by Rick Beck

Chapter 12

Cause & Effect

In the Sibley hospital cafeteria, Mr. Warner, editor-in-chief of the City News and Dr. Knox, a physician and research fellow at John Hopkins Hospital sat together. They had the cafeteria to themselves.

The coffee pot, a gallon metal coffee pot had a tap at the bottom to access the brew. Cups on a table just inside the door were easy to reach and fill. After filling their cups the two men took seats at a table off to one side. Dr. Knox already had his inquiry ready for Mr. Warner.

"Even if you are paying the bills, you don't have a right to the information you've acquired because you were thoughtful enough to come to see an injured employee of the News," Dr. Knox said. "I'd like your assurance that you will not act on any knowledge that has come to you because of your presence."

"As much of a tyrant as I am in the newsroom, I have no difficulty separating business and the rest of what constitutes life. George's employment is safe. I'm not sure what to do at this point. He may not be comfortable with me knowing what I know. There's a greater chance he'll leave the News because I know the secret he's kept away from everyone," Mr. Warner said. "What would you suggest, Doctor? I don't want to lose George."

"Reassure him. Your knowing and not freaking out over it tells him you're safe with the information. As long as he's doing the job, it shouldn't come up. He's not going to bring up something he has been hiding since he was a child. Remember, he's suffered a head trauma. The best thing for George is to get back to work and do the things he's been doing before the head injury. If there are any complications, they'll show up early on, and then you call me if he's acting strange."

"You obviously haven't spent much time in a newsroom, Dr. Knox. Reporters aren't exactly your ordinary Joe. Acting strange is their hallmark. I'll keep an eye on George, though he's one of the sanest reporters I have. If he doesn't act true to form, I'll call you."

"Good! That is all I'm asking. I have a heart patient I need to look in on,' Dr. Knox said, sipping his coffee.

"As I told you, I'm not without experience with the issue George has been facing alone. We have a post operative female that was once my Uncle Bob. My father, being a very intelligent man, said that he loved his brother enough to accept him as the sister he never had. Should I tell George that? I'm conflicted on issues like that. I've never discussed my uncle with anyone, but George is in the same boat, as I see it."

"He is. His boat is sailing in the opposite direction, but you're right. By all means tell him that story. He'll see that you have skin in the game. I don't think he has thought about there being other men like him. As I mentioned, he's my third gender discrepancy case. My first female to male, and that has to be a far more difficult adjustment to make," Dr. Knox told Mr. Warner.

"You now tell me you have personal knowledge of a case in your direct family. I once thought that the man I was seeing, who spent part of his time in drag, wasn't at all common. Not only is George in the same boat, but your uncle is as well," Dr. Knox said. "The reason nothing is known, our society simply has no interest in uniqueness. We don't go there because we fear a negative reaction. Ignorance is no excuse to ignore people like this."

"It tells me there are many more gender discrepancy cases than I first believed. Meeting James was eye opening. From what he tells me there are dozens of men he knows of that are like him. Only one has come to me. Now you tell you you have a case in your family. Than we have George. Which leaves me to conclude this is far more common than I'd originally thought. This is amazing. We can't rule out that some of the people James knows are men who like wearing woman's clothing but these men know they aren't women."

"You mean they know they're men but they enjoy going out as a women?" Mr. Warner asked.

"As I say, I would think far more are dealing with gender discrepancy, but I don't rule out that some men like dressing up," Dr. Knox said.

"Can't say I've ever had that urge," Mr. Warner said.

"Me either. I should have taken an interest in the process my Aunt Roberta went through, but we still don't talk about it."

"Because of a society unwilling to deal with such conditions. Majority rule does not mean you rule someone who is different from you, because you don't like them but hatred runs rampant in America," Dr. Knox said. "I think George will be willing to talk to me about it. Would Aunt Roberta talk to me? Post operative is another angle on the gender scale. She not only dress like a female. She became a female. That is one solution to gender discrepancy. The courage that had to take.

"She's in Houston. Working on the lunar lander."

"Too busy to talk. She must be smart to be doing what she's doing," Dr. Knox said.

"My father and his brother, now his sister, are the smartest people I've ever known. My Uncle Robert was a big dude in the federal government. He was in the scientific end of things. One day he took a leave of absence and he came back as Aunt Roberta. They wouldn't give him his job back. Too disruptive they told Aunt Roberta. The following year NASA called her. Asked her to come to work for them. That was a long time ago. She fit right into the space program."

"I'd mention her to George. Don't say anything that you'd be uncomfortable saying. It's a sure indication you've experience with the subject at hand. I can't see your Aunt Roberta would object to you mentioning her to someone that's in the same shoes as her."

"No, she'd say to tell a person that might benefit from the information. As I said, she's a very intelligent woman. I worry about George. One false step and here he is, uncovered. The people in the ER were just laughing. I don't know how other people might react. Do you think he could be in danger, Dr. Knox?"

"Mr. Warner, you run a metropolitan newspaper. People doing violence to each other for little or no reason couldn't have escaped your notice. The violence people do to each other is done to people they regard to be not much different than themselves. Can you imagine the violence they'd do to someone they regard as a freak of nature? In their minds that would justify a violent attack. Let there be no doubt about it, many of your friends and neighbors would regard George as a freak of nature. We don't know about people like George because he doesn't dare reveal his secret, and that's a sad commentary on mankind if you ask me, and you didn't, and that makes me mad all over again. I want to protect George."

"Another aspect of this I hadn't considered," Mr. Warner said.

They both were lost in thought, sipping their coffee, and being quite alone in the cafeteria at two thirty in the morning.

"When you come down to it, I don't know much," Dr. Knox said. "I hadn't considered female to male, until I heard them talking about the discrepancy in George's dress and gender. I took charge right away. Most employees of the hospital know who I am. I spend a lot of time here, and the ER can become a madhouse. One doctor takes charge and everyone else follows his instructions. Instant calm."

"Sounds like my newsroom," Mr. Warner said.

Both men laughed.

"Twenty-four hours ago, if you told me George was a biological female, I'd have called you a liar. George conducts himself the way most of my reporters have done it, and I've never had a female in the newsroom. It's an all males club, if that tells you anything," Mr. Warner said.

"It tells me you need to recruit some women for your newsroom. I can't conceive of reporting the news on the say so of men. We are a flawed gender, Mr. Warner. Our testosterone overrides our brains too much of the time. A woman has a slant on the world no man can duplicate. It's half the human race you're excluding from your newsroom," Dr. Knox said.

"The owner is a woman, Dr. Knox," Mr. Warner said.

"How'd a woman become owner of the Daily News?"

"Her husband had the misfortune to get cancer and die. No board on a major metropolitan newspaper would tolerate a woman owner," Mr. Warner said.

"Your owner is tolerated why?"

"Her husband dissolved the board and any idea anyone could tell him how to run his business," Mr. Warner said.

"Things are changing. Far too slowly, but with so much turmoil in the streets, and so little respect shown to the natural order of things, we can expect a lot more change than we've gotten up until now."

"Your lips to God's ears, Dr. Knox. I'm merely a lowly newsman. We simply report the revolution. We don't start it."

"Not so, Mr. Editor-in-chief. The news can be the source of the people's discontent, if you are so inclined. The pen is mightier than the sword. Once our institutions begin to fail us, merely the recognition of it is enough to fire up the people. Your hand is on the tiller on the ship of state," Dr. Knox said. "You are witnessing the birth of a generation who refuses to conform to the demands of the politicians. Don't think that doesn't scare them to death. It's the thing revolution is made of," Dr. Knox said. "The usual suspects will have trouble wiggling out of it this time. They've been found out as being happy to send other men's sons to war, but heaven help you if you get one of their sons killed. Power, the ultimate corrupter of souls."

"I report it. I don't direct it," Mr. Warner said in different words this time around.

"We'll agree to disagree. I need to check in on my heart patient," Dr. Knox said, draining his cup of coffee.

"I have an article I need to go home and get for George. It should interest him, and for your information, it concerns the first woman journalist to get a byline on the front page of the New York Times. She died recently. I cut out an article that appeared in the Post. More or less the epitaph of a great newswoman."

"There is hope for our profession after all. Positive reinforcement is essential for George. Don't sell it to George as someone that has gone before him. He doesn't see himself as a female. You do understand that. No matter what his biology says, he believes he is a man. You can't argue he isn't. He deserves to be treated with respect and dignity. We all deserve that, and I've got to go," Dr. Knox said, standing up and heading for the door. "It has been eye opening, Mr. Warner. I'll look forward to seeing you again. I've never had a conversation like that with anyone."

With that, Dr. Knox disappeared into the halls of Sibley Hospital.

Mr. Warner finished his coffee. He was heading for home, a nap, a shower, and a change of clothes. It had already been a long day.

With assurances that all was running smoothly at the City News building, Mr. Warner fixed grits, eggs, and bacon for breakfast. His wife's always tasted better than when he fixed it for himself. Probably the half hour he read the paper instead of cooking explained that.

In a fresh suit and tie, he returned to Sibley Hospital, after buffing up the shine on his wing tips.

George's eyes fluttered open after ten that morning. The first thing he noticed was the sterile room. He was alone, except for his boss sitting at the foot of George's bed reading the Post.

"Can't you get fired for that?" George asked.

"Oh, you're awake. I was just reading about you. It tells the story about an insistent reporter who wouldn't be refused. They quote you asking about the mayor's wife and Jon Delesandro using the new subway extension. No mention of what took place afterward."

"I made the Post," George said dreamily. "Ain't that a kick in the ass. I can retire now," George said.

"No, you can't. You have the inside track on the story. Now, every other newspaper in and out of town know the question. It's up to you to give them the answer, George," Mr. Warner said.

The fact Mr. Warner was still calling him George was a good sign, but what else was he going to call him? He'd been called worse.

"How is your head?" Mr. Warner asked.

"My head is great. Whatever they're giving me, I'd be a frequent flier if I could," George said.

Mr. Warner laughed.

"You look too fresh to have been in that suit all night," George said.

"I went home. I slept for a few hours, which is how I take my sleep. I freshened up and I stopped to get out an article that I plan to frame in my den at the house. I thought it might interest you, so I brought it back with me. Can you read, George?"

"I could before I got hit in the head. Only one way to find out if I have retained that skill," George said, holding out his hand.

Mr. Warner took the news article to George's bedside.

"The Post. You're going to frame a Post article. You are tempting fate. I can't focus on this. You'll need to read it to me," George said.

Mr. Warner retrieved the article and put it in a folder he'd placed on the windowsill.

"I can tell you the story. The news article is worth keeping, but I don't need it to remember who Lorena Hickok was. Hick, the name she preferred, was from the upper Midwest. Maybe it was Minnesota. She worked for local newspapers," Mr. Warner said.

"It's a newspaper story," George said. "I love newspaper stories."

"Hick bounced around the Midwest at different newspapers. She gained a reputation for getting interviews mere mortal reporters could never lock down. People who didn't talk to the press talked to Hick. In 1928 while reporting on the sinking of a ship, she got a byline on the front page of the New York Times. The first woman to do that."

"Ah, a happy ending," George said. "I like happy endings. You do know that I'm not a woman?"

"It was just the beginning for Hick. That byline brought attention to what she wrote. It was 1928. If a woman worked at a daily newspaper she wrote a lovelorn column or the society page. or to offer homemaking tips. Several women made it big reporting on entertainment and celebrities. They didn't get near hard news," Mr. Warner said. "In 1928, while Hick was covering a political gathering, she met and arranged an interview with Eleanor Roosevelt. Eleanor, dutiful wife of Franklin, was always at his side at political functions. It's what a wife of a powerful politician was expected to do. It didn't matter if there were difficulties in their marriage. Eleanor's place was at Franklin's side. Eleanor stood by her man you might say."

"The first lady of the land. Hick was a social climber?" George asked.

"No, just the opposite. Hick was a journalist. It wasn't unusual for powerful people to talk to Hick and not talk to anyone else. She had a reputation. She was somebody. While Eleanor Roosevelt was a big catch for any journalist, because she didn't give interviews outside of what was expected to Promote FDR," Mr. Warner said.

"Hick and Eleanor hit it off on a level that had nothing to do with politics. They liked each other and Eleanor agreed to do the interview.

I don't doubt Hick saw it as an opportunity to sit down with the wife of the man who was on his way to becoming the 32nd president of the US. Hick was interested in Eleanor's life. She wanted the people to know what Eleanor thought and said."

"The first lady," George said.

"Not yet she wasn't. It's 1928. FDR was elected in '32. Hick liked Eleanor and the feeling was mutual. Until that time, Eleanor was FDR's silent partner, but all was not well in the Roosevelt' bedroom. Franklin was like most ambitious men. His appetites were huge, and Eleanor found out he was unfaithful. Afterward they were husband and wife in name only. Eleanor was very unhappy, but it was her duty to stand by FDR as he climbed the political ladder. It's how it is often done, once the marriage has hit the skids, but Hick brought a new joy to Eleanor's life. They became friends."

"This isn't shaping up the way I thought it might,," George said.

"Hick encouraged Eleanor to speak out. As Eleanor would come to say about it, 'I'm my husband's legs.'"

Eleanor and Hick traveled together and Eleanor became interested in the poor, the destitute, the workers who were treated so badly by employers. They weren't paid a living wage. Their employers made and spent vast fortunes, while the people who made them rich couldn't even make enough to feed their families," Mr. Warner said.

"Do I hear Mrs. Miles' story in this yarn?" George asked.

Mr. Warner laughed.

"No, Mrs. Miles is spending her husband's fortune. Eleanor Roosevelt became a voice for the voiceless and Hick reported stories about the places Eleanor was going and the people she wanted to bring attention to. While FDR was president, Hick reported for the Park Service. She went to remote locations to report on whatever was taking place out of sight of Washington DC."

"I recall a picture of Eleanor, face covered in coal dust as she came out of a West Virginia coal mine. Once Eleanor was the first lady, Lorena Hickok had an adjoining bedroom in the White House. That's how close they had become."

"Sexually active one might ask," George said.

"I wouldn't. It's none of my business, and you didn't ask such things at that time. It's written that Hick was a lesbian. Letters between them have survived, mostly Eleanor's to Hick, because Eleanor felt it necessary to destroy any evidence that could erupt in scandal. There was little known about homosexuality at that time. It's clear Eleanor and Hick shared a loving relationship. Of that there is no doubt. Whether or not it was sexual, only the two of them knew. Since both are gone, we'll never know," Mr. Warner said. "Not that it's anyone's damn business what they did behind closed bedroom doors."

"Inquiring minds want to know," George said.

"By the way, Lorena Hickok died on May 1 of this year. She'd been sick for a while. After FDR's death, Eleanor moved herself and Hick to Hyde Park, New York, into the Roosevelt estate there. They lived together there, until Eleanor died in 1962. Hick remained in the house they shared, and she just died. The article is her epitaph, as presented by the Post. It's a fair article. No mention of romance. They were life long friends after they met. The biographers would have had a field day if Hick left any evidence behind. No doubt she had a cozy bonfire beside the house in Hyde Park before her death," Mr. Warner said. "As a journalist, she'd have protected Eleanor's reputation at all cost. She left nothing Eleanor's enemies could use against her. She left no hint of scandal behind. She was a journalist and she knew what a vicious lot some journalists are."

"That's harsh, coming from a newspaperman," George said.

"The truth often is, George. While there is revolution in our streets, we do not live in enlightened times. In some ways, our species hasn't advanced much beyond Dark Ages thinking."

"Science, medicine, and education are far advanced from Mid-evil period thinking," George said.

"Ah, we do have an enlightened renaissance in all those areas, but one cannot equate educated men with the masses who believe in a spirit in the sky that controls everything. If that is true, he has one wicked sense of humor."

"You just split with half the human race," George said, amused.

"A race to where, I might ask," Mr. Warner said. "Homosexuality, the uniqueness of men, isn't to be tolerated by fools. They hate that which they are. One might ask why? I won't. That was rhetorical. It's but a symptom of the human condition. There is no interest in why."

"That's one philosophical point of view. No matter how true it is," George said with an understanding of uniqueness among men.

"Thank you for telling me the story of Hick and Eleanor. I know there is love. I haven't figured out how it applies to me though. I haven't had the experience yet. I'm not sure in what context I should look for love. It was a rough road becoming who I am. I'm not sure love can fit into that equation."

"You've been busy, George. I imagine being you is a full time job. I'm not saying I understand. I don't, but that's not your problem. I do have another story. It's a bit more personal," Mr. Warner said.

"I'm hungry," George said. "Thirsty too. I don't suppose they'll let me have a cup of coffee. Do you mind if I buzz the nurse and see what they'll let me have. I can't believe they intend to starve me to death," George said, feeling a bit more connected to his world.

"By all means. I thought of bringing you coffee and donuts, but I remembered they had you on a rather bland diet earlier. They talked about releasing you today if you were feeling better," Mr. Warner said, getting up to hand George the call button.

"Yes," the nurse said, sticking her head in the door.

"I'm hungry," George said.

"That's wonderful. Dr. Knox isn't here at the moment. He said to phone him once you were awake this morning. He'll be glad to hear that you are hungry. No nausea?" she asked.

"No. Just my stomach growling. Can I have real food or do I still need to eat the plastic stuff I got last night?"

"Real food, Hon. I'll be back in a few minutes," she said, leaving the doorway.

"I remember Eleanor Roosevelt was an active woman. She was always bringing attention to one cause or another. I didn't know about Hick, but that does bring up a question," George said, not sure how he wanted to phrase what he had to say.

"I'm all ears," Mr. Warner said.

"You know that I'm not a lesbian?" George asked. "If the other story you have is a lesbian story, I want you to know that I'm not a lesbian, but I loved the first story."

Mr. Warner had a little trouble finding the words he thought were appropriate. As a career news man, he seldom was at a loss for words, but not knowing anything about George, except that he was a good newspaper man, dealing with who and what George was had him unsure of how to say what he wanted to say.

"George, I don't have enough information on what you feel to give you an intelligent version of the story I want to tell you. If I offend you, let me know. It's the only way I'll learn, and I find myself wanting to understand who you truly are. For now, you're still George, my newest staff reporter. I'll do my best to sound intelligent, but the next story is right up your alley. I have a post operative male to female in my family. My Uncle Robert has become my Aunt Roberta."

George's mouth dropped open as the door opened and the nurse brought George a tray with soft scrambled eggs, potatoes, orange juice, and a bowl of butter pecan ice cream.

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