Animals: a prose/journal meditation on anti-trans school violence

The trick is to look them dead in the eyes. When you pass them in the hallways, you don’t look shifty, don’t glance away. The boys are like ghosts: they don’t like being seen.

You don’t make sudden movements, either. They live in a haze of hatred, like wild animals, like police. They scent out fear, search the faces that they pass for signs of weakness. You can’t give them any.

They spit things to you, things to bait you. Things like “dyke” or “he-she”. They pull you this way or that, push you into lockers or bathrooms or each other. The last one is the one you worry about. You don’t let them touch you more than one at a time, because they are bound to succumb to their animal nature. The boys hold you down, make you do things that you aren’t sure you want to be doing. They do not ask your preference on these matters, they do not care. They are performing for each other, not for you.

If you learn to escape, then nothing else matters. They bait you, but you are safe if you play dead. When pushed or pulled or insulted, you simply pretend that you are somewhere else. You pretend that there is a woman waiting for you at home, a woman who will pour a hot bath and click her tongue at the bruises that you no longer notice. You pretend hard enough, and your failure to react deescalates the situation, makes them lose interest. Their prey is not as much fun to chase as they had hoped.

You learn these lessons the way that most children learn how to ride bikes or tie their shoes: through trial and error.

You look away every time, at first. You escape to the safe place too soon. You are meek and quiet; timid. You walk into the trap like a lamb, not understanding that it can be avoided. You remember the day that you were caught, when the principal with his narrow eyes and silver hair stumbled upon the scene.

It is a bad day, a day for eating the dog shit that comes from the dirt trampled underfoot. They hold you down in the crook of the tree, and they won’t take no for an answer until he comes. The principal’s rage rains down without direction, landing mostly on you. The boys scatter into the surrounding fields like startled rabbits, and you alone are ushered into his office lair. He screams at you to tell him who it was, who had done this thing to you. You try to tell him that you weren’t there, that you were busy in your quiet place with the warm water and slippery oils, the kind that melt out of colorful balls and stars, but he won’t listen. He calls you a liar, tells you that you shouldn’t protect the boys who do this kind of thing to a little girl.

A little girl. Yes, of course. That’s you, you remind yourself. You are a girl, and that is why the boys are so angry with you. You are not supposed to play their games, not supposed to wear their clothes or walk their walk. Sometimes you forget.

He calls boy after boy down to his office, children from your class that you feel you have never seen before this moment. You are asked, harshly, if this one or that one was in the group. You stutter that you don’t remember any faces, can’t tell who had been there or who might have been innocent. You feel useless. You are told that you are useless. No one is punished. No one but you.

The principal looks upon you with scorn then, making it clear that he is pretending to help you because it is his job. He calls you into his office many times that year, and all the other years, for reasons that seem too small to justify the half- hour spent waiting outside of his office during recess. You shake with dread, even though this happens often enough, because you don’t want to disappoint your parents again.

You bite your nails. You are worried because the time moves so slowly in his office. You are sure that you will be left here, that time will stop altogether and that no one will ever come to let you know you can leave again. No one will rescue you.

The candy in the dish is not offered, but you take some Tutsi Rolls anyway. The secretary looks at you like you are the wild animal, like the boys who locked you in the lockers after school were the heroes for having tamed you.

When he finally calls you into his office, the principal, with his pastel shirt (pink, yellow, or blue), asks you if you know what you have done wrong. It doesn’t matter what you say, or if you even speak at all. The punishment is always the same: a phone call home, a note on a pink slip of paper explaining how your performance is inadequate, how you are troubled.

It is decided that you need counseling, need help figuring out how to make friends. The principal does not ask why the boys attack you, like you knew he wouldn’t. Beneath the spring colors, beneath the neck ties, he is the same as all the other animals who wear the clothing of men. He sees that you do not belong, and he will destroy you, if you let him.

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