The Prisoner

3 October 2028

It had finally been achieved; the first significant steps toward time travel and teleportation using quantum entanglement. It was a complex process: first they had transferred a photon from earth to a space station. Then molecules, then embryos, then a mouse…

Nikolaus sat back in his chair, staring at the computer screen. It had been months that he’d been following the progress being made using quantum entanglement. And it had been by following that progress that he had been developing his own plans for time travel. His plans, that was, before he was taken; now they were the government’s plans. They needed a mind like his and he had refused to work on a mystery project, funded presumably by a black ops budget. Whether his family had any idea where he was, he did not know; he wondered how his partner was holding up. Was he looking for him? Had he simply moved on?

When the new President had come to power, it had not taken him long to begin an outright assault against human rights. Not that the letter of the law was all that useful in changing a bigot’s perspective, but it had value. The vicious stripping of civil rights naturally resulted in all-out civil warfare across the country. The country was being shaped by forces that even Nikolaus couldn’t understand; an insidious need to breed hate and profit therein. A blatant example of effectively ruling through Divide and Conquer. The media had reported on all of this, the President had surrounded himself with generals, mafioso-like ties were exposed; and yet the people allowed it to happen. Once notable people began to disappear, presumably murdered or taken, the public began to wake up; but it was too late then.

Nikolaus sighed, drew a cigarette, and lit it. There was a no smoking sign on the wall, but he had discovered recently that he didn’t much care anymore. He was a prisoner of his own-making; ignoring the signs of a bad administration, unless it pertained to NeuraWeb. He’d made his views known, and had gathered a small following as a result. That was also where he had mentioned some of his work, thinking it was inconsequential. The government would never come for him. But they did.

He exhaled slowly, watching the smoke spiral out and up to the dim lights above. Nikolaus could not decide whether he was grateful he was simply taken, or whether he wished he had been disposed of; what exactly would be waiting to greet him when he left, if ever? How would his work be used? Would it be the government’s if it worked? If it failed, would that be on him? He felt he would be an easy scapegoat; openly gay, a bit of a loner, dating a man whose family had fled eastern Europe following World War II. With no black letter of the law to protect him anymore in the courts, the hatred brewing in the country was enough to suffocate a person. In a strange way, he was safe with his captors. He shook his head; he shouldn’t be thinking like that.

“Prisoner 152,” a voice echoed through the room. Nikolaus jumped, put out his cigarette, and swiveled in his chair. It was a military general; he could feel fear beginning to grip him like hot wax.

“Any progress today?”

“Some, sir,”Nikolaus cleared his throat. It was a lie, and not a very good one. The truth was that he was quite sure he had finished the research, but he was struggling with the lack of ethics it had entailed. He hadn’t quite worked out how this research could be carried out without using humans the way they used mice.

The general moved further into the room, looking at the computer screen. “It’s finished?”

“Well, I… not quite.”

“It looks finished to me. Have it ready for 3 pm; the President wants to be briefed tomorrow.”

“The President? By me?”

“No, by me. After I’ve spoken with other parties. You know what to do.”

Nikolaus nodded slightly, and exhaled deeply after the general had left. He had a bad habit of holding his breath when he was nervous or upset; his parents told him he’d often done it as a child in fits of revenge against authority. What better way to exact revenge as a three-year-old than by holding your breath for so long that you passed out in public?

After reviewing his work, particularly the precision of the calculations involved, he began working on a brief. This was often the most frustrating part to him, having to condense in-depth, complex research into a digestible one-to-two page block of words that barely grazed the surface of what was at stake. It would be presented to a room full of military and government officials, who knew little-to-nothing about quantum theory, and then decisions would be made. Perhaps dangerous ones. He needed to be careful. If he was lucky, the other individuals who had volunteered to be part of OmniScience would be there. He had heard rumours that they were a select group of individuals who had “earned” the right to offer opinions on the research to high-ranking administration officials. Would they make sense of his message? Would they receive it at all?

It was possible that he was the only individual working on this project, but not likely. The government had given him access to experiments and research being carried out by themselves, and likely other governments, related to quantum entanglement. It was the new “space race.” Important names, locations, details had been blotted out; it was difficult to tell where something had originated. It seemed conceivable to him that other individuals were working on the same question, in the same facility even, designing a similar experiment to provide an answer.

Nikolaus looked at the brief, ruminating over the final paragraph. Had he made it clear enough that this experiment should not be used on humans, yet? Did it matter if his brief told them not to? Playing with matter in this manner, altering space-time, arguably inviting the collision of parallel universes; did they know what was at stake?

2:49 pm. Nikolaus wiped the sweat from his brow, frowning at the screen. It was better not to offer suggestions as to which humans it would be used on, he decided. If he proffered that, it was an invitation to use his suggestions as validation for whatever decisions the government made. With a simple keystroke, the brief and research were finalized. There was no need for email, to upload it, even to download it to a memory key. Those had been slowly phased out in civilian life, meaning the military had been using technology far-more advanced for at least a decade. People once head-hunted, the innovators in private and public life, were simply taken now. The new brain-drain.

5 October 2028

In a rare display of something akin to freedom, Nikolaus was allowed to step out into the concrete garden, sparsely decorated with trees not native to the area, he was sure. The fresh air, the change of scenery, were nearly overwhelming. How long had he been in that building? He couldn’t be sure. Before he had been taken, it was hard to differentiate definitively between the seasons anywhere in the country; the climate deniers had won the opinion debate, and meteorologists and environmental scientists were fired. What good were they if they could no longer predict the weather with any real accuracy? The mass migration and extinction of animals?

Two military officials accompanied him in silence. Deafening silence. No birds, no bees. He remembered hearing about a book which discussed this, one that had begun a new wave of environmentalism. The author had died in questionable circumstances a few years later. Squinting up into the sun, he wondered if that would be his fate: having completed the assignment for which he was taken, was he to be eradicated as well? His memory to be wiped? Identity changed? Dropped in a foreign land? Surely the government could not release him; he knew too much. A lump formed in his throat; what of his partner, Anthony? The life they had built, their friends, days spent lounging on the beach before the weather had become too unruly. Mere memories now, a distant past.

“152!” it was the general’s voice, calling across the garden. He approached with two other officials.
“Come with me.”

Nikolaus straightened up, doing his best to ignore the memories that threatened to break him. The four military officials escorted him, led by the general, back inside.

5 October 2028

Sitting in the general’s office, he glanced around at the walls. Most were barren of any real art or scientific inquiry; photos hung here and there, alongside awards. This was his first time stepping into the general’s office, and he was immediately on edge. To be let further into their circle demanded more secrecy and trust. Was he to be given another assignment?

“I believe congratulations are in order.”

“… Congratulations?”

“The President has approved your research. It will inform new policies.”

Nikolaus relaxed slightly; if it was to inform new policies, there was a chance other individuals, such as OmniScience, might be able to avert a complete disaster.

“Will I be involved?”

“No, you will not. Your work is done.” There was a pause, “You will have the opportunity to see family, a friend, whomever, before you are redistributed.”

“Redistributed?” Nikolaus’ mouth went dry; he could feel his anxiety rising, sweat forming on his palms.

“You will be subject to protocols, which dictate your memory must be wiped, before you are sent to live in a gated community. Other individuals from the program are there, in similar circumstances. You will no longer need to work; money, food, medication, exercise, all of that will be taken care of.”

The lump had returned to Nikolaus’ throat. He was being allowed to live, but without any of the knowledge of the people who meant most, the decisions and experiences that had formed him, his life. His life would be taken away, and he would be living with it. Living with it, and not even knowing it.

“No… No, this can’t…”

“It will,” the general cut him off. “Think hard about who you want to see. Details will be provided to you after your decision is made. You have twenty-four hours to make up your mind.”

“No! You can’t do this!” Nikolaus was nearly on his feet; before he’d fully straightened up, two guards grabbed him, holding him back. “How can you do this?!”

The general did not meet his eyes. “Dismissed.”

7 October 2028

Nikolaus sat waiting in his cell. It was not the typical cell most people thought of. It had no windows, but had interactive screens that reflected the weather outside, dusk and dawn, twilight.

Twilight.

Today was to be the day he would see his Anthony, one last time. They had provided him no details about where he would see him, merely told him to be ready to leave. He would see him, be taken for his memory to be wiped, and then be transferred to a community of his choosing. Nikolaus wondered, would death be more palatable?

10 April 2042

After the overthrow of the authoritarian regime ruling the country, a new electoral system and style of government had been implemented. For the first time in history, a woman was President, minorities were “over-represented” in the House of Progress, and human rights legislation that elicited grounds of discrimination had been rewritten. Now, instead of accidentally excluding individuals by defining what grounds were explicitly protected, humans were simply protected as a whole, as sentient beings.

Documents, previously classified or outright denied by the previous administration, were released. Some names were protected, others were published.

A man sat in his living room, a coffee next to him, and the paper in hand. It was hard for him to comprehend that so much of history had been kept secret, that such atrocities had occurred, right under his own nose. He had been safe from it all, living in a quiet community with friendly neighbours and a wife.

Turning the page, an article caught his eye, titled “Patient Zero.” Something tugged at the back of his mind, but he couldn’t place it. As he began to read, it told the story of the abductions of certain outspoken members of society, the space race, the brain drain; it also unveiled the murders, often staged to look like suicide, where an individual could not be coerced or controlled by the military or government. He found the space race a particularly interesting topic; frenzied governments, hungry for power, willing to sacrifice human life.

“Andrea, have you read this article?” He called out.

“Which article?” She replied from the den; she had recently acquired a NeuroFeed to keep up with the changes in the world. It had been recommended by a private company that had come to their door; a small chip implanted at the base of your spine that kept the news, social media, and the like, at your finger tips, so to speak. She seemed to be making excellent use of it; it was not available to men, yet. Some argument about the inherent risks of testosterone interfering with the chip’s processors.

“It’s called ‘Patient Zero’ – it goes in depth about the first person who was teleported to space.”

“Oh! Yes,” she said. “I found the government files on that, too; the process of quantum entanglement used meant that a carbon-copy of him was essentially created, in space. They worried that the result was the creation of a parallel universe within our universe. He was executed.”

The man felt a slight pang of sadness. “Did he have a name?”

“Just a minute,” she replied. Her silence meant she was looking it up for him. “Got it. His name was Anthony.”

“Hm,” he grunted, glancing at the paper again before closing it. Standing up, he stretched and took a sip of coffee. He could see out the balcony doors that the ocean was calm today. There were no storm clouds on the horizon.

“I think I’ll go to the beach,” he said to himself.

On Being Transgender within Wicca

As a gay, transmale, I was presented with a major stumbling block when I began seriously studying the Wiccan religion: the apparent emphasis on heterosexuality and the masculine/feminine divide. This is perhaps most evident in Traditional or Gardnerian Wicca, which describe The Great Rite as the sexual union between a man and a woman. To say I was perplexed is an understatement; in a religion which has feminism, environmentalism, and karmic elements, how did it get so caught up in this divide?

The answer is complex. Wicca is arguably a Neo-Pagan religion, revived in the 1950s when Gerald Gardner published a book about it, fearing that if he did not the religion would disappear. That said, Wiccan practices also appear to have been passed down through generations, largely in secret, given the persecution many witches or accused witches suffered during the Rise of Christianity. Much of the traditions and mythology that Wicca draws upon have been tainted by Christian ideology, as many pagan societies passed on their knowledge orally. It was Christian monks who began to write down much of the Celtic mythology, Druidic beliefs, etc that have influenced today’s Wiccan traditions. 

It isn’t a stretch, then, to conclude that perhaps the Christian aversion to gender fluidity and sexual fluidity, in the name of control, influenced elements of Wicca. It has been shown that pagan societies, and especially Native societies, respected and in some cases honoured those who fell outside the heterosexual, cisgender experience. Often it was believed that these individuals should be listened to as they could offer a unique experience and perspective to the existing belief system. Christianity was effective at demonizing such an approach, effectively shifting much of the world into a patriarchal society, pushing strict gender roles upon everyone, essentially stripping individuals of their freedom to, at least outwardly, experience their own gender identity and expression as they felt was true to themselves. 

Women have been aware of this for quite some time (perhaps the entire time), and men are increasingly recognizing the importance of feminism, not just for women, but for everyone. The strict gender divide and associated roles we are flung into from birth can lead to physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual violence, in various forms. The violence may be more subtle, such as expecting women to take a smaller paycheque than their male counterparts, or it may be horribly overt, in the case of domestic abuse. Men suffer under this system as well; we are expected to be unemotional, sometimes violently so; to take what is ours; to never admit weakness. The result is a society based on competition, oppression, and violence. 

Of course, this is my interpretation and conclusion based on my research and experiences; you may feel differently. 

All of that to say, one can see how certain traditions within Wicca may place more importance on the gender divide and heterosexuality. It very well could have been Christian influence, it could also have been beliefs held for eons that were less accepted in the past. Some traditions even go so far as to reject LGBTQIA+ folks from participating entirely. This is as true of the more Traditional branches as it is of, say, Dianic Wicca, where some traditions reject transwomen entirely. On the flip side of the coin, there are covens and traditions which are exclusive to gay, bisexual, and/or transgender men, though they do not seem to be as numerous yet. 

So what does all of this mean to me? It was difficult to assess in the beginning; there were so many competing elements, experiences, and influences at play. After a time, however, it came down to a few simple principles:

1. The Wiccan Rede 

“An ye harm none, do what ye will.”

This is an underlying tenet of Wicca. It means that so long as you do not bring harm to anyone, including yourself, do as you will. This was a sticking point regarding my transition from female to male; so many people were upset when I came out. Had I then caused harm? Am I continuing to cause harm?

Simply put: no. You are responsible for your own actions, not those of others. The expectations, stereotypes, etc that you shattered by being authentic to yourself were not placed upon you by yourself in this case: they were placed upon you from the moment of being assigned male or female at birth by other people, based on society’s expectations as a whole. Thus, this perceived harm arises as a result of social norms. 

2. The Masculine/Feminine Divide

The masculine/feminine divide, at first glance, certainly seems to emulate the gender binary. What is important, however, is that this perceived divide is just that: perception. What Wicca seems to say, in my understanding and practice, is that gender is a duality. This means that the divine masculine and divine feminine are present in every person, but they manifest differently for each individual being. Explained and seen as such, this reflects the gender spectrum more closely than it does the gender binary. It recognizes a variety of experiences, each reflecting the Divine, each as valid as the other. I could even stretch a tiny bit further and drag in Jung’s theory of the collective unconscious, but this essay is getting long as it is. 

3. A Note on Equality vs Equity

I am wary of the concept of equality. Equality, in my eyes, is giving everyone the same rights and then assuming that we are all start from the same circumstances. It’s similar to the gender binary in that sense: you are this or you are that. In this case, you are equal or you are not. The reality, as I see it, is that there are as many varied circumstances as there are individuals, making the practice of equality as forced and inefficient as the gender binary. 

Equity, on the other hand, recognizes and acknowledges the varied circumstances from which we come. It thereby allows for different approaches in relation to different experiences, with the ultimate goal of us having access to the same opportunities, without assuming we all start from the same position on the racetrack. It is similar to the gender spectrum in this regard: every being is unique, and will need different things to attain a particular goal. This is also reflective of the principle of duality that runs through many Wiccan beliefs. 

To conclude, it took a lot of self reflection, research, deconstruction, and reconstruction to comfortably call myself a transgender Wiccan. While others may disagree, I have come to see, effectively from two principles (The Rede and Duality), that Wicca is not nearly as heteronormative as I concluded initially.