How To Be Straight

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The Vote

“Hey.”

“Hey.”

“Shall we?”

“We-we shall.”

Gracie and I walked back through her moms’ small garden and over to my pickup, which was parked by the curb.

“I wanna sign up to speak at the meeting. You should too.”

“What would I say?”

“Tell the story that you told me. About why you don’t look like you’re wearing a costume. But you are, because these clothes aren’t you.”

She shrugged. “Maybe.”

“Well, you’ve got about two minutes to decide. You were our last stop. Everyone else is in the car, or at least, everyone that’ll fit. Cecilia and Sofie are coming later.”

I could tell she didn’t really know what to say to this, so she just mumbled, “Oh.”

We piled back into my pickup, and I began driving back towards the school. It was already dark out, and a fog was covering everything, making it difficult to see. Difficult, but manageable. I didn’t think a family of giants could have kept us away from the school that Friday night.

I pulled into the school parking lot, and was surprised at how many cars were here. “Whoa,” Gracie muttered from the back seat. It took a few minutes to find a spot, and then we hurried inside. There was a sign saying that the meeting would take place in the auditorium due to a high attendance expectation, so we veered and walked down the appointed hall, avoiding people left and right. They didn’t even stare at us. They knew why we were dressed up.

I signed up for a speaking slot, still a little unsure of what I was going to say, and was pleased to see that Gracie claimed one too. We sat down just as the meeting started. I looked around, unable to believe how many people there were. They filled half the auditorium. In a town as small as New Redmen, normally only old ladies came so that they could trick themselves into thinking they were involved in their grandkid’s lives. The school board members, mostly old men, walked out onto the stage and called the meeting to order.

They spent a half hour talking about something else, and I checked out, waiting for the Pronouns vote, which was scheduled for the end of the meeting. Normally we would have been chatting through the beginning, tuning it all out, our teenaged brains unable to focus on one thing for that long, but we were all too nervous. I tried to collect my thoughts, think about what to say, but I couldn’t focus. Breathe, Jamie. Breathe.

After what seemed like both a lifetime and a minute, they announced the issue. They talked about a bunch of stuff I didn’t even attempt to understand, motions and something like that, and then explained the issue.

“A miss Jamelle Brookes has signed up to speak. Jamelle?” Said a particularly annoying looking man.

I stood, walking up to the stage. “Thank you,” I said into the microphone. I took a breath. “Hi. My name’s Jamie, and I have been hiding for my whole life.” I realized there were cameras, probably streaming to the local news station. Breathe, Jamie. “I thought that the only way I could ever get anywhere in my life is if I pretended to be something I wasn’t. I thought that if everyone knew who I actually was, that it would make my life harder. And you know what? It isn’t easy to have everyone look at you like you’re crazy. And maybe I am. But I’d rather just live my life the way I want to; the way I believe is right. And I don’t believe that it’s okay for teachers to not have to use incorrect pronouns when there’s nothing that the students can do about their gender or sex. The teachers have no right to disrespect, deadname, or misgender them. It is not fair and I will not tolerate it as long as there is anything I can do about it. I don’t want people to think less about me because I like girls instead of boys, or of anyone else in this room who doesn’t perfectly fit your description of what we should be. Because not a single person in here has never disappointed someone, and no one in here has never suffered for something they couldn’t control. Remember that day and now imagine feeling that every day. Imagine never hearing your real name, only what was on your birth certificate. Imagine having no one acknowledge who you really are, only who everyone says you are.” I turned to the board. “Adults always say that it’s what’s on the inside that counts. Show me that that’s true.” I paused. “Thank you for your time.”

I took a breath and returned to my seat, barely hearing the clapping.

They called Gracie up. I squeezed her hand as she walked past me towards the podium.

“Hello,” she said carefully, as if she was considering every word. “My name is Grace. I, um,” I noticed that her moms were sitting in the front row, holding hands. I smiled. “Today we wore costumes that represented a phase that we went through since we realized that we were queer. We did this because we are not a phase, it never was and it never will or would have been. But to someone who doesn’t know me, it doesn’t look like I’m wearing a costume. But that’s the thing. I am. For so long I thought I needed to pretend I liked boys. I wanted to be popular. I guess I wanted people to like me. I thought I needed everyone to like me, instead of certain people who I really care about. But now I know better. Now I know that this-” she gestured to her outfit. “It was always a phase. I am not a phase. We only ask that you respect our true names and genders. We ask that you acknowledge that not everyone is always going to be like you and that’s okay. Thank you for your time.”

I found I was crying. I gave her a hug as she sat back down in her seat. “Good job,” I whispered in her ear. “That was beautiful.”

A couple of other people stood up. They gave various points, indulging these kid’s fantasies, (boys liked girls and girls liked boys, nothing else can possibly be the case except in the imaginations of children); the teachers should be allowed to choose; that was ridiculous, the students should choose what pronouns they go by, etc. etc.

Eventually I decided to stop listening to what they were actually saying and started just counting how many times they said the word pronouns. I was up to 22 before the speeches stopped. I squeezed Shay’s hand as they commenced to the vote.

Please Please Please Please.

There were nine board members, which meant we needed at least five votes.

Please Please Please Please.

They called on the first old man. “Nay.”

I bit my lip. Please Please Please Please.

The second man: “Nay.”

Please Please Please Please.

The third: “Aye.”

I breathed a sigh of relief and gave him a grateful glance, even though I doubted he noticed.

Please Please Please Please.

My lip was bleeding as the fourth man was called upon.

Please Please Please Please.

“Aye.”

“Nay.”

The next was the only woman on the team. “Aye.”

“Nay.”

I counted them on my fingers, having slightly lost track. Each side had four votes. It was up to this person, who didn’t look particularly promising. He looked old fashioned and boring. He looked like the kind of grandfather who would give boys toy trucks and girls little kitchen sets for Christmas and who would never let you climb into his lap or read to you.

Please Please Please Please. I realized I was whispering it, “pleasepleasepleasepleaseplease,” so I made myself stop.

The man hesitated, and I held my breath. Please Please Please Please. I told myself to breathe. Myself didn’t listen.

“Your vote sir?” Asked the person directing the meeting. I hadn’t bothered to learn the name of his role.

He hesitated for another second, then looked right at me. “Aye.”

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