“Are you ready, Allie?” Lena asked.
I looked at her and Pat: the two of them were looking back at me from the front seats of the car. I took a deep breath, and let it out slowly.
“I’m ready. Let’s go.”
We got out of the car, and started walking towards the clinic’s entrance.
It was early April, about mid-morning on the last day before spring break would officially begin. Lena, Patrick, and I had made plans: we would drive three states over, to Maine, where Lena’s aunts lived. They’d kindly offered to lend us their house for the duration of the break, since they would be going off on their own vacation during the holiday; their son, too, was going to stay with some friends, so we would have the house to our own – we’d been planning to use it as a base and just go around having fun during the day. Or, who knows, we might just relax, and spend a couple days doing nothing.
But before we set off for the Pine Tree State, there was an important stop we had to make: I was going to the clinic, to get my hormones.
My friends and I had hammered out the plan carefully, with the help of Miriam and Coach Davis: after talking several times with the school counsellor, she’d said she believed I was ready to begin HRT, and I’d agreed on the timing with the coach – according to the research he’d done, if I started in early April I would hopefully still be strong and fast enough to compete as a boy in the state and national championships, in early May and early June, but my levels would be good enough that I’d be able to compete as a girl at the next state and national championships the following year.
And this was why, on the very first day of spring break, I was making my way to the Planned Parenthood clinic, along with my best friends Lena and Patrick, as moral support.
As we walked, we could see a group of people assembled on the sidewalk, across the street from the clinic; they seemed to be holding up signs and placards, and started shouting and chanting as soon as they saw us approach.
“Ugh,” Lena said, making a face. “They’re still here. Lexi told me about them. Just ignore them.”
“Who are they?” Patrick asked. Meanwhile, I was looking at the group, and reading what was written on the signs they were waving at us.
“Are they… Pro-life activists?” I said.
“Anti-abortion,” Lena corrected me. “They’re not pro anything, if they were they would instead push for serious reform, for government subsidies for new mothers, and so on. Instead, they’re just interested in shaming those who have different opinions than them.”
“I know their tactics,” I replied. “My uncle is really active in this kind of groups.”
“Is he now,” Patrick said flatly. From the discussions I’d had with him, he’d formed a clear opinion of what my uncle Adam was like, and it wasn’t at all positive.
“Oh yeah,” I nodded. “He spends lots of time organising and going on rallies like these. He’d even dragged me along with him once, when I was like five or six, but I didn’t like it at all and my parents forbade him from doing it again.”
Lena smiled. “Well, at least your mom and dad seem like they were reasonable. Come on, this way,” she said, ushering me into the clinic.
In short order, I’d checked myself in, giving the nurse at the counter my insurance information (with some digging, I’d found that the insurance I got through my mother covered transition care, surprisingly), and even writing my real name, Allison, on the intake form, with some trepidation; before long, I was sitting in the waiting room, between Patrick and Lena. I was so nervous, so anxious about the wait, about what I was about to do, that I started shaking like a leaf; I felt my pulse raise, and I started to perspire. Subconsciously, my eyes started darting around, looking for an exit, for a way to escape, for--
“Hey. Allie. Hey,” Patrick said, his voice warm and kind; he grabbed my hand, and enveloped in his own. “Relax. Deep breaths, girl. We’re here for you.”
“That’s right,” Lena added, taking my other hand and squeezing it reassuringly. “You got this. We believe in you.”
I felt my burgeoning panic attack starting to subside. I gulped, and nodded. “Thank you,” I whispered. The two of them nodded back, smiling at me.
“Parker?” a voice called. “This way, please.”
I took a deep breath. “Well, guess that’s me,” I said, getting up from my chair. “See you later.”
Lena patted my back as I walked away, and when I turned back to wave at them, Patrick gave me a thumbs up.
God, I loved my friends.
I followed the nurse through a door and along a corridor to another door, which had a nameplate saying Maddy Wilkerson, M.D. on it; the nurse knocked, and when the person inside answered, ushered me inside.
The room was your average doctor’s office: a desk, a chair, an exam table, and a few medical supplies. Behind the desk was a middle-aged woman, dressed in a doctor’s coat.
“Welcome,” she said, as I went in. “You’re… Miss Allison Parker, correct?” she asked, reading from a clipboard.
“I am,” I nodded; she motioned for me to sit.
“What can I do for you, miss Parker?” she asked.
I gulped. “I’m transgender. I’m here because I want to start hormones.”
“Very well,” she replied. “Did you do the required blood work?”
“Ah, yes,” I said, and pulled out some papers from a folder I’d brought along; my hands were shaking, however, and I dropped the sheets, which scattered across the floor.
“Sorry,” I said, grimacing.
“Ah, don’t be so nervous,” Doctor Wilkerson said in return, smiling reassuringly. “It’s normal to be a bit scared, but don’t worry, everything will turn out to be okay.”
I nodded, picked up the papers, and handed them to her. She spent a few minutes reading them, nodding and hmm-ing once or twice; then she had me take off my shirt – which I did reluctantly, I disliked showing my naked chest to people – and listened to my lungs and heartbeat.
“Everything is in order here,” she said. “Any chronic health issues in your immediate family? Do you drink? Do you smoke?”
“No to all of that,” I answered.
“Alright,” she nodded. “There are no contraindications I can see, so I feel confident in prescribing you spironolactone and estradiol; the nurse at the counter will have your script in a few minutes. Take them as directed, and if there are no unexpected side effects I will see you in three months.”
“Uh… What are the expected side effects?” I asked.
“Oh, the usual,” she said. “Mood swings, changes in the skin, breast tenderness and growth, redistribution of fat.”
Despite my nervousness, I smiled weakly. “Are those really side effects?” I said. “I mean, that’s what I want. What I’ll be taking the pills for.”
She laughed. “Yeah, you’re right. Oh, and you’ll probably need to pee more often than you’re used to. That’s from the spiro.”
I blinked. “Oh, okay.” That was one thing to keep in mind – since I did sports, I tended to drink a lot to stay hydrated; I would need to readjust my intake, or take more bathroom breaks.
I shook the doctor’s hand, said goodbye, and walked back to the waiting room. As I entered it, I froze briefly when I saw my friends; Lena had scooted over onto the chair I’d left unoccupied, and she and Patrick were holding hands, looking into each other’s eyes, and smiling, while they whispered conspiratorially to each other.
As I looked at them I felt an uneasy mood settle in the pit of my stomach, though I didn’t know why my emotions had reacted that way.
It was only a brief moment, though; Lena noticed me standing in the doorway, and she disengaged from Patrick, getting up and walking towards me with a wide smile on her face.
“There you are,” she said, hugging me. “How did it go.”
“It… Well,” I answered, as she released me. “It went well. I got my prescription.”
“Oh, that’s great,” Patrick said; he, too, had gotten up and walked over. “So we can get your pills, and then be on our way?”
“Yeah,” I nodded. “I think I saw a pharmacy a bit further down the street, we can get them there, my insurance should cover it.”
“Alright,” he smiled, and he hugged me, too. “I’m so happy for you.”
We waited for a few minutes until the nurse called for me and gave me the prescription, and then we left the clinic, still to the jeers and shouts of the anti-abortion crowd; but I didn’t mind, I was too happy.
It was only a five minutes’ walk to the pharmacy, and I went in to collect my meds, my friends following close behind me. I was really nervous, almost shaking, as I walked up to the counter and handed my script to the pharmacist; she looked down at it, then up at me.
“Are these for you?” she asked.
I gulped, and nodded.
The pharmacist smiled at me. “Don’t worry, dear, I’m not going to judge. I see plenty of people like you, what with the clinic being just down the street and all, you’ll do fine. Now give me just a minute, and I’ll go get your pills for you.”
I nodded again, and she disappeared in the back of the store; in short order she was back, and handed me two pill bottles.
“Here you go, honey,” she said, still smiling. “Best of luck for everything.”
I thanked her, handed over my – thankfully small – copay, and was on my way.
Even though the interaction with the pharmacist had been entirely pleasant, I didn’t breathe again until we’d gotten back into the car.
“Alright, that’s done,” I whispered.
“Yes, it is,” Lena said, smiling at me. “Congrats, Allie.”
“We’re gonna celebrate tonight,” Patrick said. “Maybe we’ll stop on the way and buy a cake or something.”
I smiled. “What is it with you and cake?”
“Well, this is a special occasion,” he replied, shrugging. “Celebration equals cake. That’s how it’s always been.”
“Yeah, okay,” I said, still smiling. God, I loved this doofus.
As a friend. I loved him as a friend, I reminded myself. A very close and dear friend, but still a friend.
“Well, shall we be off then?” Lena asked. “It’s a long way to Portland, it’s better if we get there as soon as possible so we’ll have some time to get settled in before dinner. Not to mention that my aunts are waiting for us to give us the tour and hand over the key.”
“Let’s go,” I replied; Patrick nodded in agreement. Lena put the car into drive – no clunk-ing this time, she’d borrowed one of her parents’ car since they didn’t trust Lexi’s Crown Vic not to give up the ghost on such a long drive – and we were off.
The drive was quite long, almost seven hours: it would probably have been a bit shorter had we swung south towards Albany, going through Massachusetts and passing just west of Boston, but we decided to take the scenic route, up north through Vermont and New Hampshire, passing through or right next several small towns – including one which, in a funny coincidence, was called Lebanon, like my home town. Seeing that name made me wonder, for the millionth time since I’d realised I was trans, how my family would take me coming out and transitioning (besides my siblings, which already knew and were supportive). Especially Mother; god, this was going to break her heart. But it couldn’t be helped, could it? I could only hope she wouldn’t completely cut me off once I revealed the truth to her.
We stopped for lunch along the way, and arrived in Portland in the mid-afternoon; guided by GPS – apparently she’d never drove there herself, but always went with her family – Lena steered the car through the streets of a sleepy suburb, and parked in the street in front of a nice, two-storey house, turning the engine off.
“Here we are, our home for the next few days.” She paused, then turned around and looked at me. “Allie, before we go in, let me just say something,” she continued.
I nodded. “Sure, what is it?”
“If you want to introduce yourself to my aunts as Allie, instead of using your old name, it will be fine,” she said. “They’re gay, of course, but they’re also absolutely cool with gender stuff, both because of my sister, and because of… Reasons.”
“Reasons?” I asked, my eyebrows rising.
Lena shook her head. “It’s really not my place to say, but I’m a hundred percent sure they’ll be okay with you being trans.” She paused for a second, then went on: “No pressure, of course. Just something to keep in mind.”
“Huh. Okay,” I replied.
Patrick, Lena, and I got out of the car, retrieved our suitcases from the trunk, and walked the short distance to the front door. Lena rang the doorbell, and after a while the door opened, revealing a pair of middle-aged women, one of which was clearly related to Lena, I could definitely see the family resemblance; they were both wearing nice dresses, and seemed to be a few years shy of fifty.
“Lena! Hi! It’s so nice to see you!” the woman I’d guessed to be related by blood to Lena said, wrapping my friend in a hug.
“Hi, aunt Abby,” Lena replied, smiling. Then she disengaged, and gave the other woman a hug. “Aunt Pam.”
“You must be tired from the trip,” Abby said, ushering us inside the house. “Come in, come in.”
“And you must be Lena’s friends,” Pam continued, once we’d entered.
Patrick and I nodded. “I’m Patrick Murphy, a pleasure,” he said, shaking Abby and Pam’s hands.
“And I’m…” I began, then hesitated. The words Lena had said a bit earlier, in the car, came to mind. I gulped. “I’m Allison Parker, nice to meet you,” I said nervously.
Abby and Pam looked at me. “Allison?” Abby said; I nodded, and after a few moments her cheerful demeanour seemed to brighten up even more. “Of course!” she exclaimed. She took a step towards me, then seemed to hesitate. “Is it okay if I hug you?”
I hesitantly nodded, and she clamped me in a really tight hug. “Honey, I’m so happy for you!” she said. Then she released me and took a step back. “Let me look at you! Oh, you remind me so much of myself when I was your age.”
I blinked. Wait, what did she just say? Had she said what I thought she’d said?
“You mean… You’re transgender, too?” I asked.
“Of course,” she nodded. “And I’m so glad you seem to have found yourself. Oh, come here,” she said, stepped forward, and hugged me again.
“Aunt Abby, stop,” Lena said with a chuckle. “You’re going to scare her.”
“Shush, you,” Abby replied. “When I was her age I sorely needed a lot of hugs but I had no one to give them to me, so now I’m paying them forward whenever I get the chance.”
“Not that Allie needs them,” Pat said. “Between Lena and myself, she’s getting as many hugs as she wants.”
“Is she now?” Pam asked, with a bemused smile. “I hope you three are using protection.”
“Aunt Pam!” Lena choked out; I looked at her, and saw she’d gone red as a beet, as had Patrick – and I was sure I was sporting a matching expression on my face.
“Oh, be nice, dear,” Abby said, swatting playfully at her wife. Then she turned back to me: “Unfortunately, right now we have to leave or we’ll be late; but when we get the chance, we absolutely must have a nice long conversation, just the two of us.”
I nodded, and replied “I’m looking forward to it.” And it was true: I was looking forward to it.
“Okay, let’s be off,” Pam said, and she and Abby picked up a matching pair of suitcases that were sitting near the front door. They walked outside and we followed. “We’ll be back in three days,” she continued as she moved towards the car parked in the driveway of the house. “We trust you to behave, and follow the ground rules.”
“No wild parties, and no drugs. There’s some beer and wine in the fridge, you can have those, but be responsible about it, and stay out of the liquor cabinet,” Abby listed off.
“And of course, remember to use protection,” Pam added with a smirk, again causing the three of us to blush – lobster red this time, it was a slightly different shade.
“Have fun, kids,” Abby said; they hugged each of us in turn, got into the car, and drove away.
“Well, that was… An experience,” Patrick said, after a few seconds.
“They’re really fun, aren’t they?” Lena replied. “Come on, let’s get back in and get settled.”
“Before we do…” I said. “There’s something I want to do with you two.”
Lena’s eyebrows rose questioningly. “And that is?”
I gulped. “I want to take my first dose. Of HRT.”
Pat and Lena blinked at me. “Oh. Of course,” he said.
“I mean… You’ve both helped me so much,” I continued. “I really want you to be there when I do it.”
Pat nodded. “Alright.”
We walked back into the house; I retrieved my pill bottles from my suitcase, and we sat down on the couch.
Slowly, with trembling hands, I shook the appropriate number of pills – one spiro, and two estradiol – out of the bottles, and held them in my hand, just looking at them. I stared at them for a long while. Then I glanced up at Patrick and Lena, who were smiling at me.
“Well, here goes,” I said. I popped the spiro in my mouth, and dry-swallowed it, grimacing at the strong minty aftertaste it left in my mouth; then I placed the estradiol under my tongue, leaned back into the couch, and waited for the pills to dissolve. After about ten minutes, it was done.
“Oh-kay,” I breathed out.
“Congratulations, Allie,” Lena said, reaching over and giving me a hug, which was soon joined by Patrick.
“Thanks, you two,” I replied. “I don’t know what I’d have done if you hadn’t been there for me.” I dried an errant tear that had started forming in the corner of my eye.
“Hey, no crying now!” Pat exclaimed. “This is a happy occasion!”
“That’s true,” Lena said. “We gotta celebrate!”
“I wonder if there’s a bakery that’s still open around here,” Pat said.
I laughed. “Oh, you.” I got up from the couch. “Why don’t you get settled in, I’ll go see what’s in the fridge and make dinner.”