CHAPTER 2 -- DANNI COMES OUT
The next few days went by with no incidents of note to report. Danni and I were settling in to our altered roles of father and child. I noticed that while Daniel had been calling me "Dad", to Danielle I was always "Daddy". I also realized that despite myself, I was acting differently around Danni than I had when she was a boy. I was more freely hugging her and giving her kisses on the forehead, for one. She didn't seem to mind one bit, happily giggling whenever I embraced her.
Part of the reason for my familiarity was to assure her I was okay with the admittedly seismic change she was making to our lives. But to be honest, a large part of it was also that my view of how you act towards your daughter was markedly different than the way you do towards your son. I'd secretly been proud of my son's growing independence from me but I didn't want any such separation between my daughter and I.
I was also feeling more worried and protective towards her. When we went out on our nightly patrol of the city, Danni wasn't ready to be the female Were-Kid yet but even so I was being more hesitant and coddling as we fought muggers and thieves. She noticed and admonished me for it. I apologized and we both agreed it would take a little while for both of us to figure out some things when it came to working together.
A more unfortunate issue popped up the following Friday when Danni went to her first Youth Force team meeting since the Mesmer Master affair. Nobody had mentioned it at the time, but her teammates had vague memories of her becoming a girl after the villain had enthralled them. When they asked her about it, my daughter decided to come clean and revealed her new self to them.
Since I wasn't there, I'm not sure how much of her story she also revealed to them but she later told me they didn't take it as well as I did. Most of the kids were surprized yet understanding but a few of the boys were upset with Danni who they felt had deceived them in the years after he'd realized he was a girl. Apparently, this led to some unkind accusations but Youth Force's leader Starlight was able to calm things down.
Still, Danni later told me she felt some of her teammates were uncomfortable with her around. This made her fearful of what the public's reaction would be should she reveal herself to the world at large. We talked about it and I made it clear I'd support whatever decision she made but she decided to keep being the male Were-Kid in public for now.
The next day it was my turn to reveal the news to my own teammates when the Guardian Society got together for a meeting. I figured that the word would have spread quickly after Danni had "come out" to Youth Force and indeed some of the other heroes were already aware of her change. I had an easier time of it since Spellbinder was there to help me explain the situation. Also, the assembled heroes didn't know Danni as well as the teens did so they didn't feel as personally connected to the situation.
Instead, the discussion revolved more about how public perception of heroes would change when it was revealed that one of them was transgender. I was a little taken aback at that label but realized it was an accurate one. I'd known about the trans community of course, but hadn't given it much thought until then. The heroes discussed the impact of Danni's new self on the views of people regarding the LGBTQ community. But I became concerned about the flip side of that coin, that transphobic people would lead a backlash against my daughter. I informed my teammates that Danni wanted to keep her new self quiet for the time being. We then moved on to discuss other matters.
Marie accompanied me home after the meeting and the two of us talked with Danni about the issues that would come up if and when she decided to go out in public as her real self. My daughter was clearly uncomfortable with the thought of becoming a figurehead in the debate about trans rights. It wasn't that she didn't support the community, but that she wasn't eager to have the spotlight shine so brightly on her. She seemed to be resolved to continuing to be a male hero in public but Marie warned her that she'd been exposed against her wishes once already and that it might happen again. As much as I reassured Danielle that I'd support her whatever it was she decided to do, she became more and more upset as our discussion went on. Finally, she angerly declared that it wasn't anybody's business who she decided to be and ran off to her room. Marie left soon after.
The next few weeks passed. Danni and I got into the habit of preceding our nightly patrols with a leisurely walk around the neighbourhood with her being a girl. When I ran into a neighbour we knew, I introduced Danielle as my niece. I'm generally an honest person but our situation was too complicated to explain to them. Besides, ask any hero with a secret identity and they'll tell you they've had to lie from time to time. So the fibbing didn't bother me much but Danni confessed that she wished we could be open about who she was.
The more time went on, the more the dual life she was leading bothered her. At home, she could be herself and things were generally fine. But when she went to school, she had to go as a boy. We discussed re-enrolling her as girl when the new school year would start but she wasn't sure she wanted to. She didn't want to give up one circle of friends and have to befriend another by posing as someone new. We considered the idea of her going as herself by telling people she was Daniel but had discovered he was transgender over the summer. But we quickly realized that the physical differences between Danielle and Danny were too great to explain away with wardrobe and makeup, and she was too young to claim she'd had gender reassignment surgery (not to mention it takes far longer than a single summer).
Making matters worse, she couldn't simultaneously come out in both her civilian and heroic guises as somebody would put two and two together and her secret identity would be no more. As ridiculous as this may sound, we batted around some fairly ridiculous-sounding ideas on how to explain Were-Kid's gender change to the public. Would people believe the original hero had lost his powers and trained a young girl to replace him? We decided they would not, nor could we pin the change on some super-villain's diabolical scheme. Blaming aliens was also briefly considered. We threw out some other, stupider ideas but I think you get the picture.
Danni was keener to be a female hero then she was a female civilian. She explained to me that she was already used to keeping secrets to her school friends but that she didn't have to when adventuring with me or Youth Force. For that reason, she rejected the idea of telling the world she'd been a girl that was simply passing herself off as a boy all along. She didn't want people thinking Were-Kid had been deceiving them ever since she was a young kid. Just as we had before, we talked about what the public's reaction to a transgender hero would be. This time, she didn't get angry or run off, so we were able to cover a lot of ground on the subject.
Marie visited us a few times in the spring to check up on her favourite super-family. Danielle and I included her in discussions about my daughter's problems and Marie provided some valuable insight. As a witch, she'd faced her own share of paranoia and mistrust from people throughout her life. She also reminded us that Danni's revelations would affect other heroes so it would only be fair to advise them when Danielle announced to the world that Were-Kid was a girl. She was also more insistent that our line of work presented dangers that Danni's secret would eventually be found out.
I couldn't tell you exactly when it happened, but somewhere along the line our discussion changed. We stopped taking about whether or not Danielle should come out to the world. Instead it became about when we wanted it to happen. We settled on holding a press conference after the end of the school year. Danni's schedule would be less crowded and she'd be able to accommodate the inevitable media appearances that would be required from the news getting out.
I informed the Guardian Society about Danielle's plans while she handled breaking the news to Youth Force. Both teams prepared press releases and strategies to deal with the public scrutiny that was sure to come their way. The Society quietly reached out to some of the other hero teams to let them know what was coming. Meanwhile, Danni and I discreetly contacted the American LGBT Help Center (ALGBTHC) to give them a heads-up as well. They brought us in for meetings to help coach her on how to handle the media glare that she'd be facing.
The press conference went well. Danielle stood up in costume and talked about how she had to live her life and her truth. She fudged the facts a little, saying she'd only realized she was a girl a few months ago. Agent Freedom and Starlight stood by her side in support, as did I. She ended her speech with a call for acceptance of the rights of transgender people. When it came time for her to answer questions, she picked reporters she'd been advised in advance would be less likely to ask tough questions. One reporter asked her if she thought she'd still be accepted by the general public, but that was about as tough as it got for her that day. By the end of the day, other super-teams around the country had sent out messages supporting my daughter's decision to come out, as did the ALGBTHC.
We braced ourselves for the negative press and it was not long in coming. By the end of that evening, conservative news outlets were broadcasting their outrage at a trans hero. She was called unnatural, a freak, a corruptive force on our youth, a hussy for wearing a skirt, etc. Back at home, I started blocking out news channels from our cable TV subscription. Danni said she didn't care what people said but I told her I was getting rid of them for the sake of my sanity, not hers. I was okay with those jerks taking shots at me (and they did indeed, with many questioning my parenting skills) but seeing them attack my girl was a whole different matter. Thanks to the ALGBTHC's tutoring, Danielle handled interviews and scandalous headlines with poise and calmness. I didn't trust myself to do the same, so I kept a much lower profile while countless right-wing groups called for me to be expelled from the Guardian Society.
One particularly annoying voice I had trouble avoiding was Southern Belle. She'd failed a tryout for the Guardian Society a few years before and turned into a vocal critic of many superheroes as a result. She now made turning people against Danielle her personal crusade and the conservative media was all too happy to help her do it. To her, everything my daughter did was an outrage. If Danni was seen taking to teens, she was brainwashing them. If she was talking to adults, then she wasn't minding her place. She shouldn't wear a skirt, and when somebody pointed out Southern Belle wore one, she said she was an adult so it was okay, but Were-Kid's made her look cheap. She continuously challenged either Danni or I to a televised debate, but the two of us had no interest in giving her any more publicity than she was already getting.
The Guardian Society publicists, who we were meeting with on an almost daily basis at the time, warned us not to respond to her. I tried not to, but when Danielle and I ran into reporters before we could leave the scene of a bank robbery we'd stopped, one of them asked us about Southern Belle's latest accusations and I snapped. I told the reporters "If that loudmouth is so interested in protecting people from freaks, why haven't I ever heard of her helping the police stop a crime? How many criminals has she brought to justice? Why have I never seen her on the front lines when aliens invade us? Guess she's too busy throwing up what she had for lunch so she can fit into that "Gone with the Wind" prop she calls a costume." Danni tore me away from the media scrum before I could go on but the damage was done. That night, Southern Belle's claims that I was insensitive towards bulimics was the lead story on every news channel. I was forced to issue a statement apologizing for my remarks.
I should point out that we did have supporters though. The trans community stood up for us, of course, as did politicians from all levels of government across the county. Even some international leaders too. Most heroes went on record as being in our camp. Even those that weren't had the decency to not attract attention and stayed silent about it. Danni reported that her teammates in Youth Force, even the ones who hadn't been happy to learn about her transformation at first, were now rallying around her and fiercely defending her in the face of the media's attacks. But aside from myself, I don't think anyone defended her more than the good citizens of Crescent City. Seeing their local heroes badmouthed so much fired up the inhabitants' pride in us. When Danielle patrolled the city with me, she was met with applause and cries of "You go girl!" and the like. The police continued to welcome our help and the Mayor gave many interviews denouncing our detractors.
Danielle and I rode the controversy as best as we could as we waited for the news outlets to get tired of the story and turn their attention elsewhere. I thought we were turning a corner after Southern Belle decided to hold a rally in Crescent City. She'd held others in other cities, all targeted against Danni and I, but I guess she thought holding one in our own city would get her bigger headlines. It did, but not the ones she wanted.
The day of the rally, she had a few hundred protestors at her side while over eight thousand people showed up to support us. With their loud chants drowning out the transphobic mob, Southern Belle started to lose her composure. Her carefully-composed rhetoric turned into ugly, angry insults in full view of countless television cameras. This angered the pro-Were-Kid crowd. Although my daughter and I had wanted to keep our distance from the event, we had to get involved in order to protect Southern Belle and her supporters from the incensed throng of people. The irony was lost on absolutely no one. The people's anger was defused and the protest turned into a joyous celebration after it became apparent that Southern Belle had left.
But the good feeling would be cut short days later. A villain called the Technocrat attacked downtown Beaulieu Springs with dozens of dangerous robots. This wasn't the first time he'd tried to demonstrate that his weaponized androids were superior to any flesh-and-blood warriors. The city was close to Youth Force's secret HQ so the team, Danni included, arrived on the scene to take on the mechanized horde. The fighting raged close to many civilians so the young heroes prioritized keeping them safe and removing them from the danger. But when Danni approached 12-year-old Josephine Randolph, the panicked little girl shouted, "Get away from me you freak!". She then spat at Danni and ran away from her. Unfortunately, she ran too close to a car that one of the robots blasted at that exact moment. The resulting explosion killed Josephine instantly.
As hard as it might be to believe, it's rare for a civilian to be killed in a battle between superheroes and villains. It's one of the reasons the government allows us to operate as we do. But the loss of a child so young rekindled the controversy over Danielle's transgender revelation. No one seemed to care that it was one of the Technocrat's automatons that had killed the child. Everyone focused on how the girl had fled from my daughter. All the right-wing pundits who had been firing salvos at Danni picked up right where they'd left off. And while the heroes who'd supported her before continued to do so, a lot of the politicians and public figures who'd stood up for us stayed mum. It's hard to blame them. The image of Josephine's grieving parents filled the airwaves thanks to the conservative news outlets. And though the family said hurtful things about my daughter, I couldn't bring myself to hate them for it.
Danielle herself was inconsolable. I tried telling her that it wasn't her fault, but she was sure Josephine had known she was trans and reacted as she did because of it. If it had been another hero who'd approached her, the little girl would still be alive. I tried to tell Danni that the hate in the girl's heart was what had led to her death but my daughter refused to accept that. She stopped going out on patrol with me in the days after Josephine died. Although Starlight made it clear she could come back to Youth Force whenever she wanted, Danielle stayed away from them too. She stayed at home and didn't want to see anyone.
Marie, of course, came around a lot to try and help us through this difficult time. She did her best and talking to Danni probably helped my daughter a little. Confiding in Marie about how helpless I felt in the face of my girl's despair also helped me too. For once, Marie was also the one needing comforting as she was just as upset by all that had happened. She felt a lot of it was her fault. If she'd figured out Danielle's nature sooner, if she'd told us as soon as she knew and allowed Danni to grow up a girl much earlier, she reasoned, none of this would have happened.
I didn't see it that way at all but when I told Marie that, she snapped back that I didn't understand what had happened to Danielle the way she did. I wrote it off as her frustration over Danni's situation getting the better of her and kept my cool. Marie apologized but as she did so, I felt a weird disconnect from her. She was a very difficult woman to read emotionally but I could tell she was distracted all of a sudden. She quickly said her goodbyes and teleported away, leaving me to wonder what was going on in her mind. I'd soon find out.