My body corrupts children. It’s a sinful body, crisscrossed with ugly scars and pockmarks from injections, poisoned by the gay agenda and victimized by hormonal child abuse. Toxins clog my veins and warp my body into an abomination fit to kill God. I’m chock-full of demons that actively sacrifice my body to Satan. I destroy centuries of gender traditions in one fell swoop; I am a harbinger of societal doom.
“Men don’t hug,” my dad snaps at me, shoving me away and crossing his arms when I reach up to him. He might as well have kicked me in the chest. He’s hugged me every night for as long as I could remember, squeezing the breath out of me and smacking my back like I’m the star player on his football team. Today, he stands there like we’re in the first grade and I have cooties, his arms stubbornly folded after pushing me back. His face is twisted up on itself. I’ve seen him hug his friends with a clap on the back, wrap an arm around his father when we went to visit, and yank my stepbrother in for a sideways embrace; I have no idea why he won’t touch me after I tell him that I’m not a woman. Am I that repulsive?
“I have to grieve,” my grandma says. “It’s like I lost a granddaughter.” Her face is sympathetic, but as she sucks the life out of my body with language, I’m struck by how morbid her sentiment is. I’m standing a meter away from her as she tells me that I’m a walking reminder of my own death.
I picture her looking down at my remains in the casket, my face replaced with the stiff mask of a corpse. She’d wipe away tears and go to the bathroom to clean mascara trails off her cheeks, then come back dead-faced for the burial; her hands would be buried in her pockets to hide the blood under her nails. My cheeks would be blushed with makeup that I’d never wear otherwise, and I’d be draped in lace-edged dresses as they lowered me into my grave.
Rest in Peace, says my gravestone, may this sinner finally find God in heaven and become the woman she was meant to be.
Sitting crinkled up on the stairs, my family talks about how the language is hard for them, how they’ve never been taught this, how they were having such a hard time knowing how to talk about me despite having easily changed the name they used for me. Am I a she, a he, an it? Do I want to have a penis? Am I a lesbian? Do I want to die? Who’s this alien that’s replaced their daughter, the ghost possessing her body?
Boys are blue, and girls are pink; except that boys were pink in the 1800s and wore dresses just like the girls did, frilly little things that modern men would shudder at. Girls have long hair, and boys have short hair; except that men wore long wigs and ponytails for centuries, braiding with ribbons and spritzing with perfume in ways that are distinctly feminine now. Girls are nurturers, and boys are fighters; except fathers love their children just as much as mothers do, and women have fought for their rights for longer than any of us have been alive.
“Don’t wear a chest binder for more than eight hours, don’t wear it to sleep, don’t exercise while wearing it, be careful not to overheat, cough and breathe deep after taking it off, stop if it hurts, make sure you stretch hourly, take it off for at least one day a week, don’t wear it if you’re sick, press your breasts to the sides, don’t buy the wrong size; it might make your chest sag or ruin your ribs and spine or leave you with lifelong nerve damage if you do it wrong. You could die, but you’re sure as hell going to kill yourself without it.”
At a thrift shop tucked into a strip mall, a woman old enough to be my mother looks me over and calls me “ma’am”. She’s dressed in floral patterns and stiff pants, the image of a respectable church woman on a Sunday. I drape a scarf around my neck — it’s silky, thin, perfect for the hot summers — and the woman tells me the store is closing in a week. Everything is 30% off.
“Ma’am, are you finding everything okay?” she asks.
A man walks by me, suit pants swishing. He’d held the door for me and called me “sir” on the way in, but he doesn’t bat an eye when I’m called ma’am again. I tell the woman I’m fine and put the scarf back on its hanger.
The salon in the corner of the downtown mall has magazines filled with monochrome women, otherworldly models posed to look natural in the draped sheets of a studio. I have photos on my phone. They’re devoid of glamour but serviceable enough, every angle accounted for.
As I settle into the salon chair, a razor cleaves through arm-length locks, and the loose strands hit the tiles around me in clumps of fiber. I muse over how I used to cut my Barbies’ hair. I’d rubber-band it back and hack at it with safety scissors, giving them the scalp-short butch cut I so desperately craved. When I’m turned to face the mirror, I see those Barbies looking back at me.
“I left it long in the back,” says the stylist, “so it’s still feminine.”
A stranger in unflattering gym shorts boggles at my body and asks, “what are you?” I can’t blame him for wondering. I’m a hodgepodge of gendered traits that contradict each other: breasts and a bra, androgynous voice, masculine body language and dress, and a scalp-short haircut. I was expecting questions. What I didn’t expect was for his confusion to shoot euphoria through every fiber of my body, lighting sparklers in my head. My skin buzzes as I wave off the question.
When he leaves, I tear apart gender constructs, picking them apart stitch by stitch like ill-fitting clothes. I find my skin underneath.
- Relating to or being a person who identifies with or expresses a gender identity that is neither entirely male nor entirely female;
My first syringe of testosterone is like every birthday I’ve ever had at once, fireworks soaring off in my mind and blooming into a light show. My chest is full of helium bubbles. I almost miss the flash as my mom snaps a photo of me with the needle in my thigh, smiling wider than I ever have.
A few months down the line, when my voice starts to crack and my facial hair starts to grow and my period stops, I can’t recognize myself in that photo. I’ve never been so happy to look like my own cousin.
I’m lying on a metal table; I think it’s steel, but it’s hard to tell with the paper drape over it that’s keeping it sterile. There’s a device on my legs that squeezes like a heartbeat. “It’s to help blood flow,” a nurse told me when she put it on; it’s helping my nerves just as much, that rhythmic pulse giving me something to focus on. The surgeon that’s going to butterfly my chest open and put it together again in a new shape hasn’t shown up yet, but there are nurses bustling around me and getting supplies ready. The ceiling is blazing with light. I make polite conversation, trying to stave off anxiety — this is so much different from my wisdom teeth — and then there’s a mask on my face and-
I’m in the recovery room, feeling like a truck hit me but finally free. A gnarled scar runs from armpit to armpit under the gauze and padding, and my chest is as flat as a washboard.
My body is an art studio splattered with pigments, lines tracing over my skin in carefully designed patterns of ink and flesh. Its scars are masterpieces. Many artists have touched the canvases with brushes and blades to create something wonderful, and the gallery of my gender is spread over my skin in intricate patterns. There is no limit to what it can become.
Unconfined by traditions, my soul unfolds into brilliant colors, and I am alive.