This threw me at first. He couldn't be taking it this lightly, I thought. Then I realized that he had it all wrong. He thought I was telling a joke whose first line was "So, I'm a chick, right . . ." He was still waiting for the punch line.
"That's it, Allen," I said. "That's the joke. I'm a chick. I'm not a guy."
I could tell it wasn't quite registering, or if it was he wasn't letting it. He sensed that the mood at the table was laissez-faire -- pretend it isn't there and it'll go away -- so he just nodded and said, "Wow."
I filled out the rest of the story for them between frames. They already knew that I was a writer, and at some point during the season I had told them I was writing a book. Now I told them that I was writing the book about them and me, and that the drag was part of the project. They seemed to like the idea and they wanted to know what their names were going to be in the book. Jim cracked that he wanted Colin Farrell to play him in the movie.
After I'd finished, they all went on to bowl one of their shittiest games of the season. I think Bob and Allen were in shock. Maybe Jim was nervous about a pending riot. But I had one of my best games. I felt free, loose for the first time, and I was knocking them down like never before. Still, I had a bad headache all of a sudden. The tension of the buildup had taken its toll.
"Hey," I said, "does one of you guys have an Advil or something? I've got a killer headache."
"No," Bob said without a moment's hesitation, "but I think I might have a Midol."
They all laughed, and that broke the tension. Then right away they started a round of chick jokes, the usual stuff about female intuition and being on the rag and so on. They seemed relieved to know that I could take a joke. Even the lesbian thing didn't throw them.
"By the way," I said, "you know I'm a dyke, right?"
"Yeah," Bob said. "I gathered that."
Again everybody laughed. He was on what for Bob was a roll.
As they had with Jim, things changed completely after that with the guys. Everybody loosened up and opened up. Everybody liked Norah much more than Ned, even knowing that I was a dyke dressed as a man. Once I'd outed myself to them I could be a full and rounded person again, much more animated and genuine than Ned had ever been. I'd spent most of my time with them as Ned trying not to stand out or say the wrong thing. I'd done it poorly, the way desperate adolescents do, and with the same miserable results. They were glad at last to have a real person in their midst, whatever her flaws and quirks.
My supposedly subversive lifestyle just didn't matter to them, or at least it didn't appear to, and this was the part I hadn't expected at all, or given them credit for in the beginning. I'd pegged them unfairly as potential thugs, and now they were showing me up as the judgmental one.
None of that politicized stuff made a difference to them. I just kept bowling out the season with them, dressed as Ned but revealed as Norah. We didn't tell anyone else in the league, and they never found out as far as I knew. The guys went right on calling me Ned and he, just as Jim had, but they knew I was a woman in exactly the way that Jim did. For me the label couldn't have mattered less. We were finally getting to know each other and it was the easiest time we spent together all season.