There had been documentaries about celebrity anxiety. How, despite advertisements agreed upon by guys in suits at board meetings, they're still people who freak out. Tiffany knew this, and never once tried to market herself as someone more.
That didn't make her feel any less guilty for being so nervous right now.
``Five minutes.'' Announced Craig's assistant. The shark girl gave a forced smile and nodded, going over the things she might get asked. Tiffany had performed live on stage plenty of times, yet this felt too different. On stage, she was behind her drums and could see the crowd if she wanted to. There, her bandmates took up most of the attention, with Vicky soaking it in. Here, there were no bandmates to soak up that attention, or a crowd to look out to. Just her, Craig, and thousands of anonymous listeners.
The on-air sign turned off. Hands in her jean pockets, the muscular shark headed to the door. Craig's assistant let her on through, bringing her face to face with a large gutted crocodile. Craig smiled, ``So the mohawk look isn't just for performances and publicity? Must be hard to not get noticed in public.''
Tiffany shrugged, taking her seat across from him, ``It can be, but I know a few places that value privacy. Like my favorite gym.''
``Always value those places. In this town, and hell, this life, privacy is a delicacy.'' He said, eyeing her up and down, ``You nervous?''
``A bit.'' She said.
``I don't blame ya.'' He said, leaning back into his seat and letting his gut expand, ``I'm known for asking some hardball questions. But, if I'm being honest, I don't know that much about this topic. My boss wants me to be a bit easy on ya.''
``What's your gut say?''
``That I need to go on a diet. My tongue disagrees.'' With a gesture, he motioned Tiffany to put her specialized headbuds on. Once fit snugly over her head, the on-air signed glowed red. ``Welcome back my listeners old and young, mostly old, to Rock Talk, hosted by Craig Robertson and brought to you by today's sponsor, Bellemy's Scratching Posts: Now no longer for cats. Today I'm joined by the drummer of the up-and-coming rock band, RockJaws, Tiffany Star. Say hello Tiffany.''
Leaning into her mic, she gave a single, ``Hey.'' to the unseen audience.
``Thank you, Tiff, can I call you Tiff?'' He asked, expecting a nod. She shook her head, only her friends were allowed to call her by that name. ``If you don't know Tiff, or The RockJaws, they've been hitting the bigger scene for about a year now. So they haven't reached rich rock-stardom yet, but give em a few years and they might make it somewhere. Their current album, `Eat my Cherry Pie,' with a literal cherry and a numerical pie symbol, has been on the shelves for half a year and even got added into the latest GuitarStar DLC. That's downloadable content for most of ya. Yeah, I know, kids today with their games just pretending to play. But ya gotta give the fans something, right?''
``What's wrong with letting fans enjoy stuff?'' She asked.
Craig's grin grew wide, ``Well they should just enjoy the music.'' He explained, ``Or at the very least, pick up a real instrument if they wanna at least try to be a rockstar.''
``Not everyone wants to try being a rockstar.''
``I'm not everyone. Never claimed to be.'' Leaning back, Tiffany already felt regret for this interview. If it weren't for Vicky's final push, she'd have never bothered coming in.
``But as a punk, doesn't it anger you that,'' He raised his fingers, ```The man' is getting paychecks off of this stuff?''
Shrugging, the shark herm leaned in, ``Not really. `The Man' as it were is always gonna make money. I gotta make money to eat and live in my apartment. I don't think big corps need a hold in everything, but that's not what my struggle is about.''
``Punk must have changed since my day.'' The croc snickered, ``Back in my day, any real punk would have made an effort to tell their producers to fuck off on air. It's why I got the liberty to swear.''
``Back in your day they still cut off dicks to give kids a `normal' life.'' She said, tension loose by fangs sharp with each word. Craig blinked, shock crossing his face at her brazen attitude. Then he smiled.
``Sounds pretty personal. Though I guess that should be expected from the self-proclaimed `Herms Right Activist.'''
She shrugged, ``Hey if there was an actual place to be an official activist, I'd probably skip it anyway due to wait times.''
``So tell me, Tiff.'' Craig asked, leaning in and showing off his muscular arms, ``What rights are you fighting for exactly? Herms can marry now, doctors ain't cutting off dicks or sewing close vags to force one gender on them at birth. I'm not saying I'm against your fight, but as an outsider, I'm just not sure what else you've got left to fight for. No meaning to insult.''
No, but your viewers wanna hear it. Tiffany thought. She'd heard it all before. That she was just too late to fight for anything, or how she's nothing but a supremacist wanting herms to be elevated above singled sex people. ``The fight for discrimination never really ends, Craig.''
``Uh huh,'' He said, rolling his eyes, ``Well I guess you better tell me why it's so important to be allowed in women's bathrooms.''
That struck a nerve. ``Craig, mind telling me what your high school years were like?''
``I'm interviewing you, kiddo.''
``Then I guess I'll just guess. I'm guessing you had your ups and your downs. You were attracted to people, maybe asked a few out, or maybe you asked others out, rejections happened. Casual stuff.''
``So this about some bad rejection?''
``This is about harassment and forced suppression.'' Tiffany said, ``Growing up with both a cock and a cooch is hell in high school, and not just because of `bathrooms'. When everyone is going out and discovering themselves, people like me get hit with a double dosage of hormones. I hate to say it, but there's some truth to the `horny herm' stereotype.''
``I thought you were fighting against stereotypes?''
``I am, but that doesn't mean I can deny problems that can prop up. When you're being hit with a double dosage of hormones, you start to act out in a certain way. It's not as crazy as some porn flicks will have you think, but it's noticeable. And frankly, it's kind of irritating when I turn on TV and see a self-described `herm' character whose only trait is being horny. It's like pretending all gay dudes love musical theater, or all lesbians are butch. Sure, some are. But the same can be said for straight dudes and ladies.''
``Sure,'' Craig nodded, ``But outside of porn, you can't really show that someone is a herm on TV, so showrunners pick the obvious traits.''
``And who does that help?'' Tiffany argued, ``The single-gendered person who gets to laugh at how `strange' or `pervy' the herm character is, or the herm watching who has to deal with people asking them how much they'd like to go to the bathroom to deal with their `problem'? Sucks for kids and teens the most, since they can get pressured into sex before they're ready.''
``Sounds like you've had personal experience.''
``Yeah,'' Tiff nodded, recalling her high school days, ``I've had a bit.''
``So, are you against kids having sexual discovery? Lots of people think teenagers having sex with each other is fine if they practice safe sex.''
``It's kind of a catch-22. I'm not against people having sex, and I can already hear parents gasping in shock at my abrasive nature on it. Rather, I'm against people thinking that just because the herm is horny means they'll be up for fucking. A lot of guys in my school came up to me wanting to fuck because they thought it would `do me a favor' and calm me down. Or rather, that's the lie they told me and themselves. Lots of people saw me as a hole, and I know I'm not alone in this.''
``Was it only guys?'' Craig asked, eyeing his equipment off to the side, ``Like, I'll admit I was no saint in high school. I had my fair share of self-serving encounters, all consensual mind you.'' He explained, raising his hands in defense.
``With girls, it was a...different kind of discrimination.'' She stated, frowning at the memories, ``When people know you've got both, you're not really welcomed on either side. Girls often gave me the stink eye whenever I had the pleasure of being near them. I remember one girl, a friend, telling me that some girls were afraid that I'd assault them in the bathroom.''
Leaning back, the croc looked at her, stunned, ``Shit...'' he said, ``I've heard that as a problem with transgendered people, but you didn't make a choice. You were born with it.''
Tiff raised two fingers, ``First off, transgenderism is an inborn thing as well. They didn't choose to be born in a gender they don't feel right in, just like I didn't choose to be born with both.'' She put one finger down, ``Secondly, there has never been a recorded case of any transgender person molesting or raping someone in a bathroom. It's all word of mouth. As for the herms and bathrooms, well,'' The shark shrugged, ``It didn't bother me that much. I was more of a boy when growing up, it just took puberty to realize I was a tomboy. Never really was that attracted to girls anyway.''
``Speaking of attraction,'' Craig said, a lightbulb shining in his eye, ``I'm sorry if this is too personal, but I think a lot of my viewers would like to hear this. How would you describe herm sexuality? Like, normal sexuality.''
``What's normal sexuality? Straight?''
Forcing a laugh, Craig shook his head, ``No, no, that's not what I mean. It's just...well...''
``Guys like girls, and girls like guys. So who does a person with both like? Right?'' Tiffany said. She'd heard the question time and time again, no matter how nice they tried to frame it. Slumping her shoulders, the shark thought on the best way to answer without telling him to fuck off. ``Sexuality is pretty personal. Like with everyone, I have my preferences and my dislikes. I know it's tempting to lock yourself behind a single label, so you don't need to think heavy on it. I tried that for a long time. But it's more complicated than that, and not just because I got both. Sorry if that's not clear, but my personal preferences are between me and my partners.''
``Ya dating anyone now?''
``Wouldn't tell you.'' Not that he had any right to know. Her last boyfriend had enough trouble dealing with the rising stardom. They'd broken up half a year ago, and she'd moved on but even Tiff wasn't sure if she could date anyone again. The shark was fine with being a target, not just from her fame but her beliefs. She expected it. But a cute boy taking the brunt of it because of her? She slumped, trying, and failing to avoid thinking of her empty love life. Sure, she could do what the twins did and fuck their groupies, but that wasn't her style. She loved her fans, but she'd never just sleep with them, or try to get romantic with one.
Eventually, Craig's questions became less about her preference and beliefs, and more about the band, like an actual rock talk show host. Tiffany explained what she believed she could, sharing stories of how she met Vicky, Conner, and Connie, their first practices and venues, the dumb idea to drive out all the way to this city to `make it' as it were. She never explained that she had another reason to leave. If Tiffany had to stay one more day with her family, she might have lost it.
``Well shit,'' Craig sighed as he looked up to the clock, ``It appears we're just out of time. Got room for maybe one or two caller questions. You don't mind, do ya?''
``I kinda expected to get some. So let's have at it.''
Nodding, Craig pressed the first caller, ``Hey, you're on RockTalk, with Craig the Croc, featuring guest star Tiffany Star from RockJaws. Got any question you wanna ask my lovely guest?''
``Why yes, thank you sir.'' The voice answered, reminding Tiff of those humble housewives seen on TV. She snickered, always nice to guess who listened to what, ``Tiffany, your stance on herm rights has interested me and I was wondering if I could have your opinion. The name is Gale by the way.''
``By all means, Gale, ask away.''
``Well, I know a couple a few doors down, and they talk a lot about being unable to adopt a child and how unfair it is. Well, there are two things I don't really understand about it. Firstly, why not make their own? And second, well, is a herm supposed to be a mother or a father?''
Stabbing her fangs against her gums, Tiff tasted her own blood upon hearing the stupid question. Laughing to calm herself, Tiffany said, ``Well, I don't know that couple enough to answer your first question. That seems private and frankly, none of your business. Secondly, I figured it was just apparent that the herm would just be a parent. Mom or dad are just labels to me that don't mean much. Kids can have two moms, two dads, a single mom or dad, and it doesn't change anything.''
``...Oh...I see. Sorry, dearie.'' Gale muttered behind her line, ``Thanks for having me.''
``And thank you for calling,'' Craig said, pressing in for the next caller, ``Hey, you're on RockTalk, with Craig the Croc, featuring guest Star-''
The voice on the other end growled, ``Yeah I fucking know who it is.'' Tiffany's brow furrowed at the aggressor's tone, ``And my question is this: Where the fuck do you get off?''
``Excuse me?'' Tiff asked, forcing her tone to be calm.
``I can get violence and drugs in songs. Hell, sometimes sex gets thrown in. But you use your band as some kind of political platform. Whatever happened to artistic pride? Your bandmates must hate you for using them like this. Musicians should stay in the music biz, keep out where they don't belong.''
Craig reached for the call off button, but she stopped him. His grip tightening around his wrist, smiling wide and suppressing a laugh combined with a growl. Craig stared on at her, big yellow eyes open like a lighthouse.
She laughed, ``Where do I get off? You sound like someone who doesn't read past the beat. I swear some people don't get who the `Machine' that is being raged against is. Music's always been political pal, and my bandmates were my first supporters. It's `cause of them I'm even here, getting chewed out by you. You wanna enjoy the pretty lights and sounds, go ahead, just remember that people make them for a reason, and it doesn't always start with money.'' Pressing the button and pulling her headbuds out, Tiffany stomped out. She had half a mind to punch a wall and almost shattered the glass door when she threw it open. Fuck this news show, and fuck those callers.
Slumping up against the band van she borrowed, the shark sighed. She needed a workout.
She couldn't stop staring at him. The moment she exited the locker room, the shark's eyes locked on that pink leopard boy trying desperately to lift weights. Tiff didn't believe he was a boy, not at first. But the more he exercised, the more he grunted against those weights and strained that lithe body, the more she realized what he was.
Course she couldn't just talk to him. That'd be absurd, or so she reasoned. Plus he was working out, and she just needed to relieve stress. It did her no good to imagine that cute butt in front of her, shaking up and down before grinding...She shook her head, killing her fantasy.
``Focus Tiff,'' She muttered, ``Focus on...'' Turning her head, she saw him struggling to lift a barbell loaded with weights, ``Oh shit...'' the shark mouthed, making her way over to him as his arms gave out.
The cute idiot needed a spotter.