QUESTION AND ANSWER
BY ARCHIE ZHANG
When they ask you a question, you should know the answer. It’s a simple question. Just tell them what they want to hear. Tell you what you want to hear. What do you want?
In my mind, I see a line. And over that line, I see green fields and lovely flowers and beautiful white women with their arms stretched out to me, over that line. That was Harriet Tubman in the 1800s. Except now, I see myself over the line, stretching my own two thin arms to reach me. But I can’t seem to get there no how. I can’t seem to get over that line.
In my dreams I ride a motorcycle. I wear a leather jacket and I have long auburn hair. I step off and walk in heels because I’m on a runway.
“Mr. Wong. Mr. Wong. Are you there?”
The question caught me off guard. I nod curtly. In front of me, two cool and calm poker faces look right at me. They are on one end of a long plastic table. I am on the other. Between us a harsh and bright fluorescent light shines straight into my eyes.
“Great. Now, where do you see yourself in 10 years?”
I squint and force a smile. “I am running my own clinic in an impoverished rural neighbourhood. I also teach at the local community college. I have a family, and I come home to them every night.”
I am in a suit, tie, with leather soled shoes that my brother specifically instructed me to wear. I wear a brown leather belt with a matching watch. I’ve cut off the sides of my hair and gelled the rest. “Good luck, son!” I could hear the echoes of my father.
“So, you’re a family man. How do you expect to balance your personal life with your professional work?”
“Well, to be honest, that is still a process that I am figuring out myself. I grew up from a good family and I think everyone should be entitled to that, especially my kids. I want to take part in raising my children and to see them grow. And part of that means … ”
Well, to be honest, not all of it is a lie. I did come from a pretty good family. No domestic abuse, drugs, or alcohol. A loving mom that smothers you with kisses. A stern but loving dad that keeps you on track. A brother that looks out for you. A dog that wakes you up with licks on Sunday mornings. In fact, when I go to my counsellor to talk about anxiety and depression, I always get a confused look back. Well? So which is it? Are you happy with your life or aren’t you? Do you want help or don’t you?
That should be my interview question, instead of all of this. Questions of my life. I squeezed my hands and then let the tension go.
“If you could change one thing about you, what would it be?”
This one stumped me. I wouldn’t know. I couldn’t tell you.
Could it be my gender expression? Have I been living a lie this whole life. Am I really meant to wear skimpy outfits and eyeliner. When I wake up in the morning, do I say “Yes, Father.” and “Thank you, Sir.” When I go to school, am I meant to giggle at the star quarterback and gossip about how the other girls got pregnant. And when he’s on top of me, naked and sweaty and drunk, do I say, “No. Please. Don’t.”
Or maybe it’s my dream that needs to change. Maybe if I worked-out hard enough. Had bulging biceps. A deeper voice. If I wore suits and ties with leather soled shoes that my brother specifically instructed me to wear. If I cut my hair and gelled the rest. If I get on top of a girl, naked and sweaty and drunk and hear the words, “No. Please. Don’t.” Maybe then, I would have a dream like everybody else. And then it would all be okay.
Or maybe it’s my family. The mother that smothers with kisses. The brother that looks over you. A dog that licks you on Sunday mornings. Maybe if more dishes were thrown around, if they were hooked on cocaine, if I wasn’t the perfect son, this would all be easier. Then, I can finally leave them in peace.
But what’s wrong? Who’s wrong? What do I blame? Who do I cry to? Who do I scream at? What am I screaming about?
I open my mouth to say my speech, and as I have practiced a thousand times, “I want to be a physician because I want to help people. I think it is not enough to have a job that earns respect and a lot of money, but to have a life that is personally fulfilling and rewarding. A life that is whole and complete. Because being a physician will push me to be the best version of myself that I can be.”
Am I the best version of myself, whole and complete? Am I happy? Should I try to be more happy? What does that mean? What is “happy”?
Their cool glassy eyes glaze over. I wonder if they can tell that this is all a fantasy that I made up for myself. One that I would repeat two times in the mirror, and then once more before I go to bed. One that I tell grandparents at the dinner table and then to classmates on the bus. I wonder in all their years of interviewing, if they’ve seen this in other people. The eager beady-eyed student that deep down is burnt-out from it all. The student that would rather smash the mirror in two than repeat the fantasy, any fantasy, one more time.
I wonder if they would stop the interview, call me out on my lies, and force me to tell me the truth. Or rather, tell me the Truth.
But all I get is a nod. Next question.
“If a 15 year old boy went to you and asked for hormone replacement therapy, how would you proceed?”
“I would first validate his feelings. Then I would ask if the individual wants to take the therapy because he’s going through a gender transition. I would proceed to ask ‘what are your pronouns.’ Then I would explore the issue of gender transition with him and …”
Except I wouldn’t.
I would tell her the pains of her parents seeing their child grow up all successful, passing with flying colours, and then suddenly not. I would tell her the pains of her family wrestling through a phase of not accepting, of not understanding, and then of not knowing, of their fear of losing her.
I would tell her about the nights when she doesn’t know which dream she is living in, or rather, whose dream she is living in. The nights that she would want to cry, but she is not sure what, when, where, how, or why. The nights that she would wake up, and wonder if she merely stepped out of one dream and walked into another.
I would ask if she ever dreamt of motorcycles.
Then I would ask, “how do you do it?”
Archie Zhang is a first year medical student at McMaster University. After binge-reading Sylvia Plath in grade 9, he knew he’d always stay close to English and Literature. When he is not studying or napping, he can be found on obscure waterfronts, doodling his heart away.