I take a deep sigh as I step out of the small clinic, my face tingling from the lasers that had swept their way over it mere minutes earlier. Despite my face being make-up free- and covered with a very patchy 5 o'clock shadow- no one gives me a second look as I head down to the tube train that ferries me to my next destination. Well, that's not strictly true, people ARE giving me a second look, but not because of the hair on my face, but because of the pink tights covering my legs, visible underneath my extra-short denim skirt.
I step off the tube a short while later and head up the short flight of stairs into the familiar setting of Krystie Fullerton's dance studio, which today stands deserted but for six people- Krystie, myself and my four band mates. After I strip off my skirt and my grey, feminine-cut t-shirt, I go and stand next to my bandmates, who are all dressed identically to me- in skimpy black leotards and pink tights.
"Hey Steph!" Adeola says, greeting me with a hug. "Face still sore?"
"It's tingling, sensitive," I explain. "Not really 'sore'..."
"Just as long as your hips and legs are okay!" Krystie laughs, capturing the attention of the entire band. "Tomorrow will be the real thing- you'll be doing this in costume, and I appreciate the costume is very different from the dancewear you're wearing now but I need to be 100% sure you've got all the steps right, that you can move together as a group."
"You will be there tomorrow, right?" Kayla asks, the nerves evident in her tiny voice.
"I choreographed the routine, I'd be kinda negligent if I wasn't!" Krystie laughs. "Honestly, you'll be fine. Do you all remember your notes from the last practice?" How can I forget? My list was about a mile long... Out of sync with my bandmates, lip syncing to the music was all over the place, not projecting enough, whatever that means...
"Okay," Krystie says after we nod our agreement. "Positions, please..." Krystie presses a button on her remote control, and within seconds, the opening lines of 'Heaven is a Place on Earth' blare through the dance studio- not the Belinda Carlisle original, but the version recorded by myself and my bandmates almost two months ago. Stuart has worked his magic and knitted our multiple takes together into a track that's a match for any girl band on the market today- now it's the turn of us five girls to 'sell' the track with our complicated dance moves.
After fifteen runs through of the routine, however, I'm just about ready to collapse. The choreography isn't really that difficult- it's mostly arm positions, the occasional step, a few turns... But doing it over and over again for two hours is ridiculously draining, and I can tell that I'm not the only one who thinks so.
"I need," Kayla announces as she pulls her loose dress back on, "the coolest, sweetest drink that money can buy."
"I need TWO of them," I say, making my bandmates all laugh.
"Just wait until we're selling out the O2," Becca laughs smugly. "You'll have to do this all live on stage, no retakes..."
"People don't go to live performances expecting a perfect performance," Adeola retorts. "They go for the experience, to say that they've seen Out of Heaven in the flesh."
"Yeah, true," Becca laughs. "I know I've been practising my signature for the inevitable autograph frenzy..." I don't even HAVE a proper 'Stephanie' signature, when I signed the contracts I simply printed 'Stephanie Abbott'...
"What's everyone got planned for tonight?" Adeola asks. "Other than autograph practice, that is!" You read my mind, Adeola...
"Back to Southampton, getting pampered by my boyfriend!" Kayla laughs. "You?"
"Probably dinner with my uncle," Adeola laughs.
"It's nobody's birthday this week then?" I ask, prompting chuckles from the other four girls.
"Week on Saturday, I think," Adeola replies. "That's the next one. Your bank balance can breathe out for another week!"
"I have a very tall, very blond boy waiting for me at home!" Becca announces dramatically as she skips out of the studio and into a waiting taxi. "See you all tomorrow!"
"See you," Lauren says. "Looks like it's a night in front of the sofa for us, then!"
"Looks that way," I say, forcing out a giggle as we head to the nearest tube stop and head back to our posh flat.
"Funny to think that in just a week's time, everyone's going to know our faces..." Lauren muses. "Exciting, isn't it?"
"Yeah," I laugh, though exciting isn't the word I'd use- a more appropriate word would be 'terrifying'. Over the last six weeks, the five of us have finished recording our album, which is now in Stuart's tender hands being finalised, the tracks being brought up to the standard of the track we danced to earlier today. Once our video has been edited, it'll be released on the band's official YouTube and Facebook pages- our 'public debut'. Our agent has already put out plenty of promotional material, and there's certainly hype surrounding our 'debut', but we ourselves haven't done much beyond singing and dancing behind closed doors.
What's most terrifying is that a lot of the inevitable publicity will centre on me, as the band's 'unique selling point'. New girl bands are ten a penny, but a girl band with a transgendered singer? THAT's something different. I've received training and coaching- mostly from Jamie- on how to conduct myself in interviews, how to handle the inevitable media intrusion into my life... And every new thing I learn makes me feel more and more ill. Especially as I'll have to field inevitable questions about my transition- the answers to which will be fabrications- and about my parents. My parents don't make a point of watching any of the shows I'll be interviewed on, but as they both work shifts, there's always that possibility that they'll hear their son say something derogatory about them on television... Whilst pretending to be their daughter. Work of this variety has already started, in fact- last month Jamie roped me into doing a 'make-a-wish' style gig for a teenaged transgendered girl who was sick, which was one of the most uncomfortable experiences of my life. Needless to say, Jamie's promised me plenty more work like this in the future, whether I like it or not.
The only consolation is the inevitable income we've been promised. Even if our debut video flops and the band breaks up after a year, we're still projected to make enough income to live VERY comfortably for the next twelve months. And I'll still have contacts in the music industry, may even be able to retain professional representation... Professionally, I'm set for life.
The same, however, can't be said of my personal life. I see Dr Phillips every week to talk through my feelings- she is the only person I can be truly honest to, and if it wasn't for her I'd have had a breakdown a long time ago. She obviously still advises me to come clean to my employers about my 'true' status- though with much of the publicity being focussed on my 'false' status, that's even less of an option than normal. Though as I spend more and more time in 'Stephanie mode', it becomes more and more natural acting and living in a feminine way... To the extent that it's becoming harder and harder to remember how to act like a man on those rare occasions I can slip home and 'be Steve'. I try to keep reminding myself that this is my dream life- for over six years I've been obsessed with what it would be like to live life as a woman, and I don't need to obsess anymore, and as my 'make-a-wish' proved last month, there are 'real' transgendered girls out there who would kill for the life I have. I AM lucky... And yet there are days when all I want to do is strip off the make-up, take off my bra and my panties and collapse on the sofa in a plain pair of shorts and a t-shirt, especially now that the summer months have arrived. In past years, the summer heat had helped to lessen my desire to 'be Stephanie'- wearing hot, tight clothing in summer months isn't exactly pleasant, after all. And yet now, I have to 'be Stephanie' more than ever...
And then there's Stuart. Thankfully, Dr Phillips has helped there as well, her professional respect for doctor-patient confidentiality holding true despite her also being Stuart's counsellor, his girlfriend's counsellor AND the mother of one of their close friends. My feelings for him still remain even though logically, I know nothing can ever happen between us. Every time we're alone together, which thankfully isn't often, it generates feelings inside me that I can barely handle, especially as I'm increasingly confused as to 'what' I am- a heterosexual boy, a heterosexual girl, a homosexual girl or boy, bisexual, all of the above, none of the above... I've sort-of settled on 'none of the above' as my 'default setting' for now, helped by the fact that taking oestrogen tablets dulls your libido. If only I was actually taking those tablets...
"Home, sweet home!" Lauren laughs as she crashes on the sofa, stretching her tired and sore body out. "Sofa, sweet sofa!"
"Confident you've got everything down for tomorrow?" I ask.
"More or less," Lauren sighs. "You would too if you didn't keep skipping ballet lessons..."
"Yes, yes," I sigh.
"Steph..." Lauren asks. "You ARE still enjoying this, right? I mean this is it, this is what we all signed up for. Fame and fortune just a few days away..."
"Can you honestly tell me you're not terrified?" I ask.
"...Maybe a little," Lauren sighs. "Though this is what I've wanted my whole life, I'm not going to let anything, ANYTHING get in my way." Thanks for piling on the pressure there, Lauren... If I do come clean to my employer about my 'true' status, it's not just my career that I'm jeopardising.
I get an early night but I barely sleep. Whilst I obviously have no problem with singing, one thing I'm learning about life as a singer- especially a female singer- is that using your voice is only a small part of singing. Tomorrow- even though it'll only be in front of a camera crew- I'm going to have to PERFORM. And when I wake up the following morning, my nerves haven't subsided- if anything, they've intensified... But a feeling of relief flows through my body when I see Lauren already awake, sitting on the sofa with her eyes closed. From the quiet whispers that are leaving her mouth, she's clearly mentally running through our entire routine over and over again.
"'Maybe a little' terrified?" I tease the Scottish girl, who frustratedly snorts at me.
"Remember our first day?" Lauren asks. "The first take of the first song of our first day, and I fuck it up by forgetting my lines?"
"You'll be fine!" I laugh. "Even in costume... Do we have any idea what they'll look like yet?"
"Something Angel-related, no doubt," Lauren sighs. "7:30... No putting this off any longer!"
"This time next year, we'll be millionaires!" I laugh. "Assuming I don't trip over my own feet..." After allowing Lauren to go into the shower first, I take my turn, allowing the hot water to cascade over my body, praying that it'll wash away my tension. I only need to apply a light layer of make-up- there'll be professional make-up artists at the studio- and I pull on a very plain bra and thong set, followed by a plain knee-length red dress. Even though it's been a couple of days since I last shaved my legs, they're still smooth enough for me to forego tights- which is a relief in the hot June weather.
When Lauren and I arrive at the studio, Becca, Adeola and Kayla are already there, and if they're suffering from any nerves, they certainly aren't allowing them to show through, much to my irritation. Becca in particular is showing off, doing random ballet steps (even though she's wearing high heeled shoes) before Adeola opens a music file on her phone and ropes her into recreating the dance routine made famous by the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, set to 'Apache' by the Sugarhill Gang. Lauren, Kayla and I even join the routine the second time round, and while it does calm our nerves slightly, they return in full force when our costumes are finally revealed... And they're nothing like what I was expecting.
I had anticipated dancing in the leotard dresses we'd worn for our promotional shoots, maybe with Angel wings tied to the back, but instead we're wearing something considerably more revealing. The bodice of the dress is a white boned corset, laced at the back to take in our already-slim waists by a couple of additional inches- enough to give us curves, but not so tight that we can't comfortably move. The corset even gives me a little cleavage- making the most of what little breasts I DON'T have. The skirts of the dresses are made of see-through white organza, with just enough layers to hide our underwear (over which we wear fishnet tights), and we're all wearing high-heeled knee-high white boots. In addition, we're wearing fingerless fishnet gloves- also in white- and we have, as predicted, large Angel's wings attached to the backs of our corsets and Halos with flashing LEDs above our heads. In addition to the thick make-up- including dark eye shadow, thick red lipstick and white nail polish- I feel utterly ridiculous. It's some consolation when I see the other girls in their costumes, looking and feeling equally as uncomfortable.
"I guess it helps to remember that this IS a costume," Kayla says. "It's supposed to be mad, out there, in-your-face..."
"And they couldn't have chosen anything that clashed even MORE with my skin colour?" Adeola whines as we head on set to a round of applause and loud cheers- the loudest of which come from our choreographer.
"We're here to do a job, girls!" Becca announces with a smug smile on her face.
"We're going to be doing the whole routine all the way through first," Krystie announces. "Four or five times ought to be enough. Then we'll do a few shots of you individually, just fun stuff. And just a reminder, you don't need to sing- lip syncing will be fine."
"Okay," Carl- our director- announces. "Positions please." We each take our place in front of the giant green backdrop that been placed behind us, and I feel like my heart is going to explode, it's beating so fast. However, once the music starts, I almost go into 'autopilot'- my arms and legs begin to move in time with the music, almost independent from my brain. By the time the second verse starts, I'm in the 'groove'- and for the first time, I actually believe I can finish the routine without a single mistake- and it's at that exact moment that disaster strikes.
The entire moment plays out almost in slow motion- I turn around to face the camera, in perfect time with the other girls, when the entire studio seems to tilt to one side. It takes a second for my brain to catch up with what's happening, but once it does, I quickly realise that it's not the studio that's tilting, nor is it me- but rather the person in front of me.
"Whoa!" Becca yells, utter panic etched into her voice as she pitches over and lands, hard, on her backside. The entire studio falls silent for what feels like an eternity as Becca remains seated on the floor, a look of shock on her face that's soon replaced with one of sheer embarrassment as she shakily picks herself up.
"Okay, cut there," Carl says quietly, as the atmosphere in the room suddenly tenses up. It's clear that no one wants to say anything about Becca's mistake, but a quick glance back at my bandmates reveals that they're in full agreement with me- the mistake couldn't have happened to a nicer person.
"First positions, please," Carl says as we return to our starting positions- though Becca's face is now a much deeper shade of red than it was at the start of the previous take. "Do- do you need a moment?"
"Let's just get this done," Becca says with a shaky voice. Our second take goes perfectly, as does our third, after which our director gives us some time to get our breath back (which is much needed in our tight corsets). Unsurprisingly, Becca makes straight for the refreshment table to grab a bottle of water, leaving the rest of us watching in awkward silence.
"Addie," Lauren whispers. "Should- should you-"
"Why me?" Adeola whispers back, clearly nervous at the prospect of confronting her friend.
"You're her best friend," Kayla whispers.
"I'll talk to her," I say, before confidently striding over to the dark-haired girl.
"They can't even get the bottled water right," Becca grumbles to herself as I approach.
"Are- are you okay, Becca?" I ask, grimacing as our 'lead singer' turns around with a look of fury on her face.
"Fine, thanks!" Becca says with barely-restrained anger, before rolling her eyes and sighing. "Sorry, Steph... Can we just get back to it, please?"
"Sure," I whisper, taking a quick drink of water before returning to the stage. Takes four and five also go perfectly- especially as the tension caused by Becca's mistake seems to have greatly eased. After the end of take five, Carl calls me to one side to speak to me- and I can't help but notice the smug smile this puts on Becca's face.
"Steph," Carl says quietly. "You're doing the steps fine, but you're kinda... Serious."
"'Serious'?" I ask, confused by the man's meaning.
"Yeah," Carl grimaces. "It's kinda like you're concentrating too hard, you need to let yourself go a little more, have a little more fun, even goof off a bit if need be."
"I'm not really an actor, or a dancer," I complain.
"Well..." Carl says. "We've got four really good takes in the bag, tell you what, how about this next one I'll just instruct everyone to mess around a bit?" I smile as I nod and return to the stage, trying to ignore the stares of my bandmates.
"Okay," Carl announces. "We're going to do one more run-through, but for this one, don't take it as seriously, concentrate less on the choreography, more on just having fun."
"Can do!" Becca says on behalf of the band as we once again find our first positions. About half-way through the song, I notice that my band mates have taken the director's instruction to heart- rather than the perfectly-performed steps of the first five takes (well, takes 2-5, anyway), Becca and Adeola are messing around much more, 'experimenting' with the choreography. Rather than mimic their 'unusual' steps, I instead allow myself to relax and laugh at their antics. As a result, my dancing is much, much sloppier than before- but I'm simply doing as my director instructed, and at the end of the take, all five of us are filled with giggles, and they only get louder as Krystie brings out a bag of small, inflatable globes similar to the ones in the original Belinda Carlisle music video. For the final 'full group' take, we have the globes hurled at us throughout the song, causing us to crack up entirely as the globes quickly get thrown back to the crew hurling them at us- and several get thrown between the five of us, including one from me that nails Becca square in the back of the head.
"That was great, girls!" Carl says at the end of the take.
"We're going to break now, get some lunch," Krystie explains. "We've laid on a buffet, so just help yourselves!" After donning long dressing gowns (to protect our costumes), the five of us head to the buffet table, though none of us eat much, thanks to a combination of our corsets and not wanting to be bloated for the afternoon's takes.
"That wasn't so hard," Lauren says between bites of her posh sandwiches.
"Yeah," Kayla concurs. "We've practised it to death, it's just second nature..." Kayla's voice trails off as Becca stares at her with a look of pure fury in her eyes- it's clear she's still smarting about her ;mistake' in the first take, even if that was almost two hours ago.
"When are they thinking of launching the video?" I ask, trying to defuse the tension.
"My uncle wants it out by the weekend," Adeola says. "Only a few days left of anonymity, enjoy it while it lasts!"
"Assuming you ever enjoyed it in the first place!" Becca laughs, licking her fingers clean. "Where DID they get this chicken from? It's bloody awful..." Lauren, Kayla and I exchange tired glances as Becca leads us back to the stage to record our 'solo' clips. This takes seemingly forever as we run through the song another three times each, though this time at least there's no 'formal' choreography, simply gently dancing in front of the camera whilst lip-syncing. This is even harder than the 'group' dances as, for the first time, I have to 'perform' the song individually- not just sing it, but sing it into a camera, with everyone else watching as I do so. Becca, of course, insisted that we do our individual pieces in 'reverse alphabetical order of surnames', meaning that she gets her piece out of the way first, and I, of course, have to wait until the very end. To rub salt into the wound, by the time I finish my final take, Becca's already changed back into her casual clothes, as has Adeola- even though her 'turn' was immediately before mine.
"Beautiful stuff," Carl says at the end of my final take. "And that, ladies, is a wrap!" The five of us applaud as the stagehands enter and start dismantling the set, whilst Lauren, Kayla and I head to change out of our costumes for (hopefully) the last time.
"I can breathe!" Kayla giggles as I untie the laces of her corset.
"Oh please," Lauren laughs. "Hardly noticed any difference in your waist..." I giggle as I start to unlace my own corset, only to stare at my reflection in the mirror- my waist is narrow, my hips are wider and my chest is the most feminine it's ever looked... Part of me wants to stay like this for as long as possible. Another part of me, however, can't wait to get back into the dress I wore to the studio. And then there's the part of me that just wants to go home, pull on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt and crash on the sofa...
"Come on, Steph!" Kayla laughs. "Don't want to keep butt-bounce waiting..."
"That is NOT going to be her new nickname!" I say as Lauren doubles over in a fit of giggles.
"'Butt-bounce Becca'," Lauren snorts. "Has a nice ring to it! And seriously, Steph, get that corset off already!"
"Yeah, okay," I sigh happily as I unlace the tight garment, taking a deep breath as my slender waist is uncompressed.
"Ahh," Lauren says, seemingly noticing the problem as she stares at my suddenly masculine-shaped back. "You know, it's not like they don't sell corsets online, or, um, in shops..."
"I'll be fine," I say, pulling on my dress just in time for Krystie to poke her head around the door of the changing room.
"Hey, got a sec?" The choreographer asks. "Becca and Adeola are heading out for a meal, you know, to celebrate the video, wanted to know if you three wanted to go as well?"
"I'm kinda under-dressed for a fancy restaurant!" Lauren giggles as she pulls on her short denim skirt.
"Reservation isn't until seven," Krystie says. "Plenty of time to go home and change."
"Yeah, if you lived in London!" Kayla laughs as she buttons up her own short shirt dress.
"I'll lend you a dress, don't worry," Lauren says. "You can crash at ours tonight too, right Steph?"
"Of course!" I giggle, even though right now, crashing at our flat is what I want to do more than anything else.
Nonetheless, a couple of hours later, I sit down at a table in a posh restaurant with my four bandmates, wearing my best make-up, what little jewellery I have, red nail polish and my smartest blue dress and blue heels.
"To Out of Heaven!" Becca toasts, all five of us clinking our glasses in agreement.
"It's amazing to think," Kayla says in a breathless voice. "I mean, this is it, make or break..."
"Oh, 'make' definitely!" Adeola giggles.
"But seriously," Lauren says. "You never... You never stopped to think about what might happen if the video ISN'T a hit?"
"My uncle's the best publicist in the country," Adeola says confidently. "You could've got a 4 year old to draw the video in crayon and he'd still have made it a hit. We ARE gonna be famous, you mark my words."
"And I can't think of four girls I'd rather share my fame with," Becca says with a genuine-looking smile.
Kayla, Lauren and I arrive back at our apartment just after 11pm, utterly exhausted from the day but still buzzing with excitement- or at the very least, buzzing with nerves.
"Notice how Butt-Bounce and Adeola booked the restaurant without even consulting us?" Kayla asks as I unfurl the sofa bed for her.
"Meh, I enjoyed it," I say.
"Oh don't get me wrong, I did too," Kayla says. "It's just... I dunno. Kinda went into this thinking it was going to make ME a star, rather than me helping someone else- who is already kinda famous- to be an even bigger star."
"You're a better singer than me and Steph put together!" Lauren chuckles. "Trust me, you ARE gonna be a star."
"Absolutely," I say, trying not to make it too obvious that I'm not staring at Kayla as she undresses and climbs into bed. "Would it- would it make me sound stuck up it I said I was in it for the music rather than for the fame and fortune?"
"YES," Kayla and Lauren reply simultaneously, making me double over in a fit of giggles.
"Okay, fine!" I laugh. "Bring on the paparazzi, the huge, fat cheques and the TV appearances!"
"Five quid says I get invited on Strictly before either of you!" Lauren giggles.
"You're on," I say with a giggle. "'Night, you two."
"'Night Steph," Kayla and Lauren both says as I head into my bedroom and crash on the bed, letting out a long sigh as the stress of the day finally leaves my body. It's only now, as I stare into the darkness, that I realise that my time is truly up. The question to 'how am I going to stop my parents from seeing any of the band’s publicity' is simple: I can't. Adeola's right: her uncle IS one of the country's best publicists. He turned six ordinary girls- well, okay, one was a millionaire heiress, one was her transgendered lookalike, but the other four were ordinary girls- into bona fide superstars virtually overnight. No doubt the same will happen to me. My parents might not be able to name any of the Angels, but they know who they are... And soon they, and the rest of the country, will know who Out of Heaven are as well.
This thought still occupies my mind as I stumble out of bed just after 10am, showering, applying my make-up and dressing in a very plain, very anonymous black skirt and grey tank top. Even though it's warm outside, I still pull on a pair of black tights, just an additional 'layer of anonymity'.
"Mmph..." Kayla moans as I step past her slumbering form on my way to the kitchen. "Steph? What are you doing up so early?"
"Counsellor's meeting," I explain. "And 'early'? It's after ten!"
"What?" Kayla asks with a startled voice before checking her phone. "Aw, crap..."
"You didn't drink THAT much, did you?" I giggle.
"I didn't drink AT ALL," Kayla moans. "Stupid alcohol laws... Kinda promised my boyfriend I'd spend some time with him today, that's all..."
"Are we ever actually going to get to meet this boyfriend of yours?" I ask.
"Yes," Kayla sighs. "Are we ever going to meet this 'aunt' of yours that you go and meet every weekend?"
"At some point, probably," I say, turning my face so Kayla doesn't realise my obvious lie. "Lauren up yet?"
"Haven't seen her," Kayla replies, sliding her semi-naked body out of the makeshift bed. "Hope that means the bathroom's free!" I giggle as the tiny blonde girl disappears into the bathroom, before finishing my breakfast and heading out onto the street.
Even after months of living virtually full-time as Stephanie, it still surprises me that I can walk down the street and barely get a second glance from the passers-by. Okay, today, my short skirt and nylon-covered legs are attracting stares, but only the same kind of stares that 'real' girls' legs get. Before I joined the band, going out as 'Stephanie' was an adventure, an exciting challenge. Now it's just another part of my everyday life, to the extent that if I were to go out as 'Steve', THAT would be more nerve-wracking.
"Hi Stephanie," Dr Phillips says as I sit down on her soft, comfy chair. "How did the recording go yesterday?"
"Okay," I say. "How did you know it was yesterday?"
"Sarah told me," my counsellor replies, referring to her eighteen year old daughter who also happens to be a friend of mine and a fellow client of Heavenly Talent. "Now she's finished college she's gone back to her former hobby of stalking celebrities, especially those she's friends with... Don't worry, obviously I won't tell her that I'm your therapist!"
"Heh," I chuckle. "It's not really the video that's the issue, more what comes after it..."
"The 'fame and fortune' you were promised?" Dr Phillips asks.
"I mean, I knew that was the long-term goal when I accepted the role in the band," I sigh. "But now..."
"Now there's no hiding from it," Dr Phillips says. "And especially so in your case, I assume?"
"There's no hiding anymore," I say. "I've got to face up to the fact that my face is going to get known by potentially millions of people."
"...And your parents might be among those people?" Dr Phillips asks.
"Knowing my luck they'll probably be the first two," I sigh.
"I know my main role is to guide, rather than to advise," Dr Phillips says, "but-"
"You're going to tell me to just 'come out' to my parents, aren't you?" I ask with a weary voice.
"Every day you put it off, the lie grows larger and larger," my counsellor says. "What did you say your parents did for a living? Your mother was a nurse..."
"Mum's a nurse, dad's an ambulance driver," I say. "Used to be great for me as they both work shifts, I'd get plenty of opportunities to dress up... That was back when that was all it was, 'dressing up'."
"They're both occupations where you meet and interact with people from literally every walk of life," Dr Phillips says. "For that you would need a highly tolerant outlook on life. I wouldn't be surprised if you find that they're more upset about you going behind their back than they are about your 'dressing up'."
"Oh, they're tolerant," I say. "It's just different when it's their own offspring."
"If it's their own offspring, then they should be MORE tolerant, not less," Dr Phillips observes.
"'Should', yeah," I sigh. "Doesn't necessarily mean they WILL be..."
"There's only one way to find out for sure," Dr Phillips says firmly. I have a deep breath and nod, but as I leave the meeting fifty minutes later, I'm still mentally no closer to being able to tell my parents than I was at the start of the day. Talking with the counsellor helps me sort my thoughts out, but any actual productive action has to come from me, myself... And to say that that isn't easy would be an understatement.
I am, however, slightly more mentally prepared to deal with my upcoming stardom. As the counsellor for several transgendered celebrities, Dr Phillips has had to deal with stresses other than those caused by her patients' transitions. I have a whole folder full of techniques and testimonials from people in my position- including Jamie-Lee Burke herself- that I intend to study religiously.
"Lauren, you in?" I ask as I wearily step through my front door, only to be greeted by both Lauren AND Kayla. Both girls are clearly on their way out, and they both have HUGE smiles on their faces.
"Turn around, we're heading right back out!" Lauren giggles.
"Um, why?" I ask whilst doing as I'm told. "Kayla, I thought you were heading back to Southampton?"
"There's something even better than my boyfriend waiting for us where we're going!" Kayla giggles.
"They finished it!" Lauren squeaks excitedly. "They worked through the night- it's ready!"
"...The video? Already?" I ask.
"Ready enough to be able to show us a rough draft," Lauren says. "And ready enough to put out a few teaser clips to the media..." Time's up... I think to myself as the three of us jump onto the nearest Underground train, Lauren and Kayla barely able to sit still, they're that excited. When we arrive at Heavenly Talent's main offices, all three of us are greeted by tight hugs from both Becca and Adeola- both of whom are as excited as Lauren and Kayla.
"This is so cool!" Becca squeaks, bouncing up and down despite the fact she's holding hands with her tired-looking boyfriend. Suddenly, Stuart appears in the door to Joshua's office, and my breath catches in my throat as the excitement of the situation infects me as well. I'm nervously shaking as much as my bandmates as the five of us sit down in front of a large, projected image between Joshua's bookcases. Seconds later, the image is replaced by that of five young women, each wearing what can best be described as a 'sexy angel' costume. The five women begin singing and dancing, and it's only when my own face briefly appears on screen about twenty-five seconds into the song that I realise that the sexy woman on screen is indeed me.
After the video ends, Joshua switches off the projector and stands in front of the five of us with a proud smile on his face.
"Clips from the video have already been released to various websites," our agent states. "Initial feedback is very, very positive, and we're on course for a big launch of the full video this coming Saturday. A lot of people already want a piece of you girls, which is why I hope you have nothing booked for tomorrow morning!"
"...Tomorrow morning?" Becca asks. "So soon?"
"Strike while the iron's hot!" Joshua laughs. "It's only a six-minute interview but it's a start. I take it the five of you know Eamonn Holmes and Ruth Langsford?"
"I'm going to be on This Morning!?" Kayla squeaks, before realising her faux pas. "I'm sorry- WE'RE going to be on This Morning!?"
"Indeed you are!" Joshua booms. "This is your last day as an ordinary member of the public. From tomorrow, you'll all be superstars!"
As I step out of the office I feel like I'm going to throw up, I'm that nervous... And that excited... And that terrified. The other girls are all buzzing with excitement- I can tell that they're all slightly nervous too, which is understandable, but unlike me, they haven't got to go out and lie on live television...
The five of us go out for yet another meal, but this time it's just a quick one before we all turn in for an early night. After seeing Kayla off at Waterloo station, Lauren and I jump on the next Underground train home, though as we arrive home it's clear that neither of us are going to get much sleep tonight.
"This is it this is it!" Lauren squeaks. "I've already texted my parents, all my brothers, they're all going to be watching tomorrow!"
"Cool," I say, inadvertently lowering Lauren's mood.
"Oh god, Steph..." The Scottish girl sighs. "I'm sorry, I keep forgetting... But if your parents watch the show, they can't NOT be proud of you, surely? The face of the newest, hottest girl band in the world..."
"Yeah, it's the word 'girl' that might be the sticking point there," I say.
"You'll never know for sure unless you call them," Lauren says. "Let's face it, out of the five of us you're easily the most mature, you're clever, you're obviously talented and beautiful... Any parents would be proud to have you as their daughter." I actually have to blink back tears as my new friend pays me- Steph OR Steve- the most amazing compliment of my life.
"...Even when for the first nineteen years of your life, you'd been their son?" I ask. "You've got brothers, right?"
"Aye, three," Lauren replies.
"How do you suppose your parents would react if one of them suddenly announced that he wanted to live his life as a girl?" I ask.
"My folks are farmers, not fucking hillbillies!" Lauren laughs. "They'd tolerate- no, not tolerate, ACCEPT their new daughter for who they were."
"...You seem pretty sure of that!" I laugh.
"Why d'you think they kept having kids until they got a girl?" Lauren asks. "I'd be willing to bet it's the same with you, didn't you say you had two older brothers AND your parents were in their mid-fifties?"
"Early fifties, yes," I say, making Lauren laugh.
"Well there you go then!" The ginger girl says. "I'll bet a million quid that when your parents were pregnant they were DESPERATE for a girl."
"...Don't forget they kicked me out," I lie, desperate to end the conversation as quick as possible.
"And have you spoken to them since?" Lauren asks, catching me off-guard.
"...No," I reply in a small, feeble voice.
"I'll be you a million quid that if you did call them, they'd be happy to hear from you," Lauren says. "And this time next year, you'll have the million quid to pay me when I'm proved right!"
"A million if we're really lucky," I laugh as I head to my room. "Try to get some sleep, okay? Don't want to be yawning at Eamonn Holmes..."
"Hehe," Lauren giggles. "Night, Steph."
"Night, Lauren," I say. As I lay down on my bed, I muse that Lauren may well be right- in fact, it's more likely than not that she is right. My parents may well accept me as their daughter... But would they ever be able to accept me as their son again?
I wake up the following morning at 7am having got precious little sleep. Thankfully, the This Morning studio is only a short hop on the tube from where Lauren and I live, but we're still picked up by a taxi just after 8 o'clock, both of us toting overnight cases full of fashionable alternatives to the short, fun dresses we're both wearing. Our make-up is subtle, but chic- there'll be plenty of make-up artists at the studio to ensure that we look perfect before stepping on set.
Also present at the studio is Jamie-Lee, our unofficial 'media coach', who greets us both with excited hugs as we arrive.
"Nervous?" Jamie asks, giggling as both Lauren and I nod. "I'm not surprised... This brings back memories, though, it was right here in this studio that I had my first live interview... Of course, back then I was alone AND unaccompanied!" Lauren and I giggle again, before Kayla arrives, greeting all of us with hugs.
"God, this is so terrifying!" Kayla squeaks. "My whole family's gonna be watching, my boyfriend..."
"Just make sure you take several deep breaths before going on set!" Jamie laughs. "The presenters will be very professional, they won't be there to put you on the spot, they're there to promote the video and the single just as much as you are, they're NOT there to trip you up or catch you out. Now, let me look at the other outfits you've brought." Lauren, Kayla and I open our cases as Jamie looks through them, nodding her approval before selecting outfits for the three of us.
"I've asked the Angels' usual PA to have a once over the dressing room," Jamie explains as she guides us toward the vast room that's been laid on for our group. "It's all set up and ready for you. Word of advice: try to limit yourself to only ONE cup of coffee before the interview! And try to at least look like you're enjoying it!" Lauren, Kayla and I giggle nervously as Jamie shuts us in the room, before we change into our 'ordered' dresses- a cute, sleeveless red minidress in my case, to match my nails and the lipstick that will inevitably be applied to my face.
"Notice anyone missing?" Lauren asks with a smug smile.
"Yeah," Kayla laughs. "Aren't we supposed to be backing singers for two lead singers? You'd have thought they'd be on time for their first ever interview..." As if on cue, Becca and Adeola come crashing through the dressing room door, barely stopping to say 'hi' to the three of us before helping themselves to the treats that had been laid on.
"Mmph," Becca moans happily. "Have you tried these macarons yet? De-lic-ious!"
"We only just got here ourselves," I explain. "Where are your dresses?"
"Umm, you mean apart from the ones we're wearing?" Adeola laughs.
"Yeah," Lauren says as she changes into her own short, blue button-up dress. "You know, the ones Jamie recommended you wear?"
"Is Jamie here?" Becca asks with genuine surprise. "That's cute, giving you guys pointers..." I inwardly seethe at Becca's use of the word 'cute' as she continues stuffing her face with the treats.
"We've been on TV before," Adeola says in a condescending voice. "Plenty of times, in fact. We know what to wear, and what not to wear, you know?" I bite my lip to stop myself from responding- it wouldn't do the band any good to have its first blazing row in its first live interview, though looking behind me at Lauren and Kayla, it's clear that they're both as angry as I am at our bandmates' attitude.
Nonetheless, our anger is put to the side a few short minutes later as we're ushered into make-up, before being escorted onto the set where we meet Eamonn and Ruth, who introduce themselves as though they were just two ordinary people, rather than people who've been on television for literally decades. Our chance to chat only lasts a few short seconds though, before the familiar strains of the show's theme tune play, and it suddenly dawns on all of us that we are now live on television, being watched by literally millions of people.
"Welcome back," Eamonn says. I tune out as the presenters introduce the band, focussing instead on how I plan to answer any questions. As sod's law would have it, the first question is aimed directly at me.
"Steph," Ruth asks, "can you talk us through how you came to audition for the band?"
"It was fairly straightforward really," I answer, chuckling nervously. "I saw the advert for the auditions on Heavenly Talent's Facebook page- I follow them on there, obviously- I sent off my application form, and the next thing I know, I'm being called for an audition, followed by a second audition and a face to face interview." Much to my relief, the presenter simply nods, before turning her attention to Becca and Adeola.
"Now you two were already signed to Heavenly Talent before the audition process, weren't you?" Ruth asks, making the two girls chuckle with fake embarrassment.
"Yeah," Adeola says. "I'm actually Joshua Benedict- the owner's niece, so there's a lot of nepotism going on at the agency!"
"And I understand that your brother is the producer, is that right?" Eamonn asks Becca, who smiles smugly.
"Yep!" The dark-haired girl replies.
"So for you three," Ruth asks, turning back to myself, Lauren and Kayla, "it must feel like you're intruding in what is clearly a family affair?" So much for 'not putting us on the spot'...
"Not really," Kayla says as we all shake our heads. "We've been made to feel like we're as much a part of the family as Addie and Becca are."
"Definitely," I concur.
"And the band is breaking new ground," Eamonn continues, "as being the first girl band to have a transgendered member." Shit! Shit! Shit! I think to myself as I brace for the inevitable interrogation. "Steph, do you ever feel left out as a result of your 'status'?" I momentarily hesitate before answering- please let my parents be at work, or watching the other side...
"No, not at all," I say. "I don't even see myself as 'the token transgendered girl', I just see myself as 'one of the girls', just like Jamie-Lee is in the Angels." And the scary thing is, I DO see myself in that exact role...
"Sometimes I even forget that she was ever, you know, 'not a girl'," Lauren says, making me giggle happily.
"And Lauren," Ruth asks. "I understand that your first audition was the first time you'd ever left Scotland, is that right?"
"Absolutely!" Lauren laughs. "It's warm down here, my skin's still getting used to it!" Everyone in the studio laughs at Lauren's joke, before Ruth continues her questioning.
"That must have been scary," the presenter asks, "travelling to London for the very first time on your own, aged just seventeen?" Hang on, I think to myself. Is that it? 'Do you feel left out because you're transgendered?' 'No.' 'Fine. Next!' Is that going to be my entire contribution to this interview?
"It was terrifying the first time!" Lauren giggles. "It's still a bit scary and I've been living in London for the past few months..."
"You and Steph live together, right?" Eamonn asks, to which Lauren and I nod in response.
"Yep," I respond.
"Because you used to live on a farm before, didn't you?" Eamonn asks, and it takes me a brief moment to realise that he's still talking to Lauren, rather than to me.
"Aye," Lauren says. "A small sheep farm, a few miles outside Dingwall."
"This must be a huge culture shock then, moving to London?" Eamonn probes. I cast an aside glance at my bandmates, and it's clear that they are not in the least bit happy that Lauren is hogging all the limelight in this, our effective debut.
"Huge doesn't even start to cover it!" Lauren laughs.
"Your debut single is a cover of Belinda Carlisle's 'Heaven is a Place on Earth'," Ruth asks. "Who made the decision to launch with that song?"
"My uncle," Adeola laughs, clearly happy to steer the interview back toward herself. "Culturally, he's stuck in the 1980s!" All of us laugh at Adeola's joke, before Becca seizes the opportunity to continue.
"My brother thought it would be the ideal song for a new girl band," Becca explains. "And he was right, we all had so much fun recording it, and filming the video." Well, most of us had fun, I think to myself as I inwardly chuckle at Becca's 'butt-bounce'.
"We've got a few clips from the video here," Ruth says, as the cameras briefly switch off whilst the video plays on the television screens of everyone watching the interview. Mere seconds later, the cameras are back on, but all the nerves I had when they came to us at the start of the interview are gone- I'm almost enjoying this attention...
"You all look really great," Eamonn says. "I'm sure you'll all have a bright future ahead of you."
"'Heaven is a Place on Earth' by Out of Heaven will be available from all good music retailers on Monday," Ruth says to the camera before turning back to the five of us. "Girls, it was great talking to you today."
"Thank you," all five of us reply as Eamonn and Ruth turn back to the camera to introduce the next segment. My legs actually wobble as I stand up, the adrenaline thinning in my blood as the five of us are led off the set to our waiting 'coach', who has a massive smile on her face.
"You were all so amazing!" Jamie beams, giving each of us a quick hug. "You were all so natural up there, especially you, Lauren!" Lauren giggles bashfully as Jamie pays her compliment, though it's clear that she's loving every second of the attention- and that Becca and Adeola are not loving their lack of attention.
"And thanks for name-dropping me, Steph," Jamie teases, making me giggle. "Little bit of publicity is always appreciated! Now come on, let's get outside, I'm sure you've all got friends and family dying to get in touch with you!" I follow my band outside to where our bags are being loaded into a waiting taxi, but it suddenly dawns on me that unlike my bandmates- all of whom get on their phones the second they leave the studio- I don't actually have anyone who'll be dying to get in touch with me... At least, I hope I don't.
As expected- or at the very least, hoped for- when I switch on my phone, I have no notifications, no missed calls or messages. I smile sadly before slipping my hone back in my bag, watching the other girls as they all squeak excitedly into their phones.
"Oh, god, Steph, I'm sorry," Jamie sighs, momentarily startling me. "Here I am going on about 'friends and family'... I'm sorry, I just forgot..."
"Don't worry about it," I sigh. "These girls are my new family, anyway..."
"Hope that includes me," Jamie chuckles. "If not a 'big sister' then at least a 'favourite cousin'?"
"Of course!" I laugh. "And... Is it really bad that, you know, I wanted more of a fuss to be made about me during the interview? You know, because of 'what' I am?"
"They did seem to gloss over it a little," Jamie says. "But, like I say, any publicity is good publicity, you're going to have plenty of websites and shows banging down your door to get exclusives with you soon enough. I'm keeping an eye on pinknews.co.uk- nothing yet, but I wouldn't be surprised if they've already got on the phone to Joshua asking about you!"
"Oh my god," Becca says, injecting herself into my conversation with Jamie. "That was so awesome! Even if Braveheart did hog all the limelight..."
"Plenty of limelight to go around!" Jamie assures the brown-haired girl. "Like I was telling Steph, people will be banging down your door to get the first exclusive with you soon enough. In the meantime, let's get you back to the agency, I'm sure Joshua wants to have a word or two with you girls." Becca and I nod before getting in the taxi, where we're joined by the rest of the band (Jamie drives herself back to the agency). The car buzzes with energy on the short drive back to the agency, and when the five of us step through the front door of the posh office, we're immediately greeted by a loud standing ovation, led by none other than Joshua Benedict himself.
"My superstars!" Joshua booms. "Come up to my office- unless you want to be adored by your public a little longer!" The five of us smile as Joshua escorts us to his posh office, his smile only growing wider once we're inside.
"Reaction to your interview is almost universally positive," Joshua explains. "Twitter and Facebook all love you and your video. Yes, there are a few unpleasant comments, but we all know not to feed the trolls, right?" I smile weakly, knowing that all of the 'unpleasant comments' Joshua is talking about are almost certainly going to be about me.
"We're still on for the video launch on Saturday," Joshua continues. "We're holding a launch party at Charlotte's house on Saturday night, I expect you all to be there in your best dresses and your widest smiles!"
"Will you let us know if we're needed for any more interviews?" Kayla asks.
"Of course!" Joshua booms. "The second I hear about an interview, you'll hear about it. Now go, enjoy the rest of your day. My Angels hold their traditional girls nights out tonight- very soon it will the traditional Out of Heaven girls night out that the Angels are allowed to tag along to if they're very lucky!" The five of us smile widely as we're 'dismissed', but I pause before leaving the office.
"Joshua," I ask hesitantly.
"Something troubling you, Steph?" Joshua asks.
"Those 'unpleasant comments' you mentioned..." I mumble.
"Idiots!" Joshua snaps. "That's all they are, idiots!"
"...But they were about me, weren't they?" I sigh. "Can't help but feel that the band would have got off to a better start without me..." Or to put it another way, I think to myself, if you wanted to chop and change the band now...
"Nonsense!" Joshua snorts. "You are as much a part of this band as any of the other girls. Take it from someone who knows a thing or two about discrimination- it ALWAYS hurts. I moved to England in 1983 with a degree in communication from the university of Lagos, and I spent six whole months getting doors slammed in my face because of the colour of my skin, the accent with which I spoke... 32 years later, everyone who slammed a door in my face is practically kicking my door down to do business with me!"
"...Thanks," I say with a smile.
"You need a thick skin in this industry," Joshua continues. "I know those hormones of yours aren't going to make life any easier- or maybe they are, I don't know! But you'll always have support from this agency. And for what it's worth, I count at least fifty positive comments about you for every idiot!"
"It really means a lot to hear you say that," I say, trying not to gulp as I'm issued a sharp reminder of the fact that I've been lying to Joshua's face from the very first second I met him.
"Now go!" Joshua laughs. "Enjoy your night out, but save some energy for your big party tomorrow!" I grin as I leave the office, but the grin soon fades as I jump back in the taxi with Lauren and head back to our apartment. The hole I dug for myself has just got a lot deeper. Another glance at my phone confirms that either my parents didn't watch the interview or didn't notice that 'Steph' was in fact 'Steve', but there's no way I'm going to be able to stay under their radar forever- especially not with Joshua's media juggernaut behind me.
After a quick dinner, Lauren and I get changed into our fanciest clubbing dresses and head out on the 'traditional girls night out'. The still-seventeen Kayla headed back to Southampton earlier in the day, leaving us guilt-free about going out without her (and, more annoyingly, leaving me without an excuse to skip the night out). As Joshua predicted, our interview earlier in the day opened doors for us, doors that were typically opened by the Angels on earlier nights out. We (and a good portion of the 'extended family', including Jamie) spend the entire night being plied with free drinks in exchange for publicity photos of us having fun at the club- photos that I look at on Facebook the following morning as Lauren and I nurse our hangovers. It comes as no surprise to either of us when we receive emails mere minutes later to links of the very same images on several news websites, as well as clips of our interview and our still-unlaunched video.
"God, I didn't expect it to get this real this quickly," Lauren moans. "I've already had a request for an interview from the Daily Record... Who'd have thought that being Scottish would be such a career enhancer?"
"Who'd have thought that being transgendered WOULDN'T be?" I laugh.
"Yeah, sorry about that yesterday," Lauren laughs. "Didn't realise they'd focus on me so much..."
"Heh, don't apologise, you weren't the one asking the questions!" I giggle. "And in a way it's kinda flattering, that being transgendered is so unremarkable in this day and age... Kinda like it's the way it should be."
"It IS the way it should be," Lauren says. "Your life as a boy is in the past, where it belongs."
"Yes," I say, forcing out a laugh. "Besides, I think Becca would want an 'apology' before me..."
"Well she can literally fucking sing for it!" Lauren says, nearly causing me to choke on my coffee. "...We're not going to get much of a chance to talk like this in future, are we? Over our kitchen table, I mean. We'll be at interviews, on tours..."
"It's what we signed up for!" I say, though inside I feel a hundred times worse than Lauren must right now. If chatting over the kitchen table where we live is going to be difficult... How hard will it be to get back home as Steve?
Later that night, I pull on a sexy, short, tight red dress, matching stilettos and my best make-up and jewellery. For our 'debut', all five of us are being picked up by a limo and driven to Charlotte Hutchinson's mansion, where a red carpet has been laid out for us. There aren't quite as many photographers as you'd get at a typical west end premiere, but there are enough to nearly blind me as I stride up to the entrance of the house, where I pose with the rest of the band for a final shot before heading into the house. Unlike a typical Saturday night here, which only consists of the 'extended family', this is a proper celebrity party- there are plenty of famous faces I recognise from radio and TV, professional caterers are bringing round expensive hors d'oeuvres and there are plenty of photographers on hand... And they're all here for me. Well, me and my four colleagues. And as terrified as I am by the prospect of being 'found out' by my parents or my brothers... There's a very real part of me that's loving every second of this.
Every time I'd dress up as Stephanie in the past, I'd always imagine that I was some form of socialite at a party, or a big fashion or cosmetics show, or on a reality TV show like The Only Way is Essex or, indeed, The Angels. My dreams have literally come true... So why does a part of me want to run straight home, scrub off every last trace of 'Stephanie' and collapse on the sofa, Xbox controller in hand?
"I'm not used to playing second fiddle," Jamie says, snapping me out of my 'trance'. "Especially in my own home! Just this once though, I'll let you off!" I giggle as my unofficial 'mentor' and I grab sparkling glasses of champagne from a nearby waiter and survey the scene inside the vast room.
"For god's sake, I'm only nineteen," I sigh.
"And Kayla's only seventeen!" Jamie laughs. "Doesn't mean you both can't be superstars! I was going to save this for Monday, but I figure you may as well know now- we've had a LOT of interest in you! Joshua's got LGBT websites kicking his door down to talk to you, wanting to know about your transition, your relationship with your parents... Hope you're ready to be a role model!"
"Jamie, I-" I say hastily, before realising I have no idea how to finish my sentence- at least, not without destroying everything all my new friends have worked so hard to accomplish. 'Jamie, I'm not transitioning?' 'Jamie, I'm not really transsexual?' 'Jamie, I want to go back to being a boy?' How the hell would she take that, having transitioned herself?
"What is it, Steph?" Jamie asks me, concern written in her eyes.
"...I want to thank you," I say. "For everything you've done for me. You, Joshua, Stuart, everyone." Much to my relief, Jamie giggles and gives me a long, tight hug.
"That's what 'big sisters' are for!" Jamie laughs. "Now you need to get going, I think Joshua's about to do his thing..." I smile as I follow my bandmates to the cleared area at the edge of the room, where our manager is stood behind five ominous-looking microphones.
"Ladies and gentlemen!" Joshua bellows into the microphone, though he could easily have made himself heard without the microphone. "We are here today because of five extremely beautiful, extremely talented young women. I give you Miss Rebecca Milton!" Becca strides on stage to loud applause, taking her place behind a microphone.
"Miss Adeola Benedict!" Joshua continues, as his niece strides on stage to yet more applause. "Miss Kayla Ford!" Kayla walks on stage, looking almost childlike behind the nine inches taller Adeola. "Miss Stephanie Abbott!" I walk on stage, and I smirk as- to me, at least- the applause I receive is noticeably louder than either Becca's or Adeola's.
"And Miss Lauren McTavish!" Joshua concludes, and my smirk briefly vanishes as Lauren receives the loudest applause out of all of us, but it quickly returns as I realise that the applause is for the band as a whole- and if anyone rather than me is going to be the 'megastar' of the band, I'd prefer it to be Lauren. In fact, I'd prefer it to be Lauren regardless...
"Normally I'd ask you to keep the noise down as there'd be a young baby trying to sleep upstairs, but I have it on good authority that he's staying at his father's house tonight," Joshua says, prompting laughter from the crowd. "So make some noise for Out of Heaven!" I blush a little as the applause starts again, louder than before, before the lights in the room dim and our video starts playing. At the end, we're treated to yet another round of applause as Joshua steps back up to his microphone.
"The video is now live on YouTube!" Joshua booms. "Feel free to link to it from all of your websites. The girls will now take brief questions from you all. If you're lucky, they may even sing a few bars of the song!" The room laughs once again as Joshua begins moderating questions from the assembled reporters- and again, most of them are directed at Lauren, hoping to make the most of her supposed 'rags to riches' story. One question, however, comes my way, and almost triggers a panic attack right there on the stage.
"This one's for Steph," the male reporter- whose face I can't see in the crowd- says. "How do you feel your parents would react, seeing that video?"
"Umm," I mumble, leading to an awkward silence that causes my stomach to churn. "I hope they'd be proud, I really don't know..."
"Because after you came out to them in January, their reaction was very negative, wasn't it?" The reporter persists.
"Yes," I lie. "I haven't spoken to them since... I hope that given time, they'll accept my decision and be proud of my success." My cheeks flush with every word I say- it couldn't be any more obvious that I'm lying through my teeth, but after a brief pause, the next question is directed to Kayla, causing me to let out a silent sigh of relief. As promised, we finish the Q&A session with a quick rendition of the chorus of our debut song, and it's the happiest I've been all night, further reinforcing the fact that I'm much happier being a singer than I am a 'superstar'.
The following morning, when I wake up, I'm greeted by the sight of Kayla and Lauren in the living room, going through review after review of our video on their iPads- and almost all the reviews are positive. The video has already been viewed over half a million times, and the single has thousands of pre-orders on both iTunes and Amazon. When I check my phone, I'm inundated with notifications of new twitter and Instagram followers, emails from the agency about upcoming interviews and TV appearances- most of the interviews will be over the telephone to newspapers or magazines, but the band has been booked onto BBC Breakfast on Tuesday morning, onto Lorraine the following day with the promise of even more TV appearances soon. The one notification on my phone that really makes my heart beat faster, however, is a missed call from my mother. I step back into the privacy of my bedroom before hitting redial.
"Hello?" Mum's familiar voice asks.
"Hi mum," I say in 'Steve's voice- a voice that now sounds wholly unnatural.
"Hi Steve!" Mum says. "You're sounding well, still working hard, I trust?"
"Harder than ever," I laugh. "How's dad?"
"He's fine," mum laughs. "Do you know what time you'll be over today?" I look over at the emails still rolling in on my iPad, the images of me on all the various news websites, and remember the two women in my living room, before sighing sadly.
"I... don't think I can really get away today," I say. "Sorry..."
"That girlfriend of yours hogging you all to herself?" Mum chuckles.
"You could say that," I laugh. "I'll try and get away next weekend." Though I know that if anything, I'm going to be even busier next weekend than I am today...
"Good," mum says. "And bring Kayla along as well, it's ridiculous that we haven't met her yet!"
"I'll see what I can do," I say with a smile, before my heart sinks at the sound of a knocking on my door. "...I'll talk to you soon."
"Talk soon, son," Mum says, before disconnecting the call.
"What's up?" I ask in my 'Steph' voice.
"Thought I heard a man in here," Lauren says, poking her head around the door. "Um, no offence, of course..."
"Just... Takes some time to warm my voice up in the morning," I laugh.
"You're a singer," Lauren laughs. "A PROFESSIONAL singer now. Shouldn't take that much time, surely?"
"Eh," I shrug, making Lauren laugh.
"We've found a clip of us on an entertainment channel," Lauren says. "Want to come and watch?"
"Hell yeah!" I laugh, hopping off my bed and following the flame-haired girl to the living room, where we watch said clip over and over again. We spend the whole day on the sofa, digesting our newfound fame. The band has even gained its own Wikipedia page in the last 24 hours, with Lauren gaining her own individual one shortly afterward. We are now officially famous... But as I stare down at my phone, all I want to do is head home to my parents and forget about the whole thing. The reality is that my life is now 'Superstar Steph' or 'bust'. Both options come with a high price- my family life and any chance of ever being male again for the former option, my fame and financial independence for the latter.
Why oh why did I ever put myself in this position?
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