Ladies First

Creative Nonfiction by Leighton Schreyer

He. Tall. Mid-forties or so. Dressed in a slick navy suit, pink dress shirt, floral tie. Striped socks—Burberry or Balenciaga or Prada, something fancy—revealing themselves with each pump of the pedal. Briefcase strapped in the bike basket in lieu of the child he (almost certainly) doesn’t have. Can’t have, looking like that at this hour. Bound for Bay Street, by the looks of it. 

Me. Short. Stunted from one too many years of starvation and self-mutilation. Dressed in, well, not a suit. Loose jeans. An olive green coat. Dirt stained. Wearing sneakers with holes in their soles, though, more holes than soles now. Running late. Screeching into the Bike Share station like a baseball player diving into first base. Out of breath. Okay, maybe a half-second after him. But who’s counting? 

Us. Hesitant. Too polite to fight for the last dock remaining. To simply slam our bike into the bike station and run. To leave the other person stranded, circling the streets of downtown Toronto for another bike dock who-knows-how-far away. No. No, too Canadian for that. 

He. The gentleman. A bit egotistical. Chivalrous. Well-mannered, I guess you could say. Though. Only if you believe cis-straight white men are still the ones to save the day. “Ladies first,” he offers. 

Me. I feign flattery, for once unfazed about being misgendered. Grateful, even, for this perk of being female. Still. “No. No, I couldn’t,” I say. But, let’s be honest: I could. I want to. I’m going to. But first. “Please, go ahead,” I say. I can’t help it. A seamless slip back into the role of White Man’s Woman. A script I was raised to recite. You know the one: he offers, she refuses, he insists, she accepts. So far, so good: he offered, I refused. Now I wait. For his insistence (any day now). For my acceptance (gladly). For.

Us. Stepping forward at the same time. Stepping back. Stepping forward. Laughing. Starting the whole ordeal over again (see aforementioned “too Canadian”). I wait. But it doesn’t come. He doesn’t insist. Instead.

He. Gapes, gawks, ogles, embarrassed. Stutters his way through an apology. “Sorry. So sorry. I—” Opens and closes his mouth like a fish. Shakes his head like a horse. “Sorry,” he says again. Three times the charm. “I didn’t mean—” he stops himself. Turns his head away. Looks away. Can’t stand to see me, it seems. To reconcile this body—fine and feminine as it is—with that voice. 

Me. That voice. I forget, sometimes, that it’s mine. That voice, booming and baritoning. Chuckling, a low C. In my mind, it’s still the same. Still that sing-song soprano—the thing that gives me away. I might’ve kept my mouth shut, had I remembered. Might’ve just smiled, stayed silent, nodded in appreciation. Because, yes, thank you, I would love to dock my bike. But I couldn’t have known. Couldn’t have known that my voice would stand between.

Us. Frozen, for a second, caught in this in between. Not sure what to do when the rules recede, how best to proceed. The whole world at our fingertips. If only for a second. Until.   

He. Fed-up with being flustered, decides: man. Spares himself the “ladies first” and “after you” nonsense. The tap-dancing this way and that. Cuts the crap. Simply slams his bike into the bike station. Just like that. The last dock. “Sorry,” he mumbles again. For good measure, I suppose. 

Me. I should be angry or annoyed or disappointed, maybe. Disheartened? Unsettled? Upset? Thought I’d be, at least. Instead, I find myself content to straddle this space of not quite, more or less, on the verge of. Who knows? To be a manly woman or a womanly man. To send grown men running down the streets of downtown Toronto. I find myself giddy, no gleeful. Satisified? Somehow fulfilled. Laughing as I jump back on my bike to search for the next Bike Share station. Shaking my head in hilarity at.


Leighton Schreyer

Leighton Schreyer (they/them) is a writer, poet, and critically mad queer activist in Toronto, ON, whose writing often explores themes of gender, sexuality, mental health, and the human condition. Their work has been featured in some of the world’s leading medical and literary journals, including The Sun, The New England Journal of Medicine, Journal of the American Medical Association, Hippocampus Magazine, Redivider, and more. Their writing has been nominated for The Pushcart Prize. As a current medical student, Leighton is passionate about recentering the fundamental role that story plays in healthcare and caregiving, and about using narrative as a powerful tool to foster healing and human connection. For more of their work, visit They can also be found on Facebook at leighitontheline.