Stay Open: A Queer Trans Girl Love Story

This short story was created by expanding an old piece and curating a playlist, and developing the story around the playlist’s narrative/emotional arc. Each section correlates with a song on the playlist.

Playlist: https://open.spotify.com/user/1254925292/playlist/5XrQWNLx5ge2W51ztZeNlu

I. 
Ok, time to get up.

Rose takes a breath and looks outside at the sunlight illuminating the front yard through the somewhat inefficient blinds. The last hour was spent lying in bed half-sleeping and half-awake, conjuring up a familiar daydream.

The stories she conjures up are along the same theme: falling in love, romance, sweet dates, maybe raising a family. Think of a movie tinged with nostalgia, tenderness, and scenes with golden hour lighting. They’re the dyke movies of her dreams: they’re sweet and tender; hot and steamy. People fall in love and no one dies. For all of her talk of hating the heteronormative romantic comedy trope of ‘the One’, it’s still the basis of these daydreams she creates.

This time, she finds herself sitting by a river next to a femme named Lauren that she met the night before, just a few hours earlier. In the story, she’s housesitting in a new town for some friends of friends and came across a bar a few nights ago on the outskirts of town next to the river. A small rainbow flag peeks out of a window.

Turns out it was an old butch/femme bar that’s been around for a long time — most of the folks there were a couple decades or more older than her, except for the femme singing on the stage. She’s the only trans woman in the room, but she’s used to that at this point. They catch each other’s eye and smile — and Lauren continues with her set. Later in the night, a slow country ballad comes on the jukebox — there’s been a few folks dancing here and there, but for this song — damn near everyone gets up to dance. She feels a tap on her shoulder and turns around to see Lauren extending her hand: “Wanna dance?”

The rest of the night turns into a magical blur of sharing stories, making out, and sex in the car. In this fantasy world, Lauren knows how to have sex with trans women — it’s safe and easy and wonderful. Lauren turns to her and says, “It’s my last night in town. Wanna watch the sun rise with me?”

They’re cuddling, watching the orange-red of the sunrise over the water. It’s quiet, except for the songbirds and the water trickling by. Lauren turns to her and gives her a kiss on the cheek. It’s time for her to go.

She remembers it, smiles, and then shakes her head. As beautiful as daydreams like that are, they have a vicious side — they keep on pushing forward the narrative that romance and sex and sweetness are fantasies for her. She also knows that those narratives aren’t true: it might not be her current reality, but she’s lived sweet stories like that in her life. It’s been so long since she’s been with anyone, sometimes the stories feel pretty real in a mundane sort of way. The daydreams help and hurt, all at the same time.

She gets out of bed and shaves her face. The prickliness of facial hair still activates the dysphoria that got much quieter after hormones. After washing her face, she and smiles at herself in the mirror — looking back at herself full of a complicated, messy love that works its way through her body alongside trauma, alongside all of those stories and fears, alongside fantasy and memory. A love that is woven with heartbreak and hope, a love that is exhausted and still, yet, in it for the long haul.


II.
Rose closes her laptop and gets ready to leave the house to meet up with Nic at the coffee shop in a few minutes. It’s mid-fall these days, but living in the South, the season’s not a reliable indicator of what the weather’s like. She pops out onto her porch to get a feel of what it’s like outside. Perfect, Rose thinks to herself. It’s chilly enough to wear a sweater or a light jacket outside.

She quickly grabs a leather jacket from her closet and checks her phone, realizing she’s a few minutes late. Shit, I’m running late. Be there soon! texting Nic as she locks the door to her place. The coffee shop’s just a few blocks and a short walk away, and it’s gorgeous outside. Rose takes her sweet time, relishing in the crisp cool air during her favorite season.

Rose orders a black coffee, no sugar, and finds Nic sitting on a park bench outside. “It finally got cold!” Rose excitedly said as she joined Nic.

“Right? Thank god. That said, I’m kind of okay with winter not arriving quite yet.”

“Me, too.”

They catch up about work and life, and like usual, stumble on the topic of their love lives. Nic’s been seeing RJ, a butch that she met while on a road trip that she took a few years ago. Rose was amazed that it had continued this long, especially long-distance. Every now and then, she found herself a little bitter about it, too. It’s not Nic’s or RJ’s fault, but dating other queer and lesbian women is a little easier when you’re cis like they are.

“Not much is new on my end,” Nic said. “But we’re talking about RJ possibly moving here, but nothing’s set in stone yet. I’m getting a little tired of the long-distance thing.”

“I would give you shit for U-hauling, but I think the expiration on that shit talk passes after six months or something,” Rose says with a smile.

“Yeah, breaking with dyke tradition. Who would’ve guessed that one night stand would have turned into a few years? Anything new for you?”

“You think I wouldn’t have told you already if something’d happened?”

“True.”

“I did have a cute daydream earlier this morning though. As frustrated as I get about dating — or not dating — these days, I think I’m still kind of hopeful something’ll shift sometime soon.”

“Yeah, you never know. Remember what you told me when I first met RJ and wanted to shut it down before I caught feelings?”

“I told you to stay open to whatever comes of it or something, right?”

“Yeah. Stay open. Who knows what’s coming next?”

Rose smiled and took a big breath. For all the bitterness and loneliness that she feels around love and dating, she’s still a hopeless romantic at the heart of it all.

“Well, I gotta head back home and get some more work done,” Rose says as she finished her coffee. “See you at the bar tonight?”


III.
Dress. Lipstick. Boots. No leggings incase of dancing. Pair of favorite earrings. Maybe a necklace. Leather jacket. Wallet. Keys.

Rose runs through the checklist in her head to make sure she has everything for going out. Her anxiety went up after she lost her keys a few months ago and she glances in the mirror and in her purse for the second time to double check. Everything’s there.

It’s a cold night and the bar’s fifteen minutes away in another part of town, so she hops in the car. She ends up parking a few blocks away on another street. Parking’s gotten worse as the strip that the bar sits on has gotten more and more popular, particularly as the city continues to gentrify. But it’s one of a handful of bars in the city where the folks who show up are mostly queer. Their cocktails are a little watered down, but the beer selection’s decent and there’s a patio out back, which is great because the bar gets loud as the night goes on.

She orders some bourbon at the bar and goes out back to find Nic, who’s sitting with a group of their friends around a small table. As she’s wrapping up her drink, she notices that she likes what the DJ is playing, including a country song or two every now and then. She gets up, finishes the rest of the whiskey and goes back inside to dance. It’s not that often you get to dance to heartbreaking country songs with other queers on a Saturday night.

As she’s dancing, Rose finds her eyes being drawn to a woman with short hair, wearing a button up flannel top over a black t-shirt and donning some bright-red lipstick. She feels awkward and obvious in her crush and looks away. When she glances back a few seconds later, she finds the woman looking at her and smiling, dancing towards her. They’re not quite dancing together, neither one of them is moving away, slowly growing the tension between them.

Rose begins to wonder if she’s making up the tension in her head and steps off the dance floor to grab another drink. As she stands at the bar, trying to get her feelings together, the woman walks up to her and asks, “Whatcha drinking? I’d love to get your next drink.”

Flabbergasted, Rose takes a minute to respond. “Uh, sure, that’d be fine with me. I’m drinkin’ bourbon, neat.”

“A girl after my own heart,” the woman responds. “Two bourbons, neat, please.”

Rose blushes. “Thanks. I’m Rose, what’s your name?”

“No problem. Nice to meet you Rose, I’m Kerry.”


IV.
After they get their drinks, they step outside so Kerry can smoke a cigarette. The minutes turn into hours as the conversation flows and they get another round of drinks. Turns out Kerry’s from the next town over, but she moved out to the West Coast a decade ago, not long after finishing high school.

“I just moved back for a little while, to deal with some family stuff. Wasn’t expecting to meet a gorgeous femme like you back here at home,” Kerry said with a coy smile.

Rose shakes her head with a smile as her face gets a little red. “You’re too much and sure know how to make a girl blush and wanna kiss you.”

“You can, just so you know,” Kerry says, taking a step closer and looking directly in to Rose’s eyes. Rose leans over to meet her for a kiss, and pulls away with a blush and a smile.

“Want to get out of here?” Kerry asks.

“God, yes,” Rose said, taking a deep breath. “I wish I didn’t feel like I had to share this, but one thing I need you to know before we leave together is that I’m trans.”

“That’s cool. Doesn’t change the fact at all that I want to keep kissing your face. Follow me back to my family’s place? It’s right outside the city and you can’t tell with these streetlights, but since there’s no clouds, the stars should be pretty gorgeous tonight. No one’s there but me right now.”

“Sure. Let me just run in, close my tab, and tell my friends that I’m heading out with you.”

After they get to Kerry’s place, the next few hours are a whirlwind of sweet sexiness. Before they go to bed, they’re sitting at the edge of Rose’s truck staring up at the stars with hot toddies in their hands. Rose turns to Kerry and notices that her lipstick is gone at this point. “You were right about these stars. Haven’t seen anything like this in years. Haven’t had a night like this in a while, either.”

Kerry kisses Rose on the shoulder. “Me either, babe. Let’s head inside — it’s cold.”


V. 
Rose wakes up the next morning to find Kerry sitting up with a mug full of coffee and reading something on her tablet. “Good morning, gorgeous,” Kerry says, looking down at her. “Want some coffee?

She grabs the coffee from Kerry, smiling and still of bewildered about how all of this sweetness came into existence the past night. This isn’t a daydream, right? How did I get this kind of magic in my life? After breakfast, Rose gathered her things and went to kiss Kerry goodbye.

“Thanks for the great night, Kerry. Sorry I have to head out so soon. Will I see you again?” Rose asked. Given her tendency to over-process things and ask the what-are-we question too early, she was trying to get out of there fast so she didn’t make a fool of herself.

“I’d love that. It turns out that I gotta head back out West sooner than I thought, though. Something came up at my job. It might not be as soon as I’d like.”

“Oh,” said Rose, with audible disappointment in her voice. “That sucks. Where do you see this going?” she asked, knowing that she’d say yes to pretty much anything Kerry offered. The last twelve hours, up until this moment, in addition to being magical, was more than enough time for her to catch feelings. She was a little disappointed in herself for asking, but there was no way to take it back now.

“I don’t really know. I really like you, Rose. I’m not really trying to do long distance, but I also don’t want to let this connection. Would you be okay if we kept the option open, but didn’t really build anything serious yet until I’m able to come back South?”

“Sure, okay. Guess we’ll stay in touch over texts and phone calls?”

“Yeah, I’d love that.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Rose says, mustering up a small smile. “A kiss before I go?”


VI.
Let’s not build anything serious, really? What are trans queer girls supposed to do or expect? Are we just supposed to accept any crumbs folks offer? Rose thought as she drove herself home. Shame, sadness, and hurt swirled, not all of which was really fair to put on Kerry.

She knew that she wasn’t an easy girl to love or be in relationship with. She knew it took some time and work for partners to learn how to be physically intimate with her in a way where she felt safe, sexy, and present. She struggled with seasonal depression every fall, which wasn’t helping with this whole situation.

One of the hardest things to explain to cis partners and friends is that for Rose, even if the intention was a quick, one-night-stand, sex and romance almost always carried with it some kind of emotional intensity and seriousness. For all the ways she knows she is loved and cared for, in her experience, being a trans girl who’s queer and loves and desires other women carried its own achy flavor of loneliness and isolation.

“It’s not really their fault, I know,” Rose told later Nic that night. “It’s just frustrating, because all of this is happening in this wider context that makes love and romance feel like scarce. I mean shit, I hadn’t experienced that much touch in such a long time. It felt really nice and it’s hard to not generate all these feelings. Makes me wonder why they even bothered flirting with me in the first place.”

“Hon, they weren’t expecting that they had to leave to get back to work last night when y’all met. They got that news this morning. Hell, this can’t be the most fun for them either because you’re amazing. And in the event that they’re just being a tool, that’s their own problem because they don’t know all the magic they’re missing out on,” Nic said, trying to make Rose feel a bit better.

“I know. I just worry about them finding someone who is less work, less hassle. What if they find the love of their life out there and just forget about me?”

“Then that’s what happens and you move on to whatever’s next. But it might not be the worst thing to try to stay open and see where this goes, Rose.”

The next morning, Rose wakes up to a text from Kerry: Hey, I just landed and got in safe. Want to talk tonight?


VII.
Over the last few months, the phone calls and texts petered out. It’s towards the end of December now, and the last time Rose heard from Kerry was around a month ago. She was working from home when her phone vibrated on the table next to her computer and looked down to see a text from Kerry. Hey, Rose. Hope you’re well. I’m back in town for the holidays and would love to grab a drink or something sometime. You free?

Rose texted back: Yeah, I’m around. Let’s grab a drink tomorrow night?

It would be the first time she saw her in person since the night they met. Rose knew that it would be amazing to see her again and that it would also open up all the wounds around the heartache. There was no big fight or anything. Between her distrust in the relationship, Kerry’s lack of commitment, and the distance between them, the connection just drifted away. She would call it a break up if there was something tangible to break up.

It was as wonderful and totally awful as Rose expected it to be, but in some way, she had it a bit easier — she was the one who made it clear that the romantic and sexual connection was cut off even though chemistry was still there and Kerry was still open to dating while she was in town.

“I just can’t do this right now, Kerry. It just feels like I’m opening my heart, knowing damn well it’ll get stomped on in a few days. “

“Would you be open if something changed like I moved back?”

“Is that something you’re planning on making happen?”

“I don’t know. Not right now. But who knows what’ll happen?”

“Then don’t bring it up like it’s an option, Kerry. I’m not tryin’ to spend my life waitin’ around on something we don’t even know is gonna happen or that we’re not even tryin’ to make happen. There’s enough heartbreak to go around already. I just can’t.”

Kerry gave up and the two of them finished their drinks and gave each other a hug goodbye. As they let go, Kerry turns to Rose and asks, “A kiss before we go?”

“Sure. One last kiss before we go.”


VIII.
Spring rolled around, bringing enough warmth that Rose could enjoy her porch without too many layers of clothing. She loved the way that spring felt like everything — including herself — was becoming more and more alive again: trees and flowers blooming, animals coming out of hibernation, the baby birds slowly hatching. Rose hadn’t dated anyone since Kerry, but she was okay with that. It’s kind of hard to want to go out when it’s cold outside.

As she was finishing her second cup of coffee, she remembered that she forgot to check the mail when she got back from Nic’s party last night. She opened the mailbox to find an envelope she wasn’t expecting and saw Kerry’s name at the top right. Weirdly enough, it had a local address. Please tell me this isn’t a save-the-date to her wedding or bad news or something, she thought to herself.

Rose opened it to find a brief handwritten letter:

Hey Rose,

I hope you’re doing well these days. I’ve been meaning to write this letter for a while, but I only got your address from Nic when I ran into her the other day. I moved back to town and negotiated that I would be working remotely full time with my job. Everything’s okay with the family, I just wanted to be able to be closer to my parents and be able to show up for my younger brother and his partner — they’re talking about having kids these days, which blows my mind.

I’d be lying if I were to say that you had nothing to do with my decision to move back. Remember the night we met, right before our first kiss, and I said that I wasn’t expecting to meet a gorgeous femme back home? I wish I had been. Maybe I would’ve moved back long ago.

So, I’m around and my birthday’s in two weeks, on the 29th and I’m hosting a party at my new place. Text me for the address. I hope you can make it and I’d love to see you.

Love,
Kerry


IX.
The 29th rolled around quicker than Rose was anticipating. She kept her eyes out, hoping to run in to Kerry, but she never did. She hadn’t made a solid decision whether or not she was going to go to Kerry’s birthday party until the day of. That morning, she texted Nic: Want to go to Kerry’s party together?

Nic: Sure. Let’s do it! Do you have her address?

Rose: No, I’ll text her to get it, though.

Nic: Do you think you’re going to try to get back together with her?

Rose: I have no clue. I still don’t know what to make sense of the fact they moved back.

Nic: That’s okay. But I think it at least makes y’all possible as a couple. Oh, would it be cool if RJ comes with?

Rose: Totally! Meet me at my place at 7.

By the time Rose, RJ, and Nic arrived after pre-gaming and getting dressed up, it was closer to 9. It was a pretty small party with just a few other guests, including Kerry’s brother. There was some chips and salsa along with some whiskey and PBR. Kind of all you need at a party, really.

“Happy Birthday,” Rose said to Kerry when she opened the door.

Kerry smiled. “Wasn’t totally sure if you were gonna come. Glad you did. Nice to see you.”

“You too, hon.”

As the night went on, folks slowly trickled out of the house. Yawning, RJ and Nic pulled Rose to the side when Kerry went to pour herself another whiskey. “We’re tired, so we’re gonna go. You gonna come with or do you want to stay?”

Rose sighed, “I think I’m going to stay and get some one-on-one time with Kerry tonight.”

“Sounds good. Text me if you need us for whatever reason,” Nic said as she began walking to the door. “Bye Kerry, we’re heading out. Happy Birthday!”

The door shut and it was just the two of them in the room. Kerry noticed that Rose stayed, bringing the bottle of whiskey and an extra glass. “You want another whiskey, Rose?”

“Sure. I could also be open to giving us another chance, if you’re still interested.”

Kerry raised her eyebrows and smiled.


X.
Rose woke up to find Kerry sleeping next to her. She kisses her and gets out of bed to make coffee. It’s quiet and the sun is just starting to rise — one of her favorite times of the day when she’s awake for it. She fills two mugs with coffee and returns to the bedroom finding Kerry slowly waking up.

“Good morning, gorgeous,” Rose says, walking into the room. “Coffee?”

Kerry sits up and laughs, taking one of the coffee mugs from Rose. “Thanks, babe. Question, does it count as U-hauling if we don’t move-in together but I moved back home partially to be with you?”

“I don’t think so. Well…maybe kinda sorta because this is technically our second date? Regardless, I think there’s a chance Nic’ll give us shit about it.”

“I’m kind of okay with that,” Kerry said, bringing Rose back into bed.

“Me too.”