Five Years

My hair is never brushed, and I always forget to sit with my legs crossed, ladylike, and for the longest time my only friend is Matthew Bickle. On the first day of school, he wears a red t-shirt, which sparks a heated debate amongst my classmates.

“Matthew’s wearing a girl color!” Someone says, pointing.

“Am not!” he says. “It’s red, not pink.” Some boys in my class nod in agreement.

“It’s the color of hearts!” Another boy says. My classmates look to one another, considering.

A stranger’s hand breaks through the silence and points to me. “She is wearing it, too. It’s for girls!” And the tide turns.

“That’s right!” they say. Matthew opens his mouth to protest, but they surround him.

“Girl color, girl color,” they chant.

Later that evening, while our moms discuss the Sunday school lesson plans, Matthew and I trade shirts. Mine is a little tight on him, but his fits me perfectly. The color dissolves and soon the fabric is just skin, my skin, a boy’s skin.

Seven Years

Steven Jenkins, a wiry, pigeon-faced man, is my favorite teacher because he keeps his hair in a ponytail even though men aren’t supposed to have long hair. He teaches art class and reads us Shel Silverstein poems while we push rationed lumps of clay into shapes. I try to turn my gray blob into a poem, nudging its body into line breaks and metaphors, but it always comes out looking like something in-between. A not-circle or not-square.

One day, I make a hollow person. It is two inches tall, its clay skin stretched thin over where bones would be; the clay allotted to me is barely enough to make a body. Still, it looks regal and proud, like a figure out of a dream. When Mr. Jenkins puts it in the kiln that night, it explodes, catapulting its limbs into my classmates works, rupturing vases and cups and figurines.

He said it was a mistake, that it was just missing a space for steam to escape, but I knew. I knew, I knew, I knew.

Thirteen Years

I check out a book from the school library so often that the librarian notices.

The book is about a boy named J who is born Jeni. His mom doesn’t like it at first, but then she decides that she loves him anyway. I stay up late most nights and reread the book under my covers with a flashlight, wondering if anyone will love me anyways.

Fifteen Years

When the hairdresser cuts my hair short, she asks me if I am going to cry. I don’t, but the wet strands of hair she snips from my bangs fall down my face like tears. I watch the pillowy mass of hair accumulate on the floor beneath me like water droplets condensing into a storm cloud. Later that night, I stare at myself in the mirror and think boy. I am a boy.

Seventeen Years

I buy men’s underwear for the first time. They are baggy but not in a way that is uncomfortable. When the cashier rings them up, she gives me a look.

It says, “your place in the world is best defined by how this underwear doesn’t fit you, but the women’s doesn’t either.” It says “your body is not a body, it is a question mark.” It says, “you can’t fit a belt around an idea.” It says all of these things and more, only it comes out:

“Your total is $8.95, will that be cash or credit?”

And I say, “Whatever it costs me to inhabit this body,” only it comes out:

“Cash,” and she hands me my change.

Nineteen Years

The only story they believe is one where I’ve always wanted to wear men’s underwear. They wonder who takes them off and what that makes them and what bathroom I take them off in. They ask, “Did you always know?” and I think back to the color red and clay figures and library books and say, “I have never known what it means to be a body.”

They do not know what to say to this, so they tell me I was born in the wrong body, as if there is a right body somewhere out there. They tell me this, and I wonder if their souls ever feel homeless, too.

Sam Kiss is pursuing a degree in Writing, Literature, and Publishing at Emerson College. In 2017, he received a National Honor Award in the Letters About Literature contest for his letter to David Levithan. Currently, he is an intern at the Youth Advocacy Foundation, which works to end the school-to-prison pipeline by providing free legal aid to students in need.

Artwork by Dev Murphy