“Martin...” Douglas’ voice echoes loudly in the bathroom’s tiled walls.
Martin looks up at the blue-grey door, scribbled on with graffiti. He’s on the toilet. Douglas saw him walk in here, and he’s probably by the urinals somewhere himself. Martin isn’t sure if he’s meant to reply. “Um, yes?”
“Are you eating crisps in there?”
Martin’s hands still. He’s holding a pale blue wrapper he just unwrapped. He can feel the heat flush his cheeks. “I...” Martin tries to laugh casually, but it sticks in his throat, and comes out choked. “No, why would I... no!”
There’s a brief pause.
Martin looks down at his underwear spanning between his legs. The bloody pad he was about to change. The rolled up pair of socks, pinned to the front of his briefs with a plastic safety pin.
There’s the sound of Douglas moving, and a tap running.
Martin can feel the pad tremble in his hand as his fingers start shaking. He doesn’t change it, he can’t, because Douglas will hear. He glances at the small bruise on his upper thigh from his latest testosterone injection. This isn’t even supposed to happen anymore, his body shouldn’t...
“Giving the smuggling trade a go, are you?” Douglas takes some steps, and the hand dryer starts blowing air. He sounds like he’s kidding.
Martin swallows. His throat feels like it’s closing up, like he can’t breathe. “...No.”
The sound of the dryer ends abruptly, and Martin has a vision of Douglas walking over to him, throwing the door of the stall open, and seeing him like this. Martin’s heartbeat thuds in wild, sickening waves.
Douglas says, idly, “Probably for the best, I doubt you’re cut out to be an international drug lord. It takes a certain something. Anyway, hurry it up, they’re waiting.”
The sound of the door falling shut.
Douglas is gone.
Martin waits for a breath, and then pulls the old pad off - wincing at the sound - and throws it in the toilet. He’s not supposed to, but it’s not like there are bins in a men’s toilet stall. Usually he’d hide it in his pocket and then his flight bag but Douglas will be outside. Martin quickly puts the new one in its place. He wipes off, stands, and pulls his pants up carefully so the pad is right in the middle, and the pair of socks is under his zip. He flushes, and steps out of the stall.
He washes his hands, and puts some cold water on his bright red cheeks. Then leans over the sink, and breathes. The sweat is still pin-pricking on the back of his neck.
Martin’s been with MJN Air for two months now.
He’s had ‘Martin’ and ‘male’ on his passport for three.
“Here.” Martin hands a small package to Arthur. “It’s, ah, a present? For your birthday?” He wrapped it in newspaper.
“Wow, for me? You shouldn’t have!” Arthur pauses. “I mean you could, and you did, and I’m really glad that you did, it’s just a thing that people say, I don’t know why, really – everyone loves presents!” Arthur beams at him, even though he doesn’t even know what it is yet.
It’s not quite Arthur’s birthday for another two days yet, but he seemed sad that they wouldn’t be flying. Martin wasn’t even sure if he should get him something really, but then his eye landed on it in his room this morning, and... Martin feels a hint of worry now. He doesn’t know Arthur that well, and he’s not sure if maybe he’ll think it’s childish. Maybe people give Arthur childish gifts sometimes and he secretly hates it. Or Carolyn will hate it, Martin didn’t think of that. But it’s too late now, because Arthur’s tearing into the paper.
Revealing a small model airplane.
“It’s it’s not quite like GERTI, this is a Bombardier Challenger twin engine aircraft, see?” Martin hesitates. “But that way you’ll still... be flying a little on your birthday?” No, that’s stupid. Martin adds, quickly, “You don’t have to like it.”
Arthur turns it around in his hand carefully. “Skip, you made this?”
“Well, I put it together. It’s a fun hobby, both pleasant and educational, and I feel that it really does provide useful insights into the...”
Arthur reaches out, and hugs him. “It’s brilliant!”
Martin makes a faint ‘oomph’ sound, because Arthur is both strong and enthusiastic, but it’s nice. He hasn’t been hugged in a long time, and Arthur’s arms are sure, and warm. Martin holds on for a while, even. Until Arthur leans back a bit, frowning at him. “Are you hurt?”
“What? No. I mean, it was a bit tight, but no.”
“It’s...” Arthur rubs his hand between Martin’s shoulder blades. “You’re wearing a bandage?”
Martin quickly steps out of his grip. “I’m, ah...”
“Did you hurt your back? My Nana had that once. She couldn’t lift things, too.”
Arthur asks it so sincerely. And the thing is, Martin’s never, ever been a good liar, so it feels wrong, but he says, “Yes. Yes! I hurt my back.” And then, “Don’t tell Douglas?”
When they share a hotel room - and that happens more often than he had thought it would - Martin never dares to shower. He never completely undresses, either. He sleeps with his binder on, a top over it, and then his pyjama top over that. He wears his pants and the pair of socks pinned there with an extra pin, because he’s afraid that it’ll move during the night, and he’ll wake up with it visibly wrong, somehow.
He’s scared of stretching, and showing the curve of his chest.
Of bleeding, always, and not noticing.
Of someone at a border control realising that his passport and license have been changed very recently. Or that his name will still come up as wrong in a computer system somewhere. His fingerprints.
Martin is scared of sitting wrong, of leaning wrong, or speaking with too high of a voice. Of going to the bathroom. Of getting into an accident or getting sick, and having to go to the hospital. Of talking on the phone or to ATC. Of the passengers, when they’re from Fitton, in case someone might know who he is. That someone at the airport might.
That someone will accidentally bump into him, and realise.
Martin wears his jacket over his shirt every day for the next two months after hugging Arthur. All through a climb on a Spanish hill because their bus breaks down. Through a visit to a Brazilian market where he pants for breath as dirty children take his hand and pull him along into winding streets, and Douglas barters for a ten pound bag of coffee beans.
Martin saves up for a more expensive, better binder that’s integrated into a top and completely seamless. When it gets dirty he hand-washes it in the sink, and lets it dry by his bed at night, because he can’t afford to buy two.
And the next time that Arthur wants to hug him, he steps away fast.
Just in case.
Every time they go through airport security, Martin can feel his anxiety throb and circle and stab. Shivers run over his back. He’s had a pat-down four times as a man now, and he’s never been called on it.
But there’s always a first.
They’re in Miami, and usually there is an option not to go through the full body scanners, but not today. Martin hangs back, and goes last after Arthur and Douglas. He steps up, holds his breath as the machine swirls around him, and thinks a quick and fervent string of - Maybe not this time. Maybe they won’t care, today. Maybe it won’t matter.
When he steps out, the TSA officer says, “You are selected for a follow-up pat-down.”
Martin looks over to his flight bag - he has copies of every one of his official documents in there, the old ones, too, and a form that explains what being transgender is and their rights in fifteen different languages. But his bag is being scanned right now.
The agent says, sounding bored, “Please follow me.”
Martin gets guided into a small dressing room with a curtain. The officer closes it behind them, and then starts touching him. His shoulders, and arms. Then over his chest, and Martin can’t help but wince, he doesn’t like being touched there at all. Then over his ribs, his stomach, and he can feel himself flush, because the man’s hand moves to his upper thigh, then repeats the same on the other side.
Then he takes out a metal stick, and traces over his clothes with it. Between his legs.
“Hold out your hands.” The agent moves a small white cloth over them. Swabs him for traces of explosives.
And that should be it. Martin has read the procedures, if they don’t find anything, then they have to let him go. But instead of telling him that, the man looks him over. For a long time.
It feels like his eyes are sticking to him, to his chest, between his legs, like something long and slow and terrible.
He seems annoyed. Almost angry.
Martin glances at the curtain, he could run, if he had to. He won’t, he never would, but he could. Douglas and Arthur are right there. Instead, Martin says, around the gulp of something hot in his throat, “I’m transgender.”
The agent sighs. “Next time, just say you’re a woman.”
Martin swallows his reply. He’s not a woman, he’s never been a woman, he isn’t now, he’s not! “...Yes.”
“You’re free to go.”
Martin escapes - and it feels like that, an escape - with trembling hands and a fast pace, and he keeps on going. Fast enough that Douglas complains, “Slow it down, will you? They’re not chasing us.” But Martin can feel it pushing on his back, and he has to get away.
He should be glad that it was just that, he knows. Douglas didn’t even hear. No one did. The officer was discreet, it was fine, it was the best possible way that it could have gone. But Martin can still feel the hand between his legs, the flat fingers pressing there, just enough to know. The hard touch over his chest.
He doesn’t sleep at all that night, balancing on the knife-edge of panic, his body aching with how tight he’s curled up.
They’re flying to Honolulu. Martin is looking forward to it, he’s never landed there before, but when he comes into work, Carolyn is waiting for him in the office.
“Here, you’re wearing this today.”
Martin looks down at the pile of straw she just handed him. “Why do I need to...”
“You need to, because for some unfathomable reason this particular newlywed couple has requested that we are dressed in those when we greet them. And while - I grant you - it is ridiculous, they have also spent a rather ludicrous amount of money to be flown out to Hawaii on their honeymoon in a private jet, so costumes it will be.” She pauses. “Oh, and there’s a lei as well.”
Martin feels a sinking feeling in his chest. “I can’t.”
“Of course you can, we all can, and we all will.”
“No, I Carolyn, I...” Martin breathes. “You know that I...” Carolyn saw all the paperwork before she hired him. The ones that still said ‘female’, his old flight licence, the job references, everything. Carolyn looked at them, and then looked at him, and said, ‘Are you willing to work for half a salary?’ And then the negotiating started.
“What, wear a straw skirt? Yes, you can. Arthur is wearing one, too. And so will I, even though I find it entirely embarrassing. So are you going to do your job?”
Carolyn stares him down.
“I, yes, if it’s... yes.”
Martin stands in a corner, pulls the straw skirt over his trousers, and wears the lei around his neck.
Then steps outside, to Karl’s little whistle. “Well, would you look at that! Another one. Starting a tribute band, are you, boys?”
Arthur runs up. “Martin! You know, this is called a malo? If you’re a man, anyway. If you’re a woman it’s something else, Mum told me, like, pa-u?” He twirls, and the skirt spins around his legs. The flowers hit him in the face.
“Oh,” Martin says, faintly. If you’re a man, anyway. It’s strange, he doesn’t feel as if he has a body at all, right now.
He steps into GERTI. Into the cockpit, where Douglas is sitting and reading. Not wearing a skirt at all. “You’re not dressed!”
“No, I’m not doing it.”
“But, Carolyn said that...”
“Hm, see, the difference between you and me, Martin, is that she can’t make me.” Douglas turns back to his book. “I agreed I’d stay in here, as long as the passengers don’t see me, it’s fine.”
“That’s not fair!”
“No, it rather isn’t, is it?” Douglas grins.
Martin doesn’t say anything more. He goes outside to shake the hands of the passengers, a middle-aged couple, because he has to, but it’s like there is a fog around him. He can’t feel the skirt around his legs, or the flowers bouncing up and down against his chest as he walks. He feels as if he’s in a dream.
When he gets back inside, Douglas puts his book away, and says, “I have to say, Martin, it does suit you. The green brings out your eyes.”
Martin looks away. He feels nauseous.
Arthur sticks his head in. “Hi, chaps, Mum wanted me to tell you that we’re ready for departure. I’ll get to serve them coconuts later on! With straws! Oh, and Martin, Mum says you can take your clothes off while we’re flying if you want to.”
Douglas sighs. “...And yet she never lets me when I ask.”
“I’m not though, I wish we could wear this every day!” Arthur spins again, and his skirt hits the side of the door with a rustle.
“I’ve flown naked a couple of times back in the eighties. Gets sweaty on the seat, mind. But oh, the sense of freedom…”
Martin immediately pulls the lei over his head. It briefly tangles with the gold braid of his hat.
Then gets rid of the malo while Douglas hails ATC. “Aloha, Karl! This is coconut air, first officer luau speaking. Captain Hawaii is currently stripping off his skirt, but other than that, we’re ready to depart.”
Karl sighs. “I could use a beach.”
“Can’t we all. A good afternoon spent in the sun, a Mai Tai in my hand, being rubbed down by a nice local woman…”
Martin interrupts, “Karl, cleared for take-off?”
“Yeees, fine.” Karl sounds annoyed. “GERTI cleared for take-off.”
Douglas glances at him as he turns the motors on. “In a snappy mood, are we?”
“No! I’m... no.” Martin breathes. “I just don’t like it. Um, dressing up.”
“Hm, I don’t mind it, personally. I made a marvellous Lady Macbeth once.” Douglas considers. “Not easy walking in heels, though.”
"Oh?" Martin likes the stories from Douglas. He can listen to the words, and drift on them. It helps with trying not to remember the feeling of the skirt brushing against his knees. Or the necklace around his neck, he’d almost forgotten what that’s like, but his body didn’t - he can feel a glimpse of a bra, now, a memory of it, tight around him. Having it push his breasts up.
Buying dresses that never fit right, no matter what size. Having his hair brushing his shoulders, tickling the side of his face, tying it up in a bow.
Make-up, the strange face looking back at him in the mirror. Having his lips coloured and eyes comically large, and underneath so pale, sweating. The throbbing sense of ‘this is wrong’ and ‘I can’t’ and ‘maybe I’m not a person at all’.
He wanted to die, for a long time.
Martin manages to keep it a secret for eighteen months.
And in that time, sometimes, just for a bit, he forgets. That he’s different at all, and not just a person. A man. No one has called him anything else than ‘he’. No one even thinks anything else, except Carolyn maybe but she never says it. He’s always ‘skip’ or ‘Martin’, and Martin just, for hours at a time, sometimes a full day... forgets.
He’s so careful to keep it a secret. He only ever injects his testosterone at home, because the airport security might search his bag. He never wears anything metal to avoid pat-downs. He pretends to shave in the mornings. He makes up excuses to never go to the loo when Douglas is in there, too.
And then, in the Rome airport, Arthur trips over Martin’s bag.
Arthur falls dramatically, he slides on his knees over the marble floor, and everything that’s in Martin’s bag comes flying out along with him as if it’s in slow motion. Martin jumps up, his heart hammering in his chest because he has a small black case that he keeps in there that holds two menstrual pads, he has his papers about transgender rights that are neatly folded and stowed away next to his flight license... He grabs as much as he can, as fast as he can. But along with a water bottle, mints, a thick flight manual, and airplane model glue, a small green paper went flying. A prescription.
Douglas picks it up, looks at it, and hands it back.
Arthur is stammering apologies, but Martin barely hears him. He went to the doctor that morning for a blood draw and to get his testosterone prescribed. He put the prescription in his flight bag, right next to his wallet, to buy it later on his way home and he should have left it in the car, but he was nearly late and he wasn’t thinking and... Douglas read it. He must have.
Martin collects the rest of his belongings and puts them all back in a haze of fear.
Douglas doesn’t mention it at all until they’re in the air. And then, just when Martin thinks that just maybe, he doesn’t care. Just maybe, he’ll be fine with it. Maybe, this one time, it’ll be okay, Douglas glances at him and says, “So... injecting testosterone? A bit on the drastic side, isn’t it?”
And Martin can feel his heart sink.
“Are you doing a spot of body building? Trying to grow a beard? Or is it more of a...” Douglas grins conspiratorially, “...performance issue?”
Martin doesn’t look at Douglas, because he knows that his face will give it away. It’ll all fall apart, now. He knows it will, and it’s not fair, he’s friends with Douglas, he loves flying with him, it’s all been... so good. Martin can feel tears prickling in his eyes. But he says it anyway, “My body doesn’t make enough.”
“Testosterone? Why?” Douglas sounds curious, but not like he knows, even now. “A medical condition, is it?”
Martin could lie, he knows that he should, still. But he can’t. He’s never been a good liar, and the moment feels so bright and near and he can’t, not to Douglas. “I’m, um, trans?” Martin says, feeling hollow already, “That means that I was born with a different, female, body...”
“You’re a woman?” Douglas sounds strange.
“No!” Martin hates this part, he looks down at the controls even though they’re blurring together, because he doesn’t want to see the hate in Douglas’ eyes, the anger he’ll feel now, the disgust. Martin has seen it too many times, and he doesn’t want to know what it looks like on Douglas’ face. “I’m not. I was just born like that. I was,” Martin hates even saying that, “but I’m a man, really. Inside. I always was.”
There’s a silence.
Martin forces himself to tear his eyes away from the navigation screen.
Douglas’ hands are tight on the controls, his lips pressed close together. It makes Martin want to babble to make it go away. Only there’s nothing he can say.
Eventually, Martin dares, “What are you... thinking?”
“Well...” Douglas trails off. He’s still looking straight ahead. “I did always know that you were over-compensating for something. But I admit I was rather wrong about the nature of the something.”
Douglas doesn’t say anything more, so the only sounds are Arthur, chattering away in the aisle. The announcements that Douglas makes in his standard tone. The weather from ATC. Then the clearance for landing in Fitton from Karl.
It’s the longest two-hour flight of Martin’s life.
When they land GERTI, Douglas gets up, and leaves without even looking at him.