We grew up feeling different, out of sorts with our bodies. We just knew we were one way. Despite what family and church and doctors might say. It’s a phase you’ll grow out of, they said; it’s hard to be a girl, they said. The boys had it worse, much, much worse.
Whatever accommodations they tossed us like a raggedy bone stopped once we hit puberty. If we were lucky. When we weren’t we got cuffed and slapped and punched. No, you can’t wear that skirt. Boys don’t wear skirts. Shut up and act like a man! Never show weakness.
Most of us were ordinary kids. We overdrew our time account imaging how we could be and, with the right mix of timing and gumption, would be. We have always had an image in our mind of how we should be in the world.
Some of us were from cities like New York or Chicago, with gay community centers and pride parades, where we could disappear into a crowd of people and feel grateful we didn’t grow up in some hick town up- or downstate. Some of us grew up Hemet or Mio, populated with one thousand people or fewer, where we were frozen by the gaze of our neighbors and hitchhiked out in the cab of the truck that came by once a week to deliver heating oil.
Some of us came from Berlin and cut out pictures of the clothes we would buy and wear freely, once we could. Some of us came from a farm collective outside Beijing, where we kept our hair short, always wearing the uniform of the PRC, singing the “East is Red.” Some of us are from Dubai and travel for business and pursue pleasure in places like Key West, finding blessed release in stockings and dresses and in the eyes of men who desire us.
Some of us evaporated in Hiroshima. Others immolated in Auschwitz. A few of us died from heatstroke working the fruit crops and still others during the Middle Passage. We fell on the fields of the Somme and El Alamein and the beaches of Normandy. Some of us overdosed and some of us drank ourselves to death. A few of us blew our brains out.
Some of us fought for the Nazis. Some of us fought for the Allies. We fought on both sides of the Civil War and in Ruwanda, Somalia, and Sudan. One of us hid in an orphanage to escape the slaughter of Jews. Another rode the Underground Railroad to freedom in Canada.
We have been around since 7000 B.C.E. The Bible tells us so.
They threaten us, most of us sometimes and a few of us a lot. The few of us hounded and murdered the most descend from the families of slaves or the fruit crop workers. Some of us lose all distinctions, the edges of our skin blending, believing all threats, from job loss to murder, the same threat. Nuance eludes the white of us.
We want to know about sex. Some of us are sexed a lot. Some of us are virgins. We wish there was number to call, 1-888-TRANSEX and all our questions could be answered by those who know from experience. How will it be after the surgery? Have you already had a lot of sex? You won’t have sex until after the surgery? Will anyone find us desirable? When do I tell them? Do I tell them? What if I do tell them and they don’t want me at all? And what if they want me even more?
Julie Otsuka’s book The Buddha in the Attic transformed my understanding of what is possible as a writer and as a human being. Her work has inspired this piece.