I am 20 years old, driving home from getting my ass kicked, blasting my music and sobbing in a way where the tears don’t blur my vision but do drip down my face, and I can feel the soreness waking up in my knees, my thighs, my abs, and my shirt sticks to my skin with my sweat and another’s, and it’s late, the headlights of cars behind me reflecting directly into my eyes and making me duck my head like a coward, and I know I probably shouldn’t be driving but when Samantha asked if I was fine to get myself home I swore I was, and now in the solitude of no one’s breaths but mine, I cry, and this whole time all I can think about is Samantha and how, in the year I was born, she came out as a trans woman and got cornered in a bathroom where she was beaten within an inch of her life, and how when she awoke from the coma her mother asked why she was surprised at the abuse, why she hadn’t expected it when she came out, there’s a reason trans people die so young, and I’m still in my car pushing 90 thinking about how I came out as trans and no one even batted an eye, thinking about how I can’t reclaim the “f” or the “t” slur because I’ve never had those words used against me, and thinking about how it was Samantha’s fists that pounded against my flesh, Samantha who beat me 20 years after she herself was beaten, because I asked her real nice, saying pretty please and thank you so much, how afterward she held me half-naked and tender as a peach and told me stories of the transphobia she still holds in the marrow of her bones, and how inspired she feels when she sees people like me, young-adult-teen-kids too young to fuck, standing up and transitioning and using neo-pronouns and being so goddamn unafraid in a way that she hasn’t been since before she came out at 17, before she had the fear of bigots and their boots beaten into her, a message she tells me as she pets my sweaty hair and strokes the bruises she put on my body, and that is why I cry as I drive, not because I got hurt but because Samantha did 20 years ago, along with who knows how many other trans kids like her who just wanted to live their lives honestly and will never get the privilege that I have of transitioning without trauma; the privilege of choosing to take a punch instead of being forced to.

Atlas Desmond is a writer dedicated to exploring hidden experiences. They are currently the editor-in-chief of Periphery Literary Journal and are set to graduate from Drake University in May 2024. They hope to eventually join an MFA program and work for another literary journal in the future.

Artwork by Kah Yangni