I awaken, after a nice dream of my mom, to the cold dimness of another early morning without her. Being in the living room is a bit disorienting, and as reality closes in around me I feel an overwhelming physical anxiety. It’s like every cell in my body is terrified. It’s been happening in the mornings more and more often for several years, and lately has been taking hours to fade away.
I go to the kitchen to get some water. My stomach growls, but the idea of eating food gives me nausea. I deliberate for a minute and decide it would be better to at least get one egg down. We have a few strips of bacon left in an open package, so I throw those on the skillet too.
Dad comes out and gives me a monotone “good morning”, and then he smiles when he sees the bacon. “Save some bacon for me?” he asks, as he starts up the coffee machine.
“It’s all for you if you want, I don’t feel much like eating so I’m just having an egg.”
“Is something wrong?”
I’m not sure how to explain it to him. “I don’t know.”
“If there’s something you need, please ask.”
I think a moment. “I want to try HRT.”
“Is that, um…hormones?”
“Yeah, hormone replacement therapy. I want estrogen.”
Dad won’t look at me, he seems embarrassed. “You’re too young for that,” he says. “When you’re eighteen you can decide what you want to do.”
“No I’m not.” I’ve decided I must be firm about my needs because fading into the background and neglecting myself is not working. It’s scary though.
“I don’t think you get to make that decision.”
“Dad, I didn’t get to make the decision to go on testosterone.”
“Well that’s different, that’s how your body naturally works.”
“I know better than you do how my body works.” I flip the eggs with some aggression, which makes hot bacon grease splatter on my arm. I yelp and grab a towel to wipe it off.
“Really?” Dad sounds annoyed. “You’re still a kid.”
“I can drive. I can have a job. I also have an internet connection and an interest in biology. And ever since puberty started, I’ve been in more and more pain.”
“What’s in pain? I can make an appointment with Dr. Salib to get it checked out.”
I switch off the stove and pull the skillet off the burner. Then I put one egg on a small plate and sit at the table to eat.
“Luca? Can you tell me where your pain is?”
“Everywhere,” I mutter between bites.
“I don’t understand.”
“I don’t know, Dad, it’s like every cell in my body is in emotional agony. I don’t know how else to explain it.”
“We’ve talked through a lot in grief counseling, is that part of it? Or something we haven’t talked about?”
“No, it’s different. It started with puberty, not when Mom died.”
“She did get sick when you were twelve.”
“We didn’t know until I was fourteen! Why can’t you just believe me?”
He’s quiet for a minute, while he puts the bacon and the other egg I cooked on his plate. Then he joins me at the table with a loud sigh. I keep my gaze down, locked onto a smear of grease on my empty plate.
“Ok,” he says at last. “I’ll look up someone who can help.”
“I know who I want to see.”
I brave a quick look at his face; his eyebrows jump in surprise. “Who is it?”
“Evan Powers. She’s a gender therapist in Portland.”
“Evan? Is ‘she’ a tranny?”
I cringe. “Dad, that’s a slur. You can’t use it. And Evan is a unisex name. You know, Evan Rachel Wood?”
“Oh. But is she?”
“Ok, yes, she’s a trans woman. I want a therapist who understands.”
“Don’t you think it would be better to see someone who isn’t biased?”
I can’t deal with this anymore. My whole body is tense and I can feel a headache starting. “Whatever. I’m gonna get ready for school.”
I take a shower, which is about 50% conditioning my hair, 50% crying. When I’m done I stare in the mirror for a long time, wondering if this is worth it. I could take it back and keep trying to pretend I’m a boy. I could avoid so much pain.
No, I don’t think that’s going to work. I simply can’t imagine a future where I grow into a man, just the idea creeps me out. It scares me as much as being locked in a small space, and I’m severely claustrophobic. I don’t know what Dad’s been reading about trans people, but if I can just get him to read the right things, maybe he’ll eventually understand.
Back in my room, I get dressed while staring at the boarded-up window. Suddenly I hear a thump from it, and freeze with one arm in Mom’s purple jacket. A chill spreads from the back of my neck all over my body. Another thump.
I grab my school backpack and run out of the room, slamming the door behind me with the sensation of being pursued. I grab my shoes and go out to the front porch, where I sit on the edge and pull them on, not bothering to tie the laces. Dad’s car is gone; he’s already left for work.
Without looking back or bothering to lock the front door, I get in my truck and shove the key in the ignition with a trembling hand. The feeling of being followed doesn’t fade until I’m a couple miles away.
When I arrive at school I park in the far corner of the lot and sit for a few minutes trying to shake the fear and nausea twisting in my gut. I’m wearing the clothes Aylen gave me, ready to make my debut as Luca. Except I’m not ready. I should have brought a boy disguise so I could chicken out. I could just go back home and skip school again.
I take several deep breaths, and whisper to myself, “You can do it. You can do it.”
Then I step out of the truck, shoulder my bag, and start walking. It feels like it takes forever to get to the school entrance, and then suddenly I’m there. Mixed in with the fear is a growing feeling of excitement. I’ve dreamed of this for years, and it’s a bit surreal to finally be here. I shove the door open and walk in with my eyes on the floor in front of me, making a beeline for my locker.
Nothing unusual happens. I reach the lockers and I’m entering the final number of my combination when someone shouts my given name with a questioning tone. Instinctively I look up, and there’s Jude, standing with his friends halfway down the hall, his spiked blond hair freshly tipped with red.
Now everyone is looking, and most of their conversations abruptly end.
“Hi Jude,” I say, as casually as I can manage. “I’m going by Luca now.”
It’s a small school, so basically everyone except the teachers now knows my secret. To my surprise, I feel relieved. It doesn’t matter now, it’s done, whatever they say. I can’t help a smile.
Aylen comes over and gives me a hug. “You look great,” she says.
The bell rings and everyone else shifts their attention away from me and heads into the classrooms. Jude doesn’t stop staring until he’s out of sight.
I notice Aylen’s wearing makeup, which she doesn’t normally do beyond lipstick and mascara. I can see a hint of dark purple around her left eye, almost concealed by the foundation. “Did someone hit you?” I ask.
She looks scared for a second and quickly puts on a stoic face. “What do you mean?”
“I can tell you have a black eye.”
“I’m ok. I’ll tell you later.”
Class is uncomfortable, to say the least. I sit in the back beside Aylen, like usual, and most of the boys keep turning around to look at me. When Jude stares for several seconds, Aylen flips him off, and I almost laugh at his scowl.
After a couple classes, my anxiety grows as I feel the increasing need to pee. There are no single-stall restrooms. I’ve done enough reading to know the state has legal protections for my right to use the correct one, but I can’t assume it will go over without complaints. Still, using the boy’s room feels wrong, and I know Jude and his buddies are just itching to catch me alone in there. Doesn’t feel like I have a choice.
I make it to lunchtime before I can wait no longer. Just before class lets out, I whisper to Aylen that I need to pee, and she nods, mouthing “I’ll go with you.”
The instant the bell rings I’m out of my seat, and Aylen follows close behind. I go straight to the bathroom and hesitate at the door.
“It’s ok, Luca.”
Goddamn, I’m glad she’s my friend. Nobody else is in the bathroom yet, but I hear a few other girls enter while I’m in the stall. I finish and wait a minute, but more of them keep coming, and now I can hear a small group talking to Aylen by the sinks. I’m not going to get a clear path out unless I wait far too long.
So I take a moment to calm myself, and exit the stall. I don’t look at anyone, just go to the sink and wash my hands. The room gets quiet.
“What’s Lucas doing in here?” asks Alice.
“She’s Luca now,” Aylen says with an encouraging smile at me.
Alice glares from behind her slightly-too-long bangs. “Well I don’t think this is acceptable!”
I expected this from the pastor’s daughter. I mumble I’m sorry and turn to leave.
“No,” Aylen says, grabbing my arm. “Luca belongs here as much as any of us.”
“Yeah,” Rikki adds. “Welcome, Luca!”
Alice looks around for support, but everyone except her cousin is nodding in agreement. “We’ll see about that,” she hisses, and the two of them stomp out.
The other girls laugh it off. “Don’t worry about them,” Rikki says. “We’ve got your back.”
I relax a bit and laugh with them, and we all head for the cafeteria. I feel like I’m floating, and the way they’ve incorporated me into the group brings happy tears to my eyes. I knew at least some of them would be cool, but the support I’m getting is more than I dared to hope for.
After getting our food, Aylen, Rikki, and I take a table with Ben, the one boy I consider a friend. He saw me in the hallway when I arrived, but we haven’t had a chance to talk since. He sets down his tray and offers me a hug, and I accept. I wonder if he can tell how much of a crush I have on him.
“It’s Luca now, right?” he asks.
I nod with a slightly embarrassed grin.
“I have to admit, I’m surprised. But you look so happy.”
“I am!” I don’t know what else to say, I just sit down and nibble nervously on a baby carrot.
“I’m happy for you too,” he says.
My stomach is in turmoil of the best kind. The conversation turns to other subjects, and I’m quietly listening and barely eating, staring at Ben’s tightly coiled short black hair, his mature beard, his perfect smile, his long slender fingers. Over his shoulder I see Jude enter the cafeteria, look around, spot me, and start walking our way.
“Oh crap,” I mutter.
“Hmm?” Ben follows my gaze. “Oh crap,” he echoes.
“Well, well,” Jude says, pulling up a chair and sitting backwards in it. “So do we have a full table of queers over here now?”
“Fuck off,” Ben says.
Jude ignores him and points at me. “Now that’s something you don’t see every day.”
“She’s not a thing,” Aylen snaps.
“He’s not a girl, that’s for sure.”
Ben stands up quickly and glares down at Jude, who rolls his eyes and rises to his feet as well. “Leave Luca alone,” Ben says, in a quiet but firm voice.
“You touch me, boy, I’ll call the cops.”
It’s a serious threat we’ve heard before. Jude’s dad is an officer, Ben is black. He knows what he’s threatening. I’m grinding my teeth in anger.
Ben doesn’t move or anything, just says in the same calm tone, “I’m not touching you. Leave us alone.”
After another moment of staring Jude shrugs and walks off. Ben sighs with relief and sits down.
“You didn’t have to do that,” I say. “I can handle him.”
“You shouldn’t have to,” Ben shoots back, with a warm smile.
I can’t seem to breathe for a second. “Well…um…thanks.” I feel my cheeks heating up. If he doesn’t know yet, I’m sure he’ll figure it out soon.
Ben and Rikki finish eating first and excuse themselves, and as soon as I’m alone with Aylen I ask again about her black eye.
“I’m okay,” she insists.
“But what happened? Did someone hurt you? Or was it an accident?”
She leans back in the chair, staring at her empty plate. Then she meets my gaze. “It was yesterday, on my way back to school. The cops picked me up.”
“I talked back a little, they got rough.”
“I’m so sorry. Are you really ok?”
She shrugs. “It was scary.”
I give her a hug. “I’m always happy to drive you, please don’t ride alone like that.”
“I know, it was a mistake.”
“No, cops are the mistake. You were just being the most amazing friend I could ask for.”
She smiles at that, and we head outside to get some fresh air before afternoon classes. I can feel Jude’s stare following us to the door. For the rest of the day I have an unsettling sense of danger, like I’ve suddenly fallen into a hostile new world with a target on my heart.