“Does anyone want seconds?” asked Maureen, voice high and artificially chipper.
“No,” said Regan. “No one wants seconds. No one wants to keep sitting here, when we’re supposed to be talking about what’s wrong with me.”
“There’s nothing wrong with you,” said her father, and quailed as Regan turned an imperious, oddly adult glare on him. In that moment, he saw what it was going to be like when she was grown and no longer required to bury her ideas and desires beneath those of her parents. She was going to be a force of nature, and woe betide anyone who stood in her way.
“We already had that part of the conversation, dear,” said Maureen, pushing back her chair. “All right. Let’s do this in the living room, like civilized people.”
Regan tumbled from her chair in a very uncivilized manner, nearly tripping over her own feet in her rush to move on to the next part of the evening. Her father rose more decorously, pausing to wipe his mouth. Hugo Lewis believed in the importance of table manners. He knew they were small in the greater scope of things, but they were concrete and predictable, and something to hold on to when the rest of the world spun out of control.
“We can clear the table later, come on, come on,” said Regan, impatient as only a ten-year-old can be, and fled to the living room, taking a seat on the couch and practically vibrating as she waited.
She didn’t have to wait long. Her parents followed her, expressions matched and solemn, shoulders almost touching. She looked from one face to the other and frowned.
“You’ve been waiting to have this conversation,” she said, more confused than accusing. “How long?”
Neither of them answered.
“How long?” Regan repeated sharply.
“Since before you were born,” said Maureen. Regan focused on her, bewildered, and Maureen continued, “When you’re pregnant, you want to be sure everything’s going the way it’s supposed to. That means you have a lot of tests done, on both yourself and the baby, to check for signs that something’s wrong.”
Regan blinked. “So something is wrong with me.”
“No, honey, no. There’s nothing wrong with you. That’s what all those tests told us. That we were going to have a perfect, wonderful, absolutely beautiful daughter. There was nothing wrong with you then, and there’s nothing wrong with you now. You are the way nature intended you to be. Horse-crazy and not very interested in math and too fond of cauliflower for any ten-year-old girl.” Maureen forced her tone into something light and airy, hoping to coax a smile from her daughter.
Regan’s expression didn’t change. “So what is it?” she asked.
Hugo sighed. “One of the tests we ran came back with some concerning results,” he said. “It meant running more tests. More invasive tests. One of them gave us a snapshot of your chromosomes.”
“And your chromosomes are XY, instead of the XX the doctors expected to see when they ran the tests. You have what’s called androgen insensitivity. That’s why you haven’t started puberty yet. It’s why you may never start a standard female puberty on your own. If you hadn’t shown signs by the time you turn sixteen, we were going to take you to see Dr. Gibson and discuss artificial hormone treatment.”
“Sixteen?” demanded Regan, scandalized. The other girls were already starting to shut her out for being babyish and not maturing as quickly as they did. Sixteen was halfway through high school. Sixteen was practically an adult. If she had to wait until she was sixteen to experience things some of them were experiencing now, at ten and eleven, she’d never catch up. They would leave her behind forever, and none of them would look back to see if she was following. They’d forget about her.
Something else her father had said clicked into place, flooding her mind with a painfully bright white light. “Chromosomes?” she squeaked. “Aren’t those the things that say whether you’re a boy or a girl? I thought only boys had Y chromosomes. I’m not a boy. I don’t want to be a boy!” Her voice, which had started out reasonably soft, grew louder with every word, until it was peaking and spiking like it was about to break.
“You’re not a boy,” said Maureen soothingly. “If you feel like you’re a girl, then you’re a girl. You’ve always been our daughter. You’re just also part of a small percentage of the population who are considered intersex, meaning your body has its own ways of regulating things like hormone production. Some intersex people are more clearly a blend of what doctors would consider male and female attributes; that wasn’t the case with you. There was no surgical intervention or modification after you were born—not that your father and I would have approved that if the doctors had wanted to do it. You are exactly as you were meant to be.”
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