Trust Your Gut?

Life and love can yield turns, some welcome, some not. Leah, her friends and family would find that out over the years

Trust Your Gut?
By Marissa Lynn

New Year's Eve 2019

"Why am I here? I wasn't in a contest. It wasn't Halloween. I didn't finish last in my fantasy football league. Nope. I did this to my own damn self."

Jake was lost in his thoughts as Jasmine and Amy had run out of the apartment for God knows what to pull the look together.

It's neither completely fair nor accurate suggest that Jake did it to himself. For one thing, Jake was not Jake at all. To the world at large, yes. But to herself and a select few, she was Leah, a reality that, contrary to what she'd felt for most of her 30 years, was something that just was. She had no part in it happening.

She also had no part in being "blessed" growing up in a family that had pockets of safety, but mostly existed between cluelessness and hostility when it came to people like her. That included being sandwiched between two brothers, both of whom were proud jocks. Not only did she know who she was, she quite literally didn't have the space to explore it.

Schoolwork took up her time. Coupled with choir and theater, she accomplished enough to keep her parents off her back.

Not that she had any desire to go back to Cleveland. Even with her friends who never left, it had become an island in a state where the hostility to anyone who wasn't cis was growing.

She was unpleasantly surprised that it was Tim, her older brother, who she had to cut off. He'd always seemed the more thoughtful of the two, but when she pointed out the real, harmful bigotry people like him were supporting, he tried gaslighting her, claiming she was being "ugly" and "negative."

She wasn't even out yet and she'd had to cut out people she couldn't trust. Hey, ho, way to go, Ohio.

But Leah wasn't completely blameless, if blame were the right word, for why she was sitting here alone and partially dressed.

Last fall, she'd already had a couple beers on a Saturday. She'd just started to get dressed when there was a buzz on her intercom. It was Jasmine, stopping by for an unannounced visit.

They'd been friends since NYU. Leah had started in Theater, then realized she didn't have drive to pursue it full-time, especially knowing that Jake giving way to her was a possibility.

She and Jasmine clicked as friends, the deeply closeted trans girl from the west side of Cleveland and the black girl from Brooklyn who turned out to be really good at makeup even though she was lucky enough to be gorgeous without it.

Jasmine had made a career of it and was always kind enough to have "Jake" on her customer list so the hairstyling was cheaper than it should have been otherwise.

Leah went into publishing. She worked for an inclusive company. She knew of a couple trans people there. She'd seen Cole, who worked in a different department, before and after he transitioned. So, why was she still stuck as "Jake," with Jasmine coming up the elevator and having to hide her true self again?

"You can take the girl away from Memphis Avenue, but you can't take Memphis Avenue away from the girl," she sighed in frustration.

They made small talk, about their jobs, about the general state of affairs, about Marcus, some guy Jasmine met leaving work.

Leah just kept adding to the empty bottle collection in the recycle box, which didn't escape Jasmine's notice.

"Jake, you okay?"

"Of course. Why woudn't I be? Everything's peachy."

Ordinarily, Jasmine would have dropped it, but her instincts told her not to. "No, it's not. It's clear something's bothering you and has been for a while. Even back to NYU, but it's been worse for a while."

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"Yes, I do. Look, it's okay if you don't want to talk about it. I just hate seeing you like this. And you'll always be my friend, whether you're gay or-"

"Gay? Why do you think I'm gay?"

"I shouldn't have said that. I'm sorry. I can't make assumptions here. Just know I'm here whenever you need me. Just do me one favor, please?"

"What's that?"

"Maybe switch away from beer. Get you a water while I'm up?"

"Probably a good idea," Leah said, but she had enough alcohol in her system to keep her from stopping what came out of her mouth next.

"I do like men, but I'm not gay. I like them, but not as Jake."

"You mean?"

"I'm not a guy. Or I wouldn't be if I had any guts."

"Oh, girl," Jasmine said as she came in for a hug. "You have a name?"

"L-L-Leah."

"Leah," Jasmine smiled. "Let me guess. I interrupted some Me Time?"

"You kinda did," Leah said with winsome embarrassment.

"Well, would you like to change?"

"No. My wig's kinda crap. And I don't know that I feel comfortable."

"Gotcha, but let me check," Jasmine said, returning a short time later. "Not today, but I can help you with that wig if you'd like."

"Maybe, but," Leah gestured at her hair.

"Is that why you haven't been to the salon lately?" Leah shyly nodded.

"Tell you what. You let it get to where you want it and the first cut for the real you is on me. And any help with the makeup-- I'm here. Now would you like to talk, Leah?"

"You know, you can keep using that name."

So, Leah told her story. By the end, she'd agreed to let Jasmine help her with a public debut.

"This isn't what I had in mind," she thought now.

Sure, she'd started seeing a therapist and diving headfirst into looks at home. She'd slowly come out. Amy, her closest co-worker at Malone Publishing, was one of the first. Amy and Jasmine eventually became co-conspirators, pushing Leah to make her debut on New Year's Eve.

"Trust me, it's not going to be huge, just friendly faces. I wouldn't throw you to the wolves, okay?" Amy had said.

"Easy for her to say. She's not one sitting here in a tank top and short shorts."

"We're back. Didn't think that we'd send you out in that, did you?" Jasmine said as she and Amy entered with bags.

They'd settled on a festive suit look, with the pop coming from a red sequined top under the blazer and bold lip to match. The only surprise came when Jasmine brought out extensions to match Leah's chestnut hair.

"Isn't that a little much?"

"Leah, your hair is almost there. I could make it look good now, but with these, I can make it look spectacular. And I can take them out later, but you might not want me to," Jasmine winked.

When Leah finally got a look at the finished product, she breathed sigh of relief. Even with her improved makeup skills, she wasn't at Jasmine's level. Amy's outfit choice hit the right balance. She could still see the dysphoria-inducing flaws, but this was as close as she could be to seeing her future looking back at her.

"Okay, let's do this," she said.

As they approached Amy's place, where they were having the party, the host put a reassuring hand on Leah's shoulder, whispering in her ear-- "Just walk in like you own the place."

After all the buildup, Leah was surprised by how utterly normal the evening was. There were well-wishes and questions, but it didn't take long until she was just another woman there.

Chatting with some tall blonde named April while nibbling on crab puffs, she saw her looking towards the door.

"Waiting for someone?"

"Yeah, my boyfriend had some family stuff to attend to, but he said he'd be able to get here around now. There he is, I should introduce you two."

As Leah turned to her right, she saw Cole, with April, coming towards her.

"Cole, this is Leah, one of Jasmine's friends."

"I've heard about you, Leah. Cool to finally meet you."

Leah tensed up, but Cole asked April what they had to drink. As she went off to grab one, he told Leah, "Don't worry, your secret's safe with me."

"This is kind of my coming out party, but thanks, I will be Leah at work at some point."

"Cool. I'm happy for you. If you have any questions, let me know. Debbie at H.R. was pretty helpful, by the way."

"Great. Thanks."

As it got closer to midnight, Jasmine spotted Leah alone.

"So, Leah, you look as relaxed as I've seen you in a while. Do you think you made the right call?"

"I really do," she said with a smile that showed in her eyes.

"Looks like you have your New Year's resolution set."

Leah got a funny look on her face, confusing Jasmine momentarily.

She opened her clutch, pulling out a bottle and handing it to Jasmine so she could read the label-- progesterone.

"You bitch, when were you going to tell me?"

"Tonight, actually."

"I'm so happy for you," Jasmine said as she hugged her, adding "Welcome to the Club. Although I guess you've been here a while. It just took until you were ready to let us know you were here."

"Sounds about right. Happy New Year, Jasmine."

"Happy New Year, Leah. You do know we have toast this, right?"

"Just you, me and Amy for now, though.

"Got it, but 2020 is going to be the Year of Leah."

Leaning in conspiratorially, Leah said, "I hope so. By the way, I'm keeping the extensions."

2020

It wasn't anyone's year.

The pandemic threw everything into flux. It was fairly easy for Leah to switch to remote work, but Jasmine was screwed, only able to get by with transcription work and the like, as well as Marcus' income.

A couple of people at her Malone offices passed. So had Mr. Hernandez, who owned the nearest corner deli and always made a great BEC. Such a nice man.

Leah had been unscathed, but others hadn't been so lucky. April was lucky enough to make it, but she'd been hospitalized for over a week, agonizing Cole, who hadn't been able to see her or care for her at first when she got home.

Working at home accelerated Leah's timeline. She'd been able to get her first cut and color for her true self a few weeks before everything shut down, one that Jasmine showed her how to tweak to look like Jake at the office.

Once Leah didn't have to go to the office,she took that as her cue. If she was spending most of her days alone, there was no sense in dressing as someone else. She got the go-ahead from H.R., so there'd be no problem returning to the office and Zoom call awkwardness would be kept to minimum.

Coming out to her family mostly went as expected. Mostly.

Mom and Dad were kind of supporting, but threw a lot of concern trolling questions, fueled by dubious sources, her way. As the year rolled on, they seemed to, if not completely understand, realize that Leah was here to stay.

If her parents were getting her name and pronouns right as the year wore on, Tim was having none of it. He chose to respond to having a trans sister as well as you'd expect someone who also ranted about masks and "the plandemic" would. Which is why she'd blocked him on social media and on her phone.

The surprise was Daniel, her younger brother. He'd been a bit, how'd teachers put it on his report cards when he was young? "Easily stimulated." He loved teasing Leah when they were younger, but eased up by high school. Still, they were hardly close.

That changed when he contacted her over Zoom that summer.

"Hi, Leah."

"He's not calling me 'Jake.' This is a good sign."

"What's up, Danny?"

"Not much," he said, before they chatted for a good 15 minutes about nothing really at all before Leah took the lead.

"You didn't call me just to b.s. When's the last time we talked? You're calling me about something. What do you really want?"

Daniel looked as vulnerable as she'd ever seen him. "Maybe I should just show you," he said, reaching to his left grabbing his phone, showing her the photo. Daniel, who looked like a blonde guy version of her. A dark-haired man with a mustache and square framed glasses with his arm around him.

"You mean to tell me you're-"

"Yes. His name's Jacob, oddly enough. And I'm as surprised as you are. We met playing softball. We started hanging out and we both felt something. He said to me one night, 'I hope this isn't weird, but I feel like kissing you.' It wasn't weird at all. We've been together since January."

"Mom and Dad know?"

"I'm sure they do. Tim showed up here unannounced last week, not wearing a mask and drunk. I told him to get the hell out. Then Jacob came of the bedroom and-"

"Oh, no."

"You know how Tim always used to boast he could take me in a fight. He was wrong. Anyway, I'm sure he couldn't wait to bother Mom and Dad about it. "

"How'd they take it?"

"You know Lianne and Ron. They haven't said a thing. It'll probably be a slow roll to acceptance like it's been with you. So, how about your dating life?"

"Non-existent."

While Leah and Danny continued to bond over the rest of the year, her circumstances hadn't changed. On the list of unfortunate things caused by the pandemic, her not being able to go out on dates after coming out? Pretty low on the list.

But for the year ahead? If the outside world improves, dating as her true self is as good a resolution as any.

It was a small gathering for New Year's Eve. The only person she didn't know was Scott, a friend of Marcus -- blonde hair, green eyes and instant attraction.

"So what do you do at Malone?"

"A little of everything. I started with children's books, but I deal with more adult fiction, mysteries, that kind of thing. What about you?"

"Architectural and interior design for businesses."

"That sounds interesting."

"It can be. Would you like to go out, just the two of us sometime?"

"I would. Very much, actually. As long as you know upfront that-"

He put his hand on her arm reassuringly, "Anything you think I need to know, I'm fine with."

"Guess I got a head start on my resolution again."

2021

If Leah had denied herself for too long, she made up for lost time with Scott.

For his part, Scott felt the same. There was a reassuring quality to their time together.

Leah surprised herself by not rushing into physical intimacy. Not that she wasn't craving it, but Scott didn't push her.

She appreciated how respectful he was and, when things finally did happen, neither had any complaints.

All things considered, they both felt as at home as they ever had.

Jasmine wasn't as lucky, as she and Marcus called it quits. It was a pandemic-fueled breakup, as their increased time together led them to realize they didn't have as much in common as they'd thought.

At least it wasn't as painful as it could have been, nor as awkward for their friends. "No bad guys here, you don't have to choose between us," as she put it.

On the other hand, Cole and April had progressed further. She'd accepted when he proposed after a candlelit dinner at home, but they were willing to wait until conditions improved so that they could have a wedding friends and family could attend.

The April ceremony left Leah a little concerned, not over anything major, but that she didn't get stuck in a hideous bridesmaid's dress.

She needn't have worried. With the only requirement to go with something in a lighter shade, Amy and Jasmine helped her find a strapless number in light pink that didn't make her look like Princess Bubble Yum.

It was a lovely wedding. Cole beamed the whole time. The more Leah got to know him, he'd turned out to be more like one of the cool, smart guys she looked up to in high school, every bit the offspring of two teachers from Westchester County.

And April was outgoing enough to make Jasmine and Amy seem as retiring as silent monks, but never came off as annoyingly perky, quite the highwire feat.

The reception went swimmingly. Leah danced with Cole, Marcus, Cole's dad (who turned out to have the best moves of any of them) and, of course, Scott.

The slow dances, her head on his shoulder, she felt as safe as she'd felt in her life. She glanced at April at one point, thinking "That could be me."

Leah was returning with a refilled drink when she saw Scott, with furrowed brows, looking at his phone.

"Honey, what's wrong?"

"I'm getting transferred. Seattle."

"Across the country? Can't you turn it down?"

"I wish I could, but they're not giving me a choice."

"But I can't leave here."

"I know. Dammit. I can't believe this."

"Did you know?"

"No. I mean, I knew there was some restructuring, but the word was it was going to be someone from Chicago."

"But things have been going so well."

"I know, I know. If there was something I could do, but there isn't. I can't just quit without another job to go to."

"Okay. We'll just have to make it work somehow. I mean, this doesn't have to be permanent."

"No, we can make it work."

"Yes, we can," Leah said as they embraced.

If only that had been the case. They'd talked all the time at first, but then one or both had work things. With no sign of anything happening to change the situation, they began to drift apart.

Scott felt especially helpless. He'd tried to find ways out of it. No luck. And he had more on his mind than his job and Leah. The longer they were apart, the more everything else weighed on him.

Adrift, Leah could do nothing. Even though her job was still mostly remote, she still had to be available for the office, something she couldn't do from the Pacific Northwest.

In the end, it was Scott who jumped first, the words "Leah, we need to talk" giving her a sinking feeling.

Leah begged off on New Year's Eve, despite her friends protests. Amy especially tried her to join them, but realized she needed to be alone.

There was nothing to celebrate. Nothing to resolve.

As she watched the countdown on CNN, she couldn't help but think so much of the last two years had been wasted. "At least I wasn't ridiculous enough to start sourdough baking," she joked bitterly as the ball dropped.

2022

Leah should have resolved to swear off dating, as Amy seemingly had.

"Maybe the right someone's out there, but I have enough going on." she told Leah.

"Same here."

"How's your family?"

"Danny's great. He and Jacob adopted a couple of rescue dogs. Mom and Dad have been really nice. They've been after me to visit, but, you know."

"My family's in Florida. I do."

"At least they cut off Tim, too. Turns out they don't much like having their daughter and youngest son being called 'pedophile groomers' very much."

"Ouch. Wanna get a bite after work?"

"Sure. The Mexican seafood place?"

"Deal."

It seemed Scott had ghosted everyone, not just Leah. He deactivated his social media accounts. It was if he'd ceased to exist. The surgical precision with which he'd done it had Leah open to dating by year's end.

She arrived at Jasmine's, seeing Amy was already there.

"Hey, gorgeous," Jasmine said.

"Hey, yourself. You two look like you have things in hand."

"We make a pretty good team, right?"

"Um, we do at that," Amy said, her expression changing. Jasmine didn't see it, but Leah certainly did.

The usual assortment filtered in, along with some new faces, including some guy who looked, dare Leah say it, cute.

"Why not? It's been long enough."

"So, how'd you wind up here..."

"Lance. Jasmine helped hook me up with an apartment here. I started work at the salon last month."

"That explains it. I'm not due to come in for a few weeks. I'm Leah, by the way."

"I guessed. Jasmine and Amy told me you'd be here."

"They did, eh?" ("I've been set up.")

It was indeed a set-up and it worked. Leah and Lance talked throughout the night, agreeing to go on a date some time in January.

Leah got a chance to corner Jasmine and Amy.

"So, Lance, a guy who looks like a younger version of Christopher Meloni, just happened to be here?"

"I'd say 'guilty,' but it looks like you two are hitting it off," Jasmine said.

"So far so good. You know, you two make a pretty good pair."

Amy and Jasmine said nothing, so Leah quickly kept the silence from being awkward.

"I'd say you two get along like an old married couple, but you haven't even dated yet"

Amy and Jasmine's eyes grew bigger as they looked away from each other as quickly as they'd glanced in their direction.

"Or have you?"

"No, um, why would we? I mean, um," Amy said.

Leah looked at her sympathetically. "But you've thought about it."

Amy sighed. "Yes, I have. I dated a couple of women in college, but I thought it was a phase. But, Jasmine, the more we've hung out together, the more I've wondered."

Jasmine said, "I had no idea." Glancing at Leah, she said, "I never told you, but even when we knew each other at NYU, I always felt queer, but I was always afraid to act on it. Expectations are a pain."

"I know. So all those years we knew each other, we were in our own closets. But maybe you don't have to be?" Leah asked.

"Maybe not. I think I'd be up for trying it and seeing how it goes, Amy, if you are."

"I am," Amy replied, taking Jasmine's hands in hers, before she looked up at Leah, "But what about you, Little Miss Single?"

"I don't know. I know most first relationships don't work out, but my gut told me it would with Scott. Maybe I need to resolve to accept that my gut's an idiot."

"That's possible, but in the meantime, Lance seems to like you."

"He does at that," Leah smiled as she looked in his direction. "I should let you two talk anyway. Here's to successfully resolving to enjoy new experiences."

2023

Leah's family came to her, starting with Danny and Jacob moving to the city, only a couple of subway stops away from her, the rescue dogs living with friends, replaced by a couple of cats.

Her parents finally came to New York, which reminded her how much she missed them.

"I can't get over how beautiful you are. Pictures are one thing, but you look so much like your Aunt Monica," Lianne said.

"She's right. She'd have been proud of you, too. You and Daniel both have her kindness," Ron added, getting emotional thinking of his sister, who'd died of leukemia before Leah was born.

Leah agreed to a return visit. It might never be safe to move back to Ohio, the way things were going, but there wasn't a place to get a Polish Boy in New York.

Lance was out of the picture at that point. They went on a few dates, but it became apparent that they were going to want to completely different things from a relationship, that he came off a little controlling.

But still, it was worth the shot and she didn't give Jasmine and Amy too much grief for it. She was too happy seeing their relationship blossom.

At the start of December, Leah realized Scott had reactivated his accounts, even though he hadn't done much besides make an Under Construction sign his cover photo.

The morning, she found a message in her inbox -- "Are you going to be at Jasmine and Amy's tonight? I'm in town and need to talk to you about something."

Leah, who'd taken Scott of her friends list when he went missing, took a deep breath and replied, "I will be. See you then."

"Great. Looking forward to it."

The mood was joyous that night. Danny and Jacob (a better holder of her old name, Leah thought) were there. Cole and April announced they were approved for adoption, so they'd be starting a family in the year ahead.

Leah also got a sneak preview when Jasmine took her aside into the bedroom to show her the ring.

"Oh my God! Yay!"

"Sssh. Sssh. Don't spoil it."

"Sorry," Leah whispered, miming zipping her lips shut as she gave Jasmine a massive hug.

When Leah returned to the party, she still didn't see Scott anywhere.

She shook her head when Amy asked her if she'd had any luck.

"I know you never got over him. Maybe he never got over you."

"But he's the one-"

"Look, all I'm saying is maybe your gut's more trustworthy than you thought," Amy said, glancing over towards the bedroom

Leah looked over, still not seeing Scott. She went back. Jasmine was gone, but there's a sandy blonde in a green dress.

"Scott?"

"It's Shannon now."

"How? Why?"

"Sorry for the surprise, for a lot of things, but the same as you. Dysphoria. Hormones."

"But you never told me."

"I know, but when we were together, I had it buried. But when I got transferred, it all came flooding back. That's why I pulled away. I knew I couldn't put the genie back in the bottle and it wasn't fair to you."

"Wasn't fair? You couldn't even bother to tell me! That's not fair!"

Shannon hung her head. "I know. I know. It's just you fell in love with a man. I couldn't be that man anymore. We were thousands of miles apart-"

"So you didn't give me a chance."

"I should have. I've regretted it every single day since. You, of all people, can understand, being like this, the dating in denial."

Leah's surprise and anger were joined by recognition. There but for the grace of God, this could have been her in her 20s.

"But Sc-Shannon, you flew all the way from Seattle to come out?"

"Not exactly. I'm moving back. I took a job here, smaller company, but higher position and better pay. Can't get reassigned. This city's where I always felt at home."

"That's great. I'm happy for you. I wish it had happened a couple years ago."

"Me, too. I just, I thought you should know and-"

"And what?"

"To let you know I'm so sorry."

"I know. Look, it hurt when you called it off and it hurts that you kept this a secret from me. But at the same time, you're right. I didn't tell anyone I dated before. And even without your coming to terms with being Shannon, being 3,000 miles apart was too much for both of us."

"Well, I'm clearly not going to be 3,000 miles away, regardless of the place I find. And I'm clearly not burying who I am anymore."

"No, you certainly are not," Leah said. Now that the surprise was wearing off, she could see just how much Shannon had changed. She didn't see it coming, but the total picture made perfect sense.

"I don't expect us to pick up our relationship, Leah. For one thing, you're straight and I'm not going back to being a man."

"I should hope Scott doesn't return. That would be a waste. Being your true self is attractive enough, but you're making the most of it."

"Thanks. I didn't know what to expect, sharp learning curve and all that, but it's like I'm not carrying that two-ton boulder anymore."

"I know exactly what you mean. And for the record, I love men, but speaking hypothetically, if the man I loved told me they couldn't live as a man anymore, I'd love them regardless."

"An exception to the rule."

"Hypothetically."

"Yes, hypothetically."

At that moment, they heard cheers from the living room.

"Oh, no! I missed Jasmine's proposal. Of course, Amy said yes!"

Shannon grinned, "Yes, she did. When Jasmine proposed to her this morning."

"What?"

"Well, they knew I was coming as Shannon and they thought we could use some privacy to talk."

"You all planned this?"

"Sort of. I resolved to be honest with you and I knew they'd make sure I stuck to it. Not that I needed much push. I was just scared you wouldn't show up."

Leah flashed back to Amy's words four years ago -- "I wouldn't throw you to the wolves, okay?"

"They make a great couple don't they? Jasmine told me you almost saw it before they did," Shannon said.

"Every once in a while, I get one right. You said 'find a place' earlier. If you need to, you can stay at my apartment to start, until you find one. We can catch up more and you know the couch is comfortable."

"Couch?"

"Don't push it, Shannon. If you want to rebuild our relationship, you're going to have to earn it."

"Fair enough," Shannon said, a hint of a smile forming at the ends of her lips.

"Should we go congratulate them?" Leah asked.

As Shannon rose to join her, Leah allowed herself a smile of her own, resolving that maybe, just maybe, her gut was worth trusting after all.



If you liked this post, you can leave a comment and/or a kudos!
Click the Thumbs Up! button below to leave the author a kudos:
up
79 users have voted.

And please, remember to comment, too! Thanks. 
This story is 5000 words long.