“Gina Fortier? Here’s your new New York State license, ma’am” the lady sitting behind the glass at the DMV slides Gina’s new license under the partition. Gina lets out her breath, not realizing she was holding it. She picks up the shiny new driver’s license. New York State. Gina Fortier. Sex: F. Eyes: BL. HT: 6-02. Gina wipes tears away from her eyes and rereads. Gina Fortier. Sex: F.
For the last 14 years her ID said something different. SHE was someone different. When she came into this very same DMV at the age of sixteen, she was a young, confused boy, yearning to get his license so he could get out of Buffalo and go to the city. But here she is. Still in Buffalo. But grown. Matured. A woman.
“Thank you,” Gina says as she takes the treasure and places it in her Michael Kohrs wallet. She’s not sure if the woman gives her a judgmental look or not before Gina gets up to leave. But it doesn’t matter now. These people can look all they want; Gina is, by the State of New York, a woman. She has a new name and license to prove it. As she walks towards the exit, she feels her phone buzz from her clutch. As she picks it up, she sighs remembering it’s her dad’s 60th birthday dinner tonight and her mom is obviously calling to remind her.
“Brian?” her mom asks before she can say hello. Gina grimaces hearing this name. She hasn’t been called Brian by her friends for at least 10 years. Why can’t her mom understand that?
“Gina, mom. It’s Gina,” Gina says into the phone sternly. She is not going to be treated this way by her mom today. Not today.
“Brian, Gina, whatever you call yourself these days. Are you meeting us at Applebee’s for dad’s birthday? You can’t be late you know. You’re always late,” her mom scolds her. Gina can hear her mom’s yapping yorkie in the background.
“Yes, mom. You reminded me yesterday. And the day before. And the day before. I will be there soon,” Gina replies, feeling frustrated. She sees that Virginia is calling on her call waiting. “Listen, I have an important call coming in. I will see you soon. Love you.” Gina hangs up the phone and clicks over to Virginia. “This is Gina,” she says formally as if she’s answering a business call.
“Is that my strong queen?” a voice booms on the other line.
“You like that I went with Fortier? Not too much?” Gina asks as she presses unlock on her key fob and steps into her silver Lincoln Nautilus.
“No, I love that you went with a last name with a meaning. And you are the strongest woman I know so why wouldn’t you go with Fortier? And really, what kind of last name was Whitehead anyways? When I first met you and you told me your last name was Whitehead, all I thought about was a big pimple.” Gina laughs aloud and turns her car onto Swan Street. “Can we celebrate tonight? Ladies’ night out somewhere nice?”
“I can’t,” Gina says feeling disappointed. “It’s my dad’s 60th birthday and I’m headed to Applebee’s right now. There aren’t enough skinny margaritas in that place to get me through this dinner.”
“Oh girl,” Virginia consoles her, “You’re going right now? The only people in there are gonna be you and some geriatric customers. It’s still daylight out.”
“I know, my parents won’t drive past dark,” Gina responds as she stops at a red light and checks her lipstick in the rear-view mirror.
“Then let’s go out for drinks after?” Virginia offers. “Nine O’clock? Boxwood?” Boxwood was their go-to spot for a guaranteed good time. Gina smiles into the mirror, making sure she doesn’t have any lipstick on her teeth.
“I’ll see you then,” she says with a grin. Knowing she’s meeting Virginia later will help her get through this dinner with her family.
“See you then Miss Queen,” Virginia says and hangs up the phone. As Gina pulls into the Applebee’s, she sees that her parents are already standing in the parking lot with her younger sister, Rosemary. Rosemary still lives with her parents even though she’s 23 years old and is more than capable of living on her own. Gina can’t imagine living with her parents one minute more than necessary; she moved out when she turned eighteen although her dad tells people he kicked her out. She knows the truth. She left on her own free will.
“Happy birthday, dad,” Gina says as she crosses the parking lot and hands her dad a present. Her dad, a heavyset man with a permanent growl on his face, looks at Gina as if she’s intruding on their evening.
“Hello, Brian,” her dad says as he hesitantly takes the present from Gina’s hands and looks her up and down. “You look…interesting as always. Hope we don’t see anyone we know here tonight.” He turns and hands the present to Gina’s mom as he heads towards the entrance. Gina’s mom smiles politely at Gina and then turns to follow her dad’s lead.
“New highlights?” Rosemary asks as she walks next to Gina into the restaurant. Gina reaches her hands up to touch her hair, almost forgetting she dyed her once brown hair to a more summer blonde.
“Yea, felt like going with something a little lighter,” Gina says as she holds the door open for Rosemary.
“Looks nice,” Rosemary says politely as she steps inside. Gina can feel eyes turn to her as she follows her family to the table. She senses people whispering, looking her up and down. Or maybe they aren’t looking at her at all. Maybe it’s in her imagination. It usually is her imagination. She sits down next to Rosemary, facing her dad.
“So, dad. Did you do anything nice for your birthday yet?” Gina asks as she opens the menu and scans the drinks. Maybe she’ll get a vodka soda instead of a margarita. Or maybe a red wine.
“Fixed the lawn mower. That thing has been acting up,” her dad responds as he opens up his napkin and places it on his lap.
“Oh, that’s great,” Gina says, trying to be respectful. She sees a young waitress approach their table. She looks to be younger than Rosemary.
“Hello, and welcome to Applebee’s. My name is Amanda, and I will be serving you today. Can I get you all some drinks while you look over the menu?” the waitress asks as she pulls a pad of paper and pen from her apron.
“Budweiser for the birthday boy,” Gina’s dad says right away before anyone can speak.
“Happy birthday, sir,” Amanda says and scribbles his order down.
“I’ll have a strawberry daquiri; extra whipped cream,” her mom orders with a sneer. “It’s a special occasion so I’ll indulge myself!”
“I’ll have a rum and coke,” Rosemary orders.
“Vodka soda,” Gina blurts out. She needs some alcohol and quick.
“Okay so that’s a Budweiser, strawberry daquiri, rum and coke, and vodka soda?” Amanda asks. “And sorry to ask this, but I have to ask anyone who looks under the age of 30 for IDs.” She turns and looks at Gina and Rosemary. Gina can’t tell if this is the truth, or if Amanda is snooping and wants to investigate her more. As she takes out her ID, she feels pride and shame all mixed into one. Amanda takes Rosemary’s ID first from the table, eyes it quickly, and hands it back to her. She then grabs Gina’s ID, inspects it, looks up at Gina, inspects it more, looks up at Gina, and inspects it more. Gina now knows Amanda isn’t just looking at it for her age.
“Is there a problem?” Gina asks, shifting uncomfortably in her chair. “I’m clearly older than she is, and you just handed her ID back right away,” she gestures towards Rosemary sitting next to her.
“No problem,” Amanda says handing the ID back to her. “Sorry about that Ms. Fortier.” Amanda turns and heads to the computer station to punch in their drinks. Flushed with anger, Gina takes the ID back and places it in her wallet wishing she had said no to the invitation for this dinner. She sees her parents on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and birthdays and that’s it. Why does she do this to herself? Why does she bother spending time with them when she’s never felt one ounce of confidence or happiness in their presence?
“Did she say Fortier?” her mother asks, looking at Gina with a confused appearance on her face.
Gina fumbles putting her wallet back into her purse. How can she feel so empowered and strong one minute and the next minute feel two feet tall? “She did say Fortier,” Gina responds, sitting up a little taller in her seat.
“Why would she say that, Brian?” her dad asks, sliding a toothpick from his pocket and putting it in his mouth.
“Because that’s my last name,” Gina replies. “And my first name is Gina. Not Brian. I had it changed legally. So, I would appreciate it if you would all remember to call me by my correct name.”
“You changed it legally? But what if you decide to go back to Brian Whitehead” her mom asks as Amanda comes back with a tray of drinks.
“Mom, I’ve never been Brian Whitehead,” Gina says as she begins to scoot out of the booth and look for the bathroom. She needs a break. “I need to use the restroom,” she murmurs before she’s embarrassed anymore in front of the waitress. Gina spies the bathroom across the bar and walks past a couple tables of men eyeing her up. She wonders if they are eyeing her up in a good way or bad way. Why does she care either way? She would never date a man who chose to eat in Applebee’s in the first place. She heads towards the lady’s room and opens the door right as a woman with short blonde hair is leaving.
“Excuse me,” Gina says as she holds the door open for the woman. The woman, who seems to be in her mid-fifties and is about a foot shorter than Gina, looks up at her in surprise.
“Excuse me,” she says, eyeing Gina up and down before scurrying away. Did Gina scare her? For the most part, Gina looks like a woman. The breasts, the clothes, the hair. Even the hormones make her voice more feminine. But her height. Her feet. No money in the world can change those things. So, it’s harder for her to blend in. All she wants is to blend in.
As Gina finishes up in the bathroom, she inspects her face in the mirror and applies more mascara to her faux eyelashes. She makes sure not to buy lashes that are too long. She isn’t trying to look like a drag queen. She isn’t a drag queen. She’s a woman. A woman whose name means strong queen. Gina zippers up her purse and as she begins to walk out of the bathroom, the door opens and a large man in a Harley leather jacket walks in, eyes wild.
“I think you have the wrong bathroom, sir,” Gina says in astonishment. “This is the ladies room.”
The man looks directly at Gina, and she sees rage burning behind his eyes. Her knees begin to buckle. “No, I think YOU have the wrong bathroom SIR,” he says as he walks closer to her. “You nearly scared the life out of my wife walking in here you circus freak!” he begins to grab at Gina, reaching for her. She screams and fumbles in her purse for her ID.
“What do you got under there, huh?” the man says as he begins to grab at her dress and lift it up. “You like to pretend to be a woman just so you can peek on them in the bathroom you sick pervert?” Before Gina’s hand grabs her license, the man slaps her hard against the cheek and she feels blood trickle down her cheek.
“Stop it!” she screams, scrambling around in her purse. “I’m a woman! My name is Gina Fortier and I’m a woman! I have a license here to prove it” she realizes her voice has deepened in her panic. It sounds like a man’s voice now. Sounding this way is almost worse than feeling the pain running through her cheek. She gives up on the ID and knees the man as hard as she can in the groin, making him drop to the floor. She pushes the door open and runs into the restaurant realizing all eyes are on her. Why do all eyes always have to be on her all of the time? What must she look like to them? Her dress is hiked up. She has tears streaming down her face. She has blood running down her cheek. She sees her parents look at her from across the restaurant. They look embarrassed. She turns towards the exit and hurries to her car as fast as she can before anyone else comes after her. Why did she come here? She pulls out of the parking lot hastily and speeds down 190 to a rest stop, wiping mascara filled tears from her face.
Pulling a tissue from her glove compartment, she dabs lightly at the blood on her lip. She opens her clutch and takes out her wallet. She takes out her license and reads. New York State. Gina Fortier. Sex: F. “I’m a woman. My name is Gina Fortier and I’m a woman. I have a license here to prove it,” she whispers to herself as she stares at her treasure. She starts the car back up and heads towards Virginia’s house, holding the ID tightly in her fist.