I live with three young gay men in a lovely apartment in a fantastic neighborhood. It’s not perfect, but it’s not bad. The place could be cleaner. But you can do worse — a lot worse.

The flat is the top story of an Edwardian house in Duboce Triangle. ‘Edwardian’ is ‘Victorian’ plus seven years. My bedroom has huge bay windows overlooking the very quiet street. In the morning, I get light from the front and from the stained glass window on the facing side.

The downside: the four of us share a single toilet. You can’t have it all.

Samanta’s apartment is directly below ours. It’s big — our apartment is large enough for four people to share and even maintain a sense of privacy. Samanta’s has the same footprint, and she lives by herself.

And her place is gorgeous. So many original details are intact. Built-in cabinetry with original hardware. Detailed tile work around the fireplaces. Plaster crown molding.

Samanta highlights these features. She owns gorgeous furniture, but she knows better than to obscure any of the unit’s charm with it. She employs just the right amount of furniture, just the right amount of art, to make the place feel like home without making it feel cluttered.

She’s an artist. You can tell as soon as you set foot inside. Most of the art, hung by wire from the picture rail, is her own: paintings, photos, drawings. Some of the other pieces were made by an ex-boyfriend, others by an ex-husband.

I met Samanta because I’d made a huge mess. I ordered some new furniture — a full-length mirror in a gold frame, plus a nightstand, also gold, also covered in mirrors (a 1970s throwback, it’s gorgeous) — anyway, you can imagine the amount of styrofoam packaging required to deliver two mirror-covered pieces intact.

I carried it to the trash. I threw away what I could and tried to organize the rest. I left it outside.

I did not account for the elements. In a spring wind the styrofoam blew everywhere, filling the breezeway. By the next morning, a ten-foot-long pile of slats, flats, and corner brackets covered the pathway.

Samanta texted my roommate. He, lover of negative feedback, shared the news with me right away.

I ran downstairs to clean it up. I got Samanta’s phone number. I texted to apologize. I sent photos of the newly-tidied side of the house, tidier than when I moved in.

We texted some more. She and I had a few laughs. We set a time to meet.

We met on our shared stoop. She is gorgeous, like her place. She’s 45 but looks 31. Dark brown hair — the color of chocolate. Not mass-market American milk chocolate, and not the 85% cacao kind that fancy people pretend to like. The kind of chocolate that I love — the kind that’s expensive and delicious. Her eyes are two different shades of brown — one that matches her hair, one the color of caffe latte. She wears light makeup. She smiles with her whole face. She has a thick Italian accent. She dresses in clothes that are casual but well-fitted, like she can’t be bothered — she just always happens to look this good.

I asked for a tour of her flat. We’re both mask-free. Down the road this will be hard to understand emotionally, but not wearing masks was slightly controversial at the time. I had gotten both vaccine shots, which meant I was 94.1% in the clear. Samanta had gotten one shot, so she was mostly free and clear. Fuck it: what are we going to do? Wear masks inside? When our collective risk was at most, what, 25%?

She told me that, as beautiful as the space was and much as she loved it, she had to move out. She’d had a live-in boyfriend, and they’d swallowed the rent together — all $6,500 of it. Later, she negotiated a deal to stay on at a rent reduced due to the ravages of COVID-19. But that deal would expire at the end of June. It was time to move out.

My mind began to turn.

I did not mention it at the time, but I set a goal: I will move in with Samanta. We’ll live in this beautiful space together. We’ll throw parties. I’ll meet her friends. Sleep with some of them. Have terrible fights with Samanta. Probably drunkenly make out with her. Most importantly, I would develop my femininity inspired by this incredible model.

Meanwhile, we started to become friends. We went for a hike. I bought her bouquets of flowers at the farmers market. The guy who sold me Pakistani cuisine noticed them, complimented me, and asked where he could buy some for his wife. (I like to think he was flirting.) Sam and I had a bottle of wine with her friend Scott, then dinner with David at a proper Italian restaurant — not a North Beach spot, no, a place where the entire staff is actually from Italy. We went home after dinner. Did key bumps. Played piano. Sang a couple of songs. Smoked a cigarette or two.

The next day Samanta hosted a drawing party in the back garden. She had hired a model and recruited some musician friends to play in the background. (The model got paid, the musicians did not. I am still trying to understand the economic model for musicians.)

I helped her set up, but I did not participate. Art is not my strong suit. Her friends, all seated at a social distance, drew the gorgeous model — tall, toned, with pixie cut brown hair, in various poses. Each artist had a style. And each of them — the artists— was stunning. Never had I seen a collection of such beautiful people.

Later that night, I bought Samanta a pack of cigarettes — American Spirit blues, the kind we’d smoked the night before — and a bottle of Chianti. I sat with her and two of her friends, one an artist, the other a musician.

(Actually, that musician is also an artist, which I think is unfair. You can have one talent — not two.)

We sat and drank and smoked. We took a microdose of mushrooms. I passed on LSD — the first good decision I’d made in some time — but stayed up late on a Sunday night when I had been planning to “get to bed early” so I could “start the work week off right.”

The next day Samanta invited me to move in.

Trans woman in San Francisco. Writer for years. Never been honest. Let's change that.