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Flambé Learns About Vaginas from a New Friend

Flambé wanted a vagina. She always had—the thought of it, the vision, was never far from her mind. Until recently, she’d been able to live without, a lacuna that always needed fulfillment, like hunger, but that was manageable.

Yet for the last several weeks, she had become more and more obsessed with her “situation,” as she phrased it to herself. Maybe it was because of hew new relationship with Devon. Her penis still functioned quite well, thank you. Devon enjoyed it, and Flambé even masturbated every once in a while. But as much of an old friend as her penis was, it also came to represent for Flambé an invasion, a part of her body that didn’t belong, like a hernia.

It was a topic she dare not speak of with anyone: not with Nick, certainly (given how delicate things were between them), and not with Devon, obviously. She sometimes wished she had a psychotherapist to talk with, but therapy cost money, and Flambé as usual was short of cash, despite the relative success of her dog-walking business.

There was, in Oakland and the greater East Bay, a well-organized trans community, centered mainly around the bar scene. Flambé had never considered herself part of it. She was, if anything, a lone wolf in life, going her own way, prompted by her own instincts and desires, not a “joiner.” And yet, as she pondered her situation, she realized that others had experienced the same things. She wanted the vagina; she could not afford the vagina; perhaps there were ways to go about it she was unaware of. So, with this emerging attitude, Flambé went to her first meeting of the East Bay Transgender Alliance, held in an old storefront in the Fruitvale District.

About a dozen people were there. They sat in rickety folding chairs in a circle. Apparently most of them knew each other; Flambé was the new girl. After introducing herself, she settled in, and quietly inspected the others. One caught her attention: at first, Flambé had thought she was Moira, her long-dead mentor into the world of cross-dressing. Separated at birth? After the meeting, when coffee and donuts were served, Flambé approached her. Her name was Esther.

She was very pretty, in a gamin way, short and petite, with elfin eyes and a wry smile. Many male-to-female trans people choose long hair, often accented with wigs or falls; not Esther, who wore her auburn hair close-cropped, like Mia Farrow in her Frank Sinatra days. Also, unlike many trans women, Esther’s clothes were more of the businesswoman than the drag queen: a smart, pinstriped navy blue skirt and jacket, white silk blouse, a single strand of white pearls around her neck. She was not very buxom, but yet possessed an undeniable femininity. Flambé decided she liked this woman.

They traded phone numbers. Esther lived in the Cleveland Heights neighborhood, in what used to be called China Hill before that name became politically incorrect. Flambé texted her a few days later. “Hi there, it’s Flambé, we met at the Alliance thing, wonder if you want to get 2gether 4 coffee or something.” Esther did. They met up by the Pergola. It was a nice day. They decided to take a stroll around Lake Merritt.

The two women hit it off well. Esther was white and Jewish, in stark contrast to Flambé, but aside from those differences, they shared many things in common. Esther, who at 37 was a few years older than Flambé, had begun her trans journey earlier. A clerk in a law office, she was now fully transitioned, entirely comfortable with her identity; the “Evan” she’d been until the age of 25 had been dead and buried for a long time. Flambé admired Esther’s self-control and poise. Had Flambé met her in any other capacity, she decided, she would not have guessed she had not been born a woman.

Which led Flambé to pose the ultimate question. They had walked to the south end of the Lake, to Lake Merritt Boulevard. “Look,” Flambé temporized, “I know we only just met, but I feel close to you—”

“I feel close to you, too,” Esther replied.

“So I hope you won’t take this the wrong way. Let me know if I’m prying, okay? Because I don’t mean to. I’d never intrude into your—”

“Yes, I’ve had the surgery.”

Flambé stopped walking. “What did you say?”

“I’m post-op.” Esther was very kind about it. “I know that’s what you want to know. It’s what many transitioning women want to know about me, and every one of them has trouble getting it out. So don’t worry about it, or be embarrassed. I had the surgery ten years ago. Do you want to talk about it?”

Flambé was thrilled. She’d never had “that conversation” before with anyone, not even with Moira. Her knowledge of the procedure came entirely from websites she’d found through Google. She had so many questions—not only about the financial aspects, but medical ones and personal and intimate ones. Never had she found anyone she could trust enough to ask, and now, here was Esther: smart, kind, experienced, and willing to answer any question she might have, no matter how silly. In fact, as Esther quickly reminded her, “There are no silly questions, Flambé. Ask away!”

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