Stephanie, part 12

“Ooh, baby, do you know what that’s worth?” Becca, Adeola, Kayla and I sing into our microphones, trying our hardest not to grin as we’re almost drowned out by several thousand screaming fans. “Ooh, heaven is a place on Earth… They say in heaven, love comes first, we’ll make heaven a place on Earth, ooh, heaven is a place on Earth!”

For the next three minutes, I let the wave of euphoria generated by the screaming fans wash over me as we finish our concert- and our entire tour- with one final song, before a snowstorm of shiny confetti falls from the ceilings, covering the audience and the four of us. I’ve ended the last twelve evenings in a row in the exact same manner, but I’ll never tire of this feeling- especially as I’ve worn the exact same costume for the last twelve evenings in a row.

Like my bandmates, my slender body is wrapped in a tiny, low-cut dress made of a shiny, metallic fabric, underneath which is a stretchy leotard made of the same fabric (with a built-in girdle to keep our waists narrow) and a pair of very warm fishnet tights. On our feet are strappy sandals with a stiletto heel, on our faces is what feels like a month’s supply of make-up, and in our hair is enough hairspray to give it enough weight and volume I’m almost scared of getting whiplash every time I turn my head. And I have never felt as happy, as wonderfully feminine as I do right now- not least because in front of me are thousands of screaming fans who couldn’t care less that for the first nineteen years of my life, I spent every day (or at the very least, most of every day) as a man.

Whether or not they’d be as enthusiastic if I was still chemically a man, however, I couldn’t say. Despite my desire for privacy, my agency insisted on making it publicly known that I started to take oestrogen pills four months ago, citing it as a major ‘win’ for me. And whilst I was initially happy with all the support I received from the fans, a part of me almost wished that I hadn’t started to take the hormones at all… Especially as the changes were not what I was expecting.

I had, of course, been briefed at length about what the transformation would entail, that it would be as much a mental change as it is a physical, but I was still unprepared for the mood swings, the heightened emotions, the increased sensitivity to every little thing… And the lack of physical changes. Okay, as I mentioned, it has only been four months, and at a skinny 5’ 6”, I’ve never been the world’s most masculine man, but it’s almost ridiculous- my chest, hips and backside are the exact same size and shape they were before I began the hormone treatments, as is my waist, though that was always narrow due to diet and exercise. If I were to strip naked, there's be no difference between 'Stephanie' and 'Steve'... Leading me to wonder sometimes whether or not I truly am 'Stephanie' instead of 'Steve'. Even as the crowd scream with excitement, a niggling voice in the back of my mind won't stop telling me that maybe I don't deserve all the love I get from the fans.

Sometimes, I even wonder whether or not I’m actually taking oestrogen at all instead of a placebo- and I have wondered more than once what would happen if I just stopped taking the hormones altogether. It's not like I really needed them when I joined the band, after all. But then, I remember that I’m not the only one who would be affected by such a decision… And that as frustrating, as stressful as ‘Stephanie’s life can be, I’d much rather have this life than the life of ‘Steve’, a wimpy, unemployed loser... And that I was no less frustrated when I wasn't taking oestrogen.

“Thank you London!” Becca yells into her microphone as the song concludes and we’re nearly deafened by the yells and screams of our fans.

“We love you all!” Adeola yells, before we’re led backstage to our plush dressing room, where the four of us share a long group hug.

As nice as the fame and fortune is, as exciting as it is to be able to wear such awesome, girly clothes, and as awesome as it is to be treated as just another one of the girls, the best thing about ‘Stephanie’s life are the people I share it with. Of course, Becca and Adeola haven’t always been entirely friendly with me, and lingering at the back of all our minds is the fact this time last year, there were five girls in the group hug, but with every passing day, the four of us grow closer to the point where we are almost as close as sisters. I know for sure that I feel closer to Kayla than I do to either of my brothers, and the other two girls aren’t far behind.

Our second album- for which our tour was named- was called ‘Stronger’, and right now, that’s what the four of us are. Stronger as a group, anyway…

“I hereby declare the Stronger Tour of 2017 to be a complete success!” Adeola laughs as we break the group hug and begin changing back into our street clothes. As always, I’m bemused by the fact that the other three girls feel no qualms at all about stripping totally naked in front of me, as though I've always been just another one of the girls. Five years ago, the sight of girls undressing would've sent 'Steve' into meltdown- but now, presumably thanks to the oestrogen, there isn't even the slightest 'movement' from me.

Even though it's not needed right now, I obviously keep my control thong in place after stripping off my costume, before covering my body with a pair of shiny black tights, a loose, long-sleeved minidress and a pair of cute black flats. Before long, the other girls are all dressed as casually as I am, and our transformation from superstars into ordinary young women is complete… Though even in my drab clothing, I feel just as happy as I did when I was dressed in my extravagant costume. Possibly even more so, in fact…

“You know,” Adeola says as she ties her long, jet-black hair back into a tight braid, “we ARE in London, we could always go straight back to our homes, come back and pick up our stuff from the bus tomorrow morning…” The four of us look at each other with sly grins on our faces, before grabbing our stuff from our dressing room and heading toward the secluded back entrance- outside which our tour bus is parked.

The second we open the door, however, we realise that our hopes for a ‘stealthy exit’ are doomed. There, between us and the bus, are a throng of hundreds of fans, each one holding their phone in their hands in hopes of getting a snap of the four of us.

“…Sorry,” Jemma- our tour manager- mumbles with a tired grin as she stands in front of the crowd. “If it helps, there are bigger crowds at every other exit.”

“And no gates,” Becca mumbles, before letting out a soft laugh. “It’s okay. Guess it’s the last night of the tour, gotta enjoy it while it lasts!”

“Hell yeah!” I cheer as I follow Becca and the other girls into the crowd, where we spend what seems like an eternity signing autographs and posing for selfies with our fans before finally being allowed onto our bus just after midnight. Before we’ve even taken two steps toward our sleeping area, however, the four of us scream in shock when three familiar, grinning faces jump out of our beds, startling us with loud screams.

“Boo!” Danny yells to break the awkward silence in the bus, which makes Stuart and Jonathan- his partners in crime- laugh as we four girls glare at our siblings.

“You total arseholes!” Becca growls, giving her brother a very hard-sounding punch on his upper arm.

“Hey!” Stuart protests. “Sorry, okay? It was Danny’s idea anyway.”

“Thanks, man,” Danny sighs, before laughing as I give him a well-deserved punch in his arm.

“Arse. Holes!” I growl, which only makes Danny laugh even louder.

“…Yeah, go on,” Jonathan sighs, before laughing as his adoptive sister- who’s taller than everyone else on the bus bar him- thumps him hard in the shoulder. “Seriously though, I wanted to congratulate all four of you on a job well done. This year’s tour makes last year’s seem like a pub crawl!”

“What’s Jon’s trying to say,” Stuart laughs. “Is that you’ve all more than earned TWO weeks’ holiday.”

“MORE than more than earned it,” Jonathan confirms with a grin as we four girls giggle excitedly. “I’ll get some of the roadies in, we’ll clear your stuff off the bus and you can all go home and get some rest!”

“That sounds AWESOME,” Becca laughs. “But…”

“We- we’ve all decided to stay on the bus for one last night,” I say, bringing proud smiles to the three boys’ faces. “Assuming you haven’t put too much ‘boy stink’ into the sheets, of course!”

“’Boy stink’,” Kayla snorts with laughter.

“I’d- I’d kinda hoped you would,” Jonathan laughs. “Same with Uncle Joshua.”

“Think we’d best leave you four to your beauty sleep, then,” Stuart says, flinching as Becca threatens to throw another punch at him.

“Take it you’ve all come from Charlotte’s?” Adeola asks as the boys start to leave.

“Nope,” Jonathan replies smugly. “’Charlotte’s’ has all come here tonight. You think we’d skip out on you on your last night?”

“All the Angels are here?” Kayla squeaks excitedly.

“Yep!” Stuart laughs.

“Well, all apart from Viks,” Jonathan explains. “Actually had to get permission from her to come, heh. Oh, and Kelly, of course.” The mention of Kelly’s name lowers my mood as the boys bid their farewells, and- after a round of Instagram pyjama posts- the four of us climb into our bunks, where we’re quickly asleep.

The reason Kelly was unable to attend the concert tonight was because yesterday, she went into hospital to have an operation that would transform the genitals she was given by nature- a perfectly normal penis and pair of testicles- into a vagina. She’s hardly the first person I know who’s had this operation, and won’t be the last- especially as there’s a chance that within a few years, I’ll be having the operation myself, and that thought terrifies me.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy life as a woman- quite the opposite, in fact. The two years of ‘Stephanie’s life were infinitely better than the nineteen years of ‘Steve’s that came before. But the thought of making a permanent, irreversible change to my body… That’s a thought I simply can’t get my head around. I can always stop taking hormones if I wanted. I could have surgery to remove any breasts that grow. But if I have my genitals cut off… They WON’T regrow. I try to tell myself ‘they’re not part of who you are’, or ‘they’re a part of your old life’, but I’m never able to convince myself of those facts… And worst of all is the fact that everyone else- especially those who have had the operation themselves- expects me to be 100% committed to the operation, as though I can’t otherwise fully commit to my female life.

A gentle knocking on the bus’s door wakes me and my bandmates from our slumber, and I let out a long sigh as I open the door to discover our PA stood there with a smile (and a ton of make-up) on her face… And a vagina inside her underpants, almost like she's rubbing in the fact that she's committed to her life, and I haven't.

“Hey Steph!” Nikki squeaks as she gives me a quick hug. “That was an AWESOME show last night! Have you read the reviews yet?”

“Umm, no,” I mumble. “We just went to bed last night…”

“Meh, you’ll have time to read them all,” Nikki shrugs. “AND go through all the photos on Twitter and Instagram! Two weeks off… Kinda envy the four of you, hehe!”

“Umm, if we’re on holiday, you are too, right?” Adeola asks as she gets up and changes out of her pyjamas and into a casual top and miniskirt- again feeling perfectly comfortable stripping naked in front of myself and Nikki.

“Nope!” Our PA says with a smug grin. “Think your brother was guilty about not making me a ‘proper’ Angel so he’s booked me a few modelling gigs. People are going to be buying swimwear soon, and swimwear firms want a hot, feminine body to show it off…”

“…And we’re all on holiday, so they couldn’t ask us!” Becca quips, giggling as Nikki playfully sticks her tongue out at her.

“It’s decent money,” Nikki shrugs. “Now I’ve got my own place I can’t afford these kinds of extended breaks. Not that I’m TOO jealous, of course.”

“Of course not,” Becca laughs as Nikki sets about helping us to pack away our belongings.

“And I trust you’ll all be around for the big celebration on Friday?” Nikki asks, frowning as I look at her in confusion. “…Friday? March the 3rd? The anniversary of…”

“Oh- god, crap, sorry,” I grimace. “Yes, of course, your birthday, sorry…”

“It’s okay, Nikki,” Kayla reassures the brown-haired girl. “She HAS bought a present for you.”

“I have, honest,” I mumble as my cheeks flush with embarrassment.

“What’s the theme for your party?” Adeola asks.

“Ehh… Probably not going with a theme,” Nikki shrugs. “Jamie wanted to do an ‘everyone wears a leotard’ party as it’s my first birthday since my SRS, but she wanted that to include the boys as well and… No. Just no. Besides, it’s not a ‘big’ one, anyway- that’ll be next year with my 21st!”

“Damn right!” Adeola- who will herself be turning 21 in a couple of months- giggles as I remember back to last month, and my own 21st birthday celebration.

In the weeks leading up to my birthday, Jamie had emailed me almost daily with lists of different themes I could choose for my party. I had the option of dressing as a playboy bunny, as a ballerina, as a ballroom or Latin dancer- I even had the option of an ‘Out of Heaven’ themed party where everyone wore one of our old tour costumes. The closer we got to my birthday, the more Jamie pestered me and the more stressed out I got, until eventually I decided ‘to hell with the theme’ and just went to the party wearing an expensive designer dress. I had fun, of course- probably more so than if I’d had to do one of the complicated dance routines some of the other girls like doing at their party (and which I’m sure Adeola has lined up for her 21st)- but all throughout the party, I couldn’t shake the feeling that Jamie was disappointed in me for not ‘conforming’ and donning an extravagant costume. Fortunately, nothing more was said after the party (Jamie having long since dropped her ‘campaign’ against me), but it just drove home how I’m not ‘living up to expectations’- at least, as far as some people are concerned. Why I can’t just become a woman, can’t become ‘Stephanie’ on my terms is beyond me.

Fortunately, for every Jamie and Nikki in the world, there’s a Becca, an Adeola or especially a Kayla who’s more than happy to accept me for who just who I am, and the loud sigh that Kayla lets out when we step through the front door of our posh flat lets me know that she is just as happy as I am to be back home.

“Ahh, rest!” Kayla laughs as the dramatically flops onto our sofa. “Precious, blissful rest!”

“Really?” I tease the tiny blonde girl. “This from Miss ‘This is my destiny, this tour is my dream’?”

“Oh- shut up,” Kayla retorts as I giggle.

“Coffee, I take it?” I ask as I head into the kitchen.

“Too right!” Kayla says with a laugh. “Steph… I’m really, really proud of you.”

“Umm, okay…” I say with bemusement. “Where’s this come from all of a sudden?”

“Hardly ‘all of a sudden’,” Kayla retorts. “But you know where we were last year after the tour, you know what happened immediately after the tour…”

“My ‘walkabout’?” I whisper, grimacing as Kayla nods.

“We’ve been on such a high for the last two weeks,” Kayla sighs. “There’s bound to be a bit of a comedown.”

“Yeah…” I grimace. “That kinda wasn’t why I went away last year.”

“I know,” Kayla says. “And I know that you’ve not got any of the problems you had last year, but I- any- if you need any help, Steph, I-“

“Thanks,” I say, smiling as I hand Kayla her coffee, which she spends as much time sniffing as she does drinking.

“Besides, if you run off again, that’s the band over…” Kayla muses.

“Oh,” I say with mock offence. “So you only care about me as a member of Out of Heaven?”

“Oh- shut up,” Kayla snorts. “AGAIN. I should punch you for that...”

“Girls don’t punch other girls,” I remind Kayla, who responds by hurling a cushion at me. “I did feel a little for you last night, not having a brother to punch. Or ‘assault’ in Becca’s case.”

“I’m happy enough just having my ‘sister’ here,” Kayla giggles. “Can’t imagine what it’d be like growing up with two brothers…”

“You’ve met Danny,” I say with a heavy sigh that makes Kayla laugh. “And Tom… He was cool.”

“’Was’ cool?” Kayla asks, before letting out a sigh of her own. “S-sorry, Steph… Kinda obvious what you mean now that I think about it.”

“It’s really that easy to forget?” I ask.

“Easier when you’re up on stage wearing a skimpy leotard dress,” Kayla says, making me giggle. “And it’ll be easier with every oestrogen pill you take, too.”

“Eventually, anyway,” I sigh.

“Aww,” Kayla giggles, before jumping off the sofa and heading into the bathroom, returning seconds later with my bottle of hormone tablets and a glass of water. “The more you take them, right?”

“Yes,” I sigh as I place one of the tablets on my tongue and swallow it with a gulp of water. “But it’s not like I can up the dosage or anything, Dr Phillips would skin me if I did that…”

“Oh, definitely don’t do that,” Kayla says. “I just knew you hadn’t taken one yet today. Whether or not YOU knew that…”

“Oh- I forgot once, okay?” I protest.

“…It was THREE times,” Kayla says, making me frown.

“We have busy lives,” I mumble. “Anyway, change of topic! When are you going to see your parents? We’ve got two weeks off, after all…”

“Might go down tomorrow,” Kayla mumbles, clearly unhappy about my abrupt change of topic. “You?”

“Whenever they’re free,” I shrug. “Dunno what shifts they’re on this week, I’ll give them a call later today. I know they couldn’t make it to the concert yesterday so they were probably at work.”

“Okay,” Kayla says, before switching on the television, effectively ending the conversation.

After a morning of relaxing in front of the television and a light lunch, I get ready to make my phone call to my parents, only for it to be rendered unnecessary when a knock comes from the front door of our flat, which I answer to see three very happy, very proud faces smiling at me.

“Hello, superstar!” Dad laughs, giving me a gentle hug. “We saw the reviews for your show, you were AMAZING!”

“Thanks,” I say with a tired laugh as I exchange tight hugs with mum and Danny.

“You BOTH were,” mum laughs as she enters the living room and immediately gives the waiting Kayla a hug of her own.

“Thanks,” my tiny blonde friend laughs.

“I’ve got to admit,” dad laughs as he parks himself on our sofa, “if you’d told me two years ago that our little- our youngest would become a national megastar, I’d have had a hard time believing you!”

“…I know what you were going to say, dad,” I whisper as dad grimaces with embarrassment. “’Our little boy’? It’s okay, I don’t mind you saying that, it IS what I used to be, after all.”

“Yeah, but still…” Dad mumbles.

“You never would have imagined that your little boy would’ve grown up to be a talented and fashionable woman?” Danny asks, breaking the awkward silence in the room.

“Daniel!” Mum snaps, making my brother wince.

“Honestly,” I say, trying to calm the room down. “It’s okay. I used to be a boy, and now I’m a girl. It’s not something I’m ashamed of, that I used to be a boy.”

“Well- okay,” mum says. “If you’ve not got any problem with it…”

“I don’t,” I say firmly, though the look of near-disapproval on Kayla’s face nearly makes me wince.

“Anyway,” Danny says, breaking yet another awkward silence, “we’re not here to talk about embarrassing ‘Steve’ stories, we’re here to celebrate ‘Stephanie’s hugely successful concert tour, right?”

“Stephanie AND Kayla’s tour,” my blonde flatmate reminds my brother.

“AND Becca AND Adeola,” I say. “And if you share any embarrassing ‘Steve’ stories I WILL make you regret it!”

“What, stories like the time when you were two and kept dancing around in your underpants to Spice Girls songs?” Danny asks, making me frown and blush with embarrassment.

“Yes, those types of stories!” I moan as Kayla breaks down in a fit of giggles.

“In hindsight, that should probably have been a clue,” dad laughs, before grimacing again. “Umm, that you were destined to be a star, I mean, not-“

“Pete,” mum whispers, silencing my father.

“…Any other stories?” Kayla asks, breaking what feels like the millionth awkward silence since my parents’ arrival.

“I’ve got you on Facebook- I’ll tell you later,” Danny replies with a loud laugh.

“How are things with you guys, anyway?” I ask, trying desperately to change the topic. “When Danny ISN’T trying to scare the shit out of me anyway.”

“Yes, we heard about that yesterday,” mum says, shooting a stern stare at my brother. “Your father and I are the same as ever. People get sick, need to be driven to the hospital where they need treatment, Danny’s still pouring drinks down his customers’ throats-“

“-Which keeps us in business, if nothing else,” dad says, making mum chuckle despite herself.

“It’s no fun being managed by your girlfriend,” Danny laughs. “But at least we get to spend time together. Kind of. And in the daytime she can work on that tell-all book she’s writing about her time with the airline.”

“…And Tom?” I ask, grimacing as yet another awkward silence fills the room. “How- how’s Amanda, anyway?”

“She’s doing fine,” mum says.

“Keeping our little nibling fine inside her,” Danny says with a grin. “That- that’s a new word I learned the other day, ‘nibling’. Gender-neutral word for, like, niece or nephew.”

“Yeah, I guessed,” I say. If only everything in life could be as gender-neutral… I think to myself. “Are- are Tom and Amanda getting married?”

“Not until after the child’s born,” mum sighs. “You know Tom, he’s never been big on tradition- well, um, not all traditions, anyway…”

“Just the ones he wants to follow,” I mumble.

“How about the two of you?” Danny asks, before realising his faux pas. “Umm, I mean, umm, not that you’re together, I mean, umm, any boyfriends on the horizon?”

“Nope,” Kayla sighs. “National celebrity or not, the fact that I look like I’m nine kinda puts people off.”

“And it should be obvious what puts people off me,” I sigh, smiling as Kayla gives me a quick, comforting hug. “Whatever. I’m only 21. Maybe a few years from now, when the hormones have had a chance to kick in… And, um, the operation…”

“Well, there’s no rush,” dad says. “For any of the things you mentioned. Like you said, you’re 21, you should be soaking up the love of your fans, not planning on starting a family or anything like that.”

“And there’s plenty of love to soak up,” Danny laughs as he gets his phone out of his pocket. “A few tweets from last night- ‘xxchloegirl333’ types: ‘OMG OMG Out of Heaven were SO AWESOME!’. ‘therealkristquin’ types: ‘Stephanie Abbott is a total GODDESS!!’ ‘xsuriyam2k2x’ types-“

“Yes, yes, thanks,” I say with an embarrassed laugh.

“I think the point your brother’s trying to make,” mum says, “is that you have so, so much going for you right now. You need to remember that-“

“I’m not going to run off again,” I say firmly. “I promise. Honestly.”

“Good,” mum whispers, clearly on the verge of tears.

“Back then I didn’t really know who I was,” I say. “I’m sure now. I AM Stephanie. I’m committed. 100%.”

“No regrets about the, you know, girl pills?” Danny asks.

“Only that I didn’t start taking them earlier,” I say, though deep inside, I’m still not fully convinced. There are days when I just wish I’d been born a girl and avoided all of the hassle and trauma involved with transitioning. There are days- like today- when I look back on my days as ‘Steve’ with fondness, but wish that I’d committed to ‘Stephanie’ a lot earlier than four months ago. And there are days, however rare, when I wish that ‘Stephanie’ had never existed at all… Especially not when every tiny aspect of my life is being scrutinised by dozens of paparazzi and thousands of fans.

Sometimes I ask myself whether or not I’d have had the courage to transition if I’d failed the initial audition for Out of Heaven. And the answer is… I honestly don’t know. Just because girls like Jamie, Nikki and Kelly committed to transitioning at an early age doesn’t mean I have to, and it wouldn’t have made my transition any less genuine if I’d chosen to wait until I was older. My friend Janet didn’t start transitioning until she was in her forties (having had the urge to crossdress her whole life- like me), but she’s as legitimate a woman as Jamie, Nikki or Kelly… Can I say the same, though?

Mum’s right, though. I DO have so much going for me. There were days when I was younger when I used to literally dream of being able to live life as a girl, to hang out with girl friends, to be a singer and get to wear beautiful costumes… When I was thirteen, I watched the Brit Awards and saw a performance by Girls Aloud where the girls were all wearing tight, skimpy gold leotards, and the sight nearly sent my teenaged body into meltdown- not because I was particularly attracted to the girls, but because the thought of being able to sing and dance on stage wearing such an unashamedly tight, sexy costume was the single most exciting fantasy I had ever imagine… And it’s come true for me. Twice. Even more than that if you count the numerous music videos and television appearances our band has made.

My parents depart later in the afternoon (both have early shifts at work tomorrow) closely followed by my brother, leaving me alone with my flatmate, who has an odd, stern expression on her face.

“…What?” I ask.

“I- ugh, I dunno,” Kayla sighs. “It’s just hearing you say ‘I’m not ashamed of being a boy in the past’… It’s a little weird, you know? I mean, Jamie and Nikki almost never talk about, well, ‘James and Nick’.”

“Different people transition in different ways,” I shrug. “Kayla… I AM committed. Honestly. ‘Steve’ isn’t coming back and ‘Stephanie’ isn’t going anywhere. I promise. Now, seriously, when are you going to go and see your parents?”

“I’ll go down tomorrow,” Kayla sighs. “You just want the flat to yourself, don’t you?”

“Not ‘just’,” I retort with a smug grin. “Actually, to be honest, I prefer having company around… One thing I learned from my ‘trip’ last year is that bad things tend to happen when I’m on my own.”

“Good, then it’s decided,” Kayla says with a grin even smugger than mine. “You can come with me tomorrow!” I roll my eyes at Kayla’s order, but the thought of spending a day out with Kayla- even if it is just visiting her parents- genuinely brings a smile to my face.

Indeed, as I apply my make-up the following morning, I actually feel excited about the day ahead. My look for the day is very casual, but unashamedly feminine- black tights, a flared minidress and flats- as opposed to Kayla’s typical ‘serious’ look of a pencil skirt, high hair and high heels. As we head through the concourse of Waterloo Station, though, I can’t help but notice that I’m doing a better job of blending in with the other girls than Kayla is. Of course, we don’t blend in well enough to avoid several autograph and selfie requests before getting on our train!

Ninety minutes after we left London, the two of us arrive in the coastal city of Southampton, and a short taxi ride later brings us to the middle-class suburban house of Kayla’s parents. With it being a Monday, Kayla’s father is obviously at work, but her mother greets us both with long, tight hugs before ushering us in and out of the cold February air.

“Come in, come in!” Mrs. Ford urges us. “I’ll get the kettle on, you two just sit down and relax, after the two weeks you’ve had you deserve a little rest!”

“Thanks, mum,” Kayla says, kicking off her heels and dramatically flopping onto the sofa just as she’d done yesterday morning. I sit down next to Kayla in a much less over-the-top, much more feminine manner, keeping my knees pressed tightly together as I smooth my dress over my thighs.

“I take it you girls have read the reviews?” Mrs. Ford asks.

“That’s what we spent practically all of last night doing,” Kayla laughs. “Reckon management will want us hard at work on album number three as soon as we’re back from our break.”

“Especially given the rumour I heard that says one of you girls will be on Strictly this year!” Kayla’s mum says, making me and my friend roll our eyes.

“Don’t believe everything you read in the papers,” Kayla retorts.

“Oh, I learned that last year when the press tried to tell me that my daughter was moving in with a footballer,” Mrs. Ford says, making her daughter blush and groan in frustration.

“They didn’t say we were ‘moving in’,” Kayla sighs. “They just got photos of us out on a date.”

“Stood in front of an estate agent,” Mrs. Ford retorts, making her daughter groan once again.

“Checking our phones!” Kayla pleads. “Honestly, the press pays FAR too much attention to my love life. Or lack of one.”

“Price of fame,” I shrug.

“You’re as famous as I am and you don’t have it anywhere near as bad!” Kayla protests. “And don’t say ‘the press have other things to focus on’, that never stopped the press from hounding Jamie-Lee.”

“Fair enough,” I mumble.

“I still say you should never have split up with Jack,” Mrs. Ford says, eliciting another frustrated sigh from her daughter. I’m beginning to see why Kayla was so reluctant to come home…

“Mum!” Kayla protests with an angry huff.

“Well I’m sorry,” Kayla’s mum sighs. “But you have to admit, you WERE happy with him.”

“We were sixteen,” Kayla snorts. “We were kids, barely even hung out together.”

“You spent most days and nights in each other’s pockets,” Mrs. Ford retorts.

“PLEASE can we change the topic?” Kayla sighs.

“Okay,” Mrs. Ford says, holding her hands up in mock-surrender. “Stephanie, are you going anywhere in your two week break?”

“Umm… Nothing planned,” I say, grimacing as Kayla’s eyes go wide at the thought of me ‘going anywhere’. “There are quite a few birthday parties the next couple of weeks, we’ll probably be expected to show our faces at those.”

“Ooh, of course,” Kayla’s mother says, as though she’d just remembered something. “Your friend Lauren’s birthday is at the start of March, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” Kayla says, her frustration levels clearly rising. “A week on Thursday. But we’re probably NOT going to be invited to her party…”

“Just because you don’t work together anymore, it doesn’t mean you can’t still be friends,” Mrs. Ford says. “It’s not like the two of you were an item or anything.”

“Mum!” Kayla protests.

“Sorry, sorry,” Mrs. Ford says. “I’ll go and get your teas, I suppose…” I smile sympathetically as Mrs. Ford leaves the room, before trying not to giggle as Kayla lets out a long, frustrated sigh.

“She’s not THAT bad,” I say, making the tiny blonde girl snort with laughter.

“She not YOUR mum,” Kayla sighs. “I dunno, maybe it’s because neither of us have any brothers or sisters, we’ve always had this weird mother-daughter relationship, the second I turned eighteen she started treating me as just another adult. Especially after I became a national celebrity at the age of seventeen…”

“This may sound selfish,” I mumble, “ but it’s kinda good to know I’m not the only one who gets stressed out at times, especially due to family.”

“…Tom?” Kayla asks, smiling sympathetically as I take my turn to sigh with frustration.

“Here you go,” Mrs. Ford says with a wide grin, interrupting mine & Kayla’s conversation by pushing hot, sweet mugs of tea under our noses. Naturally, this also prompts the conversation to return to talk to Kayla and her childhood- not that I mind, of course, after Kayla’s demands yesterday for embarrassing ‘Steve’ stories!

Fortunately for Kayla, her cringes ease off later in the afternoon after her father returns home from work and the topic of conversation becomes a lot more mature. If Kayla thought her mother treated her like she’s just another adult, then her father turns it up to eleven- the way he speaks to us is polite, but it’s as though he’s talking to another middle-aged businessman. It’s no surprise Kayla’s so mature- growing up in this household with no brothers or sisters to play with, she’d have had no choice but to be mature.

It’s also no surprise when, after a filling dinner, Kayla drags me up to her bedroom (where we dumped our cases upon arrival) where she immediately strips down to her underwear and starts getting ready for a night on the town.

“Ugh,” Kayla moans as she sits down at her dresser and starts enhancing her make-up. “Realise yet why I usually avoid coming home?”

“Your parents aren’t THAT bad,” I mumble. “You know, I don’t think I’ve ever been in your bedroom before…”

“Umm, I’m assuming you mean THIS bedroom, right, and not the one at home?” Kayla asks, giggling as I nod. “Yeah, normally I only prefer bringing men into my bedroom, hehe!”

“Why ARE you still single, anyway?” I ask, grimacing as Kayla groans with frustration.

“Oh, not you too, MUM!” Kayla groans.

“Sorry, sorry,” I sigh as Kayla frowns at me. “But you’re rich, famous and cute, you have any guy you wanted, you know?”

“Umm, look who’s talking?” Kayla retorts as she makes way for me to enhance my own already-thick make-up at her dresser. “Seriously, Steph. Even- no, ESPECIALLY for someone with your, you know, genetics…”

“I’m NOT looking right now,” I retort.

“But if the right guy were to come along?” Kayla asks. “I mean- and stop me if this is a sensitive subject- but you had a good time with Kurt, right?”

“We never had any ‘good times’,” I say with a sigh. “We were both pre-op, it would’ve been too awkward…”

“I didn’t have sex with any of my most recent boyfriends either,” Kayla shrugs. “I don’t want a boyfriend just for a quick shag, Steph. I want- you know? That whole companionship thing, someone you can snuggle up next to on a sofa on a cold winter’s day, someone you can share all your feelings with…”

“…And for these things, you want a MAN?” I ask, making Kayla giggle uncontrollably.

“All those things AND sex,” the tiny blonde girl laughs. “And yes, I know I’m going to be waiting a while for someone who can tick all my boxes…”

“Never heard it called THAT before,” I retort, giggling as Kayla hurls her tiny black clubbing dress at me. “Thanks, but I somehow doubt this will fit me!”

“…Challenge accepted,” Kayla says with a wicked grin before reaching into my overnight bag and pulling out my own little black dress. Before I have the chance to rise from my chair and stop her, Kayla steps into the dress and zips it up, leaving us both in fits of laughter when we see just how badly it fits her.

“Oh my god!” I giggle, before stepping into Kayla’s dress and grimacing as I’m only able to pull it as high as my knees.

“Careful!” Kayla squeaks. “Don’t tear it, for god’s sake!”

“Buy another one,” I say, sticking my tongue out and reducing Kayla to another fit of giggles. “Seriously, thanks for making me feel fat and ugly…”

“You saw my parents, it’s not my fault I’m barely five feet tall,” Kayla snorts. “And you have a 26 inch waist, this dress is only just too big for me! Well, too wide, anyway…” I smile as Kayla pinches together the fabric at her waist to show how little difference there is between out waistlines. “Might wear this out, actually…”

“You dare and I swear I’ll pull this higher,” I say, making my friend giggle again as she steps out of the dress (without unzipping it first, much to my chagrin).

“Okay, enough fun,” Kayla laughs as we swap dresses and zip each other into the tight, revealing garments, before slipping our feet into extra-high black stilettos, putting on our flashiest jewellery and heading downstairs to the taxi that will ferry us into the city centre.

A short while later, Kayla and I have wide smiles on our faces as we’re ushered into the VIP section of probably the busiest nightclub in the city, past gaggles of girls who are obviously excited to be in the same club as a pair of celebrities, and several groups of loud, rowdy boys who are also obviously excited to see myself and Kayla- but for very different reasons! After Kayla and I sit down with our complimentary glasses of champagne, we carefully survey the crowd of energetic clubbers.

“Soo…” I tease my best friend. “Any hunky guy down caught your attention?”

“Ugh, try ALL of them,” Kayla snorts. “Reckon you or I could have our pick of any of them too- as unladylike as that might sound!”

“But- let me guess- none of them are ‘snuggle up with on the sofa’ material?” I ask.

“Got it in one, Miss Abbott,” Kayla laughs. “Tonight is about FUN, not that other word that begins with an F and a U!”

“You really could think I- by which I mean me, the transgendered Stephanie Abbott- could have my pick of any of the guys?” I ask. “Even when they know what’s in my thong?”

“REALLY,” Kayla giggles. “Steph, you have spent the last two years transforming yourself- with professional help, I might add- into a hot, sexy GODDESS. We go down there and dance and we will have the attention of EVERY boy down there. I promise.”

“I dunno…” I mumble.

“Trust me!” Kayla laughs, downing her champagne and grabbing my hand.

“Umm, Kayla, shouldn’t you be taking it easy with the booze?” I ask. “It’s never really sat well with you in the past…”

“I’ve only had one glass,” Kayla says as we head down to the crowded dancefloor. “And I’m going to be too busy dancing to drink, anyway! Now come on!”

I put a brave smile on my face as I finish my champagne and follow Kayla into the throng of dancers where, as Kayla promised, the two of us very quickly become the centre of attention. We spend the next two hours dancing the night away as guy after guy comes over and dances with us in the futile hope that either of us might turn over or ask for a phone number. A quick glance over at Kayla shows that she’s adopted the ‘window shopping only’ stance as well.

But most gratifying of all is that none of the guys I dance with- not one- has the uneasy look in their eye that says ‘am I really dancing with a man’… Especially as I’m struggling to believe myself that I’m dancing with another- no, not another, just A man. It’s not even like I’m THAT physically attracted to them, but the fact that they view me as a hot, sexy woman, as a goddess… That sends ‘tingles’ through my body that I haven’t felt in a long, long time. Not since I first started dressing up as a woman, anyway… At the back of my head, there's a tiny, minuscule voice that's almost making me question what I'm doing, but the truth is that I'm liking this, all the attention I'm getting. No, not liking- I'm LOVING everything about this.

Kayla and I remain at the club until just after 11:30pm- I have to be up early tomorrow to return to London, hence the relatively early exit. Of course, that doesn’t stop a couple of paparazzi from snapping us as we climb into our waiting taxi back to Kayla’s parents’ home!

“Shh!” Kayla urges me as we silently creep up the stairs toward her bedroom, our huge, heavy heels in our hands.

“I thought your parents saw you as just another adult?” I whisper.

“They do,” Kayla replies. “They just get REALLY angry if I wake them up!”

“Understood,” I say, before letting out a sigh of relief as Kayla unzips me from my dress and I remove my jewellery. “Ahh… Tonight was FUN.”

“Wasn’t it?” Kayla giggles.

“That a club you went to much before you moved to London?” I ask as Kayla changes into a loose, long t-shirt and climbs into her bed. “Like, with your school friends?”

“I moved to London when I was seventeen, remember?” Kayla replies. “Never had the chance to go clubbing with school friends… Never really had that many school friends, actually.”

“I did wonder why you didn’t invite anyone to come out with us,” I mumble. “Figured that as a celebrity, you could snap your fingers and get any of the girls in your year to follow you.”

“Yeah, it’s never that easy,” Kayla sighs. “I would say ‘you probably know that’ but then again- and I DON’T mean anything nasty by this- you- I, um, I assume you wouldn’t be able to get anyone from YOUR school to come on a night out, right?”

“I deliberately avoid the clubs in London where they usually hang out,” I sigh.

“You want to leave ‘Steve’s life as far in the past as possible?” Kayla asks.

“Those parts, yes,” I reply. “Even if I was still ‘Steve’.”

“Lucky for you that ‘Stephanie’ is rich, famous and sexy!” Kayla giggles. “I saw the look on your face when you were dancing with those guys… Half expected you to go home with one of them, hehe!”

“No chance of THAT happening,” I snort. “Is the sofa all made up? I remember you saying your parents converted your spare room into a study…”

“Why bother with the sofa?” Kayla asks, pulling back the covers of her double bed and patting the spot next to her. “Come on… It’s cold, I want someone to cuddle up to. You’re not a man- huh, that needs repeating. You’re NOT a man. But you’ll do for tonight.” I giggle, before pulling on my soft cotton nightdress and climbing into bed next to the tiny blonde girl.

“You’re… You’ve kinda, you know, got ‘adventurous’ lately,” I say, laughing as Kayla shrugs.

“Not the first time I’ve slept with a girl,” Kayla says. “By which I mean SLEEP. As in ‘closing your eyes and stopping being awake’, nothing more.”

“First time I’ll have shared a bed with anyone,” I muse. “Never imagined you’d be my ‘first’, heh. Always… Always imagined that’d be Kurt.”

“Yeah, well you only have yourself to blame there,” Kayla reminds me, before sighing and giving me a gentle cuddle. “You know… You really should find yourself a man. Even if said man is transgendered, like Kurt or Stuart, they’re no less men than you are a woman.”

“I know,” I mumble.

“Do- do you miss Kurt?” Kayla asks, before sighing. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t-“

“A little,” I sigh. “And it’s okay, I guess this is just, you know, ‘girl talk’… Even if you are really, really pissed.”

“I had TWO glasses of champagne,” Kayla retorts.

“You have ZERO tolerance for alcohol,” I remind the tiny girl, who simply giggles in response.

“Fair enough,” Kayla sighs. “Guess we’d better get some sleep, then. G’night, Steph.” Much to my surprise, Kayla then giggles excitedly, before leaning in to me and giving me a quick, soft kiss on my lips. I also giggle at the unexpected gesture- and Kayla’s subsequent rolling over in bed and humming ‘I kissed a girl and I liked it’- but as I fall asleep, my main emotion is surprise- surprise at Kayla making such a gesture, and surprise at the strange tingles it created in my body…

Naturally, when my alarm wakes me the following morning, it takes me a while to shake the fog of the previous night out of my head, but a quick glance over at Kayla quickly reveals that she’s struggling a lot more than I am, and by the time I’ve washed my face, brushed my hair and applied my make-up, she still hasn’t opened her eyes.

“Kayla…” I tease, trying not to giggle as the tiny girl moans in pain. “Kayla… How, exactly, can you be THIS hungover from two glasses of champagne?”

“Piss off,” Kayla moans, making me snort with laughter. “I told you I had no alcohol tolerance…”

“No, I told YOU that,” I retort, barely stepping back in time to avoid the pillow that Kayla lazily swings at me. “How long you staying in Southampton?”

“I’ll be back Wednesday night- tomorrow night,” Kayla mumbles. “Need to be back for ballet on Thursday.”

“Umm, we DO have two weeks off, you know?” I laugh. “We won’t be rehearsing for Krystie’s next video anytime soon.”

“Meh, whatever,” Kayla moans, before pulling her sheets back over her body. “Now let me sleep, please…”

“Never thought you’d be the first person to ever kick me out of bed, either,” I say, making Kayla giggle despite her hangover.

“I’ll see you tomorrow evening,” Kayla laughs as she pulls her sheets over her head.

After dressing for the day in a comfortable, warm pair of black tights, a stretchy striped long-sleeved bodysuit and a knee-length black denim skirt, I pull on my coat and a pair of cute flats and head downstairs to my waiting taxi, making sure to say goodbye to Mrs. Ford and thank her for her hospitality before I leave.

One train ride and two taxi rides later, I let out a long sigh as I walk through the front door of my posh London flat and collapse on the sofa in as dramatic a fashion as Kayla did two days ago- despite the fact that there’s no one here to witness it.

After taking a selfie for my Instagram (the bodysuit I’m wearing and several like it was given to me free in exchange for publicity) I relax back on the sofa, where my mind immediately returns to the club last night, and Kayla’s words in bed shortly afterward.

Back when I was ‘Steve’ the notion that I might one day have a boyfriend was unthinkable- I wasn’t a gay man, simple as. Then again, I was never really a heterosexual man, either. And just because I wasn’t a gay man, it doesn’t mean that I can’t be a straight woman. I’ve told that on occasion, hormone replacement therapy can cause a person’s ‘alignment’ to shift, it can make certain characteristics of the genders more attractive- characteristics such as broad shoulders or bulging pecs…

When I went out with Kurt, it was never really a ‘serious’ thing. I was still in hiding- pretending I was taking oestrogen when I wasn’t- and having a boyfriend just helped my ‘disguise’. However, the more time I spent with Kurt, the more attracted to him I became, and I know he was attracted to me too… The fact that he’s now dating another transgendered woman just proves that (even if Kelly is a lot more feminine than I am, both in looks and in how she acts). But Kurt- for obvious reasons- was never a macho hunk of a man. He was short, slender, had delicate features… But as Kayla pointed out, he was as much a man as I am a woman. And I AM a woman. I never felt more girly than when I was snuggled up on the sofa in Kurt’s arms, or when he kissed me…

The fact remains, though, that Kurt and I never had sex- or, indeed, engaged in any sexual activity beyond kissing. It’s easy to blame that on us both being pre-op, but it raises one uncomfortable question- would I have been as attracted to Kurt if he’d been post-op- or better yet, a fully-functional genetic male? Dancing with guys is fun. Kissing guys is fun- well, kissing Kurt was certainly fun. Anything more… Am I being homophobic? Or, in my case, heterophobic to recoil at the thought of penetrative sex (with me obviously being the one to get penetrated)?

One thing’s for certain, history has always shown that the longer I spend thinking things over on my own, the more stressed out I get and the more likely it is I’ll do something extremely irrational. Fortunately, I’ve got an appointment with Dr Phillips this afternoon, but that’s still hours away, I need to find something to do in the meantime to distract myself, someone to talk to…

A quick look on Facebook shows that none of my immediate friends are available. Kayla’s obviously still in Southampton, Becca’s in a field somewhere in Middlesex getting her horse ready for a competition she’s participating in tomorrow, and Adeola’s gone with her. Tom’s at work and so are my parents, Danny and his girlfriend will still be in bed after work yesterday evening, and Jamie… That’s a road I only want to go down as a last resort. I’m not close enough to any of the other Angels to ask for help, which leaves only one person I know for sure is free right now…

‘Hi Nikki!’ I type, followed by a smiling emoji.

‘Hey Steph!’ Nikki replies almost immediately. ‘You enjoying your holiday?’

‘Hell yeah!’ I reply, which Nikki replies to with a grinning emoji.

‘I saw the photos from last night,’ Nikki types. ‘You still down south?’

‘Nah, just got back to London,’ I reply. ‘Kinda at a loose end… You free? Sarah’s at uni today, isn’t she?’

‘Just about to meet up with her for lunch,’ Nikki types, making me groan with frustration. ‘You can come along if you want, reckon no one’ll mind. You can get to know Jacinta a little better too.'

‘Thanks, maybe another time,’ I reply. Right now, what I need is to talk one-on-one with someone who understands what I’m going through, not a lunchtime gossip session. Especially with someone as ‘full-on’ as Nikki’s friend Jacinta (and, inevitably, Jacinta’s weird multi-coloured friend Ophelia).

‘Your loss,’ Nikki types with a smiling emoji, obviously not too offended by my refusal. ‘See you Friday if not before!’

‘Ttyl,’ I type as Nikki goes offline, once again leaving me alone with my thoughts.

After eating a very quick lunch, I try to distract myself by playing on my Xbox- the new Halo Wars game came out while we were on tour, but even this can’t draw my mind away from my situation as I find myself asking over and over again: am I REALLY a heterosexual girl?

I switch off my game after an hour and return to my iPad to see if anyone is online on Facebook, but much to my frustration, everyone is either unavailable or, worse yet, someone I don’t want to talk to. Out of desperation, I open up my full contact list to see if anyone else is available- but the first name I see with a green dot beside it just makes me even more frustrated.

‘Kurt Vance- Online Now’, the screen reads as I open up a new message window to the attractive Canadian transman. This is a bad idea, I think to myself.

‘Hi Kurt,’ I type, grimacing immediately after sending the message at how familiar it sounds- as though I was talking to an old friend, rather than an ex. Then again, Kurt and I HAVE remained on good terms since we split up…

‘Oh, hi Steph,’ my ex-boyfriend replies after a few seconds. ‘What’s up?’

‘Not much,’ I reply. ‘Bored, went to Southampton with Kayla yesterday but home alone now.’

‘Hope you’re resisting the urge to dress up in Kayla’s clothes,’ Kurt types, making me giggle. ‘Umm, sorry if that sounded insensitive…’

‘It’s okay, I could use a laugh right now,’ I say with a smiling emoji. ‘I don’t think I ever, you know, apologised for what I did last year.’

‘It’s okay,’ Kurt types. ‘It was a long time ago, I’ve moved on. You should too.’

‘I guess,’ I reply. Easy to say when you’re now dating a supermodel, I think to myself.

‘Besides,’ Kurt types, ‘you could probably get a hotter boyfriend than a short, skinny, ginger Canadian, right?’

‘I haven’t yet,’ I type with a smiling emoji, before grimacing- it’d probably be best if I DIDN’T hint that I wanted Kurt back…

‘I should probably get going now,’ Kurt types, making me groan. ‘Just heading off to see Kelly in hospital.’ So much for this conversation, I think to myself.

‘Give her my love,’ I type, which earns a reply of a single smiling emoji before Kurt logs off, again leaving me alone with my frustrations.

I don’t know what I’d hoped to accomplish by messaging Kurt. An acknowledgement that I was an attractive woman? If I wanted that I can just log into my Instagram account and read the comments on my latest photos. Some acknowledgement that I wasn’t a crappy girlfriend? The only reason I’d need that is if I wanted him back… Or wanted another boyfriend to take his place. Maybe I just didn’t want to be alone today…

I have a weary smile on my face as I arrive at Dr Phillips’s office forty minutes before my scheduled appointment time. Despite my fame, I still have to wait my turn, so I spend the intervening time browsing the comments on the photo I uploaded to Instagram mere hours ago. In that time, it’s earned thousands of likes and hundreds of comments, but I’m barely able to focus on the words on the screen as I’m that focussed on what I want to say to the counsellor- and that concerned about how she’ll respond to me.

“Hi Stephanie,” Dr Phillips says as I enter her office, subconsciously smoothing my skirt and adjusting my bodysuit as I sit down. “I love that top, think Sarah’s got one like that.”

“Thanks!” I giggle as I show off the detail of the bodysuit for the middle-aged woman. “It was yet another endorsement, heh.”

“Ah, the difficult life of a national celebrity,” Beverly laughs. “Speaking of which, I assume we have a lot to discuss from the last two weeks?”

“Yeah,” I laugh. “But probably not in the way you think. During the actual tour itself we were kept so busy with promotional gigs, autograph sessions, Q&As, that sort of thing… Barely had any time to stop and think.”

“But now you have two weeks off, you have nothing but time to stop and think?” Beverly asks.

“And how,” I say with a derisive snort of laughter. “I spent yesterday in Southampton- with Kayla and her family- but I’ve spent most of today on my own in my flat.”

“Ah,” Beverly grimaces. “And you and I both know that rarely ends well.”

“Yeah,” I whisper. “I- I ended up messaging Kurt, just to say hi…”

“Your ex-boyfriend?” Beverly asks.

“Yep,” I say. “That was a VERY short, very awkward conversation.”

“Did it reopen an old wound, so to speak?” Beverly asks.

“Probably more for him than it did for me,” I sigh. “I mean I remember our relationship fondly, umm, despite the way it ended…”

“I trust you’re not having any of THOSE thoughts?” Beverly asks, smiling as I shake my head. “That’s definitely a positive, at least. I never really thought that your relationship with Kurt was a good idea.”

“Yep, I remember you saying that,” I say, making the middle-aged woman laugh. “I really, really did like him, though.”

“Do you still have feelings for him?” Beverly asks.

“…I don’t know,” I sigh. “I don’t know WHAT I feel. I went out to a club last night with Kayla- just for a little bit of fun- I found myself dancing with virtually every guy in there, I mean- it’s not even like I was gay when I was ‘Steve’, but- Gah!”

“It’s okay, it’s okay,” Beverly says soothingly as I take several deep breaths and try to blink back the tears that have formed in the corners of my eyes. “I have told you that it’s been known for sexual orientation to shift as a result of hormone replacement therapy. It’s not common, but not unheard of.”

“Yes, I know,” I sigh. “And I was technically dating a man even before I started on oestrogen.”

“When you say ‘technically dating a man’,” Beverly asks with an air of caution in her voice, “do you mean that you were only technically dating, or that the person you were dating was only technically a man?”

“Technically dating,” I retort, before sighing yet again. “I don’t know. I convinced myself that dating a transman was what I wanted we could connect emotionally, could help each other with our transitions… I never saw Kurt as a woman, honest.”

“I believe you,” Beverly says.

“And obviously, sex was going to be completely off the table,” I say. “And that’s the thing I can’t get over, the thought of actually having sex with a man, I- I mean, I know I shouldn’t feel so negatively about it, I might even like it, god knows Jamie does, but- but I’m worried that it’s ‘Steve’ pushing back, you know?”

“And you’re also worried that showing an interest in boys is just a way of suppressing ‘Steve’?” Beverly asks.

“Well I am NOW,” I moan, before letting out a long sigh. “Sorry, sorry… You’re right, of course. As usual. I- I just never really thought of it that way, I guess…”

“Your transition has been far from straightforward,” Beverly says softly. “You’ve had layers and layers of complex issues to deal with. It’s part of the reason I withheld oestrogen for so long. I wouldn’t be surprised either if your increased interest in boys is as a response to your body reacting slower than normal to the hormone therapy. Steph, I- I do have to ask… You are keeping to schedule with your medication, right?”

“Yes, of course,” I say. “Admittedly I haven’t taken one today, but I will when I get home.”

“Good,” Dr Phillips whispers. “It probably won’t surprise you to learn that I strongly advise against entering into a relationship at this time.”

“Yeah, I had a feeling you might say that,” I giggle, making the doctor smirk.

“You mentioned that you were down on the south coast yesterday with Kayla’s parents,” Beverly continues. “I take it she’s stayed down there a few more days, that’s why you’re home alone?”

“Yeah,” I reply.

“I wouldn’t recommend staying by yourself tonight,” Beverly advises. “Go home to your parents’, make sure you have some company.”

“Okay,” I say with a nod. “I’m out at Becca’s horse thing all day tomorrow and Kayla will be back tomorrow night.”

“Good,” Beverly says. “I know there is a bit of a contradiction here, me advising you not to enter into a relationship with a boy whilst also advising you not to be alone, but I hope you can understand the meaning behind my words.”

“Yeah, I know where you’re coming from,” I say, before letting out a quiet giggle. “Funny you should specify that the relationship would be with a boy, though… Last night, I- I kinda, um, kinda shared a bed with Kayla…”

“In- in a non-sexual way, right?” Beverly asks, clearly concerned by the possibility that I might have complicated my life even further.

“Of course,” I reply. “Though she did, umm, kinda kiss me a bit… On the lips.”

“Well as you know, it’s considered more ‘acceptable’ for girls to be more affectionate with each other than it is for men,” Beverly says.

“Oh, I get that,” I say. “I’m sure Kayla just meant it as a bit of fun, it’s just…”

“Stephanie,” Dr Phillips says softly. “Did- do you feel otherwise?”

“I really, really wish I knew,” I moan. “I mean, even I know that if I went after a relationship with Kayla, it’d be a disaster, but- ugh.”

“You can’t control who you’re attracted to,” Beverly says softly.

“I just wish I wasn’t attracted to anyone,” I sigh. “My love life was so much easier when I was ‘Steve’. I was short, shrimp and had basically zero masculinity…”

“And you weren’t nationally famous,” Beverly says.

“Exactly,” I reply.

“The only advice I can give you,” Beverly says, “is to remember that you’re only 21. You’ve got your whole life ahead of you, and just because your friends are all jumping into relationships, it doesn’t mean that you have to.”

“You sound like my mum,” I retort, making both of us chuckle.

“Doesn’t make my advice any less valid,” Beverly says. “And I do know a thing or two about having a daughter in her early twenties, you know.”

“…A daughter who got engaged when she was how old again, eighteen?” I retort, making Beverly laugh out loud.

“Touché,” the counsellor replies, before seguing into a different topic of conversation, obviously realising that I have a point about her daughter.

As always, I leave the office with several techniques and strategies for coping with my stress and my anxiety, but still feeling no closer to an answer to my troubles than I was when I walked into the office. I am, however, forced to concede that Dr Phillips might have a point when she says that my interest in boys might just be a rebellion against ‘Steve’, who did spend the first nineteen years of his life having to deal with two VERY heterosexual older brothers. I wish, I truly wish that everything in my life didn’t have to revolve around the fact that I’m transgendered…

During the taxi ride home, I open up Facebook on my phone and browse to Beverly’s daughter’s profile, which of course has a picture of her and her fiancée as both the profile and the cover photos. The photo that catches my attention the most, though, is one of her most recent ones, a selfie of her and her fiancée snuggled up together on the sofa in their new flat. There’s no sexuality to the photo at all, just two people who love each other so much that they’re inseparable.

I try vainly not to let my envy get the better of me as I arrive at my parents’ home, where mum greets me as always with a long hug and a hot mug of tea. Even this brief contact, however, is enough to tell my mum that something’s wrong.

“Let me guess- just come from your counsellor’s meeting, right?” Mum asks, making me sigh and laugh as I sit down.

“…How DO you do that?” I ask, making mum chuckle with laughter.

“Mothers know,” mum says with a smug smile. “That and you’re all tensed up, that only happens when you go to your counsellor. I don’t even know why you’re paying that woman all that money if you come away feeling tenser than when you go in…”

“She DOES help,” I say. “She’s helped loads of transgendered people through their transitions.”

“If you say so,” mum sighs. “What’s got you all stressed out this time? You seemed all relaxed on Sunday… Did something happen down in Southampton?”

“…Kinda yes, kinda no,” I sigh. “I’ve… I’ve kinda been thinking a lot about my love life lately. What passes for it, anyway.”

“Ah,” mum says, fidgeting in her seat. “You know- and this will sound silly- when you and your brothers were growing up, I was always sort-of envious of your dad, that he got to have ‘the talk’ with the three of you. Always wished I had a daughter to talk to, woman-to-woman.”

“Well, I’m here now,” I shrug. “Though I am, you know, 21 and not 13… Kinda know all I need to know, heh.”

“I see,” mum says as she fidgets again, clearly uncomfortable with the topic of conversation.

“We went to a nightclub last night,” I sigh. “I got dancing, really had a lot of fun, too…”

“Well, I’m sure you and Kayla will be happy together, at least,” mum says, making my eyes go wide. “Though I’m surprised you didn’t decide to stay in Southampton with her…”

“Umm… I’m not talking about me and Kayla,” I say. “I don’t think I’ve ever talked about me and Kayla. I mean, you know, me and a boy? Like when I went out with Kurt?”

“Oh,” mum says, her cheeks going red as she realises her faux pas. “Well, I’m sure you realise there’s no need to rush into anything. Umm… Are you stopping for dinner?”

“Yeah,” I say with a grimace. “Why- why would you think that me and Kayla were- were, you know, anyway?”

“…It’s just the way you two always hang out together,” mum shrugs. “You’re practically joined at the hip, you know?”

“We’re flatmates!” I retort. “And we work together. And go to all the same social functions, and have all the same friends… Didn’t you have a best friend you hung out with when you were at uni? A flatmate, or a dorm mate, or whatever?”

“Well- yes, I had some friends I was closer to than others,” mum says. “But- I don’t know. I’m sorry I- I implied, Stephanie. What do you want for your dinner?”

“I- I don’t know,” I reply with a long, loud sigh. “I don’t mind. Whatever’s easiest to cook.” Silently, mum rises from her chair and heads through to the kitchen to prepare dinner.

A short while later, dad returns home to ‘help eat dinner’ and chat about his day at work (and, inevitably, about our tour). Naturally, nothing is said about what mum and I were talking about- as comfortable as dad may be with my transition (and to give him his due, he’s never shown anything other than unconditional support) even he would get squeamish at the thought of me being ‘with’ a boy. Possibly even more squeamish than me…

Of course, my parents have no problem with me staying overnight in my old room, and- as much as it reminds me of ‘Steve’- the familiar surroundings do help me to get a decent night’s sleep. Though this is more likely to be because I have the entire bed to myself…

I’m briefly confused when I wake up the following morning in a bed other than the one in my posh flat, but it soon passes when I realise that I’m in the room where I spent the first nineteen years of my life- though it obviously looks a lot different now compared to what it looked like when I was nineteen, not least the inside of my wardrobe!

With my parents already at work, I eat a quick breakfast before showering, applying a full face of make-up and getting dressed for the day. Even though I’m going to an equestrian event today, Becca’s assured me that the dress code will be ‘smart casual’ rather than the formal wear you see at places such as Royal Ascot or the Derby- and I will confess that this disappointed me slightly, not least because Kayla and I spent a whole afternoon before the tour shopping for an appropriate hat to wear! Nonetheless, I still make some effort today- rather than a casual top and skirt, I wear a vintage knee-length dress and a smart black cardigan, rather than black nylons, I wear tan-coloured tights, and instead of flats I wear court shoes with a low heel (though I also bring along a shopping bag with a pair of sturdy wellington boots as per Becca’s recommendation).

I spend the taxi ride to the showground trying to relax and focus on both my counsellor and my mother’s words of advice from yesterday. The advice that resonates the most with me is the reminder that I am only 21 years old. My parents didn’t meet until they were 23, Tom didn’t meet his girlfriend until he was 26, the same goes for Danny, and whilst they all had prior relationships, so have I… There’s no rush. There really, really isn’t.

…Though when I arrive at the showground, my confidence is shaken when the first thing I see is Jamie-Lee with her fiancé’s arm wrapped around her waist, Adeola- a girl even younger than me- leaning against the chest of her tall, sexy boyfriend, and Becca giggling as her own long-term boyfriend encircles her waist from behind and gives her a long, loving kiss on her cheek. As if to drive it home further, arriving just ahead of me is Becca’s older sister Emma, who has a baby in her arms and another in her belly- a reminder or the normal family life I’ll probably never get to enjoy.

“Hey Steph!” Becca giggles as I approach the group. “LOVE that dress!”

“Thanks!” I say as I do a playful twirl to show off my frock. “I know you said I didn’t have to dress up, but this IS the first horse thing I’ve ever been to, I figured I might as well…”

“Atta girl!” Jamie cheers whilst showing off her own short, smart dress. “Though we are SO going to a proper ladies’ day at some point!”

“Just don’t expect me to ride in it!” Becca laughs. “Solomon’s really not a racehorse, especially not at his age! Speaking of which, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go and see to the OTHER man in life!”

“I’ll try not to get too jealous,” Riley laughs, giving Becca a long kiss on her lips. “See you later, babe.” I bite my lip as the loving couple look deeply into each other’s eyes, before Becca heads off to the nearby stable to tend to her horse.

“We should find our seats,” Stuart says.

“Umm, before we do…” Riley says nervously. “I- I need to tell you all something, something you MUST keep secret.”

“Ooh, I think I know what THIS is!” Jamie excitedly squeaks.

“…Yeah,” Riley says, clearly irritated by Jamie’s excitement. “Guys… On- on Becca’s birthday, I- I’m going to propose to her.”

“Oh my god!” Adeola squeaks, literally bouncing up and down with excitement.

“I figure we’ve been going out for over three years,” Riley babbles. “I’ll never get another girl as amazing as her, I adore her, I- I-“

“Mate,” Stuart says, calming the tall young man, “It’s about time! I figure if anyone has to marry Becca, it might as well be you.”

“Thanks, I think,” Riley laughs as we take our seats ahead of the start of the competition.

Inevitably, as the ‘odd one out’, I find myself sat at the end of the row, and even more inevitably, I end up sat next to Jamie-Lee Burke, who is clearly VERY excited by the upcoming proposal.

“Oh my god!” Jamie whispers to me. “Can you believe that about Becca and Riley?”

“I know,” I reply, trying my hardest to feign enthusiasm and hide my anxieties. “And they’re both only 21… Same age as me…”

“They’re not the youngest couple we know to have got engaged,” Jamie reminds me. “Though knowing Becca, she is going to have THE most extravagant wedding ever. She’ll probably look at mine and Stuart’s and go ‘that, only more of it, more expensive and more- well, more better’.”

“This IS my sister you’re talking about,” Stuart- who’s sat on the opposite side of Jamie to me- interjects.

“Am I wrong, though?” Jamie asks.

“Well- no,” Stuart concedes with a sigh as Jamie turns her attention back to me.

“I doubt I’ll get picked for bridesmaid duty,” Jamie sighs. “Becca and I… We’re not exactly best friends, heh. You might, though! You’d look SO cute in a bridesmaid’s dress, especially as by then your boobs will have had a chance to grow a bit!”

“Yeah,” I laugh. “Always the bridesmaid, never the bride…”

“Aww,” Jamie sighs. “Trust me, I’ve been THERE. Especially after I split from Paul, and it seemed like all my friends were getting married, first Mary, then Viks… Got the man of my dreams eventually though, hehe!”

“Yeah,” I tiredly laugh.

“Steph…” Jamie says softly. “Are- are you, you know, ‘getting tired of being single’?”

“No,” I immediately retort, before sighing. “Ugh, maybe. I dunno. I- I’ve just been thinking a lot about it lately. I mean, I see Becca and Riley together, and you and Stuart spending all your time in each other’s pockets and I- I kinda feel like the odd one out, you know? It’s not even like I’m desperate for, you know, the S-word… But the thought of, you know, snuggling up on the sofa next to someone…”

“Aww,” Jamie coos. “And yes, I know EXACTLY what you mean. As for the S-word… You won’t know for sure unless you try it.”

“Even, you know, ‘up there’?” I ask.

“ESPECIALLY up there!” Jamie whispers with a devilish grin on her face. “But seriously, I know what you mean. You’ve probably been told ‘don’t rush into anything’, and whilst that IS good advice, ‘don’t rush’ DOESN’T mean ‘don’t even think about it’.”

“So- so are you saying that I SHOULD get a boyfriend?” I ask.

“I’m not saying you should jump in bed with the first guy you see,” Jamie says with a snort of laughter. “But it really wouldn’t hurt at all to start, you know, ‘looking’… You’re not going to get to the point where you can snuggle on a sofa with a guy if you don’t spend time building a relationship, and you won’t get to THAT point without going on a few dates, and you won’t get to THAT point… Basically, if you don’t ever even TALK to a guy, you, you know, won’t get one? I’m not sure I worded that right…”

“Nah, I think I know where you’re coming from,” I laugh. “Before I started going out with Kurt, Becca and Addie would set me up on date after date… Wouldn’t have had my relationship with Kurt- however short- without that first date.”

“Exactly,” Jamie says smugly as she gets out her phone and starts fiddling with it. “Well, I think, anyway, hehe! You coming to Stuart’s party tomorrow?”

“Of course,” I say with a smug grin of my own.

“There’ll be plenty of hot guys there, you know,” Jamie says. “It IS a boy’s party, after all. Plenty of hot, single guys too… A lot of couples hook up at parties. And before you say anything, remember what I said first- DON’T jump into bed with the first guy you see. There’ll be plenty for you to look at, and as one of the hottest, most famous single women in the country, there’ll be plenty of guys looking at you too!”

“And as it’s Stuart’s party, I’m assuming no transphobes?” I ask, catching onto Jamie’s line of reasoning.

“Exactly,” Jamie says. “Nikki’s party on Friday will be the same too, Sarah’s in her uni’s LGBT society and Nikki’s been making friends so a lot of them will be coming along. Not that any gay man would be attracted to you, though!”

“That’s… Definitely the weirdest compliment I’ve ever been paid, hehe!” I say, making Jamie giggle, though we’re soon silenced by Stuart as Becca trots out into the centre of the small arena on her big brown horse to begin her routine.

Of course, we all give Becca a standing ovation as she finishes her movements and trots back toward the enclosure at the side of the arena.

“She’s been looking forward to this all throughout the tour,” Riley proudly announces to the rest of us. “Think she missed Solomon more than me, heh.”

“You know,” Emma says, “Becca’s riding coach has said that if she’d just applied herself a little more, she could’ve competed at Olympic level.”

“Becca says Becca’s riding coach says that, anyway,” Jamie whispers in my ear, making me snort with laughter even as Emma’s son begins to cry.

“Think he’s getting a little restless,” Emma whispers as she rocks the bawling infant in an effort to calm him down. “I should probably get him home for his nap. Make sure to give Becca my love.”

“Will do,” Stuart says to his older sister as she leaves. “…Much as I love her, Becca ain’t winning this.”

“I thought she was pretty good,” I muse.

“She’s ‘good’,” Stuart clarifies. “But she’s up against people who are borderline pro. She only entered as the organisers of this event know she’s competed in dressage in the past and wanted her along as a publicity stunt.”

“She’s still a champion in my eyes,” Riley says, earning ‘aww’s from all the girls- myself included- and joking retching sounds from the boys.

Naturally, all this comment makes me do is imagine what Riley and Becca’s life will be like a few years from now, when they’re both married, with the two of them snuggled up together on their big, posh sofa, with Becca’s head gently resting on Riley’s chest…

I don’t know Riley all that well, even though we’ve been friends for two years, but I know him well enough to know that he is one of the sweetest, most sensitive men around... Just the kind of man I would love to be able to snuggle up next to...

Of course, Stuart's prediction comes true- out of the ten participants in the competition, Becca comes sixth, which isn't terrible, but is nowhere near good enough for a medal. Though this doesn't stop the press from mobbing us as we start to leave the showground, of course, meaning that Becca, Adeola and I have to pose for pictures for an extra twenty minutes whilst our friends all head back home.

"Hard luck," I mutter to Becca as we pose next to the brown-haired girl's huge, imposing horse.

"Meh," Becca shrugs. "I'm happy with sixth. I've only had one day to practise, remember? And I'm sure I'll get a 'prize' from Riley later on tonight, hehe!"

"Umm- yeah," I mumble, remembering what the tall blond boy told us before the start of the event.

"...Steph?" Becca asks. "Ahh... Don't tell me you're getting man hungry now?" Oh god, I think to myself. Of all the wrong conclusions to jump to...

"Well, uh-" I stammer.

"Umm..." Adeola grimaces, biting her lip. "It- it's kinda, umm..."

"I am a little," I say with a sigh, smiling as Adeola mouths a quiet 'thank you' at me for letting her off the hook, as it were.

"Aww," Becca coos. "Think we're going to have to get our matchmaking hats on again, Addie!"

"Seriously, you don't have to," I say, making the two other women giggle with laughter.

"Oh, it might be fun!" Adeola teases, making me roll my eyes. And after I let you off the hook, too... "Whilst we're at it, we can also get Kayla a man!"

"Preferably one shorter than her, for missing this!" Becca snorts. "Bet if it was a PROPER horse event, where you get all dressed up, she'd have come... Try to find herself a rich lord's son or something..." Ah, there's the old Becca we know and 'love', I think to myself.

"To be fair, she doesn't get to see her family all that often," I say. "She'll want to spend all the time with them that she can, you know?"

"Meh, if you say so," Becca shrugs. "Just means more publicity for the three of us today!"

"AND more time when we get home for us to find Steffieboots a hot, hunky guy!" Adeola says, giggling as I shoot an angry look at her. I daren't tell her that Jamie's already trying to set me up with a boy- Becca's always felt a need to compete with Jamie, so if she learned that Jamie was trying to set me up with a guy, I'd probably end up with a string of single guys trying to beat my door down...

Naturally, the duo tease me about my single status for the rest of the afternoon, and I actually breathe a sigh of relief when I climb into the taxi to head back home. As I walk through the door of my London flat, however, my sigh of relief turns into a groan of frustration as I realise that I've somehow managed to make my boy troubles ten times worse than they already are.

My life is complicated enough as it is. I have to juggle an expanding media profile, a full-time job and the small matter of changing the very nature of who I am- I don't have time for a partner right now, even if it is just a casual thing at the start. Dr Phillips is right- I have my whole life ahead of me. I'll sort everything else out first, THEN I can look for love. But only if I want to. If Jamie tries to set me up with someone, I'll politely tell them that I'm not interested. Jamie can't whinge at me if he doesn't meet my standards- she herself said not to jump into bed with the first guy I see, and he will be the first guy I see, so there you go.

Ninety short minutes after I returned home, however, the front door of the flat opens and I'm reminded that feelings aren't always that straightforward.

"Hey Steph!" Kayla says with a happy, almost relieved giggle as she dumps her case in the entranceway. "So good to be home..."

"Umm..." I reply. "You just came FROM your home."

"Oh- shut up," Kayla says, making me giggle as she blows a very un-ladylike raspberry at me. "You know what I mean."

"Yeah, I guess," I chuckle. "I guess I do think of this place as home, too... Actually stayed overnight at my parents' last night, when I woke up I was actually confused because I was in my old room."

"Aww, were you lonely without me?" Kayla teases. "Careful- we don't want Becca and Addie to gossip MORE, do we?"

"You can shut up too," I say, maybe the tiny girl crease with laughter as I return her earlier raspberry. "I dunno, maybe I associate this place as 'Steph's and my old place as 'Steve's or something."

"Huh," Kayla muses. "Guess that's enough reason to keep living here with me for the foreseeable, isn't it?"

"I wasn't planning on going anywhere," I say with a smug grin that makes Kayla giggle as she makes us both a cup of tea. "I missed you today at the dressage event. Um, uh, I mean- I mean, you know, it'd have been better to have the whole band there..." Watch your words, I think to myself as I grimace, but fortunately, Kayla doesn't seem to have noticed by faux pas.

"Meh," the tiny girl shrugs. "Horses aren't really my thing. Yes, I know, I'm the size of the average jockey, but- I dunno."

"Just because you didn't get to wear your posh new hat," I tease, making my flatmate groan and roll her eyes.

"Nor. Did. You!" Kayla retorts as I giggle. "Though to be fair, I was looking forward to getting all dressed up... Maybe we can persuade Becca to get us tickets to Royal Ascot or somewhere like that? Or ask Jonathan to get us there on a PR trip or something?"

"If you don't ask, you don't get," I say, making Kayla giggle excitedly.

"EXACTLY," Kayla laughs. "Now come on, enough talk about horses, the only thing I want to ride tonight is a Warthog. Halo me!"

"Yes, ma'am!" I laugh as I exchange an Xbox controller for the cup of tea in Kayla's hands.

We spend the rest of the night curled up on the sofa gaming away in an attempt to forget our worries, though as the night draws on, Kayla slowly edges closer and closer to me on the sofa, and the closer she gets, the more confused I get about my feelings. Of course, Kayla doesn't go as far as to actually cuddle up next to me, but in a way, that's even worse- at least if she did that, I'd actually know what she 'wanted'...

I let out a tired groan the following morning as my phone's alarm wakes me from a dreamless sleep, and is almost immediately backed up by Kayla's loud banging on my bedroom door.

"Steph!" The tiny girl yells in a voice much more powerful than someone her size should possess. "Steph! Get up!"

"I'm coming," I sigh as I throw back my covers and reach into the bottom drawer of my large chest of drawers for a pair of soft pink tights, a clingy black leotard and a pouch containing a very special pair of shoes.

I suppose it's only right that as I spent last night doing something considered boyish, I should spend this morning doing something overwhelmingly girlish, and as I stretch the skin-tight dancewear over my body (and tie my hair back into a tight, severe bun) I allow myself to get lost in the moment, just as I did so many years ago when I pulled on a pair of tights for the very first time.

Back then, if you'd told me that I'd spend one morning every week dressed in the 'clothes' I'm wearing now, not just pretending but actually getting to be a ballerina, I'd probably have dismissed you as being ridiculous. But as the taxi deposits myself and Kayla at the front door of the Krystie Fullerton School of Dance, I'm reminded that I wouldn't give this life up for anything. When I started to be 'Stephanie', I was just pretending to be a woman, but every day I wake up and pull on a leotard and a pair of tights, or a bra and a thong, or apply make-up or nail polish, it becomes less 'pretending' and more 'reality'.

Every woman who greets me as a friend as I walk into the studio reminds me that I am 'just another one of the girls', though the smug look on Jamie, Becca and Adeola's faces is a reminder that sometimes being 'one of the girls' means playing by someone else's rules...

"Why are we even here, anyway?" I mumble to Kayla as we tie our soft ballet shoes to our feet. "We have two weeks off, we COULD have skipped the lesson and they'd have been okay with it..."

"The sooner we get rehearsing for our next video, the sooner we can film it," Kayla reminds me. "And I'm REALLY looking forward to that shoot."

"Glad to hear it!" Krystie giggles, making Kayla blush as she realises she's been overheard. "And I do kinda need to get it filmed soon, before I get a bit too... 'Round' to film it, hehe!" Kayla and I giggle as Krystie pats her belly- which may be flat now, but won't stay that way for long, not with the new life growing within it.

I try to avoid the smug grins of Jamie, Becca and Adeola as I take my place at the barre and begin my warm-up steps. When surrounded by other women, it should be easy to forget about my stresses. Hell, I don't even feel 'excited' when surrounded by the women. Sixteen-year old 'Steve' probably wouldn't be able to contain his 'excitement' at the sight of a room full of young women wearing leotards and tights, but when you're wearing them yourself, and they've become an ordinary part of your week, it becomes much easier to just concentrate on the dancing.

I can't help but muse as I dance, though, that 'Steve's sole source of 'excitement' would be from the clothes themselves, rather than the women dancing within them. Maybe it's because I knew that a shrimpy 5' 6" boy wouldn't have a chance with any of the goddesses I'm dancing with now- or maybe it's because I genuinely don't fancy any of them...

After half an hour, all but a couple of the members of the class head to the corner of the room, where we swap our soft shoes for a pair of torturously stiff satin pointe shoes, and for the remaining half hour, we use them to dance on the tips of our toes, which as always, leave my feet in sheer agony- though every time I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror, balancing en pointe, I'm more and more sure that this is the person I'm supposed to be.

"Ladies," Krystie says with a smug grin at the end of the lesson as everyone prepares to head to get changed. "As I'm sure you know, today is a VERY important day for one member of our family. Today, Mr. Stuart Milton turns 27 years of age... But we don't care about him now, do we?"

"Yes!" Jamie says, earning giggles from the rest of the room (myself included).

"Well- okay, YOU'RE allowed to care," Krystie says. "But the person we really care about is the girl who's celebrating her last day of teenaged life today... Isn't that right, Miss Thomas?"

"Oh, god, I know where this is going..." Nikki giggles nervously as she's all but pushed to the middle of the room. Mere seconds later, Zoe- Krystie's teaching partner- returns to the room pushing a clothes rack, on which is a ridiculously extravagant pink tutu. It's a costume I know well- I wore it back in January on the occasion of my birthday.

As Nikki changes into the tutu, and as she dances a short routine, I muse on how alike she and I really are- young women in their early twenties (or near enough in Nikki's case) whose only 'condition' is that we used to be men- are most definitely aren't anymore. After the routine, I get an extra reminder of how I don't have to conform to other people's ideas of how to live my life when Nikki receives an extra-long, loving kiss from her fiancée- her FEMALE fiancée. Feeling reinvigorated by the sight, I approach Jamie- who is, of course, showing off by trying to walk back to the changing rooms entirely en pointe.

"Hey Steph!" Jamie giggles. "Looking forward to the party tonight?"

"Yeah," I laugh nervously. "Umm, about that..."

"Umm, not 'about that'," Jamie says, lowering from pointe to look me in the eye. "Steph... If you're feeling nervous about the guy I'm setting you up with- and yes, there will be a guy there who I reckon you'll REALLY like- just, you know, decide AFTER you meet him, okay?"

"Well- okay, I guess," I say, taken aback by Jamie's sudden hostility. "But, you know, I'm not sure I want to look right now..."

"Meh, it's up to you, I guess," Jamie says with a shrug. "Just go in there with an open mind. You never know, this time next year, you might be celebrating a first anniversary..."

"Yeah, well, don't buy me a gift just yet," I snort as Jamie heads to get changed, leaving just me, Krystie and the rest of the band in the dance studio.

"Thanks for coming in on your day off for a practice session, girls," Krystie says as we retake our places at the barre.

"Our pleasure," Adeola says. "Not like 'the end of February' is a great holiday season anyway..."

"And we had to be here for stupid's birthday tonight," Becca snorts, earning 'ooh's from the rest of the girls.

"Charming way to talk about your brother!" I tease.

"And how, exactly, do you refer to Danny?" Becca retorts.

"That's different," I say with a smug grin. "Danny actually IS stupid! Stuart's, you know, clever..."

"Oh, don't tell me you've still got a crush on him," Becca retorts, making my eyes go wide with shock as Kayla and Krystie both gasp at me.

"Oh- FUCK you, Becca!" I shriek. "Seriously! Have you not heard of 'confidence'?"

"...Sorry," Becca meekly mumbles. "I- I- shit. Sorry, Steph, I- I thought everyone knew by now..."

"Umm, no?" I say. "You know the boy trouble I have AND the Jamie trouble I've had, why would I tell anyone THAT?"

"Se-seriously, though?" Kayla asks. "Even after he's, you know, 'done'?"

"...It was right at the start of when I became 'Stephanie'," I sigh. "Before I started taking hormones... I was confused, I didn't know WHAT I wanted."

"But- but it explains, you know, you and Kurt?" Kayla asks. "I mean, are transmen-"

"I said I don't want to talk about it, okay?" I hiss, sighing as I realise I've startled my friend. "I- I'm sorry, Kayla. I didn't mean to snap... Can we just get down to dancing, please?"

"Best suggestion I've heard all day," Krystie says as she leads the four of us through the complicated choreography of our next music video.

However, the dance lesson soon ends, and as I climb into the taxi to head home, I try not to grimace at the inquisitive look on my flatmate's face.

"...Yes, I did fancy him," I sigh, trying not to frown as Kayla lets out a small gasp. "'Did'. Past tense. It was just a silly little crush."

"Well, I suppose every girl has those," Kayla sighs. "It's just- ugh, I dunno. I figured..."

"You figured... What?" I ask.

"It's in the past, it doesn't matter," Kayla says.

"No, it DOES matter," I say.

"I figured..." Kayla says, before sighing again. "Promise you won't get TOO offended by this? You are kinda forcing it out of me, you know..."

"Talk!" I say frustratedly.

"I thought," Kayla says, "that as you were, you know, 'chemically male', that you, you know, liked women..."

"Even though you know I really fancied Kurt, and that was before I was transitioning?" I retort.

"Well- yeah," Kayla sighs. "But you'd been living as Stephanie for months by then, you said you fancied Stuart right at the start of your life as Steph... Kinda figured that, you know, 'Steve' was heterosexual..."

"'Steve' wasn't really anything, sexuality-wise," I say. "Kinda wish that 'Stephanie' wasn't, it'd make things a lot simpler..."

"Ugh, amen to that," Kayla snorts as we head back to our posh flat, where we spend the afternoon gaming and deliberately NOT talking about boys, before heading to our respective bedrooms to get changed.

I'm in two minds about my outfit for tonight- on the one hand, I don't want to give the wrong impression that I'm overly 'available', but on the other hand, I want to look chic and sexy to 'keep up appearances' for any press that might show up- not to mention the dozens of Instagram accounts that'll be updated tonight.

In the end, I settle for a clingy, long-sleeved grey minidress with shiny black tights and platform stilettos. The outfit shows off a lot of leg, sure, but even though tonight will be a boy's party, there'll still be more leg on show than at a millipede convention. As I grab my handbag and get ready to leave, however, I remember a brand-new pair of footwear I bought before the tour and haven't had the opportunity to wear yet. Again, I'm faced with a dilemma- the footwear will cover my legs, sure, and it'll keep them warm, but it'll also draw a LOT of attention toward them...

"I'm ready," I yell as I leave my room to see that Kayla is already ready and sat on the sofa, waiting for me.

"At last," Kayla says. "Taxi's been here- woah." I giggle as I do a twirl for Kayla, who simply stands there slack-jawed.

Instead of a pair of platform stilettos- like the ones Kayla's wearing- on my feet are a pair of high-heeled boots that extend all the way up my shins, over my knees and cover the bottom four inches of my thighs, high enough to leave only a tiny gap of nylon-covered thigh visible between the hem of my dress and the cuffs of my boots.

"You like?" I ask.

"I NEED," Kayla says. "Seriously, now I know why Addie calls you 'Steffieboots', hehe! And there I was, thinking that you were trying to DIScourage men, hehe!"

"I figured men will be staring at my legs either way," I sigh. "So I can cover them with leather or nylon. Reckon I made the right choice?"

"Umm, if you want stares, then yes," Kayla says. "Unless everyone else there is wearing super-sexy fuck-me-boots, of course."

"...Right," I grimace as we head down to the taxi, where the driver stares long and hard at my boots as we get in. This could be a long night...

A short while later, we arrive at Charlotte's vast house, where the birthday party is already in full swing. Naturally, the second I step through the front door, I'm greeted by my other two bandmates, both of whom have wide grins on their faces.

"Stef-fie-boots!" Adeola squeaks half-drunkenly. "Oh my god! You are SO going to get a man tonight!"

"Only if I want one!" I retort, which only serves to make Becca and Adeola laugh even louder.

"Careful, you don't want Jamie getting jealous!" Becca says, giggling as I shoot her a very dirty look. "Oh relax, I'm not going to tell her. Even if you would make a much better sister-in-law than her!"

"Speak of the devil," Adeola laughs as Jamie approaches our group, gasping with delight as she sees my footwear.

"Wow," Jamie coos at my boots. "I've got two pairs JUST like those. Glad to see you've come prepared, Steph!"

"Ugh, honestly, what is it with men and boots?" I ask as Jamie leads the four of us into the main room, where we drop off our Christmas presents and head straight to the bar."

"You mean you don't know?" Jamie asks, giggling as I shake my head. "Good! Now grab your drink, I have someone I want you to meet."

"Umm... We're not even going to say hi to the birthday boy first?" I protest.

"He's not going anywhere," Jamie says smugly. "Now this, this is Liam," Jamie continues as she practically shoves me toward a tall young man with light brown hair and a nervous expression on his face. "I know you two will hit it off!" I grimace at Jamie- not to mention the excited giggles of my bandmates- before nervously grinning at the young man I've found myself face to face with.

"Umm... Hi," I say with a nervous giggle.

"Hi," the young man says in a soft London accent. "I, uh, I'm Liam."

"Stephanie," I say.

"Yeah, I, uh, kinda know," Liam says with a nervous laugh. "I, uh, I'm a big fan..."

“Thanks!” I giggle. “Umm… What- what do you do?”

“Oh, um, I’m an actor!” Liam says, piquing my interest. Not that I want to deliberately stereotype people, but if he’s an actor, then the chances of him being the kind of sensitive, ‘snuggle on the sofa’ kind of guy might be better than I expected…

“An actor?” I ask. “Been in anything I might have seen?”

“Uhh… Not unless you go to many local theatres,” Liam says, nervously scratching his head. “Or just a bit of extra work. Still waiting for my ‘big break’, heh.”

“Are you signed to Heavenly Talent?” I ask.

“Heh, I wish!” Liam laughs. “Sent off my portfolio twice, thought because I’ve worked with Stuart on productions before- on musicals- that it might get me a foot in the door… No joy.”

“Ah, so you’re wanting to ride my coattails to fame, then?” I ask.

“Oh- no, not at all,” Liam replies. “Stuart’s coattails, yes, but you- I- I just mean, I- you know, I kinda- kinda want to, you know, get to know you better…” My heart suddenly starts beating faster as Liam gently takes my hand in his, caressing my fingers and sending tiny tingles of electricity up my arm.

“Do- do you, umm,” I stammer. “Want to, you know, find somewhere more private?” Liam giggles nervously at my suggestion as we stealthily head toward the side entrance to the room.

Less than a minute later, the two of us find ourselves in Charlotte’s cramped cloakroom, where our lips slowly move closer together, until my entire body shivers with excitement at the first touch of our mouths. As the kiss intensifies, my legs feel like they’re about to turn to jelly, and soon, the only thing holding me up is Liam’s strong hold on my narrow waist.

Slowly, our lips part, and I shiver yet again as I feel the tip of Liam’s tongue brush against mine. Never in my life have I felt such a powerful feeling of lust, of desire… Sure, I kissed Kurt loads when we were going out, but this is different. This is hot, passionate, and as Kurt gently lowers his hand over my hip, past my bottom and to the thin strip of nylon between my dress and my boots, I-

‘What ARE you doing?’ A familiar, unwelcome voice in the back of my head asks, snapping me out of my lustful trance. Immediately, I break away from the embrace, leaving Liam stood in a state of utter confusion.

“St-Stephanie?” Liam asks.

“I- I’m sorry,” I mumble. “It- uh, it’s not you, um, it’s me…”

“Yeah… That just means it IS me, right?” Liam sighs.

“Trust me, in this case, it doesn’t,” I say with a snort of laughter. “I dunno how much you know about me but I’ve um, I’ve not been, you know, ‘well’ recently… Think it’s a bit too soon for anything like this.”

“…I see,” Liam mumbles. “I- I’m sorry…”

“Oh- trust me, YOU have nothing to apologise for,” I laugh. “The mere fact that you ARE apologising says a lot, and if I felt I was ready… Liam, you’re sweet, funny and sensitive.”

“…And hot?” Liam asks, making me giggle.

“BOILING hot,” I say, eliciting a chuckle from Liam. “If I felt I was ready you would TOTALLY be the kind of guy I’d want for a boyfriend but I- I’m not quite there. Not yet.”

“I’m happy to wait,” Liam shrugs.

“You’d be waiting a long time,” I sigh, before giving Liam another gentle, friendly kiss. “I’m sorry, Liam.”

“I’ll add you on Facebook,” Liam says as he fiddles with his phone. “If you change your mind.”

“Thanks,” I whisper as Liam leaves me alone in the cloakroom with the voice I’d hoped never to hear again.

‘Why are you even THINKING about getting together with another guy?’ ‘Steve’ asks.

“These thoughts are coming from me,” I whisper calmly, remembering the exercises I learned from my stay in residential psychiatric care last year. “I’m asking myself why I’m thinking about Liam being my boyfriend. ‘Stephanie’ is asking ‘Stephanie’ these questions.”

‘And the answer is?’ ‘Steve’ asks, and a tear forms in the corner of my eye as no answer presents itself. ‘That’s what I thought.’

“If I find him attractive, and he likes me, where’s the problem?” I ask.

‘The problem is that this isn’t you,’ ‘Steve’ replies. ‘None of this is. The last few weeks you’ve been going around in a daze, like you didn’t know who you were yourself. You’ve lost sight of who you were, and you’re allowing Jamie and people like her to manipulate you into being who they want you to be. Do YOU want a boyfriend? Really?’

“I don’t know,” I whisper. “All I know is that I am Stephanie Abbott. I AM a woman. I’m not pretending. This is who I am. Stephanie, not ‘Steve’. YOU are NOT welcome in my life.” I take several deep breaths to clear my mind, and once I’ve calmed down, I smile as I realise that ‘Steve’ is gone, and all that’s left is ‘Stephanie’- or rather, ‘me’.

For the sake of my mental health, my counsellors have warned me not to entertain any conversations with ‘Steve’, but as I return to the party- deliberately avoiding Jamie or any of my bandmates- I wonder whether or not ‘Steve’- sorry, whether or not I had a point. As exciting as the clinch with Liam was, it was never going to lead to anything sexual, and even if Liam would be happy with just snogging for now (as unfair as it’d be to him), the fact is that that’s the door through which ‘Steve’ returned- and it’s a door I can’t afford to open ever again. But is fair to me to remain single for the rest of my life?

“Hey!” Jamie says with a sly grin as I approach her. “I noticed you slip off with Mr. Coleman there… Tell me to butt out if it’s none of my business, but-“

“I- don’t think it’ll work out,” I grimace, though much to my relief, Jamie’s facial expression is one of sympathy.

“Ah, that’s a pity,” the blonde woman sighs. “Really is as Liam’s one of the most sensitive, least- for want of a better word- ‘aggressive’ people I know.”

“I just don’t think I’M ready, you know?” I ask.

“Well, it’s your life,” Jamie shrugs. “Plenty of other guys out there, and there’ll be plenty of other nights to give those AMAZING boots some publicity, hehe!”

“Yeah,” I laugh, stifling a yawn. “I- um, I think I’m a little tired, I- I think I’m going to head home. Give my love to Stuart.”

“Of course,” Jamie whispers. “However much is appropriate for a friend and colleague, anyway…”

“Oh- shit,” I grimace, my insides churning. “Jamie, I swear, I am SO sorry, I-“

“It’s okay,” Jamie says reassuringly. “He’s a sexy guy, of course other girls will look at him. But I trust you haven’t, well, ‘touched’, right?”

“Of course,” I whisper.

“That’s good enough for me,” Jamie says. “And I KNOW you’ll find the man of your dreams soon. Then you can stop thinking about the man of MY dreams.” I giggle as Jamie gives me a sly wink, before leading me out to the entrance hall of the big house. A few minutes later, my taxi arrives, and I breathe a sigh of relief as I climb into the back seat- though there’s still a part of me that wishes I was still in the cloakroom and Liam’s arms were still wrapped around my waist, and his lips were still wrapped around my tongue…

Immediately as I arrive home, I unzip my boots and drop them on the floor of my bedroom, sighing as I stare at my red-coloured toenails wiggling within my shiny tights. It’s a sight that’s become so normal to me that I barely even think about it anymore, but just two years ago, it would have sent ‘Steve’s into emotional turmoil… Just as dressing in masculine clothing used to send me into emotional turmoil.

I take a deep breath as I open the bottom drawer of my dresser and stare longingly at its contents. Nine times out of ten, when I get up in the morning, I’ll pull on a skirt or a dress. Rarely, I’ll pull on a pair of shorts, but I can count the number of times I’ve worn a pair of trousers in the last year on both hands… And yet, I still own several pairs of trousers, and not just skinny, feminine trousers and Capri pants, but comfortable, baggy jeans as well. The label makes it clear that the jeans are women’s, but in reality, any man could wear them and not get a second look from the average person on the street- and the same goes for the sweaters and hoodies hidden beneath the jeans in my bottom drawer, not to mention the socks, briefs and t-shirts.

I sigh as I remove my dress, before sliding my clingy tights off of my soft, smooth legs. My underwear follows next, leaving me stood stark naked in the cold air of my bedroom. Looking at myself in the mirror, I look no different than any other naked man- provided that man regularly wears make-up, nail polish and has no hair below their eyelashes. If it wasn't for the 'growth' between my legs, though, anyone could easily mistake me for a flat chested woman. I shiver with nerves as I step into a pair of androgynous briefs, before pulling on a pair of soft grey socks, a pair of loose jeans and a comfortable grey hoodie. Once I’m dressed, I sit down at my dressing table and methodically remove every trace of make-up on my face, before standing up and again staring at my reflection in the mirror… And all I can see is ‘Stephanie’, a young woman wearing loose, androgynous clothing, with a relatively masculine-looking face and body, but a woman nonetheless. I wonder, though- what would Liam see if he looked at me right now?

“Steph?” A familiar female voice calls as she enters the flat. “Steph? You here?”

“In my room,” I say absent-mindedly, before grimacing as my bedroom door opens and Kayla walks in uninvited, her jaw dropping as she sees how I’m dressed.

“…You read my mind!” Kayla laughs, before disappearing into her own bedroom opposite mine. I read Kayla’s mind? How, exactly? Is she getting undressed? Did she see ‘Steve’ in these clothes, and does she want to be with him?

My questions are answered mere minutes when Kayla emerges from her bedroom wearing a loose pair of jogging bottoms, a warm-looking pink hoodie and absolutely zero make-up on her teardrop-shaped face.

“So much better,” Kayla laughs, doing a quick twirl as I giggle and applaud approvingly. “I mean yes, I like getting dressed up and going to parties, but sometimes- you know? You just want to slob out and relax? Especially after you’ve been on tour for the last two weeks…”

“Is that why you’re back home early from the party?” I ask as we dramatically slump down together onto the sofa.

“Nah, actually I saw you leave and I was a bit worried,” Kayla answers, making my cheeks flush.

“…Sorry,” I mumble.

“S’okay,” Kayla says as she switches on the TV. “To be honest I really did want to come home anyway, you just gave me an excuse, heh!”

“My pleasure,” I say with a snort of laughter.

“So…” Kayla says with a grimace. “Guessing it didn’t go well with Liam, then?”

“It- ugh, you could say that,” I sigh. “Doubt he’d be as into me if he saw me now, heh.”

“Well that’d be HIS problem,” Kayla giggles. “Men shouldn’t expect us girls to be all gussied up all of the time. If they don’t want us to be slobs, then they don’t get to touch us when we’re goddesses!”

“Yeah,” I laugh. “It’s just- ugh, this is gonna sound silly, especially after this last week…”

“You know I won’t let it go until you say it, so SAY IT,” Kayla demands.

“It’s just- you know?” I sigh. “Someone sees me dressed like this and their first thought would be ‘Steve’ instead of ‘Stephanie’.”

“Is- is that why you’re dressed down so much?” Kayla asks. “Do- am I talking to ‘Steve’ right now?”

“No,” I say confidently. “Only Stephanie. I thought- I thought that if I could dress like this and only see ‘Stephanie, when I only saw ‘Steve’ before, that it’d- ugh. I don’t know WHAT I was hoping to achieve.”

“Well, sounds like you achieved it anyway, right?” Kayla asks, giggling as I nod. “GOOD.”

“How about you?” I ask my tiny blonde friend. “Any cute guys catch your eye at the party?”

“Oh there was plenty of eye candy,” Kayla says.

“…But let me guess- no one you’d want to snuggle up with on the sofa?” I ask.

“Exactly!” Kayla says, before giggling and cuddling her tiny body close to mine as we spend the rest of the night watching television.

Right now, single life is probably- no, DEFINITELY the best option for me. Just because all my friends are hooking up with boys, or getting engaged, or even married, it doesn’t mean I have to rush into anything myself. It’s not even like I want the physical side of things, the only reason I’d want a boyfriend is to, as Kayla says, have someone to cuddle up next to on the sofa on cold winter nights… Much like I’m doing with Kayla right now, which only serves to confuse me further. Am I just Kayla’s surrogate sister, or just her BFF, or does she want more from me? Do I want more from her?

What do I even want, anyway?

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