HOFFMAN 500In the fifth grade, all the teachers divide you boy from girl and take you into separate classrooms. With the girls, you learn about periods and cramps and tampons, and everyone giggles. Afterwards, you all rejoin the boys, who are holding complimentary sticks of deodorant and laughing among themselves. You wonder what they learned, and why you couldn’t know.

At the library, there’s a book about a girl whose brother is really a sister.

People in middle school use the word ‘fag’ like punctuation. You know about homosexuality from books, but there’s something starkly different from how this is in books than it is here, in the real world. Something begins to feel wrong with your body, like you’re an inch out of your skin, leaving your muscles and organs exposed. There are girls who like girls, boys who like boys, and girls who like boys, you tell yourself when you begin to question. You like boys. You are a girl who likes boys.

Facebook has 51 different options for gender.

Your sixth grade biology teacher liked to talk about ecological systems. Niches, she said, were the place of an animal in the system, the place where it belonged. Predator or prey, herbivore or carnivore, each has its niche. You find your niche, haul yourself into it like a drowning person escaping the water. Genderqueer. Androgyne. Transgender. You never say the words out loud, but you imagine how they would slide from your tongue if you did, unfamiliar but oh so right.

The Barnes & Noble near your house has two tiny shelves labeled “LGBT Books,” hidden behind the massive “Christian Literature” section.

Most of the people at school don’t believe you, brush it off. Kayley nods along, confused, and forgets immediately after you tell her. Serena laughs at you. Jason turns it into a joke, running up to you in between classes and asking Really? Are you serious? Andrew looks uneasy as you tell him and never mentions it again. Both Melissa and your therapist take you at your word, believing easily and solemnly respecting your pronouns.

Chelsea Manning is all over the news that year, though they keep using the wrong name for her.

Technically, you’re not gay, but you can’t help but wince every time they bring marriage equality up on the news, every time your dad feels the need to remark on how unnatural it is. If people can’t accept this, something so blessedly simple, how will they ever accept you? It makes you anxious, tension curling at the base of your spine. You build up your vocabulary like a fortress: agender, genderfluid, demigirl.

You learn a new statistic: 1 in 12. It sort of makes you want to die.

In high school, the teacher asks the class to split up into boy and girl teams for a review game. For a brief, wild moment, you want to stand up and say something, but you can’t force the words from your throat. People move around you, laughing and talking, and very suddenly, you feel eleven again.


Madison Hoffman is a junior at the Appomattox Regional Governor’s School in Virginia, where they are currently studying literary arts.

Photo by Dinty W. Moore