Many at a Time
Leah was nineteen when she realized. She was twenty by the time she actually did something about it. Living however many years she had left as herself wasn't enough; she couldn't stop wondering who she'd be if she had not missed out on the decades of true life. So Leah invented time travel.
Leah entered her time machine, a contraption composed of brass filaments and glass sheets, with a very simple plan. She would go back to herself at age ten, plant the seed of the truth in her mind, and watch it sprout from there. She knew she could never live this alternate's life, but she wanted to see who she had the potential to be.
In a flash, the time machine materialized in Leah's childhood room. She saw herself, sitting on the floor, playing with legos. Her past self had short hair in no particular style, a striped t-shirt, baggy sweatpants, just as Leah remembered.
“Hey,” Leah said. “I'm a version of you from the future. I just wanted to tell you that you are a girl, and you can be a girl, and no matter how hard it gets, your future will be bright.”
Now, the moment of truth. Leah stepped back into her time machine, and traveled back to the present of this new alternate reality, ready to see who she had become.
When she materialized, Leah thought that she must be in front of a mirror. She then realized that she was mere feet away from an identical time machine, containing an identical version of herself. Too identical.
Both versions of herself got out of their respective machines.
“Oh my god, you're real!” said the other person. “What's your name?”
“I'm Leah. But what happened to you? Didn't I help you at all?” asked Leah, trying not to let the disappointment creep into her voice.
“Oh, cool, I'm Leah too, but that makes sense I guess,” said the new Leah. “To be honest, I kind of forgot about you until after I realized I was trans, and even then, I thought you were only some weird dream I had. But then, I had the idea that I could try to actually make that dream a reality, so I could do what you tried to, but, you know, the right way.”
“Excuse me, Leah 2. It's not my fault you didn't listen to me,” said Leah.
“Actually, it is your fault. Did you really think that talking to me for five seconds was going to change the course of my life? Or like, did you think nobody had ever called me a girl before? I feel like you needed to prove that you actually existed, and explain what you actually meant. And why do I have to be Leah 2?” asked Leah 2.
“You just introduced yourself as Leah 2. If it makes you feel better, I'll be Leah 1, instead of just Leah,” said Leah 1.
“I said Leah too, but whatever! Let's just go into one of these time machines, and do everything right this time!” said Leah 2, grabbing her counterpart's arm and dragging her back towards her machine.
The past was once again as both Leahs remembered it. Leah 1 told the young Leah that if she ever wanted to be a girl she should follow those feelings and just be one, after which Leah 2 told her that she would always be loved, and then presented her with a necklace, as a keepsake. Not wanting to be outdone, Leah 1 presented her with her own identical necklace, before promising to see the girl again in the future.
Giddy with anticipation, the two Leahs went back to their time machine. After they returned to the new present, they were once again presented with an identical version of themselves.
“Finally, you're back! I'm Leah, and it's nice to meet you on equal footing,” said Leah.
“I'm Leah 1, this is Leah 2,” said Leah 1. “But what happened? Why didn't you transition earlier? Why are you still like us?”
“Did you think it would be easy for me? Even though you told me who I was, I didn't really believe you, until like five years later or something. Then, after I tried to transition, it was hard. It felt like everyone just kept trying to push me to be my past self, and nobody knew or understood what I was going through. Everyone at school made fun of me or pitied me, and my parents just never understood what I was going through. I couldn't tell anyone about you two, because they would have thought I was just going crazy. So there were years where I knew I was trans, but I didn't know how to transition” said the new Leah. “Also, if you are Leah 1 and Leah 2, does that mean I have to be Leah 3?”
“Sure, you can be Leah 3. But that's so awful! Was it really impossible for you to find a way to safely transition?” asked Leah 1.
“I think it was possible, but I just didn't know what resources were at my disposal. So I spent my time actually doing research, instead of building a useless time machine. I compiled a list of all the resources that might be useful for a trans kid when and where we were growing up. There's also a list of articles and literature, bracketed by ages for which our past self would find each source useful and interesting. I even wrote a note for our parents, to explain to them what's going on! If you two hadn't been so focused on inventing time travel, maybe you could have thought about what I actually needed, like I'm thinking about the next version of us!” Leah 3 said.
“Wow,” said Leahs 1 and 2 in unison.
“Just so you know, all that work would be useless if we weren't so busy building time machines,” Leah 2 put in.
“Whatever, just take me back to the past. It's time to create a good version of ourself for once,” said Leah 3.
They went back once again. This time, Leah 3 took the lead, presenting her dossier (and a laminated backup copy, and a USB drive containing a digital duplicate), to her past self, being very careful to meticulously explain its contents. She gave her past self a hug, then pulled the other Leahs back to the time machine, a smile on her face.
“Let's see what a happy version of ourselves looks like.”
When they returned to the present, they found themselves in a pleasant waiting room, containing upholstered chairs and couches around wooden coffee tables containing current editions of the New York Times and Washington Post.
A person in the room practically jumped out of their seat behind a desk as soon as they noticed the time machine.
“How did you get in here?” they screamed.
“Wait, you're not... Leah, are you?” asked Leah 1, carefully looking at the person from head to toe.
“No, I'm not. I'm Ms. Faygele's secretary. Do you have an appointment with her?” asked the secretary, now giving the Leahs her own appraising look.
“No, we're... old friends,” said Leah 3 carefully.
The secretary, having regained their composure, now seemed almost bored. “Some old friends you are if you can't even tell her and me apart. But I'll put in a call to Ms. Faygele. No guarantees that she can speak with you, she is very busy with the campaign, of course.”
They picked up the phone on their desk. “Ms. Faygele? A set of identical triplets just materialized in the waiting room with some giant glass bird cage. They say they're old friends of yours and they want to see you.”
A brief pause, then they continued, “yes, they do look a bit like you I guess.” One more pause, then they put down their phone. “Ms. Faygele is very busy right now. Please stay in the waiting room and she'll be with you when she's ready.”
When the Leahs entered, they saw her. Sitting at the desk was another version of them, similar in so many ways, but simultaneously completely different. She exuded a sense of confidence that the other three lacked, and she was dressed as though she was about to speak before a court.
“Hello, folks. Please, take a seat,” said this newest Leah, gesturing for them to sit. Once they had, she continued. “It's so nice to see you all again! It's been a while, so can we go around and do names and preferred gender pronouns, please? I'll start, I'm Leah, she/her/hers,” the newest Leah said.
“Leah, she/her,” Leah 1 said.
“Leah, she/her,” Leah 2 said.
“Leah, she/they,” Leah 3 said. The other Leahs turned to look at her. “What?! You two never asked me my pronouns! One of my realizations after trying and failing to transition was that an integral part of trans life is the mixture of experiences typically ascribed to the broad male or female domains, and I want my pronouns to reflect that mixture, even if I currently have a binary gender identity.”
“Ok, Ms. Critical Posttransexual Theory,” said Leah 2 dismissively.
However, the newest Leah seemed very moved. “Can I just say,” she said, “that sentiment is exactly what I'm fighting to protect? I would use she/they pronouns myself if it didn't alienate some of my constituents.”
Leah 3 gave Leah 1 and Leah 2 a satisfied smirk.
“Out of curiosity, why are there three of you?” the newest Leah asked.
“Well it took a few tries to get to you,” said Leah 1.
“Turns out it's difficult to figure out how exactly to change your past to create a version of yourself who you want to be, so we've been going back and forth a bit,” said Leah 2.
“Oh my god, you girls and your time travel hijinks! So outlandish! Personally, I prefer to stay grounded in reality. Don't you know that trans people everywhere are in danger, what with the right wing media/political complex working in lock-step to take away our most basic rights? That's why I can't rest until America has its first transgender congressperson. Once transgender people are proportionately represented in our country's legislative bodies, the American people will have no choice but to hear our side of the story and cease their misinformed attacks against us! As always, representation will save us!” the newest Leah said.
“Just wondering, who might this first trans congressperson be?” Leah 3 asked.
“Why, me of course! To let you all in on a little secret, it was the intervention from you three that first inspired me to set out on this journey. I knew that if my future selves were going to break the laws of spacetime itself to come and see me, then I must be destined for greatness! And having an itemized list of struggles that trans people go through and the inadequate solutions available made it clear to me that I needed to get into a position to improve the world. Of course, none of that can leave this room. Which is why you three now present me with a little problem. I need to have a relatable backstory, not sci-fi shenanigans.”
Leahs 1, 2, and 3 looked at each other.
“Fine, we're on our way out. But you can't come with us,” said Leah 1.
“Far be it from me to upset your fun little mission,” responded the newest Leah. She picked up her phone, dialing her secretary. “Gene, escort our visitors back to their cage... No it's nothing to be worried about, just an avant garde art piece.”
As they left, the other Leahs were already plotting their next move.
“Ok, I think she was not what I had in mind,” said Leah 3.
“Hey, at least you got her to transition earlier. She's just kind of... annoying,” said Leah 2.
“She is not the version of myself that I want to be, that's for sure. But I think we're getting closer to our goal though. And for our next self, I have some ideas,” said Leah 1, as the trio stepped back into the time machine.