Ben and Richie sat alone together in the clubhouse, the awkward silence occupying the empty space. Ben had asked Richie if they could hang out just the two of them, which they didn't do often. Richie had figured whatever Ben wanted to discuss must be pretty personal, because he was strictly forbidden to bring Eddie and Richie brought Eddie everywhere. Ben was also clearly nervous, Richie observed, as he watched his friend fiddle with the hem of his shirt. He waited patiently for Ben to build up the courage to voice what was on his mind, ignoring his own anxieties and hyperactivity.
Ben inhales deeply, squeezing his eyes shut, and asks, "How did you figure out that you're transgender?"
Richie was taken aback briefly. He and the Losers really never talked about the subject. Of course they all knew, and they accepted him for who he is because that's just how the Losers are. They're the best friends he could ask for. He hummed and scratched the back of his neck, recalling memories.
"Well, I guess I always knew. I never really liked girly things like princesses and dolls, I was always a gross kid. I liked playing in the dirt with the other boys and wearing shorts, and my luscious, long, curly hair always bothered me so I cut it short as a tot.
"But it's so much more complicated than that. Yes I liked boyish things, but that didn't make me a boy. When we learned about puberty in Biology class, it made me feel sick. I didn't want to get giant boobs, or have a period every month. I punched a hole in the dressing room of a Walmart because I had to try on a training bra. My 'rents might not be perfect, but they saw how upset it all made me.
"So, they took me to a counselor. I explained how I wanted to be just like my best friend, Big Bill. He had gotten taller, and his voice had started to crack and deepen, and he had hair on his chest. I wanted to look like him, dress like him, talk like him, walk like him. I actually thought I had a crush on him because I was so obsessed with him, isn't that funny? Me and Big Bill, pffft! Anyway, I told this guy that I hated the body I was given and I didn't want to be a girl.
"And you know what he said? He said 'you don't have to be.' I mean, he made it sound so easy! Like I could just wake up the next day with the biggest dick and the hairiest chest in the whole neighborhood. He told me that some people get given the wrong gender, but that there's ways we can change ourselves to match our real gender better. I couldn't just grow a dick overnight, but I could take medicine to control my hormone levels so I can feel more like a boy. He told me that if I want to be a boy, I already am, but that I can get help to see a boy in the mirror. So, that's what I did, and I'm really glad I did." Richie finishes fondly, a small smirk stretching across his face.
Ben took all this information in, gears turning in his head as he processed it. Richie looked Ben up and down, recognizing the way he had looked in that counselor's office all those years ago.
"Ben, do you think you're trans?" Richie asked quietly, as if the word might scare him.
"I don't know," Ben started, chewing on his (their? her?) lip. "I... I've never gotten to ask myself I guess. Without my dad, I have to be the man of the house. I don't think I could do that to my mom. She already lost a husband, she doesn't deserve to lose her son, too."
Richie felt his heart break for his friend, trying to come up with the right words. This was not time for a Trashmouth remark.
"Your mom wouldn't be losing a son," Richie started confidently. "She'd get to see her kid be happy, with whatever gender they feel comfortable in."
Ben's eyes started to water, and collapsed into their hands as they let the tears fall down their plump cheeks.
"I don't feel like a boy at all, Richie," Ben sobbed. "I-I think I'm a girl. I just hate being expected to grow up like my dad, big and burly. I don't want that, Rich! I-I want a haircut like Betty Ribsom's, and skirts, and makeup! I was never meant to be a boy, I always thought of myself like Sappho, not Hemingway!"
"I don't know who those people are, but if you want to be Sapphire, you can be Sapphire. I did it. You can do it too, Ben. We love you for you." Richie smiled encouragingly, awkwardly wrapping his long arms around Ben's frame.
"It's Sappho," Ben corrected. "She was a lesbian poet. I think... I think if I can be a girl, that I might be a lesbian, too. Is that okay?" Ben asked hesitantly, resting their cheek on Richie's shoulder as he readjusted.
"Why the fuck not!" Richie exclaimed, as if he was having an epiphany of his own. "You know what, Ben? I think I just might be bisexual."
After their talk in the clubhouse, Ben had practiced using different names and pronouns in the mirror like Richie had suggested. Ben had tried lots of names like Belle, Bridgette, Bea, even Daisy and Emily, but none of them fit. Ben felt inspired by a certain song they had listened to on repeat as they journeyed through this self discovery, and that song was none other than "Bennie and the Jets."
"Bennie," Ben smiled at themself as the name slipped out of their mouth again. All those other names were nice, but Ben found comfort in Bennie the most. It was mostly the same name, but with a touch of femininity that they adored. Something about the "ie" sound just made their heart flutter.
The name was the hardest of decisions Bennie would have to make, as the pronouns came nice and easy. Bennie had felt most euphoric in she/they pronouns; her favorite thing in the world was when they could use both in one sentence.
Bennie gleamed as she admired themself in the mirror. Her skinny jeans showed off the curves in her legs, and the cropped New Kids on The Block t-shirt made them feel cute and femme. She had used her allowance to buy themself a pair of black flats, lip gloss, and mascara in secret. It was a small step, but she felt for the first time she was headed in the right direction. She took a deep breath and left their home to head to the clubhouse.
After settling into their newly revamped gender identity, Bennie felt confident enough to officially come out to the Losers' Club. Having their support would get her through anything, even coming out to her mom. If her mom didn't accept them, the Losers always would, and that was all that mattered to Bennie.
Being the smart girl she is, she avoided areas that bullies hang around on her trek and safely made it to the clubhouse with no incident. She climbed down the ladder and faced their friends, adrenaline, excitement, and anxiety hammering in their chest.
"Ben! Wow, you look, uh--" Mike began, his cheeks flushing slightly.
"Gorgeous, beautiful, stunning!" Richie finished for him, a proud expression on his face with an arm around Eddie as they shared the hammock.
"Hi, everyone," Bennie began. "I called this meeting to tell you all something very important. I've been trying to find myself recently, because I want to be my real self and not what I think people expect of me. I've been pretending to be someone I'm not, and I can't do it any more. I'm a Loser, and proud of it. What I'm trying to say is, well, I'm a girl. I'd really like you all to call me Bennie and use she or they pronouns. I know this is sudden and I don't expec--" Bennie was cut off by the Losers' Club hugging her tightly.
"Bennie, shut up!" Richie teased. "Of course we're gonna validate the shit out of you. The sorry motherfuckers who misgenders or deadnames you dies by my hands!"
"I'm helping bury the body!" Beverly laughed as she squeezed Bennie tighter. A chorus of "me too's" followed and Bennie had never felt more loved.
"Guys, I'm not done coming out yet!" Bennie giggled, and the Losers turned their attention to them again. "I'm a lesbian, too! I just loved girls so much I became one."
Whoops and hollers broke out as the Losers trapped her in another group hug. The rest of the night she watched her friends, no, her family bask in love and positivity. Stan was studying his book of birds with a small smile on his face, Bill by his side doodling Stan's favorites. Richie and Eddie were wrestling as usual, without the harsh banter and added soft, giggly moments. Mike adjusting the radio signal to their favorite station. Beautiful Beverly was seated next to Bennie, and Bennie thought she was the luckiest girl in the world. She pretended not to notice the red blush that had spread across Beverly's freckled face and the butterflies in their tummy when Bev finally intertwined their hands, with matching red nail polish. Just then, "Bennie and the Jets" crackled through the radio, and as Bennie danced with the people she loved most she thought "I will never forget this moment."