The BubbleMax Delsohn
“Why do you play such dreary music
on Saturday afternoon, when tired mortally tired
I long for a little reminder of immortal energy?”
On the first sunny day of the season, the city of Seattle went to Cal Anderson Park. It wore shorts, tank tops, bikinis, flip flops, sun hats, and cutoff overalls; it lounged on beach towels, jumped for frisbees, clustered under Red Maples, crouched to pet French Bulldogs slobbering exuberantly. It shouted and smiled with alien urgency, and every breath it took seemed to crackle with potential. On the first sunny day of the season, the city of Seattle remembered it was alive.
Like everyone else, I had come to the park in my Sunday best—crisp black muscle tank and salmon pink chino shorts—to see if the warm weather would solve all our problems. What might Seattle become beneath the sun’s luscious yellow spell? Especially here were queers, most of whom I’d seen before, but that was to be expected. We weren’t a small community but there were only so many protests, so many independent bookstores and gay bars. Maybe today would be the day we’d all finally fuck in the grass or bathe naked in the fountain, do something—anything—that broke up the usual rainy, gentrified monotony. Yes, the whole city of Seattle was outside today, but we were the main attractions, the stars of the show, hot for disruption and cruising for newness.
It was in the midst of such fantasizing that I found Hunson, inconsolable, on a hot patch of turf in the park. He looked more glamorous than ever. His Lululemon clad legs stretched out before him, and his peroxide blonde hair blazed with sunlight. Beneath his Ray-Bans, I could tell he had shut his eyes. He looked as if he were in pain.
“I can’t believe she’s done this to me—THEY, oh my god, they.”
I squinted at my friend and asked what he meant. He peered around suspiciously, like he feared being caught with a terrible secret.
“It’s Miranda,” he said. “She’s a they now. She is they-ing out.” Then he spit on the turf, which did not absorb his saliva at all but seemed to showcase it in its slow, grotesque bubbling.
“Since LAST TUESDAY. Since longer! Since forever! You know how these people are. I was really a boy all along or some such crap.”
I laughed a little. “Isn’t that what you said when you came out, too?”
“How dare you compare me to her,” Hunson said gravely. He produced a bubble tea from his purse and sipped from the fat, white straw. “Sorry. To they.”
“What’s their name?” I said.
“Dayton,” Hunson said. “You know, like the city in Ohio.”
“Yikes,” I said. Hunson threw his head back and cackled.
“I know, right? Third name’s the charm, sad sack! Who told this sad sack that naming themselves ‘Dayton’ was a good idea? Where are the gatekeepers when you need them?”
“All right, all right,” I said. Even for Hunson, this was getting a bit much. “Let’s be discreet in our deadnaming of enbys.”
“Ugh,” Hunson said, taking another loud slurp of bubble tea. “Always hated that term. Enby enby enby. It’s so cutesy. I bet Dayton fucking loves calling themselves an enby.”
“Hunson, easy!” I cried. My volume surprised us both. Clusters of people around the park had turned to look at us. Then Hunson stood up and put his hands flat on my chest. He’d done it every time I’d seen him since I’d gotten surgery.
“Darling, is this about the time I accidentally called you Joy without knowing… well, you know,” Hunson said. “I was just trying to say you made me happy. If I had known that you were once literally named—”
“I don’t…” I faltered. “I don’t think you should resort to transphobia to make yourself feel better about a breakup. It’s cruel.”
Hunson pouted. He was mocking me.
“Trans people can’t be transphobic, sweetie,” he said as he picked up his purse and bubble tea. “Besides, you know I’m right.”
I stood still, dumbfounded. Hunson was walking away.
“Right about what?” I called after him. “And yes they can!”
Troubled by this new development with Hunson, I began a lap around the whole of the park in an attempt to cool off. The turf field stopped at the baseball diamond; I cut through the dirt there then walked the concrete path between the dugouts and the basketball courts, where men were playing a lively shirts vs. skins style pickup game. Then I walked past the bathrooms and onto the real grass that covered the larger, north end of the park.
On a small hill towards the back of the park, I saw my friends Denae, Marshall and Abigail arranged in a circle with their backs pressed against each other, as if they were keeping watch. Denae saw me first. They had been marveling at a French Bulldog leaping for a tennis ball before spotting me on the grass below.
“Our friend! Our friend!” Denae cried. I remembered, then, that they had posted a tweet that morning about ‘vibing with Lucy .’
Marshall and Abigail turned to face me. They started chanting along with Denae: Friend! Friend! Friend! Friend!
I waved and walked to the top of the hill. I tried to forget about Hunson and hold onto that vague, shimmering hope as Denae and Marshall made room for me to join the circle.
“Add your back to the core,” Denae said. “We’re so much more powerful with you here.”
“Good,” I said. “How’s the trip going?”
“Is it that obvious?” Marshall said as he leaned his head into mine.
“Relax, Marsh,” Abigail said. Her ponytail brushed against mine. “It’s Cal Anderson. Nobody cares.”
“This shit is good. Really good,” Denae said. Their moved their hands over their neck as if it were a lover’s. “Barry hooked it up.”
“Who’s Barry?” I asked.
“He’s my ex, like ancient ex,” Abigail said. “He grew up here so he has a lot of connections.”
“When we went to pick up, we realized I’d fucked him too, like last week!” Marshall said, grinning hysterically. “Barry gets around! Good job Barry.”
“How was he in bed, anyway?” Abigail said.
“Mediocre,” Marshall said. “Too much eye contact.”
My mind flashed, briefly, to a man I had seen a month or so before. We’d met through Grindr—he hadn’t had a username, but when I entered his apartment, I’d seen a piece of mail addressed to Barry Mercer. He’d had a kitchen scale on the desk in his bedroom and made too much eye contact. But because of Marshall and Abigail’s history, I did not mention this, as it seemed some sort of equilibrium between them had been reached.
“How’s your trip going?” Denae asked me.
“I’m not tripping right now,” I said. “Just soaking up the sunshine.”
“What’s wrong?” Denae asked. I hadn’t wanted to talk about it, but Denae always knew.
“I just had an odd exchange with Hunson. He’s freaking out about Dayton. Did you three hear about Dayton?”
“Who’s Dayton?” Denae said. “Never heard of him.”
“It’s they,” Abigail said. “You know Dayton. Hunson’s last partner.”
“Oh shit, Mir—yeah!” Denae said. “They transitioned? Didn’t see that one coming at all!”
“Neither did Hunson,” I said.
“I’m not super surprised,” Marshall said. “They always had a kind of twink sensibility. Sort of twee twink. Folk twink? I mean who owns that many gingham dresses?”
“True, babe,” Abigail said. “But aren’t they dating a girl now?”
“Yep. Amazon simp, one of those queers who code, total snoozefest,” Marshall said.
“Oh, so that’s what this is about,” said Denae.
“Hunson’s having a crisis of masculinity.”
“Totally,” Abigail said. I could hear the sharp flicker of a lighter, then a long inhale. “He invested his entire gender identity into their masc-femme dynamic. If Dayton’s not a femme—never was a femme—then what does that make Hunson? Back then and now?”
At this Denae turned. “You know, for a straight girl, you’re weirdly queer-competent.”
Abigail took another hit from her joint. “I just listen. Plus all of my friends are gay. Even my ex-boyfriend is gay.” She gestured to Marshal, who shook his hair and whinnied like a horse.
“Maybe there’s a reason for that,” Denae said with a shrug. Abigail snorted, and Marshall gave me a look that said she’s totally into Denae, and the troubled feeling inside me dissipated. Marshall’s eyes flashed with genuine enthusiasm. He was happy for them; it made him look older, somehow.
We sat in the easy quiet at the top of the hill for some time. We talked about our bad service jobs and latest crushes and the ongoing gentrification of the Hill, like the condos that now loomed on all edges of the park, casting unnatural square shadows on the grass and trees, and how nobody knew how to stop it. Then, somehow, the conversation circled back to Hunson. My troubled feeling returned.
“Sometimes I think Hunson forgot he’s trans,” I said.
“It’s like all Hunson is is trans,” Denae said. “Like he’s the Adam of trans guys and every other transition is in reference to his. He’s always had weird stuff about enbys. If you told me he ran one of those truscum Tumblrs in undergrad, I wouldn’t bat an eye.”
“Pretty self-absorbed,” Abigail said. “It must have been really hard for Dayton to come out on the heels of a breakup with a trans guy who has that many followers on Instagram.”
“Nothing makes me want to detransition more than Hunson’s Instagram,” I said.
“Why are you even friends with that guy?” Abigail asked.
“Everybody’s friends with Hunson,” I said. “He’s Hunson.”
“I don’t get it.” Abigail said.
I tensed up and braced to defend my position. But Denae, happily under the influence of their crush and of LSD, responded more honestly on our behalf:
“How many trans people do you think there are in this city? In the world?” they said. “We’re a minority within a minority. We try to be a family. We have to try. Hunson’s like our beautiful, colicky nephew who smears his shit on the crib. If we don’t change his diaper, who will?”
At this, all four of us laughed, and I was glad that nobody spoke further. We looked out onto the throngs of people in the park. More of Seattle had arrived. Some were drinking from brown paper bags; others were openly downing PBRs and cans of wine. The robust goodwill of the morning had begun to morph into something hot and frenzied, lustful and raw.
Over by the fountain stood Tyler, another trans guy who often needed his proverbial diaper changed. I suspected he and Hunson had been fucking again, due to a particular density of fire emojis from Hunson on Tyler’s most recent selfies. He saw me looking and waved me over. I kissed Denae on the center of their forehead, said goodbye to Abigail and Marshall, and walked in Tyler’s direction.
Tyler stood alone on the concrete, shirtless, dipping his fingers into the fountain’s clear water. His top surgery scars blended seamlessly into his sculpted pectorals; abs rippled across his stomach and a sprig of pubic hair poked out of the front of his low-rise jeans. He’d cropped his black curls short and even seemed a little taller. I stole a look at his shoes to confirm; yes, there under his jeans were the same high-tops I’d order from TallMenShoes.com, back when I was beginning a transition of my own. The last time I had seen Tyler was outside of The Rendezvous, where he had tried to pay me a dollar for a cigarette, even though I’d already told him several times that night I’d quit smoking the previous year.
Once I arrived, Tyler pulled me in for a hug. His skin was warm from the sun and bizarrely soft. Guys this pretty always moisturize.
“Been forever, big man! Love the long hair. Seems like the whole city’s out today—Speaking of, you see any Hunsons jerking their jerk selves around here?”
I told him I’d just run into Hunson an hour or so before.
“He’s texting me a ton,” Tyler said. “Totally freaked over Dayton. You hear about that yet?”
I told him that I had.
“So weird. Hunson and I hooked up before I transitioned. Was all for me starting T. He even put in a good word with Dr. Rolfe so I could skip the new patient wait list. Sweet as a rhubarb pie.”
“Huh,” I said. I myself had waited five months to get in to see Dr. Rolfe. And that was considered speedy. Hunson hadn’t offered me the privilege.
“Maybe it’s cause Hunson and I were never a couple,” Tyler said. “Just two horny ships passing in the night.”
“Not passing, then,” I corrected.
Tyler frowned. “That’s fucked up, man. I totally pass. I haven’t been ma’amed since month three.”
“Oh, no, that’s not what I meant,” I said. “You were saying about ships—”
“In fact I was passing at grocery stores and shit before hormones. I’ve been the manliest fag in this city for years, including you, buddy.”
“Woah, woah,” I said. “Your metaphor didn’t make—”
“Hey baby girl, is this man bothering you?” interjected a man stumbling towards us. He was waving around a brown paper bag, spurting drops of liquor on the concrete. He was speaking directly to me.
Tyler raised his eyebrows but said nothing.
“Fuck this,” I said, and started walking away.
“Respect your elders, girlie!” the man cried out. Tyler yelled something after me, too, but I was already gone. I marched into the grass and past a gaggle of toddlers to secure the last available swing on the playground across the park, far away from anyone who cared about passing or Dr. Rolfe or abs.
I did swing for a while. I pushed and pulled the chains and thrashed my feet until I lifted up into the sky. Then I relaxed into the momentum I’d made: the easy pump of my legs, the rusted creak of my back and forth, the sweat on my neck blown cold. The sun was lower now and in my eyes; it washed the park with gold light, Seattle blurred into silhouette, and Red Maples burned hot all around us. We were at that strange hour of afternoon when the world glowed gorgeous and perverse. I swung so hard that at my peak, my chains were parallel to the ground, and I was the highest person in the park, above the drinking and smoking and tripping and flirting and eating and screaming, I was off the ground and lurching out of my body, out and above it all and gone, gone, gone.
When my breath grew heavy and remote, I stopped pumping my legs. I held tight to the chains and let myself pendulum freely until the tips of my sneakers dragged through the sand.
It was at this moment I realized there were no longer children on the playground—just an older lesbian couple with a stroller moving hastily away from the slide. They were fleeing from the adult moaning on the top of the play structure.
“Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen…”
“Nobody knows my sorrow…”
I planted my feet firmly on the sand.
“Hunson!” I said. “What are you doing up there?”
“Who are you!” Hunson cried. He was lying on the platform face-up, but then turned his blonde-tufted head to look at me. “Oh, it’s you. I already talked to you.”
“You’re scaring away the kids,” I said as a mother and her two toddlers rushed hurriedly past. “Why don’t you come down here so we can talk?”
“Down where?” Hunson said. At this he sat up. He had a miniature bottle of Fireball in his hand. He downed it in one gulp then took another out of his purse.
“Come on, Hunson. I’ll share a Fireball with you.”
“Everybody hates Fireball.”
“Not me,” I said. “Let’s talk.”
Hunson huffed. He made a big show of how laborious it was for him to stand up. He bowed. Then he sat down again so he could ride the slide down with his Fireball still in hand.
“Are you still upset about Dayton?” I asked when he arrived at the bottom.
“Gooooood work, Sherlock!” Hunson said. He offered me the half-full mini, which I swallowed hastily. I didn’t really care for Fireball.
“I ran into Tyler earlier,” I said. Hunson whipped his head around.
“Tyler? He’s here? Where? That hot bastard hasn’t responded to my texts all day.”
“He was busy,” I said. “Showing his abs off by the fountain.”
Hunson dissolved into a dreamy, childlike swoon. “Those abs are really something, aren’t they?”
“Why doesn’t Tyler bother you?” I asked.
“Bother me?” Hunson said. “Does he think he’s bothering me? More like I’m bothering him. I can’t get the boy to shoot me a damn text!”
“No, I mean like the fact that he transitioned. He was out as a cis lesbian when you two first met.”
“Oh,” Hunson scoffed. “Tyler was always already a boy. He’s the butchest thing this city’s ever seen. I saw his transition coming a mile away. We were always two boys, together. God, that was back in my bottom phase. Never again. I’m waaaay too atrophied for that.”
“So you’re upset about Dayton because… you didn’t predict their transition beforehand?”
“No!” Hunson said. He stuck his hand defensively in his purse. “I’m upset because Dayton’s copying me.”
I laughed. Hunson glared and pulled out another mini.
“I have proof. They’re seeing Dr. Rolfe, my doctor.”
“So is Tyler!”
“Because I got him in there. I get everyone in there. Unless you’re Dayton and you don’t come to me!”
“That isn’t proof, Hunson. And you didn’t get me in there.”
“Well what about this—they got my same haircut from my same hairdresser.”
“Who, Blazer? He’s the only out FTM hairdresser in town and his salon’s right next to Queenies. And half of Lex has your haircut.” I gestured to his One Direction knock-off cut. Hunson stamped his feet.
“No, no, no, you don’t understand. We dated for two years—”
“On and off.”
“Yes, we dated for two years, on and off—and in those two years, they never mentioned transition once to me! We talked about how happy they were with me as their masc, her as my—THEY—as my femme. It was our sex, our dance, our banter, our clothes, our pet names, our sex, our…everything.”
Hunson hung his head.
“You said sex twice,” I said.
“Well I meant to!” Hunson cried, then finished his mini. “It was good sex. But she was thinking about being an enby the whole time.”
He swallowed hard and watched a French Bulldog puppy trundle its way toward a dandelion.
“They won’t even talk to me about it now,” Hunson said with tears in his eyes. “They didn’t want my help with coming out, my input, nothing. I’m nothing to them.”
“How many of those minis have you had today?”
“One,” Hunson said. “…teen.”
“They don’t need me!”
I pulled out my phone as Hunson sobbed into his hands. I started to order him a Lyft—private, so he could not inflict himself on anyone else—but Hunson resumed his blubbering.
“Dayton’s jealous. You’re all just jealous! You basically copied me, too. Copier! Remember when you came out and we went to Value Village and you bought all the same kinds of clothes? Two flannels, two button-downs, two nasty pairs of khakis. I should never have bought those khakis, and you shouldn’t have either! No originality! That’s why I never got you into Dr. Rolfe—because I knew you’d copy my hormone dose and get all the same surgeries and look exactly like me!”
I looked up at Hunson and laughed in disbelief.
“You slippery little fuck,” I said. Hunson held my gaze until I shoved my phone in my pocket and began to walk away.
“Yeah, get out of here!” Hunson cried. “Copy cat! Copy… copy pussy!”
As the sun began to set, I realized I hadn’t eaten since breakfast, so I began walking back through the park, towards the baseball diamond and the turf and the cheap Mexican food place with the glass bottles of Coke that I liked. Raggedy pink and orange clouds tore across the sky. My stomach gurgled; I had gotten so caught up in Hunson’s melodrama I had entirely neglected lunch.
The pink and oranges clouds were to blame, I thought. What did I think was going to happen at Cal today? What did I actually believe was possible? I was always destined to run into a soulless Barbie like Hunson and waste this precious daylight, because I was still in the same queer community with the same embarrassing fucking hang-ups. Seattle was still Seattle, and we were never, ever, ever going to stop talking about shit that didn’t matter. Not even for the perfect sunset.
I arrived at the turf. On the soccer field in its center sat a dozen, giant inflatable spheres with clear, empty columns down the center. I stopped to watch as a group of people climbed into these bubbles so that only their legs were exposed. Once everyone was situated in their respective bubbles, they began playing a clumsy version of soccer. Players waddled down the field until they lost control of their bubbles and went rolling forward; others pursued the soccer ball at full speed from opposite directions and rebounded off each other before either foot could make contact.
Everyone in the bubbles had the same shirt on: a lime green tee with white lettering on the front. I could not read what the shirts said—the plastic of the bubbles warped the words—but I could tell it was a sort of organization or company they had in common. The whole thing reeked of team building.
My stomach roared, but I sat down anyway. I had never seen anything like this before. After so much predictable, pointless conversation, I needed a little novelty, even if it was, well, this.
The bubble ball players—mostly in their 40s and 50s, all white, all cis—seemed to be having a marvelous time. One woman tried to kick the ball but instead flew backward as if on a cartoon banana peel and landed on her bubble’s back; she whooped with laughter until she burst into happy tears. One man, who had managed to keep a visor on inside his bubble, was taking the game very seriously. He had figured out how to maneuver his bubble more efficiently than the others, and how to lean to one side and crane his foot towards the ball before his opponents. When he scored the first goal of the game—a ball kicked from half field that trickled into the center of the net—he did a bubble body-slam with another man on his team and bellowed with abandon.
As the bubble soccer went on, more and more people began to gather on the sidelines. They brought their burritos, their ice creams, their brown paper bags of alcohol. I saw Denae, Abigail and Marshall on the other end of the turf; they were propped against the chain-link fence of a dugout, watching the game in awed silence.
It was then that I noticed Dayton, sitting alone and watching the game.
They were several feet away from me, far enough so that I could stare for a little while without them catching on. They sat on a picnic blanket littered with two tote bags, water bottles, Gatorades and cans of wine. Their hair was short and swept to the side, not unlike Hunson’s, and they wore a muscle tank and chino shorts, not unlike mine. Their shorts showed off their leg hair, which looked thicker than it had in the past. Was Dayton on T? How did they jump Dr. Rolfe’s wait list? As soon as I had this thought, I cursed myself for thinking it. Then Dayton turned in my direction to grab one of the cans of wine behind them. I jerked my face away.
Really, I hardly knew Dayton; they only knew who I was because Hunson and I were friends, plus the usual run-ins at Timbre Room or wherever else. Why should I care if Hunson deadnames them? Why should I stick up for some just-hatched enby? Why think about Dayton or Hunson or Tyler or any of these people for more than one miserable minute? Dayton only ever glared at me anyway, no doubt because of my continued association with Hunson after their breakup. If I got too drunk at the bar, they wouldn’t help me find a ride home—they’d look on and laugh in judgment. Wouldn’t Tyler do the same? Denae’s ‘trans family’ speech was a pipe dream. Or it was one big family of babies. Just babies smearing shit all over each other and calling it ‘community,’ selfish, boring babies doomed to babyhood for life.
Somebody blew a whistle. First quarter over. The bubble soccer players shimmied out of their bubbles and visited the sidelines to hydrate. The woman who had whooped until she cried came over to Dayton. Dayton stood up, dusted off their flannel, and lifted the woman’s face into a kiss, too soft and sensual for the moment. Then the woman grabbed Dayton by the hand and dragged them over to the bubble she had just exited.
“You gotta try the bubble real quick!” the woman shouted. “Before Jared sees!”
Dayton’s eyes darted over to the man with the visor, who was now sitting in a lawn chair and bouncing a small child on his knee. Then Dayton gave the woman a mischievous raise of their eyebrow and jogged over to the bubble. They were still giggling as they wriggled their way inside.
But once surrounded by the bubble, Dayton stopped laughing. They only stood there, staring around at the rest of the park as we stared back at them, their thin body stiff, their hands at their sides. They scanned the various onlookers until their eyes locked with mine.
Dayton’s hands flexed and their eyes grew wide. The whooping woman grew concerned. She turned to face the bubble.
“Who is that? Hunson?” the woman asked loudly. Dayton shook their head and began to explain, but they were interrupted by a terrible scream from the sidelines:
“Get out of there, tiny! You might get lost in there!”
It was Jared, the man with the visor. He was still holding the child but standing, now. He held a straight face for a moment, then burst out laughing. The rest of the bubble players laughed with him, including the whooping woman, who laughed loudest of all.
Dayton frantically clawed at the inside of the bubble to lift it off their body. They ran back to their spot on the picnic blanket and buried their face aggressively in their phone.
It was then I noticed that, spilling out of one of their tote bags, was a copy of Stone Butch Blues. I did not recognize the cover—it was different than my own deteriorating, awful copy. Theirs appeared to be a newer version; in fact I had never seen a copy of Stone Butch Blues so unmarked, so glossy.
It must have been Dayton’s first time reading it. Their first time reading Stone Butch Blues.
I walked over to the picnic blanket and sat down. Dayton did a double take as I approached but did not speak. I clapped my hand on their back and whispered, “You getting much reading done?”
Dayton smiled and shook their head. I felt them lean back into my hand. Then they opened a can of wine and pushed it towards my face.
I made myself comfortable on the blanket, took the wine in both my hands and drank.
Max Delsohn is a writer whose work appears in or is forthcoming from McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, VICE, The Rumpus, Nat. Brut, Passages North, and Triangle House, among other places. They have been awarded residencies and fellowships from the Constance Saltonstall Foundation for The Arts, Mineral School, and Hugo House. They are currently an MFA candidate in fiction at Syracuse University.
Originally published in Moss: Volume Seven.