Stephanie, part 3

"I should get going," I sigh as I watch the clock tick over to 9pm. "Flatmates get kinda paranoid about leaving the front door unlocked this late..."

"Well, that makes me feel all the better about you travelling on the tube this late," mum sighs as I grab my backpack and head to the front door. "Are you SURE you don't want to stay over tonight, Steve?" I sigh again as I catch a glance of my make-up free, unshaven face in the hallway mirror.

"Nah... Need to be up early tomorrow," I say.

"Well, see you next weekend I guess," dad says, giving me an awkward hug as I leave my family home. "Take care, son."

"Will do," I say. "See you next weekend!" I sigh heavily as I leave my house and hop on the tube to my new flat. Fortunately, my flatmate ALWAYS goes to bed early on a Sunday- a throwback from having grown up on a farm- so I don't have to find anywhere to change and can enter the flat in 'Steve mode', heading straight to my bedroom and collapsing on my bed.

"Hey Steph," Lauren tiredly mumbles from the adjoining bedroom.

"Hey Lauren," I say in my perfected feminine voice- a voice I now use a lot more than my 'normal' male voice. "I'll not be up longer, don't worry..."

"Good," Lauren yawns. "Night Steph..."

"Night, Lauren," I reply, taking the opportunity to lie awake on my bed for a while longer. Ever since I moved into my new apartment four weeks ago, I've effectively been living life full-time as Stephanie, and whilst it is HIGHLY enjoyable... I do miss these moments when I can just be Steve, when I don't have to worry about my appearance, or my body language, or my voice, when I can just lay back and let all my worries wash away, as though they were grains of sand slipping through my fingers.

Of course, eventually my time- like the sand- runs out, and I crawl into bed just after 10:30pm, waking just after 7am and heading into my en-suite bathroom, where I stare at Steve's face for the last time this week. I shave 'Steve's face clean of facial hair, before applying a full face of expensive make-up. With my advance payment from the agency firmly settled in my bank account, I can afford to be a little adventurous in my spending- no more cheap supermarket make-up for me.

I head back into my bedroom and pull on a clean thong, giggling as the thin, stretchy fabric nestles snugly between my buttocks and keeps me 'under control', before pulling on a special padded bra I ordered off the internet that will give me the correct 'shape'. The studio believe I'll be wearing these bras until my own breasts have a chance to grow- needless to say, I'll be wearing them for a while.

After fastening my bra, I stretch a pair of baby pink tights over my legs, followed by a tight black tank leotard, and finally a short-sleeved button-up denim dress. I scrape my short- but growing- brown hair back, pinning it to my head with hair clips, before grabbing my pink dance bag and meeting my flatmate outside our respective bedrooms.

"Ready to go, ballerina buddy?" Lauren asks, an excited giggle seeping into her thick Highland accent.

"You bet!" I laugh as we head down the stairs and into the cool London air. Not long later, we arrive at our dance studio, where our three bandmates- and eleven other young women signed to our talent agency- are waiting for us, also decked out in the basic black leotards and pink tights commonly worn by ballet students.

"Girls," Krystie- our dance teacher- announces before we get started. "In four short days’ time, one of us will be a year older... Isn't that right, Miss Benedict?" I giggle a little as Adeola grins bashfully, a cute smile spreading across her dark-skinned face.

"Come on," Becca laughs. "You know the drill..." The whole dance studio cheers supportively as Adeola steps up to Krystie and drops to a graceful ballerina's kneel, before being 'crowned' with a jewelled tiara. Within minutes, she's changed into a baby pink tutu and performed a brief routine for the rest of us- with a level of skill and grace I can only dream of as Krystie helps myself, Lauren and Kayla learn the absolute basics of dance. This is my ninth ballet lesson, and progress is very, very slow.

"Godddddd," I sigh as our extended lesson ends and I can finally pull my dress back on and unclip my hair. "Every time I set foot in that place I feel like a hippo..."

"You're hardly fat!" Kayla snorts as she pulls her own short dress back on over her dancewear. "And just wait until your oestrogen kicks in, from what I've read on the internet, your waist will basically vanish!" Yeah, about that... I self-pityingly think to myself.

"And it's not like we'll need to dance live," Lauren says. "None of the big girl bands do anything beyond really basic steps, all the complex stuff we'll do will be in the videos where if we make a mistake, we just redo it until we get it right."

"Yeah, what time's your last train, Kayla?" I ask, making my two new friends laugh.

"You'll be FINE," Lauren insists. "God knows I'm hardly any better than you right now!"

"Yeah, but you're, like, half my size," I moan.

"Three inches shorter and maybe two inches less on the waist!" Lauren retorts. "Hardly HALF your size..."

"Okay, okay," I laugh. "Where we going for lunch?"

"Subway, probably," Lauren sighs. "Need to go shopping for yet ANOTHER birthday present..."

"First Becca, now Adeola," Kayla snorts. "Reckon it's a coincidence they formed this band within weeks of BOTH their birthdays?"

"Yeah, but- let's just get it out of the way, okay?" I sigh. "At least we know Addie a little better now, and you know that whatever we get her, she'll at least PRETEND to be grateful..." Lauren and Kayla both nod as they remember our 'lead singer's birthday party two weeks ago today- not that it was easy to forget.

As Becca's birthday fell on a Monday, she did her 'routine' for the ballet class, much like Adeola did today, and spent the rest of the day being waited on hand and foot by her brother, her boyfriend... and the rest of her band. It wasn't too bad at first- Riley is absolutely besotted with Becca and happily did all the heavy lifting (both metaphorically and literally), but Becca's entitled attitude managed to irritate everyone to the point that by the time her 'official' party started at around 8pm, even Adeola was annoyed... And then Becca opened her presents, and things got infinitely worse.

Lauren, Kayla and I had only received our advances two weeks before, which was hardly enough time to get to know Becca's tastes, but we did our best- getting her stuff related to ballet, horse riding, stuff we know she likes... All things that were met with polite indifference. Even though the party had a 'music' theme to it, with stuff like karaoke and Guitar Hero laid on as entertainment, Becca spent virtually no time with 'her' band apart from Adeola, instead spending her time hanging around with Riley, Stuart and Jamie-Lee. Whilst it's understandable in a way- Riley's her boyfriend, Stuart's her brother and Jamie-Lee is his girlfriend- Lauren, Kayla and I went away from the party with a VERY bad taste in our mouths.

After a quick lunch, the three of us jump on the tube to Oxford Street, where we spend the next three hours picking out gifts for Adeola- she's spoken often of her respect for such Civil Rights activists as Martin Luther King and Emmeline Pankhurst, so I've bought her a series of books, paintings and DVDs on the topic. The three of us even managed to track down a traditional Nigerian dress in her size in a charity shop, and after umming and ahing over whether or not it'd be 'too sensitive', decided to buy it anyway on the condition that it was listed as from all three of us.

Of course, we took the time to treat ourselves as well, and as Lauren and I arrive back at our flat just after 5:30pm (having seen Kayla off at the station), we each have shopping bags full of cute, new clothes. In the past- when I was Steve- I would dread shopping trips with my mum. I'd spend what felt like hours walking around a store getting more and more bored as mum picked out various clothes to try on and (occasionally) buy. The added frustration of desperately wanting to try on the clothes for myself just served to make those trips intolerable. Today, however, it was MY turn to shop- trying on my own clothes, earning the approval of Lauren & Kayla and offering my own opinions on their clothing choices... It was the type of girly day out I'd dreamed of all my life, and as much as I may miss being Steve, I loved every second of today, out with my girl friends. Even if I felt a mild pang of regret every time I passed a videogame store...

"I am fucking KNACKERED," Lauren laughs as she collapses on the sofa, her flame-coloured hair falling chaotically over her shoulders. "What you want for dinner?"

"Can you face take-out?" I ask, making Lauren giggle.

"Who was worried about her waistline again?" The Scottish girl retorts. "Think I've got a couple of low-fat spag bols in the freezer, I'll chuck them in the microwave."

"Sounds great," I say with a chuckle as I switch on the television. "Big TV night tonight!"

"Oh?" Lauren asks. "What's on?"

"First episode in the new series of Game of Thrones," I say excitedly. "Been looking forward to it for AGES!"

"Ehh," Lauren grimaces. "Not... Not really a fan, I'm afraid."

"Oh, what?" I ask, barely hiding the disappointment in my voice.

"Yeah, my brothers made me watch the first series when I was fourteen," Lauren sighs. "Had nightmares for days afterwards... You can watch it though, if you want."

"It's not really any fun watching it by yourself," I mumble.

"Sorry," Lauren says. "You can Sky+ it and watch it with someone else later if you'd like?"

"Sounds good!" I giggle, forcing a smile onto my face as Lauren giggles with relief. Sure enough, when 9pm rolls around, I find myself not watching my favourite TV show, but instead sat on the sofa whilst Lauren paints our nails a delicate pink colour and tells me about her childhood, growing up on a farm with three significantly older brothers.

We head to our beds just after 10:30pm, with Lauren grinning at the enjoyable night she's had, whilst I'm left frustrated that my 'choice' has led to me missing a TV programme I've waited months to watch- and wondering what else my new life will cause me to have to give up...

I wake up the following morning at 7am and run through what has quickly become my morning routine- shaving, showering, applying my make-up and picking out my outfit for the day- translucent brown tights, a ruffled black miniskirt, a tight purple top and knee-high black boots, all of which- even the tights- are purchases I've made since joining the band.

"Hey sexy lady!" Lauren laughs as she takes my place in the bathroom. "LOVE those boots, gonna have to get myself a pair today whilst you're working hard!"

"Rub it in harder, why don't you?" I retort as I head out onto the street and stride along to the nearest tube stop. On the short ride to the recording studio, I can't help but inwardly smirk at the attention my boots- and the rest of me- gets from the numerous young men also travelling to work on the packed underground carriages. In the past, every time I left the house as Stephanie, I'd always cringe at the attention I'd get from men, so I'd always dress conservatively- rarely wearing skirts shorter than knee-length, always wearing opaque tights- but since being 'accepted' as Stephanie, I've grown more and more adventurous. I still don't want a boyfriend, of course... But there's a very real part of me that feels smug knowing that if I DID want a man... I could have one any time I wanted.

I arrive at my workplace a short while later to be greeted by Stuart, our producer, who guides me into the recording studio that's quickly become like another home to me.

"Just the two of us today," Stuart chuckles. "You clear on the tracks we're going to be doing today?"

"Yep," I say as I put on my headphones. Even though we haven't so much as released a promotional video yet, we're already hard at work recording tracks for our first album. Stuart's had the idea that each of us should contribute a solo track to the album, so whilst the other four girls get a day off, I spend the day singing various tracks that have been selected for me. In additional to the covers we've been doing- including 'Man I Feel Like a Woman' by Shania Twain and 'Time After Time' by Cyndi Lauper- Stuart's also written several original tracks for the five of us. For a man, he's VERY good at writing music and lyrics for female voices...

After six hours that leaves my throat feeling almost red raw, Stuart calls it a day, even though we didn't quite complete our itinerary for the day.

"Your voice will gain stamina eventually," Stuart assures me as I grab my bag and follow him out into the agency's reception area. "We've still got plenty of time before we're going to put out any music, let alone go on tour, so as long as you work on it, you'll be fine eventually." My heart skips a beat as Stuart mentions touring- whilst it's obviously a key part of any musical act, the thought of getting on stage, dressed as Stephanie, and singing in front of hundreds, maybe even thousands of people...

Fortunately, I can put that thought to the back of my mind for now as we enter the reception area, where Jamie is there to greet her boyfriend with a long, deep kiss. I smirk as I watch the couple embrace- being born a man certainly didn't prevent Jamie from finding a boyfriend, and if I did ever end up with a man, I'd kinda like it to be someone like Stuart- friendly, kind and intelligent. Of course, I'd much prefer any potential future partner to be female, but if I've learned anything since beginning my life as Stephanie, it's to keep an open mind about everything- even myself.

"Hey, sexy," Stuart giggles as he gives Jamie another kiss. "Ready to go?"

"Can I talk to Steph for a second?" Jamie asks, catching both myself and Stuart by surprise.

"Umm, sure, I guess," Stuart says, laughing as Jamie gives him a very loud pat on the backside.

"Hey Steph," Jamie says as she leads me into a small private office.

"Hey Jamie," I say to the woman who has quickly become a mentor to me both professionally and personally. "What's up?"

"Just checking in, making sure everything's alright," Jamie says with a smile.

"Yeah, everything's going fine," I say.

"True," Jamie laughs. "But it's a big day both tomorrow AND Thursday... Are you sure you want to go through with it without talking to your counsellor first?"

"Positive," I say, desperately trying to sound as sincere as possible. Fortunately, Jamie chuckles at my determination- fake as it may be.

"Good girl," Jamie says. "Always look forward, never backward... Though on that note, have you tried contacting your parents yet?"

"Not yet," I mumble, shaking my head.

"That was probably the biggest step for me too," Jamie says. "But if you ever need any help, if you want me to go to meet them with you, I will. I know this journey can be scary... God knows it was terrifying for me at first, but here I am, one year after my SRS... And I wouldn't change a single thing in my life, not one thing."

"...Except," I say, "don't you ever wish that you were just, you know, born a girl?" Jamie chuckles and shakes her head at my question.

"All the time," my mentor whispers. "Especially when I see my friends with their children... But if I'd been born a girl, I probably wouldn't have made the friends I have, and I CERTAINLY wouldn't have met Stuart... All in all, I don't have any regrets." Good for you, I self-pityingly think to myself. "Know what you're wearing to Addie's birthday party yet?" Jamie continues.

"Umm, I was just planning on wearing a dress," I say. "It's not another theme party, is it?"

"Nah, it's only her nineteenth and Addie doesn't usually like a big fuss being made of her," Jamie says, before giggling. "Unlike her BFF, of course..." I let out an involuntary snort of laughter as Jamie once again takes a shot at Becca.

"Is that really how you should be talking about your potential future sister-in-law?" I giggle.

"You know," Jamie laughs, "when I first met her, she was this shy, star struck eighteen year old? What a difference two years makes..."

"I suppose to her credit she's never given me any grief about, well, you know," I laugh.

"She wouldn't dare," Jamie says. "Especially not in front of Stuart."

"Because he's going out with you?" I ask.

"Umm, because of HIM," Jamie says. "Do- do you really not know?"

"Know what?" I ask, making Jamie giggle uncontrollably.

"Oh, Stuart's going to LOVE this," Jamie laughs. "My boyfriend... When HE was born 25 years ago, HER name was Claire." My jaw drops at the revelation- Stuart used to be a girl? No wonder he's so good at writing lyrics for female voices...

"Seriously?" I ask.

"Seriously," Jamie says. "He's been transitioning for nine years now, done his absolute best to eradicate anything even remotely feminine about himself- not that I'm complaining- but there are still times, occasions when his 'old self' comes through... Especially when he's around babies!" I giggle as Jamie gossips about her boyfriend, and as we head back out into the agency's reception, I find myself giggling nervously as Stuart flashes me a smile, before leaving hand-in-hand with Jamie.

Immediately as I arrive home, I log on to Facebook on my new laptop and browse to Stuart's page, staring intently at his profile picture. Hormones can't alter bone structure, no matter how long you take them, and the more I concentrate, the more I can traditionally feminine aspects to his face- and, most worryingly of all, the more I stare at his face, the more I WANT to stare at his face...

"Hey Steph!" Lauren says as she comes through the door and drops two large shopping bags on the sofa. "Sainsbury's guy been yet?"

"Umm, no," I say, hastily closing down the page I was looking at. "Get anything good?"

"Not really," Lauren sighs. "Kayla's still in Southampton, Adeola and Becca... Yeah. Shopping's no fun when you're doing it by yourself."

"Sorry I had to go into work," I giggle as I sit down next to the Scottish girl. "Lauren... Have you ever given any thought to touring? You know, we're going to have to do it eventually..."

"'Have to'?" Lauren laughs. "It's the reason I wanted to be in the group... Singing in front of a crowd... Largest crowd I've ever sung in front of has been at school. I've got this dream, y'know, of singing the national anthem at Murrayfield or Hampden, 50 000 people singing along with me..."

"I take it you're talking about 'Flower of Scotland' and not 'God Save the Queen'?" I say.

"If England play Scotland at any point in the future, YOU can sing God Save the Queen!" Lauren jokes, before heading into the kitchen to prepare a quick dinner.

After an evening of Eastenders and various American sitcoms I've never seen a single episode of before, I opt for an early night, and make a mental note to bring my Xbox back to my apartment with me next weekend, no matter how 'un-girly' it might be.

"Okay," Stuart says as he adjusts dials on hi console. "You've done this plenty of times, just go out there and knock 'em dead." I nod my head and turn around to face the ninety thousand-strong Wembley crowd, smiling at the feel of my long hair and floaty dress blowing in the wind, and the sight of my almost luminous red nail polish.

"God save our gracious Queen!" I sing. "Long live our noble Queen! God save the Queen! Send her victorious, Happy and glorious, Long to reign over us, God save the Queen!" As the crowd cheers, I turn around to face Stuart, who greets me with a long, soft kiss...

"Ah!" I gasp as I awake, almost hyperventilating. "I do NOT fancy Stuart, I do NOT fancy men..." even though my alarm clock shows that it's only 5am, I don't get back to sleep before getting up at 7:30am, running through my morning routine and dressing in a light, knee-length black dress and black tights- though for what feels like the first time in ages, I DON'T shave, and as I leave the flat to head to the nearest tube station, I desperately try to disguise my face with my hair. However, every time someone glances in my direction, my heart rate increases, and every double-take I receive nearly causes me to wet myself with terror. Even though the tube journey was mere minutes, I still breathe a sigh of relief as I step through the door of the small Paddington clinic, where both I and my stubbly face are expected.

"Hi, I'm Stephanie Abbott, here for my treatment?" I say to the receptionist, who smiles and instructs me to take a seat. I allow myself a small chuckle as I look around the waiting room- one of very few places on Earth where stubble-faced women ARE an everyday sight.

"Miss Abbott?" A young nurse asks, before leading me into a small, clean room with a lot of expensive-looking medical equipment in it. "This is your first treatment, isn't it?"

"Yeah," I say, taking a deep breath of air. "I'm kinda a little nervous..."

"That's to be expected," the nurse says with a smile. "But you really have nothing to worry about, you won't feel any pain, at worst it'll be like you have a very mild sunburn." Yeah, it's not the pain I'm nervous about...

Ten minutes later, I lay still as a trained medical professional runs a high-intensity beam of light over my face, causing a powerful tingling sensation as the laser beam travels down my facial hair to the follicles, eradicating them cell by cell. No, my nerves weren't about the pain- because there really isn't any- but about me taking the first step down a path I'm not fully sure I want to travel down.

Sure, having facial hair removed is a far cry from full SRS, or even hormone treatments, but it's still one step toward being female... And more crucially, one step away from being male. Both my brothers have grown goatee beards at some point in the past, as has my father before his work as an ambulance technician caused him to have to shave it off. As the laser beam works its magic on my chin, I muse on how I'll never have that option. Sure, this is just the first treatment- it'll take several more to completely kill my facial hair- but as I walk out of the clinic, it's as though 'Steve' has taken one more step into irrelevance... And eventual extinction. One thing's for certain though- and that's that I WON'T miss shaving.

Despite my still-stubbly face (the laser kills hair follicles, rather than hairs themselves), I head to the recording studio rather than back to the apartment, dropping into the recording studio where Stuart is hard at work directing Kayla through her solo performances. Stuart beams me a smile as I enter the small booth that causes my heart to flutter despite my best efforts. I do NOT fancy Stuart... I think to myself as I take a seat next to my producer. I do NOT fancy him, I do NOT fancy him...

"Hey Steph!" Kayla yells through the glass after she finishes her song. "Missed you at ballet today..."

"Yeah, didn't want to put this off," I say. And in truth, having a laser beam shot at my face is, if anything, more enjoyable than ballet... "Doing anything for lunch?"

"I WAS going to send her home," Stuart laughs. "Kayla's voice is THAT perfect that we don't really need to do any additional takes..." In the booth, Kayla giggles bashfully, though she's clearly pleased with herself to have received such a compliment from our producer.

"...And it's my boyfriend's free day from college," Kayla continues. "Kinda wanted to spend some time with him, you know, before I get too famous and too busy with touring and TV appearances..."

"Go on," Stuart laughs. I bid the tiny girl farewell with a hug before turning to the invader of my dreams.

"You know," I say. "Seeing as I'm here and you have got the studio for the rest of the day, we could, um, pick up from where we left off yesterday? You know, finish off the songs..."

"Sure," Stuart says, opening files on his laptop. "Just make yourself comfortable, I'll be a few minutes loading in all the music."

"Okay," I say, heading into the booth and putting on my headphones. "I didn't know Kayla had a boyfriend..."

"Yeah, think they met at college," Stuart says. "How about you, any boy OR girl in your life?"

"No, um, kinda not looking right now," I half-lie. "The, um, oestrogen has damaged my libido..."

"Yeah, I'd heard that can be the case," Stuart says. "Of course, for me, it was the opposite quote-unquote problem, and yes, Jamie told me yesterday and yes, thank you for not noticing, I'm sure you of all people can appreciate how much of a compliment that is!" I giggle nervously as Stuart briefly diverts his attention from his work to grin at me. "Okay, think we're ready, we're going to start with 'In Your Eyes', is that okay?"

"Sure," I say, taking a deep breath as the opening bars of the familiar Kylie Minogue song plays.

After two hours of singing, it's a relief to finally be allowed to leave the studio- and not just because my voice is tired.

"We got some good work done today," Stuart says with a smile. "You heading home now?"

"Yeah," I say. "Gonna be fun braving the tube again with my 5 O'Clock shadow..."

"Eh, I'll drive you home," Stuart says. "Jamie's in Manchester all day recording for a TV show and won't be back until late, your flat's on the way to my house, makes sense really."

"Okay, if you're sure," I say as I get into Stuart's car, keeping my knees closed and swinging my legs in as he shuts the door for me. "How much do you want for petrol?"

"I go past your flat anyway on the way home!" Stuart laughs. "Don't worry about petrol, just get home and rest your voice. Jamie tells me you've got your first meeting with Dr Phillips tomorrow, is that right?"

"Yeah," I reply.

"She's been my counsellor for three years," Stuart says. "Helped me through a lot, my break-up and getting back together with Jamie, my upcoming SRS... I know she'll help you too."

"Cool," I say, though in my mind I'm still trying to figure out what to say to the counsellor, a dilemma that persists after Stuart drops me off at home, and throughout dinner, as I head to bed and as I get up the following morning. After shaving my still-sensitive face and applying a light layer of make-up, I dress in very basic underwear, black tights, a plain denim skirt and a turtleneck jumper. For the first time since moving into my new apartment, every item of clothing I'm wearing is something I owned prior to my first interview- the day Stephanie was 'officially' born. As I head out the door, it suddenly dawns on me what a rare 'treat' this is- that I'm being Stephanie, as I am virtually every day, but on 'my' terms. There's no pressure from my employers, from my bandmates, there's no Lauren, no Becca, no Jamie, no Joshua and DEFINITELY no Stuart- just me being the girl I'd dreamed about being since I was thirteen. And I HAVE dreamed- literally dreamed at times- about being Stephanie. She's been part of who I am for a long, long time... She's just never dominated who I am the way she does now.

Even as the receptionist calls me up to the counsellor's office, I have no idea what I'm going to say to the woman. Every story I come up with, every tale I plan to tell has contradictions, gaps that a trained professional such as herself will see straight through.

"Hi, you must be Stephanie," the middle-aged woman says, giving me a handshake as I sit down in one of her plush chairs and unconsciously straighten my skirt. "I'm Dr Beverly Phillips. I've heard a lot about you from Jamie and from Stuart. Who was your counsellor before?" I open my mouth to respond, but the stress almost causes me to throw up. Whatever name I say, whatever name I make up, she can easily check. My tale has fallen apart and I haven't even said a single word...

"...Everything I say," I ask hesitantly. "Everything- it IS covered by doctor-patient confidentiality, isn't it?"

"Yes, of course," Dr Phillips says.

"I... I'm not transitioning," I say, breathing a heavy sigh of relief as I 'confess' to the woman, who simply nods her head.

"From what I was led to believe," Dr Phillips says in a calm voice, "you had started transitioning sometime in January, fallen out with your parents and your counsellor and begun living life as a woman independently. Are you telling me now that that is not the case?"

"That's correct," I say. "I- I dug myself into a hole and every time I tried to get out of it I only dug myself deeper and deeper. I just wanted this job SO much, it's always been my dream to live life as a girl..." Tears start to form in the corners of my eyes, but they quickly dry when I see Dr Phillips sit back with a smile on her face.

"Tell me about this dream," she commands. "How old were you when you first wanted to live life as a girl?"

"Um, thirteen," I reply, chuckling at being able to speak honestly for the first time in almost two months. "I started puberty and I started noticing girls, but every time I'd um, well, 'fantasise'..."

"Go on," Dr Phillips says with genuine kindness in her voice.

"Every time I'd 'fantasise'... I'd imagine that I WAS a girl," I say. "I'd be obsessed with their school uniforms, I'd imagine that just one day I'd be able to go into school as a girl, then I went to college and it just got worse..."

"Why would you say 'worse'?" Dr Phillips asks.

"Because there all the girls wore fashionable, feminine clothing of all different types," I explain. "Skirts, dresses, they wore make-up, jewellery, perfume... I was stuck in my boring T-shirt and jeans and I just felt... Like nothing."

"And how do you feel now?" Dr Phillips asks. "You're sat here now in the clothes you'd dreamed about wearing for six years, you ARE living life as a girl, quite successfully I might add."

"I... I dunno," I say truthfully. "I've been living as a girl full-time- well, more or less- for a month now, and it just feels... Comfortable. Like it's normal."

"And yet you're NOT transitioning?" Dr Phillips asks. "Do you want to transition?" I open my mouth to respond- but my mind refuses to provide me with a definite answer.

"...I don't know," I say. "My parents don't know about 'Stephanie'- I'm not estranged from them, not even close... They just think I work in a music shop and live with a male friend. If they knew about 'Stephanie' they'd probably go berserk..."

"You don't know just how many young men and women I've had through my doors saying the exact same thing," Dr Phillips chuckles. "When did you last see your parents?"

"Sunday," I say. "Dressed and acting as 'Steve', before you ask."

"And how did it feel to 'be Steve'?" Dr Phillips asks.

"...Relaxing," I say. "That's probably the closest word... Like whenever I'm Stephanie, a part of me feels like I'm pretending, but with Steve, there's no pretense, there's just me..."

"So are you telling me it feels normal to be both Steve AND Stephanie?" Dr Phillips asks.

"I know that must sound weird," I laugh.

"Not at all," Dr Phillips says. "Are you familiar with the term 'bigendered'?"

"Um, no," I say, "but if I had to guess, I'd assume that means 'having two genders'?"

"'Having two gender identities' would be closer to the mark," Dr Phillips explains. "Looking at you now, I can tell that you're clearly female. You probably don't realise, but in addition to your obvious outward appearance, you're displaying many typically feminine characteristics in your body language and your mannerisms. I imagine when you're 'Steve', the same could be said of typically masculine characteristics, though obviously I would need to meet 'Steve' to confirm this."

"So, what?" I ask. "I have multiple personality disorder?"

"I wouldn’t say that," Dr Phillips says. "Tell me- as Stephanie- what are your feelings toward Steve? Would you regard him as an entirely different person, or just another facet of your life?"

"Um, kinda hard to say," I reply, stammering as the question puts me on the spot. "I mean, I just see Steve as me, just as a boy..."

"I'm going to ask a question now," Dr Phillips says. "And don't feel under any pressure to answer if you genuinely don't know the answer. If you had to pick one gender to live as for the rest of your life, which would you pick?" I open my mouth to respond, but once again, an answer doesn't spring immediately to mind. As Stephanie I have success in the palm of my hand. I've been accepted as a woman by other women. I have a career, I get to wear the things I've dreamt of since I was thirteen, be the person I always wanted to be... But as Steve, I get to relax, I get the luxury of not having to 'try'. I can sit back, play video games, watch the TV I want... And there's absolutely zero peer pressure from anyone, friends, family or employers.

"...I genuinely don't know," I whisper, making Dr Phillips smile and nod.

"Obviously," the middle-aged woman says, "I'm not happy with the way you've lied to your employers. This is something you need to rectify soon. I'm happy to act as your confidant for now and I'll happily support you in person when you choose to speak to them, but the longer you spin out the lie the harder it'll be to back out of it. Even keeping it up for as long as you have, you risk endangering your mental health. But on the other hand... You clearly DO have some sort of gender identity confusion. Sat here now, as Stephanie, do you feel like a boy pretending to be a girl, or a girl who used to be a boy?" Once again, I open my mouth, only for a girlish giggle to come out as once again, I have no answer to the question.

"I truly, honestly don't know," I say. "I mean, I FEEL like a girl, but I KNOW I'm not..."

"I'm more than willing to help you through this," Dr Phillips says, her smile widening. "After all, that is what I'm being paid for! Ultimately, whether you choose to live life as a man, a woman or both, what's important is that you strike a balance in your life that leaves you happy and completely free of confusion about what it is you want from your life."

"So... You're not angry?" I ask, making the good doctor chuckle.

"Why would I be angry?" Dr Phillips asks. "I'm doing my job, from our chat here I can tell you're NOT here under false pretenses- as I said, I believe you DO have some form of gender identity confusion- and I want to help you reach a resolution that will satisfy everyone."

"...Everyone including my employer?" I ask.

"As you sussed out from the first question you asked," Dr Phillips says, "Doctor-patient confidentiality prevents me from telling anyone, even them, about anything you say in this office. All I can do is stress that YOU need to tell them as soon as possible."

"Easier said than done," I sigh. "A transitioning transsexual on the band is revolutionary, a breakthrough... A crossdresser would just turn it into a freak show."

"I wouldn't use those words exactly," Dr Phillips retorts. "whilst you're right, there IS a certain 'sliding scale' when it comes to the public perception of people with differing scales of gender identity issues, the fact still remains that you got that job on merit. I know just how many people auditioned for that role, and for you to get it shows that they have immense confidence in you as a singer, as a professional, not just as a woman. But I do understand your reluctance... I've met Joshua a few times and I know he is a deeply tolerant, intelligent man, but I wouldn't want to predict his reaction to deception."

"Nor would I," I sigh.

"For now, though," Dr Phillips says, "we have to do what's right for YOU, and to do that, I do need to get to know you better, to know the REAL Stephanie."

"I barely know who the REAL Stephanie is!" I chuckle.

"Then let's find out together," Dr Phillips says in a warm voice. "Tell me about your early years, you've gone over the origins of 'Stephanie' but I'd like to know more details, your feelings when you first discovered 'her', how you set about making her a reality..."

Forty-five minutes later, I walk out of the office feeling refreshed, like my batteries had been completely drained but are now recharged and raring to go. I switch my phone back on to discover a voicemail message from Jamie asking me to call her, which I immediately do.

"Hey Steph!" Jamie squeaks down the phone at me. "So, how was your first appointment?"

"AMAZING," I gush. "She- she's really been a help..."

"I told you she would be!" Jamie laughs. "If it wasn't for her, I probably wouldn't have reconciled with my parents... I KNOW she can help you there too."

"Yeah, we did talk about them," I say.

"That'd be so cool if you got back together with them AS Stephanie," Jamie muses. "I mean, you said you've got two other brothers, right? You never know, maybe they'd grow to love having a daughter, just as my parents did. And I'm an only child! Hey, maybe we could get a film crew along when you meet them, broadcast it on an episode of Angels or something..." Now THAT's the most terrifying idea I've heard in a long, long time...

"Umm," I say, trying not to hurt my 'mentor's feelings, "I'd, um, kinda prefer this to be private, if you don't mind..."

"Of course, of course," Jamie says. "Sorry for bringing it up... I DO kinda get ahead of myself when it comes to TV, heh! You coming on the night out tonight?" Night out!? This is the first I've heard of this...

"Um, what night out?" I ask. "It's Thursday, isn't it?"

"Yeah," Jamie says, "but Addie's party's tomorrow so we're having the night 'out' tonight instead. I'll be there, so will Becca and Addie, I've already asked Lauren- YOUR Lauren- and she's coming too, it'll be great!"

"Uhh, sure!" I say, unable to think of a way of squirming out of the night out. Not counting the first 'night out'- where I had to borrow Becca's dress due to not having one of my own- I've only been on one girls' night out, and I felt so uncomfortable that after an hour I was almost literally praying for the night to end. I'd only been clubbing once before as 'Steve'- with my brothers, a couple of weeks after my eighteenth birthday- and I hated it then too, so this probably isn't a gender identity-related thing, but Jamie's enthusiasm for her girls' nights is infectious, and as I step through the front door of my apartment, I'm resigned to the fact that I'm going to have a miserable night...

"Hey Steph!" Lauren beams from the living room. "Hope you don't mind, we've got a home invader..." I screw up my face in confusion, before grinning as I see the tiny form of Kayla sprawled out on our second sofa.

"Hey Kayla!" I say to the grinning blonde girl. "What are you doing in London?"

"Staying the night, if that's okay with you?" Kayla asks, bringing a smile to my face. Kayla's still only seventeen, can't go on the night out, it'd be rude to leave her here alone... It's more than okay for her to stay tonight.

"Of course!" I giggle. "What, didn't feel like an early morning tomorrow?"

"Nah, and my boyfriend's out of town too," Kayla sighs. "Lauren and I are going shopping tomorrow for dresses for Adeola's party, figured if I cut out the hour and a half commute now that saves an hour and a half tomorrow for shopping!"

"Hehe!" I giggle. "You know it's you, Lauren and ME that are going shopping, right?"

"Damn right!" Lauren laughs. "Steph, you want some dinner before heading out?"

"What, are we going to leave Kayla all alone in the flat?" I laugh, mentally patting myself on the back for seizing this opportunity that's been presented to me.

"Honestly, I don't mind," Kayla says. "God knows when I FINALLY turn eighteen I'll be out every night I can!"

"No, it's just not right," I say. "I'll text Jamie... Besides, we're having a big fancy night out tomorrow, aren't we?"

"Meh, suit yourself," Lauren shrugs. "I plan on having that AND a big night out tonight!" I laugh as the flame-haired girl sticks her tongue out at me, before returning to the kitchen to prepare our evening meal. After the light fare, Lauren briefly retires to her bedroom, only to emerge twenty minutes later wearing a tiny black dress, massive stiletto heels, an absolute cloud of perfume and about as much make-up as I've ever seen on one person. The look is so effortlessly sexy and feminine I very nearly jump up and change into my own clubbing gear, before common sense takes over and I remain rooted to the sofa.

"Hot stuff!" Kayla giggles at the Scottish girl.

"Bet you never wore anything like THAT on the farm," I giggle.

"Aye," Lauren says. "Kinda why I don't live on the farm anymore!" Kayla and I both laugh as the taxi picks Lauren up for her big night, before turning our attention back to the television.

"I DID kinda want to stay in tonight for a reason," I say, picking up the Sky+ remote. "The best show in the world came back on Monday..."

"Game of Thrones?" Kayla asks, before scrunching up her nose. "Not a fan... My boyfriend tried to make me watch an episode, I nearly threw up halfway through. What else have you got on your Sky+ box?"

"Umm, we've only lived here a month, not much," I say, inwardly yelling with frustration at the thought of my plans being thwarted yet again.

"Let's have a look at the box sets," Kayla says, snatching the remote out of my hand. Within minutes, she's found a digital box set of Glee- HER favourite show- and we while away the night watching the show (which, in fairness, IS entertaining). As I climb into bed at 11:30pm (after tucking Kayla in on our sofa bed), the frustration lessens, especially after I remember the advice of Dr Phillips from earlier in the day- it's not like the show I want to watch is going anywhere, after all. The question is, is Stephanie...?

I wake up the following morning at 8am to discover Kayla still asleep on the sofa bed and Lauren, unsurprisingly, still in a VERY deep sleep in her own bed. I quickly take advantage of the situation to shower, shave and get dressed for the day (well, the day TIME, anyway) in a casual ruffled black miniskirt, a fashionable striped top and patterned tights, before padding into the kitchen to prepare breakfast. Figuring that Lauren will be hungover, I brew a pot of strong black coffee and fry some bacon- and as the dishevelled-looking Scottish girl stumbles through the door a few minutes later, I can tell that my suspicions are correct.

"Ugh, WHY do you have to be up so early?" Lauren moans as she rests her head on the kitchen table.

"Why do YOU have to be out so late?" I giggle, shoving a cup of coffee under Lauren's nose.

"I'm eighteen, suddenly rich and about to be world famous," Lauren chuckles. "Sue me for enjoying some of the perks..."

"Can't say I blame you, I suppose," I say. "Even if you ARE setting a bad example for the kids..." Lauren and I both giggle as we stare out at Kayla, still fast asleep on our sofa bed. With 45 minutes Kayla and Lauren have both recovered from their slumber and hangover respectively, and dressed and ready for our second shopping trip of the week- and as with Monday's trip, I find myself enjoying every second as the three of us try on dress after dress, eventually settling on two very fancy frocks each, one of which I change into immediately upon returning home. The dress is GORGEOUS- it's scarlet red ('my' colour), with wide shoulder straps, a crisscross back (that necessitates the use of a bra with clear straps) and a flared, knee-length skirt. Kayla's dress is equally beautiful- a strapless knee-length gown in pink chiffon with extra-high matching stilettos, and Lauren's dress is very elegant- also knee-length with a flared skirt, but in a dark cobalt blue with a plunging back. After we fix our make-up- including thick eye shadow and eyeliner, fake eyelashes and deep red lipstick- we (and our armfuls of presents) hop in a waiting taxi and are whisked away to the house of millionaire model and socialite Charlotte Hutchinson, unofficial 'leader' of our 'extended family'. However, it's not Charlotte we're here to see, but a tall, dark-skinned girl who we immediately spot, wearing a long, elegant silver-coloured dress and the widest smile I have ever seen anyone sport.

"Oh my god, you guys!" Adeola gushes as we hand her her presents. "This is so awesome, thank you all so much!"

"You haven't even opened them yet!" Lauren giggles.

"Don't need to, I KNOW they'll be great!" Adeola laughs as she tears into her presents, giving genuine, heartfelt thanks and big hugs to all of us with every one she unwraps. Even the traditional dress earns all three of us hugs. Adeola's reaction is a far cry from the restrained reaction Becca gave to her birthday presents last month- and as I gaze over at our 'lead singer', I can tell that she's NOT happy at having to yield the centre of attention, even if it is only for one night.

As the night wears on, I find myself enjoying the party more and more- having a steady supply of alcohol to 'lubricate' any tense social situations always helps, as does NOT being the centre of attention, despite the sometimes awkward questions about my life that I have to field. Fortunately, people are mostly interested in Stephanie the singer, rather than Stephanie the girl, and as the clock ticks 1am and the party slowly disperses, I actually wish I could stay a little longer. Even the sight of Stuart and Jamie cuddled up together like an old married couple doesn't put me off, as unsure as I am about my feelings for the transman- though I do make a mental note to mention them the next time I speak to Dr Williamson.

Lauren, Kayla and I stumble through our front door just after 1:30am and we all immediately retire to our beds. My alarm clock wakes me at 8am, but rather than get up, I curse at myself for not having switched it off and try to get back to sleep instead. My head IS pulsing enough for me to need additional time in bed to shake off the hangover, but it's clear enough for me to remember most of what happened last night- and how much I enjoyed it. I told Dr Phillips I wanted to know who the 'real Stephanie' was- and I'm slowly beginning to find out.

...Though as I scrub my face clean of last night's make-up in the bathroom mirror, I realise that there'll never be a 100% 'real' Stephanie as love as 'Steve' exists- and, even more frighteningly, the reverse is true as well. It's been six days since I was last Steve, and every day I spend hanging out with my new friends, every day I spend singing, or attending parties causes Steve to slip further and further away from me. Of course, I could allow him to slip away- become Stephanie 24/7. I could even come out to my parents- I'm financially independent enough that I don't need their support- and start 'living the lie' until it eventually becomes the truth... But I don't want to. I NEED Steve in my life as much as I needed Stephanie when I was younger, back when she first became a part of my life.

I shave and apply a light layer of make-up, but I remove the nail polish Lauren had so carefully applied on Monday and touched up last night, and after dressing in a very plain grey top and denim skirt, I head into my bedroom where I retrieve my trusty backpack from the back of my wardrobe, stuffing a pair of jeans, two t-shirts and two pairs of boys' underwear into it and zipping it shut.

"I'm heading out now," I say to Lauren and Kayla, who are sprawled out on the sofa half-watching TV.

"Okay," Lauren moans, clearly still feeling the effects of the previous night. "Have fun at your aunt's."

"What's this now?" Kayla asks.

"Steph's got an aunt she sees at the weekends," Lauren explains before I have the chance to reply. "Apparently the only member of her family who accepted her after she came out..."

"Yeah," I say, thankful to Lauren for remembering and repeating my lie.

"Oh, cool!" Kayla says. "Can I meet her?"

"Yeah," Lauren agrees. "Come on, Steph..." And here I was thanking you for getting me out of Thursday night, Kayla... I angrily think to myself.

"Her place is TINY," I explain. "...Maybe some other time."

"Eh, fair enough," Lauren says, returning her attention to the TV. "See you tomorrow, Steph." I grin as I leave the flat and head to the nearest McDonalds, quickly completing what is now an automated change from 'Stephanie's clothes into 'Steve's clothes. It actually feels strange not to have any make-up on my face, or a bra pulling on my chest and shoulders, or a pair of tights clinging to my legs, but at the same time it doesn't feel strange- it feels right.

"Hi mum!" I say as I step through the front door of my family home, dropping off my bag in my room before heading downstairs to be greeted by an unexpected surprise.

"Alright Steve?" Tom- my older brother- says with a smile.

"What are you doing here?" I ask as I crash down on my usual spot on the sofa.

"'Hi Tom', 'nice to see you bro'," Tom jokes.

"Hi Tom," I sigh, making our mother laugh.

"Hi Steve," Tom laughs. "And to answer your question, I dropped in to see mum, same as you. Heard you've got your own place now, is that right?"

"Yep," I say to the 28 year old man, who I haven't seen since my birthday in January.

"AND a girlfriend," mum teases.

"Oh, really?" Tom laughs. "So you're NOT gay then?"

"Hilarious," I retort. Growing up, Tom and Dan- my other brother- would constantly tease me, accuse me of being gay as though it was supposed to be an insult... Their heads would probably spin through 360 degrees if they learned the truth. "And we're not REALLY serious," I continue.

"You've been going out for a month," mum says. "Surely you're getting serious by now?"

"Welcome to 2015, mum," Tom laughs. "Seen the new season of Thrones yet?"

"Not yet," I say, my eyes lighting up at the mention of the show I know Tom loves just as much as I do. "New place doesn't have Sky..."

"Mum?" Tom asks, holding out his hand expectantly. After sighing and chuckling, mum hands my brother the Sky+ remote, and we both sit back as the familiar theme tune blares forth from the television. As I lose myself in the show, I suddenly find myself thinking about my two newest friends sat on the sofa at 'home', doing the exact same thing I'm doing right now- only with a different TV show, no doubt. If they were to see me now, they'd no doubt disown me as quick as my mother and brother would if they saw that I got up to during the week... And yet I can't give either life up. My family will always be my family, and yet Lauren and Kayla have quickly become like sisters to me, as have Becca and Adeola (albeit to a lesser extent). Jamie is like the big sister I never had, and Stuart... I don't even know WHAT to think about him.

My mental list of things to talk to Dr Phillips just grows and grows, but as the show I've waited five days to watch draws to an end and Tom and I get chatting, I finally have an answer to the question I was posed by my counsellor. Would I rather live life as a girl, or as a boy? The answer, quite simply, is both. Just a shame it's not that easy...



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