When Emma finally let go of the idea that there must be something horribly wrong with her—all those years, all those times she’d been sent back (apparently defective) as a foster kid—she realized it’d affected her powerfully. Years ago, she’d told Ashley to refuse people telling her who she was, to punch back and make people look at her differently and go out and change the world, but hadn’t ever really walked the walk.
Forming a relationship with Henry, being able to feel like something other than a fuckup parent as she settled in to being in his life and saw him grow and be happy the last few years, let her let go of some of the angst. That breathing room let her see she’d been trying to be who she thought she should her entire life, compensating for being abandoned on the side of the road, by foster families, by Neal—and, especially, compensating for abandoning her son in turn.
As she’d found first détente with Regina, then friendship, and eventually love, the weight of never being good enough was replaced by faint stirrings of self-worth. If this little family she’d built thought she was good enough, maybe she was.
But once she was able to imagine that maybe it mattered what she wanted, who she was, who she wanted to be, something new started.
“You’rea helluva woman,” Leroy slurred as she locked him up for public intoxication for the zillionth time. She twitched.
“You should really be my girlfriend,” Dr. Whale slimed when she’d turned him down for a date by reminding him (yet again) she was with Regina, and she wasn’t sure if she was cringing because of the come-on or being described that way.
“It’s so sweet how the kids are okay with Henry having two mothers!” Mary Margaret squeaked during their parent-teacher conference. She choked on her polite reply.
Words like “woman” and “she” and “her” had stopped fitting on her skin, making her flinch every time someone used them. Maybe they’d never rested quite right on her in the first place, but that had been buried under too much insecurity to hear. The perpetual shame of being told again and again, implicitly and explicitly, that she was wrong and didn’t fit hadn’t ever let her even contemplate that she maybe didn’t belong in the box she’d been put in at birth.
Having people who loved her, a steady job, and a home meant she could look up from the day-to-day business of getting by, and what she saw had her itching to run back to Emma Swan, bail-bondsperson, who was miserable but known.
It took a while to get up the courage to Google it, but one day when she had an afternoon home alone she did. It was pretty clear the issue she was having was about gender, and that Wikipedia article led her to gender identity, and there it was in the second sentence: “Gender identity can correlate with assigned sex at birth, or can differ from it completely.” She stared at it. She stared at it for so, so long. Anxiety slid into relief slid into frustration at never knowing this was an option and back again.
She followed all the links: Bigender (not really), Cisgender (definitely no), Genderqueer / non-binary (maybe?), Gender bender (not really), Hijra (nope, that was from India), Pangender (no), Third gender (maybe?), Trans man (that didn’t seem right), Trans woman (nah, that was if they said you were a boy), Trigender (not really), Two-Spirit (no, that was Native American). She felt almost more confused than when she’d started, but one thing turned around in her mind again and again and came to her lips to be murmured quietly. “I’m not a woman.”
Emma was still glued to the computer, switching from a tab about genderqueer to nonbinary to body dysmorphic disorder to gender identity disorder to gender identity in the LGBTQ+ community and back again, when Regina got home.
“Emma? What are you doing in here in the dark on the computer? We’re always telling Henry that’s terrible for his eyes” she chided lightly, coming in and turning the light on. Emma raised her tear-streaked face, blinking, and the teasing vanished. “What’s wrong?”
I discovered something, Emma wanted to say—opened her mouth to say—but it was too big for her suddenly-constricted throat. This changed everything. Everything. And here was Regina- Oh no. Regina loved a woman. How could Regina still love her now that she knew she wasn’t a woman? Everything was unsteady and spinning and she was going to lose Regina, too, and big, ugly sobs came breaking out of her mouth.
Regina was around the desk and holding her in no time, stroking her hair and murmuring soothingly like she had when Henry had broken his arm when he was 11. Half of Emma felt better immediately, but half was convinced this would be the last time she’d ever have this and that made it impossibly worse.
It took a little while to stop crying—though having already cried earlier was a head start on running out of steam.
When Emma finally got it together and pulled back, Regina was reading the screen, open to nonbinary gender. She felt a flash of annoyance, like her privacy had been invaded. But she was going to tell Regina anyway, and this made it a lot easier to start.
“I discovered something,” Emma managed, voice raw. “About myself.”
“It seems so.” Regina half-sat on the desk to look at her directly.
“I don’t know what it means,” she insisted immediately.
“I’d be surprised if you did. It seems pretty complicated.”
“It is. I don’t know what it means.” Emma was silent for a long, long moment. “Except I’m pretty sure I’m not a woman. I don’t know what I am, but I think I know what I’m not.”
“Okay.” Regina took a slow breath. “How should I talk about you, then?”
“The page said something about pronouns.”
“That’s what you’re worried about?”
Regina gave a little shrug. “It seems like a good place to start.”
“You’re not grossed out or horrified or ready to leave me for not being who you thought you were getting?” Emma’s Regina-related anxieties all came out in a rush.
“You’re still the same person, Emma. I mean, maybe you won’t be called Emma anymore, but-”
“But you signed up for a woman.”
“I signed up for you. The kind person who saw past me being a little evil when you arrived in my town. The other mother- or, maybe- other parent of my son. My lover. My friend. My, oh, what delightfully ridiculous thing did you call it yesterday- snugglebear.”
Then Emma was crying all over again in profound love for Regina—and relief.
They had a little more time before needing to pick Henry up from soccer, so they sat down together for more research. Regina diligently typed in every query, no matter how tangential, and Emma pulled up another chair and clung to her back like a baby koala.
“I think what fits best is nonbinary,” Emma ventured at last. “And, I think, ‘they’ and ‘them’ for pronouns? Feels better than ‘she,’ anyway. At least, that’s what I want to try for a while.”
“That works for me, dear. Are you ready for people to know?”
Emma felt their heart stop in their chest all over again and shook their head, swallowing hard.
“If I call you ‘them,’ people are going to ask questions.”
“Oh god. I need time.”
“That’s fine. We can keep it between us for a while until you’re ready?”
Emma nodded vigorously.
Over the next several weeks, Emma changed their wardrobe. They took to wearing sports bras and boxer briefs and loose jeans and boots without heels. They stopped wearing makeup and started always wearing their hair bound. It wasn’t a big change when jeans and leather jackets and boots had already been their mainstays, but it made all the difference even if nobody else looked twice.
And they stopped feeling the weight of the world crushing their chest. They took longer strides, held their head higher, looked people in the eye and shook hands more forthrightly. They slept better than they could ever remember.
Then one day they looked in the mirror and felt ready. “I want to cut my hair,” they said, turning to Regina.
“So you’re ready to have the conversations?”
“I feel like you’re trying to talk me out of this.”
“No, my love, not at all.” Regina slipped her arms around them. “I just don’t want you to be hurt.”
A sliver of fear raced up Emma’s spine. “You think people are going to be weird about it?”
“Not as such, though I can’t predict how forward-thinking people in an isolated part of Maine will be about gender. It’s more that I want you to be sure and settled and comfortable so if people are rude it doesn’t cause you to second guess yourself.”
Emma looked at her in awe. “Do you know how much I love you?”
Regina kissed them slow and easy.
Of course, before they could book an appointment for a haircut, they and Regina really needed to sit down and explain to Henry.
“So, I guess, now I’m thinking of myself as nonbinary, and using they and them for pronouns?” Emma finished, uncertain.
Henry shrugged. “Okay.”
“Okay? Are you even listening? This is a big deal, Henry!”
“I mean, it’s really not. It’s pretty common among people my age, anyway.” He was so teenage now that it drove both of them crazy on a regular basis.
“But, it’s at least surprising?” Emma was truly baffled. Regina squeezed their knee comfortingly.
“Mom has been calling you ‘Em’ instead of your full name for weeks and you got rid of all your women’s clothes, Ma.” Emma flinched at the name. “Oh, sorry, should I call you something else?”
“Yeah, maybe. I’m not sure. It’s all still really new. How do you understand this better than I do?”
“I don’t, really. I’m just more okay with not understanding it than you are. You’re my parent, and I love you, and that’s what matters,” and there was the perceptive and kind boy they’d grown to love so much over the last several years, and Emma was crying, and Regina and Henry were on either side of them, hugging them tight.
“Ready Em?” Ruby asked.
They’d come to Ruby for this, not only because she was Storybrooke’s resident adventurous stylist, and even had a small side business, but because the day after Emma’s big realization she’d found them hesitating in the hallway outside the bathrooms at Granny’s, unable to choose either door now, and wordlessly led them to the single-stall unisex staff bathroom. Ruby could be trusted.
“Yeah, let’s see it.”
Ruby spun the chair around to show Emma their new haircut. It was short on the sides, but longer on top where Ruby had put product in to make a sort of fluffy faux hawk. Emma burst into tears.
“Oh, Em, I’m so sorry. I should have let you see it earlier before getting all the way through. I didn’t think. We can fix it, um-”
“It’s me. It’s me, it’s me. I’m looking in the mirror and seeing me for the first time in my life. I can see me.”
The haircut was the last piece. Things fell into place. Emma went home to their girlfriend and their son, who loved them and saw them for who they were—who had, with unfailing love and support, helped them become who they’d been all along. It was a relief to have their body be their own to clothe and style and move how they wanted, without the weight of social bullshit. It was a relief to be free not to be a woman. It was a relief not to be anything at all but Emma, who’d finally refused people telling them who they were, who was ready to punch back and make people look at them differently and go out and change the world.
And that night, when they pulled Regina close and her hand stroked up the back of their head as they kissed instead of tangling in long hair, that was like coming home, too.
They began backing across the bedroom, all deep kisses and peeling away each other’s clothes. The two of them had learned—through trial and error and dysphoria panic attacks—that Emma needed to remove their undergarments themself, and whether or how they’d want to be touched any given day was a tossup, so Regina kept her hands safely to Emma’s back, sides, hips until she heard otherwise.
Tonight Emma’s eyes, and hands, were drawn to Regina’s chest. “Your breasts are beautiful and precious and perfect, do you know that?” they asked, pressing Regina back into the mattress. Their hands were cupping and squeezing lightly in the next moment. “Fucking perfect.” They leaned down and kissed and nuzzled. “And I love them. On you. I don’t hate breasts.”
“I know you don’t, my love.” Regina stroked their face with warm hands.
“I wish I didn’t have them, but god damn do I love yours,” they murmured before sucking one nipple into their mouth.
“And I love that you love them.” Regina was a little breathy now.
They sucked one nipple and rolled the other between their fingers, then switched, back and forth, humming out their enjoyment as Regina moaned hers, until her hips were bucking upward in search of touch. Emma began kissing their way downward, reveling in the softness of her skin and the freedom of not having to worry about their hair in the way.
Settling between Regina’s thighs, they paused for a long moment to admire the view. “Fuck, I love your pussy. You’re so beautiful, and I love having you in my mouth and being inside you.” They looked up and met Regina’s eyes. “I don’t hate women. I’m just not one.”
“No one thinks you do, my love.”
“People might. They might think I bought into stupid media messages about hating women.”
“Well if they do I’ll hurt them severely, which I might have to do to you if you don’t-” Her threat trailed off into a moan as Emma took the hint and put their mouth where they both wanted it.
Emma made long, soft, flat strokes with their tongue at first, reveling in this as they did every time. Their eyes fluttered shut in joy, but snapped open again at the feeling of Regina’s hand cupping their cheek, fingertips stroking the back of their head. Their tongue moved faster now, and they moved one hand up to slide fingers inside, needing Regina’s pleasure, wanting to give her everything.
“Yes, just like that,” Regina moaned, working her hips to meet Emma’s touches.
She felt so good, hot and slick in Emma’s mouth and around their fingers. Emma was sucking at her clit and curling on the outward strokes now, and Regina was breathing hard, moaning, almost fucking their face. It was perfect, and Emma wanted to taste and feel and see her like this forever, this perfect woman who loved them so very much.
But they also wanted to make Regina come, so they kept intensifying their touch, pressing their fingers deep to fill her up and swirling their tongue on her clit, loving the sight and taste and feel and sound of her.
Then she was coming, and Emma stroked her through.
They kissed their way back up to press on top of her, and Regina’s hands were on them immediately, stroking their back and hips, digging fingertips in to their muscles a bit.
“Is today a touching day?” Regina asked lightly.
“Today is definitely a touching day.”
“Mmh, good. How should I touch you?”
“Here, like this. Your hand and moving my hips.”
Regina pulled them in to a kiss as she slid her other hand between their legs and began stroking easy circles. Making Regina come had always made Emma very ready, and today was no exception. Their hips started working to meet her touches immediately as they kissed her slow and deep.
This, too, had taken trial and error, finding ways to let Emma feel in control of their body, finding ways to let Emma not be disoriented by sex. This was one of their favorite positions now, Emma fucking themself on Regina’s stroking fingers or her thigh, muscles flexing and moving as their skin pressed and slid together. The other was Regina on her knees, which felt better when Emma called it a blowjob.
Maybe they’d do that later, but for now this was so good, Emma beginning to grunt-groan-moan now between kisses as their pleasure built and their hips worked faster and Regina kept meeting their motion with her fingers.
As Emma got close they were breathing too hard to kiss Regina at all, and instead rested their forehead on hers. Their eyes locked with Regina’s, and it felt like their heart couldn’t contain the size of their love for her, couldn’t contain the perfection of this moment.
Then they were coming hard and Regina held them tight.
Every single member of the lunch crowd at Granny’s turned to stare the next day when Emma walked in with their haircut.
“Whaddya lookin’ at?” Granny demanded. “They got a haircut. Looks good. Move on.”
Emma didn’t miss that Granny had used their correct pronouns.
“I’m proud of you, kid,” Granny said quietly as she counted their change a few minutes later. “It takes guts to be honest about something like this. Ruby told me about pronouns, but are there other things I should know?”
Emma felt themself get a little choked up. “Just, I guess, I know people met me as a woman, but I’m not. I know you might make mistakes sometimes, but if people could not talk about me that way it’d be really great.”
“You got it, kid. You gonna change your name?”
“I thought about it, but Emma Swan is the only thing I have left of my parents. I’m keeping it, but I’d rather be Em for short.”
“Okay.” Granny patted their hand. “In honor of your new- you, I’ll get you some pie. On the house.”
There was a child outside the diner Emma didn’t recognize. They were getting more tourists up here these days, after living in splendid isolation for years. The kid looked hard at them as they passed, then asked, “Are you a boy or a girl?”
“No, I’m not,” Emma answered, smiling. They walked off, whistling, down the street.