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She's The Man, Too

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Dear Reader:

There are many complicated things in this world. Love is one of them. Society is one of them. Identity is one of them.

Let me tell you, also, that gender is another one of them.

What if you were to take on a role, a new name, new clothes, a new gender, a new personality? Maybe if you acted like someone else for long enough, you would start to wonder who you really were. Which 'you' is the real one? Maybe there is no real one. Maybe it is all false; all constructed; all performance.

***

"Is this seat taken?" an unfamiliar voice asks behind Viola's shoulder. She turns around to look, opening her mouth to answer, and then forgets whether she was even going to say "yes" or "no" when she realizes it is Olivia. Olivia, who's pitching her voice deeper. Olivia, who's wearing a suit and tie, her hair pulled back into a bun. Olivia, who's standing there with a posture somehow totally different from her normal one. Olivia, who's not wearing any makeup, except for a slight vague shadow above and below her lips.

She doesn't exactly look like a guy, but she sure doesn't look like herself, either.

Olivia grins, clearly enjoying Viola's shock, and holds out her hand. "Hey, I'm Oliver."

Recovering, Viola giggles and gestures at the seat. "Nice to meet you. Why don't you join me?"

Viola ends up offering to lend Olivia her old wig and sideburns so that they can go somewhere around town, where people will be less likely to recognize them. Olivia says she wants to know how people treat a guy.

"I've been reading about gender as a social performance," she explains to Viola, "and I think it's true. I had to learn how to be a good girl. Those debutante classes and so on. But I've had seventeen years of learning that, and I thought it might be fun, just for a few days, to learn how to act like a guy."

"Yeah," Viola nods. "When I was being Sebastian, I realized that all the rest of the guys were faking it just as much as I was." That had been a really weird thing to realize. She'd been enough of a tomboy that she'd always known she was bucking some constraints there, and she'd thought that guys got to do whatever came natural to them, like play soccer and have people appreciate them for that. So it had been quite a surprise to learn that they were all pretending, too.

Talking to Olivia is always easy, no matter which of them is a girl or a guy.

***

Olivia and Sebastian thought they liked each other, but after two or three dates they decided to just be friends. He realized that she wasn't the wild girl he first believed her to be, who would run up and kiss some guy she'd never met before, even though she might sometimes want to be that girl. And she realized that while he was cute and she liked his music, all the stuff she'd fallen for in the first 'Sebastian' had actually been from Viola.

Olivia was impressed by Viola's passion and how important soccer was to her. Olivia had never had anything that meant that much to her. She just did what others expected of her. She'd drifted by on her pretty face and her parents' money so far, going to school, being a debutante, knowing she could always get what she wanted, but never desperately yearning for anything. Now she started to think: what did she really want?

She decided that she wanted to go into medicine. She enjoyed science - biology in particular - and she thought she'd like to help other people, to be known for something. She could be a researcher and find new cures for diseases, give people new chances at life. That sounded exciting and meaningful.

There was something else she realized she wanted - or rather, someone. She wanted Viola. But Olivia saw nothing to show that Viola liked her back as anything other than a friend. Saw nothing to show that Viola liked girls and everything to show that she liked boys.

So here Olivia is, dressing as a boy, hoping it will have the same effect on Viola as it did on her.

***

Duke had once said that it would be easier if Viola didn't dress as a guy again. Easier maybe, but after a while they had both figured out: less fun. She couldn't be Sebastian anymore, but now she sometimes hung out as Duke's new friend Vincent. And sometimes, Duke and Vincent messed around a little.

But Vincent was never supposed to be gay, and Sebastian hadn't been either. Viola had thought her best friend Olivia was kinda hot as Oliver, and realized Vincent might like Olivia the girl. Heck, maybe even Viola did…

Now Vincent just had to talk to Duke about it.

They're lounging around on Duke's bed when Vincent brings it up. "So, man, I wanted to ask you something. There's, uh, this girl, and I might ask her out… but you used to like her. So I wanted to check with you first."

"Is it Olivia?" Duke's spinning a soccer ball on his outstretched finger, and he doesn't seem annoyed or weirded out when he glances over.

"Yeah."

"Nah, that's cool. I'm cool with that," he answers.

"What if your girlfriend asked out a girl?" That's the part that's the most difficult and heart-pounding to say.

Duke doesn't look over this time, but then he shrugs and grins. "That'd be hot."

***

Olivia has never met Vincent before, but she agrees to go on a date with him. She's just playing along, though, because really in her heart and mind she's on a date with Viola. It's a good date. They go to an Italian restaurant in the next town over and no one even gives them a second look. The food is delicious. The conversation flows easily. Olivia feels a shiver every time their hands brush or their gazes meet.

Afterward, under the tree outside her dorm, she's kissing Viola.

The costume doesn't matter. Olivia doesn't care whether it's a dress or pants, long hair or short, a blouse or a jacket. This is the person she wants, no matter the name or clothes. Arms around her shoulders and a tongue in her mouth, and maybe it's her best girl friend and maybe it's a guy she just met. Maybe she is that girl who runs up and kisses the guy she doesn't even know, maybe she is the girl who goes on a date with another girl. Maybe she can finally figure out who she really is, regardless of fake sideburns and fancy ballgowns. She can be herself and be free. Forget about everyone else's expectations. Find and follow her own passions.

"I like you," Olivia says when she pulls away from the kiss.

"I like you, too," Viola agrees.