[CW: detailed discussion of suicidal ideation, dysphoria, self-harm]
You are sixteen.
You are sixteen, and standing in front of your bedroom mirror has become an exercise in self-hatred. You glare at your reflection, willing changes you know will never happen as though wishing hard enough might make some sort of impact on the world. It’s a way to pass the time, you suppose.
You gave up on hoping anything might come of it a long time ago.
You are sixteen and, while Nature has seen fit to gift you with breasts that don’t even need a bra (AA if they’re anything, and you wear sports tops to school and hope nobody calls you on it), and a figure that’s more androgynous than anything else, it’s not enough. You spend hours lying face-down on the bathroom floor, trying to flatten what there is back into your chest (useless, probably, but it makes you feel like you’re doing something) and give up eating lunches in the hope of starving off any feminine shaping that might threaten to develop. (When your father jokingly tells you you’re getting curves, you hide in your room for an hour, scratching lines down the sides of your thighs with fingernails bitten down to the quick).
You thought you were a boy, once. Spent hours going through the drawers in the sideboard where the important paperwork lives, trying to find some medical letter or note that might prove it — you knew what the word ‘intersex’ meant well before most of your peers did, after all, and greedily devoured stories in the news of ‘girls’ who developed masculine secondary sexual characteristics when puberty hit. Surely something like that, you’d told yourself. Surely.
And then you were thirteen, and bled. You’d read enough novels to know what that meant, even if nobody really thought like that any more, and something within you howled and died in that instant, tearing out of your body with the first cycle in a blur of pain and fear that left you curled up on the bathroom floor, sick and shaking and wondering what would be the kindest way to let your parents find your body.
Three years on, and you have a plan. You’ve had it for a while now, kept silent and locked up in the back of your head, behind walls and doors and ‘wait until you’re eighteen, at least’. You’re not going to let your parents find you. You can’t — won’t — do that to them. You’re going to go to university, after all. And plenty of students commit suicide.
It’s not an ‘if’. Hasn’t been for years. It’s a ‘when’.
You have friends, still. Hobbies. Even, when you’re letting yourself believe in it, a sexual identity. Not that any of it matters, really, but you can play pretend at having a real life for the next two years. So you try on ‘butch’ and, if you close your eyes and hold your breath and pretend the word ‘she’ doesn’t burn you every time you hear it, it fits. Well enough for the next two years, anyway.
After that? It doesn’t matter any more.
You are sixteen, and in two weeks you will read a word that will change the course of your life forever.
It will be on Livejournal, of all places, in a comment hidden in a thread under a post on one of the butch communities you occasionally post in. One line, no formality or fuss, almost comically simple for the change it will provoke:
‘I used to dress like that, before I transitioned.’
For a moment, the idea will confuse you. Of course a man would dress like that — this is butch style, that’s part of the point. And then, slowly, like a sunrise after an Arctic winter, the actual meaning of the phrase will filter through the fog in your mind, and something you thought was dead will take a tentative, shuddering breath.
It won’t be easy, what comes after that. It won’t be quick. It won’t, for all you are lucky enough to be blessed with a family and friends who will understand it, be entirely painless. And it won’t be cheap.
But it will be. And, ten years later almost to the day, you’ll sit down in the house you share with your wonderful partners, take a deep breath (feeling the scars from your top surgery pull just slightly as you do so), and write something that’s almost a letter to your decade-younger self, in the hope that maybe, just maybe, it’ll be for someone else what that comment was for you.
But for the moment you are sixteen, and a fortnight and a breath away from the day your life changes for ever.
And in ten years time, you’re going to be very very thankful for that ‘wait until you’re eighteen’ resolution.