Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for mature content.
Content warning: suicide and drug use
You’re a young boy, nine years old. You like playing football with your mates, skateboarding, and climbing trees. You’re always sweaty and covered in dirt head-to-toe. Sounds very typical, right?
You’re about to go out for dinner at a fancy restaurant with your family, so you put on your nicest pair of jeans and a polo shirt. Your brother is wearing the exact same thing. You both look pretty snazzy. But when you get to the door, your mum says “You can’t go like that.” Of course, you argue, saying it’s the same as what your brother is wearing, so why not? She gets angry. “You have to wear a dress,” she says.
A boy? In a dress? The very thought disgusts you. Sure, other boys can wear dresses if they want to, but you hate dresses; they’re no good for running around or climbing trees, frills are itchy and uncomfortable, and pink is just weak red. You argue more, but Mum gets more frustrated, threatening punishment as the argument gets heated.
She gets out the wooden spoon and breaks it across your backside.
You put on the dress and limp to the restaurant, avoiding eye contact with the waiter, so they don’t see your red, watery eyes. Crying is for the weak, and boys aren’t weak.
This happens every time you go out somewhere deemed nice enough to dress up, so you stop going out with them, faking illness and injury. You drift apart from your family, beginning to resent them for forcing you to be someone you are not. You feel lonely, but that’s okay; men are islands. Men don’t need anyone.
You’re ten-years-old, and you look in the mirror, admiring your muscles, because every young boy wants a six-pack and bulging biceps. But the older you get, the flabbier they get. Not because you’re getting “fat” from poor diet or lack of exercise. But because your body is preparing you for baby-making, therefore getting larger in the chest, buttocks, and thighs. But that isn’t right! Men don’t make babies! You had a word to God about this. When you learned about puberty in school at the age of eight, you prayed every night that it would skip you. You were an atheist, but you prayed just in case. You thought, if God were real, He’d understand, He’d have your back. After all, if He made you this way, He should know not to put you through the wrong puberty.
To keep this fattening to a minimum, you want to be as active as possible, but suddenly, you’re not allowed to play any of your favourite sports, because the other boys have stronger muscles than you now; you’re told, “you might get hurt” and “they don’t have a girls’ team for that”. You withdraw from the sporting community.
You’re now twelve-years-old. You start middle school, but even there everyone thinks you’re a girl. Because despite your prayers, God put you through the wrong puberty anyway. A test? Nature’s cruel mistake? Laughing in the face of society’s obsession with boxes and labels? If you don’t fit in, you’re either born to stand out, or you learn to squash yourself in the deepest, darkest corner you can find, so no one notices you. Because being noticed can be dangerous, as middle school is about to teach you. The girls there don’t understand you; you have nothing in common with them. The boys don’t want to be your friend because they think you’re a girl. The name-calling starts. Butch. Lesbian. Freak. You withdraw socially.
You want to scream, “I’m a boy!” But your body disagrees.
You don’t tell anyone this shameful secret. Because throughout all this rejection from your family, peers, and society - as well as yourself, as you hate your own body, face, and voice - you know at least one thing to be true; you are not normal. They are right; you are a freak. You have faced enough rejection for being a “tomboy”; imagine the rejection when you tell them you’re really transgender. You don’t even have that vocabulary until you’re seventeen, and by then it’s too late, right?
You’re eighteen. You’re a man; but instead of shaving your face, you shave your legs. Instead of clipping your hair, you let it grow long and tie it up like a hostage. You’re a hostage in your own life. You are a poorly cast actor in the role of being a woman. You change your swaggered gate to something more graceful. You raise your gravelly voice to something soft and appealing. You smile and lie through your teeth. You carefully craft a life that screams “I am a woman and I am happy”. You are miserable.
All the acting, the dressing-up, the lying; it's exhausting. You carry around your secret like a weight on your shoulders, knowing that if anyone found out, you would lose all your friends and family who you have worked so hard to gain. You are a dirty liar, and no one could ever love the real you.
You’re nineteen. Your friends are all boys. You relax a little. You can almost be yourself around them. But sometimes they say things like “you looked good in make-up and a dress last night, you should try it more often”, and you remember you are not what they really want, you are not good enough, not girly enough. They call you “cute” and “small”, but all you hear is “weak little girl”, words unbefitting for a man.
You’re twenty. Three people you went to high-school with have come out as transgender. All of them were met with love and support from their friends. But you know you could never do that because your family - who grimaces in disgust at two girls kissing on TV - would kick you out and you would be homeless. You just need to get through university, get a job, and move out. Then maybe – just maybe – you can be the real you, and shed this woman’s body to find the man underneath.
It’s two months before your twenty-first birthday. You’re volunteering in Cambodia, giving rural communities access to clean drinking water. During the day, you’re slaving away in the muggy heat. In the afternoons, you’re drinking cocktails by the pool. You should be happy. You’re not. You’ve made friends here, but you feel like you’re lying to them about who you are. You’ve told all your friends at home that you’re transgender and they don’t mind, they like you for your personality. You’re facing the prospect of coming out to your family when you get home from Cambodia, because you have an appointment to go on testosterone in just few short weeks. You think when you get home and come out, you will lose everyone you love; your life will be over.
You want to hold on to the good times you’re having in Cambodia. You are too much of a coward to face your family as a transgender man. You swallow a whole packet of morphine you bought over-the-counter at a Cambodian chemist. You smile as it makes you high – you feel good for the first time in a while – and you continue to party with your new friends, waiting for your organs to start shutting down. You will die happy and miserable at the same time. You will die pretending to be normal, and no one will have to know what a freak you really are.
What is normal, anyway? Is it scoring average on a standardised test? Is that what you really want? For every child’s quirk, there is an adult telling them they will grow out of it. Maybe adults used to have strange quirks too, but societal pressure created a cookie cutter and somewhere during adolescence they all got stamped.
When I was a kid, I knew I never wanted to grow up to be someone else’s idea of perfect. I only wanted to live up to my own expectations – why now do I fear others judgement? It’s my life, I’m the one who has to live it; why do I have to pretend to be someone I’m not to keep everyone else happy, even if it makes me miserable?
Take me back to the sweet innocence of childhood, where I did what I wanted when I wanted to, played Lego, explored on my bike, built stick huts in the bush, walked everywhere barefoot because my soles were tough enough to take it. I was tough enough to take on anything. Take me back to when the world felt so big and full of adventure. Why can’t I have that now?
I played the role of being a “normal” young woman. Sometimes I did so well I even convinced myself. But nothing could stop the deep feeling that something was wrong.
Well, maybe I don’t want to be normal!
At the end of the day, when you’re staring death in the face, the only thing that will matter is; did you have a happy life that was worth living? Did you make the most of it?
“Did you take that morphine? How much? It’s all gone, where’s the rest? Did you take all of it? Hold on. I need to google something… Jesus. You’re going to overdose. What? Why do you want to…? Stop it. You need to throw it up, now. Put something down your throat. Now, or I’m going to call an ambulance, and they’ll pump your stomach.”
Your stomach jerks violently, then everything comes up all at once into the toilet bowl. The hotel bathroom tiles are cold and gritty beneath your bare knees. The two boys – your new friends - hover outside the door, waiting for you to be done. You realise; this is rock bottom.
You realise; you don’t want to die. You want to live! But you want to be happy – and that’s not compatible with your current lifestyle. Because you aren’t living life for you. You’re trying to be the person you think everyone else wants you to be. It’s time to be yourself. It doesn’t matter if some people will reject the real you; that is better than over-dosing on the floor of a hotel room in Cambodia, thousands of miles away from anyone who loves you. Why are you giving up when you haven’t even tried?
My name is John. I am one year on testosterone.
In all the ways that matter, I am the same person I was when my name was Sarah; I like the same foods, listen to the same music, drive the same car, and wear the same colour palette – just in men’s clothing instead of women’s.
In all the ways that matter, I am a different person than I was when I was Hannah; I am confident, I am happy, I am comfortable in my own body. I no longer shy away from cameras or strictly diet and exercise to stay lean. I make friends more easily. I laugh more easily. I pursue my masculine hobbies more. I feel free; free to be me. And guess what? People still love me. More importantly, I finally love myself, I finally know I deserve to be happy.