Literary Fair Submission
By Ayo Bailey
She freaked out. “Oh my God! What happened to your chest?”
We both stood outside of the car in the restaurant’s public parking lot. The night grew cold and I froze. I didn’t know what to say. My step-mom noticed how flat my chest was. I was wearing a binder. I couldn’t even look her in the eyes. Brushing her hand across my chest, she told me that she would tell my father and so she did. I was outed by my step-mom.
It’s not easy being a “degenerate”, a “sinner”, a “social abnormality”. People say it’s a choice; I wish it was. I wish that I were a straight normal, cis-gender girl. I could have pretended to live like that, and everyone would be happy… I tried to live like that, but I couldn’t.
I lived with my mom until I was about eight-years old. I was into video gaming. I used to play an online game called “Toontown”. I’d always tell online people that I was a boy. It was like a sweet secret. Everyone would call me “he” and not “she.” They knew me as the boy that I’ve always been. Everything felt right.
At school I always hung out with the other boys my age. I got into fights with them, too. It was wild. Around that time people always described me as a tomboy. I always hated wearing skirts or dresses. It felt off.
My mom never forced me to wear them either, so I was at my glee. My mom later fell into some hardship. It was challenging raising two naughty kids as a single mother in Brooklyn. As a result, my brother and I moved to Florida to live with my dad. That’s when things started to change for the worse.
In the 5th grade, I was forced to wear more feminine clothing. My dad and step-mom were always trying to get me to act more “like a girl,” but it never felt right. My step-mom would say how she was a tomboy and she still wore dresses. It was her way of countering me. I quickly began to feel depressed, leading to my first suicide attempt. I may not remember everything that led to it, but I remember my step-mom telling me, “Take that from around your neck! Do you want to end up in hell?” She did not understand: I was already there. I felt broken.
The relationship between my dad and my step-mom was always on and off. The two of them separated while I was getting ready to graduate from the 5th grade. My dad moved with my brother and me into a small house that was for rent. Eventually, my brother and I started middle school. Whenever my dad went to work, I took advantage of the opportunity. I began wearing my brother’s clothing. I even wore multiple tops to flatten my chest as much as possible. I didn’t care how much it hurt. I just wanted to feel at home in my own skin. At times I was jealous of my brother and father, and some nights I couldn’t sleep. I was constantly up past 1:00 AM with swollen eyes, crying, searching for ways on the internet to stop my puberty. Some nights, I called my mom saying how I didn’t want to have my “chest” and that I wish that I could have surgery to make them as small as possible.
My dad got so sick of my masculine appearance. He began picking out what I would wear, even at home. I told my step-mom, because some days we’d go to her house. “You brought this on yourself,” is what she told me.
I shut down again, but this time I went into denial. I started high school, but not as myself. I began to wear girl clothes.
I even called my mom and told her that me being a tomboy was a phase. She was shocked, but not displeased. I wore a mask everyday.
My favorite class was JROTC. I would always tell my squad members that I didn’t want to have a gender. At the time, I associated gender with sex. We all joked about it, but I knew that I was in distress.
Summer time approached: It was the time I became alive. I searched for answers online for what I was feeling. I wanted to know why I said that I didn’t want a gender. I needed to know what was going on with me. I then discovered the term “non-binary.”
I saw a person on Youtube who had gotten what I learned was “top” surgery. I was relieved. I thought that it wouldn’t be possible for me to get rid of my chest completely. Seeing this was God-sent. I recall the Youtuber mentioning the words “gender dysphoria”: One’s psychological identity to be the opposite of one’s sex. This has got to be me.
The first person that I ever came out to was someone whom I met online. He was gay and ended up having a crush on me. I decided I had to tell him. I told him that I am a boy trapped in a girl’s body.
“Are you transgender?”
I told him yes and he said he had no problem with it.
I came out to my mom some days later. I told her, “I think that I am non-binary.” I didn’t know that female to male, or FTM, existed at the time. I explained to my mom that the person I saw on Youtube was feeling what I felt. After that, mom bought my first binder.
I started my sophomore year, except this time things were different. I was getting closer to dressing like myself. I stopped using the restroom completely. I began experimenting with pronouns, asking my teachers to call me, “he” or “they” instead. I even got my name changed on my digital attendance roster. I wanted it to be close to my birth name, but it also had to be masculine or unisex.
One student used to try to mess with me though. He’d call me “she” or “it” on purpose sometimes, and on days when I verbalized wanting to kill myself “jokingly,” he told me, “Do it.” I realized that the student wasn’t trying to bully me; he just liked to get under peoples’ skin. Eventually, he started calling me “he.” Now we have a weird friendship.
Time went on and I was identifying as a boy more and more, eventually dropping the pronoun “they.” I searched again on the internet, “boy trapped in a girl’s body.” I discovered the term FTM. I discovered who I am. I was living as a boy in school. It was scary because I knew that my dad was homophobic, so I didn’t even want to mention being transgender. I wondered if he’d kick me out of the house, or if he’d throw out my clothes that my mom got for me. I was aware of the risk that I put myself in, but I needed to be the boy that I am.
School was far from perfect, but it was something. I was participating in the drill team at the time and I was pretty good at it. As much as I loved JROTC, it couldn’t save me from my gender dysphoria, because I still had to wear the female uniform. I spoke with my school social worker, and we were able to make some compromise. I was allowed to wear the uniform pants for males.
I didn’t like it though. I’m not half a boy, I am a boy. My instructor told me that, the only way that I could wear the male uniform completely was if I cut my hair. I love my hair. It’s a symbol of pride for me, because you don’t see people of color with long, natural hair.
JROTC wasn’t my only problem. My name wasn’t legally changed, so my birth name would appear on the hardcopy roster. Substitute teachers don’t have access to the digital roster, so whenever I had a substitute, I would skip class.
In my sophomore year, I had a really awesome teacher. He was more than ok with me being transgender because his sister is transgender as well. Sometimes we would talk about his sister’s experience as well. Those conversations helped me stay grounded.
My 11th grade year was when I was at my worst. My teacher that I connected with left. I stopped participating in JROTC completely, eventually switching out of the class. Every day was painful; I didn’t see myself ever being able to live as a boy. I began to do self-harm. I’d see myself dying by suicide multiple times in my dreams. My head was shaking, just like the bottle full of Escitalopram I had to take for my major depressive disorder, or MDD. My grades dropped, and I had to go home often. I couldn’t focus anymore.
My gender dysphoria gave me an eating disorder. I thought that, If I lost weight, my secondary sex characteristics would be suppressed. I tried working out excessively. I even used to purge. Sometimes I still get the urge.
Now that I’m in the 12th grade, things have gotten better. I’m back in JROTC again, wearing the male uniform, while having my natural hair long. But I still struggle with eating.
I recently got government name changed, but my birth name still appears on some files. It’s humiliating. I haven’t started my Drivers Ed, because it will reveal my birth name as well as my gender marker. I started HRT, but it won’t save me from embarrassment. Issues still occur.
Remembering back to the night my step-mom outed me, I am sure that for many other transgender individuals, that would have been their last night. My dad dropped my step-mom home. We started heading back to our house. The night was dark and grim, like the future I saw. He wanted to take my binder from me. I was devastated. I knew that I couldn’t go back, not to how I was before. I broke into a panic attack. My face was burning and I began crying.
Seeing the state that I was in, my father said, “We have to talk. There’s something that you’re not telling me.”
My father was not upset with me, he just didn’t understand what was going on. When we arrived home, he told my brother to go inside the house. It was just the two of us. We sat parked for endless hours. I mustered up the courage. I told my dad that, I am transgender, and he listened. When I finished speaking, I looked up to him.
“Do you need a beer, dad?” I asked jokingly.
He replied, “I think I’ll need a few.”
Although, you can not teach an old dog new tricks, my dad was willing enough to set aside his prejudices. Today he is growing with me on my journey.
Sometimes all you need is time.