Cadance Bell is an Aussie transgender writer and filmmaker. Her documentary film The Rainbow Passage, a co-production with Screen Australia, airs next year on Channel Ten. The film, which Cady also directed, follows her and her wiggly bottomed fiance Amanda across a year in their gender transitions. Cady loves Pokemon Go, short walks to the fridge and the swell challenges of girlifying. Except not having pockets anymore. She really misses pockets.

A Tale of Two Seven Elevens

A Tale of Two Seven Elevens

Being.

Imitation is easy. Anything satisfies it. The real challenge is being. Not just in form, but in spirit. You have to feel that which you are, for all else is facade.

This is the great challenge of being transgender. To go from feeling that you want to be to that you are. At times, it feels like a certainty, a waking dream, at other times we feel held back by the gender we were assigned at birth. A trans male can feel “stuck” as a female. A trans female can feel she will always be male. This is in part where the old description of trans people being “trapped” in their bodies comes from. Yet it is a grossly simple concept. It belies the greatest challenge: to be.

“A-A-Seven-Eight-J-U. Overtaking lane in 300 metres. Keep left,” I say out loud to myself, alone in my car. “Yellow Volkswagon, B-P-A-One-Four-G. Seatbelts save lives.”

I am driving from Mudgee to Springwood. I am heavily caffeinated. I have to stop four times along the way to pee, and it makes for an interesting sight – a bulky girl doing her best to shield herself with a tree, her skirt lifted up, standing, pissing on a fence. One of my pee stops is at the Ilford public toilets, yet I’d rather just do it at the side of the road; they should hand out t-shirts to anyone who makes it beyond the funk and the mess and the redbacks of the dunnies there: I Survived the Ilford Shitters!

“B-A-J-Seven-Zero-Q. Keep left unless overtaking,” I say. And then:

“The man on the moon is nimble.”

 

 

Seven Eleven One

Four days earlier I was in Bathurst. The day had been planned for months, to meet up with some friends and their kids. We are to see Avengers: Infinity War, the first film they’ve taken their kids to see at a cinema. It would turn out to be an interesting choice for young fans of vulnerable superheroes.

This is the first day in my life when I will present fully as female. Not just a crossdresser, but a girl in a gorgeous dress, styled hair and full make-up. I will also attempt to use my girl voice in public for the first time, and across the entire day. I am only 5 months into hormone replacement therapy at this point, and four of those months were at low-dose, sub-female levels, so the physical changes to my body are present, but minimal.

I bought the dress I would wear to the film months in advance, on sale for a bangin’ ten bucks at the City Chic outlet store in Bathurst. It is the most beautiful piece of clothing I own – a long, sweeping dress with soft shoulders and a large red buckle which accentuates my tiny hips. I promised Emma, the girl who sold it to me, that I would wear it for her one day. She was an invaluable resource early into my shopping for girl clothes, instantly accepting me without judgement as I stood, bewildered and nervous among the racks of discount clothes, looking like a bunny surveying the farmer’s cabbage patch for the first time.

I am running late. My brand new bug-prone FitBit Versa has had an overnight update, and it has frozen the clock, giving me the impression that I have forty five extra minutes in the morning. When I realize the proper time, I rush to get ready, caking on makeup to the peak of my ability – foundation, powder, eye shadow, mascara, a shimmery holographic blush and my fucking nemesis: eye-liner. I have watched dozens of make-up videos on YouTube, most of them dedicated to trying to bloody tackle bloody eye bloody liner.

To my amazement, the rushed end result is – okay. My philosophy to early clothes and make-up purchases is to go for quantity over quality, and so I often buy discounted products, just so that I can maximize experimentation. The powder I’ve chosen is too light for my complexion, and I don’t have time to contour, giving me somewhat of a pancake flat-face. But I’ve nailed the wings of my eyeliner, thanks to medical tape, and overall I’m happy with the outcome.

Yet something feels wrong. I can’t put my finger on what it is.

I slip into a pair of black leather thigh high buckled, heeled boots. They are gorgeous. And uncomfortable. But gorgeous. I turn in the mirror to look at my completed outfit, relatively impressed.

Then I spot it… the back of the dress comes down at the rear of my neck, exposing my skin. My unshaved man-fluff coated skin.

Fucking fucking christballs!

Hormones have massively reduced the amount of back hair I contend with, to my great relief. Curiously, it is the part of my body which is fastest rejecting man hair. This is quite an achievement, given the boundless forest it started as. My unofficial motto for my back to that point was: “Wherever I go, a mattress I am.” Now it has been reduced to a scattering of patchy fluff. Of patchy fluff I have forgotten to eradicate.

I grab a razor and quickly dry-shave as much as I can, reaching behind me awkwardly with my tongue sticking out. The bastard hair falls down into my bra and gets captured by the dress’ belt, giving me an itchy obnoxion to contend with all day.

Fuck it!

I grab a denim jacket and chuck it on to hide the rest. It actually looks pretty good, and I have man-shoulders anyway, so it helps disguise the plethora of tells.

I say my calibration phrase in the mirror:

“The man on the moon is nimble.”

A calibration phrase is something a person uses when they are re-training their voice. It serves to help them find their voice and control the vocal muscles, and its constant repetition gives a standard to synchronize by. The best vocal training phrases contain lots of Ns and M’s, which help control for resonance. I repeat the phrase constantly throughout the day, especially after vocal exercises, to test and calibrate my girl voice.

When a person is nervous, a natural tendency for the body is to close the false vocal folds in the throat as a defensive mechanism, like the sealing of a blast shield door. This has the effect of deepening and weakening the voice, creating extra rumble in the throat and chest – a very unfeminine effect.

And today I am very nervous.

“The man on the moon is nimble”, I repeat, my voice cracking and straining.

Damn it!

When I arrive in Bathurst I first meet up with my friend Pete at Zambrero. I am running late but so is he. The peeps at Zambrero are the first I use my girl voice on, and it is soft and warbling. They have to lean over the counter to check the details of my order as I make them. I apologize to them. I apologize to Pete.

“Sorry,” I say, faintly, “this’ll take some practice.”
“It’s fine, you sound fine,” he probably lies.
“How do I look?”
“You look great,” he probably lies.

I leave Zambero to head to the local Katies store to pick up a gorgeous skirt I’d ordered online. As I turn the corner around George St, construction workers are erecting an awning over a renovated building. The footpath is closed, with foot traffic diverted into a makeshift path along the fenced off road. I dodge some guys carrying scaffolding equipment and cautiously step down onto the road in my heels.

“Look out for the lady,” one of the workers says to his colleague.
“Mate, that’s no lady”.

I arrive at the cinema, I am anxious and unsettled. I have a feeling the entire day that I am running late, that I’ve forgotten something important. It swells in me as a kind of nascent heat.

My insides are sizzling.

It doesn’t help that at the point I am in the middle of my time of the month. What a lot of people don’t know about transgender women is that while we don’t get periods, we most definitely do get PMS. For 3-5 days of the month we can experience mood swings, headaches and even cramping. Our symptoms can synch up with those of other women, too – I know of trans girls whose first PMS experiences came about when their cis partners got their periods. I reckon that’s frankly a beautiful experience to share, especially for long term partners, even if trans women get off lightly without the menstruation. This month, I have a new symptom – a kind of herpa-derp foggy mindedness which sees me forgetting things and doing dumb shit, like pouring protein powder onto the benchtop instead of in my glass, or squeezing sushi ginger into a rubbish bag and placing the empty wrapper onto my sushi. I am irritable and my moods change like the sway of a drunken pendulum.

My friend Sharon is waiting for me in the lobby of the cinema with my ticket in hand. Her husband has stressed that we won’t get good seats, so he’s already headed in side with their kids. I give Sharon a cuddle and ask how she’s doing. The week prior she had a miscarriage, and a sadness casts across her like a ghostly shadow.

“I’m okay,” she says. “Really.” She is not okay. “You look beautiful,” she probably lies.

We head into cinema one, the best screen at the Bathurst Metro Five. Her husband has found great seats, though there are plenty to spare. Her kids are practicing voices and phrases from their favourite superheroes, and then compete with each other to find the best voice for “I am Groot”.

“I am Groot.”
“I am Groot!”
“No. I am Groot!”

During the trailers Sharon talks me through her miscarriage. The details, hesitant at first, pour out of her in a stream. People in trauma are sometimes reluctant to discuss their troubles, for fear that they will be a burden on others. But when they open up, it often comes out in a nervous rush.

She tells me in detail what the process involves, beginning with the physical pains and sense of doom, through to the widely varied support of medical staff. Some at the Mudgee hospital were unsympathetic and careless towards her, leaving her to sit for an extended time in a public waiting room while she contemplated for the first time – her baby was gone, dead inside her. Others are more understanding and take the time not just to explain things to her, but to give her the privacy and respect she needs to process the shock.

When she comes to anatomic details, such as how a miscarried baby is extracted, she takes great care to slow down and explain things to me as if I know nothing about vaginas. It’s frankly a great help, because I know very little about the process of a miscarriage. The only analog knowledge of which I have to that point comes from an episode of Josh Thomas’ Please Like Me, in which a character aborts a fetus in a home bathroom. It is difficult to watch, and an important moment in television. Miscarriages and abortions reside in a silly taboo in society, and their lack of discussion renders additional unnecessary pain onto women at among the most vulnerable times of their existence.

I try my best to be attentive to Sharon. It is difficult over the surround sound of the film trailers. Moreover I am heavily distracted by my own anxiousness. It occurs to me how kind she is, to not only be educating me on something very traumatic and important in the life of a woman, but to be sharing with me this information as if I were any other close female friend. Miscarriages aren’t something you talk about with boys.

“You are my girlfriend, and I will always confide my girly stuff ‘n normal stuff in you” she says.

The Marvel logo appears, a special 10th anniversary edition where the IO in “Studios” has been changed to a ten. I begin to fidget, readjusting myself in my seat and squeezing my hands into balled fists.

“I have to tell you,” I say, “if something in particular happens in this film” and here I describe what I expect to see, “I may lose my shit a little.”
Sharon has no idea what I’m talking about. I draw a circle with my finger in the air.

I won’t detail here just yet what that particular thing is, partly as it involves significant spoilers for the film, though I call the phenomena a “temporal loop”. I won’t go into the significance of them yet either, but it does come to pass as I had predicted, and after the film my anxiety has risen. I try my best to explain it to Sharon, and show her a text message I’d sent to a friend before the release of the film which goes into more detail, but I come across sounding a little delusional, like someone telling a ghost story. I am not a person who believes in ghosts or after lifes or even souls (romantic a notion as they may be). However I am rattled by the closing of my second temporal loop, something which I had predicted from childhood.

Her children are shattered by the outcome of Infinity War. Their first film at a cinema delivers them a sucker punch of a depressing end, and they ask with tired, sad little voices:

“But what will happen to The Avengers now?”

I tell them, and this is just a hunch, they’ll probably be just fine.

Sharon and I do some shopping at City Chic. The store is closing, in its final days of trade, and everything in the store is $10 or less. I stock up on tops and dresses and belts. I feel bad for the staff there, who have been so kind to me over the past half year as I came out of my shell. It feels as though I am robbing flowers from their open graves. Sharon explains that the clothes they sell aren’t really her style – they don’t have enough flowers on them.

“But Terry will kill me if I buy anything else floral,” she muses.
“Well he’s just a big…” I catch myself, intending to say baby, “…sook.”

When I become protective of my traumatized friends, I sometimes self-censor so as to avoid trigger terms. On the one hand, it’s intended as a kindness, to spare them falling back into grief. On the other, it has the effect of creating a moat around them.

“Do you think I could pull this off,” I ask, holding up a strappy yellow dress.
She pauses.
“Definitely,” she probably lies.

I cuddle her goodbye. Her and Terry are heading back to the cinema, this time so that their kids can watch their heroes die in 3D! She seems sad to be leaving me. I get the impression that I’m one of the few people who have let her unload since her miscarriage.

Next, I say goodbye to Emma at City Chic, tell her I’ll miss having her help me shop for girl clothes. she explains that, as it turns out, her boyfriend is a mutual friend of mine, so we can catch up when I’m in town.

“I found out last week when he was like – ‘so, this guy I know is becoming a chick’ and showed me a photo of you!”
“Small world!”

On the way home, I stop in at a 7-11 to fill up my car. I feel gallstones develop as I read the price of the fuel. A billion dollars a litre (seven cents up from last week). I think about squeegeeing my windows, can’t be fucked. They’ll only amass more splattered bugs on the ninety minute drive home.

When I go inside to pay for the fuel, I look for a Catch gift card, advertised in the store’s app as on special that week. I check up and down the aisles of overpriced confectionary but can’t find any. I line up to pay for my fuel. When I arrive at the counter, the Indian guy at the register says:

“Yes, ma-”
And then he stops.

He inspects me closer. His eyes scan up and down me, and I can feel his gaze upon me as if it was the green laser scanning the walls of the escape craft Ellen Ripley arrives in during the opening of Aliens.

“Yes, sir. How can I help you sir?”
My throat tenses up, I begin to shake. I speak in a voice not unlike a robot drowning in a drum of rusted ball bearings. “Umm, pump number two – and umm, do you have any Catch gift cards?”
Sir, I don’t know what that is sir.”
“Catch gift cards,” I show him the advertisement on their app.
“Please wait here a minute sir, I’ll be right back sir,” he takes my phone with him.

He heads out the back to talk to his manager. A queue of people gathers behind me, and I can sense their annoyance at the hold up. Worse, any illusion of my gender from the rear has been shattered by all the sirring, as they realise they’re now waiting for one of those strange transgenders they’ve seen eating cats on A Current Affair. I keep my gaze fixed at my boots, trying not to catch judgement in the reflection of the lolly sale signs. The felled back hair which has lodged in my bra itches as I sweat into it, creating a hairy soup in the straps.

The attendant returns with his manager.

Sir, can you unlock your phone please sir? The screen has locked sir.”

With shaking hands I press my index finger onto the rear of the device to unlock it.

“This is what the gentleman is looking for. He says they’re on special?”
“Sorry sir,” his manager says, “we don’t sell these here. You might want to try our sister store in Kelso, sir.”
“Okay. Thankyou,” I say in a squeaky man voice.

I pay for my fuel, leave.

Defeat weighs heavy upon me as I shut my driver’s side door, stare at the squishy bugs all over the window. A car honks behind me, telling me to fuck off out of the way. I ease my car out, slip onto the highway. I don’t realize it at the time, but I’ve caught my dress in the door.

I drive. A sad highway tranny, a sheer of his red dress flapping in tumult of the breeze.

 

 

Seven Eleven Two

The week closes with me in a PMS-addled funk. A friend of mine explains that I’ve been cuddling her too much in public lately, that she’s not as cuddly as I am (I am as cuddly as fucking hell) and so I retreat to play God of War and cuddle my Bubbles the Powerpuff doll, and have a much needed cry. I am disappointed with the week of my first full time experience. It had not gone well and while I certainly don’t doubt what I’m doing in transitioning, it is yet one of many moments where I am forced to re-calibrate my expectations of the experience.

It’s harder than I could ever have imagined.

On a whim, I decide to get back on the horse, and plan an impromptu trip to Sydney on the Monday. I determine not to let my first full day set a standard, and book a laser hair removal session at Penrith, then begin an online hunt to track down some Pop! Vinyls I’ve been wanting to collect. My aim is to make it an adventure to collect them across the city. I only collect Pops! which:

  • I have an emotional connection to
  • Are on sale
  • I have to seek out to collect, forging stronger geospatial memories for the effort

I am driving alone in my car. I haven’t gone to as much effort as the previous Thursday with presentation, opting for some Babyroll Mascara, styling my hair into curls and waves and wearing a cute flared long dark denim skirt with longsleeve red top and tan block heeled boots. Something feels different about today. Without putting so much effort into presentation, I am less nervous, I feel less caked in makeup (and thus less paranoid to touch my face).

As I drive, I practice my girl voice:
“Blue Toyota. Y-S-P-9-9-5. Springvale Colliery. Eighty Kilometres an hour left turn. Yellow Kangaroo warning sign.”

Katy Perry’s Firework flows into my gorgeous red Bluetooth Bluedio brand headphones. I bop and sing along to the song, doing a perfect rendition of a freerange dipshit. When the song has finished playing, I reach up and hold the back button to repeat it. When it finishes the second time, I repeat it again.

I could -and will- listen to Firework until my bones decalcify. It’s my jam.

A sign slides towards me and I read it out loud: “Lithgow – 10klms”. I look down to find the fuel warning light has come on. “Well that’s fucking lucky.” Lithgow has notoriously cheaper fuel and I took the risk in not filling up before heading off, to save the extra few cents a litre (8 cents per litre as it turns out – I’m a pro tightarse).

As I merge onto the A32, the highway between Bathurst and Lithgow, the Lithgow Correctional Facility comes into view down in the valley. Billboards appear and I read them out loud:

“Crispy meets juicy at McDonald’s. Lithgow Workman’s Club – five minutes. Optus Lightning fast 4G – connect today. The man on the moon is nimble.”

I drive into Litghow and the speed zone shifts from 100klm/hour down to 70. On the horizon my first destination appears: the Seven Eleven petrol station. My heart skips a beat and I say out loud:

The man on the moon is nimble.”

A peace comes over me, I relax.

I pull into the servo and fill up my car, it takes nearly fifty clams. I head inside to pay for the fuel, visit the bathroom to pee for a fifth time, and search up and down the aisles of over-priced confectionary for a Catch gift card, find a $50 one and take it up to the counter. The person in front of me completes their transaction and its my turn to speak to the attendant.

This time, in this Seven Eleven, there is no hesitation from the attendant. He doesn’t look me over, doesn’t Aliens-laser-scan me, he simply looks to me, smiles and speaks.

“Mornin’ love,” he says. My spirit lifts.
“Hey! Can I please grab this and the fuel in number two?” I say, in a female voice.

He takes the Catch card and swipes it, but the machine beeps in error.

“Sorry darlin. Hey Jim, how do we do this?”
“It’s a gift card?”
“Yeah, she’s buying a Catch… $50 card.”
“Sorry sweetie, we’ve been having problems with this machine today. We’ll try it again but I might have to put you through the other register,” Jim says.
“No worries, it’s all good,” I say.

They try the card again and this time it works, discount included.

“Okay, that’ll be eighty nine fourty five please love.”

I tap my phone to pay on the terminal, collect my gift card and registration receipt.

“Thanks guys!”
“No worries sweetie – you have a lovely day.”

The automatic doors slide open and I exit the shop. I am weightless, skipping across clouds as I return to my car. I realize with an unabashed joy that this is the first time in my life where I have passed as female in an interaction. A sour faced impatient woman in a BMW 4WD behind me is giving me a filthy look, she wants me to leave so that she can have my bowser. She honks her environmental catastrophe and I give her the finger in reply.

Bitch, you ain’t gonna break my stride.

I get into the car and pull out onto the highway. As I slide to a red stop at the traffic lights next to the Lithgow McDonald’s I take my hands off the wheel and squeal. I pump my fists in the air and do a shivery little dance.

“I’m a girl! I’m a girl! I’m a girl!” I say.

And the girl on the moon is nimble.

 

 

Just Another Girl on the Train

I leave my car at the carpark by Springwood station. It has all day parking and is adjacent to a Police Station. I head to a newsagents to buy an Opal card and a $5 scratchie (I win $8 on it). I walk into the pedestrian tunnel, my block heels clicking as I tap my card. I walk onto the train platform with eight minutes to spare.

I have to pee yet again, rounding out the half dozenth time for the morning. I look around for the bathroom and find the male toilets further along the platform. Behind me are the female toilets. Here, I make an important decision.

Bathrooms are a tricky thing to navigate for transgender people. On the one hand, we want more than anything to use the bathrooms of our gender. On the other, it is not without risk, and the fear that I may spook other women or get chased out with flaming pitchforks has prevented me from ever using female bathrooms.

This is an agonizing thing when you’re male to female, because men’s bathrooms are fucking wastelands. The last time I used a men’s public bathroom was in Bathurst the week prior, on my first day fully presenting as female. I waited until I thought the coast was clear, snuck in, disappeared into a stall. In the stall next to me a clearly inebriated gentleman groaned and farted and deep-splashed, punishing his shitter with an apocalyptic resonance. He sighed and laughed with every watery impact of his alcoholic turds and then, when he was finished, he stood up, bouncing into the side of the stall, then lifted the seat to better admire his craft.

“Fucking beautiful!” he exclaimed.

He then slam-dunked the seat with such ferocity that it scared a little extra pee from me. I tucked my legs in tight, tried to shrink. He left his stall without flushing and I heard him stammer out of the bathroom, without hearing a sink gush en route. When I’d finished my pee, I dared to look into his stall and saw what I had expected – he had shattered the toilet seat and splayed the inside of his crapper with an explosive mess which looked like the aftermath of a drone strike.

As I washed my hands, I lamented that I couldn’t wash my eyes and nose too. A man entered the bathroom, caught sight of me, apologized and left. A moment later he re-entered, puzzled and double checking the little man on the door before looking me up and down. I snuck out of the bathroom without drying my hands, watching my boots as I exited the mongrel men’s dunnies.

But today, here on the platform of the Springwood train station, I make the decision to do the undone, to take the next, perhaps tiny, step along my journey to being girl. I enter the women’s bathrooms. It is a tiny one-stall bathroom, which comes as a relief as I have no-one else to contend with. I enter the stall, hitch my skirt, and begin to pee, standing, creating a familiar splash. Moments later, I hear the outer door behind me open, and someone enters into the basin wash area.

Shit! Girl’s don’t pee standing up!

I direct my stream towards the porcelain to mute the sound and the person in the wash area exits. Here’s the thing – girls might not pee standing up, but I’m yet to meet a girl who wouldn’t like to have this superpower. It’s just damned fucking convenient not to have to sit or squat. There are so many advantages to peeing standing up – you don’t have to freeze your arse on a winter’s morning, you can write your name in sand, and you can chase fleeing ants when you pee up a tree.

I finish my upright urination and leave the stall, wash my hands and exit the bathroom. Moments later, the train pulls into the station and I board it. I ask an older woman if she minds that I sit next to her, she doesn’t. I ride the train into Penrith.

As I sit there, listening to Funky Town on my red headphones, something occurs to me. In a day of firsts, where I’d passed as female for the first time, where I’d pee’d in a women’s bathroom, there on the 10:52 train to Penrith, I also achieved another first. Something I’d longed for my entire life – something seen and yet unseen, an existential invisibility of sorts… like so many people in carriage 9145 that day, bopping along to her music, I was just another girl on the train.

At Penrith, another first. A stranger not only saw, but touched my boobs for the first time.

This was a unique experience, as I was having them melted by laser hair removal. Frankly it hurt a lot less than having my chin done, where even after half a dozen facial sessions, patches of hormonal stubble are still thick and stubborn. As I stared at the ceiling in my protective sunglasses, I admired the industrial shapes of the rather plain laser room. All squares and circles and rectangles in muted colours of beige, in the unintentional industrial style of Piet Mondrian. I kept my gaze intent upon them as the relentless click of the hot laser swept up my chest.

“What did you get up to on the weekend?” the beautician asked.
“Oh -ow- not much -ow- just -ow- caught up on some cleaning -ow- and a bit of Netflix.”
“What did you watch on Netflix?”
I’d bullshitted to her. I hadn’t binged anything that weekend, I’d played God of War, but something told me she’d respect gaming a lot less than a Netflix binge.
“Ummm… -ow- Lost in -ow- Space.”
“Oh… right,” she said, unimpressed. “I like Peaky Blinders”.
“Oh, with -ow- Cillian Murphy?”
“Who?!”

After laser hair removal I got dressed and headed out into the Penrith Westfield. My attempt to find the first Pop! Vinyl was a failure. The guy at the store explained to me that being school holidays, the place was trashed and had been rearranged by the schizophrenic typhoon of a thousand handsy kids.

“Good luck finding anything in that pile, but you’re welcome to try.”

I headed up an escalator in search of the bathrooms. I decided to use the female bathrooms again. It was a more frightening choice this time as there wasn’t just many stalls inside, but there was also a queue to use them. I took my place in line, straightened my skirt and did my best impression of a wall ornament. Ahead of me was a woman with her three children – 2 of them girls, one a boy. One of the girls stared at me, and my heart raced. Then she stuck her tongue out. I fired my tongue back at her and she giggled. When her mother turned around to see what she was laughing at I looked intently at my boots.

When a stall became free I entered, this time sitting down to pee. I’d never been more excited to be in a bathroom in my life. I’ve certainly had moments of greater relief inside them, but this was something special. A woman in the stall next to me farted.

Well, I guess you’ll get that in any dunny.

I headed to Grill’d to try one of their new vegan burgers, only to discover they hadn’t remembered to thaw the patties. So I grabbed a beef burger and some zucchini fries, which were absolutely amazing. I wanted to lick the sides of the chip tray clean. I regretted not just ordering a bucket of fries instead. A waiter came by and turned a little stick from the cutlery cup upside down. I presumed this was so they could tell which customers had been checked up on at least once during their meal.

“Is everything alright with your meal, m’am”.
“It’s great!” I said, zucchini fry sticking out of my maw.

I re-caffeinated at a boutique coffee stall at the edge of the mall. It was an especially strong coffee and I would spend the next hour twitching and licking the back of my teeth on the train. I rode it into Burwood then headed to the next Westfield, which was a dark rabbit warren of a place to navigate. Google Maps did its best to guide me to the Zing! store, but kept sending me on a loop. I walked up and down the mall so many times looking for the store that my Fitbit eventually vibrated and the screen displayed fireworks and a message: “Congratulations! 10,000 steps!”

As it turned out, the Burwood Zing had suffered from the same natural disaster as the Penrith one. School kids had demolished any order to the place, and Pop! Vinyls were re-arranged in a random, chaotic fashion. The wall of Pops! was 8 shelves high, with 2 Pops! stacked on top of one another, 4 deep per shelf, on a wall 3/4 the size of the store. Somewhere among the pile were the 10 I was looking for, and I was determined to find them.

I spent the next nearly 2 hours lifting every single pop from the shelf and checking behind all of them – thousands of little cubes in utter disarray. My arms hurt from reaching high and low, my forehead dripped with sweat, but slowly I found the ones I was looking for with only two missing – Elizabeth and Booker (with Skyhook) from Bioshock Infinite. As I was about to pay and leave the store missing the two, I saw a pile of board games at odd angle and to my luck, found Elizabeth hiding underneath one. I went to pay for them and was met at the counter by a guy in a giant green T-Rex costume, in honour of Starlight Week. He struggled to see my Pops! as he scanned them and explained they’d sold the last Booker that morning.

Nine out of ten ain’t bad.

My friend Justin would later find my missing Pop! and buy it for me from the Erina store, completing my collection. The grand total for my discounted Pops! was a mere $51. When I look at them now, I’m reminded of my adventure in Sydney that day and it brings a smile to my face.

“Have a great day ma’am,” the T-rex said as I left.

On the way back to the station I stopped in to buy some cheesecake souffles for me my friend’s birthday, then stood to wait for the train on the platform. Here I looked up and down the rows of people with their various expressions. Some tired, some happy, some over it. A few people inspected me closely and I wondered if they’d clocked me. With men it’s hard to tell, as they’ll oggle anything with the outline of boobs and a pulse (and sometimes not even the pulse). I aired on the side of clocking, but I didn’t let it bother me. To the majority of the people there on the platform that day, I was again what I’d always wanted to be – just another girl waiting for her train.

As the train rocked up the blue mountains I listened to 80’s pop songs, my bag of Pops! and cheesecake hanging from the hook by the window. No-one in the carriage gave me a sideways glance. The sun dipped behind the horizon, and through tinted windows the outside world passed in a golden wash, the sliding mountains silhouetted against a custard sky.

Epilogue

After my Sydney adventure, I would continue to use my girl voice full time. It has its moments. Often it’s convincing, at other times it becomes strained and breathy, or I panic and it sounds like a wussy blender powering down.

My experience at the two Seven Elevens has reminded me that life is full of unknowns, of disappointment, of kindness and surprise. It has taught me that this journey I’m on is by no means a straight shot. I am still so very early into my transition and I look for small victories wherever I can find them. A “ma’m” here, a “sweetie” there. Hell – even a guy staring at my tits isn’t quite yet an unappreciated novelty – though it’ll get there.

And so will I.

On the Friday, four days after my Sydney Pop! adventure, a missed post slip arrived in the mail, ready for collection after 4:30pm. I sat down in the Mudgee Muffin Break to type these words. When my FitBit vibrated to tell me I had 146 steps to go in the hour, I packed up my laptop and headed to the post office.

I stood in line until my Aunty, an employee there, called me forward at the same time as one of her colleagues. They laughed at their synchronicity.

“No, it’s okay, I’ll take care of him,” she said to her colleague, “Hi, Ben,” she said.

I cringed as she dead-named and misgendered me, thought about correcting her; didn’t. I handed her the pick-up slip.

“I saw a letter for you earlier today,” she said, “from Births, Deaths and Marriages.”

My heart seized in my chest, I stopped breathing. I put my hand to my mouth and bit down on it.

“I’ve been waiting for that,” I said, in a faint girl voice.
“Good news?”
“I think so.”

She left to collect the letter. When she returned, I opened it there on the counter, and inside was what I’d been expecting for three long weeks – my new birth certificate – official & legal recognition that I was now Cadance Autumn Bell. Tears welled in my eyes as I held it, one of the most valuable pieces of paper I’d ever grasped.

“Wow! Congratulations!” my Aunty said, reading the certificate.

“I’m so proud of you – Cadance.”

 

 

Some of the names in this chapter have been changed to protect the identities of people mentioned.

 

 

 

 

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