By Ariel Evan
She snuck into class late, and the only seat left was down in the front row, next to me. I always had to sit in the front row so that the potential embarrassment of falling asleep would keep me awake. She had to make her way around the edge of the room and sidle most of the way down the row until she could finally fold herself neatly into the tiny chair with a half-smile, half-grimace in my general direction. The professor glared at her and shook his head as if to shame her but she ignored him. I pretended to be riveted to the lecture but there was something about her presence that made it very hard for me to concentrate.
I was still figuring out a lot of things back then, and so was she. When I first met her she had hair down to her shoulders, and wore a beanie all the time. She had a ring through her lip that always seemed to be where my eyes landed and stayed, watching her play with it, flicking it back and forth. She was lean and lanky and quiet, and I liked the way she stared at me, even though I had no clue why I wanted her to keep looking at me like that. She didn’t talk much, but a few times when we were hanging out after class she told me about a party, or somewhere she was going, and casually dropped in something like “you should come along.” Whatever the hell I thought I had to do, I wish I’d blown it off and gone with her.
Slowly she became more and more fascinating. She cut off all her hair, wore it tight against her head and got a nose ring to match the lip ring. She lost the beanie (at least some of the time), and started wearing guy’s shirts and jeans. She wasn’t so skinny anymore, she was working out and I had finally come to a point where I could admit to myself that those carved calves and forearms were really, really hot. But it wasn’t until I saw her walk into the theatre one night with her girlfriend that I realized how badly I was crushing on her. Her girlfriend was gorgeous too, but simple feminine beauty has never really done it for me. I loved the way she wore her masculinity, the way she strode through all the stares with confidence she’d never had back when she looked more like a girl.
Throughout college we were often at the same events, same parties, and always talked as casual friends, and that stare of hers was still utterly captivating. She broke up with one pretty, feminine girl after another, and that undercurrent of intensity that had always drawn me to her started to come out. She got really, really good at rugby--otherwise known as mowing down everyone on the field. She started talking about T and using a version of her name that was androgynous, and all of a sudden I didn’t know how to refer to ‘her’ anymore.
At first I did not understand. I could not imagine giving up my female body to become male, and I had just finally figured out how much I liked women for being women, so I was confused and disappointed to watch my friend and long-time crush changing in ways that I couldn’t relate to. It was only a few months after we graduated, and I saw them again, with their girlfriend (who I’d gone on one date with, back in ancient history) that I started to remember the way we had all changed over the years, and I started to discover the beauty in that evolution.
Seeing them again, seeing that space they had carved for themselves--that wide, fluid, floating space between masculine and feminine--that finally helped me realize that what I’d loved about ‘her’ all along was that unique identity that I’d sensed inside. I remembered something that I had been saying for years, but never really examined: “I love the person, not their gender.” When I look at my old friend now, I still feel that same pull, still find them fascinating and sexy and so incredibly brave. They have become exactly who they always were.