How To Be Straight

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The next day I wore a giant purple ball gown I had gotten for my 14th birthday when I went through a mild phase where I was obsessed with looking like I belonged in an ancient painting. It took forever to put on, and then I snuck out the door to get out without my parents seeing.

Never had our costumes been so diverse. People dressed like book and movie characters, like greek gods, with T-shirts from bands. We took dozens of pictures for the Instagram page and then walked up to the same news reporter who had been there the last couple days. I felt sort of bad for him. He probably had once had bigger dreams than reporting for a local station in a tiny town in Ohio.

“Jamie, right?”

“Yes sir.”

“That’s quite a dress.”

“Thanks. It doesn’t quite fit,” I tugged self consciously at the sash. “I got it when I was 14.”

“So what’s today’s theme? Circus performers?”

“Past phases.”

“And what does that mean to you?” Grown ups always ask the worst questions.

“Well,” I began, “It was my friend Dakota’s idea, actually. They’re over there.” I gestured to where Dakota stood talking to Abbey. They wore all black: earrings, leather jacket, everything. It made me smile at the idea of them ever being so gothy. “We’re dressing up as past phases that we’ve had since we realized we were- we were queer. Or, in the case of the many allies, just past phases in general. Because my strange obsession with giant ball gowns when I was 14 was a phase. Liking girls is not a phase.”

He nodded slowly. “That makes sense.”

“I have to go to class,” I said to him. “You should talk to Dakota. It was their idea.”

He smiled and raised an eyebrow. “Okay, thanks.”

I walked inside.

Heads turned. People gaped at me in my giant dress, parting a path for me, which was good because I probably would have tripped otherwise.

Shay laughed when she saw me. “I remember that thing! 8th grade!”

She was dressed as a cowgirl. “Oh!” I explained, “You were like five! And you wanted to be a cowgirl when you grew up! I remember that! Your mom was furious. She hated the idea of you doing any work, let alone something that actually involved getting your hands dirty and using your body.”

We began to walk down the hall, and I thought about how our outfits were kind of opposite from one another, and from ourselves now. I took her hand. I didn’t care how many people stared.

Dakota ran up to me, dragging Abbey behind them. “Jamie! They interviewed me! They said,” they stumbled, but regained their balance. “They said you said that it was my idea! Thank you thank you!”

I caught them in my arms as they tripped over their Dr. Martens for the second time. “Oof. No running, remember? We haven’t won anything yet, but I’d say we stand a chance. Coffee after school on me?”

We all walked down the halls together, and I marveled about how much my life had changed in little over a month. Now I had so many friends, I didn’t have to hide anymore. I could walk down the halls with Shay And Shay too, while she wasn’t going to tell her parents anything, had found a balance between caution and living. Her life had improved as mine had. I realized I was still holding her hand and gave it a gentle squeeze, thinking that this might have been the best day of my life.

Gracie joined us as we walked through the halls. “Whoa,” I muttered.


“We’re seniors.”

Dakota laughed. “Congratulations, Jamie. Did you figure that out all by yourself?”

I laughed. “We’re graduating soon. Well, soonish. We’re not gonna be in high school forever, and I never thought I’d say this, but I’m going to miss New Redmen.”

We all got serious and quiet. “Yeah,” Gracie muttered. “I don’t want to grow up.”

“Me neither,” I agreed.

We remained quiet and sad for two minutes until we got to class and were distracted by everyone’s costumes. I turned, realizing I hadn’t noticed what Gracie or Abbey was wearing. Abbey wore a T-shirt from a band that had been popular a few years ago, and Gracie wore the perfect fashions. Completely normal for your average high schooler, even if it was a little odd for her.

“Are you dressed up?”


I raised an eyebrow.

She took a breath. “For a long time I went through a phase where all I wanted was to be popular and cool and- and straight. I’m over that now. That’s my phase.”

I nodded. “That makes sense.” I paused. “Can I hug you now?”

She smiled. “Not if I hug you first.”

Of all the days, Friday was my favorite. Past phases day was so fun. I got to learn so much about so many people, about what they were like when they were little. I got to let people stare at me and just laugh and wave. My only regret was that I had not worn a wig. I thought long hair would have really put it over the top and made me look more like I did when I was 14 and had waist length hair.

At lunch we all sat together as we normally did, and laughed, but as time passed and the vote grew closer we all became more skittish and quiet. By ninth period I was so lost in my own spiraling anxiety of whatifitdoesntworkwhatifitdoesntworkwhatifitdoesntwork that I didn’t even hear the bell ring. Gracie tapped my shoulder, and whispered, “Jamie. The bell.” I stood, and Gracie and I walked out of there together, with an anxiety settling in our hearts that I knew would not be gone until after the decision had been made.

“C-coffee?” I asked my (They really were mine now) friends as we exited the building.

Gracie took a breath. “Sure. But how about just us this time. Not all those people.”

“Kay. I’ll drive?”


“Well,” I said as we got in the car. “That was that. We’re going to the meeting, right?”

Dakota nodded, checking their phone. “Mhm. It starts at seven.”

“Kay. I’ll pick y’all up at 6:45. And stay in your costumes. It’ll be good for them all to see how much we care about this.”

We faded into silence as I drove us towards town. As we did, the world seemed to narrow. Nothing mattered anymore except one thing: winning this vote.

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