Living as a man had been stifling, like constantly trying to squeeze into a hole that wasn’t meant to fit her in the first place. The inside of her head had been man up this and stop crying that, and a whole lot of what the fuck are you doing every time she had so much as thought about — well, gender.
But living as a woman — or trying to, at least — is different. It’s better, in a lot of ways, Jack tells herself. It still feels wrong, for lack of a better word, less “claw-at-your-skin” and more like a stone lodged in her throat, the irrational, suffocating feeling she hasn’t quite learned to quell that she’s deceiving people. Most of the time she can swallow around it and move on.
She picks at the corners of her press-on nails until she can see the edge start to pop up. Naomi smacks her hand, a quiet thwhip noise as she does.
“Stop that,” she hisses, nudging Jack in the waist. “We can trim those later if you want, but leave them on. They look good.”
And she is right — they do look good, Jack supposes. She stares down at the coffin-shaped acrylics and frowns. It’s not that she dislikes the way that they look or even the way that they feel. At most, she maybe feels like it might signal to other girls that she’s straight like Naomi is — which Jack very much isn’t. Surprisingly, she finds defining herself as a lesbian more difficult to wrap her head around than defining herself as female. But on the whole, they make her feel good. They look feminine, and in that way, function as a constant reminder of her gender to herself and everyone around her.
When Naomi had first gifted her the set, she had said that even when she was fourteen and hated herself, hated her body and the puberty she hadn’t wanted, had been years away from getting hormones — being able to look down at her own chippy black nails made her feel better. It’s one of those things that trans girls just have to do.
That’s what she tells her, at least, and Jack doesn’t have it in herself to really disagree.
“Over here.” Naomi taps on Jack’s shoulder, her weight shifting almost imperceivably as she leans back. She’d brought her to the monthly meetup of a local trans organization — she doesn’t go to the meetings themselves, of course. Jack had asked her why, at some point, and Naomi had just scrunched up her nose and quietly muttered something about the ‘atmosphere’.
This is her second time here with Jack, though. They’re at a bar, and there seem to be lots of members of the organization proper. Naomi knows most of them already, and Jack figures eventually she’ll get up the courage to make a friend or two of her own. For now, they stick close together.
“You see that girl behind me?” Naomi gestures with a tilt of her head to a girl standing a few feet away from them. “And how those stripes make her look even taller?” Her voice is low and careful, barely audible over the rest of the chatter. She clicks her tongue. “Vertical stripes make you look slimmer, and taller, while horizontal stripes make you look broad and short.” She turns to Jack, giving her a once—over. “You might be able to work with horizontal stripes since you’re already tall. The danger with horizontal is they make your shoulders look big.”
Jack nods. Makes sense.
“And she contoured her jaw all wrong; just look at how it draws more attention to the sharper parts. You remember what you were doing earlier, where you don’t blend down your chin? That’s what that looks like when it’s worn out.” Naomi spins in her barstool, turning around briefly to grab her drink. “Don’t listen to youtube tutorials by cis women, Jackie. They’ve never had a mannish jawline. They speak only lies.” She giggles, and takes another sip.
Jack nods again, sliding her fingers in between her knees, anxiety building in her chest. What Naomi is saying all makes sense, and Jack knows why she says it, too — knows she has a strong jawline and a flat chin, her nose a bit too big. The years she spent as a teenager, where she had worked out in an attempt to look less like a scrawny high schooler, had broadened her chest and shoulders. At the time, she’d believed it might make her feel less shitty about her body. In hindsight, she regrets it. But otherwise, Naomi says, otherwise she has soft features. That will help her, apparently. Naomi says she can’t wait to be able to get facial feminization surgery herself.
“You’re lucky you have me.” She sighs as she reaches over and sets her cheek on Jack’s shoulder. “It’s been so nice, having you to talk about stuff.”
Jack blinks. She hadn’t thought Naomi was happy to have her around at all — was more convinced she was a burden than anything actually, up until that moment. There are so many basic things she’s had to teach Jack just for her not to make an embarrassment of herself, trying to exist in public.
“Oh, don’t give me that face.” She smiles, leaning her elbow onto the bar. “It’s hard to find people, you know, who get it. Even when it comes to other trans women, it’s just — ugh, like half the time. And then there are the trans guys and I don’t even — who would want to be a man? Being a man sucks. Imagine wanting testosterone.”
She pops her hand over her mouth, quickly glancing off to the side.
“I’m sorry,” she whispers. “I probably shouldn’t say that.”
Jack nods back, but she’s not really listening. Maybe, she considers, looking down, the reason she dislikes the nails has less to do with the result and more to do with the implication that she has to wear them.
“Excuse me, is this taken?”
The girl in the striped shirt from before smiles at them, gesturing to the stool next to Naomi, and Jack’s breath comes to a halt. She hadn’t really thought — or maybe just hadn’t quite realized until now — the person her and Naomi had been talking about is a real human being. A flesh-and-blood person, who’s probably not that far along into her transition, and probably in almost exactly the same situation that Jack is herself, except — she didn’t have another trans friend to bring to this. No one is going to tell her that her shirt looks awkward, no one will teach her how to minimize the breadth of her shoulders or pick out just the right shoes that swallow her feet to a more palatable, womanly size, and guilt boils through Jack from head to toe, but —
Naomi doesn’t even blink. “Go ahead,” she smiles, sweet and charming as ever, and the girl sits, oblivious.
“You should settle on a more feminine name sometime, Jackie,” Naomi comments, nursing her drink as she turns her attention to their conversation again. “It’ll help.”
Jack doesn’t really appreciate how factually the sentence is presented, and yet knows deep down that she’s still right, even if something about it doesn’t sit properly. Even though she likes her name. Knows no one will ever take her seriously if she just gives up and settles.
She shrugs, uses her thumb to flick off the faux nail that’s already peeling off her index finger, and watches it go skittering under a table.