else:”

“I lived in a tiny basement apartment in Orem, Utah with one roommate. The place was enough of a shithole that even my rosy vision, enhanced by the excitement of living away from home for the first time, wouldn’t allow me to spin it as anything else. It had stained, maroon carpet, and the “walls” that made up our two “bedrooms” were flimsy beige dividers, similar to the cubicle dividers at Western Wats. We shared a bathroom; it looked like there had once been a medicine cabinet in there, but it had been ripped from the wall. Otherwise there was a loosely secured sink and an old bathtub with a showerhead that had been installed by hobbits.

The upstairs of the house was rented by a group of four guys who were in a Christian (“NOT Mormon”) metal band called Adjacent to the Lord. They practiced in the garage, and when they would play, the cereal bowls on our coffee table would shake and vibrate, Godzilla-style.

My roommate was a transgendered woman named Erin. We’d grown up together, and when we first signed the lease, she still publicly identified as a man and went by Chris.

One night, drinking coffee at the Village Inn up the street, just as the caffeine fidgeting started and I thought we were ready to leave a tip and walk back home, she asked me if I’d ever heard of gender dysphoria.

The answer was no, but since the question wasn’t about our usual topics of girls, possible road trips, or hypotheticals about who would win in a fight, I didn’t even say that. Sensing something was coming, I just looked at my speckled mug half full of coffee. In the two am diner light, the coffee looked like grease. I stirred, as if that was a response.

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