The following story is based on true events. It contains very graphic imagery which might shock some readers. It is not recommended for younger readers.
It was late as Rochelle crossed the main street towards Mosman Park. She left behind the flickering streetlights and entered the unlit path of the park, dragging her fingers through the shrubs of wattle that lay along the pathways. The wattle flowers crumbled at her touch and its petals speckled her sleeve. The smell reminded her of home and she smiled at the thought, then she remembered she was no longer welcome there. Perth was her home now. She felt tired and removed her heeled shoes, trying to resist the habit of slipping back into a masculine gait. When she lived in Melbourne she had only worn her female clothes inside her house and mostly at night. She had been too afraid to be seen by anybody who might know her family. Her father already thought she was a disgraceful son. She had once thought she could be both his son and his daughter.
Her father already thought she was a disgraceful son. She had once thought she could be both his son and his daughter.
The oestrogen pills had made her slimmer. Her clothes no longer chafed. Her new physique fascinated her. Breasts had begun to bud on her chest. They were small but they were hers.
Thoughts of her family drifted easily into her head. Her sister would be graduating from college soon. I wonder if she has a boyfriend now? She remembered, the previous year, laughing with her sister, Sabah, about a boy in her chemistry class. Sabah had tried to visit Rochelle whenever her father took business trips. After announcing her crossover, or as her father called it her “illness”, Sabah was forbidden to contact her brother.
“He’s so cute!” she had laughed.
“Is he Lebanese?” Rochelle had asked, “Good Lebanese girls must find a sensible Lebanese boy!”
“Yes he is, but I would never tell Dad, you know how he would react.”
“I do,” Rochelle said. They had a moment of silence. Both siblings recalled the events that led to Jamil’s exile. Rochelle placed her hand on Sabah’s shoulder. She was the only family member who had seen Rochelle in woman’s clothing.
“Jamil, I miss you.”
The cool ground of the path was soothing to her blistered toes. Her body was slimming but her feet remained the same. Ten minutes till I am home, what the hell. She relaxed her shoulders and allowed her legs to take larger strides. Her weight shifted to her thighs and her knees relaxed. Without her high heels her feet were freed from the weight of her upper body. She allowed her arms to sway. The awkward movement of her body delighted her, she felt a stranger to the person she had been running from. She didn’t notice the footsteps behind.
“You fucking queer!” she heard and turned. She recognised the voice, Jeremy, an ex-colleague from the call centre from which she had just been dismissed.
“You wanted to see me?” she asked her boss, and entered. He looked askance at her and tapped his fingers on the desk. His office was situated amidst the labyrinth of grey cubicles: grey carpets, grey false walls, and grey computers. The telephone company they worked for made attempts to brighten the scene with coloured primary school paper and signs declaring: “Wear Your Pyjama’s to Work!” or “80’s Dress-day” etc. Her boss’s glass office walls provided a clear view for the employees to witness. She could see necks craning, bored employees eager to be distracted by petty intrigue.
“We have a problem, Rochelle,”
“Have I done something wrong?” she asked.
“No. But you make the other staff uncomfortable. This isn’t working out. We’re going to have to let you go.”
“I haven’t done anything wrong. Mr Simpson, please, I need this job.” She searched his face, she wanted to look into his eyes and find the reason. But she knew. It was always the same.
“I’m sorry Rochelle. You don’t belong here. I think it’s best if you finish at the end of the day.”
He looked down at his desk. She rose from her chair and stared at him. He returned her stare, for a moment. Had she seen regret? No, embarrassment.
“I’m sorry you feel like that.”
She returned to her desk and kept her head low. The other employees either stared or ignored her presence. The fluorescent lights hummed above her, leaving her further exposed. It’s never going to change. She would not acknowledge her tears.
Two men she didn’t recognise were standing with Jeremy, their faces obscure in the dark.
“Look boys,” Jeremy motioned at Rochelle. “This is the fucking queer.”
She faced them. She had been harassed before, so often she had become somewhat immune. But never followed. The release of adrenaline through her body surprised her. Can they hear my heart beating? Lifting her shaking hand she pushed her hair from her eyes. She stood upright, as a man she had been considered tall, a strong rower.
“Jeremy. I have been fired. I won’t bother you anymore.”
“He thinks he’s a woman. Thinks his dress hides his dick.” They laughed and advanced on her. She turned and ran.
Jamil began boarding at Wesley Boys College after his thirteenth birthday. He had intended to continue to the local private school with his friends. The plan changed when his father found him dressed in his sister’s clothes, applying her lipstick in the mirror. The event was not discussed and he was too afraid to fight his father’s decision. Wesley College was three hours from home, in the city. The weekend he was dropped at the college, his mother cried and stayed in the car.
“I’ll walk you to the dormitory,” his father said.
“Ok” replied Jamil. His mother did not return his gaze. He hurried behind his father’s large steps. The building was nearby, its red bricks stark against the trimmed lawn.
Jamil and his father climbed the two stories of dark wood stairs until they reached his allocated room. They walked past parents and children saying goodbye. Jamil opened the door: 345a. Empty. The other three haven’t arrived.
It was quiet. His father inspected the room, pausing to stare out the window. His manner was rigid, distracted. Suddenly he took Jamil’s hand and said, “You are my only son. Stay out of trouble. This school is going to help you.”
“I know,” replied Jamil.
“You should start unpacking your clothes,” his father said and opened the door to leave. He stared at Jamil for a moment.
“Bye Dad,” Jamil stood by the bed. His father nodded and left the room.
Jamil sat on the bed and looked at the room: four single-beds, each in a corner, two small windows in the eastern wall. Both the walls and bed covers were a pale green. Footfalls and boys’ voices sounded from the hall. Jamil felt his pocket and took out a red lipstick he had stolen from his sister’s room. He opened the capsule and smelled it. He loved the smell. After a knock, the door opened. He hid the lipstick quickly, fumbling it into his pocket.
A boy with red hair and freckles poked his head in.
“Do you know where the lunch is served, mate?”
“Uh no, sorry.”
“I think your hand is bleeding” the gangly kid pointed at Jamil’s hand. Lipstick was smeared between his thumb and index finger.
“It’s nothing,” replied Jamil. “Actually, I think the lunch is served in the Garry Hall building.”
“Thanks,” replied the boy and left.
Jamil rose and walked to the window. He opened the window and took the lipstick out of his pocket. He smelt the lipstick once more and threw it out the window.
They were behind her. She felt a hand grab her shoulder and push her to the ground. Her face smacked against the asphalt. Blood filled her mouth. She yelped, feeling kicks to the side of her body. She tried to cover her face from their boots.
“Shut the fuck up, queer.” Their force surprised her.
“Drag her here,” said Jeremy, nodding to the bushes.
Hands groped her armpits, lifting her. She struggled. A gut punch. She could not scream (or breathe). A hand was covering her mouth. They are going to kill me. Jeremy put his face up to her own and grinned.
“We’re going to have some fun Rochelle. See how much of a queer you are.” He grabbed her testicles under her skirt and squeezed.
She screamed behind the smothering hand and the three men laughed. She tried to look away, but Jeremy fixed his gaze on her own. His eyes terrified her. She knew people didn’t understand or accept her. She learned that lesson after telling her parents the truth, she had been a failure, a disappointment, but why did these men hate her so much? Dad would say this is my fault.
Jeremy tore off her skirt. One man stood watch. He wouldn’t look at her. Jeremy took off her underwear; her penis and testicles were exposed. No No No No No No.
“Not much of a lady, Rochelle,” Jeremy said. “Flip her around,” he said to the others.
The hand around her mouth was released and she took a breath. Her eyes focused on the wattle trees, the yellow flowers still visible in the dark.
“Make any noise and we’ll kill you,” said the man who had been holding her. She didn’t fight. Her entire body ached. She heard pants being unzipped and she closed her eyes. The men smelled of sweat and beer. Did they plan this? Why didn’t I notice them?
She thought of her family and everything she had yet to say to them. To help them understand. They were right. This is my choice.
Jamil sat on the backyard lawn next to Sabah and licked the icing from his cake off the plate. Sabah had a balloon on a string tied around her wrist and scratched mosquito bites on her legs. Plastic tables and chairs were scattered across their backyard, the two glass doors from the house left open so the guests could wander between the home and outside. It was his sixth birthday. Across the tables were his favourite desserts: Bouza Bi Haleeb, Baqlawa and Muhallabith. But his mother had normal cake too, for his school friends. His mother and father sat on a far table, with his aunties and uncles, singing and laughing in Arabic, he couldn’t understand much.
“I want some Baqlawa,” said Sabah, “Wanna get me some?”
“It’s my birthday,” replied Jamil, “You should get me some!” She looked at him sulkily.
“Daddy’s sitting with Uncle Omar, he has a weird thing on his face.”
“Mum says we aren’t supposed to look, Sabah.”
“But I don’t want to go near it. Please! I’m scared!” her voice grew whiny. He got off the grass.
“Wuss.” He said and walked towards the table with his parents. They were laughing. His father reached for him and lifted Jamil onto his lap. Jamil turned and pointed his tongue out to Sabah.
“How is the birthday boy?” His father asked.
“Good Dad,” Jamil replied, suddenly shy.
His uncle Omar looked at Jamil’s father and said “Abu Jamil, it feels like yesterday Jamil was born!”
“I know, he’s six now! Almost a man! What do you think Jamil?” his father asked him.
“Dad why did Uncle Omar called you Abu Jamil? Your name is Bashir!”
“No my name is Abu Jamil.”
“No Jamil is my name!” replied Jamil, laughing.
“Don’t be rude, Jamil,” his father was suddenly stern, “It is our culture.”
“Sorry Dad. But, why?”
“When the first son is born into a family, the father’s name is changed. ‘Abu’ means ‘father of’ so ‘Abu Jamil’ means ‘Father of Jamil’ and I am your father.” He held his son on his lap, his large hands on either side of his waist.
“So we have the same name, Dad?”
“Will we always have the same name, Dad?”
Jeremy penetrated. She gasped and felt a wetness with the pain: blood. The force opened her eyes. The wattle blossoms were in front of her, but she could no longer smell the flowers, only the men and their sweat.
“Do you love this, queer?” Jeremy shouted, amplifying his thrusts. The pain was unbearable. She remembered working with Jeremy. He had been friendly the first few weeks, dropping by her cubicle to chat, until it was discovered. She wasn’t ‘woman enough’.
“Open your mouth,” said the man she didn’t know. Rochelle looked up. He clamped her head with his hands and forced his limp penis in her mouth.
“Suck it bitch.” She gagged.
The men alternated positions.
“Can you taste your own shit?” Jeremy asked, he slapped her across the face.
“You’re disgusting,” he slapped her again.
The third man suddenly said, “Fuck. Somebody’s coming. Fuck. Let’s go.”
The man in front stopped and withdrew, zipped up his pants.
“Jeremy, let’s go.”
Jeremy would not stop. She looked up at him. She wasn’t sure if she could see correctly, but she saw tears on his cheeks.
“Make me cum, queer,” he shouted and slapped her again.
“Fuck, I’m not finished!” Jeremy yelled. He slapped her face again. She closed her eyes again. Please let this be over. Please. God, please help me. The chatter of a group in the park could be heard. The two men grabbed Jeremy. He pulled up his pants and stared wildly at her, on the grass, on all fours. Her eyes were cast down.
“I wasn’t done with you,” Jeremy said. Her whole body shook. I don’t want to die. Please. Please. The voices became intimate. He kicked her in the face. The men ran. Her head and face were bleeding. She could not see out of her left eye, before losing consciousness.
Jamil drew the oar towards his chest and pushed hard with his legs. His legs were burning and his chest could no longer expand to take enough air. The bank of the river rushed past him. He looked straight ahead and ignored the cheers of the spectators.
His burning limbs told him the finish line was close.
“500 metres to go!” yelled the Cox, “Almost there! Push! Don’t stop!”
There was the precision of oars. They hovered over the water, before scooping and propelling. It was elegant.
“250 metres to go!” the Cox yelled, “The Carey crew is catching up! Guys! It’s the last stretch! Push! Push your fucking legs!
They excelled, in unison. He gripped the oar as hard as he could. Was his father watching? The boat accelerated.
“We’re almost there! Fifty metres!” the Cox was screaming into his microphone. He heard the roar of the crowd. Jamil pulled the oar to his chest and stroked. The flags across the river: only a few more strokes to go. You can do it. Three more. The boat glided across the finish line.
“We won! We fucking won Head of the River!” The Cox was jumping in his seat.
“Stop yelling into the microphone!” one of the members yelled back. The team cheered. They raised their hands and waved toward the embankment. The crew rowed to the embankment, and were greeted by the crowd. Everyone was hugging. Jamil looked around and saw his mother and father approaching. They waved and walked toward him.
“Congratulations!” his mother pulled him toward her and kissed his face. “You were so great out there!” She smiled. His father smiled too.
“She’s right. You were fantastic out there. Never missed a beat. Very proud of you, Jamil.”
“Yeah, good race,” Jamil said, “Thanks for coming.” He was finally making them happy. “I’ve just got to help the others take the boat back to the shed. I’ll be in the tent in 15 minutes, I’ll meet you there?”
“No worries, honey.”
His parents turned and began walking toward the tent where everyone was meeting to celebrate. He lingered by the embankment. Jamil saw his reflection on the water’s dark surface. He was tall and strong, his muscles accentuated by sweat. His chest was broader than it used to be. The training had made his body stronger. He was a man.
His chest was broader than it used to be. The training had made his body stronger. He was a man.
She tried to open her eyes but only one would open. She squinted in the brightness. She could hear beeping and bodies bustling about her. The room was perhaps white. She closed her eyes again.
“He’s waking up.”
Rochelle sat propped up on the hospital bed. Her nurse entered.
“How are you feeling Rochelle?” Nurse Matilda had been much kinder than the other staff. She didn’t stare at her.
“Better. Still sore,” Rochelle replied.
“The police are here. They want to talk to you,” Matilda took Rochelle’s temperature and smoothed the stiff sheet around her legs. “The swelling is going down.” She wrote it down on the chart at the end of Rochelle’s bed.
“I don’t want to talk to them.” Rochelle whispered. She could barely close her eyes without feeling herself being wretched back to the park.
Matilda sat on the bed next to her. She placed her hand on Rochelle’s hand. “You should talk to them. Tell them what happened. Those men broke your jaw, beat you half to death, assaulted you.”
“I know. I just want it to be over.” Rochelle said. The hospital had called her family. Her mother had answered the call. It had been four days. The first-born son, raped.
“Give them a chance.”
“Stay with me.”
Matilda motioned for the police who’d been standing by the door to come in.
“Constable Bryan, Constable Timmins, this is Rochelle. She would like me to stay in the room with her.”
“Hello, we would like to ask you a few questions about your attack. Matilda can stay. We are going to record this, however,” said Constable Bryan. “Start with some basic questions.” I wasn’t attacked. I was raped.
“Ok” replied Rochelle.
Constable Bryan pulled out a small recorder and turned it on. He held it to his mouth.
“It is three fifteen on Thursday, the twenty fourth of February 1994. This is a hospital interview with Jamil Georgeos over an alleged attack in Mosman Park. The attack occurred last Monday at eight thirty pm as he walked home from work.”
“Would you mind starting by telling us what happened, where it started?” asked Constable Timmins.
“My name is Rochelle.” She said, looking at the officers.
“The identification collected from your purse by the ambulance officers has Jamil Georgeos.” Constable Bryan held a plastic bag with her cards inside.
The two men stood silent, observing her. She looked at Matilda, who took her hand. She looked at the officers again.
“My name is Rochelle.”
Tyler Payne is a photographer/writer who lives in Melbourne. Her work focuses on issues relating to sexuality, gender and body image. She is currently completely her Honours in Photography, exploring the relationship between visual art and Bipolar Mood Disorder. My Name is Rochelle has also been re-written as a short play.