Photo: Febiyan via Unsplash
By Nikoline Heikamp
She looks sweet and confident. Her name is Lea. I click through her pictures. Her profile looks a little random and messy, but in an intentional way. That’s the vibe I am getting. And I like it. I swipe right. A match. I put the phone down. Smile. I look at my phone. No messages. I look through my other conversations, searching for ideas to start the conversation. A message ticks in. I jolt. It’s Lea.
I need to make sure we are on the same page
Do you crush the biscuits into your koldskål or do you eat them whole?
I giggle. In that way where you mostly just exhale through your nose. A classic question to break the ice, where you can’t tell what the most acceptable answer will be. I let my fingers float just above the keys, bite my lip nervously, and look around the room a bit before I respond.
Neither. I split them in half. Either before with my hands. Or after, with a spoon.
I try to keep it in the same serious but ironic tone like her. She eats her biscuits whole and waits until the koldskål has softened them a bit. We quickly agree to stay off each other’s koldskålhabits and to meet up for the classic ‘coffee and a walk around the lakes’.
I felt average, normal, and regular. I was going on a date that looked like the dates most of my friends had been on. The only thing that made it different was her gender. It was the same as mine. I started off with the search function set to all genders on my Tinder, but there was a surplus of men and I ended up turning them off. It was kind of strange to only swipe between women because all my previous partners were men. It was liberating and terrifying at the same time because it was so new for me.
Our conversation continues a bit sporadic but natural in the days leading up to the date. We share some bits of our previous Tinder dates and romantic relationships, things that went wrong, things we don’t wanna repeat but also some of the successes. The tone in our messages gradually becomes deeper and more honest and we add more and more lines to each message.
I bought coffee for us. Cappuccino made with oat milk. I am waiting by Queen Louise’s Bridge, while I watch the people walking and biking past me. It’s close to freezing temperatures, but there is a blue sky, and the sun is a little warm. I glance down at myself.
It had been a struggle to find some clothes that I wanted to wear. Recently, I haven’t really felt comfortable in anything. Aside from loose sweatpants and sweatshirts that hide all my curves. But I didn’t think sweatpants belonged on a first date. My long dark hair is hidden under both a hat and a coat. It almost looks like I am shorthaired. I look up. She is walking with a smile on her face. She looks just as confident as she did in her profile. She opens her arms for a hug when she comes close while saying hi. I try my best not to spill the coffee and carefully wrap my arms around her in a hug. She smells good.
We walk around the lakes. The conversation flows easily. We quickly move on from the boring standard questions of school, friends, and everyday life. We talk about our childhood and early youth, and how it isn’t always easy to exist. Alle the benches around the lakes are occupied by coffee and cocoa-drinking couples, wrapped in hats and scarves. They have moved outside to catch a bit of the sparse winter sun before the darkness comes back and they’ll end up together under the covers, watching that tv-show they have agreed never to watch without each other. We find a half-wall that easily can function as a bench and sit down with a twenty centimeter gap. She places her cup between us.
I tell her about my clothing crisis. She knows what it’s like to have one, but she doesn’t understand that I want to hide. Not as a compliment, more like a concern.
”It sounds like you’re not very happy with your body. How come?” she asks, while she looks at me with a wondering but gentle gaze.
I rub my palms together. They are sweaty.
”I… I don’t know. It just feels like it isn’t my body. I can’t explain it,” I stutter and sit on my hands to keep them from moving.
”We don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to. I am just curious, and I want to listen,” Lea says with a special calmness in her voice.
I can tell that she really means it, but I am genuinely not sure why I feel weird in my body and my clothes. None of us speak. We sit and look out over the lake and the people walking past us. We have both finished our coffees. It would be natural to split ways now, I think. I am about to get up and thank her for the date, but before that, Lea speaks: “do you wanna go to my place and make dinner?”
I say yes to the invitation with a somewhat nervous voice. I am not good at changing plans. But I think Lea is really sweet and nice to be around. It’ll be fine, I think.
We buy ingredients for a pasta dish with vegetables and cream. We also buy some beers. She lives on a small street in Nørrebro. Not very far from where I live. We talk about how great the area is, and what restaurants and shops we want to visit, but haven’t yet since we both recently moved here. I’m standing in her entryway, right by the front door while she goes to the kitchen with our groceries. I am still standing there when she comes back.
”You can just throw your coat on the bed in there,” she says and points through the door to the left. I look in there and nod. I take off my shoes first, and then my coat, a little hesitant as I walk towards the bed. She moves over to the doorway into the room. I look around. Painting and posters in frames stand on the floor.
”Yeah, I haven’t put them up yet. I am not the handywoman I wish I was. Are you good at that kind of stuff?”
”N… no, my things are standing like this too,” I say, while I look down and adjust my tight jeans.
Lea gazes down over me, holding her gaze on my jeans. “Do you want to borrow some sweatpants? You can just look in the closet,” she says and points to the closet in one corner of the room. She walks over to the closet and opens it. “It’s a little messy, but here are all my sweatpants. You can take them out and look. I’ll go and find us a beer.”
Lea walks into the kitchen. I can hear the beers being taken out of the fridge and the bottle caps hitting the kitchen table when she opens them. I stand and look into the closet.
Lea didn’t offer me her clothes with the hopes that I would have to return them as a way to get a second date. She did it solely because she could tell I was uncomfortable in the clothes I was wearing. She had no ulterior motives. It was only so I would feel more at ease. It’s hard for me to understand, and therefore it feels impossible to reach out and grab a pair of sweatpants and put them on. I can’t remember anyone ever doing anything like this for me before.
The floors in the hallway creak. Lea is on her way from the kitchen to the bedroom. She knocks on the doorframe and asks if it’s okay for her to come in. I can’t form any words. She pokes her head in and furrows her brows.
”Nothing looks tempting?” she asks while putting the beers on the window frame.
”I kinda froze,” I mumble.
Lea pulls out a pair in the middle of the folded pile. “Here, I think these will suit you,” she says and smiles lightly. I accept them. She grabs the top pair, throws them on her bed, and starts to take off her pants without hesitating. I try to copy her, even though it feels a little scary.
We’re cooking, while we dance around to music and drink our beer number three. When the song ends, and a new one starts, I signal to Lea that I am going to the bathroom. She nods.
I wash my hands and closely inspect my reflection. I let the water run and cover my face with my dripping wet hands. I turn off the water. I don’t dry my hands, instead, I run them through my hair to pull it back into a low bun. Lea has turned down the music. She is putting down a trivet on the table and placing the pot on top. “Dinner is…” she stops when she sees me.
“Are you okay?” she asks.
“I am just sick of how I look,” I say, my voice full of frustration, and I down the rest of my beer.
We sit down at the table. Lea serves us both a portion and opens two new beers. She doesn’t speak. For the first time today, she doesn’t speak. We eat in silence. The sound of forks clinking against the plates becomes very intense when there are no other sounds.
Lea grabs her beer and lifts it towards her mouth, but before she takes a sip, she breaks the silence. “Do you know Sam Smith? The singer.”
“Yeah?” I say and put the fork down. Is she ignoring my little outburst? I have only known her for 4 hours, but that doesn’t seem like her.
”They just came out as non-binary and use the pronouns they/them,” she says, while her voice switches between being hesitant and excited. She is insecure. For the first time today, she is insecure. I don’t say anything, I just frown slightly and take a sip of my beer, hoping she will elaborate.
“That means they don’t identify as one of the two binary genders, man or woman, but somewhere in between or completely outside of the gender spectrum.”
She pauses for a bit and then continues.
”You have expressed discomfort with your body several times today, and I get the feeling most of it is connected to your feminine shape,” she says while tilting her head slightly.
”You have also told me that you’re sick of your name because you don’t think it suits you,” she continues.
Lea mentions a list of things I have said to her during the day. She explains how it can feel constricting and physically uncomfortable to have to follow gender norms based on the gender you were born with if you actually feel like a different gender.
I take another sip of my beer. None of us are eating any longer. While Lea keeps explaining, I can feel myself getting a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. Lea puts her hand on the table and reaches for mine. I take her hand.
”You’re okay,” she reassures me.
”We’ll work this out together,” she says while she pulls me out of the chair and into a hug.
”Are you sure?” I stutter while a tear runs down my cheek.
”Yes, of course, I am,” she gives me a squeeze and pushes back to look in my eyes.
She smiles and gives me an evaluating look. “Then I guess I’ll just have to call you…. cutiepants until you find a name that feels more like you,” she says with a playful gleam in her eyes.
I smile and snort as I try to exhale, sniffle, and give her a little shove.