The Fellowship

“Well, looks like we’re the first to arrive,” Stuart mused as he steered the car containing himself and his fiancée into the designated parking spot outside the studio where they’d be spending the rest of the day.

“If you think that means we can be the first to leave, forget it,” Jamie said with a smug grin. “Cheer up! I know you don’t like being on this side of the camera, but it IS only for one day, you won’t be wearing anything extravagant, and you yourself said this whole shoot was a great idea.”

“I really need to start thinking before talking,” Stuart said with a snort of laughter, earning a smile from his fiancée.

“You’re okay,” Jamie giggled. “Not like you haven’t got plenty of other AMAZING attributes!”

“Just hope they won’t want to take any photos of my ‘attributes’ today,” Stuart snorted as he and Jamie walked into the studio hand-in-hand.

----------

“Thank you SO much for this!” Jacinta squeaked as she nervously fidgeted on the back seat of the small car.

“Umm, you’re welcome, I guess!” Nikki giggled in reply.

“I mean, surely there must have been some other models Joshua could’ve sent to this shoot, right?” Jacinta asked.

“Not really,” Nikki mused. “Despite his reputation for being ‘the trans agent’ there really aren’t THAT many transgendered people signed to Joshua. And the studio didn't just want models, they also asked if we could, you know, bring along some, umm…”

“'Normal transgendered people'?” Jacinta asked. “It’s okay, that IS the best way of describing it, heh.”

“Even if Kelly wasn’t still recovering from her SRS, I would have tried to get you invited,” Nikki said with a warm smile.

“Aww,” Jacinta cooed. “You looking forward to this, Steph?”

“As much as any other appearance I do,” Stephanie replied, before grimacing. “Ugh, sorry… Know how stuck-up that sounds.”

“HELL no,” Jacinta giggled. “If I had your job you’d have to stop me from screaming it from the rooftops every morning, hehe!”

“Is everything okay, Steph?” Nikki asked. “You seem a bit distracted today…”

“Umm, yeah, I’m fine,” Stephanie replied. “My- my brother’s partner’s due any day, that’s all.”

“Aww, you’re going to be an auntie?” Jacinta cooed. “That is SO cool…”

“Yeah, I’m pretty sure my brother would still rather I was her uncle, though…” Stephanie sighed as Nikki parked her car alongside the expensive BMW that Stuart had driven to the studio.

----------

“Ooh, looks like we WEREN’T the first here!” Jamie giggled as she entered the studio’s large dressing room.

“…I only got here a few minutes ago,” Jessica said in her soft Baltimore accent as she exchanged a gentle hug with Jamie. “I’m kinda, you know, used to early mornings, heh.”

“Ugh, I could NEVER do your job,” Jamie said with a soft chuckle as she looked through the clothes rack of outfits that she and her friends would be wearing that day, her eyes fixing on one outfit in particular. “Take it this uniform’s going to be yours?”

“What else?” Jessica shrugged. “I tried to persuade my bosses to send someone else along, but the whole point of this shoot is to celebrate transgender success, and I am the highest-ranked trans person at the airport- well, in London, anyway…”

“Not to mention gorgeous, girly AND smart,” Jamie said with a warm smile. “You’ll be fine, Jess. Honestly, you will.”

“Thanks,” Jessica whispered.

“Is- is everything still okay with, umm, you know…” Jamie whispered, frowning as Jessica sadly shook her head.

“We’re still taking a break,” Jessica sighed. “It’s temporary for now, but it’s looking more and more permanent with every passing day.”

“That really sucks,” Jamie sighed. “If there anything I can-“

“That’s okay, thanks,” Jessica said, silencing Jamie with her brusque response. “God, when’s the make-up artist getting here?”

“Think they’re waiting for the other girls, then they’ll work on us one at a time,” Jamie replied. “Want me to text Steph?”

“Nah, it’s okay,” Jessica sighed as she looked through the costumes on the rack. “…Who’s gonna be wearing this tutu?”

----------

“Sorry I’m late,” Ian Freeman sighed as he walked into the men’s dressing room, where his newly-minted mentor had changed out of the comfortable jeans and t-shirt he’d worn to the studio, and was pulling on a smart black suit. “Nightmare getting here from the station…”

“Just glad you could make it,” Stuart replied, greeting the seventeen year old boy with a handshake.

“Bit more notice would’ve been nice,” Ian said with a snort of laughter.

“Sorry,” Stuart grimaced. “We thought Kurt would’ve recovered from his operation by now but he’s still in quite a bit of pain. I know I could’ve told you about this at Abbey-Gayle’s party last week though, so sorry about that.”

“Meh, it’s fine,” Ian shrugged. “It’s decent extra money, though. Do- do you know when the article will be published?”

“Umm… Two weeks from now, I think,” Stuart answered. “Why?”

“Good, I’ll be back at college by then,” Ian said. “It’s just- it’s just that the last thing I need right now is my mum seeing the article and turning into my agent yet again…”

“Well if she does, you just get me on Facebook, and I’ll help any way I can, okay?” Stuart asked as a make-up artist arrived and directed Ian toward the chair at the back of the room.

“Thanks,” Ian sighed, before grimacing as his face was smeared with powder. “God, this is the first time I’ve worn make-up in eight months… I have NOT missed it.”

“It’s not ‘real’ make-up,” Stuart- whose face had also been powdered- commented. “Just some powder so that our faces don’t shine too much under the studio lights, that’s all. The girls will be wearing the REAL make-up.”

“Yeah, I know,” Ian mumbled, before smiling as the make-up artist put his brush down.

“All done,” the young man said with a happy, camp giggle.

“…Told you,” Stuart shrugged. “Bet that makes a nice change, eh?”

“I would say ‘you have no idea’ but you, of all people, must do,” Ian replied, making the older man laugh.

“Your outfit’s on the table over there,” Stuart said, directing Ian to the table where the teenager found a very plan pair of light blue jeans, a black leather jacket and a t-shirt with a unique pattern.

The t-shirt had five hoops on it- the outer two were blue, the inner two were pink, and the central one was white. The pattern was the exact same as the one on the tie Stuart was fastening around his neck, and was the exact same as the pattern of the transgender pride flag that hung at the back of the studio the two young men went through to once they were dressed.

----------

“Hey!” Nikki squeaked excitedly as she entered the dressing room and was greeted by a tight hug from her long-time mentor.

“Hey Nikki!” Jamie squeaked. “Sarah not with you today?”

“No,” Nikki sighed. “It’s her mum’s birthday so they’ve gone out for the day, like, a mother-daughter thing.”

“Her mum belongs here as much as any of us,” Jamie mused, earning nods from Stephanie and Jessica- both of whom, like Jamie herself, had received invaluable help and advice throughout their transitions from the counsellor in question.

“We’ll just have to club together to get her a special gift after the shoot,” Stephanie shrugged as two make-up artists arrived and directed Jamie and Jessica toward the make-up chairs.

“Wonder how the BOYS are getting on with the make-up?” Nikki giggled as she looked through the same outfits Jamie and Jessica had browsed mere minutes earlier.

“Maturely, if they know what’s good for them,” Jamie said, giggling happily as the make-up artist began repainting her fingernails in the same colour as the transgender pride flag.

“I like how all the outfits today are in the colours of the flag,” Jacinta cooed as she joined Nikki in browsing the pink, blue and white garments. “I’m wearing the short dress, aren’t I?”

“Yeah,” Nikki said. “That would’ve been mine, but when Kelly couldn’t make it, I had to take her outfit, which is this. What little there is of it, anyway.” Nikki blushed as she held a very scanty one-piece swimsuit against her slender body, which earned playful coos and whistles from the other women in the room.

“It could be worse,” Jamie mused. “Two of us are going to do an underwear shoot at the end of the day.”

“Really?” Jacinta asked. “Thought this was for, you know, a serious article?”

“Oh, it is,” Jamie said. “They want to do a set of pics to show everything trans people go through to achieve their dreams, to show us as we really are.” The other four women in the room looked on solemnly as Jamie lifted her arm to show the faint pink scar underneath her armpit. “Scars and all.”

----------

“Finally,” Stuart said with a snort of laughter, earning a punch from his fiancée as she led the other four women onto the set. Despite the punch, Stuart couldn’t help but sigh happily at the sight of Jamie in her outfit, a long, flowing evening gown with matching stiletto heels and elbow-length gloves. Jamie’s long, blonde hair had been tied into a formal updo, and to Stuart, Jamie was the most beautiful and elegant woman who had ever lived.

“It is NOT warm in here!” Nikki shivered as she tried to cover her swimsuit-clad body with the robe she’d been provided.

“Sorry,” the director of the shoot said. “We’ll see if we can get the heating on. Miss Abbott, would you like to go first?”

“Sure,” Stephanie said, smiling as she stood in front of the camera in her outfit, a short, midriff-baring crop top in the colours of the flag, along with a flared black PVC miniskirt, fishnet tights and over-the-knee boots with a chunky platform heel.

For the next ten minutes, Stephanie posed with the music-related props she had been given- which included such items as a microphone and a tambourine- before making way for Jessica, who spent fifteen minutes posing in her tight flight attendant’s ‘uniform’. Even though the blue, pink and white stripes made the uniform more garish than her usual work attire, Jessica couldn’t help but note that with the less restrictive underwear and lower heels, she actually preferred wearing the studio’s ‘uniform’.

Jamie took the next turn in front of the camera, posing very professionally in her long dress, before making way for Jacinta, who tried her hardest to shake the nerves from her face as she posed in her tiny dress. Nikki took the final turn, and was thankful that the water in the paddling pool they’d provided for her was at least warm.

“…So, um, is that it, then?” Ian asked as the set was cleared and Nikki was handed a towel to dry herself- an action that the teenaged boy tried not to pay too close attention to for fear of becoming too ‘excited’.

“Not yet,” Jamie said with a smug grin. “We’ve still got our interviews with the reporters. And there are still two people who haven’t arrived yet…”

----------

“Ahhh!” Laura gasped as she excitedly bounced up and down on her car seat. “This is SO exciting!”

“Calm down, for god’s sake!” Laura’s mother admonished the fifteen year old girl, who couldn’t stop herself fidgeting despite her telling off.

“…I can’t!” Laura squeaked. “Ahh, this is going to be SO cool!”

“Just remember that you’re only doing this because I’m allowing it,” Laura’s mother said firmly.

“That goes for you too, Ashley,” the mother of the other young woman in the car said to her daughter, who, like Laura, was fidgeting in her seat.

“I know,” Ashley said in a nervous voice that still couldn’t hide the fact that she was just as excited as her school friend. “I just wish they could’ve let me wear a tutu too…”

“I know, but you’ve only had pointes for a month,” Laura sighed. “I doubt Miss Fullerton would’ve been too happy letting you dance unaided in them. And besides, you’ll get to wear a tutu next month, won’t you?”

“I guess,” Ashley said with a smile as she remembered her upcoming fourteenth birthday. “And the dress they’ve got for me is SO gorgeous. I just wish they didn’t also have to take a photo of this…” Laura, along with the two adults in the car, sighed sadly as Ashley moved her cowlick away from her forehead, revealing the small, but very ugly scar she’d borne for the previous five months.

“Today’s about celebrating being transgendered,” Laura said. “The good times AND the bad. The fact that you’re sat in this car wearing that skirt means that Sam DIDN’T defeat you. That’s worth celebrating.”

“Laura’s right, Ashley,” the thirteen year old girl’s mother mused. “You’re a hero- a heroine to a lot of people. Especially your sisters. And especially me.”

“Thanks, mum,” Ashley whispered, a wide smile spreading across her lips as the car pulled into the studio’s car park.

----------

“I think they just pulled up outside,” the director said to the seven people in the studio, who were still dressed in their blue, pink and white outfits. “As they’re under sixteen we obviously can’t keep them long, so we’ll get their photos done quickly then get them in the group shot.”

“Can we start the interviews in the meantime?” Nikki asked. “I mean, it’ll take at least half an hour to photograph them both, right?”

“Not to mention getting them in make-up and costume,” Jamie concurred.

“Makes sense,” the director said with a nod. “Okay, Miss Thomas, would you like to go first?”

“Please,” Nikki said, wrapping her robe tighter around her swimsuit-clad body before following one of the assembled journalists to a side room.

“…The questions aren’t going to be TOO personal, are they?” Jessica asked nervously.

“Good question,” Ian mumbled.

“I doubt they’re going to ask ‘how’s it hanging’, if that’s what you’re worried about,” Stuart said. “It’ll just be a few questions about your past, about when you first realised you were trans, that sort of thing. You can always refuse to answer any question that you think crosses the line.

“One thing that’s important is to be positive about the change,” Jamie said. “We really are the last great taboo, and today we’ve got possibly the greatest opportunity we’ll ever get to challenge people’s prejudices. We shouldn’t waste it.”

“Definitely,” Stephanie concurred with a smile. “And we need to show that we’re united in this as well.”

“Definitely,” Jamie whispered in agreement with the woman with whom she had been enemies for so many months.

----------

“Wow,” Laura breathed as she took the blue, pink and white tutu from the clothes rack and held it against her body.

“That is SO cool,” Ashley sighed, gently stroking the delicate fabric of the costume.

“You’ll get one of your own soon,” Laura shrugged, hanging the costume back up and following the make-up artist to the make-up chair. “God knows you deserve one.”

“I dunno,” Ashley giggled as she took her knee-length flared dress from the rack and held it against her own body. “This is pretty good for now, hehe!”

“GORGEOUS,” Laura giggled. “You know… We ARE more or less the same height, and the same dress size…” Ashley giggled as Laura winked at her, immediately catching on to her friend’s plan.

“Haven’t got my pointes, though,” Ashley sighed as another make-up artist arrived to apply her make-up.

“Meh, you’ll just have to wait for your birthday, then,” Laura teased her friend. “Not like THIS doesn’t feel like a Christmas AND a birthday rolled into one, hehe!”

----------

“My name is Stuart Raymond Milton,” Stuart said as the journalist sat opposite him ensured that his voice could be heard in her Dictaphone. “But when I was born on the 2nd of March 1990, my name was Claire Olivia Milton.”

“When did you begin to feel uncomfortable in your original gender?” The interviewer asked.

“I guess I was always ‘uncomfortable’,” Stuart replied. “It was when I was around thirteen, when I started puberty, that it began to become intolerable. The more my body changed- into a woman’s I mean- the more it felt like it wasn’t my body anymore, that it was, I dunno, almost like it was trying to attack me from the inside out. When I was sixteen- literally, on my sixteenth birthday- I decided that I couldn’t take anymore.”

“How did your parents take the news?” The interviewer asked.

“Not well at first,” Stuart sighed. “It probably didn’t help the way I came out was to ‘do it all at once’, to basically say ‘it’s my way or the highway’ rather than sit down with them and explain it rationally. Once we’d done that, my parents were both very accepting and really helped me in the early days of my transition. So did both of my sisters.”

“Your sister was ten when you came out, is that correct?” The interviewer asked.

“Yep,” Stuart said. “Hard to believe that that was more than half of her life ago. She was the one who actually gave me my name, it turned out that growing up with two older sisters, she’d always wanted an older brother, so she’d given herself an imaginary friend named ‘Stuart’, which is where I took my name from. She’ll be really embarrassed if you print that, by the way, so, um, make sure you do.”

“Heh,” the interviewer involuntarily chuckled at Stuart’s joke. “No promises, we might be doing an article on Out of Heaven in the coming few months. There’s one question in particular I really wanted to ask, if I may?”

“Of course,” Stuart whispered.

“When people think of ‘transsexuals’ or ‘transgendered individuals’,” the interviewer cautiously asked, “for many it conjures up the old-fashioned image of a man in a dress. How do you respond to people like that, who can’t see past their prejudices?”

“…Tricky one,” Stuart mumbled. “It’s really a case of accepting people for who they want to be. Being who I am isn’t hurting anyone, no one at all. Anyone who whinges that I’m not a ‘real man’, or that I shouldn’t be allowed to use a particular toilet or whatever, all I have to say is- how does it affect them? And don’t give me any of those ‘gay marriage’ arguments about how it ‘cheapens’ or ‘trivialises’ their own lives, because it doesn’t, end of. It doesn’t affect their lives at all, and never will. We’re not asking people to be happy for us, or to go out of their way to make life easier for us. We just want to be accepted for who we are.”

----------

“Beautiful,” the director said as Laura elegantly balanced en pointe, her long bell tutu cascading down over her slender dancer’s legs. “We want to get a few shots of the tutu in motion, if we can, please. We might take some video clips as well, see if we can grab a few frames from those.”

“Okay,” the fifteen year old girl said, before effortlessly pirouetting on her pointed foot, kicking her other leg out in an elegant fouette. After another ten minutes of dancing, Laura was instructed to take a break, whilst Ashley took her place under the spotlight.

“Aww, you are SO talented!” Nikki cooed at the teenager, who giggled excitedly in response.

“Thanks!” Laura squeaked. “Helps that I have a REALLY good teacher, hehe!”

“Saying that in earshot of me so that I pass it on to ‘Miss Fullerton’?” Jamie teased the young woman, who simply blushed in response. “It’s okay, a bit of brown-nosing never hurt anyone. And Krystie actually recommended you for this shoot, when the director said they wanted some younger transgendered people to take part in the shoot, yours was the first name that sprang to mind. And with your performance in the ballet last December, the costume was just an obvious choice.”

“Thanks,” Laura giggled. “I LOVE your dress too!”

“Thanks,” Jamie laughed as she did a playful twirl for the teenager. “Though I will admit… There’s a part of me that’d rather be in your tutu, hehe!”

“Think everyone here today would,” Nikki giggled. “Hell, I’d just settle for a pair of tights, my legs feel like icicles…”

“I, um, don’t think EVERYONE here would…” Laura said softly as she looked toward the corner of the room, where Ian was sat, playing with his phone.

“HIS loss,” Nikki shrugged, earning giggles from the other two young women.

“I guess,” Laura said, biting her lip to keep herself from grinning. “Excuse me a sec…” Laura grinned at the feel of her voluminous tutu swishing about her tights-covered legs as she slowly walked toward Ian. The noise the tutu made, however, gave away her approach long before she reached the seventeen year old boy.

“Oh, hi Laura,” Ian said. “Sorry if I’m being a bit antisocial, I’m missing a gaming marathon with my friends to be here…”

“It’s okay,” Laura shrugged as she sat down next to Ian, unconsciously leaning in toward the young man. “You know… I almost couldn’t believe it when I heard about you- well, you know…”

“Yeah,” Ian whispered in response, fidgeting uncomfortably as Laura leaned in closer to him. “Your, um, your friend seems to be having fun…”

“Who, Ashley?” Laura asked as she looked at the thirteen year old girl posing for the camera in her swishy party dress. “Yeah, she’s REALLY come out of her shell a lot the last few months. Helps that things settled down a LOT for her after her coming out.”

“…Problems with her family?” Ian whispered.

“At first,” Laura shrugged. “The other kids at school were TOTAL arseholes about it though.”

“Yeah, I can imagine,” Ian sighed, before flinching as Laura gave him a gentle hug.

“Oh- I- I’m sorry,” Laura mumbled, smoothing Ian’s t-shirt from where she’d creased it. “Umm, I won’t hug again, I promise. Unless, you know, you hug me, hehe!”

“Yeah,” Ian said, internally grimacing as Laura continued to giggle at him.

----------

“My name is Jamie-Lee Burke,” Jamie said as she sat down opposite the interviewer. “But when I was born on the 19th of September 1991, my name was James mark Travis.”

“When did you start to feel uncomfortable in your original gender?” The interviewer asked the young blonde woman.

“I wasn’t ever really ‘comfortable’,” Jamie mused. “But at first I couldn’t really put a finger on what it was that was making me uncomfortable. I was an outcast at school, my parents never really wanted to have a child- they had NO clue how to interact with me when I was younger. It’s only since becoming an adult that we’ve really started to connect.”

“I understand that you were estranged from your parents for some time,” the interviewer said.

“Almost three years,” Jamie whispered. “That wasn’t easy. If it wasn’t for Charlotte, I- I really don’t know who or what I’d be right now.”

“It was Charlotte who enabled you to begin your transition?” the interviewer asked.

“Yep,” Jamie said with a warm smile. “Before her, I hadn’t so much as touched an item of women’s clothing- I’d never been able to afford to. She showed me that this was the life I was truly destined to live.”

“And from your example, many young women across the country have found the courage to begin their own journeys,” the interviewer said, bringing a smug smile to Jamie’s face.

“Even if only one girl did, that would’ve been more than enough for me,” Jamie said. “In truth, though, I never set out to be this ‘big media figure’, I was happy just to leave that to Charlotte. I really just wanted to be an ordinary girl.”

“Your coming out was the cause of some controversy in the press,” the interviewer said, causing Jamie’s smile to droop. “Do you wish it could have been handled differently?”

“…A little,” Jamie sighed. “To tell the truth again, I probably wouldn’t have publicly come out if I hadn’t been forced to in the way I was. But by doing so, I helped other girls with their own coming out, so I’m happy with the way everything worked out in the end. Especially as it brought me into contact with the love of my life.”

----------

“Oh, hey,” Stephanie said as she entered the ladies’ toilet to find Jessica there, touching up her lipstick.

“Hey,” the blonde flight attendant replied. “All done with the photos out there?”

“Think so,” Stephanie said as she got her own make-up bag out of her handbag. “Just need to do the two young kids. Well, by ‘do’ I mean-“

“Yeah, I get it,” Jessica giggled. “It- it’s Stephanie, isn’t it? Think we've both been at some of Zoe's dance lessons before, right?”

“Yep,” Stephanie said. “You’re… Jessica, right?”

“’Fraid so,” the American girl laughed. “Unless there’s another American T-girl around here in a stewardess’s uniform.” Jessica chuckled as she remembered her friend Annabelle- another American T-girl who regularly wore a stewardess’s uniform- and mused on how she’d probably be the only person in the world who’d be more uncomfortable than Jessica herself in this situation.

“Well, it’s nice to meet you, Jessica,” Stephanie said with a warm smile. “Can’t imagine what it’d be like, transitioning when you’re so far away from your family…”

“Actually, if anything, being away from home made it easier,” Jessica replied. “At least at the start. Though after I came out, I really missed my family more and more. Though I guess, you know, it IS 2017, my parents are only ever a phone call away, my brother and sister I can get any time on Facebook…”

“Yeah,” Stephanie whispered.

“How about you?” Jessica asked. “Do you have any brothers or sisters?”

“Two brothers, both older,” Stephanie sighed. “One of them’s really cool with my change, the other one… Not so much.”

“Ehh, sorry to hear that,” Jessica grimaced.

“I’m a bit like you,” Stephanie chuckled. “Hid myself away at the start… Not really that easy as I was actually living with my parents at the same time I’d started working as a woman.”

“That… Couldn’t have been easy!” Jessica said.

“Understatement of the year,” Stephanie snorted as she fixed her eyeliner. “’Hiding’ was the worst decision I ever made. Well, second worst anyway…” Stephanie closed her eyes and frowned as she remembered the time she ran away, leaving her old life behind- but crucially, taking her hard-earned femininity with her.

“That being said, though,” Jessica sighed, “my actual coming out didn’t go EXACTLY according to plan…”

“Whose does?” Stephanie asked, earning a sympathetic smile from the American girl as the two women finished fixing their make-up.

----------

“My name is Nikki Thomas,” Nikki said as the interviewer switched on the recorder on her laptop. “But when I was born on the 3rd of March 1997, my name was Nicholas Christopher Thomas.”

“When did you begin to feel uncomfortable in your original gender?” The interviewer asked, making the twenty year old woman- who had covered her swimsuit-clad body with a loose, knee length dress- bite her lip as she considered her response.

“I can’t really say ‘a’ date or time,” Nikki mused. “It was really a gradual thing, the older I got, the more I felt like I was not supposed to be male. It started out as, you know, just a casual thing, but the more I experienced femininity, the more I desired it.”

“So would you say that at first, you were just a crossdresser?” The interviewer asked.

“…I wouldn’t say it exactly THAT way,” Nikki said. “I’ve no problem with people who crossdress for fun, so saying ‘just’ a crossdresser is kinda, you know, demeaning…”

“I apologise for my choice of words,” the interviewer conceded. “To word the question a different way, would you say that your desire to be a woman grew over time, rather than suddenly coming all at once?”

“Yes,” Nikki answered with an uncertain voice. “Though by the time I came out, when I was sixteen, it really was all I could think about, it was like being feminine occupied every waking moment. The day after I came out, I felt free, truly happy for the first time ever.”

“And now you’re post-op, is that correct?” The interviewer asked.

“Yep!” Nikki said with an excited giggle. “Ten months now. No regrets, none at all.”

“But you’re engaged to another woman,” the interviewer probed further. “How did she react to your transition?”

“She’s known about me from day one,” Nikki replied with a smug grin. “But if you mean the physical side of transitioning… We love each other not for who we are on the outside, but who we are on the inside. Sarah and I are soul mates. What we keep in our pants is just irrelevant.”

“Then why have the operation at all?” The interviewer asked, making Nikki pause to think.

“…Because I want who I am on the outside to match who I am on the inside,” Nikki said. “And everybody should have the opportunity to do that, no matter who they are.”

----------

“…And I think that’s about all,” the director said, making Ashley giggle and breathe a pretend sigh of relief as she stepped out from in front of the camera and sat down on one of the chairs at the side of the room. “We’ll pack away the cameras, see if we can get a few chairs to get through the interviews quicker. Don’t want to keep you any longer than we have to.”

“Oh- really, I don’t mind at all,” Ashley said.

“I wonder why THAT is,” Laura teased as she sat down next to her friend, sweeping her voluminous tutu underneath her as she did.

“Don’t forget, you’re NOT taking the dress home,” Ashley’s mother admonished her daughter. “Or those shoes. And you’re NOT getting a pair like it until you’re sixteen!”

“Aw- mum!” Ashley protested as she stared at her white, two inch heeled Mary-Jane shoes. “I’m fourteen next month, every girl I know had heels higher than this when they were fourteen…”

“Yes, and your sisters are ten, six and four,” Mrs. Moore retorted. “And you know the second they see you in a pair like that, they’ll all be begging me for heels of their own. And- never mind…”

“’And you know what dad would say’?” Ashley asked, making her mother sigh.

“We’ll talk about this later,” Mrs. Moore said, before heading off to get herself a cup of coffee.

“…I’ll lend you a pair of my shoes if you want one,” Laura whispered to her friend. “Like, for the Christmas dance, or whatever.”

“Thanks,” Ashley sighed, before shuffling over in her seat as Nikki approached them.”

“Thanks,” Nikki said with a giggle as she perched on the edge of Ashley’s chair. “You two had your interviews yet?”

“No, think I’m next though,” Laura said. “Really hope they don’t ask about my so-called dad…”

“Well, your mum will be in there with you, so you’ll be okay there, at least,” Nikki sighed.

“I guess,” Laura shrugged, before turning to Nikki with a smile on her face. “How was your interview, Nikki? Did they ask about your wedding? I am SO looking forward to seeing photos of it on your blog…”

“Umm, a couple of questions,” Nikki laughed, taken aback by Laura’s sudden enthusiasm before breathing an inward sigh of relief as her mother arrived to escort her to her interview, leaving her alone with the other blonde teenaged girl. “…Laura’s a little, umm, ‘full-on’, isn’t she?”

“A little!” Ashley giggled. “But she’s, like, a cheerleader, one of Miss Fullerton’s top dancers, she’s got boys oozing over her at school despite- well, you know… She’s kinda earned the right to be ‘full-on’.”

“She’s one of the popular girls, then?” Nikki asked, sighing as Ashley nodded. “Well that’s good, right? She’s accepted as a girl, she’s not, you know, ‘handicapped’ or anything…”

“Yeah,” Ashley sighed. “Just reminds me how much of a longer I am at school, even with Laura there.”

“Aww,” Nikki sighed. “Don’t you and Laura have other friends, like, a posse or a gang?”

“Yeah, but they’re all in Laura’s year,” Ashley sighed. “I’m a year beneath her, so, well, yeah. ‘Cause I started this year as a boy but I’m now going in as a girl, everyone in my year hates me. Laura never even had that problem ‘cause she started year seven as a girl.”

“No offence, Ashley, but it sounds a little bit like you’re jealous,” Nikki said softly. “And believe me, it’s understandable. I didn’t come out to my parents until after I left school. About an hour after I left, sure, but I’d still have given anything to have been able to go to school the way you’re doing.”

“Trust me, you wouldn’t,” Ashley sighed. “And maybe I am a little jealous of Laura. I mean, we’re the same height, but she’s got, you know, boobs and everything…”

“Trust ME, you will too,” Nikki said, giving Ashley’s bare shoulder a supportive squeeze. “You’ll be just as girly as she is. Maybe even more so.”

“I guess,” Ashley shrugged. "She also knows, you know, what she wants from being girly. She's sure she's going to be this big superstar, a dancer or an actress..."

“Ugh, trust me, I've been there,” Nikki said with a sympathetic smile. “My fiancée has her whole career planned out already and had done since- since she was your age, heh. You know, though… there IS a way you can make Laura jealous.”

“Okay…” Ashley replied cautiously.

“Laura’s messaged me a few times,” Nikki said. “Asking if I could be her ‘mentor’, like, the same way Jamie over there is to me. Seems to me like you could use a ‘mentor’ more than she could. If, you know, you wanted to…”

“Really?” Ashley asked with a wide grin on her face. “Oh, that would be SO cool…”

“Hell yeah it would!” Nikki giggled as she extended her hand, which Ashley eagerly shook.

----------

“My name is Laura Jade White,” Laura said, her bottom lip quivering with nerves as the interviewer started recording. “But when I was born on the 15th of November 2001, my name was Leon Robert White.”

“You began transitioning at a far earlier age than anyone else here today,” the interviewer began. “How young were you when you began to feel that you belonged to the opposite gender to the one you were born into?”

“…Literally as long as I can remember,” Laura replied. “My first year in primary school, I only had female friends, every time I tried to do anything that was boyish, like playing football, it just made me miserable, but playing dress-up or playing with girls’ toys just felt right to me.”

“Mrs. White,” the interviewer said, addressing Laura’s mother and making the teenaged girl grimace. “From what age did you realise that Laura was ‘different’ from other boys? Don’t worry, Laura, I won’t ask anything TOO embarrassing, I know what it’s like to be a fifteen year old girl!”

“I’m not making the same promise,” Mrs. White said with a smug grin that made her daughter groan. “I always knew that Laura was different from a very early age. I have an older son who would often tease Laura, or Leon as she was known then, about how different they were.”

“’Teasing’ is putting it mildly,” Laura snorted.

“My older son is very much a manly man,” Mrs. White continued, ignoring her daughter’s petulant outburst. “At first I thought ‘Leon’ was just rejecting that lifestyle by associating with girls rather than boys, but the older she got, the more I realised that there was something else going on. Just before she started secondary school, I asked if she would rather be a girl or a boy, and she said that she’d rather be a girl.”

“I didn’t even have to think about the answer,” Laura interjected. “I was only eleven, sure, but I knew exactly what I wanted.”

“How did you adapt?” The interviewer asked. “I mean, to suddenly being allowed to live your life as a girl.”

“It wasn’t all THAT sudden,” Laura said. “It sort-of happened gradually, you know, over the summer holidays between leaving primary school and starting secondary school.”

“And during the last term of primary school as well,” Laura’s mother reminded her daughter. “But it’s not like Laura needed to ‘adapt’ at all, within a few days of dressing like a girl it was like she’d always been one.”

“In a way, I HAVE always been a girl,” Laura said quietly.

“Your life at school hasn’t always been smooth though, is that right?” The interviewer asked, making Laura frown.

“Not always,” Laura mumbled. “My teachers are all on my side. I dunno if they’d be afraid of what would happen if they weren’t. But some of the kids…”

“It’s not all of the kids,” Laura’s mother interjected. “Both she and Ashley have a group of girls who have been close friends all throughout their time at school.”

“Not ALL throughout,” Laura whispered as she remembered her two friends who had started out as bitter enemies of hers- not to mention the ‘friend’ who had stolen her boyfriend just days before her birthday.

“Well like I said, I know just how mad life as a teenaged girl can be,” the interviewer said softly. “What our readers will be interested in is just how much madder it gets when you’re transgendered as well.”

“You have NO idea,” Laura said with a snort of laughter as the interviewer continued her questioning.

----------

“Think I’m up next after the ballerina,” Jacinta said, her hands shaking nervously as she poured herself a glass of water. “God, don’t know why I’m so nervous, you’d have thought that the photographs were the hard bit, heh.”

“It’s not just you,” Ian sighed as he sipped his water. “I am DREADING the interview. Not as much as actually reading the interview, though…”

“Really?” Jacinta asked.

“Well…” Ian grimaced. “It’s not so much reading the interview as much as knowing who else will be reading the interview.”

“As long as one of those people is Joshua Benedict, who goes ‘that Jacinta Hanley is beautiful! Why have we not signed her?’,” Jacinta said, making Ian snort with laughter at her impersonation of Joshua’s mild Nigerian accent.

“I’d prefer it if he skipped my pages, heh,” Ian laughed. “I’m really, really not interested in being a model.”

“Seems like a photoshoot ISN’T the best place for you, then!” Jacinta said with a giggle. “I mean, no offence, but you’ve been, like, sat at the side of the room all day, playing with your phone… I mean yes, I get that you’re a teenager and all, but still…”

“Umm, you already know pretty much everyone here,” Ian said, making Jacinta grimace. “I don’t even live in London. Not really comfortable around people I don’t know, even when, you know, we share a ‘thing’.”

“Oh- god, sorry…” Jacinta moaned. “Got so excited, never thought about WHY we’re here… You not been, you know, ‘out’ long?”

“Eight months,” Ian whispered, earning a sympathetic smile from the older girl. “You?”

“Coming up on three years,” Jacinta said with a grin. “Not looking at SRS though, not yet, anyway.”

“Because of… Uni?” Ian asked, smiling as Jacinta nodded.

“I am SO lucky to go to the uni I go to,” Jacinta gushed. “Nice, big LGBTQ society with plenty of Ls, Gs, Bs, Ts AND Qs, hehe!”

“Are any, you know, any of those, umm, ‘Ts’…” Ian mumbled.

“…More like you than like me?” Jacinta asked. “There’s one.”

“’One’, heh,” Ian snorted. “Story of my life. I’d never even met another transgendered man before I met Stuart at the party last week.”

“Ugh, and you’re getting invited to Angel parties too,” Jacinta playfully snorted. “Rub THAT in, why don’t you?”

“Oi!” Jamie said angrily, putting her hands on her hips and pouting as she approached the young twosome. “You have been invited to PLENTY of our parties, Miss Hanley!”

“…Eavesdropper,” Jacinta teased, causing Jamie to break down in a fit of giggles. “Yes, yes, I know I’ve been to plenty in the past. I didn’t go to THAT one, though!”

“Pity,” Jamie giggled. “You’d have made a CUTE Playboy Bunny, hehe!” Jacinta giggled as Jamie looked over her shoulder, catching a glimpse of a tall, slender teenaged girl walking back to the studio in her tutu and pointe shoes. “Think you’re up next, Jacinta.”

“Wish me luck!” Jacinta said with a nervous giggle as she finished her glass of water and headed to the room that Laura had just left.

“And as for you,” Jamie said, causing Ian’s eyes to go wide. “…You DID have fun, right? Because, I mean, I know it was a girl’s party and all, but there were boys there, and it WAS a girl you’d known for a while…”

“…Yeah,” Ian said with a grin as he remembered the party, especially what occurred between him and his friend Ella after the party had ended. “Definitely enjoyed myself.”

“Good!” Jamie giggled, giving the young transman a very gentle hug. “You know, there’s another party a week on Sunday, and that’ll be a long weekend, so you won’t have to rush to get back to college…”

“I’ll think about it,” Ian said with a quiet giggle.

“Ella will be there,” Jamie teased, giggling wickedly as Ian, startled, snorted water out of his nose. “Sorry, sorry… Let me get you a tissue.”

“Thanks,” Ian said with a strained voice. “You- you noticed, then?”

“Female intuition,” Jamie said with a smug grin. “Not that YOU would know anything about THAT, hehe!”

“More like ‘trying to forget’,” Ian laughed as he blew his nose on Jamie’s tissue. “But yeah, me and Ella, we- we’re just friends. JUST friends. And I kinda have other reasons to avoid London…”

“Say no more,” Jamie said, holding her hands up in mock-surrender. “You’ve got to do what makes you happy. However MANLY it is, hehe!”

----------

“My name is Jacinta Hanley,” Jacinta said, yanking down the hem of her short dress as she sat down. “But when I was born on the 2nd of February 1996, my name was Jason Hanley.”

“When did you begin to feel uncomfortable in your original gender?” The interviewer asked the nervous young woman.

“Umm…” Jacinta replied, taking a deep breath to clear her mind. “It was really always kinda there, in the back of my mind. I mean, I knew I was never going to be, like, a traditional, or stereotypical boy, or whatever.”

“Could you elaborate?” The interviewer asked.

“Well- you know, there’s like, a ‘mould’ boys fit into,” Jacinta said. “I never fit that ‘mould’. I never wanted to. God… Sorry, I’m not good at wording things…”

“It’s okay,” the interviewer said with a warm smile. “What would be your reaction to people who said that the ‘boy mould’ was the only one you belonged in?”

“I’d say that they simply don’t know me well enough to judge,” Jacinta replied. “That if they spent any time with me they’d realise that I am NO boy. I never have been, and I never will be, simple as that. I don’t want to be a part of that world, and I don’t have to be.”

“How did your family react when you came out?” The interviewer asked, making Jacinta shuffle uncomfortably in her chair.

“My mum… My mum died when I was six,” Jacinta mumbled in a sad voice. “I’ve actually been told that I- well, me as Jacinta- I look a lot like her.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” the interviewer whispered sympathetically.

“As for my dad…” Jacinta said with a twinkle in her eye. “That’s… That’s a longer story.”

----------

Jessica frowned as she stared at her smartphone, desperately trying to take her mind off the fact that within minutes, she would be called for her interview.

“You look nervous,” Stuart said as he sat down next to the American girl, making her jump. “Ehh, sorry… Didn’t realise you were THAT nervous.”

“No, no, it’s fine,” Jessica mumbled, putting her phone away in her handbag. “The interviews aren’t TOO bad, right?”

“They go into your, you know, ‘personal history’ a bit,” Stuart said. “It’ll probably be less ‘intrusive’ if you’re pre-op. I think. Don’t rely on that, though!”

“Trust me, I won’t,” Jessica laughed. “I’ll probably get more questions about being American than about being, you know…”

“…No need to be shy about being transgendered when you’re in a room full of other transgendered people,” Stuart said with a sympathetic smile.

“Even when you’re dressed like that and I’m dressed like this?” Jessica asked, gesturing to Stuart’s smart shirt and tie and her own tight pencil skirt and high heels.

“Especially because of that,” Stuart said. “Trust me, I spent as much time fantasising about being able to dress like this as you did dressing like that when you were younger.”

“Dressing like that when you were younger wouldn’t have made everyone think you were a freak,” Jessica retorted.

“…Maybe not,” Stuart conceded. “And that’s one of the biggest injustices in the world right now. My secondary- my HIGH school, sorry, it was kinda, you know, ‘posh’. Skirts were mandatory for girls from age 11-16. Even after I had my GID diagnosis my dad had to negotiate a special ‘deal’ to allow to wear trousers, even though it was only for one term. I was lucky in that hardly anyone in school took any notice and I got out unscathed. Unlike poor Ashley over there.”

“Yeah,” Jessica whispered. “My high school didn’t even have a uniform, heh. But any boy going into school wearing a skirt…”

“Ugh, especially with the bright orange sex offender in the White House,” Stuart spat, making Jessica giggle. “And yeah, I’ve seen movies, I know what high school must be like…”

“It’s not EXACTLY like it is in the movies,” Jessica said with a snort of laughter. “There aren’t gangs of steroid-fuelled jocks and anorexic cheerleaders roaming the corridors looking for any and every sign of weakness. And I come from Maryland, it’s one of the bluest states in the whole country. But that’s the whole point, my parents were fully committed Clinton supporters and even they barely tolerate my transition. Most of my old friends from high school will have voted Clinton, some would even have voted for Sanders, and none of them will even speak to me on Facebook.”

“…Might surprise you to know that it’s the same with me,” Stuart whispered. “Okay, most of my ‘friends’ from school- well, the people I went to school with, anyway, bit of a stretch to call them ‘friends’- most of them are dyed in the wool Tories who think I’m some kind of abomination. Most of those quote-unquote friends were male, most of them happily hung out with me and treated me as ‘one of the guys’ when I was just a tomboyish girl. But the second I started to identify as male? Forget it.”

“No offence,” Jessica mumbled, “but they don’t sound like, you know, much of a loss.”

“They aren’t,” Stuart said firmly. “My friends I made at university are much better friends. Then again, they never knew ‘Claire’. Guess that’s another thing Ashley has going against her, not going into school from the start as a girl but having to transition halfway through. And there you ARE right- if I went to her school and just suddenly started wearing trousers it’d probably get me a few sneers from some of the other girls, but I’d never have made friends with any girls like that in the first place. And it certainly wouldn’t have got my face messed up…”

“Yeah,” Jessica whispered, before being startled again as she and Stuart were approached by another figure.

“Excuse me?” Ashley asked nervously. “I- I’m sorry, but I thought I heard you mention my name, I just wondered- you know…”

“If we were talking behind your back?” Jessica sighed guiltily. “Yeah, we kinda were… Sorry…”

“Sit down,” Stuart sighed, feeling as guilty as Jessica was. “Sorry about that… We- we were kinda comparing schooldays, that’s why your name came up. Yours and Laura’s.”

“Okay,” Ashley shrugged, smoothing her multi-coloured dress underneath her as she sat down. “Neither of you, umm, transitioned when you were at school?”

“Nope,” Jessica said, shaking her head. “Kinda make up for it now by going everywhere in a uniform, heh.”

“Yeah,” Ashley whispered as she tried not to stare at Jessica’s elegant uniform and high heeled shoes. “I’d love to wear a uniform like that. To, umm, to work, I mean, like, umm, you know…”

“Been there,” Jessica giggled. “Did- did you say that you were fourteen?”

“Fourteen next month,” Ashley replied. “Why?”

“Huh,” Jessica said. “It’s just that Soixante-Trois’s minimum age is nineteen, so if I’ve got my math right, that’d be… August 2022 that you could apply. If you REALLY wanted to work in a uniform like this, of course. And if you get your certificates, and can speak another language to any decent level.”

“I’m in top set for French,” Ashley shrugged.

“That means she’s good at it,” Stuart whispered to Jessica, who rolled her eyes at the young man’s teasing.

“Yes, thanks, I know,” Jessica retorted. “The point is that I think Ashley would make a HELL of a stewardess.”

“…Agreed,” Stuart said with a grin, before looking up and seeing Jacinta emerge from the interview room. “Ooh, looks like you’re up, Jess!”

“Wish me luck,” Jessica whispered as she stood up, straightened her skirt and headed toward the interview room.

“…Nervous?” Stuart asked the thirteen year old girl.

“More nervous about going home than coming here,” Ashley laughed. “ My dad… he’s not been, you know, 100% supportive.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Stuart whispered. “But- but your mum has, right? Or-“

“Yeah, my mum’s cool,” Ashley replied. “So are my sisters. They’re especially cool.”

“Any older sisters?” Stuart asked.

“Three, all younger,” Ashley replied. “Oldest starts secondary school with me in September.”

“Ah, so you’re, like, the cool big sister?” Stuart asked.

“…I’m ‘big’ and I’m their sister NOW, I guess,” Ashley mumbled. “Cassie- she’s my middle sister, she’s six- she thinks I’m great. Even if she does think Laura’s ‘greater’ than me, heh.”

“Trust me, in their eyes, you’re cool,” Stuart said with a chuckle. “Enjoy it while it lasts! When I came out, my little sister was ten, and she spent about the next six months hanging off me everywhere I went, heh. Now I’m lucky if I can go an hour without her calling me an arsehole, heh.”

“Yeah, your sister’s cool,” Ashley said with a nervous chuckle. “Your- your sister is Becca Milton, from Out of Heaven, right?”

“’Fraid so,” Stuart said with a snort of laughter. “You know, there IS another member of that band here today.”

“Yeah, I know,” Ashley laughed nervously. “I’ve kinda… Kinda asked her to, you know, sign my albums…”

“You’ve got both our albums?” Stuart asked. “Huh, me saying ‘our’ albums, that’ll hack off the girls even if I put in just as much work as they did. Though I’m guessing you don’t want me to sign the album, right?”

“Umm, well, if- if you want-“ Ashley stammered.

“No, no, it’s okay,” Stuart laughed. “What’s your favourite track from the albums? Everyone always says ‘No More Lies’…”

“It IS a great song,” Ashley giggled. “But my favourite is probably ‘Big Brother’, from the first album.”

“…I can kinda see why,” Stuart whispered. “I’ll have to write one called ‘Big Sister’ for the third album, heh.”

“That WOULD be cool,” Ashley said with a wide grin.

----------

“My name is Jessica Tyler,” Jessica said in as calm a voice as she could manage. “But when I was born on the 19th of May 1992, my name was Jesse Richard Tyler.”

“When did you begin to feel uncomfortable in your original gender?” The interviewer asked for what felt like the hundredth time that day.

“Shortly after I began puberty,” Jessica answered. “I’d always been fascinated by girly things, but the more I became a man, the more I felt like this was not who I was supposed to be. I started experimenting with girl stuff, like clothes and make-up- like everyone you spoke to today, probably- and the more I did, the more ‘right’ I felt in myself.”

“You’re from America,” the interviewer continued. “What is it like trying to adapt to living life as a different gender while living in a different culture?”

“Well, I’ve always been a Europhile, an Anglophile,” Jessica explained. “And America and Britain aren’t THAT different. I’ve got used to spelling, like, ‘colour’ or ‘humour’ with extra ‘U’s, that’s not an issue. But to answer your question…” Jessica paused briefly as she remembered her earlier discussion with Stuart. “…The hardest thing is being separated from family. My initial coming out wasn’t easy, my father was especially resistant, but every time we’ve spoken since then, it’s got a little easier.”

“So you miss America, then?” The interviewer asked.

“Yes, definitely,” Jessica said. “Though I’d be lying if I said I thought I’d have an easier time transitioning there than I would in Britain.”

“Because of societal pressures?” The interviewer asked. “Or the medical cost of transitioning?”

“Well, neither, really,” Jessica shrugged. “I have medical insurance over here, that helps to pay for things like hormones. It’s really more the ‘support network’ I have in Britain, that’s what makes the most difference.”

“When you say ‘support network’, you mean your friends and colleagues, right?” The interviewer asked.

“Right,” Jessica said. “The company I work for have been very accommodating, offered a lot of help, both of the emotional and, you know, practical kind.”

“And your friends?” The interviewer asked. “I understand you live with three other women, all of whom are also transgendered and stewardesses, is that right?” Jessica bit her lip as she thought of her flatmates- specifically, the woman with whom she’d shared a bed for over two years, but hadn’t so much as touched for several weeks.

“…Can we not go there, please?” Jessica asked. “I, um, I don’t want to name anyone I shouldn’t, not without their permission, anyway.” The interviewer nodded, and even though she immediately saw through Jessica’s lie she moved on to a different line of questioning. Jessica breathed a sigh of relief and relaxed as the interview progressed, happy that the most sensitive question she could have been asked had been avoided.

----------

“Well, I’m next,” Stephanie moaned as she tried to relax back into her chair. “No prizes for guessing what’ll be top of MY question list…”

“Don’t worry about that!” Jamie urged, squeezing Stephanie’s hand supportively. “THOSE questions have been asked to death. The interviewer won’t waste time asking them again. They want to get to know the real Stephanie Abbott.”

“I’ve only barely started to get to know the ‘real’ Stephanie Abbott,” the transgendered singer retorted with a snort of laughter. “It’s like the oestrogen changes me a little more every day.”

“That IS what it’s supposed to do,” Jamie said with a supportive smile. “Though trust me, I know how much it can mess you up at the start. You’re what, five months now?”

“Six,” Stephanie replied. “Though all the changes have been emotional, I’ve barely changed physically at all.”

“It’s not an overnight thing, you knew that from the start,” Jamie said softly. Didn’t stop you from pestering me about it for the whole of 2015, Stephanie self-pityingly thought to herself.

“I know,” Stephanie mumbled.

“What’s important is that you’re finally on the road to being the person you were always supposed to be,” Jamie whispered. Stephanie forced herself to smile at the older woman’s encouragement, even though Jamie’s mere presence began to grate against her nerves. It was all Stephanie could do not to breathe a sigh of relief when Ian poked his head around the door of the kitchen a few moments later and looked Stephanie straight in the eyes.

“They’re ready for us,” Ian said quietly. “They’ve, um, set up the second interview thing so they can, like, do us both at the same time.”

“Okay,” Stephanie said. “See you, Jamie. Want me to send in Laura or Jacinta to keep you company?”

“You dare,” Jamie retorted, making both women giggle as Ian looked on in confusion. “See you in a bit, Steph. Just remember to relax. That goes for you too, Ian!”

“Thanks,” the young Welshman said as he led Stephanie back to the main area of the studio. Before they’d got ten feet, however, Ian inwardly groaned as he saw a familiar tutu-clad figure approach the two of them.

“Hi Ian!” Laura giggled excitedly. “Hi Steph! Going for your interviews?”

“Umm… Yeah,” Ian said, flinching at Laura’s unbridled excitement. “Don’t want to keep them waiting…”

“Oh, I TOTALLY get that,” Laura said. “I was SO glad they didn’t ask about my father, I mean, I would’ve TOTALLY flipped out if they had!”

“Ugh, I’m probably going to be asked about my parents,” Ian moaned, inwardly grimacing as his moan caused Laura to sigh sadly and walk alongside them.

“It SO sucks that your parents can’t accept you for who you are,” Laura sighed, making Ian bristle as she leaned in close to him. “I mean, you are TOTALLY a boy. A cute boy, you know?”

“Yeah, umm, I think Jamie said she was looking for you,” Ian hastily replied. “She’s back there in the kitchen.”

“Oh,” Laura said, disappointment momentarily etched into her face. “Okay. Catch you later, Ian!”

“Yeah,” Ian said, before letting out a long sigh once the fifteen year old girl was out of sight.

“…You’ve got a girlfriend…” Stephanie teased, giggling at Ian’s derisive snort of laughter.

“She was only excited to see you because you’re famous,” Ian retorted.

“No, she was excited to see YOU, because you’re cuuuuute!” Stephanie teased.

“…She’s fifteen, she’s not allowed to think anyone’s ‘cute’,” Ian mumbled, frowning as Stephanie giggled even more.

“Oh, trust me, she is sending you ALL the signals,” Stephanie said between giggles.

“If you say so,” Ian mumbled as he headed into his interview room, whilst Stephanie continued to the new interview area that had been set up for her.

“Hi,” the interviewer said as Stephanie sat down opposite her, smoothing her skirt and straightening her fishnet tights as she sat down. “I’ll set up the recording equipment, I just need you at the start to read what’s written on that card, but obviously fill in your own name and your deadname as well, please. If you don’t mind, of course.”

“Sure,” Stephanie said, picking up the card and taking a deep breath as she was given the signal by the interviewer. “My name is Stephanie Abbott, but when I was born on the 23rd of January 1996, my name was Stephen Abbott.”

“When did you become to feel uncomfortable in your original gender?” The interviewer asked, caused Stephanie to bristle before she’d even finished asking the question.

“…It was never really a case of feeling ‘uncomfortable’,” Stephanie replied in a quiet, nervous voice. “I- I was never really uncomfortable as a man. But I’d always been obsessed with everything female. If you’d asked me when I was younger whether I’d rather have been a boy or a girl, I’d always have picked ‘girl’.”

“So your transition was always a ‘preference’, rather than a ‘need’?” The interviewer asked.

“What difference does that make?” Stephanie retorted. “People should be able to live their lives the way they want. Dressing like this, living the life I do is only considered feminine because that’s what everyone’s been conditioned to believe. If I have to categorise myself as ‘female’ to continue living my life, then I’ll happily do so.”

“So your transition is more about realising your own personal identity than conforming to existing gender roles?” The interviewer asked.

“I’d be ly-“ Stephanie began, before catching her tongue. “There are aspects of a ‘stereotypical’ female life that appeal to me. But I’m not going to transition according to someone else’s terms. I’m going to be my own woman. If I want to spend most of my spending money on shoes, I will. If I want to slob on my sofa playing videogames in my pyjamas, or watching football, I will.”

“Even if such actions are considered to be traditionally masculine?” The interviewer asked.

“So what if they are?” Stephanie retorted, a confident grin spreading across her face as the interviewer continued her questions.

----------

“My name is Ian Freeman,” Ian said with a nervous quiver in his voice. “But when I was born on the 30th of December 1999, my name was Kayleigh-Ann Walker.”

“When did you begin to feel uncomfortable in your original gender?” The interviewer asked.

“At least since the start of secondary school,” Ian replied. “There’s a- there’s a ‘standard’ you need to meet when you go to school, in order to be accepted as a girl. There are ways you need to look, ways you need to act, and sometimes those, you know, ‘standards’ actually physically hurt. Some days all I wanted to do was scream.”

“And how does it feel now that you’re free from those ‘standards’?” The interviewer asked.

“You used the word yourself,” Ian chuckled. “’Free’. I feel free. There’s no pressure on me to be someone I don’t want to be.”

“But surely there is still pressure to conform to traditional male gender roles?” The interviewer asked.

“Not as much as you’d think,” Ian said. “Sure, if I went into, say, an old-fashioned pub in, like a mining village, I probably wouldn’t fit in. But- ugh, I hate using this word... ‘Cute’ boys don’t really, you know, stand out that much. Certainly not as much as masculine-looking girls. Whether that’s, you know, wrong or right.”

“So are you saying that you feel you’ve had it easier than other transgendered people?” The interviewer asked, making the young Welshman frown.

“In some ways,” Ian whispered. “But definitely not in others.”

“Are- are you referring to your relationship with your family?” The interviewer asked.

“Yeah,” Ian said quietly. “My- my mother… My mother is the worst ‘stage mom’ in the history of the world. Her own dreams of being a celebrity failed at an early stage so she decided before I was even born that I was going to be the next Victoria Beckham, or the next Cheryl Cole, or whatever. I was going to be the celebrity she never was, and she was going to leech off my fame and success and get all the fame and respect she and her bloody ego felt she deserved when in fact all she ever was to me wasn’t a parent but an ‘owner’ or a ‘trainer’. She never saw me as her child, just her possession. At best I was her puppet. And my dad’s such a waste of skin it’s a miracle he ever found his way out of his mother’s womb.” Ian took several deep breaths to calm himself and stop his whole body from shaking as the interviewer briefly paused to digest his rant.

“This… Sounds like a complicated relationship,” the interviewer said quietly.

“That’s putting it mildly,” Ian snorted. “Coming out, becoming a boy just made it worse. Mum seems more concerned about her ‘training’ going to waste than me actually becoming a different gender.”

“So do you feel that there’s a chance she might accept you as her son in the future?” The interviewer asked.

“No,” Ian said firmly. “Son or daughter, I’d still only be her possession, her puppet. I wouldn’t want to be accepted on those terms. Can- can we change the topic, please?”

“Of course,” the interviewer whispered, making Ian breathe a sigh of relief as she moved onto a different line of questioning.

----------

“Hi, Jamie!” Laura giggled as she skipped through the door of the kitchen.

“Hey, Laura!” Jamie said, giggling and applauding as Laura pirouetted across the room en pointe before dropping into a graceful ballerina’s curtsey in front of her. “So cute, hehe!”

“Thanks!” Laura squeaked, before sitting down next to the older woman. “Ian said you were, you know, looking for me?” Of course he did, Jamie thought to herself with an internal eye roll.

“Umm, yeah,” Jamie said, hastily trying to think of something to say to save Ian’s blushes. “Umm, you’re on Easter holiday at the moment, aren’t you?”

“Umm, it IS, like, lunchtime on a Wednesday!” Laura giggled. “My friends are going to be SO jealous that I was here today, hehe! With, you know, you, and Nikki, and Steph…”

“Yeah,” Jamie said as the sight of Laura’s tutu caused a plan to form in her mind. “You know… Me and the rest of the Angels- and a few others, sometimes- we have, like, a regular ballet lesson on Thursday mornings. We don’t usually ‘learn’ anything, it’s really just an excuse to hang out, but, you-“

“Oh my god oh my god I would LOVE to go to one of those lessons!” Laura squeaked, excitably bouncing up and down in her seat. “I’ve liked SO many of those photos on Facebook and Instagram…”

“…Now you can be in one of them!” Jamie said, chuckling nervously at the teenager’s seemingly unlimited enthusiasm. “I’ll have to clear this with Krys- with Miss Fullerton and Mademoiselle Renou, but it shouldn’t be too much of a problem just as a one-off, like, a ‘treat’ for the holidays.”

“Oh my god thank you so much!” Laura squeaked, before bouncing out of her chair and greeting Jacinta as she entered the room. “Oh my god Jacinta! We’ve been invited to the celebrity ballet lesson tomorrow!”

“Oh my god, really?” Jacinta squeaked, instantly becoming as excited as the fifteen year old girl in front of her. “That is SO cool! I haven’t been to one of those in AGES…”

“…You can come along too!” Jamie laughed, inwardly grimacing as she wondered how she was going to tell her friends about the additions to their lesson the following day.

“Oh my god thank you so much!” Jacinta squeaked, flapping her hands excitedly. “Oh my god, I’ve GOT to call Ophelia! You are going to LOVE her, Laura!”

“Is she- is she the purple-haired girl who sometimes appears on your blog?” Laura asked.

“That’s her!” Jacinta giggled. “My BFF for ever and ever!”

“Aww, that IS so cool!” Laura sighed happily. “My BFF is, like six feet tall, her legs are as long as my body, hehe! Oh my god! I should SO text her, she is going to be SO excited about tomorrow! I’ve got to text Priya and Suriya too, they will, like go SO mental when they hear this!”

Jamie grinned as the two excitable young women left the room, practically bouncing off the door frame as they went. Once they’d gone, Jamie took her phone out of her handbag and texted her friends to let them know the change of plans for the following day. After she’d send her text messages, she kept her texting app open and composed one more text message, intended only for her best friend Charlotte.

‘Was I a hyperactive idiot when I started to be a teenaged girl?’ Jamie asked, musing on how Laura was experiencing all the things she never got to experience when she was a girl, and how much she envied the fifteen year old, despite her own success.

‘No but you’re turning into an old fogey now,’ Charlotte replied with a winking emoji, making Jamie giggle. ‘Don’t forget we’re going shopping for the you know what after ballet tomorrow.’ Jamie smiled as she remembered that whilst she never got to do the things Laura did when she was fifteen, now that she was twenty-five, there were many other things that could do- and was doing.

“Hey you,” Jamie cooed to her fiancé as she encircled his waist from behind.

“Hey you,” Stuart replied, greeting Jamie with a soft kiss. “Think they’re just about ready for Ashley’s interview now, then they’ll do the big group photo, then they’ll do the, umm, you know…”

“Yeah,” Jamie whispered. “For what it’s worth, I love your scars. They make you, you know, ‘rugged’.”

“Yeah, you’ve said that before,” Stuart said with a grin.

“Doesn’t make it any less true,” Jamie giggled as she reached underneath Stuart’s shirt and lazily ran her slender finger along the marks on his chest. “They’re a part of who you are. They’re a symbol of your struggle to be who you really are, deep inside. You should be proud of them. I know I am.”

“What, proud of your scars or mine?” Stuart asked.

“Both,” Jamie giggled as she gave her fiancé another kiss whilst they waited for the photoshoot to come to an end.

----------

“My name is Ashley Natalie Moore,” Ashley said a voice barely louder than a whisper. “But when I was born on the 12th of May 2003, my name was Ashley Nathan Moore.”

“When did you begin to feel uncomfortable in your original gender?” The interviewer asked as Ashley kept her knees pressed tightly together.

“Most of my life,” Ashley replied. “I’ve always felt, you know, ‘wrong’. Like, this isn’t who I was supposed to be.”

“Could you give examples?” The interviewer asked.

“Well, I have three younger sisters,” Ashley said. “It seemed like every Christmas or birthday, I was always envious of what they got, I hardly ever wanted any of the presents I got myself.” Ashley grimaced as she heard her mother sigh behind her- though Ashley had been told before the interview to be fully honest with her answers, no matter how hard they might be to hear, so the thirteen year old girl took a deep breath and continued. “I never really felt comfortable around other boys, I feel a lot happier, a lot more at home around other girls. Like I’m ‘one of the girls’. Which I am.”

“I can definitely confirm this,” Ashley’s mother said. “When Ashley became friends with Laura and her group, she just seemed to come alive in a way I’d never seen before. Obviously, now we know why.”

“As a parent,” the interviewer asked, “what is it like when your child suddenly announces that they want to live their life as the opposite gender?”

“It’s- it was a surprise,” Ashley’s mother said quietly. “I mean, in hindsight, it shouldn’t have been a surprise, as the clues WERE there. Ashley’s friendship with Laura should’ve been the biggest clue.”

“A lot of parents would be unhappy if their young son simply came home with a transgendered friend,” the interviewer remarked.

“Many would, and that would be wrong of them,” Ashley’s mother said in a firm voice. “The friendship, support and love that Laura- and all her friends- have shown Ashley has been invaluable to her.”

“They helped me to realise that I wasn’t alone,” Ashley said, blinking tears from her eyes. “Hopefully this article will help girls like me and Laura realise that they don’t ever have to be alone. Ever.” A proud smile spread across Ashley’s mother’s face as her daughter continued to answer the interviewer’s questions in a mature, confident manner, before the interviewer concluded the interview and began to pack away her laptop and equipment.

“Think we’ve got everything we need, thank you both so much,” the interviewer said.

“Thank you for inviting me today,” Ashley said with a tired smile.

“Ah, you are VERY welcome!” The interviewer giggled. “I really hope it all goes well for you. For all nine of you. Just got the group photos to go than you can finally go home and actually enjoy your holiday, heh!”

“Thanks,” Ashley whispered as she headed back through to the studio, where her eight friends were waiting for her in front of the camera.

"About time, Miss Moore!" Nikki teased as Ashley was ushered into position by the director and the group photographs began.

"You know," Stephanie mused, "I've actually really enjoyed today. Actually feel like we, you know, made a difference."

"I have too," Jessica said.

"You spend all day everyday working with other trans people," Jamie reminded the American woman.

"Yeah, but I don't, you know, consider this to be 'work'," Jessica said. "Okay, I'm wearing a uniform on my day off, but, you know, it's like Steph said. We're hopefully making a difference. It's kinda like, you know, charity work."

"Yeah, yeah I can definitely see that," Stuart said.

"...And, you know, I kinda, like, feel like I've made some really good friends," Ian mumbled, blushing as he earned 'aww's from all the women present.

"Sorry, sorry," Nikki giggled. "Don't want to seem like I'm teasing you... You ARE right, though. I feel like, you know, the nine of us are like a proper group. United, you know?"

"Oh my god, I've got it!" Jacinta squeaked. "We're, like, a fellowship!"

"A 'fellowship'?" Laura asked.

"Yeah, you know, like in Lord of the Rings?" Jacinta asked, rolling her eyes as she was greeted by several confused stares. "...None of you have seen Lord of the Rings?"

"A few times," Stuart replied. "Surprised YOU made that reference, though."

"What, just because I love all things girly, it means I can't like Tolkien?" Jacinta snorted, making Stuart blush and roll his eyes. "Oh my god, we should SO get matching tattoos! You know, like the actors on the film, Orlando Bloom, Elijah Wood and the rest of those guys?"

"Umm..." Jamie grimaced as Jacinta withered under two angry stares from Laura and Ashley's mothers.

"Well, umm, those of us who are, you know, old enough..." Jacinta mumbled.

"Count me in," Nikki said, sparing her friend's blushes.

"...Yeah, me too," Stuart said, biting his lip as his fiancée rolled her eyes at his decision.

"Uniform code says no visible body markings," Jessica shrugged. "I get it somewhere unlikely to be seen on a flight I'm fine, so I guess I'm in too!"

"...I'd, umm, kinda have to clear it with Joshua..." Stephanie mumbled.

"...Okay, we'll call him together," Jamie sighed, earning giggles and cheers from the rest of the people present. "Just seems odd that, you know, I'm getting this, but there isn't an 'Angel' tattoo..."

"Nothing stopping you from getting one of those too," Stuart said. "Okay, maybe it wouldn't set the best example to the younger ones..."

"We'll get tattoos of our own once we're eighteen, we promise," Laura said, wincing almost immediately as the words left her mouth.

"No you won't!" Laura's mother admonished. "You can at least TRY to set a good example for your stepsister!"

"And the same goes for you, Ashley!" Ashley's mother snarled, making the thirteen year old girl blush.

"...We wouldn't get it anywhere visible, like Jess..." Ashley mumbled.

"You won't be getting it at all!" Ashley's mother growled. "If I'm not allowing high heels until you're sixteen you can bet I'm not allowing tattoos at all!"

"Yes, mum," Ashley mumbled.

"Okay, think that's about everything!" The director said with a wide grin on his face. "That, as we say, is a wrap!"

"And that's us heading off before any more talk of tattoos!" Laura's mother said as she shook hands with the director and the other adults on the stage. "It was nice meeting you all, thank you for looking after Laura today."

"Mum!" Laura protested. "I can look after myself, I'm not a little kid anymore..."

"Not 'little', anyway," Laura's mother snorted. "Come on you two, time to get changed."

"Yes, mum," Laura sighed as she and Ashley headed away to get changed.

"I should probably go and get changed too," Ian sighed. "When I'm eighteen, I'll get the tattoo as well. Promise."

"Yeah, no rush," Stuart chuckled as he exchanged a fist bump with the teenaged boy. "You sticking around London tonight or heading straight back to Cardiff?"

"I'm, um, staying with a friend tonight..." Ian said hesitantly.

"Yes, yes, message received," Stuart laughed. "See you 'round, Ian."

"We'd best go and get changed too," Nikki said as she pulled on a robe to cover herself up. "Been wearing this damned swimsuit all day, can't wait to get it off..."

"But then we are TOTALLY going to Google a nearby tattoo parlour!" Jacinta giggled.

"My friend Mikey has a few tattoos," Stuart said. "I'll text him, ask for a recommendation. We'll meet you there."

"Any reason we can't go all together?" Stephanie asked.

"...Just one more thing we need to do," Jamie whispered.

Thirty minutes later, after Ian, Ashley, Laura, Jacinta, Stephanie, Jessica and Nikki had long since left the studio, Jamie stepped out in front of the camera and shivered.

"Now I know what Nikki was complaining about," Jamie said with a snort of laughter as Stuart joined her in front of the camera, looking and feeling just as cold and uncomfortable as Jamie did. "You look hot, by the way."

"You look sexy," Stuart whispered as he took Jamie's hand in his. "'Hot' might not be the right word."

"Probably not," Jamie giggled as she adjusted the strap of her black underwired bra and the waistband of her black briefs- the only items of clothing that she was wearing, and which did nothing to hide the faint pink scars underneath her armpits and the top of the V-shaped scar poking out of the top of her panties.

"Will this take long?" Stuart asked, wriggling in his loose black boxer shorts as he felt very self-conscious of the faint pink scars underneath his pectoral muscles, and the long, snake-like scar writhing its way up the side of his chest.

"Not long," the director said. "We just want you to be totally natural."

"There's only one way it can get any more 'natural' than this," Stuart retorted, giggling as his fiancée jabbed him in his ribs.

"We're not going THERE," Jamie said. "This is about love, not some cheap titillation."

"You're right," Stuart whispered, staring deep into his fiancée’s eyes as the director took photograph after photograph of them.

The following day, Jamie strode into the Krystie Fullerton School of Dance with her legs encased in soft pink tights, her body covered by a black camisole leotard, and her left shoulder blade adorned with a symbol with which she'd come to be very familiar- the three-pronged transgender pride symbol. The only difference was that Jamie's tattoo- like the one on Stuart's bicep, Stephanie's thigh, Jessica's hip and Nikki's and Jacinta's shoulders- had the Roman Numeral 'IX' in the centre, to represent Jamie and the eight young men and women she knew she would remain friends with for her whole life.

"LOVE the tat," Krystie giggled as she gently stroked the sensitive skin around the fresh ink. "You get this done at Mikey's place?"

"Yep!" Jamie giggled. "Kinda felt appropriate after yesterday."

"It was," Krystie said with a grin. "And yes, we are SO getting Angel tattoos for the ten of us, hehe!"

Jamie giggled as she and Krystie were soon joined by the other eight members of the Angels, their partners and their children (where applicable), along with Nikki and her fiancée Sarah. Jacinta arrived next, accompanied by her friends Ophelia, Katie and Lauren, and shortly afterward Stephanie arrived along with the other three members of her band. Jessica was the next to arrive, accompanied by her friends Natalie (who had brought Zoe- the class's other teacher- with her), Annabelle, Amelie and Rachel.

"Ellen, Anna-Jade and Abbey send their apologies," Jessica grimaced. "They had to work today. So, um, so did Paige..."

"It's okay," Krystie whispered as she ushered Jessica and her leotard-clad friends into the dance studio, before giggling excitedly as Laura and Ashley arrived, accompanied not only by their friends Priya, Suriya, Nicole, Megan, Harriet and Mia, but by Laura's stepsister Lily, Nicole's younger sister Sabrina and Ashley's sisters Bryony, Cassie and Dorothy.

"My floor is going to be begging for mercy by the end of the day!" Krystie giggled. "But there are some people missing..." As if on cue, the front door of the studio opened and Ian entered, accompanied by his friends Ella, Brooke, Georgie and Maisie. The four girls were dressed for a dance lesson, but obviously, the one boy was not.

"Sorry we're late," Ian mumbled. "Traffic..."

"It's okay," Krystie said with a grin. "I know you're not going to be late because you took ages getting ready, hehe!"

"No chance of THAT," Ian laughed nervously, sitting down at the side of the room as the remaining four girls took their place at the barre.

This is perfect, Ashley thought to herself as she and the many other women in the room began their warm-ups and stretches. We don't have to be alone... Never alone. Not while I have my family... And my 'family'.



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