I’m crying with relief, but also for the loss of never having this moment with my mom. I shouldn’t have doubted her. And I shouldn’t have doubted Aylen either. She’s known me since we were both in preschool, her parents are like an aunt and uncle to me and all of them are the kindest people I’ve ever known. But our town is so small that transgender people seem to be entirely absent, both in body and in theory. I have no idea how anyone will react because I can’t remember anyone mentioning the subject.
My tears subside; I feel comfortable and safe in a way I haven’t in a long time. I glance sideways at Aylen, she smiles and so do I, and I feel embarrassed and cover the lower half my face with my hands.
“Have you chosen a new name?” she asks. “Or will you go against the grain and keep the one you have?”
“I thought…I’d just drop the S.”
“Luca? I love it.”
She laughs. “I understand why you feel like you need to be guarded and skeptical. But I promise, Luca, there are people who love you for who you are. And the people who don’t, they’re not worth your effort.”
I feel strangely reassured and even more embarrassed. Her use of my name causes a buzz of excitement and focus that I haven’t felt in years. “So how did you know? Am I that obvious? Does everyone know?”
“I think anyone who knows you well, knows you’re not exactly who you portray. I knew because you’ve been telling me for years; you’re about as subtle as a landslide when your guard is down. But I don’t think I’ve seen you lower that guard for anyone other than me and your mom.”
I remember a few of the moments she’s probably referring to, like when my instinct to sort myself with the girls would get away from me, or when I told her I wished I could go back in time and magically interfere with my conception so I’d be assigned female at birth. Oh, and there was one time I admitted I was sad because I’d learned I would never be able to experience pregnancy.
Now that I’m thinking about it all in context, I’m surprised she didn’t bring it up before I did.
“What are your plans?” Aylen asks.
“I mean, are you going to stay closeted for now? What about your dad?”
“I don’t know. I thought maybe I could just tell you and get some hormones and transition secretly for a while.”
“You just tell me what you need, ok?”
I think for a minute, trying to decide how ready I am. Her support has changed the equation. I can’t help a wide grin. “I need a skirt and blouse for school tomorrow.”
“Oh yes, I have exactly the right outfit for you.” She pauses and smirks a bit. “I have imagined you in it several times. I may have kept it specifically for you.”
I just laugh. Of course she did.
After the hike we get a snack at the county store and then I drive Aylen home. She double-checks that I’m using she/her pronouns now, gives me the blouse and skirt concealed in a paper bag, and says goodnight with a tight hug.
Later in the evening, when I’m home and alone in my bedroom, I stand for a long time staring into my full-length mirror. Part of me can’t believe I’m finally going ahead with it. Part of me hurts like hell that my mom isn’t here to see. Most of me is thrilled.
I examine how the skirt interacts with my hips, how the blouse hangs around my flat chest. I should have asked for a bra that I could stuff with socks, but it probably wouldn’t fit around my rib cage. The image in the mirror still doesn’t feel like me, it seems jagged and out of focus, but it’s a huge step in the right direction.
Then I have an idea. Mom had a bigger chest than Aylen, and some of her clothes are still in a box in the basement. I almost run out of the room before I remember my dad is watching TV and will see me. I hastily change into my shapeless t-shirt and shorts and then run downstairs.
Dad shouts over the TV. “What’s up? You seem excited.”
“Huh? Oh, I’m just working on a project for school.”
He is satisfied, and I pick up the box labeled ‘mom’s clothes’. I know exactly where it is, but I’ve never dared to try on anything. I suppose I’ve been afraid of somehow dishonoring her. But now I think Aylen is right and she’d be proud of me.
I’m halfway up the stairs when I realize Dad’s going to ask why I’m carrying a whole box back to my room so I stop, trying to think of a non-suspicious answer. I wish he’d just mind his own business sometimes and stop asking about everything I do on my own. It isn’t that I want to hide from him, I’m just not sure if I’m ready to talk about it, and it seems like I should have the right to not be forced to explain and discuss everything on someone else’s whim.
Then I hear dad switch off the TV and walk into the kitchen. Ok, I can work with that. I’m back in my room with the door locked in seconds. Off with the t-shirt and shorts, on with the skirt. My hands are trembling a little.
I put the box on my bed and open it, and the first thing I see is Mom’s favorite waterproof jacket, which is a soft but still vibrant purple. It has a detachable hood with white faux fur around the edge. I smell it for a long moment, and then set it aside and spot a black bra strap.
I’ll admit, I’ve never put on a bra before, so my method of hooking it up and then squirming into it like a tight shirt may not be standard. But I get it on and stuff it with socks, and then pause for another moment of holy shit before I put on Aylen’s blouse and Mom’s jacket.
This time the image in the mirror hits me different. I see someone who is both a stranger and deeply familiar. My brain is processing what I see as a teenage girl, and connecting it to my sense of self, and it’s a new feeling that takes my breath away.
I should just walk out there and let Dad see me.
I’m sure he’ll be able to see how much more I look like myself.
He loves me at least as much as Aylen does. Right?
Maybe he knows too and he’s waiting for me to come out.
I could just do that right now.
My stomach twists with anxiety when I open the door. I can’t stop, in the same way you can’t stop your heart beating. It feels like I cannot go on existing without telling this truth.
I peek around the kitchen doorway; Dad’s at the counter, faced the other way and placing extra olives methodically on a frozen pizza. I step into full view and try to lean casually against the door frame. My hands are really shaking now.
“Hi Dad,” I say. It comes out with a bit more squeak than I hoped.
He turns, freezes, and then drops an olive on the floor and totally ignores it. “What, what’s this?” he asks.
“Aylen gave me the skirt and blouse, and I got the other things from that box of Mom’s clothes we had in the basement.”
He leans back heavily against the counter, looking me up and down, apparently speechless.
“I’m going by Luca now,” I say.
“What the fuck?”
I wince and feel a creeping sickness spreading in my belly. “Dad please don’t be mad, I just can’t hide anymore and I need to be myself.”
“I don’t understand.” He’s frowning now, a sure sign he understands something but wants me to tell him differently.
I take a deep breath and choose the truth. “I’m transgender. I want to be called by feminine pronouns and the name Luca. I have a crush on a boy at school.”
“No.” He shakes his head with a skeptical half-smile. “This has to be a prank.”
“Please, Dad, I just want to be your daughter.”
The smile disappears. He knows I’m being honest. Normally he’d scold me for using a “whiny tone of voice”, but this time is different. I think he hears my voice differently.
“You’re not old enough to make this choice,” he says. “Just tell everyone you’re gay, not this transgenderism nonsense. It’s fine if you’re a feminine gay man, there’s no need to pretend you’re a woman. Is this because of your mother?”
I stare at him with my mouth open in shock.
“That’s…not how it works.”
My eyes burn, my chest feels tight, and I can’t think of anything except escaping. I run back to my room, lock myself in, and lie on the floor in the middle of my circular rug. My breath feels restricted, I struggle for air, and then it feels like I’ve been punched in my belly and I curl up with a gasp.
I’m crying so hard I can’t breathe in to keep crying. I’m just spasming like a dying animal as my diaphragm fights against the outward pressure. There are spots in my vision and I feel like I’m going to explode.
Finally I get half a lungful of air, and slowly calm down until I’m lying limp, breathing in quick irregular gasps and staring at one specific spot on my ceiling. That magical feeling has been obliterated, and I am once again a ghost loosely tethered to someone else’s body. I was foolish to think I could just start living freely.
I don’t move. I lie there for a long time, until I’m not sure if I’m awake or asleep. Nothing feels real and I wish it would all stop. I could probably make that happen. It would only hurt a little compared to everything else.
At some point I hear what sounds like distant breaking glass, and then a rush of wind that pauses rhythmically, like the slow breathing of some mountainous creature. I feel an icy chill in my low back, which slowly spreads all the way up to my neck and into my skull. My fingers are suddenly pricked by the sensation of a million phantom needles and I yelp, raising them to my mouth instinctively. Vision flashes white and a strange metallic flavor coats my tongue.
Then I vomit and pass out. My dreams are terrifying, full of vertigo, a sense of poison spreading through my blood, and violent images of my body being mutilated. I wake up with a jolt in the early morning, as the sky is beginning to turn light. My entire body aches, with veins of searing pain cutting through at random. The window is broken from outside, and shards of glass are strewn across the smooth surface of my unused bed. After examining the body I inhabit, I find no physical wounds.
I sit in the shower under a stream of hot water until there is no more hot water. I still feel cold.