It’s hot in here and I can’t breathe. Outside snow lies thick and crusty, covered in ice. It’s the kind of cold that bites, burns, hurts. I’m sweating and I’m suffocating and I need to breathe new air.

I sit here in public with my private struggle and I breathe the words from books. I am searching for answers to questions I’ve barely formulated. I am young. I am breathless. I am hot. I am uncomfortable. I am reading about the fairy tales we unconsciously live. I am reading the original story of love and betrayal. I am looking at history for my future. I am looking at higher learning to answer for what has brought me low. I am feeling my way around the jagged edges of the words, hoping for a justified margin. I am failing at this.

I am filling the spaces in my books, underlining and highlighting. My notes are purple; the lines I like are blinding bright yellow. I am painting makeup on the face of my confusion. My scribbling connects me to something. The pen is in my hand. The paper lies still beneath its nib. It will always say the same things on these pages. These are the things I’m sure of.

And then come the drag queens.

The feathers, bustiers, fishnets, muumuus are too much for one house, and the drag queens spill a river of color and whooping, singing, preening into this quiet space. They fill it up with their scent and their eyelashes. They overtake the tables, dancing; a kaleidoscope of smooth, strong legs and size-twelve pumps shifts and gyrates. Mamas with soft bosoms and powdered cheeks; husbands as housewives; old bears, young men and my boys. My friends, finding release in boas, stuffed bras, lipstick and wigs, in the brush of skirts against hairless legs, tucked penises, in unfettered identity.

I envy these girls this night. My breasts are real, but small. I carry them close and hard to my chest. They are useless; they bring disaster, failure, unwanted eyes. I have hips, lips, gaping maw. I hide them with the masquerade of layers and loose sweaters, sexless and safe. These ladies in their finery are freer with their bent rules and bound balls than I am, sitting here with my books and bones and hollow places.

They come, a wild, whirling conga of stockings, eyelids, glitter, come-hither looks. Their femininity gathers in a mob and I disappear into my jeans and boots. They drag me to dance and I decline. Another night, I would be their center, the genuine article hidden in torn and hand-me-down rags. Another night, I would paint lips and eyebrows, tug and tuck, a shrieking, squealing princess of the queens. This night, I am stuck between woman and girl, gasping for breath.

Tonight I decline. I decline this pageantry of soft, sweet-scented spaces, the riotous celebration of unique beauty. I decline and decline. It’s hot in here and I can’t breathe.