“Yeah!” I yelled across the dance studio in response to someone in my dance group that had called out to me. She was in casual clothing, and like everyone else in the room had just gotten to changing out of their practice uniforms. I picked up my backpack, watching as she gestured towards the office she had just stepped out of.
“The instructor’s looking for you,” she said before looking away and walking to catch up with her friend group. I looked on for a while before turning my gaze to the door with a worried look. Every time I’ve been in there I’ve had talks with my instructor about not being around much, or not just being available. I wondered what she wanted to talk to me about now. I’ve been active, I’ve been around more. Wasn’t that what she wanted?
I let out a sigh, adjusting the straps of my backpack before making my way to her office. There’s only one way to find out, I guess. I thought to myself, turning the knob of the door and pushing it open before stepping into the small office. My dance instructor looked up from her computer before giving me a smile. Her blonde hair was still tied up from practice, and her smile looked a bit tired, maybe she was stressed.
“Take a seat,” she said, gesturing to the one in front of her table. I complied, settling down on it before looking around the room. She had a lot of posters up, and I could spot family pictures taped by the corner of the wall close to her desk. She didn’t say anything for a while and just kept doing what she had been doing before I walked into her office.
“I want to ask you something,” she said, leaning back in her seat. I looked over at her, looking her square in the face as she stared at me. I wasn’t sure why I was nervous, but the way she was gauging me with her eyes made me feel uncomfortable. “I heard you’re transgender, is that true?” she asked, and my eyes went wide before I looked down at my hands. I fidgeted with my fingers, nodding slowly. I refused to look up, I didn’t want to see the look on her face.
“Is that why you’re always missing this practice or the other. You’re meeting up with doctors?” she said, and I stayed silent. I wasn’t sure whether to feel a bit cornered now. Yes, I had taken time off for some consultations before I had top surgery. I did that, but at the same time, I wasn’t off and on at practice because of that. My state of mind and how horrible I’d been feeling for the past year really had been part of it. I hadn’t lied — okay, I did, but it had been a half lie.
Lying by omission.
After a while of sitting in silence, I muttered a small yes, confirming her theory.
One thing I’ve learned since I started transitioning was that some people might take your transition as a time waster. Not a good comparison, but it’s like telling the person that’s interviewing you for a job that you were a full-time college student that would quit at the end of summer. When people think of transition they think multiple surgeries and consultations — and they think of taking time off to do these things.
Dancing takes a physical toll on your body, and as someone who wants to modify their body to see me when I look in the mirror, I know this. It’s important to me, but not everyone will see it that way. Especially dancers. Being able to imagine days, weeks — months of not being active and training your body was a red flag.
I passed well now, and I went stealth. Not really mentioning that I was transgender unless put in a situation where it was necessary, where I wanted to, or I absolutely had to. That’s why in the cloud of nerves and uneasiness my mind was going through at this moment. I kept wondering who.
Who told her?
It wasn’t other people in the dance group, that’s for sure. It was Xander, it wasn’t Advik. I stared at my dance instructor, chewing on my inner cheek as I tried to figure it out.
And then it clicked.
“I knew you were seeing the doctor, but you kept mentioning your mental health, and I believed that. I thought things would get better with time...” she trailed.
“But,” she started, narrowing her eyes at me. “Transition takes a lot of time, and I’m not sure you’ll be available when we need you—”
“I’ll be available.”
“How are you absolutely sure?” she asked, making me open my mouth before closing it. I didn’t want to get over emotional and yell at her. That wouldn’t help much.
“I’ll sort out my time and figure out where I have to be and when. That’s what I’ve been doing—”
“Well, it doesn’t work,” she said, cutting me off. I flinched, not knowing what to say, so I just stayed silent. After a while, I heard her sigh before the sound of her pulling her chair forward echoed through the room.
“Oliver,” she called, making me look up at her. “I don’t hate you. You know that. I want you to look at this from my perspective. I choose you because you’re a great dancer, but you being good at dancing won’t be of use if you’re not there to practice or perform with us. There are lots of other people who want to do this. If you can’t cope we’ll have to find someone else,” she said, and I bit down on my bottom lip as my eyes began to whirl up with prickly tears.
“I’m not making a decision now, but I thought it would be polite to tell you that I was thinking about it,” she said, and I just nodded. I wanted to ask who told her, but I wasn’t sure if she would answer me and a deep feeling in my gut told me that it was Grace. I knew it was grace.
She said some other things, but my mind wasn’t there. I had zoned out, focusing on the pictures of past teams on the wall as I realized I might not even get to compete with them in anything.
“You can go now,” she said, making me blink before looking over at her. I nodded, getting up and as I was about to turn the nob on the door I heard her call my name.
“Oliver,” she said, making me turn to face her. I stared at her face. She looked conflicted — an odd mixture of relieved and sad. “You’re a wonderful dancer, but I hope you understand where I’m coming from,” she said, making me nod. She smiled, waving me off as I opened the door and walked out.
The dance studio was empty now, and I was the only one still in the building. I made it out without choking on my own tears, but I just sort of crumpled down to a sobbing mess on the floor when I got out. I was by myself, squatting by the wall as I heaved and tried to swallow my sobs. I didn’t want anyone to see me, and that’s why I recoiled and tried to stay quiet when I heard someone’s voice call my name.
“Ollie?” I heard again as footsteps closed on me. “Ollie, what’s wrong?” I could hear the person better now, and a flood of relief washed over me when I realized the voice belonged to Advik. I listened as he sat down and looked up from my folded hands when I felt his hand on my hair.
“What’s wrong?” he asked, and a sad expression took form on my face before I looked down at my shoes.
Where do I start? I wondered, but no answer came to my mind, so I didn’t say anything. We sat by the door in silence. No one was coming in or out. There was no one on the sidewalks because it was evening, and campus, in general, was emptying out.
“Why are you here?” I asked, trying to deal with the tense atmosphere. Advik turned to me, and I looked at him from the side of my eyes. His dark eyes were gauging me with a mix of worry and concern, but I didn’t want to talk about why I was a mess. I wanted a distraction.
“I knew you were going for dance, so I came to see you, and you know...” he trailed, referring to me getting out late and turning into a sobbing mess. I chuckled through the lump on my throat, sighing as I leaned back on the wall.
“Yeah, I guess,” I said, trying to forget what had happened at the instructor’s office — trying to forget about Grace trying to take the one thing I truly cared about away from me. I needed to scream at something, punch something — cry — but I was just...
Really tired and exhausted.
Why didn’t anything go the way I wanted it to?
“If you don’t want to talk, maybe we can just head back to the residence together. Eat some food, watch some movies,” Advik said, breaking the silence that had fallen on us again. “There’s a party on my floor this nigh. You can come,” he offered, and I smiled a little. I guess he was trying to cheer me up even though I was pushing him away by not telling him what was wrong.
He was trying, and I appreciated that.
“Sure,” I said, turning my head fully to look over at him. “Sure, I’ll be there,” I repeated, trying to focus my attention on now.
Grace wanted me to be a mess, but I won’t let her see me that way. Ever.
“Oliver,” Advik said as when got up from the sidewalk. I dusted the butt of my sweatpants before looking over at him. He was still giving me that conflicted look of worry and concern.
“I can help. I can help with Grace,” he said, making my face warm up as I looked down at the floor. I guess I was just embarrassed by him insisting. He’s been doing that a lot lately. I opened my mouth to say something but decided against it and just hurried past him. It took a while but soon he was walking by my side in silence. I guess my unvoiced refusal didn’t go unnoticed.
I can deal with it. I thought to myself. I can deal with whatever Grace throws at me. I repeated, reaffirming that I could do it. I didn’t need help. Not help from Advik. Well, at least not now.