Q & A

Justine Clement

Q: Who was the most influential person in your life?

 

It’s my brother.

 

He’s an artist. He’s the same age as me, more or less. We’re not sure. It’s a matter of minutes. Mom doesn’t remember which of us came first. “I had other things on my mind,” she once said, and left it at that. Neither of us was ever interested in bragging rights. We’re identical twins, but with a difference. At birth I was said to be a boy. Ethan was declared a girl. By toddlerhood, we both realized that they had gotten that totally wrong. Our genitalia said one thing, everything else had it the exact opposite. Not sure how common that is. I’ve been told it isn’t. But no one really knows. I know it would be judged highly improbable in fiction.

 

After college, I moved to San Francisco, worked at a dozen different jobs and finally got into the money side of high tech—financing start-ups. Meanwhile my brother landed in Marfa, thinking a small artist’s colony might suit his personality. He tends to solitude. Likes being unencumbered with things. Prefers not to have other people tell him how to spend his time. Though half a continent separates us, my brother and I spent a lot of time on the phone, emailing, texting, skyping or communicating over something we call the psynet. It's not exactly "communicating" in the usual sense of the word. And not telepathy, either. It's the long-range version of being able to finish each other's sentences but in the language of emotions. It's a sibling interconnect that's always on, but more so, strangely enough, when we’re asleep.

 

We have always thought of ourselves as two halves of the same person. We laugh at the same jokes, cry at the same sappy scenes at movies, have the same likes and dislikes. More weirdly, we both share the same uncanny ability to read people of both sexes—not quite equally but, still, it’s almost unreal—like mindreading. No question that sort of thing tends to scare people off whenever a romantic relationship gets a bit too serious. It’s a problem, and we both have it.

 

To remarkably the same extent, we consider ourselves frauds. We’re not what we seem. It’s a question of having to pretend to be like everyone else—which is pretty much what everyone has to do in public. But we are a special case. This is certainly not to say that we despise our bodies and rail against whatever god or fate made us the way we are. We like ourselves, inside and out, and would never think of going under the surgeon’s knife or visiting a shrink. We have plenty of the right hormones, and so pass with flying colors until the last piece of underwear comes off. And that’s when we know just how special we are.

 

Surprisingly, we’ve never had trouble with romantic relationships—starting them or keeping them going. They are on balance more interesting than awkward. We are healthy, attractive and otherwise civilized good company. Ethan  has a fondness for women with small breasts. Sensitive  men are at the top of my list, but women are not to be spurned. Dennis, for his part, has no interest in crossing over to the other side. He’s a man’s man—but with a vagina and a womb, which he sees as a feature, not a fault, in case he might ever want kids. I am fully equipped in the male department and feel the same way about keeping my options open.

Q: What special trait or gift do you think you have?

 

I have always known I have a gift for numbers. It’s how I earn a living, but I also like to write poetry—a key that unlocks a secret world where I’m the one who’s totally in charge. In my working life, getting the numbers right is everything.  I close a lots of business deals, but seldom ever think a poem is finished. The process itself is totally mysterious. It’s as if I’m merely taking dictation over a very bad phone line. I do my best to encourage that faraway voice, and sometimes it works and sometimes the voice just gives up speaking and goes away for a while. I don’t mean to suggest an other-worldly presence. It’s pretty clear to me that the voice is really just another part of me, hidden away by itself in a dark basement room amidst all the cranking and clattering machinery of consciousness. It’s one of the many mysteries that perplex me. I resent those mysteries. I take umbrage. I wish I had someone to blame. Instead I write. It’s like working on a really hard, perhaps impossible, puzzle. You know you’re never going to solve it. But that’s not the point. Working on it is the point. By comparison, when it’s all about numbers, I’m just a computer. 

Q: Does your brother have the same traits?

 

Ethen is my mirror image. His artistic side is much larger than his analytical side. But he sees numbers in a much different way than I do. Numbers are a kind of language, he says. Like words, they’re descriptive but vastly more precise—but never so precise that they exactly match the way the world works. Reality is much more fine grained—perhaps infinitely so, Ethan tells me. He should know. He’s constantly reading about black holes, dark matter, dark energy, quantum mechanics, string theory. You can see the influence in his art work—like reality turned inside out or viewed through a special x-ray machine. Everything I’ve said about writing, Ethan says is true about math. I’m not about to dispute him. We share the same preoccupations and perplexities. Well, why should I be surprised? He likes solving impossible puzzles too. 

Q: What attracted you to Travis Quinn, who you first knew as Darren Jones?

His uncanniness. It was all there—right on the surface, and almost nothing inside. He was a walking work in progress. A lot of people didn’t believe him. They thought he was faking it. But all it took was spending some time with him, talking to him, you knew he was telling the truth. And you knew there was a story there. I talked to a friend of mine who is a psychologist, and he said that Darren’s type of amnesia must have been cause by some sort of trauma. Maybe not a blow to the head but perhaps by a neurotoxin. Or maybe both. Once he was recognized and returned to his previous life and the details of his kidnapping became known, I became more convinced that something must have happened to him while he was being held.

 

Q: Do you think he did the right thing by putting so much effort into recovering his memory?

 

It never crossed his mind not to. I was becoming deeply attached to him but in the back of my mind I knew that the relationship could blow up at any time once his memories returned. We would talk about it, and in the beginning he had the same qualms. Having convinced himself that his present condition was only temporary, he was afraid of becoming too deeply involved. But as time passed, and nothing changed, he began to relent and become more open to the possibility that he might never recover the person he used to be.

 

Q: How did things change after he returned to Houston?

 

He hated the life that he found in Houston. The business he was in, the family he’d married into. As he learned more and more about himself, the less comfortable he was with that personality, the more determined he was not to be the person he once was. At the same time there’s a powerful drive in him, something he was probably born with—a drive to know. To get to the bottom of things. Knowledge. Truth. At some fundamental level, there’s a deep connection between truth and control. He’s driven to control because he’s always striving to succeed and hates being vulnerable to others. The best tool you can have to achieve that control is knowledge—having more knowledge than anyone else. Just my opinion. I’m not a shrink. I just like figuring out what makes people tick.

 

So, within a short time after returning to Houston, I start getting emails and texts from him. I thought he had slammed the door, but now it’s open, and he’s looking for advice and support. No question I’m happy to give it to him. I have no idea how it will turn out.

 

Q: How did he feel about the fact that you are a transgendered female?

 

Because he was more or less a clean slate, he didn’t know how to feel about it. Men are either repelled or intrigued. In the beginning he wasn’t sure, but I could see that he might be open to it. He told me once that my body was a special gift, that I was uniquely beautiful. I was very struck by that and asked him if he wasn’t even a little bit envious. It’s a fantasy some men have to be a woman in body but male in desire. He laughed and said, no, but the idea of being a transgendered male sounded interesting! As it happened, I know a couple like that. They’re as ordinary as anyone else. Whatever the possible combination or body parts and sexual desire, people make it work because what really counts is the human-to-human bond between the two. I saw the possibility of that early on, and in time he began to see it, too.