Stephanie, part 8

“You don’t lie to me,” I sing in my low, sultry voice.

“You don’t lie to me,” Lauren repeats in her own rich singing voice.

“You don’t lie to me,” Kayla sings with a devilish look in her eyes.

“You don’t lie to me…” Adeola sings as we all so a single turn before we all throw our arms in the air.

“No more lies!” The five of us sing in unison, earning a thunderous rounds of applause from our producer Stuart and our choreographer Krystie.

“BRILLIANT,” Krystie giggles. “Choreography was spot on, well done, girls.”

“It was also really basic,” Becca argues, making myself, Lauren and Kayla giggle and roll our eyes. “Okay, fine…” My giggle grows louder as Becca and Adeola join in the laughter. Over the past three months, the five of us have grown closer and closer to the point that we’re more than comfortable with teasing each other the way we’d just teased Becca. To all intents and purposes we are the cohesive, Angel-like group that we’re presented to the public as- the best of best friends, sharing everything with each other, keeping no secrets from each other, no lies… Except one.

“Comfy?” Kayla asks as I strip off the black leggings and black leotard I (and the other four girls) had worn during our rehearsal.

“SO comfy,” I say, making Kayla giggle as I bend over, exposing my skin-tight black thong before it’s covered by a pair of sheer black tights and a tight black miniskirt.

“Really?” Kayla asks. “Sure you wouldn’t prefer a pair of boxer shorts and a pair of baggy jeans?”

“…Not today,” I reply with a smile, before clipping my padded bra behind my back and pulling on a silky camisole, followed by my favourite red turtleneck sweater.

“Glad to hear it,” Kayla laughs as she pulls on her own long-sleeved, dusky pink minidress. “No offence, but as you know, I much prefer ‘Steph’ to ‘Steve’!”

“I won’t tell ‘him’ if you don’t,” I say with a wink, before the two of us giggle as the remaining three members of the band enter the changing room and strip off their leotards and leggings.

“Share the joke,” Lauren says, which only makes Kayla and myself giggle even harder. Fortunately, the Scottish girl simply rolls her eyes and giggles before changing back into the same knee-length dark blue dress she’d worn to rehearsal. “Good rehearsal today.”

“Yeah,” Becca says happily. “We are going to knock this tour out of the park!”

“Yeah!” I laugh as nerves creep into my body at the mere mention of the upcoming tour.

“And here you were, Steph,” Adeola giggles. “Thinking that ‘you know what’ meant you wouldn’t be able to keep up with us ‘birth’ girls, us ‘lucky’ girls.”

“Oestrogen rocks!” I shrug.

“Oestrogen rocks!” The other four girls all cheer, making me giggle uncontrollably, though my giggles subside as my eyes make contact with Kayla’s sympathy-filled stare.

Ever since I revealed myself (figuratively speaking, of course) to Kayla at her birthday party three months ago, the two of us have grown closer and closer. She’s someone to whom I can bare my soul, someone to whom I can be 100% truthful about everything in my life- such as the fact that I haven’t taken a single drop of oestrogen in the eleven months since I supposedly became ‘Stephanie’. The rest of the band still think I’m fully transitioning, as do my management, my family, and our ever-growing legion of fans… Many of whom are themselves transgendered and still look up to me as a role model, proof that you don’t need to have been born a girl to be in a successful girl band. And whilst I have technically proven that point, I still can’t help but feel like a fraud every time I’m interviewed about my supposed ‘status’.

I still see Dr Phillips- my counsellor- on a weekly basis, who is a great help in dealing with my stress and anxiety, but probably the biggest help has been the fact that, ever since moving back home, I have had more and more time available to me to become ‘Steve’ on a regular basis, sometimes as many as five times a week. Whilst these ‘sessions’ rarely last more than a few hours, they’re enough to give me the escape I need, especially as, when I become Stephanie again, I’ll know that ‘Steve’ will always be waiting for me whenever I need him.

Tonight, however, ‘Steve’ is going to have to stay in his drawer, as tonight is a Friday, which means that as always, I descend the stairs in my home just after 8:30pm wearing a face full of thick make-up, a cloud of sweet-smelling perfume, a tiny black dress, light fishnet tights and sky-high platform stilettos.

“You take care,” mum urges as I head out of the door and into a waiting taxi. “And enjoy your last day of teenaged life!”

“I will,” I say with a giggle, relishing the feelings generated by my tight, feminine clothing, clothing which, upon my arrival at the club, is ‘accessorised’ with a shiny red & pink sash that reads ‘birthday girl’ and has had several shiny gold stickers with the number ‘20’ stuck to it.

“Happy birthday!” The other members of the band- along with several other familiar faces, including my friends Nikki, Sarah and Krystie- all yell as I step into the club’s posh VIP area, before thrusting a glass of champagne into my immaculately-manicured hands and resting a silver tiara on my glossy brown hair.

“Oh my god, you guys!” I squeak. “My birthday isn’t until tomorrow…”

“Yeah, well we can’t wait that long!” Adeola giggles.

“And we’re CERTAINLY not waiting another six days for your girly birthday night out!” Becca laughs, guiding me to a plush leather seat where I pose for photos for the various girls (and for the club itself, who will undoubtedly use the image for publicity). One girl- or rather, woman- who doesn’t photograph me, however, is my so-called ‘mentor’ Jamie.

“Happy birthday!” Jamie laughs, giving me a hug as she flashes an obviously bogus smile. “Would I be right if I guessed that it’s not just your twentieth birthday tomorrow, but also your first?”

“My first?” I ask.

“Your first birthday as Stephanie!” Jamie giggles. “And, of course, your first birthday as a superstar!”

“Yeah,” I laugh, finally catching on to the transwoman’s line of thinking. Last January, for my nineteenth birthday, my parents got me a new pair of jeans, a new videogame and the complete series of Dexter on DVD, while my brothers each got me a crate of beer- all gifts I enjoyed greatly. This year, I’ll undoubtedly get a new dress, a spa day and the complete series of Sex and the City on DVD, while my brothers will probably get me bottles of perfume, like they did at Christmas. And whilst these gifts are appealing, I still yearn for the jeans, the videogame and the beer.

“My twentieth was my first birthday as Jamie-Lee,” Jamie explains. “Charlotte spoiled the SHIT out of me that day! We went to a club dressed as schoolgirls and I found myself face to crotch with a HUGE… Stripper, hehe!”

“Did someone say ‘stripper’?” Adeola asks, bouncing over to our conversation. “Don’t worry, Steph, tomorrow will be strictly stripper-free!”

“Aww,” Jamie laughs.

“You’re engaged!” I remind the blonde woman, who simply shrugs.

“Doesn’t mean I can’t look,” Jamie says as she sips her champagne. “Doesn’t mean you can, either! Take a look out there, Steph, a whole club full of hot, young men… Any of them take your fancy?” Not a single one of them, I think to myself.

“…Pass,” I say with a giggle.

“Don’t bother wasting your time, Jamie,” Adeola giggles. “Bex and I have been trying to get Steph laid for MONTHS, I swear this girl is, like, allergic to sex!”

“Ugh, lucky her,” Jamie spits. “But is there seriously no one out there who you like the look of? You know you can have any guy you want?”

“You know oestrogen kills your sex drive,” I say, making Jamie giggle. In truth, sex is the last thing on my mind right now, especially with a man… Even before I became Stephanie full-time, I never had any fantasies of any ‘encounters’ with men, and the same still applies, despite Becca and Adeola’s best efforts. They’ll set me up on a date with a guy they reckon I’ll like, I’ll put on my best make-up and my best dress and go on these dates, but none of the men they’ve recommended have ever got a second date. I chuckle internally as I remember that the only male-gendered person I’ve ever had any ‘feelings’ for was originally born female- and is currently engaged to be married to Jamie.

Despite my protests, I spend the majority of the evening on the dancefloor dancing with several young men who I’m sure the other girls find attractive, but toward whom I feel no attraction whatsoever (which is probably for the best, considering the ‘control’ thong I’m wearing). I- and the rest of the girls- leave the club just after 1:30am feeling utterly exhausted, and by the time I arrive home I barely have enough strength to remove my make-up before collapsing on my bed, dressed in just my underwear.

Even though I didn’t have much to drink, my head’s still pounding when I wake up on Saturday morning, though I quickly discover that this is less due to alcohol and more due to the portable CD player in the hands of my father, who is stood at the foot of my bed (tunelessly) singing along to ‘No More Lies’ and substituting the words ‘Happy Birthday’ everywhere the song’s title should be.

“Mmph,” I quietly moan as I pull my sheets over my head.

“Rise and shine, birthday girl!” Dad laughs.

“Do I have to?” I sigh.

“YES!” Dad laughs. “Your mum will be home from work in a couple of minutes, get up, get showered, get your make-up on and get downstairs, there’s a sofa full of presents waiting for you. Oh, and your brother too.”

“Happy birthday, Steph!” I hear the familiar voice of Danny call from downstairs.

“Thanks, Danny,” I sigh before rolling out of bed and heading into the shower. I quickly run through what has become my morning routine- showering using a very feminine-smelling shampoo and body wash, before blow-drying my shoulder-length hair and brushing it into what has become my trademark style. I then apply my make-up- just a subtle layer of foundation, followed by thick mascara and eyeliner, pale silver eyeshadow and scarlet lipstick- and pull on my ‘control’ thong and padded bra, before pulling on a pair of translucent black tights, a cute grey skirt and a tight striped top. I sigh as I stare at the cute no-longer teenaged girl in the mirror, before taking a selfie for my Instagram account, showing off the skirt I got from yet another endorsement deal. Even on my birthday, a celebrity’s work is never done…

After putting away my phone, I think back to this time last year when I turned nineteen- Likely the last birthday ‘Steve’ will ever celebrate. As with this year, I was rudely awoken by my father blaring music at the foot of my bed, though the tune of choice was Stevie Wonder’s ‘Happy Birthday to You’ rather than music that was sung by myself. As with this year, I showered and dressed, though that’s where the similarities end. Last year, I shaved my face clean of facial year. This year, I shaved my legs, my face having been completely free of hair for months. Last year, I wore jeans that cost £7 from Asda. This year, obviously, is different.

However, I’m also forced to remember that last year on my birthday, I spent virtually all day either on the internet or walking around London desperately looking for a job. This year, I not only have a job, but a job I truly love. I’m famous, I’m rich, I have friends and family who genuinely care about me… Even though it’s ‘Stephanie’ who’s famous and rich. ‘Steve’ will forever remain the unemployed, friendless loser he was this time last year.

“Happy birthday, sis!” Danny laughs, greeting me with a hug as I enter the living room to discover a massive pile of presents on the sofa- a pile at least three times the size it was last year.

“Oh my god!” I gasp. “Did- did you spend-“

“We haven’t bankrupted ourselves, don’t worry,” dad laughs. “Most of those are actually from your friends, sent on by your agency. A couple are from fans.”

“And don’t worry, we’ve already checked, the fan-sent ones are all ‘appropriate’,” mum giggles. “Now go on, get opening!”

“Is- isn’t Tom going to be here?” I ask.

“Ehhh…” Danny grimaces. “He- he said he might be round later.”

“Okay,” I whisper. As much as my parents and my older brother Danny may have accepted ‘Stephanie’, my oldest brother- Tom- can still only barely stand to be in the same room as ‘Stephanie’. I can’t help but wonder whether or not his reluctance to accept ‘Steph’ is part of the reason I still cling so tightly to ‘Steve’…

“Get opening!” Dad laughs. “If Tom wants to miss this, that’s his problem.” I smile as I tear open the presents, unveiling- as predicted- half a wardrobe’s worth of new clothes, including skirts, dresses, girly tops and fashionable bodysuits, but not a single pair of trousers or even any shorts. I also receive make-up, perfume and hair care products, as well as a whole rainbow of nail polish (despite the fact that I rarely wear it). I also receive five new pairs of shoes and a pair of very sexy knee-high leather boots- all of which have at least a 2.5 inch heel. I even get a new leotard for ballet class. Aside from a couple of boxes of chocolates (which were both sent by fans), all of my presents are overtly feminine, not even qualifying as ‘androgynous’.

“Thank you so much!” I gush, giving my parents and my brother tight hugs. “This- this is all-“

“Everything we should have bought you for your nineteenth birthday?” Mum asks with a sad face, sighing as I nod. “Well, it’s never too late to make things right. From now on, every birthday you have, you are going to be treated like the beautiful princess that you are!” I laugh as mum gives me another hug, even as I wish that I had today received everything my parents had bought me for my nineteenth birthday.

I spend the next couple of hours ‘modelling’ my new clothes (and my new nail polish as well, painting each nail a different colour) for my parents and my brother, before we’re interrupted just after lunch by a gentle knock on the front door.

“More fan mail, no doubt,” dad laughs as I open the door and stare into the smiling, green-eyed face of my closest friend.

“Happy birthday!” Kayla squeaks, giving me a tight hug before handing me a small, carefully-wrapped present.

“Umm, didn’t you already give me your present?” I ask, before reading the label on the gift.

“To Steve, love from Kayla,” I whisper just loud enough for only Kayla to hear.

“Happy birthday, ‘Steve’,” Kayla whispers, giving me a secret kiss on my baby-smooth cheek.

“Hi Kayla!” Danny yells as I hide the gift away in the pocket of my raincoat.

“Hi Danny,” the tiny blonde girl half-laughs, half-sighs.

“Merida not with you?” Danny asks, making Kayla and I roll our eyes.

“Lauren!” Kayla and I both laugh, causing us to both giggle loudly.

“She’ll be round later,” Kayla laughs. “She kinda drank a LOT last night…”

“Oh come on,” Danny laughs. “She’s a Scot, average drinking for her is, like, lethal for the rest of us!”

“Danny…” Mum says, silencing my brother. “Kayla, can we get you anything to drink?”

“Umm, just a cup of tea, please,” Kayla says.

“Still leaving alcohol alone?” I ask Kayla quietly, who smiles and nods. “Can’t blame you, really.”

“Helps that I’m supposed to be the sweet, innocent one of the band,” Kayla giggles. “Got to keep up the public image…”

“What the hell would that make me, then?” I giggle.

“The inspirational one, of course!” Kayla says, making me giggle even louder. I could take or leave any of the presents I received today, but the friendships I’ve made as ‘Stephanie’ truly are priceless.

That knowledge is reinforced a little while later as Lauren, Becca and Adeola arrive, all greeting me with tight hugs and extra little gifts that hadn’t made their way into the morning’s pile. We spend the rest of the afternoon gossiping in the living room- much to Danny’s delight- before our taxi arrives just after 6pm to whisk me away to my party, which is, of course, held at Charlotte Hutchinson’s mansion. Which also, of course, means that from the very first second of the party, I’ll be under the watchful eye of Miss Jamie-Lee Burke, who greets me with a tight hug upon my arrival at the vast house.

“Happy birthday!” Jamie squeaks excitedly. “Welcome to PROPER adult life, hehe!”

“Thanks,” I laugh. “I guess you’ve got a costume for me upstairs to change into?”

“Of course,” Jamie says with a smug smile. “’Costumes’ may be a bit of a strong word in this case, but I’ve certainly got dresses for all of you up in my bedroom!” I force a smile on my face as I- accompanied by the rest of the girls- follow Jamie up the stairs. I wouldn’t be surprised if she stashed the dresses in her bedroom so she could look at me while I change, to confirm the suspicions that she no doubt has about my lack of ‘change’ following a supposed 11 months on oestrogen.

I’m able to put such paranoid thoughts to the back of mind, though, once I step into Jamie’s spacious bedroom and stare at the outfit that’s been laid out for me, as it is truly, truly gorgeous. The main ‘body’ of the outfit is a dress in a shiny red material with a square neck (which, of course, shows off cleavage that I don’t really have), a very narrow waist that requires me to wear a corset underneath, and a wide, flared skirt with several cute waves throughout, especially when given volume by a multi-layered petticoat. My black tights are swapped for shiny nude stockings (which are attached to my corset by six garters each) and I have a pair of stilettos with a 6” platform heel attached to each feet with a very elaborate set of straps. My make-up is enhanced to its fullest, my nails are repainted the same blood-red colour as my dress, I have two pairs of extravagant, dangly earrings pushed through each earlobe and my hair is restyled into a cute bob that wouldn’t look out of place in the 1950s.

The other girls all change into similar dresses in their ‘colours’- pink for Kayla, blue for Lauren, gold for Adeola and pale yellow for Becca- before the five of us are escorted down to the ‘main room’ of the house, where the party is in full swing. Because of my dress and hair, I initially assume that the party’s theme is ‘fifties’, though when I step into the room (and the cheers and cries of ‘happy birthday’) subside, the actual them becomes clear.

Every single woman in the room is dressed in their best party frock (all of which are puffed up with petticoats), same as me, and every single one of them has had their hair styled into a style that isn’t so much ‘old-fashioned’ as ‘juvenile’. And yet, everything’s a little ‘off’- all of them are also wearing tight corsets, high-heeled shoes, excessive make-up…

“Welcome to your first ever ‘big girl’s little girl’s party’!” Jamie giggles. “We figured that with this being your first birthday as a girl, you’d want a proper girl’s party like we DIDN’T get to have when we were kids.”

“But,” Charlotte interrupts, bouncing over to us. “We ALSO figured that you are twenty years old and wouldn’t want childish, silly things like that, so we ‘adultified’ the party a bit, hence ‘big girl’s little girl’s party’!”

“It’s PERFECT!” I giggle excitedly. And it is- it truly is. The last time I had a birthday party was when I was thirteen, and even then, it was just having a few friends over, eating a takeout pizza and playing videogames. I’d occasionally see photos on Facebook of the parties my female friends would have, and it would always make me go green with envy whenever I’d see their posh dresses and fancy make-up. I didn’t go to my school’s prom as I knew the sight of the girls in their beautiful prom dresses- whilst I was wearing a tuxedo- would occupy my mind all night. That, and there was no way a skinny, unpopular 5’ 6” guy was ever going to get a date.

I’d also, of course, seen photos and videos of the numerous costume parties thrown by the Angels in the past, of the amazing Victorian-themed party in December 2013 just before the girls became famous, or the Strictly Come Dancing themed party for Jamie's birthday three years ago. The mere notion that I- an unremarkable, plain-looking person who was born male- could so much as attend one was pure fantasy, so getting one thrown especially for me really is a dream come true. If only I wasn’t obsessed with ‘waking up’ from this dream…

“Glad to hear it!” Jamie giggles, clearly satisfied by my genuine gratitude. “If I were you, I’d go and get a ‘big girl’s little girl’s drink’ before you get pestered to give a speech!” I giggle yet again before heading to the bar, smiling at the sensation of the voluminous petticoats swishing around my stockinged legs. Even if a part of me does want to return to ‘reality’, that doesn’t mean that the majority of me can’t relax and enjoy the party, to look toward the future rather than dwell on the past. As I approach the bar, however, my eyes go wide as I come face to face with an unexpected face.

“Evening, ma’am,” Danny- who is apparently serving as the bartender- says with a smug grin. “What can I get you?”

“What are you doing here?” I ask.

“We don’t have any drinks called ‘what are you doing here’,” Danny says, making me sigh frustratedly. “Maybe you’d like a ‘big girl’s little girl’s cherryade’?”

“Just answer the question,” I order.

“I’m not going to miss my little sister’s first ‘big girl’s little girl’s party’, am I?” Danny chuckles. “Have a look around- this is a girls’ party only. All the actual men that are here are only here in a ‘service’ role, waiters or bar staff, I told Charlotte that I used to work behind the bar, so I got me a new job for one night only!”

“…That cherryade sounds nice, please,” I say, sighing as Danny pours the drink- which is just cherryade and vodka, but tastes very nice. Two of these cherryades later, I’ve managed to relax to the point where I’m happily dancing with the rest of the girls, giggling as my petticoats cause my dress to flare up every time I spin around.

As the night goes on, I get more and more tipsy, but never reach the state of fall-down drunk, which is for the best as I’m coerced into singing an a cappella version of ‘Showdown’, my solo track from our album, before all five of us serenade the room with a rendition of ‘No More Lies’. Once the performance is over, I’m unceremoniously shoved in front of the lead microphone as the entire room starts calling for a speech.

“Oh my god…” I say with a girlish giggle. “This day has been so amazing, thank you all so, so much for this! I never really had a party like this when I was younger… For obvious reasons, hehe! I can’t wait to see what you’ve got lined up for my 21st!”

“Get in line,” Becca says, making both of us nearly double over in fits of giggles.

“But seriously,” I sigh. “I really do feel like the luckiest girl in the world to have such amazing friends… And an okay-ish brother.”

“High praise, coming from her,” Danny laughs.

“So… enjoy the rest of the party, I guess!” I giggle as the band wrap me in a group hug. Once I’m released, I smile and pose for the crowd as they photograph me for their Facebook pages and Instagram accounts, before spending the rest of the night drinking, dancing and enjoying my day in the limelight. It’s only once I get home and some of the alcohol-induced fog leaves my brain that I realise that the more the party went on, the less I thought about ‘Steve’.

As the faint glow of the Sun wakes me from my slumber, though, all I want to do is pull on a pair of jeans and a comfortable sweatshirt and spend the whole day forgetting all about ‘Stephanie’s existence. However, with my parents downstairs, I know that’s not an option- at least, not immediately.

As the clock ticks over to 10:30am, I sigh and admit defeat, getting out of bed and padding toward the shower, where I allow the hot water to cleanse my body and ease my stress- at least for the time being. Without even thinking, I wash my body and my hair with ‘Stephanie’s sweet-smelling shower gel and shampoo, before returning to my room, pulling on a padded bra and a control thong and applying a light layer of make-up. Even though no one will blame me for dressing for comfort today, as I’m not going out, I sigh as I open my drawers and realise that even the most comfortable of ‘Stephanie’s clothing options still has a large degree of ‘sexy’. I end up opting for a pair of ribbed black tights, a snug black long-sleeved bodysuit and a knee-length denim pencil skirt. With my hair brushed out and my nails still painted red from last night, I’m still very much the picture of glamour, earning a playful wolf whistle from Danny as I walk downstairs.

“Stop teasing your sister!” Mum admonishes my brother, before turning to me. “Though you do look very, very pretty, Stephanie! Did you have a good night last night?”

“Yeah,” I reply honestly. “It was fun… Danny, do you live here now or something?”

“What?” Danny protests. “I can’t celebrate my baby sister’s birthday or something?”

“It IS a rare treat to have two of my children under our roof at the same time,” mum says. “Especially if you’re still planning on moving back in with your bandmates…”

“Nothing’s set in stone yet,” I sigh as I slump down onto the sofa, crossing one leg over the other and both smirking and grimacing at the sensations created by the ribbing on my tights rubbing together. “I’m going to be here for a while yet.”

“GOOD,” mum says. “I know young people are expected to go out and find their independence, but boy or girl, you are our youngest, and that means we’re not ready to let go of you just yet!”

“Whereas me and Tom can just go and sod off, I guess,” Danny says, laughing as mum gives him a playful slap on the back of the head.

“Has- has Tom been in touch?” I ask hesitantly.

“Not yet,” mum whispers. “Though I assure you, that boy is in BIG trouble when I see him next, missing his sister’s birthday…”

“Honestly, there’s no need to go to any fuss, it can’t have been easy for him,” I say.

“It wasn’t easy for me either, but I got used to it,” Danny says. “And it was probably harder for you than for both of us combined! I’ve read plenty of articles online about transsexualism, and what they all say is that you need support, not judgement.”

“And ‘endless teasing’ qualifies as ‘support’?” Mum asks Danny, who shrugs in response.

“I’m still her older brother, it’s part of the job role,” Danny laughs. “I’m actually seeing Tom and his girlfriend later today, you’re more than welcome to come too, if you want.” I freeze as Danny puts me on the spot- whilst I do want to try to repair my relationship with my brother, I was also looking to ‘Steve’ time today…

“He knows where I am if he wants to talk to me,” I say, trying my best to sound more bitter than I actually am.

“Okay then,” Danny says, clearly taken aback by my hostility. “I’ll make sure he gets THAT message…”

“Stephanie, it wouldn’t hurt you to go and talk to Tom,” mum says. “I don’t think you’ve even met his girlfriend yet, and I know the two of you would get along.”

“Maybe some other time,” I whisper.

“If you insist,” mum says stoically. “Do you want breakfast or shall you just skip straight to lunch?”

“Breakfast would be good, please,” I say, sighing fifteen minutes as I’m presented with my fruit and cereal, as mandated by the band’s dietician, whilst Danny wolfs down a delicious-smelling cheese toastie. It’s a further hour before my mother and brother both leave to go to work and home respectively, leaving me alone in the house. I relax into the sofa and try to get comfortable, as whilst they are undoubtedly feminine, my clothes are very warm and cozy. My outfit is very similar to the sort of thing I’d wear during ‘Stephanie sessions’ back before I lived full-time as a woman, and yet I don’t get the same sense of excitement, the same thrill that I used to get from wearing these clothes. Now, the only clothing that excites me in the same way are the elaborate costumes we wear when shooting music videos, or attending big, fancy parties- like last night- or, ironically, the clothes still nestled in my ‘Steve’ drawer upstairs.

Once I’m satisfied that mum and Danny aren’t coming back (and safe in the knowledge that dad won’t be back for ages), I head upstairs and strip off all of my clothes, before removing all my make-up, my nail polish and brushing my hair back into an androgynous style. I reach into my ‘Steve drawer’ and pull out a loose pair of black boxer shorts, sighing as I step into them, before pulling on a pair of socks, a baggy white t-shirt and my favourite jeans and sweater. I stare at my reflection in my full-length mirror for five minutes, desperate to determine whether I’m looking at a boy, or a girl pretending to be a boy. No matter how closely I look, however, no answer springs forth.

I head downstairs to the living room to relax, but before I enter the room, I pass ‘Stephanie’s raincoat, still hanging on its usual peg. I reach into the pocket of the dark red garment and retrieve Kayla’s present from where I stashed it yesterday and quickly unwrap it, laughing at what’s inside- a £100 gift card for the Xbox online store, and a note that reads ‘Happy birthday ‘Steve’, Love from KKMustang97x’. I grin as I switch on my Xbox and redeem the gift card, before going to the ‘player search’ screen and typing in ‘KKMustang97x’, smiling as it returns a picture of a very familiar young blonde woman. My smile widens as my friend request is immediately accepted, and followed up seconds later by a voice chat request.

“Hey you,” Kayla says over my headset. “I take it you like the gift, then?”

“Yes I did,” I say in my ‘Steve’ voice. “Thank you so much!”

“Ooh, I’m not speaking to ‘Miss’ Abbott, then?” Kayla asks. “Your parents both at work?”

“For the next few hours,” I reply. “Getting in some ‘Steve time’ where I can. I hope Lauren isn’t listening in!”

“Nah, she’s out with her new boyfriend,” Kayla says. “Just the two of us today. So, what d’you fancy first? Destiny, Grand Theft Auto?”

“Bit of GTA sounds amazing,” I say. “I’d love to know what Lauren says every time you blast away on your Xbox, heh. Especially when I recall you saying that the first episode of Game of Thrones made you throw up!”

“Oh, whatever, I was sixteen then, I’m eighteen now,” Kayla retorts. “As for Lauren… You know, when I moved in, I thought we’d be like sisters? I mean, I’m an only child, she’s only got brothers, neither of us have ever lived with another woman our own age, but…”

“Yeah, it wasn’t really like that when I lived with her either,” I sigh. “Maybe because she’s so far away from her family home, I dunno.”

“Or maybe…” Kayla says, before tailing off.

“Or maybe it was something to do with me?” I ask. “Yeah, you’re probably right, heh. You know… If I could go back and do everything differently, I would, I’d have just been honest from the very start. But, I guess what’s done is done…”

“If you’d been honest,” Kayla says, “you wouldn’t have applied for the band, and almost certainly wouldn’t have been accepted into the band. For all you know, you’d still be unemployed.”

“True,” I sigh. “I’d almost certainly still be unemployed, wouldn’t have a girlfriend, any friends… I really, really am the luckiest-“ I pause, prompting Kayla to giggle loudly.

“Going to finish that sentence?” Kayla asks. “Because if you say ‘boy’, need I remind you that boys DON’T talk about their feelings, nor do they dance the night away in fancy red dresses, whereas girls… Huh, I guess girls DO spend all day on the sofa wearing slouchy clothing and playing videogames. I mean, that’s what I’m doing right now, and no one would ever mistake me for a boy, would they?”

“Yes, yes, you’ve made it perfectly clear which ‘side’ you’d rather I choose,” I sigh.

“Either way, the sooner you choose, the better,” Kayla says. “For all of us.”

“The only reason I haven’t gone insane over the past few months is that I can get regular ‘Steve time’,” I remind my friend. “And if anything, I’ve been getting more and more of it…”

“Way to make me feel like an enabler, STEVE,” Kayla says.

“You’re only enabling me to be who I really am,” I say.

“But is ‘Steve’ who you really, really are?” Kayla asks, making me groan loudly. “I’ll take that as a ‘don’t know’.”

“Can we just game, please?” I ask, trying to relax as Kayla and I get engrossed in our game. So engrossed, in fact, that I momentarily lose track of the time and start to panic slightly when I hear dad’s car pull up outside. I hurriedly say goodbye to Kayla before switching off my Xbox and rushing upstairs, stripping off my jeans and sweater and stuffing them back into my wardrobe before pulling my tights, bodysuit and skirt back on, brushing my hair out into ‘Stephanie’s trademark style and reapplying my make-up. I make sure to play some music- some of our band’s music, obviously- whilst doing this, giving dad the impression that I’m an ordinary twenty year old woman hanging out in her bedroom, listening to music and chatting with her friends on her phone.

“Typical girl,” dad laughs from downstairs after a few minutes. “Is a ‘welcome home’ too much to ask for?”

“Welcome home,” I yell as I straighten my tights, before sighing and heading downstairs.

“Have you changed your hairstyle?” Dad asks.

“Umm, maybe,” I reply. “I was kinda, you know, experimenting with it…”

“Eh, it looks good on you,” dad says with a genuine smile. “Long hair always did- long hair for a boy, I mean.”

“Thanks, dad,” I chuckle, cuddling my legs underneath me as we spend the rest of the evening watching television. Dad’s not wrong- I always thought I looked better with long hair, especially when it’s in a feminine style. What’s more, feminine hair feels better, more comfortable, as do the clothes I’m wearing. As the night goes on, my bodysuit and my skirt feel more comfortable, more relaxing even than the clothes that ‘Steve’ was wearing earlier today…

I have a smile on my face as my alarm wakes me up at 7:30am to signify the start of another working week, even though (or maybe because) I won’t be doing any actual ‘work’ today, or at the very least, no singing. As usual for a Monday, I shower thoroughly and apply my make-up before returning to my bedroom and pulling on my ‘special’ bra and thong, followed by a pair of silky soft pink tights, a black tank leotard and a thick burgundy sweater dress on top. After slipping my feet into a pair of sexy high-heeled knee-high boots, I grab my dance bag and head downstairs, where my mother has just returned from her night shift.

“Ah, my little ballerina,” mum coos, making me blush.

“Mum!” I retort. “’Little’? I’m taller than you even without these heels…”

“Sorry, sorry,” mum giggles. “You’re just going to have to accept that no matter how old, or how tall, or how famous- or even how female you get, you’re still our youngest, that means you’ll always be ‘our little whatever’.”

“Yes, you’ve more than driven that home over the last twenty years,” I sigh. “I’m going to see my counsellor straight after my lesson so I won’t be back until after lunch at the earliest.”

“Suits me, give me a chance to get some sleep!” Mum laughs. “Have fun at ballet!”

“Will do,” I chuckle as I eat breakfast, before jumping into my waiting cab and heading toward Krystie Fullerton’s fancy new dance studio, into which she moved over the Christmas holidays. Unlike the previous studio, this one is state of the art, almost twice as big as before and has another, smaller studio adjacent to the main one, allowing Krystie to teach more students at once- or rather, Krystie and her new teaching partner, who greets me with air kisses upon my arrival at the new studio.

“Ah, bonjour, Mademoiselle Renou,” I say, making the dark-haired Frenchwoman giggle excitedly.

“The children call me ‘Mademoiselle Renou’!” The teacher laughs. “Over sixteen, you call me ‘Zoe’. Especially if you’re also over twenty, bon anniversaire, Stephanie!”

“Thanks,” I laugh as we’re joined by Lauren and Kayla, whom Zoe also greets with air kisses.

“Ah, half of the six nations have arrived,” Krystie laughs, before ushering the four of us into the studio. “Zoe, you do know I don’t pay overtime, right?”

“I need to get to know all my students better,” Zoe shrugs. “Especially if I’ll be teaching them pointe in a few months!”

“And if wouldn’t have anything to do with these three gir- sorry, these three ‘young women’ being national celebrities, would it?” Krystie asks.

“Just a perk of the job!” Zoe giggles as she ushers myself, Lauren and Kayla to the barre, where we begin our stretches. After ninety minutes of dancing- during which I’m repeatedly complimented on my progress by both Krystie and Zoe- I head to the posh new changing room to pull my dress back on, only to be stopped by the arrival of Becca and Adeola, who physically turn me around and march me back into the studio.

“Not so fast, Miss Abbott!” Becca giggles.

“Yeah,” Adeola laughs. “It was your birthday on Saturday, you know what that means…”

“Oh- come on,” I moan. “I don’t even have my pointe shoes yet…”

“Neither did I when it was my birthday,” Kayla giggles as Krystie produces a wide, frivolous pink tutu from her supply closet. “Now get changed!”

“Um, privacy?” I ask as the tutu is roughly shoved into my hands.

“Seriously?” Adeola asks. “After we’ve spent the last ten months sharing changing rooms, staring at each other’s tits?”

“Those of us that have them,” I say, making the dark-skinned girl grimace as she realises her faux pas.

“You’ve been on oestrogen for almost a year,” Lauren ‘reminds’ me. “And you’re not big-chested- wide-chested, I mean- to begin with, have you REALLY had no, um, ‘growth’?”

“Some people just don’t get ‘growth’,” I say, lowering the mood in the room.

“Well,” Krystie says, clapping her hands to break the awkward silence, “luckily the tutu’s designed so that it can hide a padded bra, so we’ll all turn our backs, you slip your leotard off and the tutu on, and show us that I HAVEN’T wasted the last eleven months trying to teach you how to dance!” I force a smile on my face as the six other women turn their backs and I peel off my leotard, before stepping into the loud, rustling tutu and allowing Krystie to lace it shut at the back. It feels amazing once it’s on- as does every other feminine costume I wear- and once Krystie’s gently lowered a tiara onto my head, I truly feel like a princess as I step and pirouette around the vast room, occasionally catching glimpses of myself in the studio’s mirrored walls. I actually sigh sadly as Krystie unlaces me from the tutu, such is the beauty of the costume.

“Ah, I’ve heard that sigh before,” Krystie giggles. “Usually from Jamie and Nikki, not that I’m trying to stereotype you ‘special’ girls, hehe!”

“It IS so gorgeous,” I sigh as I step back into my leotard.

“Just like the girl wearing it!” Becca giggles as she and the rest of the band give me a hug. “Now get your dress back on, we have a lunch reservation and I am starving!”

“Ahh…” I sigh sadly. “I kinda, kinda have a prior engagement. With my counsellor, you know…”

“Oh, that sucks,” Adeola says, before her eyes light up once again. “Dinner tonight?”

“Sure!” I say, making Becca and Adeola giggle happily. “Got anywhere special in mind?”

“Just Chez Benedict, I’m afraid,” Adeola laughs.

“I hear they do AMAZING takeout Chinese food,” Becca giggles. “See you there at 6?”

“You got it!” I giggle, before pulling my dress and boots back on and heading out to a waiting taxi. Twenty minutes later, I’m coolly striding into the office of my counsellor, where I take a seat, crossing one leg over the other and smiling at the sensation as the soft leather of my boots rubs together.

“Hello Stephanie,” Beverly says with a warm smile. “Just come from your dance lesson?”

“Yeah,” I reply. “It was my birthday on Saturday, so Krystie made me dance in a big, poofy tutu…”

“Ah yes, happy birthday,” Beverly laughs. “My daughter told me that you had a ‘big girl’s little’s girl’s’ theme?”

“Yep,” I say with a smile. “It was an amazing night, the dress they made for me was GORGEOUS.”

“I saw some of the photos on Sarah’s Instagram account,” Beverly laughs. “You really seemed to be enjoying yourself.”

“It was my first ever birthday as Stephanie,” I whisper, making Beverly nod.

“And I assume it was only ‘Stephanie’ who received any gifts this year?” The middle-aged woman asks.

“…Not quite,” I grimace. “’Steve’ did get a gift, from Kayla.”

“The girl you confided in a few months ago, your bandmate?” Beverly asks.

“Yeah,” I whisper. “I- I had a ‘Steve’ session yesterday, just a few hours wearing jeans, playing videogames with Kayla, trying to forget about Stephanie…”

“And how did it make you feel?” Beverly asks.

“…Anxious,” I laugh. “Like I couldn’t properly relax, especially when I had to go and get changed back into ‘Stephanie’s clothes in a hurry. It was- god, this’ll sound silly…”

“I’ve told you before, nothing you say in this office will be treated as ‘silly’,” Beverly assures me.

“It- it was like before, when I was ‘Steve’ and dressing up as ‘Stephanie’,” I say. “The thrill of doing what I shouldn’t, of nearly being caught…”

“And you don’t get that ‘thrill’ from Stephanie’s clothes anymore?” Beverly asks.

“Only from the big, extravagant costumes,” I say. “Like my birthday dress, or the tutu today, stuff I couldn’t wear outside, like. Things like I’m wearing now… I know it should be exciting but it’s just… Comfortable, relaxing.”

“Everything you’re saying is perfectly normal,” Beverly says. “It’s a stage all transgendered people reach, when they begin to settle into their chosen gender and it becomes a part of their everyday life, it becomes, for want of a better word, routine.”

“But I’m NOT transgendered,” I moan.

“Are you sure about that?” Beverly asks, nodding as I moan and shake my head. “From the way you describe your ‘Steve’ sessions, you sound almost like a girl pretending to be a boy, not the other way round.”

“I- I don’t know,” I sigh. “This would be so much easier if I just abandoned ‘Steve’, if I never wanted to be him again…”

“Just because you still cling on to your old identity, it doesn’t mean that you AREN’T transgendered,” Beverly advises. “Even if it’s not to the same degree as someone such as Jamie- who I’m only using as she’s an acquaintance of yours, not another patient of mine!”

“I’d never dream of saying that you’d breached doctor-patient confidentiality,” I say, making Beverly chuckle.

“I know you won’t,” Beverly laughs. “Tell me more about the party, how it felt compared to previous birthdays.” I take a deep breath before replying, and emerge from the office an hour later refreshed at having got all my anxieties off my chest, but still frustrated at being no closer to answering the question of which gender I’d prefer to live as on a permanent basis.

I arrive back home to an empty house just after 1:30pm and crash on the sofa, letting out a long, contented sigh. After slipping off my boots, I tuck my pink legs underneath me and switch on the TV, relaxing for the next few hours until I’m due to go to Adeola’s house. At no point do I even consider changing out of my clothes (not even my tight leotard)- in my warm dress and smooth tights, I am the very embodiment of comfort. The fact that the clothes are ‘Stephanie’s rather than ‘Steve’s barely even registers with me.

Just before 5pm, I head upstairs to change- as I’m going to Adeola’s house, her uncle- our manager- will inevitably be there as well, and he’s someone with whom you always need to make a good impression. I strip off my sweater dress and my dancewear and pull on a pair of sheer black tights, a black leather miniskirt and a fashionable patterned long-sleeved top, all of which I photograph for my Instagram account in order to appease the clothing companies who sent me the beautiful clothes. After pulling my sexy boots back on, I grab my coat and head out to the waiting taxi, which whisks me away to Adeola’s uncle’s vast house, where I’m greeted by the tall dark-skinned girl herself.

“Hey, Steffieboots!” Adeola giggles as she gives me a tight hug. “Are you going for a ‘dominatrix’ thing or is the leather skirt and leather boots thing just an accident?”

“The skirt’s an endorsement, the boots are… Sexy, hehe!” I say, making Adeola giggle loudly.

“Is that another one of my superstars?” Joshua- Adeola’s uncle- booms from the living room.

“Hi Mr. Benedict, Mrs. Benedict,” I yell in response, earning a loud laugh from the middle-aged African gentleman.

“At home you can call me Joshua!” Adeola’s uncle shouts. “Unless you’d rather be called ‘Miss Abbott’!” or Mister Abbott, I think to myself.

“’Stephanie’ will be fine… Joshua!” I giggle, making Joshua let out another loud, booming laugh.

“’Stephanie’ it is!” The older man yells. “Addie! Get your guest a drink!”

“I’m um, not that thirsty,” I say to my bandmate who giggles and rolls her eyes.

“I don’t think you get a say in it,” Adeola laughs, leading me to the kitchen where Becca gives me a tight hug.

“Hey, Steph!” Becca giggles. “I am SO buying that skirt when I get home!” I giggle as I do a slow twirl for Becca before sitting down at the expensive-looking kitchen table.

“What time’s food getting here?” I ask. “I’m starving…”

“About half an hour,” Adeola says. “I remember when we DIDN’T have to run everything we eat past our dietician…”

“Your uncle’s invested a lot of money in us,” Becca shrugs. “He wants us to be in tip-top condition 24/7, wants to make sure we don’t put anything in our bodies that’s no good for us.”

“And speaking of ‘putting things in our bodies’,” Adeola says, causing Becca to double over in a fit of giggles.

“Let me guess: Marco and Riley are joining us?” I ask, referring to the two girls’ boyfriends.

“No, not tonight,” Adeola giggles. “Bex and I are staying boy-free for the rest of the night. You, on the other hand…” I sigh, before letting out a tired giggle.

“Setting me up with another guy that won’t get past the first date?” I ask the two women, who both laugh.

“We have high hopes for this one,” Becca says with her trademark smug grin. “So much so that you can consider him a late birthday present!”

“Let me guess: he’s gift-wrapped his ‘parts’?” I ask, making the two girls double over in laughter again.

“No, and don’t say that around Riley, I don’t ever need THAT image!” Becca laughs.

“Let’s just say that you and Kurt are going to get on REALLY well,” Adeola says. “In the meantime, guess what I found out we’re going to get tomorrow…”

“Ooh, ooh, is it finally here?” Becca squeaks excitedly.

“Is what here?” I ask, earning confused, condescending stares from the two girls.

“Our bus, silly!” Becca says. “Our tour bus? You know, our home away from home as we wow crowds up and down the country with how talented-“

“-And sexy!” Adeola interjects.

“-We are?” Becca finishes, making me laugh nervously. With every day that passes, this upcoming tour becomes more and more real… And I get more and more terrified at the prospect of two weeks on the road with people I’ve been lying to for over a year.

The following morning, I try to put my nerves to the back of my mind as I’m stood in front of my microphone, singing my heart out with the other four girls. I’m wearing my most comfortable clothing- thick, warm black tights, a pleated dark grey miniskirt and a dark purple turtleneck sweater- but I still feel uneasy, especially because I know that every note we sing today is practice for the upcoming tour. All the other girls are, of course, giddy with excitement at the prospect of singing to a live crowd, a pretense I try my hardest to maintain, especially as we’re led out of the studio just before lunch to meet the newest member of the Out of Heaven crew- our bus.

“Oh my god!” Kayla squeaks excitedly as she sees the vehicle for the first time. “It’s so, so cool!”

“It’s awesome!” Becca squeaks, dragging all five of us into a group hug before we’re escorted on board the fancy vehicle. Objectively, the bus is indeed amazing- it’s filled with state of the art facilities, including a shower room, a kitchen, a widescreen TV and, of course, five soft, plush bunks. What there isn’t, however, is any private space, any place to be alone, out of earshot of the rest of the band. And there’ll certainly be no place for ‘Steve’ anywhere on the bus.

“Isn’t this amazing, Steph?” Lauren giggles, giving me a tight, excited hug. “Which bunk are you taking?”

“Um, I dunno…” I mumble, still struggling to process the fact that I will soon be living on this bus with the other four girls.

“Well I’m calling dibs on this one,” Adeola laughs, dramatically sprawling out on the largest bunk. “I’m the tallest, only fair I get the biggest bed!”

“I’ll have this one, then!” Becca laughs, laying down on the bunk next to Adeola’s and playfully linking fingers with her BFF. Before I can move, Kayla and Lauren lay down on the bunks opposite Becca and Adeola and also playfully link their fingers, leaving me to take the one remaining bunk at the back of the bus.

“Wait!” Stuart- who’d shown us around the bus- laughs as he gets out his phone. “Got to take a photo of this, first official photo of the Out of Heaven 2016 tour…” We all pose sweetly on our beds for Stuart as he photographs us, before cheekily flicking our middle fingers at Stuart as he takes further photos.

“We’ll not put THAT one in the souvenir magazine,” Stuart laughs as he puts away his phone.

“Where will we change on here?” I ask, wincing slightly as the other girls giggle at my expense.

“All the places we’ll be playing will have dressing rooms, silly!” Becca laughs. “Just change in there. Same goes for when we change to go out after each show!” Great, I think. Two weeks of changing in front of all the other girls…

“Aren’t you looking forward to the tour, Steph?” Kayla asks, the look in her eyes giving away the fact that she knows precisely why I wouldn’t be looking forward to it.

“Of course I am!” I lie, letting out a nervous giggle. “Can’t wait!”

“Well, don’t get TOO comfortable,” Stuart laughs. “You’ve still got plenty of rehearsing to do, so get some lunch quick and get back to work!”

“Yes, your lordship,” Becca sarcastically retorts as her brother leads us off the bus. After a light meal, the five of us get back to work, singing our hearts out for the rest of the day, before we’re let out of the studio at 5pm. The five of us decide to go out for dinner together, accompanied by Becca’s, Adeola’s and Lauren’s boyfriends (Kayla and I are, of course, still single), and over the meal, the only topics of conversation are either the upcoming tour or the bus, making me more and more anxious with every passing second.

Once again, I arrive home to an empty house, and once again, I strip off ‘Stephanie’s clothes and scrub off my make-up, before pulling on a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt from ‘Steve’s clothes drawer, but even this does nothing to abate my anxiety- if anything, wearing ‘Steve’s clothes makes me feel even more anxious, knowing that I can’t afford to be caught wearing the clothes just in case my parents return early. It’s not until I’ve pulled on ‘Stephanie’s slinky pink nightie and climbed underneath my covers that I finally feel relaxed- or at the very least, tired enough to get to sleep.

My alarm wakes me from a dreamless sleep at 7:30am and, in a semi-conscious daze, I run through my morning routine, which today includes pulling on the soft pink tights and tight black leotard I’ll be wearing all morning at my second ballet class of the week, followed by a chic black denim miniskirt and a tight khaki top. Unlike the lesson on Monday, today’s lesson will involve all of what most of the girls dub the ‘Angel extended family’, which means that when I arrive at the dance studio, I’m greeted with big hugs from Becca and Adeola… And a typically inscrutable stare from Jamie.

“Hey Steph!” Krystie giggles as she bounces over to me and gives me a tight hug. “So… How’d you like the bus? Not exactly big enough to do any proper dancing on, of course…”

“We’ll just have to practice in the car park,” Becca says, making Krystie giggle. “There’s a few new faces here today…”

“Yeah, Zoe’s friends, ex-colleagues,” Krystie explains. “Part of her condition for working here, she wanted to teach some of her friends, I figured with the new place we’ve got enough space now at the regular Wednesday lesson. They’re mostly beginners, so they’ll be in your quote-unquote group, Steph- even though you’ve long since left ‘beginner’ behind!”

“Thanks,” I giggle. “Still feel like a beginner every time I see you guys dance, though.”

“Ugh, trust me, everyone feels like that,” Krystie chuckles. “Zoe used to dance with the national youth ballet in France, first time I saw her dance my jaw was on the floor, hehe!”

“And most beginners would be green with envy if they saw you dance the way you did on Monday!” Adeola says, giving my shoulders a tight squeeze.

“Well- I guess,” I sigh.

“And,” Becca says with a smug grin, “most transgendered girls would be green with envy at you being a gorgeous national celebrity!”

“Okay,” I concede, “that’s DEFINITELY true!”

“And will be even greener when they see you on the arm of the sexy stud we’ve got lined up for you tonight!” Adeola giggles. Not bloody likely, I think to myself.

“Ooh, don’t tell me you’ve set up another boy for Miss Abbott to reject after only one date?” Krystie asks, making me cringe.

“Can we just get down to dancing, please?” I ask, making Krystie giggle as she and Zoe direct us into the studio, where we break into two groups- the experienced dancers (those who can dance en pointe) go to Krystie’s side of the room, whilst Lauren, Kayla, myself and three other girls I don’t fully recognise head toward where Zoe is stood on the opposite side of the room.

“Mes filles,” Zoe announces to the six of us, “after our stretches, I want you to work in pairs, one experienced dancer with one not-so experienced dancer, and work on your entree.”

“Can I partner with you?” One of the other girls- a dark-haired young woman with a Manchester accent- asks, making Zoe roll her eyes and giggle.

“NO,” Zoe says firmly. “Now start stretching!” The six of us giggle as we start our stretches, and when the time comes to start our partner work, I find myself working with the dark-haired northerner.

“Hi,” I say by way of a hesitant introduction. “I’m, um, I’m Steph.”

“Yeah, I know, I have kinda heard of you,” the northern girl laughs, making me blush. “I’m Nat, Natalie Briggs, nice to meet you.” I giggle as Natalie and I exchange a quick hug, followed by air kisses.

“Are you a friend of Zoe?” I ask as Natalie and I begin to practise our steps.

“In as much as I’ve been shagging her for over eighteen months,” Natalie says, almost causing me to stumble. “We both used to work for Soixante-Trois. Well, she used to, I still do, and yes, that’s the airline that’s notorious for hiring transgendered stewardesses, and yes, I am, and no, Zoe isn’t.”

“I- I wouldn’t have guessed that either of you were,” I say, closely studying Natalie’s feminine body.

“My eyes are up here,” Natalie says, making me blush again as she points at her face. “And thank you, I could say the same about you!”

“Thanks,” I giggle. “How long have you been on HRT?”

“Haven’t,” Natalie says smugly, making me almost stumble again.

“I- I’m sorry, what?” I ask, gob smacked by the revelation.

“I haven’t ever taken oestrogen,” Natalie says with a smug smile. “Just because I want to be a woman, doesn’t mean I want to take hormones.”

“But- but-“ I stammer.

“I’m not going to begrudge anyone who takes oestrogen,” Natalie says as she adjusts her leotard. “But I’ve got to be true to who I am, you know?”

“But, um, but you are- you consider yourself a woman, right?” I ask.

“I’m wearing a pair of pink tights and a leotard,” Natalie chuckles. “I’ve got foundation garments to give me a female shape, my face is made-up, my long hair’s tied into a bun and my passport has the name ‘Natalie’ on it. What do you think?” Right now? I don’t know what to think.

“But do you- do you ever, um,” I ask.

“Go back to ‘boyhood’?” Natalie completes my sentence for me. “Sometimes, but very rarely. I like having the choice. I can be whoever I want to be, whenever I want to be. ‘Tied down’ doesn’t really suit me. Right now, though, I want to be a ballerina, so less talking, more dancing!” I force a smile on my face as Natalie and I continue dancing, though her words resonate with me- being able to be whoever she wants to be, whenever she wants to be. That’s an option I so desperately wish I had- then again, it’s an option I’ve always wished I had. Occasionally, Jamie (and sometimes Nikki and/or Krystie) will draft me into helping out a young transgendered girl- sometimes as young as twelve- who’s been having difficulty in their lives as a sort-of ‘make a wish’-type thing. Every time I go along to one of those meets, I always leave feeling envious that the girl gets to attend school the way she wants- wearing the same uniform (especially the skirt) as all the other girls, just as I always wanted to do all throughout secondary school.

And yet, when I get home from one of those meets, I inevitably head up to my bedroom and change into ‘Steve’s clothes…

After the dance lesson ends, I head into the changing room and pull my skirt and top back on, sighing as I think about all the transgendered girls who would kill to be able to wear what I’m wearing now, in much the same way I envied all the girls at school. I glance around at all the other girls as they get changed back into their street clothes, especially my new friend Natalie, who pulls on a very slinky long-sleeved black dress and a pair of dangly earrings that no man- at least, no masculine man- would ever dare wear, let alone wear in public. Natalie’s managed to find the balance between male and female that I’m so desperate to keep, and has friends, a career and a stable relationship, all without the help of oestrogen… But without telling any lies, either. If I’d been honest from the very start, I may well have been able to get onto the band even without pretending to take hormones. Given how much I’ve spoken about my life as a woman in interviews, not even Jamie can question my sincere desire to live most of my life as ‘Stephanie’… But god knows how she (and the rest of the world) would react if they found out about the continued existence of ‘Steve’.

Once I and the rest of the band are changed back into our street clothes, we’re picked up in our Out of Heaven-branded minibus and driven back to our studio, where we continue our rehearsals for the tour- though rehearsals come to an abrupt end once we’re given permission to go back onto the tour bus and start decorating and personalising our ‘areas’. For me, all this task involves is picking out bedding and privacy curtains to go around my bed (though how much privacy they’ll actually give me is anyone’s guess). The other four girls, however, are super-excited by the prospect, spending half their time picking out bedding and the other half browsing Amazon on their iPads, picking out ornaments and other decorations.

“Soo,” Becca asks as she shops, “what were the ‘new girls’ like? I gather from Krystie that there’ll be more than just the three we- well, you- met today, that they’ll be on a sort-of ‘roster’ to fit in with their job?”

“They’re nice enough,” I shrug as I grab my own iPad and pretend to shop- though in all honesty, I can’t think of a single thing with which I’d ‘personalise’ my bunk.

“It’s nice to finally not be the only Scot anymore!” Lauren giggles. “Ooh, ooh, look at this set of fairy lights!”

“Oh, they are SO cute,” Adeola sighs. “Pity I already ordered them five minutes ago, hehe!”

“Oh- get to- ugh,” Lauren sighs. “There’ll be others…”

“Natalie- the girl I was practising with today- has apparently been transitioning for eighteen months but hasn’t taken ANY oestrogen whatsoever,” I say, cringing as my statement silences the bus.

“Umm, I’m no expert,” Becca says, “but how would that work, exactly?”

“She, um, chose to live as a woman, but hasn’t taken any steps to change herself physically,” I say.

“So, um, she’s not a ‘real’ transsexual, but just a crossdresser?” Adeola asks.

“No offence, Steph,” Lauren says, “but she looked even more feminine than you do.” Thanks for rubbing that in, Lauren, I think to myself as I exchange a sympathetic glance with Kayla.

“Whatever,” Becca eventually says to break the awkward silence. “If what she’s doing is making her happy and it isn’t hurting anyone, than it can only be a good thing, right?” I smile as my four friends all nod in agreement with Becca, who is, of course, correct.

“Besides,” Adeola giggles, “She ISN’T the transgendered girl who has a hot, steamy date tonight…”

“Ooh!” Lauren and Kayla both giggle, making me blush with embarrassment.

“It’s not ‘hot’ or ‘steamy’,” I protest. “It’s just dinner…”

“Doesn’t mean YOU can’t be hot and steamy!” Adeola laughs.

“And on that note, you’re coming back to my place after work,” Becca states. “We are going to ensure that you are your hottest and steamiest, and I have just the right dress!” I force a smile on my face as the girls continue their shopping- Becca’s clearly ordering me back to her house to ensure that I don’t find a way of weaseling out of the date- which, in fairness, I probably would have (and have done in the past).

After we leave the bus and pack up our things for the day, I’m ushered into the waiting car of Becca’s boyfriend, who drives us back to the brown-haired girl’s vast house, where I’m marched up to Becca’s bedroom and ordered to strip to my underwear.

“You never know,” Adeola giggles as she runs her soft hands through my hair, restyling it into a cute wavy style, “this might not be the last time you’re in your underwear in a strange bedroom tonight…”

“Hey, my room is not strange!” Becca complains, playfully throwing a t-shirt at her BFF’s head.

“Not as strange as its occupant!” Adeola giggles, throwing the t-shirt back before moving on to enhancing my make-up. Fifteen minutes, after the dark-skinned girl has worked her magic, I stare at my reflection in awe- her work is just as good as any of the professional make-up artists who have worked on me over the past few months. With my wet-look lipstick, thick eyeliner and deep silver eyeshadow, I’m going to attract a lot of attention tonight… Especially when I see what Becca intends for me to wear.

The dress she’s selected is short- VERY short, barely covering my panties- and has a sheer décolletage and sheer mesh sleeves. The bodice and skirt and black and extremely tight, showing off what little figure (and what little cleavage) I have. It takes several minutes of pushing and squeezing from Becca and Adeola to get me into the dress, but once I’m zipped into it, I’m astonished at just how sexy I look- especially once my finger- and toenails are painted a deep red colour and I have a pair of Becca’s strappy high-heeled sandals attached to my feet and a matching clutch bag in my hand.

“I am going to freeze to death in this!” I complain as I walk around the room to get used to the feel of the dress and the shoes. “Why only a two inch heel? I thought you were trying to make me ‘steaming hot’?”

“Kurt’s only 5’ 6” himself,” Becca explains. “Don’t want him being intimidated by you, hehe!”

“You’re setting me up with a short guy?” I ask, wincing at how ‘diva-ish’ I suddenly sound.

“I reckon you’ll like him,” Becca says with a smug grin. “Now come on, we don’t want to be late. As always, Riley and me will be at the bar in case things go south- not that there’s any danger of that happening, hehe!”

“Yeah, because all the previous guys you set me up with got second dates, didn’t they?” I ask, wincing as the cold January air hits my bare legs.

“And whose fault was that?” Becca asks with a giggle. “Tell you what, you agree to a second date with Kurt, and you can keep the dress!”

“I’ll think about it,” I say as I elegantly slide onto the back seat of Riley’s car, taking care not to crease my expensive dress. We arrive at the posh restaurant a few minutes later, where Becca introduces me to the young man who will be my date for the night. As Becca promised, he’s not very tall- the same height as me if I wasn’t wearing heels- and is very slender, almost effeminate, which makes a nice change to the tall fitness freaks the girls have previously set me up with. After exchanging air kisses with the young man (always a strange experience), I sit down in the chair being held out for me, taking care to keep my knees together so as to not flash my panties to the whole restaurant.

“Hi,” the young man nervously says in a light American-sounding accent.

“Hi,” I reply with a nervous giggle. “You- you must be Kurt. I- I’m Steph, Stephanie Abbott.”

“Nice to meet you, Stephanie- can I- can I call you Steph?” Kurt asks.

“Of course,” I say with a smile. “I like your accent, what part of America are you from?”

“Canada, actually,” Kurt says, making me grimace.

“Oh sh- sorry…” I mumble.

“It’s okay,” Kurt laughs. “Get that at least five times a day… And to answer your question, I’m originally from Winnipeg, I moved to London for work last summer after graduating from college.”

“What is it you do?” I ask.

“I’m a trainee architect,” Kurt says. “Been working for a big firm here in London for the past six months.”

“Ooh,” I say, genuinely interested by Kurt’s work. “Design anything interesting?”

“Um, assuming you find a new public toilet interesting,” Kurt says as I take a drink, causing me to laugh and nearly snort water out of my nose. “Obviously it’s not as interesting as what you do, heh!”

“I dunno,” I laugh. “We spend a lot of days indoors stood in front of microphones…”

“Better than spending lots of days indoors staring at a computer screen,” Kurt laughs. “And no one ever had posters of architects on their wall.”

“Yeah, but you, you know, make stuff, stuff that lasts,” I say.

“Nothing lasts as long as music,” Kurt shrugs.

“Doubt they’ll still be singing ‘No More Lies’ a hundred years from now,” I snort.

“’Groups with girls are on their way out, Mr. Benedict’?” Kurt asks, making me laugh again. “That’s a- that’s a Beatles thing…” I giggle again at Kurt’s shyness- he’s so unlike the show-offs and wannabes that I’d dated previously that I’m actually starting to enjoy myself.

“I know the quote,” I say with a warm smile, silently cursing as the waiter brings our starters, ruining the relaxed atmosphere that had spread across the table.

“How do you know Becca?” I ask after finishing my pate.

“She, um, contacted me online,” Kurt says, confusing me. Why would Becca- a national celebrity in a long-term relationship- look for and find Kurt- who, while cute, isn’t rich or famous- just for my benefit? “She emailed me, said that she thought you and I would be a good match. Actually thought it was one of my friends playing a prank on me, but the message came through her verified Facebook page, so I responded, and, well, here I am!”

“Didn’t realise she was THAT desperate to find me a boyfriend,” I chuckle. “Why- why did she think that you and me would be compatible?”

“…You mean- you mean you really can’t tell?” Kurt asks.

“Can’t tell what?” I ask, studying Kurt closely.

“You can’t tell that ‘Kurt’ is actually short for ‘Kathryn’?” Kurt says, causing my jaw to drop open.

“…Seriously?” I ask.

“Seriously,” Kurt says, nodding and sweeping his short ginger hair off his forehead with his small, feminine hand. “I was the third of three girls, I grew up doing everything expected of me, I was a soprano on the school choir- obviously nowhere near as a good a singer as you, though- I was on the cheerleading squad, wore a big, fluffy dress to my prom and I hated every second of it."

“I know exactly how you feel,” I say, though as the words leave my lips I’m not sure whether it’s ‘Steve’ talking about his desire to become ‘Stephanie’, or ‘Stephanie’ speaking about her desire to become ‘Steve’.

“Well- obviously, yes, you’d know better than anyone how it feels,” Kurt laughs. “First two years at college I dressed as androgynously as possible, jeans, sweatshirts, I cut my hair short so I wouldn’t stand out as a girl. After my sophomore year, I got diagnosed with gender dysphoria, and I’ve been taking testosterone ever since.”

“And- and what was it like?” I ask.

“Um, you do know what having testosterone is like, right?” Kurt asks, making me blush with embarrassment.

“I mean, what’s it like, um, ‘going the other way’?” I ask. “How the testosterone affected you?”

“Pretty much the same way the oestrogen affected you,” Kurt laughs. “My waist has widened- that was NOT a welcome change- my muscles grew, I started growing body hair and facial hair much faster than before…”

“Have you had anything, um, ‘changed’?” I ask. “Surgically, I mean.”

“Not yet,” Kurt says, shaking his head. “The hormones take care of the, um, ‘regular’ thing. My chest was never too big to begin with. Eventually I’ll get it done, I just… I’m really not a big fan of people approaching my body wielding sharp instruments, like needles or things like that.”

“You’re squeamish when it comes to blood?” I ask.

“Not blood so much,” Kurt says. “I mean, I love shows like, say, Game of Thrones or Dexter. It when it’s MY blood that I kinda check out.”

“Heh, I love Game of Thrones and Dexter too,” I giggle. “I’m also, you know, ‘unaltered’. As ‘god’ intended.”

“I refuse to believe that any benevolent ‘god’ would intend for people like us to live in constant mental torment from being the wrong gender,” Kurt says, nervously reaching a hand across the table and giving my hand a quick squeeze, an action that sends tingles throughout my body.

“What must be worse,” I whisper, “is if you’re not sure which gender you’re supposed to be.”

“Oh, undoubtedly,” Kurt says, melting my heart even further. “The first six months of my transition I was constantly asking myself ‘is this what I want? Is this who I’m truly supposed to be?’”

“…And you ultimately decided that you did truly want to be a man?” I ask.

“I’m wearing the pants, aren’t I?” Kurt asks with a chuckle. “Every time someone calls me ‘Mister’ Vance it just reinforces the fact that I’ve made the right choice.”

“How did your parents react?” I ask, making Kurt giggle.

“They were shocked, at first,” Kurt laughs. “My sisters took it worst of all. Sara- my oldest sister- wouldn’t talk to me for months.”

“I’m the same way with Tom, my oldest brother,” I say. “I’m the youngest of three too, youngest three who were all born the same gender.”

“If I was a hopeless romantic I’d almost think that we were made for each other,” Kurt says, making me giggle yet again as another wave of tingles washes over my body and I begin to realise that I am actually starting to develop feelings for this young man.

An hour and fifteen minutes later, I’m laughing heartily as I leave the restaurant hand-in-hand with Kurt. Everything about him is appealing- his sense of humour, his understanding, sympathetic nature, the way he’s able to relate to every tale I tell of my ‘transition’… It’s almost as if we resonate with each other. We got on so well, in fact, that I didn’t even notice when Becca and Riley left long before the end of the date, forcing me to get an Uber back home.

“I had a really good time tonight,” I say with a genuine smile.

“So did I,” Kurt says, before leaning in for a kiss- an action that causes me to involuntarily pull back. “I- I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have-“

“No, no- I’M sorry,” I say, leaning into Kurt and giving him a long, soft kiss on his lips. My entire body feels like it’s going to shake itself apart for the duration of the kiss, and by the time our mouths separate, I’m almost hyperventilating.

“Can- can I get your, um, phone number, please?” Kurt asks.

“Sure,” I say, writing the number on a tissue from my purse. “I’ll, um, I’ll see you later, Kurt.” Both of us giggle as I give Kurt a gentle kiss on his cheek, before getting into my waiting taxi and letting out a long, slow breath as I’m driven home.

It’s only when I get home that it dawns on me that I may have inadvertently just got myself an actual boyfriend- even if Kurt was born female, he still identifies as male and therefore deserves to be treated like a man in much the same way I- or rather, ‘Stephanie- is treated like a woman. And he would inevitably be phenomenally angry if he finds out about the continued existence of Steve… Who I change into immediately upon returning home from work the following day, with Kayla in tow.

“Ugh, that just gets weirder and weirder,” Kayla complains as I stride down the stairs in my sweatshirt and jeans.

“Sorry,” I grimace. “If it’s any consolation, it’s feeling weirder and weirder…”

“Normally I’d say you should take that as a hint,” Kayla says. “But-“

“But no talk of any ‘decisions’, not with ‘Steve’, anyway,” I say as I relax down on the sofa, allowing my legs to spread as wide as they’ll go.

“No one wants to see that,” Kayla laughs, wincing as I scratch my crotch in a very un-ladylike way. “Especially not young Mr. Vance!”

“Ah yes, Kurt,” I say, wincing as the same ‘tingles’ I got last night return at the mere mention of his name.

“Huh, I thought the date went well?” Kayla asks.

“It did, that’s the problem,” I sigh. “I really do like him…”

“And when you say ‘you’ you of course mean ‘Stephanie’, right?” Kayla asks.

“I AM ‘Stephanie’,” I state firmly.

“I thought you were ‘Steve’?” Kayla asks, making me groan with frustration.

“Can- can we just play Halo, please?” I sigh. Kayla nods and picks up an Xbox controller to start playing, but we’re interrupted less than twenty minutes afterward by my phone ringing- and a glance at the caller ID causes me to gasp when I realise that it’s Kurt on the other end of the line.

“Hi Kurt!” I say in my ‘Stephanie’ voice. “How’s you?”

“Much happier after last night, heh!” The young Canadian man nervously chuckles. “I was, um, wondering if you, um, were doing anything tonight, if you wanted to maybe get something to eat, or watch TV together, or go somewhere-“

“I’d love to!” I say happily, before remembering the clothes I’m currently wearing. “But I am kinda in need of an early night, we’re working really hard at the moment rehearsing for the tour, you know?”

“No worries,” Kurt says. “Figured it was a bit last minute anyway.”

“I- I’m free all Saturday, if you want to do anything then?” I say, desperate not to disappoint my potential boyfriend.

“It’s a date!” Kurt laughs. “Umm, if you want to call it a date, of course…”

“It’s a date,” I say with a girlish giggle. “Text me when you’re free to meet up. See you Saturday, Kurt!”

“See you Saturday, Steph!” Kurt says, before ending the call.

“’Steph’s got a boyfriend’,” Kayla teases in a sing-song voice. “Or rather, ‘Steve’s got a boyfriend.” I grimace as Kayla points at the unexpected and unwelcome bulge in the front of my jeans, before sitting back down on the sofa, holding a cushion over my lap to hide my embarrassment. “You REALLY like him, then?”

“Ugh, I- I dunno,” I sigh. “I mean yes, we really, really clicked last night.”

“Did you kiss him?” Kayla asks.

“…Yes,” I sigh.

“And did you realise that with the ‘obvious exception’, you were being entirely feminine on the phone to him?” Kayla asks. “Not just your voice, you instantly switched to all feminine mannerisms, feminine body language, too.”

“I thought we agreed no psychoanalysis of ‘Steve’?” I ask.

“What ‘Steve’?” Kayla asks. “It’s obvious who you really are. ‘Steve’s just a remnant, an, an artefact you aren’t willing to put away yet.”

“I’ll never be willing to put ‘Steve’ away,” I say confidently.

“You’ll have to while we’re on tour,” Kayla says, making me groan with frustration again.

“This bloody tour…” I moan.

“No- just no,” Kayla says, pausing the game and staring at me. “Don’t fuck up this tour for me, or for any of the girls, Steph. Because as much as it’s your dream to be a woman, I’ve been dreaming about being a singer for as long as I can remember, and I am not letting anyone or anything ruin this for me- especially not some BOY who can’t decide who or what SHE really is!” I blink twice, taken completely aback by Kayla’s sudden hostility.

“Umm…” I mumble.

“Take the Xbox on the tour bus with you if you want,” Kayla says as she unpauses the game. “But when you play on it, you’d better be wearing make-up and a skirt!” I nod as I continue blasting away at aliens with Kayla before the tiny blonde girl leaves a few hours later. As my parents won’t be back until after I’ve gone to bed, I spend the rest of the night as ‘Steve’, but deep inside, all I can think about is Kurt… And those thoughts are all ‘Stephanie’s.

‘You know you like him really,’ I hear a familiar voice say in my mind- a voice that I quickly realise belongs to ‘Stephanie’.

‘I guess objectively, he’s nice,’ ‘Steve’ responds.

‘There’s no ‘objective’ to it,’ Stephanie laughs. ‘You both want him, and deep inside, you want to be me, you know you do.’

‘Then why can’t you let go of me?’ Steve asks, silencing the inner girl within me. ‘I’ll always be a part of you, just as you’ll always be a part of me.’

‘But whose ‘part’ will be bigger?’ Stephanie retorts. ‘After two weeks on the road, maybe you’ll be gone for good…’

I groan as I focus my mind, stopping the argument. ‘Steve’ is, of course, right- even if I fully transition, I’ll never be 100% female, not deep inside. But at the same time, ‘Stephanie’s also right- if I was a real man, she’d never have existed in the first place, let alone dominated my life in the way she has. As nice as he is, all Kurt’s done is complicated the decision further, blurring the already unclear line between ‘Steve’ and ‘Stephanie’.

Why is it, every time I think I’m getting close to an answer, it always end up further away from me than before?

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