I tug at the tissue paper, crinkling the sheets between my fingers, trying to find the right words.
“Go on.” Lara says with the eagerness of a parent watching their child on Christmas Day.
I don’t want the gift. I don’t deserve it.
No wonder my mother just blurted it out.
“My father wants to be a woman.”
Lara’s smile disappears. She sinks her petite frame into the seat and darts her eyes around the room. Booth conversations continue. No one looks our way. The waitress delivers a sundae and two spoons.
Does she think people heard me? Does it matter?
“Happy birthday,” the waitress whispers and nods at Lara, who grins.
Lara is my best friend. My sounding board. This is her job. Her privilege.
I glare at her.
The waitress leaves.
“Your father’s gay?”
“He’s not gay,” I say, wanting to revoke my friendship. “He wants to be a woman. There’s a big difference, you know.”
I’m still learning the differences, but she doesn’t ask what they are. She doesn’t ask anything. She’s not the first person to respond like this. Nor will she be the last. I asked my mother the same question. It becomes the typical reaction. An assumption that if a man wants to be a woman he must want to have sex with other men. My father told me otherwise the night his secret was out.
“I love your mother and want to stay with her. I really don’t want anything to change.” He explained, as I tried to imagine my mother and father, living together, as a lesbian couple.
But everything’s changed…
Lara sits across from me. Distant. Quiet.
Does she think I want to be a man? Does she think I like chicks now?
I want to explain. I want to get it out. I don’t know what’s happening, but I want her to. One thing I’m certain of, my father isn’t the only one who has to come out. My whole family does.
For years my father contemplated his decision to embrace femininity. I kept the secret from my best friend for a matter of days and felt I betrayed our trust.
Lara leaves an unlit candle beside the melting sundae. We have small talk in the car. I feel cheated.
At home, I open my present alone in my bedroom, watching my father in his as he places clothes on hangers into a plastic garbage bag. It’s my birthday, but his celebration.