top of page

Breath & Shadow

Fall 2021 - Vol. 18, Issue 4

"Cheering For the Dinosaurs"

written by

Jennifer Lee Rossman

I always cheered for the dinosaurs.

It probably concerned my parents, but they were the ones who thought Jurassic Park was an appropriate movie for a five-year-old in the first place.

We had the VHS, and I'm not sure how I didn't wear it out because I would watch it till the end, rewind it, and watch it again, multiple times a day. All the while cheering for the dinosaurs.

I don't think I really wanted anyone to get killed, although it was kind of funny when the lawyer got eaten on the toilet. I just really loved dinosaurs and wanted them to be happy, and if that meant they had to eat people, so be it. (Although I suspect my opinion would have changed drastically if anything happened to Ian Malcolm, my first crush and the love of my life.)

I could give myself too much credit, say that maybe I had already realized the real monsters in monster movies are always the people. But I don't think I was that savvy of a child. I'm pretty sure I just thought dinosaurs were neat.

As I got older, in my awkward adolescence and even more awkward teenage years, I learned to appreciate the human aspect of the story. The interpersonal drama, the emotions of the characters, the funny little quips from Malcolm even in the face of danger.

But there was something else that I wouldn't notice until I was an adult, another layer of meaning to this movie that already meant so much to me.

Jurassic Park made me who I am the same way Doctor Henry Wu made the dinosaurs. It took the raw genetic material that was baby Jen, and it filled in the gaps with everything I would need to survive, gently turning my egg with robotic arms to give me the care and nurturing my parents couldn't provide.

And when my egg finally cracked, Jurassic Park was there to encourage me to come out.

The kind of control you're attempting here is, uh, it's not possible.

They had eight whole months to be the parents of a normal baby, hopes and dreams for my future as grand as John Hammond's for his park. Then they brought the scientists in, and their dreams were washed away in the rain like Dennis Nedry's forgotten can of Barbasol.

I would never walk, my muscles would get weaker and weaker until I wouldn't be able to eat on my own, maybe have breathing problems, too. I would be more susceptible to illness.

They were told I would probably die soon. They bought a cemetery plot.

But she might not live to five became she might not live to eight became she might not live to 12 became her disease isn't progressing as fast as we thought, she might have a normal life span.

I didn't know any of this until I was 28, because through all of it, through life continuously finding a way, my parents decided they would keep me safe and alive by controlling everything. Keeping me out of school, choosing my friends, never giving me The Talk because why should they ever consider whether I might want to have a relationship or reproduce or even understand the body they thought I wouldn't grow into?

They didn't think I would grow up, so they didn't let me grow up. Just kept me nice and safe and innocent behind an electrified fence of emotional and psychological manipulation. (And in that regard, they spared no expense.)

But they put all this time and energy into raising me. They needed something to show for it, when people wondered why they bothered, why they didn't just put me in a home and visit on holidays. They needed to prove I was a clever girl.

I always felt bad for the goat, chained up with nowhere to go, its death inevitable. I should have felt bad for the tyrannosaur. They had this beautiful, strong, apex predator, every instinct and urge telling her to go and hunt creatures her own size. And instead of letting her reach her potential, they stuck her in a paddock and they feed her goats.

I didn't want to recite random science facts for my dad's friends, just to prove I was worth his time. That I was still good for something. And I didn't want to be quiet and polite and good when people were rude to me, like my mother said, telling me people only treated me like a monster because I acted like one. Even when I had done absolutely nothing, even when I was quiet and polite and good to her and she still treated me like a monster.

I had to be perfect, or else people would realize they spared so much expense, they cut so many corners in raising me.

I had to be perfect. Their version of perfect.

But I didn’t want to be fed; I wanted to hunt. I wanted more.

If there's one thing that the history of evolution has taught us, it's that life will not be contained.

I have spinal muscular atrophy. I am autistic (although at the time, my official diagnosis was apparently "Jen being a pain in the ass"). I'm bisexual. And my gender… well, we will get to that in a bit.

People could tell me, directly or indirectly, that all of these things were wrong. That I wasn't supposed to ask for help because I was a burden and I was in the way, that I was having meltdowns on purpose and being picky just to be difficult, that I wasn't supposed to have a sexuality or even an identity apart from my parents. But maybe they were too preoccupied with whether or not they could, and didn't stop to think if they should.

I did not evolve from age eight to about 16. Same style of clothing, same interests, same self-preservation instinct making me go along with whatever they said.

On the outside, anyway. For show, because it was all just a mechanical flea circus, wasn't it.

Sure, I had little rebellions. Like that one time I left the house without my hair in a ponytail for the first time in 10 years. But all of my change happened on the inside, and on the Internet, and in the fantasy worlds that existed in my mind. I had friends and opinions, adventures and plans for the future.

And then puberty happened, and I had no idea what to do anymore because there had been no little animated strand of DNA to explain it to me in the voice of Richard Kiley. I didn't want it, not just because it was physical proof that I had outgrown all of their expectations for me, but because I didn't want to have a uterus.

No one explained PMS, no one told me I had it. They just told me I was a bitch, that I was the monster for being unhappy in an electrified fence, and I had no way of knowing there was any other way to exist or that the real monsters were the people who put me there in the first place.

But you can't suppress instinct. I knew something was wrong. I knew, somehow, that it wasn't my fault. Something was wrong with me, because even once I figured out what was going on with me, I knew every person with PMS doesn't fall into a deep depression and dream about cutting off their hair and breasts as easily as a raptor slicing open the abdomen of that kid who needs to show a little respect. And the estrogen in a birth control pill doesn't make most people cry themselves to sleep thinking about what name they would want if they were a man.


But I already had so much wrong with me, so much chaos in the system. I knew I wouldn't be allowed to have gender dysphoria.

Maybe, though… if the fences went down…

Life breaks free

The dinosaurs, they didn't have any part in Nedry's plan. And that's where they and I differ, because my escape was entirely my idea.

Enough. Enough of the fences and the goats, of the manipulation and abuse. Just… Enough.

The plan went wrong. Because it wouldn't be a horror movie if it was that easy, now would it?

I thought we had planned for everything. I thought my team and I were prepared. But the 18 minute window came crashing down on us and we couldn't anticipate the torrential downpour, and for the first time after a month of knowing I was getting out, for the first time I wondered if I had been wrong.

The police were at the door; some signal had gotten crossed somewhere and the rest of my team wasn't there yet. I emailed them, frantic and secret, like I had been doing all month, telling them they must go faster, and I tried to keep my mom calm while she tried to figure out who had reported her for abuse.

All of her focus was on the police, and that was her mistake. Because to paraphrase Dr. Grant, the attack doesn't come from the police officers in front of you. It comes from the side, from the abused raptor who has spent her whole life learning how to lie to you, that you didn't even know was there.

"Mommy," I said, because I was 28 and still calling her Mommy. "Let me talk to them alone. Let me tell them, without you there so they don't think you're influencing me, that this is all some big misunderstanding and that I'm not being abused."

When she stepped out of the apartment, that was the last time I ever saw her. Last I knew, she was still pissed off. I don't care to ever talk to her again, but I do wonder if she will ever have some begrudging respect for me, like Muldoon for the raptor who killed him.

To break free, I lied my ass off to the one person I was supposed to love the most, manipulated her for my own purposes.

I learned from the best.

Expands to new places and crashes through barriers. Painfully, perhaps dangerously.

My mother always said no one else would ever take care of me like she did. No one would love me. No one would put up with my bullshit.

I laid awake at night in the nursing home, not letting myself cry because I was afraid I would dehydrate if no one cared enough to bring me water. I laid there, uncomfortable and terrified, having just been told it might be a week or more before I could even go tour a group home.

I didn't think I would make it a week.

I didn't know how to communicate with anyone except her. I didn't know how to act around people who didn't think me a monster. I didn't know how to be myself.

It was the Lysine Contingency. Just like they bred the dinosaurs to die within a week without the lysine the park provided, another method of control, she raised me to believe I couldn’t survive without her. But the dinosaurs survived, and so did I.

Because life finds a way.

I started repeating that to myself a few nights in, when I decided I wasn't going to cry on the phone to my aunt anymore about how badly I wanted to go home. Because there was no going back. I had torn down all the fences.

I don't remember if I started repeating it to comfort myself that it would get better, or as confirmation and a reminder that it had already started to get better. I think both.

I met people who cared about me. Who joked with me. Who treated me like an adult human and teased me about my crushes and respected my weird little quirks. People who actually wanted to hang out with me even if they weren't actively caring for me at the time. Friends.

I came out to a girl named Kaylee. She mentioned she was gay, I said "I'm bi." And I had never said those words out loud before but suddenly I wanted to tell everyone. My family, having been told all the same lies I grew up with, they were more surprised that I liked anyone, much less people of multiple genders.

But they were good with it, and some of them started talking to me like I was the adult they never thought I would be. I had grown up, painfully and perhaps dangerously, almost literally overnight.

I moved to a group home a month after leaving the only life I ever knew. Everything was different than I was used to. People were nice to me, and it didn't feel real. Sooner or later, one of the mechanisms would fail and I would realize, again, that it was all just a flea circus.

It isn't a flea circus. It's not perfect, but it's real. There are people here who I would trust with my life, who I've hugged and cried with and laughed with. People I love with all my heart.

People I can tell those secrets I have never said out loud before.

But … uh, well, there it is.

I must be a female because all of the dinosaurs are female. They made them that way to control them.

Only Ian Malcolm questions it. And in doing so, once again, changes my life.

He gives this speech about how it's impossible to control life. About how it won't be contained, it will break free of whatever constraints you put on it.

Later on in the movie, Dr. Grant discovers eggshells in the park. The dinosaurs are breeding, but how is that possible if they are all females?

Frog DNA. It's the frog DNA they filled in the gaps with, it helped some of the dinosaurs change their gender.

I wanted frog DNA so bad.

I've known this, in some nebulous way, since the day I started menstruating. It's not right, I don't want those organs and hormones inside of me. When I lived with my mom, I was pretty sure I wasn't a man, but I didn't know what else to be and I didn't want to go looking for answers in case I found one and it wasn't available to me.

And maybe I didn't need one more thing that made me different or weird or a burden. It was bad enough that I needed so much help, that wearing a coat gave me a panic attack, that I wanted to love and be loved no matter how much they said I didn't. Did I really need to add being trans?

Or… whatever I was?

But in my new home, in my new life, I'm still different and weird, but I'm not a burden. People are kind and understanding and they see me as an equal, capable of making my own decisions and feeling attraction and wanting to date.

And some of them are confused by me saying I'm not a girl even if I look like a girl and even if I don't want to be a guy, but they want me to be happy. And some of them get it. Really get it.

I’m non-binary.

My dysphoria is mostly related to my hormones and my cycle. Sometimes I get upset and cut my hair short so I look like a dude, sometimes I hate my body. But I don't care what name or pronouns people use. I don't really care what I look like on the outside. I just want to feel different on the inside, I just want to change the parts of me that are supposedly female.

I started testosterone—frog DNA—on November 14, 2020.

I'm not saying it's going to be easy. I'm not saying it will solve all of my problems. I'm simply saying that life… uh… finds a way.

Jennifer Lee Rossman is a disabled and nonbinary dinosaur nerd from Binghamton, New York. Her work has appeared in several shelves‘ worth of books, including Space Opera Libretti, which she coedited. Find more of her work on her blog and follow her on Twitter @JenLRossman.

bottom of page