“Are you ready, Allie?” Lexi asked, looking at me.
“I’m ready,” I replied. “Let’s do it.”
She knocked on the door.
“Come in!” came a voice from inside. Lexi opened the door, and in we went.
The room was completely normal: a desk and some chairs, with a lamp in the corner. The only thing that betrayed the fact that this wasn’t a usual office was a pair of armchairs, set up facing each other across from the desk, behind which a middle-aged woman with short, platinum blonde hair sat.
“Hello, Lexi,” she said. “I see you’ve brought someone along.”
“Yeah,” Lexi said, nodding in response. “How were your holidays, Miriam?”
Miriam shrugged. “Nothing much, I drove to Boston with my husband to visit my in-laws. What about you?”
“I spent them with the family, too.”
There was a pause.
“So, what did you want to talk about?” Miriam asked. “Your usual appointment wasn’t for two weeks, there must be a reason you asked me to move it forward. And what about your friend?”
“That’s what I wanted to talk about,” Lexi said, turning to look at me with a querying look in her eyes. I took a deep breath, gave her a small nod, and she continued: “This is Allie. She’s a freshie, I know her from the triathlon team, and she’s only just recently realised she’s actually a girl.”
Miriam’s eyebrows rose. “Well then,” she said.
Lexi nodded. “Lena and I have been helping her out, but she could use some… Professional help.”
“Alright,” Miriam replied, rising from her seat and motioning to the armchairs. “Please take a seat, Allie. Lexi, go get yourself some coffee or something.”
“Can’t she stay here?” I asked.
The counsellor shook her head. “Maybe later. I understand you might need the moral support,” she said, “But I want to speak to you alone to begin with.”
I hesitantly nodded. “Okay.”
“See you later, Allie,” Lexi said; she smiled at me, and left the room.
“Shall we begin?” Miriam asked, also smiling, sitting in one of the armchairs; wordlessly, I sat down in the one opposite her.
“Alright,” she said, extending her hand towards me. “School ID, please.”
“It’s just a formality, but I need to actually make sure you’re a student here at Bradford McKinley,” she explained.
I nodded, pulled out my ID, and handed it to her, carefully avoiding looking at the name on it; less than a month after I’d come out to myself, and already I couldn’t stand the sight and sound of my old, male name. Thankfully Miriam just took it and noted down the name and ID number, before handing it back, without saying it out loud: she clearly understood the situation.
“Okay,” she said, settling back in her armchair. “Allie. Is that short for something?”
“Allison,” I replied. “But I prefer Allie.”
She nodded. “Very well. Now, before we start, I have to tell you that anything you say to me will not leave this room, unless you give me specific and explicit permission to do so.”
“Well, Allie. Tell me about yourself.”
I thought about where to begin. “There isn’t much to tell,” I said. “I’m a completely normal college boy, just trying to get on with life.” I paused, and sighed. “Or at least I thought I was.”
She nodded again, and she made a note. “How did you find out you’re trans?”
I looked at her. “You believe me? Just like that?”
“It’s not my policy to go around questioning people’s identities,” she replied. “If you tell me you’re a girl, then you’re a girl. Simple as that.”
“Huh,” I said. “Well, I…” I gulped. “I think I kinda felt… Weird. All my life. But I hadn’t realised why that was, until just very recently. Hell, I didn’t even know transgender people were a thing: it was completely unknown to me, but when I learned about it things just… Clicked.”
“Yes, unfortunately that’s often the case,” Miriam said. “Many people don’t know they’re trans because they don’t know what trans is. That’s why visibility is important.”
I chuckled. “Tell me about it. I realised because I accidentally figured out Lexi is trans, and it kinda snowballed from there.”
“So you had no experience with LGBT stuff before coming here to college?”
“No, I didn’t,” I replied, shaking my head. “I’m originally from the South, from Tennessee, and my family in particular is… Was very traditional.”
“Was?” Miriam asked, her eyebrows rising questioningly.
“I…” I began. “You’ve seen my name, how I’m actually the sixth.” She nodded, and I continued, “Well, the men on my father’s side of the family were always like that. Always sticking to the good old ways, always being very big on religion.” I made a face. “My uncle’s still like that.”
“And your father?”
I sighed. “He died. Car accident, five years ago. My grandfather was with him.”
“I’m sorry,” the counsellor said.
I nodded in acknowledgement. “Well, you understand what it is. And my mother was like that, too, after all she met my father at bible study. But things have been changing lately.”
“Well, at Thanksgiving I had a big fight with my uncle over dinner. He noticed my haircut, my nails,” I said, showing her my nail polish. “He called me a… A slur. And I told him to go fuck himself.”
“Language,” Miriam warned – but she had a smile on her lips.
“Sorry,” I answered. “That’s when Mother stepped up, threw him out of the house. Right in the middle of Thanksgiving dinner, if you can believe it! That’s something I never thought I would see in my life.” I paused. “So my mother is okay with queer identities, apparently? Maybe?”
“Or she wasn’t okay with your uncle attacking you,” she said.
“Oh,” I said. I slumped down in my armchair; I hadn’t considered that.
“Still, that’s a step forward, I’d say,” she continued. “Usually in traditional families, whenever there’s a fight, it’s the youngest person who’s at fault, no matter what. Respect your elders and all that jazz. Your mother turned that on its head.”
“Yeah,” I replied, brightening up a bit. I took a deep breath, and forged forward. “Then I went back home for the New Year’s, and my sister kinda… Well, not kinda. My sister came out to me as a lesbian, with our brother’s support.”
“I see,” Miriam said, making a note on her pad. “How old are they?”
“Fifteen, both of them,” I answered. “They’re twins. And… Well, it just didn’t feel right that I knew something that important about her, but they didn’t know about me, so I ended up coming up to them in return.”
“And how did they take it?”
I broke out in a wide smile, without even noticing. “Quite well, actually! They were absolutely supportive, which was a huge relief. Though we agreed not to tell Mother about it. About me being trans, or Leah being gay.”
“That’s probably a good idea,” she nodded. She looked over her notes, and then continued: “So when did you figure out you’re trans? You said it was very recently.”
“On Christmas morning, actually. I read some stuff on the internet, which made me question… My whole everything, if you understand what I mean.” Miriam nodded, and I went on, “And then I tried on the dress, and I realised.”
“The dress?” she said, with a questioning stare.
“Oh. Um, my roommate gave me a dress as a Christmas present,” I replied.
She blinked. “And why would he do that?”
“We went clothes shopping earlier that month, and I guess he saw me looking at it. He left it for me to find when he went home for the holidays.” I noticed the look in her eyes, and continued, “Yeah, Lena wasn’t happy about it, either.”
She let that comment slide. “So what are you going to do from now on?” she asked.
I sighed. “I… I don’t know, really,” I said. “I haven’t figured it out yet. I mean, I’ll probably want to transition, and sooner rather than later, but beyond that? No idea.”
She nodded. “And what kind of transition would that be?”
I frowned. “What do you mean?”
“Well, there’s social transition, legal transition, medical transition,” she said, counting off on her fingers. “Social transition is just changing your presentation, asking people to call you by another name, and so on, and I’d say you’re well on your way about that.”
I chuckled. “Actually, I’d begun even before realising I’m trans. The nails, for example?” I held up my hands, palms towards me, so she could take a good look at them. “I’d painted them in, like, mid-October, and I didn’t have any idea I wasn’t a boy back then.”
Miriam nodded again. “That’s legit, there are plenty of people who play around with gender presentation, not all of them trans.” She paused, then went on: “Legal transition means legally changing your name and gender, of course. Setting the record straight, and everything. It’s easier in some places than others, if you want I can help you look up how it works over here, or in Tennessee.”
I nodded. “And medical transition?”
“Medical transition means changing your body to match your gender, via hormones or surgery. Many people choose to do that, but not all of them, either because they don’t want to, or because of the side effects.”
“Side effects?” I asked, frowning.
“Lexi said you do triathlon, right? Well, feminising hormones have a marked effect on one’s body, which can affect their ability to do sports,” she answered.
“I see…” I whispered, my frown deepening. Yeah, Lexi had mentioned something like that, hadn’t she? A few months earlier, she said she’d “suddenly” found it more difficult to keep her strength and fitness up. That…
“In any case,” Miriam said, pulling me back to reality, “You don’t have to decide right now. You have time, and a good support group, Lena, Lexi, and I think you mentioned your roommate?” I nodded, and she went on, “Well then, feel around, explore things. Figure out what exactly you want to do. We’ll be here to help you along the way.” Then she looked at her watch. “It’s been about an hour, what do you say we continue this conversation next time? Say, in two weeks?”
“Okay,” I nodded. “I’ll look for a time that doesn’t conflict with the triathlon team’s training schedule, and let you know.”
“You do that,” she nodded back. “My e-mail and phone numbers are in the faculty directory on the college’s website.”
We got up from our armchairs, shook hands, and said our goodbyes; a minute later I was standing in the corridor outside Miriam’s office, where I found Lexi leaning against a wall with a paper cup full of a steaming hot drink in her hand.
“Well, how did it go?” she asked, giving me the hot drink. I took a sip – coffee, black, no sugar: my friends knew how I liked it.
“Very well,” I said. “But now I have to think about something.”
“And what’s that?”
“Do you mind if we stop by Coach Davis’ office before going home?”
“The coach?” she replied, with a frown. “Yeah, of course. Why’s that?”
“I… Need to talk to him. About triathlon.”
Lexi understood. “Oh,” she said, simply. “Well, let’s go, then.”
As we walked through the college’s corridors, she pulled out her phone and tapped the screen a couple times, before holding it up to her ear.
“Hi Rog!” she said, when the person on the other side – Roger, evidently – had answered. “Listen, do you mind if we reschedule our date? Something’s come up.” A pause. “No, don’t worry, everything is fine, it’s just that I need to help a friend,” she said, giving me a side glance, “With something. Yeah. Yeah. Good. Okay, see you tonight.”
“You haven’t told him?” I asked, after she’d hung up.
“Of course I haven’t,” she replied. “It’s your decision who you want to tell, and when. Though I know Roger and his brother will understand.”
I simply nodded in response. By then we’d reached the coach’s office: I raised my hand, and knocked on the door.
“Come in!” came his voice through the door. I pushed the door open and went in, followed by Lexi.
Coach Davis was sitting in a big leather swivel chair, behind a completely normal desk that was littered with paper, stationery, and a few mugs; behind him were several shelves, holding books about sports and several sheafs of paper that were stapled together.
“Oh, hi Theo! Lexi!” he greeted us with a smile, looking up from the latest issue of Runner’s World as we entered. “What brings you here?”
“I…” I began, and then gulped. “I need to talk to you, coach. About something really important.”
“Sure!” he said, still smiling; he put down his magazine, and leaned forward in his seat, propping his chin up on one hand and waving to a pair of wooden chairs that were sitting in front of his desk. “Please, sit down.”
Lexi and I complied, and he looked at us expectantly. “So?” he asked.
I gulped again. “Well, it’s just that I’ve figured out something recently, and I was wondering how it would affect my continued presence on the team.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, I…” I began, then stopped. Was I really doing this? I started sweating, my eyes darting around in a panic, until I felt a hand on my arm. I looked up, and saw that Lexi was smiling encouragingly at me and nodding; that helped me calm down, at least a little bit.
I took a deep breath.
“I’m transgender, coach,” I said.
Coach Davis blinked – just briefly – but his smile never wavered. “Okay, cool!” he said. “She and her pronouns? What’s your name?”
“Allison. Allie,” I replied, stunned.
“Okay, Allie. You’re still on the team, if you want to be of course. Then if you decide to start transitioning, we’ll work on a roadmap on how to handle things with the rest of the crew and with college administration.”
My mouth fell open.
“Yes?” the coach said, still smiling.
“…That’s it?” I asked, bewildered. “You don’t have a problem with it?”
“I don’t,” he replied. “And if someone gives you shit about it, you come tell me. I will destroy them.”
Lexi snorted out a barely suppressed laugh; when I turned to look at her she flashed a grin at me and said, “Told ya he wouldn’t have any problem.”
I smiled back. “Yeah, I guess you were right.”
“Was there anything else?” Coach Davis said.
“Yes, actually,” I answered. “I was wondering if you could tell me how transition affects athletic ability. That’s really important, I’m on an athletic scholarship, remember?”
He frowned slightly. “That’s right, you are,” he murmured. He stood up from his desk, and turned towards one of the bookcases. “Actually, research on the effect of HRT on actual athletes is very sparse, very few and far in-between,” he continued. “But last year, after… Er…”
He turned back halfway towards us, giving Lexi a glance over his shoulder.
“She knows,” Lexi said.
“Okay, good,” the coach nodded, turning back to the bookcase and starting to rummage in it. “After Lexi came out to me and the team, I went and did as much research I could, collated everything, and summarised it. Got a good review paper out of it, I had it published a couple months ago.” He turned back towards us, a sheaf of papers in his hand.
“You did?” Lexi asked, her eyebrows rising.
“Of course I did, I have a master’s in sports science,” he replied. “Being a coach here at Bradford McKinley is my day job, but I do research on the side.”
“Anyway,” he continued, placing the bundle of paper on his desk. “I hadn’t told you about this, Lexi, because you’re nowhere near the level where you can be competitive on even a state level.” He tilted his head to the side. “No offence, of course.”
“None taken,” Lexi smiled. “I just do sports because I enjoy it, not for competition.”
Coach Davis nodded. “In any case, here’s what happens to an athlete when they take feminising HRT,” he said, reading off the top of the page. “Like I said, there isn’t much research into the field, though more is being done currently. But it all points towards a decrease in muscle size and cross section, decrease in lung capacity… It’s all very technical, but overall it causes a decrease in athletic ability of about ten to fifteen percent.”
I blinked. “That much?”
He nodded again. “Yes, unfortunately that’s the case.”
“And what about the legal aspects?” Lexi asked. “Would Allie be able to compete, should she transition?”
The coach grimaced. “Yeah, this is another sore point. The rules vary across bodies, but you would need to lower your testosterone levels below a certain threshold for at least a year before you’d be allowed to officially compete against women. Other women. Sorry.”
I gulped. “And I guess there’s no way I can compete against men meanwhile?” I asked.
“Well, you could, of course,” he replied. “But the decrease in physical ability happens very fast, so you’d quickly be struggling to keep up.”
I paused, thinking about it. Well, it wouldn’t be so bad anyway, wouldn’t it? I just had to trade off a year of not being able to compete, and then I would be fine.
But there was one sticking point I wanted to know about.
“And what about my scholarship? Will I be able to keep it?”
The coach looked straight at me, and then sighed. “I… I don’t know, Theo. Allie. Sorry. I don’t know, Allie.” He paused, closed his eyes, and rubbed his forehead with his hand. “Colleges give out athletic scholarships to young people they think can bring prestige to the college by winning competitions, of course, and Bradford McKinley is no exception; you were given one because you are a two-times high school state champion. Should you transition, however…”
He sighed again, and looked me straight in the eyes.
“I’m on the committee that decides who to award scholarships to, and I promise you that I will try to convince the others. And I will vote in your favour. But I can’t guarantee anything.”
I slowly nodded. “I see,” I said.
“I wish I could do more, but I’m just one person,” he said. “After a certain point, my hands are tied.”
I shook my head. “No, don’t worry, coach. Thank you.” I got up from my chair, and Lexi followed suit.
“I’ll support you in any way I can, Allie,” Coach Davis said, as we were about to leave the room. “Just let me know if you need anything.”
I nodded. “Thank you,” I repeated; we walked through the door, and I shut it behind me.
I took a deep breath, and slowly exhaled.
That could be a problem.