If you're going to get changed into a different person, and it looks like there's a good chance you'll stay that way, there's a certain logic in moving away from both your real hometown and where your new identity lived, and to someplace like New York City. Many large cities would probably do the trick, I suppose, but New York is so big and is such a hub that I can do things that might get noticed in other cities without much question. It may be something as small as sitting down at a lunch counter in Harlem and having some fried chicken without much more than a little side-eye, or nobody at the movie theater caring about a weird double feature. They'll let you be.
We were initially kind of worried about that when J.T. and I started going out, especially since he was kind of famous at one point, but there were some pictures taken, a couple websites that tried to frame a cougar narrative, but, eventually, it sort of became no big deal. Older woman/younger guy is unusual, but seeing we dig each other makes it something of a non-story.
And we do like each other. For a while we thought it might just be the thrill of the new or unusual, but I've been here for a couple months, and it hasn't always been complete fun, we've become really comfortable together, and good. He was kind of nervous about me moving in at first, but it works, and we both look forward to how our weird schedules intersect.
Unfortunately, his rehearsal schedule didn't line up well with Pete's anti-Halloween dinner, which was aggressively come-as-you-are because folks like us don't need another level of make-up, costuming, and play-acting. He isn't really sure he belongs at that sort of thing anyway, having just been someone else for one cycle and then dropped back into his life like it hasn't happened until I showed up. Not that everyone who came is in my boat - Annette came, although to be fair, she's 22 and basically spent all he college years as someone else, so most of her friends from that period are Inn people.
She was one of the first to get to the function room Pete had rented, enthusiastically helping decorate; I imagine they love her attitude at whichever publishing company is exploiting her as an unpaid intern. She taped Pete on the shoulder and broke off to say hi and asking if I wanted a name tag, which was more complicated than usual - between the standard "Hello, My Name Is ____" and the "My Pronouns Are ___/___" that has apparently started gaining use, she customized them to include "Also Known As ____". Hers said "Annette", "Ravi & Benjamin", "she/her"; Pete's said "Pete", "a bunch", "he/him". I opted for "Daryl", "Magda", "they/their". I half expected them to tell me to choose a side, but Annette said anybody being a jerk about how someone else identified was getting kicked out.
Pete gave a little chuckle as she went back to decorating. "Never thought Millennials and their political correctness would make a bit of sense, but in this case..."
"Dude, you do know that I'm not actually this old, and she's, like, whatever we're calling the generation after that, right?" Not wanting to get into that, I looked down and raised an eyebrow. "Wearing heels to your 'come as you are' party, huh?"
"Am I? Holy shit, I am! I swear, April's feet have been deformed by long hours in the Executive Assistant uniform to the point where I walk around my house on tiptoe and boots with a couple extra inches feel normal. But I guess it beats being short. I'm not quite Tylerie tiny, but every inch counts." I was kind of surprised he picked up my play on Tyler's names, but apparently it tickled him.
He asked how I was enjoying Magda's job, and I shrugged. "It's not really what I want to do with the rest of my life, but it's something I can do for now. I kind of like punching a clock rather than working long hours to make an impossible deadline, too. At least for now. How about you?"
He shrugged. "Young, old, man, woman, black, white, asian, I'm apparently the glue that holds an office together. Speaking of which..." A matching couple was filling in their name tags, and Pete brought me over to introduce us. "Daryl, this is Jenn and David; guys, this is Daryl. Or Magda. 'Magdaryl'. It's up in the air right now."
That immediately clicked with the man in the skinny jeans and blow-dried hair. "You're the one dating J.T.! I had such a crush on him when I was in junior high!" She suddenly realized how she must look. "Not the usual person to say that, huh?"
"You'd be surprised." I turned to her date, wearing a much looser pair of jeans and t-shirt, hair gathered into a ponytail at the base of the head rather than higher-up. "Don't be jealous; J.T. is very much taken." I extended a hand and David grabbed it kind of tentatively, maybe not sure how to process the flurry of names Pete had thrown at him along with the camisole under my White Sox Jersey. I want wearing makeup but did have hairpins in, so I was sending some mixed signals.
I thought he and I might have something to talk about, given our similar age and sex changes, but he didn't seem to like he wanted to; honestly, even though I as talking sports and action movies and the like while complaining about bras and heels, I think he saw me as too close to the worst way he could see things going for him.
Jenn wasn't really negative, at least; as much as she clearly either hadn't stated thinking like a guy or was relishing the chance not to, she complained less and lived vicariously more. She had plenty of questions about where Tyler got his shoes and apparently listened to a lot of the same podcasts as Annette.
We all mingled a bit, but never really got far from one another - Pete has a pretty decent contact list of Inn people, but even in New York, there weren't enough for the size of the space he rented, at least that could do this kind of Halloween party (or were in the mood for it). I'd kind of hoped to make some contacts that might give me a chance to maybe find a new career, but that didn't really happening. Eventually I ran back into Jenn, who had had a few. "This is the weirdest party I've ever been to. So many girls and it's a complete sausage fest! Shouldn't it be, like 50/50? Or 25/25/25/25, cause some folks stay the same, generally speaking?"
"Well, I figure those guys just shrug and deal with it, right? They know what they're doing and don't have to reach out. I don't know why there's not more girls who became guys here or on the blog and stuff, though."
"Oh, trust me, most of us are not going to complain about bosses suddenly listening and shorter bathroom lines and clothes that have actual useful sizes." I turned around and saw a cheerful-looking guy with a somewhat unruly Afro but a big smile; his name tag said "Juliet", "Jonah", "he/him".
"Well, when you put it like that..." Jenn probably would have expanded on it, but David came over and was clearly ready to be done for the night, so they left.
Juliet waved and said they probably had the right idea. "I bet your legs are staying to run down like my brain is." She wasn't wrong, so we headed out to grab a snack (another great thing about New York is bakeries open until 3am).
It turns out we are kind of opposite sides of the same coin, me a young black man who became a middle-aged white woman, her a white woman in her early fifties who changed to a young black guy by choice. Apparently she and her husband visited the Inn a few years back and made it back to their old life okay, only to have him go off on a "business trip" this May that left someone else in his body to explain he was leaving her for someone else, as someone else - apparently they'd been carrying on this affair for years and found the perfect new lives to claim. She despaired, and then when she found out through another Inn person she knew that Krystle was putting this boy's body for sale--
"Please tell me you don't refer to black men as 'boy' or just casually talk about them being for sale."
"What? Oh God, no... At least I don't think... I didn't mean that!"
"It doesn't matter what you mean, it matters what people hear. You've gotta be real careful - just because you may still think like a white woman and talk about white woman things, coming out of that mouth, it's gonna sound like you're making fun to some people."
"I guess. Hardly seems right."
"Welcome to being black in America. I miss a lot about it, but..." I suddenly felt pretty bad about finishing that sentence; as much as things in my real life can be unfair, I kind of feel like escaping them by becoming white is a cheat, and don't really feel grateful for it.
"Hm. Well, I guess that's the karmic price for getting a chance to start again in college. Not that being black is a price! Ugh, I'm not so terrible at this when I don't have to think about it. Or am I?"
"You probably are, but don't worry too much. I was a giant nerd who didn't fit in either, and I turned out okay enough for J.T."
"But did you have to deal with this?" She pointed at the mop of hair on her head. "I let it grow out because all the cool black people when I was growing up in the 70s did this, but it just won't behave!"
"When did you last have a trim?"
"I don't know, two or three weeks ago?"
"Yeah, you're gonna want to find a barber you like and go every week. It doesn't take that long, and if you just sit and listen while you wait, you'll get a pretty good education on being a black man."
"Sounds like this education could be more expensive than the college one!"
"Well, just think of what you're not spending on makeup, bras, pantyhose..."
"I guess. Well, I did decide I wanted to do things differently. But fair warning, I'm going to call you a lot."
I said that was okay, but she hasn't yet.
By the time I got home, J.T. was on the couch, watching TV. "How was Curse Club?"
I say down and put my feet on his lap for him to massage. "Kind of fun. Weird having everyone treat me like I'm one of the ones who knows what he's doing."
"She's doing, based on last night."
I took the name tag I'd removed and folded in half out of my purse. "They're doing, based on this."
"I'm not sure I approve of you going to parties where they don't think of you as a woman. Does that make me a bad Inn Person?"
"Nah, I like that you know who you are and want me to feel as sure, although I kind of like not being sure. Makes us special."
"Well, I guess opposites attract."
I thought about joking about "Junah" (portmanteau nickname a work in progress) then, but things were heading in a fun direction, so I just said "I guess so" and leaned in for a kiss.