I pose awkwardly for a portrait on a park bench on a beautiful fall day, my hoodie concealing my dissatisfaction with my body
my friend crouches behind her bulky large format camera, her jacket pulled over her head so she can actually see me in the bright sun
last night, she told me a secret that I shouldn't've believed, but did anyway: "photographs can change what they represent."
she also told me that she has half a box of estradiol film left and offered to take a portrait on her least practical camera
her fingers slide and turn adjustments as she gets me perfectly in focus
one last check of the shutter and she slots the film holder in and takes the release cable
"ready?" she asks
"I guess so" I reply, smiling and waiting for the click of the shutter
"am I supposed to feel any different?" I ask
"not yet. we need to develop the film first"
"yeah, you're going to learn how to develop film today"
I help her carry the chunky tripod as we head over to the darkroom, a black-walled room full of a strangely pleasant chemical smell
against one wall, there's a long wooden sink with a series of trays and a faucet at one end, which she proceeds to explain to me
"this is the developer, which makes the image appear and makes the estradiol in the film take effect" she says, pouring a beaker full of clear liquid into the first tray
"this is the stop, which stops the developer from going too far" she continues, pouring a dash of something bright orange into the next tray and adding water
"too far on the image or on the estradiol?" I ask
"this is the fixer, which makes the image -- and the transition -- permanent" she says, pouring another beaker of clear liquid
"and then here's the water wash" she points out a much larger tray directly under the sink's faucet
"each of these trays has tongs, which are for that tray only so you don't contaminate anything"
"I.. I think I get it"
"I'll be right here. you've got this"
she locks the door and turns off all the lights except for red safelights
"wait, doesn't light ruin the film?" I ask, confused by her opening the film holder
"that's the case for most films, but this is orthochromatic film and isn't sensitive to red light, so we can develop it like this"
she slides the sheet of film out of the holder and hands it to me
"ready?" she asks
I reply with a nod and drop it into the developer
"poke it around a bit, and try for the edges" she suggests
I submerge it in developer and slowly but surely an image takes form
it's me sitting on the park bench, and as it becomes more defined, I can see my face in the picture becoming more rounded and feminine
tiny light spots on the negative that I realize are freckles form as the estradiol film takes effect and floats in the developer
"satisfied yet? I really like how you look with freckles; the ortho film really emphasizes them" she asks
"not quite there yet" I reply, reaching under my shirt to feel my rapidly-growing breasts
she smiles as she watches me prod at the film with one hand and feel my body become more mine with the other
as the growth seems to slow down, I grab the film with the tongs and drop it into the stop bath
"leave it in there for maybe a minute and make sure you feel good like this. you can't put it back in the developer, but we can take another shot and try again"
"I think I like this."
I move the film over to the fixer and once it's submerged, hug her
"thank you so much" I say, trying not to cry with happiness
thank you to @npc_alyx for inspiring this with her estradiol film