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Yasmine wasn’t particularly thrilled to be interrogated by the police today. Exasperated but calm, the African-American woman of British descent just stared at the police officer who did not care to repress his judgement and disgust towards her.
‘I suppose you know why you’re here?’ the white American man asked in a noticeably southern accent.
‘I don’t remember doing anything wrong, so frankly I don’t know why you’re keeping me here,’ Yasmine replied.
The officer raised his eyebrows in a seemingly surprised manner.
‘Then please explain to me what you were doing in the women’s restroom of the restaurant where I just caught you?’
‘I had to pee. But I could ask you the same thing: what were you doing in the ladies’ room?’ the British-American woman asked impudently.
‘I was told a man in his thirties was using the wrong restroom.’
The cop’s fixed look remained unchanged when he continued: ‘You do realize it’s against the law of the state of North Carolina to use the restroom not corresponding to your gender, right?’
‘Good thing I’m not a man, then.’
‘Your ID tells me otherwise, Mr Jeffrey Abel.’
Yasmine tried really hard not to react too strongly to the lack of respect given to her. It occurred quite often that people referred to her with the wrong pronouns. Whether someone was willing to correct themselves after a short elucidation from Yasmine mostly depended on how open-minded that person was. But it didn’t seem like the bigoted police officer was going to respect her gender identity anytime soon.
‘My name is Yasmine,’ she corrected him slightly annoyed.
‘Then why doesn’t it say so on your passport, sir?’
‘Because you can’t legally adjust your biological sex until you’ve had a gender confirmation surgery. I haven’t got to that part of my transition yet.’
‘Then get that sex change,’ the officer sighed as if it went without saying.
Of course he had no idea how expensive such an operation was or how much was involved. Why should he? If you’re privileged on every possible social level, you don’t have to think about things like that. Realising that his prejudice was a result of ignorance, Yasmine decided to ignore his comment.
Visibly annoyed, the transphobic police officer changed his tone to a more informal, even vulgar one: ‘Listen here asshole, I don’t give a fuck if you got your dick chopped off or not. Your birth certificate says you’re a man, so you’re always gonna be a man. Your gender ain’t something you can choose and it ain’t never gonna change either, regardless of the way you look or act. A pig that starts eatin’ carrots doesn’t suddenly turn into a rabbit. It’s still a pig.’
Wow, Yasmine had heard tons of ridiculous remarks on gender dysphoria before, but that last one certainly took the cake. As a response to the whole birth certificate thing she replied with her usual response: ‘My birth certificate also says that I’m 51 centimetres tall and weigh 3.6 kilos. A lot has changed over the years.’
‘I don’t think you realize how serious this matter is,’ the officer snorted, ‘You’re under arrest for public indecency. There are a severe penalties attached to that.’
Yasmine replied rolling her eyes: ‘Oh please! Do you really think that as a trans woman I didn’t keep up with the whole fuss surrounding that law? I know it well enough to know that there’s no official way of sanctioning those who don’t adhere to it. In other words, I am not under arrest and did not commit an act of public indecency. While I would love to stay and continue our fun little chat, I’m just going to walk out of that door as a free citizen. I have an audition to take. Have a nice day.’
After having said that, she walked out of the interrogation room with a grin and a self-esteem that continued to increase with every step that was reverberated by her high heels through the whole police station. Satisfied, she then crossed the street and barely caught the bust that would eventually take her to her audition.
However good Yasmine felt after her little victory, she would lie if she said that the officer’s comments weren’t gnawing away at her. As a black immigrant who also happened to be transgender, she got several intolerant comments more than once. The claim that one eventually learns to live with that was only partially true. She didn’t let unjustified accusations and insults get to her as much as she did several years ago, but a little more understanding and tolerance from others wouldn’t hurt. Yasmine often wondered why some people couldn’t just act more humane. But maybe they were actually being very humane: hatred, hypocrisy, cruelty, insensibility and prejudice are all typically human traits. So perhaps we had to change our definition of humanity, Yasmine thought. After all, she had not perceived a lot of tolerance and solidarity in her daily interactions with other people. Well, it was not like truly everyone treated her badly. There were also people who admitted that while they didn’t completely understand her situation, they would never consider her to be inferior, nor would they deliberately use the wrong pronouns while talking to her. So perhaps Yasmine’s mentality could use some nuancing. Unfortunately, the impact of the negative comments she got was more significant than that of the neutral and positive ones. She could not let that officer’s hateful remarks keep haunting her mind, though, as she had to focus on her audition. After all, that was the whole reason why she had moved from England to the United States: to become an actress. Yasmine always loved acting when she was younger and she was determined to turn her passion into her career. She had auditioned for quite a significant number of parts already, but without much success. She had a very good feeling about this audition, however. She had worked her behind off for the main part in this new TV-series: she had rented costumes to fully immerse herself into the character, rehearsed for days and nights, done some research on posttraumatic stress disorder – the best friend of her character who had had a particularly traumatising childhood was murdered in her own arms – she had even lost a few pounds. In other words, she was totally ready to blow the creators of the programme away with her best audition so far.
During the whole bus ride and the first 45 minutes of queueing in the cultural centre, Yasmine had been completely free from any stress. Now that there were only a few people in front of her, though, she was starting to feel rather nervous. And she had every right to be, since this audition could change her entire future. If she could convince the judges of her talent, she would become the star of a new TV-show. Then the world might not see her as a marginalised freak anymore. She could become a role model for the transgender community, spread tolerance and understanding, and above all inspire other people like her. If the world gave her a chance, she could accomplish so much. But of course that chance had to be given to her first. Yasmine noticed that people didn’t look at her any differently here, which wasn’t too surprising given the fact that everyone was too focused on their scripts to care about what was happening around them. The woman queueing right in front of her was nice, though. Yasmine had had a short conversation with her and found out a thing or two about who she was: her name was Eline Allemand, she was 31 years old, was about to audition for the same part as Yasmine and had got into acting as a replacement of her old job as a detective. Although she was a competitor to Yasmine, she couldn’t help but wish her the best of luck due to her overall kindness and likeability. When Eline was called to the audition room, Yasmine took a deep breath. In just a few of minutes her life could dramatically change. Then she would truly have a reason to be proud of herself. She would finally be able to quit her loathsome, ungrateful job as a waitress and do what she had always dreamt of doing. It felt like Eline had only been in there for a few seconds when Yasmine was called in. She took a deep breath once again, walked through the door and stood still in front of the judges. The panel consisted of three men and one woman. Yasmine estimated their ages around forty or fifty. Instead of asking Yasmine to quickly introduce herself, the only female judge requested her to begin at once. Yasmine assumed it would become clear which part she was going to audition for and showed the judges the best performance she had ever delivered. The stress she felt a minute ago was nowhere to be found. She flawlessly interpreted the part with confidence and grace, at least as well as during her most recent rehearsals. Not once did she stutter, forget her lines or lose her credibility. She was able to interpret every emotion with an unprecedented persuasiveness: from fear to grief, from grief to anger, and from anger to all of those emotions at the same time. Yasmine became her character. She felt her character’s pain caused by her friend’s death and shared her thoughts: how much longer would this horror be lasting for? How much misery was still waiting for her after all the bad luck she’s had her entire life? How much longer did she have to feel like she wasn’t allowed to be happy, feel like she wasn’t able to breathe, endure this never-ending spiral of both physical and psychological torture? Okay, perhaps Yasmine’s interpretation wasn’t so extraordinarily believable just because of her acting skills alone. She could identify with her character for more reasons than one. Whatever the case, she was really proud of her performance and even if the judges didn’t agree with her, she would be able to return home satisfied. Right after her audition Yasmine looked with a somewhat nervous smile at the judges who were silently in discussion. The man on the far right of the panel eventually began to speak: ‘Good afternoon, ma’am. What’s your name, please?’
‘Yasmine,’ repeated the grey-haired man, ‘Alright, I’ll cut right to the chase: your performance was amazing.’
When Yasmine heard those words, she was so relieved that she could kiss each of the judges, until the man continued his sentence with that one devastating word: ‘but’. Yasmine knew very well that she was not going to like the rest of his feedback. Visibly disappointed she heard him out.
‘When we wrote this character,’ the judge continued, ‘we didn’t have someone in mind who …’ He hesitated a little before he eventually explained himself: ‘… who doesn’t sound or look completely female.’
Yasmine swallowed. Those words hurt a lot more than the man could have ever imagined. She tried her hardest to hold back tears when she defended herself: ‘But the script doesn’t say she needs to be cisgender, either.’
The judges questionably looked at her for a while.
‘Both psychologically and physically female,’ Yasmine elucidated her argument when she appreciated that they had probably never heard of the term. As a silent cry for help, the greybeard glanced at his colleague sitting next to him. When the colleague got the hint, he took the floor.
‘Listen Ms. Abel, this show’s gonna to be broadcast on national television. That means that it’ll be watched by the elderly, as well as adults and teenagers. Not all those generations are as familiar with your … situation. If we give the main part to someone the general public can’t identify with, the viewers will have questions and it’ll distract from the actual story. That’s why we thought you’d be auditioning for a supporting role.’
Yasmine was not about to give up just yet.
‘But that extra bit of diversity could also work in your favour, right? Your programme will be regarded as progressive and will have thousands of supporters just because a trans woman plays the main part.’
‘We just think the public isn’t ready yet,’ the female judge compassionately contradicted her, ‘We already have a lesbian couple on the show. The number of minorities in our program should still be realistic.’
‘We’re not Orange Is the New Black,’ the last male judge added. That way he had said something too.
Filled with disbelief and disappointment, Yasmine bit her tongue in order not to lose control. Not that she felt the urge to lash out at the panel, but now was not the time to burst into tears.
‘Yeah, all right … I understand,’ she said softly with a lump in her throat. With her self-esteem deep below zero, she left the audition room and saw that Eline Allemand had not yet left the building. She was just finishing a conversation in French when she saw Yasmine miserably shambling through the hallway. Understanding that she needed someone’s support, the former detective instinctively approached the visibly unhappy woman in an attempt to cheer her up.
‘Did it not go well?’
Yasmine quickly looked at Eline and subsequently turned her glance towards the floor. She did not feel like talking about it with a stranger at all, but she didn’t want to be rude, either.
‘The audition went great, the judges said so themselves,’ Yasmine answered, ‘I’m just upset because of their reason not to let me through despite my decent audition.’
Eline questionably frowned her eyebrows. ‘If your performance was so good, then what reason could they possibly have not to let you through?’
‘They don’t want me because I’m transgender.’
Yasmine expected a sign of understanding, an answer in the nature of ‘Not everyone is ready for you yet, just give it some time’. She definitely did not expect the response Eline would eventually give.
‘Did they really phrase it like that?’ Eline asked astonished.
‘Yeah, more or less. They said the general public wasn’t ready for me and that I’d be more suited for a supporting role,’ Yasmine explained. Her voice showed clear signs of profound disappointment.
‘Putain,’ Eline exclaimed genuinely indignant. ‘Pardon my French,’ she then apologised for her foul language. Although she might not have been a cop anymore, she still felt the urge to step in whenever injustice occurred. She therefore didn’t have to think a long time about what she was going to do next. She gave Yasmine some tissues she could dry her tears with and invited her to go back inside together. A little overwhelmed, Yasmine decided to accept her new acquaintance’s request. The next candidate had not been called in yet, which only intensified Eline’s desire not to hold back one bit. The judges all looked up surprised at the unexpected appearance of the female duo. Like before, the greybeard on the right of the panel spoke first: ‘Ms. Allemand, did you forget anything?’
‘Why are you discriminating against Yasmine?’ Eline got straight to the point. The three men looked somewhat awkwardly at their female colleague, hoping that she would deal with the situation. They believed a woman would be best able to calm down the furious candidate. Of the opinion that they needed to grow a pair, she reproachfully looked at them and subsequently turned towards Eline.
‘We’re not discriminating against anyone,’ she defended herself, ‘We have the right to not accept a candidate when we think they’re not suited for the part they auditioned for. That’s the whole point of auditions.’
Eline immediately challenged the judge’s deficient argumentation: ‘I would completely agree if you had turned down Yasmine for her acting skills, but apparently y’all don’t want her because of her gender identity. That’s discrimination and against the law.’
Yasmine didn’t quite feel comfortable in this situation. She didn’t really know what to do, so she just remained in the background without uttering a sound, curious as to how this argument would end. Meanwhile the judge on the far left of the panel dared to mediate: ‘Listen Ms. Allemand, we just think Yasmine is not the right person for the role. We were very enthusiastic about your audition, though. So just leave the situation as it is and wait for a phone call from us in a couple of days. The more you cooperate now, the bigger the chance of you getting the part.’
Eline could not believe her ears.
‘Do you actually think blackmailing me will convince me?’ she reproachfully said.
When her gaze landed on the glass of ice cold water right in front of the blackmailing judge, she walked towards it and emptied it on his groin. Indignant, he stood up and asked what the hell that was for.
‘I could already tell from your personality you had no balls, so now yours will be so shrunken because of the cold water that your appearance matches your personality’, she replied in her own, sassy way, ‘Consider my audition as non-existent. There’s no way in hell I’d still wanna work with any of y’all.’
As the judges were about to call security, Eline gestured that that wasn’t necessary and stormed out of the building with Yasmine. Yasmine had to process what had just happened for a minute. No one had ever defended her like that before. Neither did she understand why Eline had reacted so strongly: they had only met an hour ago. She was grateful and touched by what she had done, however, that was for sure. Eline proposed to order something in the restaurant on the other side of the street – that way they could recover from all the chaos that had just taken place. Yasmine admitted that she could use that.
At the restaurant Yasmine and Eline were being served by a spoilt, unmotivated waitress. Whenever she was not around, the duo would imitate her frequent sighs and eye rolls. However delightful that activity may have been, Yasmine thought it was necessary to address the elephant in the room.
‘Eline, why did you defend me like that at the audition? I mean, the judges even said you were likely to get the part. You could’ve just kept quiet and become the new star of that show. So why did you waste such an opportunity?’
Eline glanced at Yasmine to be sure whether that was a legitimate question. When it became clear that her messmate was being serious, she replied: ‘I consider it my duty to stand up for people who are treated unfairly. I personally think that’s the only right thing to do. Would you rather I hadn’t done anything?’
‘No, I really appreciated what you did for me, don’t get me wrong. It’s just … I’m not used to it. And it’s not like we really know each other.’
Eline smiled compassionately. She appreciated from Yasmine’s words that she was the only person who had ever defended her that way. She knew Yasmine could use more of her support in the future, as well as a close friendship.
‘Well, then we should probably get to know one another,’ she said, ‘My name is Eline Lucienne Allemand, I was born May 14th in 1985 in Wallonia, the French-speaking part of Belgium. My father raised me there ‘till I was five years old. He met my stepmother while on a business trip in the States and a year later we moved here. From then on, I was raised in both English and French.’
“So you’re a French- and English-speaking American from Belgian descent whose surname means ‘German’?” Yasmine giggled at Eline’s largely multicultural background.
“You know what ‘Allemand’ means?’ Eline asked impressed, ‘Tu comprends le français alors?’
‘I’ve taken some French courses because I liked the language, so I understand it quite well. However, when it comes to actually speaking French, I can’t say much other than baguette and moustache.’
Yasmine’s explanation had Eline laughing for a bit. Yasmine felt genuinely comfortable and at ease around Eline, more so than she had ever felt with anyone else before. For now, though, she would keep her distance. People had let her down multiple times before – people who she considered her best friends. Call it being cautious or dealing with trust issues, but Yasmine did not want to rush anything. She did want to find out more about Eline, however.
‘You said you used to work for the police. Why did you stop?’
‘I was really close with my partner in the force. He wasn’t just a colleague I got along with, I considered him as my best friend. He was always ready to help me or give me good advice whenever I was feeling down; such a good sport. But one day we had to investigate a case that would change everything. A woman was found dead in a park. When we arrived at the crime scene, it turned out to be my partner’s fiancé. It devastated him. He got severely depressed and avoided any contact with the outside world. He didn’t even attend his fiancé’s funeral. His fiancé wasn’t murdered, but killed by an aggressive hound. When he was at his lowest point, he tracked the animal down and when he found it, he killed it himself. He committed suicide afterwards. I couldn’t enjoy my job anymore after he died, so I decided to take a totally different route and got into acting.’
‘I’m sorry,’ Yasmine apologised, ‘I didn’t know it was such a sensitive topic.’
‘You couldn’t have possibly known,’ Eline reassured her, ‘I’ve learned to cope with his passing, but it still feels like part of me has died with him, you know? Sorry, that probably sounded really cheesy.’
Yasmine shook her head to show Eline that she understood, to which Eline responded with a grateful smile.
‘Okay, now that I have opened up, it’s your turn. What’s your story, Yasmine Abel?’
Time to ruin the mood even more, Yasmine thought. But she did owe Eline some details about herself now, so she decided to truthfully tell her story.
“Well, I was born and raised in the English county Worcestershire, where I lived with my biological parents and two brothers. My biological parents couldn’t live with the fact that their ‘son’ wanted to be treated like their daughter. My biological father used to beat me a lot. He claimed it would make me ‘tougher’ and ‘more manly’. One time, he grabbed me by my hair and dragged me around the house. My neck still hurts sometimes because of that. My biological mother, on the other hand, sent me to Christian psychiatrists that made me believe there was something wrong with me and that it was all in my head, because ‘God doesn’t make mistakes’. When I turned eighteen and still hadn’t become the perfect son they always wanted me to be, they sent me out of the house and denied any contact with my brothers. When I had earned enough money after several jobs as a cashier, waitress and babysitter, I moved to the US to become an actress. I couldn’t afford Hollywood, so I settled in North Carolina. I haven’t had a lot success so far, so I’m barely getting by with a minimum wage and tips from costumers.”
Eline wasn’t sure how to respond to that. She hadn’t expected Yasmine’s life to be so rough. She tightly held her messmate’s hand to silently comfort her. This was completely new to Yasmine. She did like it, however; very much so. What do romance films and novels call it when to people appear to be having a strong connection, even a certain chemistry? A spark that can be felt? Some sort of firework in your body? Well, Yasmine felt exactly that when Eline was holding her hand, and she didn’t know what to think about that.
‘Let’s go out tonight,’ Eline proposed.
‘What?’ Yasmine asked as she tried to retrieve her connection with the earth.
‘I think we could both use something to distract ourselves, so let’s go out tonight.’
‘Eline, we’re not teenagers anymore. By the way, we’ve only just met.’
‘C’mon,’ Eline insisted, ‘we’ll go to a place where there will be people of our age as well. If you give me your number, I’ll send you the address later. It’s gonna be fun, trust me.’
‘I don’t know if I’m in the mood for that right now.’
‘What’s the worst that could happen? That you’re gonna have fun? Just come along and if you end up not liking it, we’ll go somewhere else or just both head home. Please?’
Yasmine could indeed use something to take her mind off things. She eventually agreed with Eline’s suggestion. After all, what could go wrong? Well, as it would turn out a few hours later, a lot could go wrong …
Yasmine was supposed to meet Eline at ten o’ clock at the address Eline had sent her. Yasmine had been too busy trying to figure out what she was going to wear that night to be bothered to look up where they would be going. She was confident Eline was taking them someplace nice where they would be enjoying themselves tremendously. Upon her arrival she saw Eline waiting outside in a form-fitting and rather short, yet classy black dress. She looked genuinely magnificent – much better than Yasmine, Yasmine thought herself. When Eline greeted her European-style with a kiss on the cheek, Yasmine once again felt that spark, that firework, or whatever it was supposed to be. It was anyhow an extraordinarily nice sensation she felt rushing through her body. When she examined the establishment they were about to enter, Yasmine was quite eager to know the reason behind Eline’s peculiar choice.
‘A gay bar?’ she asked, ‘Isn’t that a place mostly for gay men?’
‘Yeah, mostly for gay men. Doesn’t mean other people aren’t welcome. You’ll see there’s a lot more diversity in there than only men that are attracted to men. Plus, there’s a lot less bigotry. I just wanted to show you that not everyone is as close-minded and hateful as the people you’ve dealt with so far.’
Yasmine really appreciated all the effort Eline had made for her. She still hadn’t completely grasped why Eline would do so much for someone she barely knew, but maybe she didn’t have to look for a far-fetched explanation. Yasmine had been confronted so many times with people’s dark sides, that she almost didn’t believe there were any good people left. Eline appeared to be one of those exceptional human beings who could convince Yasmine that the good in people still existed too. She didn’t know if she deserved to have met someone like Eline, but she certainly didn’t mind that she had. They entered the bar arm in arm. The first thing Yasmine noticed was that Eline was right about there being more diversity than just gay men, although they did represent the vast majority in the building. She hadn’t lied about the lack of judgemental looks, either. Yasmine wondered why she had never visited a gay bar before. She felt more at home and accepted than ever. After a couple of hours she barely even realised how much time had passed already. She felt her attraction towards Eline increasing on the dancefloor. Did she finally find someone who she could envision a future with? Not that she would rush anything: if she made a move too soon, things could turn out pretty awkward. She just wanted to enjoy the moment, dancing with her new friend – yes, she already felt comfortable calling Eline her friend – and become one with the beat. About that beat, it dramatically changed all of a sudden. It became much louder, much more inconsistent. The people present had a remarkably different reaction to it as well. They were screaming, even. Eline suddenly fell into Yasmine’s arms, which the latter would have liked a lot if she hadn’t come to the horrific realisation that Eline didn’t mean to embrace her at all. Yasmine noticed that she motionlessly remained in her arms, as if she were sleeping. When Yasmine perceived the blood running from different areas of Eline’s body, she looked up terrified and saw a man armed with a gun at the entrance of the bar. It became clear at that moment that those people weren’t screaming because of the peculiar beat, but out of fear, and that that peculiar beat wasn’t a beat at all, but gunshots. Her survival instinct didn’t allow Yasmine to grieve over her friend’s death yet, but told her to find a way out instead. As she was running to the back of the building, she saw people being killed one after the other. The panic didn’t stop and neither did the shooting. The terrorist shot completely at random: he killed girls who had just left high school, adult men with families, white people, black people, Asian people, people with religious symbols on their bodies, people who didn’t show any sign of a religious conviction at all … Whoever he could kill, fell victim to the act of terror. Yasmine kept running backwards, hoping she could find shelter in the bathroom. Meanwhile she saw how a woman caught some bullets with her own body to protect the young man standing behind her and then fell dead to the ground. Yasmine deduced from the young man’s cry of despair that he had just witnessed his own mother’s death. When she finally reached the bathroom, she hid in one of the stalls, locked the door and lifted her feet in order not to get caught. Yasmine heard the screaming and shooting continuing endlessly. She startedg to realise that she had lost the only person who had ever been able to make her feel good about herself. The only person who she believed possessed nothing but pure kindness. The only person who fully accepted her for who she was. Yasmine realised that if she had just stayed strong after her audition, none of this would have happened. Eline would not have come here and she would still be alive. Too busy blaming herself for this whole disaster, Yasmine hadn’t paid attention as to whether she was being quiet enough not to get caught, nor whether the shooter was still in the room next to the bathroom. Hence she had not expected the terrorist to shoot open the lock of her stall in the middle of her self-reproachful train of thought. When he subsequently flung open the door, Yasmine stood face to face with the murderous shooter. He looked at her with a tremendously vicious grin, revealing how much he enjoyed seeing her fear for her life. Out of all the things she could have been thinking of at that moment, the questions of the character she had played at the audition earlier that day haunted her mind: how much longer would this horror be lasting for? How much misery was still waiting for her after all the bad luck she’s had her entire life? How much longer did she have to feel like she wasn’t allowed to be happy, feel like she wasn’t able to breathe, end