I admired myself in the mirror. I looked, I thought, perfect. I’d put enough work into it, I should look perfect at this point.
Smile, faintly lopsided but not too lopsided. Teeth, off-white and slightly crooked. Pupils, round and black but not too round or too black. Skin, a delicate texture of almost-identical shades. Hair, buzzed short for ease of maintenance, also a texture and not just a colour. Five fingers of appropriately varied lengths on each arm, five toes the same on each foot. Two feet, two legs, two arms, two hands. I looked perfect.
Then, I walked outside and realized I had made a horrible mistake. I had forgotten something essential. While I looked perfect, my shadow branched four legs from two feet, and had long, curving horns that widened the shadows head. I considered, for a moment, turning around. Skipping this year. Continuing to work until it was truly perfect. But no, by that point the faculty would be on to me, and wouldn’t let me back. So, self-conscious about the shadow behind me, I went to class.
At first, I thought no one had noticed, until we had a break and a girl came over.
“Why are you here?” She seemed angry, leaning in very close so her iron pendant almost touched me.
“To learn.” I responded, voice flat and one-dimensional.
“To learn what?” She demanded, still very close.
“Biology, currently.” The professor called her back to her seat, and she left with a huff.
I went through weeks like that, my lack of humanity the worst kept secret on campus. Sometimes, when I sat very quietly, seemed fully absorbed in my classes, they would forget about my shadow. I learned ways to protect myself from me, and others like me. Iron-spined books, and salt packets. I found a ramen packet, in fact, empty of its contents. I filled it with sand and kept it in my pocket, along with the tin pendant I found. I look more like a student now, and sometimes they forget to look.
The girl from the first day, Stone, had taken to hovering near me. She followed the rules religiously, and warded off any more unwary classmates. She’d talk to me then, about silly classmates, or books she was reading.
Then came the day Stone was taken. She had been walking home, and followed the wrong path in the dark, and I cannot rightfully explain my fury. She was not mine, I did not hold her name, but she was my closest friend, if I could be said to have such things, and how was I to properly study when my best example was taken?
I shed my glamours that night, and returned to the world I was born in. As I left, I caught sight of myself in the mirror. My head looked heavy with my horns revealed, and my eyes were distant and alien. There was no warmth to my skin, and the sound of my hooves on the floor was uncomfortably loud. There were sores around my mouth from the times I had eaten salt in the cafeteria, burns on all fourteen of my fingers from lifting iron. I shook myself and walked into the night to find Stone.
I found her. I felt guilty, to be seen honestly at last. I expected shock, or horror. I did not expect her gaze to linger around my mouth, around my fingertips, an odd expression of concern.
They let me take her without bargains. I made them uncomfortable, too, with my studies. I brought her back, hand in hand, and left her at her dorm.
“Will I see you tomorrow?” She asked, voice small in the swallowing darkness.
“We have class.”
Stone brought cupcakes to class the next day, to celebrate her return to the world of humanity. She proclaimed loudly that they were salted caramel, so I remained in my desk, an odd sinking feeling in my gut.
I could hear her approach, but was still surprised when a cupcake landed on the edge of my space.
“Here. Made to suit your dietary restrictions.” I blinked at her for a second, my human eyes back in place, and she smiled.
The cupcake didn’t burn as I ate it, completely unsalted.
“I appreciate you thinking of me.” I admitted at the end.
“Likewise.” She paused, looking at the seat beside me.
“Can I sit here?” I smiled, a lopsided but not too lopsided smile.
“Sure. I’m just here to learn.”
Stone would speak to me about other things, after that. About her family, her brothers, the world of humanity at large. She would help me with math, and I would help her with writing. She never slipped up following the rules, but I would not have taken her even if she had, and she knew it.
At graduation, three years later, as we all cheered and threw our hats in the air, Stone leaned over to me and whispered in my ear.
“I don’t want to leave.” I gave her a startled look, the rest of the world growing dim around me.
“Can I stay with you?” She snuggled in closer to me, eyes beseeching.
“You know what I’d need.” My voice felt distant, almost hollow, though I could tell it was more resonant than usual.
“My name is Petra. Can I stay with you?” I could feel my illusions cracking, eyes shining a little too brightly.
“My name is Thali. I will keep you as long as you wish to be kept.” Then I kissed her, because it felt like the thing to do.
“Thank you.” I whispered into her hair as she laughed, delighted.
She teaches, now, and I do too. My Petra teaches mythology and astronomy, and I have late-night classes, in some of the more fluid classrooms, for those interested among my people. Explaining what I can about their world, how to cast a convincing glamour, explaining about math and science and biology.
I’m so glad I didn’t skip.
I sat on the stage, a room about a quarter full of people sitting in front of me, taking pictures and videos. Jared was running a little late for our breakfast panel so I decided to head out and entertain the crowd until he got here. Before it would have freaked me out being on the stage by myself but I found myself enjoying the thrill.
Hands went up around the room to ask me questions that I surely wasn’t prepared to answer. I had my grande black coffee that Y/N had picked me up this morning while she let me sleep in. I was still exhausted from filming in past few weeks before hiatus and she always made my life a little easier when the time came around.
“i always feel as if i’m not living my life to the fullest. i have an endless amount of things i want to do, people i want to meet, and places i want to visit but it’s like the whole world is stopping me from carrying it out. i can’t describe the gut awful feeling of living a routine life. i’m just waiting for the day something changes for me.”
I had a revelation recently, (which I kind of already knew but this kind of cemented it in my head) which is that Americans actually think THEY are the progressive, open minded ones.
For example, Tom Holland (new Spider-Man) recently did a drag performance of Umbrella on that lip sync show thing (which I would thoroughly recommend watching, he was fucking fantastic) and while some people were like “ew, that’s weird and I’m uncomfortable,” the other half were like “this is so groundbreaking! Spider-Man in drag! He must have SUCH confidence in his masculinity to do something like that at 20 years old! I wonder if he’s gay? He must at least be bi!” Meanwhile anyone I talked to in Britain was like “yeah it was a good performance. Seems like a nice guy.” Because it WASN’T groundbreaking. I didn’t think so, anyway. Tom Holland said “yeah I didn’t mind being in drag, I asked to do it” and took it completely casually, didn’t even think twice about it, because what British actor HASN’T done drag?
We have a culture over here of men dressed as women in pantomimes every year, and these are things AIMED at children, not deemed inappropriate for them, and the men in question are never thought to be gay or trying to be a woman or whatever. They’re just being funny and having a good time. In my town there’s a local farmer who does the panto every year, as a woman, wig and make up and all, and he’s the beefiest most masculine guy you’ll meet with a wife and kids. He just likes the theatre of it.
In Mrs Brown’s Boys (probably the most successful Irish sitcom), Mrs Brown is played by a male comedian, Brendan Carroll. His wife and children are also in the show. The fact that he was dressed as a woman was never the joke in the show, or even referenced - he just wrote a funny character and then decided “I’m going to play her.” If you didn’t know already you probably couldn’t even tell from watching that Mrs Brown was a man. I’ve never heard anybody over here have a problem with that. It just.. is. The joke is in her being a foul mouthed old lady who tells filthy jokes, not the part where she’s played by a man.
When Queen first released “I want to break free” the video (which featured the whole band in drag as housewives) wasn’t allowed to be released in America because they deemed it too risqué and it wasn’t received well. Over here we just thought it was entertaining. We thought nothing of it really. Half the guys in my class when I was at school dressed as women at some point for a laugh. And it was only after speaking to Americans I realised that that just isn’t done over there. We had guys do drag for talent shows in secondary school, and plays in primary school. Everyone thought they were great. Guys from the rugby team went to prom in dresses and their girlfriends went in suits for the hell of it. The principal dressed as a woman on our last day as a joke. But a teenage boy doing drag at school for whatever reason in America is social suicide. I mean, obviously some people in Britain wouldn’t be as accepting of that, and some parts of America are more accepting than others, it’s a massive country, but overall it’s just such a different culture. I think that’s partially why the really liberal, “progressive” ones make such a massive deal about gender roles, and why anyone who dresses as the opposite sex is deemed trans or gay or “queer” - because while they like to think they’re ahead of the game in terms of gender, they still have the mindset that if you wear a dress, you must want to be a woman. (Learned all this while living there btw, I’m not just making assumptions.)
It irritates me when I then see Americans claiming they are the pinnacle of open-mindedness, and British people are old fashioned fuddy duddies when we see THEM as the conservative ones. It’s kind of funny. I don’t think this counts as generalising so much as comparing two very different cultures. And there are definitely British people who are conservative in other ways, but the whole culture around drag is just different here. I’m very sorry for making you read such a long load of shite mags, I just started typing stream of consciousness style into the submission box and didn’t intend for it to be so long. I suppose it’s just interesting how we view ourselves and our culture, and how others might disagree with that from the outside. I wonder what we’ve got wrong about ourselves, lol.
– anonymous submission
This has put into words exactly how I’ve been feeling for a long time about so many posts and claims and news articles that have come out of the US, but I just hadn’t put it into context. I had no idea why they were so obsessed with something so blatantly ordinary and fine, and you writing all this out, it’s finally clicked in my head.
I mean, we have our Conservatives, but they’re probably more similar to the Democrats in the US in a lot of ways. They were the ones that made the final push to get same-sex marriage legalised here, after all – credit where credit is due.
This is incredibly insightful, and I think that both Brits and Americans would find this fascinating, so thank you so much for taking the time to write it and send it to me. I really, really appreciate it.