A Year and Change is my retrospective on the early years of The Trading Post, one of my most admired pieces of Transformation/TG Fic, which tells the story of visitors to a cursed Inn in Maine that transforms visitors into those who have stayed before, forcing them to live their lives.
In our last entry, we met the principal players of the Trading Post’s First Year (some of whom would be considerably more visible than others) and observed – in a fractured way – their transformation into a dozen or so young women.
A lot of TG works make it a point to show manhood at its most obnoxious, so as to give us a reason to root for the men to be “punished” with femininity. That’s definitely one way to go and there are shades of it here – for the most part the guys are very laddish, and after all they are a house full of guys at a beerfest, so there’s no reason they wouldn’t be. They definitely are archetypal men, but they aren’t a troupe of unrepentant sexists who deserve punishment, especially not the ones we’ll be spending the most time with. Jake does have a moment where he misreads some interactions with a young woman, to give an authentic spin on real-world masculinity. And Art, perhaps our key viewpoint character as the actual “writer” and amateur sleuth of the group, is really just A Guy. His presence affirms what is ultimately one of my favourite aspects of The Trading Post. That it isn’t designed to be karmic punishment for Bad Men. It’s just happenstance – bad luck (or good fortune) that could happen to any random person.
It just so happens that nearly all of those people, in this instance, are men, who become women.
September 2006, being the first full month of the blog and encompassing the immediate aftermath of the transformation, ends up as by far the month with the highest post count in the history of the blog with 27. Only a few other months – summer ones where we introduce various new characters and say goodbye to others – reach the low 20’s, and usually 15 would be considered a very busy month. In fact, this month was so full that I believe the first post or two were not visible on the blog’s old layout because the archive didn’t accommodate that many entries on a single page. With a fairly recent layout refresh, these posts are now fully readable again.
“I used to be over six feet tall! I was on the football team back at school! … I mean seriously, what’s worse? Suddenly being a girl, or being a kid again?”Jeff
The next post-transformation post is from young Jeff, who checks in with a scantly-detailed entry that does a lot to express his frustration not just at the transformation, but at the specifics of his own new body – fittingly considering he was annoyed at feeling like the “Kid” of the group, he now appears to be a 14-year-old girl compared to the grown ”women” who now surround him. He even describes looking “up” to the transformed Art, whom he identifies by his tendency to chew large quantities of gum.
Next up is Vinny, who apologizes for his poor typing skills because he has been bequeathed a set of long nails with his new form. He describes sitting up to find blonde hair in his face and a weight dropping from his chest. He remarks on some of the characters we already know about – Art is confirmed to be Asian, Jake is a redhead, and Jeff looks like a girl “just going through puberty.” Vinny muses about his own bodily developments, which he hopes are at an end – “I wouldn’t be able to take it if these jugs on my chuest(sic) got any better … I want to pretend they don’t exust, but they’re impossible to ignore.” He notes, however, that he seems to be a “tall girl.”
“No more muscular arms. No more big feet … I look a bit like a bimbo aand I can’t stand it. I look in the mirror and see a girl that I would have lovewd to take to bed with me, but now the thought kinda feels repulsive. That’s scary too. I see a girl with shoultder length blond hair, blue eyes, wearing nothing but a tshirt and a pair of men’s pants which are a bit too long for her and are constantly falling down. I had to put a new hole in my belt just to keep them on me.”Vinny
He also notes something that none of the other guys have marked (so far) in that he has picked up an accent he can’t place, which is chalked up by Art in a later post to the way an individual body’s vocal chords may warp over years of use in a particular way. As a sidenote, I’ve actually read some journals on this, and apparently if you were to transplant a person’s vocal chords, the new owner still retains their voice, leading to some uncertainty (at least to me) where a person’s voice actually resides!
Vinny closes out his post by affirming that he does not want to think about the downstairs situation, despite knowing he’s going to have to relieve himself sooner or later. Ah, the time-honored tradition of that fist piss in a new body.
Jake is next, to tell the story from his perspective, beginning with the tentative explorations he was making of his new body when Art arrived – examining his long red hair, cupping his new breasts. He doesn’t say much else about the first day except that Art was very cool under pressure, that they couldn’t find any news reports of mass body transformations, and that he basically drank himself to sleep after taking in the sights to confirm he is now a “natural redhead.”
He goes on to flesh it out having had another day to think, and reconcile the fact that this is for real:
“Two days ago I would have told you that this bed was cozy, with soft sheets. That the temperature was comfortable, and the room had no unpleasant smells. Now the bed feels hard, the sheets have a rough texture, the room cold and I can smell my pile of dirty clothes in the corner of the room. This new body senses the world differently than the old one.”Jake
Quite a discrepancy. This is a detail I always appreciated – examining the degree to which we are our senses. Are women’s senses more keen than a man’s? I know I’ve certainly heard anecdotal evidence to suggest so, and there’s nothing wrong with putting it down in a specific instance (I think very few of our subjects make remarks like these over the years.)
Jake proceeds to be the first of the guys to step outside the Inn to see if what is happening to them is perceptible to the world at large. When he finds a convenience store clerk who not only stares at his chest (dressed in would-be “gender neutral” sweats and a t-shirt) but describes him, when asked, as “An incredibly hot redhead with a killer body dressed in her boyfriend’s clothes” he at least decides he’s not crazy.
On Sept 2, we get caught up on what the victims have learned about their predicament and how they learned it. When Vinessa – the mysterious Peruvian woman who had crashed in Mark’s room the night before, is found she reveals that Mark had, in fact, transformed into Ginessa – Gem, the woman she had been looking for, her sister. Once they hear this, they learn that that have become specific people:
“I … just pulled the bags out of the closet, tearing through them until I found a purse. I emptied it out onto the bed, and pulled the wallet out. Right there, on the Massachusetts driver’s license, was a somewhat younger version of the face I’d been seeing in the mirror for the past day. The name on that license – and everything else with a name – is “Elizabeth Lee”. I held the clothes up, and they were all my new size … This stuff – it wasn’t forgotten – it was left for us, because the old owners didn’t need it any more.”Art
Through this, and a letter enclosed with this luggage addressed to “The New Me,” Art learns about the life he is to lead: Elizabeth “Liz” Lee lives in Cambridge, Mass, where she works as a manager at a movie theater. She was/is friends with Ashlyn – the woman who Jake now appears to be – due to a shared sublet where they lived together before Liz had moved in with her boyfriend Ray.
Lastly, Liz writes that she was prompted to leave this letter by the person she had turned into, who also left such a letter, which they take to mean this curse goes back quite a ways.
In Jake’s next post he describes taking his first shower in three days – something he was reluctant to do, but was urgently needed due to the progressively worse body odor’s effect on his new senses. It’s only fair that so many days into the transformation we have a pretense to consider these bodies in their nude states, especially Jake-as-Ashlyn, one of the most remarked-upon for its figure and looks.
Still though, Jake pushes away any unwanted erotic thoughts and tries to keep it all business, when he gets a visit from Art to inform him of what he has discovered about the transformation. Digging through the young woman’s suitcase he finds no such letter (only the usual items, including sexy underwear he sets off to the side) but does find a DVD that can be played on a laptop that has been left.
The letter provides relevant information about Ashlyn’s life – she lives in Cambridge, has various roommates and works in “promotions” (basically as a Giveaway Girl for radio stations, at conventions and the like.) She has been through a recent breakup with a “Josh,” whom the person in the video – a man – tearfully asks the new Ashlyn to be nice to, because “He’s in love with you.”
Ashlyn does provide one other new detail – as she was told, if they try to tell anyone about the curse, they will not be believed, so asking for help is right out. At this, Jake despairs – any hope of being any form of “himself” anytime soon is basically lost.
Vinny also chimes in with an update – he has cut his nails (“Apparently it’s my body now anyway, so who was going to stop me?”) and learned he is in the body of Sarah Hansen, a 20-year-old student at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, but originally from Hibbing, MN, hence the accent. He also dons his first bra, a 38-D.
“Wonderful. This is my cosmic punishment for being a breast man.”
I like all the time these characters are given to sit with their predicament and let it wash over them as it might in real life. In later years, we didn’t really take that luxury because even if it was new to the characters, it was not new to the readers and felt somewhat redundant – we, or at least I, tried to keep the story moving more as they processed as best they could.
That same day, we hear from Art, who has been contacted by a co-worker at Liz’s job, saying that home office is starting to worry and if she doesn’t turn up on Monday, she’ll be fired. This is one of those obstacles endemic to the premise of the Trading Post (a person’s entire body is basically gone for up to two or even three weeks) that was a little tricky to navigate. A planned vacation is one thing, but “extending” it is a necessary function to try to keep one’s own status quo. So you maybe claim illness, or are able to add an impromptu week and hope for the best, but seemingly not everybody can do this. It would stand to reason that a lot of people would be fired for their absences, which is not necessarily the story we want to be telling. After all, part of the appeal is that you are slipping into a person’s life as it is meant to be lived – taking on their relationships and doing their jobs in addition to contending with their physiology and place in society. It almost feels like cheating to have someone be fired and give them a new start… too often, at least.
In any case. This prompts Art to go to Boston and live as Liz, as any illusion that he has another option has basically evaporated. Ever the practical one, Art sums it up like this:
“And if we do figure out how to reverse this curse or spell or whatever we’re under, I probably shouldn’t mess Liz’s life up any more than I’d want the next guy using this room to mess up mine.”Art
He muses one whether Jake and Vinny, who have also become Boston/Cambridge locals, will be joining him on his 2:00 train to Boston, or if they would prefer to stay at the Inn until the reservations are up (I believe that would be the next day, as their block checked in on the 22nd and it’s a pretty firm 2 weeks each, per Trading Post regulations.) And hey, if they do, he thinks maybe they’d want to lounge around in their bikinis while they’re here:
“Not that I’d be caught dead walking around in a two-piece swimsuit; I’d just love to see them in one.”
He finishes by noting his own struggle to distill his life into a letter, talking about how few personal connections he has and his freelance work. He packs up his own clothes and Liz’s – noting he bought fresh underwear since he wouldn’t dare wear another person’s, even if it was ostensibly their body – and takes only a few personal items before heading for the train, such as his lucky A’s cap.
In his next post, Jake is reluctantly on board with the idea of going to Cambridge and living as these women – after deeming the other options like staying in Maine or even going back to Texas as unfeasible given a new Jake Matthews might not be so welcoming to this new person in “his” life. He admits that after all that uncertainty, it’s at least good to have some direction.
He describes taking some ownership of Ashlyn’s possessions, particularly her clothes (the post is entitled “clothes make the woman.”) He also relents and tries makeup, since no self-respecting 23-year-old woman (who looks like Ashlyn, I suppose) would be caught dead without any cosmetics on. He laments not being able to take his own laptop, because it’s for work, and “That isn’t my job anymore.”
While writing his letter to the new Jake, he begins to shed tears, feeling like his best friend had died, only the friend was himself. Taking a few hundred dollars from his personal account, he sets out to his new life.
A lot of info is downloaded in these few weeks of posts, to fully establish the unique (and versatile!) premise of the Trading Post: You physically become the person who stayed there before you, as they became the person who stayed before them, and the next person will become you. In a recent conversation, Jay highlighted to me that this premise was established specifically to put people on a track to living their newly-bequeathed lives, complete with accounting for why they never try to explain it to anyone. This, to me, was one of the irresistible facets of the Trading Post blog. The characters are somewhat railroaded into their new directions, but if you give someone like this leeway to fight against their situation, realistically they would and it grinds the story to a halt. It’s a problem every transformation or bodyswapping story must address early on to get on with proceedings. Not only are we in a situation where that is not feasible, but we are following characters like Art and Jake, who would very much be in character taking the path of least resistance and trying to find a smart way out of it rather than throwing a tantrum and holing up in a room somewhere. It gets the story off on the right foot so that we can proceed watching these men live their new lives in the bodies of women.