Packing - Uncharted


By Samuel Clark

Mama tells me that growing up, all she wanted was a wraparound porch. Says while those other girls were dreaming of diamond rings and cashmere, she just wanted her wraparound, a way to entertain friends after Sunday services while enjoying all of God’s glory.

“No one should be buying diamonds anyway,” I tell her. “There’s blood in those diamonds. The way they force kids to work for them. You know that civil war in Sierra Leone—”

“‘Sierra Leone?’ What in the hell’s a Sierra Leone? Stop your yapping and grab that pitcher over there. We got guests coming.”

I pick up the pitcher of lemonade, the sides already sweating, Mama a fan of breeze through the open windows instead of using the air conditioning. Outside, our gravel driveway comes to life, the crackling sound of twelve tires hitting rock: two minivans, one pickup. A plethora of uncles, aunts, and cousins.

“Happy housewarming!” Aunt Kathy shouts. She’s got a plate of her famous chocolate chip. I mean sure, it’s wrapped in tinfoil, but we all know she can’t make nothing else. “Look at that,” she says, “you finally got your wraparound.”

“‘Be still in the presence of the Lord, and wait patiently for Him to act. Psalm 37:7.’”

“Pretty sure he was talking about bigger things than porches,” Uncle Wiley says, stepping out of the minivan. I bite back a laugh.

The uncles and aunts are hugging and kissing while the cousins run in circles and shout. Uncle Wiley, my favorite of the bunch, forgoes the hug and shakes my hand. “That’s a good shake,” he tells me. “Not that limp fish you get nowadays.”

“Thanks,” I say, trying not to beam. I don’t hear him tell any of his nephews this. Just me.

“Bailey, come inside and help me for a minute.”

I wince, until Uncle Wiley says, “B and I are talking. Get one of my little ones to help. Scott! Go inside and help your Aunt Sandra.”

B. It’s so clean. So unassuming. Uncle Wiley asks me how school is and if I got a boyfriend. “No, no boyfriend. Mama doesn’t want me to end up like those other girls.”

“What, happy?”

I laugh. So does he. Tim, Uncle Wiley’s youngest, comes from around the back with a football in his hand. “Let’s play!” he says to his dad. “I’m Olsen and you’re Kuechly.”

“Number 88,” I say, referring to Greg Olsen. “He’s my favorite Panther, too.” It’s true. I have his jersey in my closet. But Tim turns on me, angry.

“No girls allowed!”

I feel bad for feeling bad. Tim’s only five—it’s a perfectly normal thing for a five-year-old boy to say—but something at the pit of me opens up and drops.

“Tim,” Uncle Wiley says. His voice is stern without yelling. “Is that how we treat girls? Apologize to your cousin. Now.”

I watch my baby cousin clutch the ball to his chest and pout. “Sorry . . .”

Uncle Wiley and I watch him run off together. There’s a moment of silence before either of us speaks. “I’m sorry,” he says. “That’s not what your aunt and I teach him, you know.”

“Yes, Sir,” I say, because I don’t really know how else to respond.

Uncle Wiley groans. “I hate when you kids call me ‘Sir.’ Makes me sound like a tyrant.”

“It’s a sign of respect,” I say, and realize too late that I’m quoting Mama.


I look to the front porch, to the wraparound, where Aunt Kathy is standing, calling us all inside. Uncle Wiley places his big hand on my shoulder. “C’mon, kid. Ain’t nothing some BBQ can’t cure.”

. . .

We serve ourselves, buffet style, the new kitchen filled with good smells and chatter. My paper plate almost folds under the pressure from the amount of food I get. Garlic mashed potatoes, two biscuits, fried okra, pulled pork soaked in vinegar. My mouth’s already watering by the time I take my seat at the dining room table. 

Everyone eventually sits down, but we’re silent as all anything, which is never a bad sign for the first five minutes of a meal. Mama’s beaming, looking at us hunched over our plates, too busy stuffing our faces for words. But once people are satiated enough, things get chatty again. I’m a mouthful of okra when Aunt Kathy says, “So, Bailey, any plans for college?”

I stop. Swallow. All my online friends—the only friends who know—say I should move up north. I’m the only southern friend they got, I think that’s the problem, so they act like the north is this land of milk and honey. I know they mean well, but what they don’t know is that I’ve been up north. Didn’t like it. First of all, snow: I don’t have time for all that. But the real problem was how performative it all felt.

I was visiting Salem at the time. Salem, Massachusetts. There were rainbow crosswalks everywhere and pride flags hanging from every which way, I could barely believe it. I was so excited at first, I really was, but then I went into this cute little store, and the cashier working had this They/Them pin on their shirt. I thought that was the coolest thing. Anyway, I complimented them on it and we got to talking. At first it was great, really great, being able to talk to another person so openly like that, face to face and everything. But then I said y’all, not even thinking about it, and they drew back from me like I was the plague and went, “‘Y’all?’ Where are you from?” and I went, “South Carolina” and they went, “Oof, I’m so sorry. This must be a real treat for you then, huh? How do you survive down there, anyway?” And I couldn’t believe they said that to me, just because I said y’all. Y’all! I mean, how’re you gonna fight for more inclusive language then act all uppity over y’all?

The rainbow crosswalks didn’t mean much after that. I ended up feeling just as isolated and unwelcome as I have everywhere else.

“I got my sights set on Tulane University.”

Mama looks up from her plate all dramatic like, and it occurs to me only now that I haven’t actually told her that. “New Orleans? Now what does New Orleans have that we don’t, huh?”

Everything, I want to say, but know better. “It’s a good school.”

My aunt jumps in, knowing Mama. “I bet it is. In fact, an old college friend of mine works down there. Real good restaurant. Super busy, even on weekdays. You let me know when you get your acceptance letter and I’ll give him a ring. I’m sure your mama could relax some if she knew you had a job down there waiting for you.”

Mama goes, “Hmmm,” before biting into her biscuit, but doesn’t say anything else.

“Thanks, Aunt Kathy. I’ll definitely let you know.”

. . .

It’s after dinner and the cousins are getting rowdy. Most of us are sitting in the living room sipping coffee, Uncle Wiley and Mama going at it over a game of Scrabble. But the cousins are running through the house, up the stairs and down again, flailing and screaming and driving me up the wall. I move closer to the fireplace and close my eyes.

“You okay over there, B?”

I didn’t realize I’d been rubbing the bridge of my nose, trying to ease the pain out, putting pressure on the spot where it builds and aches the most. “I’m all right,” I say. “Just got a bit of a headache.”

Uncle Wiley turns to Mama. “Motrin in the medicine cabinet, right?” He stands up to get some while Mama just nods, not breaking eye contact with the seven letters she’s working with now. I’m about to say thank you when it happens, when the kids come running down the stairs. Tim’s got something in his hand, waving it over his head like a flag, and it takes me a second—a painful, agonizing second—to realize what it is.

A penis.

My penis.

Mr. Limpy, extra small.

A prosthetic made especially for transmascs.

I’m up on my feet in seconds, but it’s already too late. The packer flops in my cousin’s hand like a fish, while Tim runs around the living room in circles, shouting, “Bailey’s got a penis, Bailey’s got a penis!”

“Give me that,” I say, reaching for the prosthetic, but Tim is fast and I stumble. Some of the aunts are laughing while others turn red, but none of them get up. None of them try to stop it.

Tim’s older sister, seven-year-old Becca, has my jockstrap in her hands like a slingshot, one of my stress balls cradled where the packer should be. “Fire in the hole!” she says, and aims directly at my head, where the ball slaps against my face. Hard. It’s something I would normally be able to shake off, but the sting, the outing, the laughter from everyone around me—all of it’s just too much.

I finally catch up to Tim, long enough to rip my packer out of his hand, and when I do, I slap him right across the face with it. It’s real soft, that silicone, but I know that don’t matter. The room falls silent and so do I. Tim’s mouth is open, stunned, before he breaks down crying. Becca follows almost immediately, because her little brother’s just been hurt, and he’s been hurt by someone who’s supposed to love him. My packer’s still in my hand, frozen in the air post-swing, and if any relative missed what Tim was shouting before, well, they certainly get it now.

“Bailey,” my mom says. Her voice is thin and straight, not dramatic in the slightest, which is how I know I’m in real trouble. “Go to your room. Immediately.”

I don’t protest. Shame washes over every part of me, and I don’t want anyone to see it, to see more than they already have. The last thing I notice before storming away is Uncle Wiley leaving for the bathroom. I don’t know who he’s getting Motrin for now—probably his son—but I know that it isn’t for me.

. . .

The one silver lining is that no one in my family seems to know what being transgender is. When Mama comes into my room after the face slapping, it’s clear from the way she’s talking that she thinks the penis is for pleasure. She refers to the jockstrap as a thong and doesn’t make the connection between that and the packer. I get a huge lecture on masturbation and the Bible and saving yourself for marriage, which would humiliate me more if I wasn’t so relieved.

When she’s done telling me I’m grounded for a week, that I’m to write an apology letter to Uncle Wiley and his family, she leaves my room with a bang, slamming the door behind her. I don’t leave for the rest of the night, except once to use the bathroom. I didn’t think Mama and I needed a house with two restrooms when she first bought it, but now I’m ridiculously grateful for the one upstairs, closest to my room. But I can hear them talking about me down in the main living area now, on my way from Point A to Point B. The Aunts are telling Mama not to worry, that, “It’s perfectly normal for a girl her age to have something like that in her drawers. Healthy even!” I strain to hear Uncle Wiley, to hear anything he might have to say, some quip or thoughtful comment, a remark about it being all right and to give me space already, good Lord, but he doesn’t say a thing.

. . .

I’m almost asleep when there’s a knock at my door. I assume it’s Mama, who will come in whether I answer her or not, but when this visitor knocks again, I know it can’t be her. “Come in?”

Uncle Wiley opens the door, and I sit up faster than a hound let off its leash. I can’t remember a time where he’s ever lectured me before, but I know why he’s here and I know I deserve it. Except now I’m noticing the pie slice in his hand, and his uncharacteristically awkward wave as he stands in my doorframe, looking at me. “You hungry?”

I’m not, but I nod my head anyway. I don’t remember ever feeling this desperate for someone’s approval. Uncle Wiley takes a seat on the edge of my bed while I dig into Mama’s pie, banana cream with Nilla Wafers lining the crust. Thankfully he waits till I’m done before saying what he says next, because I’m pretty sure I would’ve choked.

“You know . . . I’m no sex expert or anything, but last I checked, aren’t toys like that supposed to be, you know, stiff?”

The tips of my ears are matchstick fire, and I think Uncle Wiley’s are too. He hasn’t made eye contact with me since he first opened the door, but he clears his throat anyway and powers through. “I guess I feel kind of accountable. I mean, I always knew you weren’t . . . I thought you were a lesbian, B. The gender thing didn’t even dawn on me. I’m sorry.”

“Why are you sorry?” It’s the first I’ve spoken since he’s opened the door. “I hit your son.”

Uncle Wiley nods. “You did. And you’ll apologize to him for that later, the same way he and Becca will apologize to you for sticking their noses where they shouldn’t have been in the first place and stealing other people’s things.”

I nod. “Yes, Sir.”

There’s a pause, then Uncle Wiley keeps going. “I guess I feel like I should’ve figured things out sooner. Been there for you in some way, or at least made it clear that that was an option. Your mom and I . . . we grew up together, got taught the same stuff, but I, well, you know . . . I don’t think she ever grew past what our parents taught us. Never left that bubble. But your aunt and I take that very seriously in our house. Issues of equality and such. I hope you know that, B.”

I didn’t know that. Or maybe I did. I don’t know. I knew Uncle Wiley would be the first person I told in real life—if I ever told anybody—and that I’d definitely never tell Mama, at least not until I was eighteen years old and several states away. I move up to the edge of my bed where Uncle Wiley is and sit right next to him. “You have been there for me though,” and I don’t realize until I say it out loud just how true that is. “Even if you didn’t realize it, you’ve always made yourself available. And besides, I didn’t even know until recently myself.”

Uncle Wiley meets my eye. “Oh yeah? When did you figure it out?”

“Little over a year ago now.”

He frowns, concern etched into his eyebrows. “That’s a long time to go without anyone knowing there, B.”

I shrug. “I mean, I’ve met some cool people online that I talk to a lot. Other trans guys my age.” I don’t tell him that that’s where I got my advice on how to pick out and buy my first packer. Get the extra small, trust me. It’s actually the same size as your average cis guy’s penis, but a lot of trans guys don’t know that going in the first time, so they get a large or something because they think it’s supposed to be big. But those sizes are absurd. All they do is make you look like you’re constantly at half-mast. If you’re looking for something comfortable and realistic that you don’t have to adjust every five seconds, get the extra small. “And I’ve been watching a lot of videos online,” I say. “That’s helped.”

“What, on The YouTube?”

I laugh, because I know Uncle Wiley knows that it’s just called YouTube, that his “the” was thrown in there strictly for my benefit. “Yes, Uncle Wiley, ‘The YouTube.’”

Uncle Wiley pats my shoulder before getting up to leave, but turns to me in the doorway before going back downstairs. “You pick out a name yet?”

“No,” I say, “not yet.” And then, “Would . . . could you help me with that?” I know a lot of trans folk take pride in choosing their name, but I’ve always liked the idea of having my family help pick one out. I just never thought that’d be an option for me.

“Absolutely. You call your Aunt Kathy and me anytime, come over whenever you want, ok? You don’t gotta wait till you’re eighteen and in New Orleans to feel safe.”

I nod. Smile. Uncle Wiley sees a lot more than he gives himself credit for.

When he leaves, I turn to my plate, clear of pie but for one lone wafer. I pick it up with my fingers. Put it in my mouth. I sit until it melts into my tongue.

About the Author

Samuel Clark holds an MFA in fiction from the University of North Carolina Wilmington. A recipient of the LGBTQ+ scholarship to the Muse & the Marketplace 2019 and a 2021 participant for the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop, his work has been published in literary magazines such as BOOTH, Blood Orange Review, Artemis Journal, Shenandoah, and the anthology Transmasculine Poetics: Filling the Gaps in Literature & the Silences Around Us. He lives in Colorado with his adopted cat, Emily D.

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