Ceri makes a new friend but there is a big shock for her at the school interview
A Piece of Paper (Part 5)
For about the millionth time I pulled down the hem of my short, black dress and managed to cover an extra millimetre of my legs.
The pews in the church were uncomfortable and the funeral had been going on for almost an hour so far. It seemed my Great Aunt Eleri had been an important person in her life, a cutting-edge scientist, a successful businesswoman, a patron of the arts and of course a lover of cats. This was clear from the series of eulogies that were delivered to the large congregation.
Finally the last prayers were said and we all traipsed out into the cool, damp summer afternoon for the interment. As the closest living relatives my mother and I were to be the first to cast a handful of soil from the prepared pile onto the coffin below.
As I stepped forward it seemed like hundreds of eyes were boring into me waiting to expose my subterfuge. However not a word was spoken and, after my few grains had thudded onto the casket below I walked away and was replaced by the next mourner.
Half an hour later I was sipping a glass of lemonade sat next to the only other teenager in the wake, in the next door golf club.
“I’m Danni,” the girl said after a few minutes sitting together in silence.
“Ceri,” I responded and looked a little more carefully at my companion. She looked to be a year or two older than me from her height and from how much she had developed.
“Did you know her?” she asked.
“She was my great aunt, what about you?”
Danni paused for a second, “I didn’t know Mrs Jones at all but...it’s my mother you see.”
“What about your mother?”
“She’s runs the school.”
“What school?” I asked.
“Didn’t you know? It’s the school that Mrs Jones was the chair of the governors of, the one she donated such a lot of money to.”
I was curious, there hadn’t been a mention of my great aunt’s involvement in the governance of a school, or maybe there had been and I’d not being paying attention to whichever of the older adults had mentioned it in their eulogies.
“So what school is that then?”
“It’s called ‘Ysgol Santes Dwynwen’, it’s pretty posh too.”
I almost knocked over my glass of lemonade when Danni named the school. I managed to catch it before it spilled its contents over me, the table and the floor.
Unfortunately Danni had noticed my reaction, “What’s up? Have you heard of the school?”
Some lemonade went down the wrong way and I coughed hard before replying a little croakily, “I’m supposed to be going there in September.”
She smiled, “Me too, I’m really looking to it?”
I raised an eyebrow, “How old are you then or are you starting in year 9 or 10?”
“I’m thirteen, fourteen in November,” she replied. She noticed my questioning look, “I had ME*, I was off school for almost two years, but I’m a lot better now.”
“So you’ll be in the year seven class then?”
Danni explained how she’d only been strong enough to keep up with some subjects during her time off school and that she’d be with year 7** for some subjects but in year 9*** for others.
She asked me what primary school I’d gone to and I explained I’d gone to Ysgol Glan Aber but we were now moving to Swansea because of my aunt’s will.
“What was your favourite subject?” she asked.
I thought for a moment, “Well we used to have great art lessons and most of the rest were great too and games was great.”
“What did you do in games? I used to love sport before I got ill.”
“Everything, football, cricket, rounders, athletics, rugby…..we had a great playing field,” I replied, “..although they’re selling it now, Mum said it’s the cuts or something.”
“Wow, you were lucky, we only had rounders and dance. Our school was old fashioned, you know, ‘not lady like’ to play football or rugby.”
I laughed at Danni’s pretend posh English ‘not lady like’.
“I was captain of the team,” I stated as I remembered the fun and excitement of the matches we’d played.
“Captain? What team?” asked Danni, in surprise.
“Football,” I replied.
“It was a mixed team,” I hastily added as her expression became more inquiring. This had been true although very few girls had ever been interested in playing. There had been the occasional one over the years though.
“Wow, that’s great,” she exclaimed, “I’ve been badgering Mum about having a football team but she keeps saying no-one knows how to play, wait till I tell her about you.”
We continued to chat about our schools and she told me a little more about her illness. I forgot all about my earlier feelings of being a fraud in pretending to be a girl and began to enjoy Danni’s company.
Finally the wake began to wind down and so, after exchanging social media contact details, I said ‘bye’ to Danni and rejoined my Mum. She looked upset but she wouldn’t tell me why. She whispered ‘later’ and so I stood quietly next to her as she accepted the final condolences of the departing mourners.
It was such a relief to take off the black dress and the itchy bra and tights once we got to what had been Aunt Eleri’s house later on.
However my relief at removing signs of femininity was short-lived after Mum insisted I put on another dress from my meagre collection.
“You have to become comfortable with wearing girls’ clothes, you know, for the interview,” she explained referring to our proposed visit to Ysgol Santes Dwynwen the following Monday.
“You know how important that is going to be to both of us.”
I nodded my understanding and was at least grateful that the casual dress I was now wearing was loose and had a much longer hemline.
We ate our take-away meal silently for a while and then Mum put her fork down and looked at me, “I spoke to Mr Smithers in the wake, Ceri.”
I wondered what my aunt’s lawyer had had to say, from the state of Mum, nothing good I was sure, “What did he say, Mum?”
“He was actually quite pleasant. He upped his offer for the mortgage,” she replied.
“What was it?”
“He offered to pay a whole year if we gave up on the idea of you going to the school.”
“That wouldn’t be long enough would it Mum?” I asked.
“No, it’ll take me at least three years to do the office skills course for disabled people. Maybe we could be OK on benefits for a couple of years.”
“Where would we live, when we lose the house after the mortgage payments stop?
“I spoke to the council yesterday and they said the only options were either one of their remaining one bedroomed flats in the ‘Cae Brwnt’**** estate or a room in a bed and breakfast.”
I was a bit surprised about our limited housing options but Mum explained that the only other accommodation that the council could offer was a three bedroomed house but because of the ‘bedroom tax’***** our benefits wouldn’t be enough to pay the rent.
“There’s only one choice then Mum,” I said with more resolve than I felt, “I’ll have to go to Ysgol Santes Dwynwen until you can get a job.”
Mum reached out to hold my hand, “You have to be sure about this, you’ll have to take puberty blockers, it might delay you developing, you know, into a young man.”
I hesitated before replying, “Yes Mum, I have to otherwise they’ll take me away from you.”
She moved forward to hug me and tears began flowing freely down her cheeks. Soon I was sobbing quietly into her shoulder. Thoughts of food were forgotten as we held each other for what seemed like a long time.
At ten o’clock, Monday morning, we were sitting in another waiting room. This time outside the office of Mrs Lowri Pritchard, headteacher of Ysgol Santes Dwynwen. Mum had spent ages on my clothes and my make-up, constantly reminding me of the the importance of first impressions. Finally she had been satisfied and we’d had to rush to get to the school on time.
Soon we were ushered into the large expensive looking office.
Mrs Pritchard was a trim, well dressed woman in her mid-forties. She rose as we came in and directed us to two chairs in front of her large oak desk.
After a preliminary offer of refreshments and a general enquiry about Mum’s health Mrs Pritchard clasped her hands in front of her and her voice took on a more serious tone.
“I’m afraid this meeting is a waste of time for both of us.”
I was stunned by Mrs Pritchard’s words.
“Why?” my mother asked quietly.
“I spoke to Mr Smithers at the wake of our former generous benefactor last week. It seems this application is a farce. I’m so sorry to have wasted your time, but I felt, for the sake of your aunt’s memory, I owed you a personal explanation.”
“I don’t understand,” I said in a tiny voice.
Mrs Pritchard turned slightly to look at me directly, “I’m sorry Ceri, it seems that your aunt was confused about your true gender when she arranged for you to have a place with us. This is an all girls school and only girls are allowed to attend.”
“But I am a girl,” I countered becoming indignant that we were about to be turned away with all the probable consequences for our future.
Mrs Pritchard paused before continuing in a tone that was kindly but also dismissive, “Ceri, I understand that you may wish to become a girl in the future, but the truth is that at present you are a boy and therefore ineligible to become a pupil at Ysgol Santes Dwynwen. I’m so sorry to disappoint you, also thank you so much for talking to my daughter at the funeral she was really pleased to meet you.”
She turned to my mother, “Now there just remains for me to apologise for your wasted journey and to ask my secretary to…….”
“Perhaps you’d like to look at this,” interrupted my mother as she handed over our letter from Doctor Williams referring to a likely diagnosis of ‘Gender Dysphoria’.
Mrs Pritchard took the letter and read it quickly before looking up, “Yes, I can see and it’s obviously a good thing that Ceri is getting professional help but I don’t see how it affects our admission policy…….”
She was stopped mid sentence by my mother giving her a copy of the page from the schools’s website about its admission policy. She had highlighted the sentence ‘....admission of gender variant pupils undergoing medical treatment at the discretion of the governors’.
“But that was meant for…….” she began and then I could almost see the cogs whirring in her mind as she processed the implications.
Mrs Pritchard smiled and then looked up from the pieces of paper, “I see we were careless in drafting this policy. I’m sure you realise that this refers to the very occasional girl who is questioning her gender identity while attending the school. I think we have two at the moment, one in year 10 and one in year 12.”
“Yes, but Ceri is a gender variant pupil who is undergoing medical treatment.”
Mrs Pritchard turned to her computer, “Just give me a moment to check something.”
A few seconds later she turned back to us, “This could get quite sticky for us legally, since Ceri already has a place at the school allocated on the basis of your aunt’s strong recommendation.”
She paused for a second and then seemed to come to a decision, “Right I’m willing to take a chance on this, I’m sure I can square it with the parents but it will take some delicate public relations.”
I felt a weight fall off my shoulders and I noticed Mum smiling again.
Mrs Pritchard typed a few things on her keyboard and then turned to me, “Well at least I won’t have to disappoint Danni.”
“Why?” I asked.
“She’s so set on a having football team now that she can do sports again and hearing that you were captain of your school team has redoubled her efforts to persuade me to try it out.”
She turned to Mum, “Obviously Ceri will need to be taking puberty blockers before the start of school in September.”
“Yes, that’s in hand,” said Mum.
“What is the current protocol for cross sex hormone?” asked Mrs Pritchard.
“Doctor Williams said it was sixteen years of age at present,” responded Mum.
I was grateful that she hadn’t added Doctor Williams suggestion of lowering the age in the protocol.
“Oh dear,” said Mrs Pritchard, “that could be a bit awkward. Let me phone someone I know in Harley Street in London.”
She picked up the phone and dialed a number. She had a brief conversation giving an outline of my situation as she understood it and then listened for a few minutes as the other person on the line was clearly explaining something. Finally with a smile she expressed her thanks, put down the phone and turned to us with a smile on her face.
“Some good news, it seems that it will be possible for Ceri to start taking estrogen on her 12th birthday, when is that again, let me look at your file, oh yes October 20th, only 3 months away.”
My heart felt like it was sinking through the floor as the full implications of her comment sunk in.
I’d be turning into a girl in only three months!
**UK year 7 = USA grade 6
***UK year 9 = USA grade 8
****cae brwnt = dirty field
*****The bedroom tax reduces the benefits of any household with a ‘spare’ bedroom and has created a housing crisis for many low income families.
End of Part 5
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