Girls Only

[fiction]

Once again, here I am with a bursting bladder and a fried brain, frozen between two doors.

They mounted it overnight, cemented the rule so that there’d be no mistaking my high school for a safe space. The engraved letters of the white-and-gray sign, so new that it hasn’t even been vandalized yet, scream at me from above the bathroom door:

Girls ONLY.

It used to say Girls. That ONLY wasn’t there yesterday. And anyone who reads this new sign will know immediately that it was carved for only one person.

Me. The only student in this whole school who struggles to pick one of two options.

I know what you’re thinking. “You’re a girl, so just use the girls’ room.” Duh. It should be that simple. Spoiler alert: it’s not. Nothing is simple when people refuse to see you for who you really are. And right now, most of the people in my life refuse to see me as anything resembling the triangle-dress stick figure on the bathroom door.

Not all people, thankfully. My mom sees me, and I’m grateful for that. My best friends see me. The other theater kids see me. Hell, they were the first ones I came out to. They taught me how to curl my eyelashes, how to bronze my face, how to pluck my eyebrows (shape the arch with liner beforehand, and always pluck from underneath).

Screw this. I’m done choosing between a bladder infection and a bloody nose.

But my principal doesn’t see me. Neither do the prim, stone-faced sticklers behind the desks at the DMV. Neither do the other parents—I found that out the hard way when I tried out for cheerleading last month. The cheerleaders run the school, right? They’re the gatekeepers. The ambassadors. I figured if I could get in with them, I’d be in with everyone. But that was before their parents caught wind of my tryout and complained to my mom, in hushed tones over our landline, that the idea of a “boy” in the girls’ locker rooms and restrooms made them uncomfortable.

All they’d have to do is look at me to know that I’m not a boy. But they don’t want to look at me because they don’t want to see me. All they know is that they don’t want me occupying the same spaces as their daughters anymore. They bitched, and the school listened. And now, we have this sign.

I cram my knees together and rock on the balls of my feet. I only have two options and they both suck. The first is to just wait until I get home, but that will be five whole hours from now. I waited that long one too many times last month, and I ended up in the doctor’s office with a bladder infection, swallowing pills that turned my pee Gatorade-orange. My other option is to use the boys’ room, like the school wants me to. But I tried that, too, a few times, and the real boys weren’t having it. I’d come out of the stall to hostile stares. Unplucked eyebrows knitted in confusion and disgust. Flinching football players. You think those jocks are tough? Put them in a public restroom with someone like me and watch how fast the fear takes over. A few of them threatened me. One guy got so freaked out that he picked me up by my shirt collar and threw me out the door—slam!—right into the painted concrete wall. Again, I ended up in the doctor’s office, this time with a golf ball-sized lump on the back of my head and a concussion that kept me out of school for two days. And still I came back, expected by all to use the same bathroom that chewed me up and spat me out. Let’s see those squeamish jocks do that day after day, and then we can talk about what it really means to be tough.

The door to the boys’ room opens suddenly, and out walks a scrawny freshman with a Simpsons overbite. The kid gives me a look fit for a sideshow freak and clutches his math book to his chest, like armor, before walking away. He’s wearing one of those blue Coexist shirts. The irony is stunning.

I’ve now been standing here for five whole minutes. Any longer, and my history teacher will get suspicious about where I am. I can’t risk another write-up.

I tuck my hair behind my newly pierced ears (fake diamond studs from Claire’s) and check the hallway. Not another sophomore in sight, in either direction.

Screw this. I’m done choosing between a bladder infection and a bloody nose.

I yank open the door to the girls’ room and scurry into the first stall on the right.

Within seconds, all the stress of my day pours out of me and into the porcelain bowl, the stream echoing like xylophone plinks around the stall, as my eyes practically roll back in my head. Because I’m alone, I let myself sigh out loud. Sweet relief. I feel like Tom Hanks in A League of Their Own, lulled into a sleepy coma by the sounds of my own little endless waterfall. But I can’t forget that, just like Tom Hanks, I’m being timed, too. So I stand up and flush the toilet, fighting the temptation to just sit here in peace for the rest of the day.

Just as I’m about to leave my stall, the silence flies out of the small square space in a vacuumed whoosh. Someone has opened the bathroom door.

Three overlapping feminine voices bounce off the tiled walls. I scan the floor through the crack in my door: six grass-stained white sneakers come traipsing in. The little room becomes an echo chamber, and it sounds to me like they’re all refreshing their makeup. I hear plastic containers of eyeshadow or blush snap open and click closed. Sticky lip gloss wands plunge into puckering tubes. Faux-wooden hair brushes clatter on the countertop.

Her words paralyze me. All I can do is blink, my lips parted, like a wonderstruck child.

They’re gossiping, trading he-said-she-saids in scandalized voices, talking slow like they’ve got nowhere important to be right this second. For all I know, they could be in here for the next several minutes. Shit. If I stay that much longer, I will definitely get written up. I have no choice but to leave as quickly as possible. But it’s okay, it will be fine. I’ll be supersonic. I’ll keep my eyes down. I won’t even wash my hands. If I get out of here fast enough, they might not even notice it was me. It will be fine.

I take a deep breath and unlock the stall door.

When I push the door open, I see a trio of yellow-and-blue uniforms crowding the sinks. Skirts pleated and neatly pressed. Toned white legs, shiny from shaving. Ponytails combed to bumpless perfection, pinched by color coordinated hair ties.

Three cheerleaders. Six eyes on me.

“Oh. Hey, Tanner.” The blonde one speaks first, and I realize I know her. Actually, I recognize all three of them: they were on the field the day of my doomed tryout. But I don’t remember their names. A blonde, a brunette, and a redhead. Huh.

“Hi.” I can feel my face turning as crimson as her lipstick. Dammit. Keep it together, Tanner. “Sorry, um, I was just… um… but I’m done, I swear, I’ll go now.”

“It’s okay,” the brunette says, holding her palms up as if in surrender. “You can use our bathroom if you want.”

Her words paralyze me. All I can do is blink, my lips parted, like a wonderstruck child.

I’m quiet because I’m waiting. Waiting for the snickers. The cutting hyena laughter that will echo all through the sophomore hallway. The cruel, roving eyes that size up my body and secretly judge my outfit. The yeah-right scoff that follows her invitation. But none of it comes. None of it. For a moment, the only sound is the humming fluorescent light flickering above us.

“For real?” My f comes out as a stutter—a tell of my nervousness. But when the redhead speaks, she doesn’t stutter at all.

“Yeah,” she says calmly. “We don’t mind.”

They all look at me, expecting some kind of response. But I’m still speechless.

The blonde says, “We won’t tell anyone.”

The three of them nod with solemn expressions, their eyes darting from face to face in conspiratorial glances. No non-theater-kid is this good at keeping a straight face. They’re serious. Dead serious. I’ve never seen three cheerleaders look so serious in my whole life. I want to tell them thank you, but the words don’t surface. And if they did, they wouldn’t feel like enough.

“Really, Tanner, we won’t tell. We promise. It’s nobody else’s business.” The brunette’s palms are still up, a wand slicked with pink lip gloss lodged between her fingers. “Girls only, right?”

The three of them giggle at their little in-joke. I guess it’s my in-joke, too. My lips curve into a cautious smile. But still I can’t speak.

The blonde seems to take pity on my loss for words. She slides her makeup over a few inches and steps to the side, freeing up one of the sinks. I nod awkwardly in gratitude and step forward to wash my hands. As I lather the iridescent soap into foamy bubbles, they all turn back to their own reflections and pick up their conversation like nothing ever happened. Like this is normal.

Like I am normal.

They probably don’t notice, but I’m still smiling. Grinning uncontrollably. Beaming brighter than I have in months.

I may not have landed a spot on the cheerleading squad. And it might be a long time before the adults get used to the idea of me wanting something like that.

But for now, in this sacred space, these triangle-dress girls have made room for me. On some level, they consider me one of them. And if I’m in with the cheerleaders, I’ll be in with everyone—it’s only a matter of time.

Just knowing that will get me through the day. And maybe tomorrow. And maybe the next day, too.

I dry my hands with paper towels, no longer in a hurry, and make my way toward the exit. The blonde speaks just as I’m walking out the door.

“And by the way, Tanner,” she says to me. “Just so you know, if it was up to me, you totally would have made the squad. That high kick was spectacular.”

 

Katlyn Minard is an aspiring young adult novelist whose short fiction has appeared in Moon City Review, 101 Words, and LOGOS. She lives in Los Angeles.