Dana Lord never thought of herself as a great beauty. No one, in fact, had ever thought of her as a great, or indeed any kind of, beauty. But she’d managed to find herself a man, through charm and luck, they told her, and she had to agree with them that it was luck even after her husband died in a car-crash while she was pregnant. She was devastated, of course, but still forced to talk about how lucky she had been to know him and for him to have loved her (even though he’d been no great beauty himself) because after all, no one as plain as she could just expect love to come to her like a great beauty could.
But when her child was born, it was apparent immediately that something was wrong. It wasn’t just the issue of the genitals. She’d been told her baby would be a boy, but when it came out, “A miracle!” the doctor exclaimed upon checking. “I’ve heard of cases like this—rumors, mostly—but to actually see one!”
Her child had been born with a penis and a vagina, both fully formed.
“And functioning!” the doctor insisted, though what he meant by that…
“But will he be able to have children?” Dana demanded. “Or… she?” Shocked, she settled on “It?”
“I believe ‘they’ is the preferred form, but perhaps you should wait and see how the child tends. I’ll need a name now,” said the attendant, “For the birth certificate.”
Dana was handed the baby and that was when she noticed what was really wrong. “Angel,” was the only name she could come up with. “My baby’s name is Angel.”
Perhaps if Dana had allowed the doctors to perform the simple procedure that would have pushed them one way or the other, things might have turned out different, but she kept arguing with herself—what if she got it wrong? And then looking into her child’s angelic face, she thought How could I mutilate this with a choice when they could have both?
But even if Dana Lord had made the choice for her Angel, would it have been any different? She or he would still have had that face. The most beautiful face imaginable.
Even as an infant, in the hospital, people were drawn to it, to the point of neglecting the other newborns. Attention was lavished on Angel Lord to such an extent that Dana breathed a sigh of relief that nothing bad could ever happen to them, they would want for nothing. They were too beautiful to suffer.
But by the time Angel was two, the price of beauty became apparent. Dana came home to find the uncle she’d left with them in the one position you never want a babysitter to be in.
“I just… I couldn’t help myself,” said Dana’s brother. The rest of what he said, how he tried to excuse himself, was unfit for any ears but those in prison who would punish him for it.
But it did show Dana what she needed to do to keep her child safe. She thought about mutilation, scarification, maybe make it look like an accident. The price of beauty was too high to pay, but how could she destroy the face of an Angel? So instead, she fashioned a Veil for her Angel and made them wear it wherever they went. At first, she tried to get dispensation from school, but no, no, no, it was much easier to teach them at home, keep them away from the eyes of the curious.
“But it’s uncomfortable!” Angel complained all the time as they got older.
“Oh, you think that’s uncomfortable!” Dana exclaimed. “Think what they’ll think of you without it—I promise you, that’ll make you uncomfortable!”
At fourteen, Angel Lord fell in love with a girl they met online. “Why do you wear that Veil?” the girl asked.
“Because I’m ugly,” replied the Angel. “So ugly that people will try to hurt me if they see my face.”
“I won’t try to hurt you!” the girl insisted. “I could never hurt you!”
So Angel sent a picture, sans Veil. “You’re beautiful!” the girl said, tears in her eyes.
She tried to come to them, and they tried to get away, but couldn’t outfox Dana. Time and again, the girl failed. So after the dozenth or so attempt, she wrote one last message: “If you can’t have me, no one will!” and she was found the next morning. Angel wept.
“I told you,” said Dana to her child, “No good could come of her seeing you.”
“But she told me I was beautiful,” Angel sighed.
“I know,” said the Angel’s mother.
When the girl’s computer and internet history was searched, they found the image of Angel Lord in all their glory. Men, women, any one of any persuasion or taste, became captivated at the sight. “We have to leave,” said Dana.
Angel Lord tried to cut themself—“I don’t want to be beautiful!”—But the blade wouldn’t pierce and where it finally did, the scars only leant more character. They tried cutting other places—perhaps if they joined the girl who’d loved them—but something stopped them every time.
“I’m going to stop wearing the Veil,” Angel Lord told their mother when they were twenty-three. “I don’t care what happens to me, I don’t care what happens to the world, I need to be myself and I need the world to see me.”
They plunked themself down on a park bench and waited.
A young man walked by and smiled and they were suspicious, but he say and they spoke and they told their story.
“Well, you are very beautiful,” said the man, “But does that mean you caused these terrible things? Terrible things have happened to you, but that doesn’t make them your fault.”
“You don’t want to… do things… to me?”
“I don’t want to do anything to you,” the young man said, “that you don’t want me to do.”
Dana objected to the marriage when the proposal came several months later, but Angel Lord had let their mother’s paranoia and possessiveness rule their life for quite long enough.