When I was a child I wanted to be a boy.
I didn’t want to be a girl who played sports. I wore blue instead of pink. I wanted my body to morph. I wanted a shocking metamorphosis. My mother let me keep my hair short, and I only wore boys clothing. One morning before school I stuffed a roll of socks down my pants and arranged it so it sat over my pubic bone. I felt invulnerable like I carried a pistol between my legs.
The girls in my class were hysterical. Why couldn’t they see I was a boy? They figured since they had known me since kindergarten they knew I was a girl. I just hid it well, I replied as they laughed at me, shrieking as they pushed me into the boys’ bathroom. What’s your name? They would leer, each day, just to check if things had changed. Jake, I would say, my name is Jake.
I would sign all my classwork as Jake. My teachers said nothing. My parents said nothing. I was left with the quiet and gentle freedom of self-discovery unencumbered by time.
I drew a lot; scribbled wolves, sharks, things with teeth. Everything I wanted to be was fanged. I was horrified by motherhood. Pop culture showed mothers to be women, once unbound to anything, then when they became pregnant, heavier and precious. I imagined mothers to be always pink and slow moving, like beautiful and alien sea creatures who only knew fluidity and ate great chunks of love like it were watermelon.
I, on the other hand, wanted to tear at the world and crash into life like I was born in armor. Only boys and men were allowed to straddle a horse as if it were a woman. I did not want to be limited by what my body supposedly permitted. If women were perceived as the weaker sex I wanted to rally against pretty, against soft, against nice. I couldn’t understand why boys could be boys and I had to be better. So I played a boy and hacked at my hair and bared my teeth at anyone who said what a pretty girl.
Being in my body felt more than wrong, it felt accidental. As if I had tripped into the wrong wormhole and found myself in a parallel universe where everything was warped. By the age of nine, I thought if I willed hard enough I would stop the atoms inside me from hurtling me into puberty, into the dangerous kingdom that divided the sexes. It felt like an assault when my breasts began to grow. I would lie on the floor and push myself flat, imagining my breasts popping as if they were sores that needed to be lanced. I didn’t imagine a future — I waded through the present, watching carefully the way in which boys moved, the slight bow to their legs as they swaggered. I tried to remember to walk with ferocity.
My only friends were boys. I never played with dolls or Barbies. I intentionally fell out of trees so my body would bleed and tighten back up to reveal scars; reminders that I was brave enough to battle. When my friend told me that he ‘like liked’ me, I knocked him to the ground. I sat on his chest and watched as blood dribbled from his mouth and shook him until he took it back.
I whimpered through the long years of change. Gradually, as I grew older my desires met each other at a crossroads. I suddenly woke up one morning and felt like the panic had waned. I told my mother that I was alright with being a girl. She shrugged and wrote the date down in her diary. Everything was alright, had been alright, and would be alright.
I cautiously allowed my hair to grow and marveled at the weight of it against my neck, the strange dip of density as I moved my head back and forth. I approached girls shyly and asked to be their friend. The language of girl was exotic; the way they worked their bodies with such sanctioned familiarity as if they had never once doubted the velvet of their figures or felt the lack of something. The slyness of females in a group was like being in a den of foxes. I thought of Daniel and his lions. But so long had I been half in the world of boy that I had no idea how to accept myself. Or how to forget Jake.
By the time I was in middle school I had fully accepted my sex. It was the 1990s and girls’ clothing was shiny, tight, and plastic. I wore chunky heeled shoes and tight dresses and hollowed my eyes with silver eyeshadow. It was clumsy. I was transitioning. I was growing.
Some boys liked me and I let them kiss me. I was terrified and fascinated. By the time I was a teenager I had embraced my femininity because it gave me a power I hadn’t experienced before: I was watched. Boys and girls paid attention to me, the way I moved my body through the world. I learned how to arch an eyebrow and drop my jaw like a leopard at the waterhole. Female had a startling power to it I hadn’t expected. This too is a weapon.
I am unsure of labels. I am skittish of defining words for myself that have been invented by others. Had I been born later and to different parents maybe I would have been given hormone-altering drugs. I might have started a course of treatments that would have violently torn Jake out from inside the recess of me.
I still balk when someone refers to me as ‘she’. In the truest, oldest part of myself, I feel male. My soul is sexless but my mind is not. I allow my body to present itself as a young woman. I am in a relationship with a man. I keep quiet during a time when words like transgender, cisgender, non-binary, are loud. Sometimes I want to raise my hand and tell them, I’m Jake, he’s in here somewhere, but he is quiet and guides me in all things like a traveling warlock under a spell; this woman’s form is just a glamour.
I don’t know if there are others who feel as I do if their secret selves do not mirror their physical shells. But I wonder and worry at the urgency in which we expect each other to decide. An absence of judgment allowed me to zigzag along the path until my limbs felt as if they were carrying a body not completely estranged from my mind.
Sometimes I think apocalyptic, of who would I be if the world burned and afterward all that was left were me. Would it matter how I presented myself to ash and the ruined sky? Would I even bother with mirrors to monitor how I was looking? If there were no external expectation, and I never again saw my own face, who and what would I be? Would it even matter? Or would I just be the name I had given myself, with genitals I was born without a care to remember the name of any more or what they meant because nothing would matter except clean water and food? And adventure.