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I spend most of the days between my nan dying and her funeral curled up in a ball on my bed, clutching my battered old teddy bear, hiding myself away from the world. I mean, I still get to classes – I’m doing A-levels, uni next year, politics and sociology – but I do call in sick to my part-time job stacking shelves.
Can’t be doing with it, it wouldn’t distract me enough from everything that’s wrong with my life right now. Because I’m dead upset, I’d loved my nan. She’d been the only one who’d truly accepted me as me. I remember once a few years ago, back when I was still trying to figure out who – or what – I was, when everyone thought I was just this weird shy lonely boy who’d probably turn out to be gay, I got beat up pretty bad at school. There were these lads who were always picking on me – calling me gayboy, poof, all that – and this time one of them shoved me from behind and I caught my forehead on the corner of a brick wall. Blood poured out really quickly, right down my school shirt and into my trousers, but it didn’t make them reckon they’d gone too far, it just gave them the taste for it. I was never good at being a boy, didn’t know how to stand up for myself. They punched me a couple of times and I just curled up crying on the floor, hating myself and everything, till eventually they got bored and went away.
I went to my nan’s because it was close and I thought I could get her to not tell my parents, I couldn’t grass anyone up, it’d only make them hurt me worse. And it was while she was tut-tutting and fretting over me – putting ointment on the cuts, frozen peas on my bruising, swelling eye, not believing my story about having fallen – that I blurted it out: ‘I wish I was a girl’ – and then went red and clapped my hand over my mouth because I couldn’t believe I’d said that aloud.
‘Why?’ Nan said gently. ‘Because then boys wouldn’t hurt you?’
‘I guess,’ I said – too scared to say everything I felt. I was already thinking that if she told anyone what I’d said I’d claim she must be going senile.
‘Well, I think you’d make a very good girl,’ is all Nan said, ‘if that’s who you find you are.’
Something like that, I can’t remember exact words. But she was really cool with it and never told anyone. And what she said came true: I’m not any more the lost and confused little boy everyone took me for – I never had been, really. I’m eighteen now, and no one who sees me would ever – well, hardly ever – take me for anything but the girl I’ve always deep down known that I am.
And now it’s the day of Nan’s funeral and I’ve shut myself away in my bedroom. I don’t know what to do. There’s this man’s black suit and tie, with a white shirt, hanging on my wardrobe door. Because Nan dying was horrible enough, but then my mum’d hit me with her awful demand. Totally not what Nan would’ve wanted. She’d always been nice, saying I looked pretty or my outfit was cute or whatever, and later, even when she kind of was losing her marbles a bit, she never got my name wrong – not even once called me ‘Jake’ instead of Molly, the way loads of supposedly sharper minds keep doing. So I was doubly gutted when Mum told me she wanted me to go back to disguising myself as a boy for the funeral.
I was like, ‘Whaaa’?!’
‘Because the whole family’s coming,’ Mum said. ‘Lots and lots of uncles and aunties and cousins, and most of them don’t know about your … um, changes. To them you’re still just “Jake”. It’ll come as quite a shock to some of them, to see you wearing a dress and makeup. I’m sorry, but it’ll seem disrespectful, or at least confusing and distracting. And we don’t want that, do we, Molly?’ Mum said – with that little sarcastic emphasis I thought I heard every time she used my chosen name. ‘Not on the day we say goodbye to your nan. So isn’t it simplest if you, well … be the boy you used to be? Just for a couple of days. Do it for me.’
I was just all numb and shocked listening to this. Eventually I managed, ‘But no, wait, what’re you talking about? I wrote that email, remember? Everyone knows. You sent that email round for me.’
Because soon after I’d started living as a girl twenty-four seven, I’d written this long, thoughtful letter – addressed To Whom It May Concern, meaning all the extended family and obscure cousins of our stupidly large tribe – explaining everything about what I was doing and why. How I’d never, even after faking it for the first seventeen years of my life, really felt like a boy; how ever since I was little I’d deep down known that I was a girl, really. And I couldn’t pretend otherwise anymore. I’d done little mini-lectures on how gender’s not the same as sex – one’s social and cultural while the other’s just biological and physical way less important to who we are than the first – and neither’s tied to sexual orientation. I said stuff about transphobia and trans-misogyny and how cruel and hurtful misgendering is. I said: Hi, my name’s Molly! I didn’t have the whole family’s email addresses so I sent it to Mum to forward to everyone for me. And when she told me no one’d replied I’d figured she was lying to protect me from their ignorance and hatefulness.
But now, months later, I was going, ‘Oh my God, Mum. You didn’t even send it.’
She tried not to look shamefaced. ‘Well, look – your dad and me, we were sure it was just a phase you were going through. We thought best give you a chance to grow out of it, without having embarrassed yourself in front of everyone.’
‘You think it’s embarrassing,’ I said. ‘You’re embarrassed by me. Mum, it’s who I am. I’m a girl. I can’t lie anymore, I won’t. Plus anyway it wouldn’t work – Mum, I’ve got boobs.’
‘Oh, hardly. Not that anyone would notice under a shirt and tie. Just dress like a boy would, lay off the makeup for once. Lots of boys have longish hair, I’m not asking you to get it cut, don’t look at me like that. It’ll only be for a few days, while we’ve got visitors staying. Just this once. For me. Please, Jake … okay, sorry, I mean Molly. It’s not a lot I’m asking.’
But I was like, ‘Mum, OMG. Not a lot? It’s everything. You’re totally betraying me! I can’t believe this.’
I started to cry. Couldn’t help it. It was like all the slow painful months of my transition were being wrenched away from me, like I was being shoved right back to that miserable place I started at.
‘Oh, don’t,’ said Mum. ‘It’s my mother who’s died. Think how I feel. Don’t make this all about you.’
Which was really cruel of her. It was like totally callous emotional blackmail. After all I’d been through: all the shit at college, the abuse on the street before I got lucky enough to get good at ‘passing’, plus the many hours’ agony of electrolysis, the technician’s sonic screwdriver homing in on a follicle and zapping it – with me like Ow God holy crap that hurts! – before she tweezered out the hair, one by slow boring painful one killing each of my face’s hairs at the root. Not to mention the shame the world made me feel just for being me, that’s the worst. And so there was just no way. I couldn’t go back to what I’d once been like, couldn’t ever. I’d rather die. It’d be the same as dying. It was like Mum was asking me to kill myself, just to make things smoother for everyone else. So when she tried to put her arms around me I shrugged her off and screamed something nasty in her face – like, that I wished it was my mum, I meant her, who’d died instead of Nan – and then I did the storming-out thing, which I’ve gotten pretty good at lately. I slammed the door so it rattled the whole house.
My first thought was to call my best friend Olivia. When I’d told her I was trans she’d gaped at me for like an hour, and then when she finally got her head round it she’d gone Squeeeeeeeee! – only time I’ve seen someone do that in real life – grabbed my hand and took me shopping, had me trying on dresses and not caring if anyone saw, telling me I had great legs and she was dead jealous. She’s brilliant – but kind of useless when things get serious. Like, between Nan dying and Mum’s ultimatum she’d get more upset and weepy than me, I’d end up comforting her. Anyway, I’d a better idea, someone I definitely wanted stuff to get serious with.
I text Kieran, Hey K I hate my life, take me out of it for a bit why don’t you, and he replied, Okay sure cool. Been seeing him about three weeks. He’s a bit older than me, works in an office. We’ve kissed, that’s all. He doesn’t know I’m trans. We met in town and kissed and he went, ‘Wow, Molly, you look gorgeous tonight.’
I wished I could work out whether to believe him. Though I had made an effort and, after loads of practice and YouTube tutorials, got my smoky-eye makeup done. Only took an hour. Plus I was wearing a new dress, short and shimmery, and my sexiest heels – they push me an inch taller than Kieran, but he’s not the insecure kind of guy who’d be bothered by that. He looked pretty good too, even if it was just his office suit. He works out, and as we’d kissed I’m run my hand down his body’s muscles; I’d hooked my arm to his and felt really good walking through town with him so everyone could see I was his girlfriend.
I was waiting for the right moment to tell him I’m trans – though really I knew there’d never be a right moment. If I were post-op and all healed up I wouldn’t have had to tell him, it’d be the past and no one’s business but mine, but I thought he wanted things to go further between us – I know I did – and it kind of impacted on that. Once we’d kissed and it was pretty amazing and went on for ages and his hand was on my bum and then my thigh and nudging the hem of my skirt and I got scared and told him no, I wasn’t ready – which was, like, literally true. I’ve not got the correct bits yet. I’d rather he knew and loved me anyway than have it be a secret between us, but it’s scary ’cause you never know how someone’ll react – like, will they be okay with it, or freak out? Will Kieran find it gross, think I’ve tricked him, will he beat me up or even murder me? – ’cause that happens all the time, actually.
In the bar he got the drinks while I found us somewhere to sit – these couches with only a low table between them ’cause I liked how he looked at my legs, couldn’t help himself. But now I was realising that lots of makeup on my eyes was pretty stupid because what with Nan being gone and Mum trying to bury the real me and now Kieran being lovely and totally accepting me as a girl, I was already starting to cry – I tried to push the tears back into myself but Kieran saw. I couldn’t talk about Mum’s demand that I pretend I’m a boy, he didn’t even know I’m trans, but I could tell him bits of other stuff. I went, ‘My nan died.’
‘Oh, shit,’ said Kieran. ‘Sorry.’
He reached his hands across the little table and put them on mine – shivers of electricity tingled up my arms and down my spine, and it was like wow, I really might actually be falling in love with him.
‘Everything’s turning to shit,’ I said. ‘They all hate me. My life’s this whole big mess.’
‘Hey, it’ll be okay. You’re an amazing girl, things’ll get better.’
‘God,’ I said. ‘I can’t even.’
‘I’m here for you. Tell me what’s up.’
Could I tell him? Just like that? I’d got a whole speech ready – written on my laptop, actually – but now it’d flown from my head. Maybe I could just say it? Simple statement of fact. And I wouldn’t have been falling in love with him if he was the kind of guy to get angry or violent, would I? Wouldn’t feel like this about someone I didn’t know in my heart I could trust. Right? So maybe I could be brave and … but even before I’d finished thinking this I’d already blurted it out, almost like by accident: ‘I’m trans.’
He said, ‘What?’
I watched his warped reflection in the surface of my wine. I twisted the stem of the glass this way and that. I said, ‘I’m transgender.’
He looked baffled.
‘It’s like … they made a mistake at the hospital when I was born.’
‘Yeah, the nurses looked at me and decided I was a boy when I wasn’t.’
‘What? Why’d they think that?’
‘Well it’s ’cause I had a penis. Still do, actually’ – oh my God I was really telling this wrong, I was nervous and panicking … and this is where his hands let go of mine and slid back to his side of the table – ‘but only for, like, another year.’
‘Yeah. That’s when I get my gender confirmation surgery.’
Kieran went, ‘Oh my fucking God’ – which was so not the response I’d been hoping for. ‘You’re telling me you’re a dude.’
He’d pushed himself right back in his chair now – like, as far from me as he could get. His face totally blank.
I said, ‘No, I’m telling you I’m a girl and I’ve always been a girl. I’m a woman. But I was unlucky enough to have this nasty birth defect of being born with an XY-chromosomed body…’
I trailed off. And then there was this really long horrible silence with him staring at me – trying to see it: are my hands too big, my hips too narrow? – the sick feeling in my tummy getting worse and worse before he finally said, ‘I think I’m going to need some time to process this’ – and, like, what sadder words are there for a girl to hear?
And then when I got home that man’s funereal black suit in just my size – if I wore boys’ sizes anymore, which I don’t – had materialised in my bedroom, hanging off the wardrobe door. No one’d said anything but there it was. Like, hint-hint. I took one look at it and burst into tears all over again. My so-carefully done makeup ruined. Because it’s what they expected me to wear. And because just for a second I’d thought maybe it’d be easier, after all, and safer, to just go along with Mum’s idea rather than have everyone smirking, calling me ‘Jake’, staring at me like I’m a sideshow freak … and thinking of caving in like that made me totally hate myself in a way that I’d not done since I’d found the courage to come out as trans and start my transition. I wanted to die. It was all unravelling. All I could do was get into bed bury myself under the covers and hardly come out for three days.
Once when I did I found out from my brother that my dad, not Mum, had sent an email to everyone who’s expected, warning them about me in case I don’t accept the disguise – which knowing Dad might’ve been like Re: our Jake. He’s going through a funny phase at the moment, thinks he’s a girl, for the sake of peace can everyone just indulge him, call him ‘Molly’ or else he throws a hissy fit… Totally transphobic and misgendering, probably. Dad tries his best, sort of, but pretty much only when I’m standing right there – and besides, his best’s not very good. Plus my brother told me that they’d still been putting my old name, not Molly as it will be legally soon, on Christmas cards and stuff – should’ve kept a closer eye on things like that. But now I was too depressed and upset – what with Nan, and Mum, and Kieran – to do anything but hide in my room, lying on my bed, staring at the ceiling, listening to sad music, feeling sorry for myself. Sometimes playing video games – an RPG, to get lost in its sprawling digital world where no one questions my gender identity; a first-person shooter, just to vent. Every so often checking my phone, as if it’d ever for a moment been out of my hearing, to see there were no texts or missed calls from Kieran. He wasn’t going to call, was he? He was dumping me ’cause he thought I’m a freak and he’s too coward to say it in a text. I’ve text him three times since he walked out on me in the bar – one patient and soothing peacemaker text, one angry how-dare-you text, one pathetically pleading text – all of them pretty stupid, I can see that now.
Nothing in return. Well if he’s going to be a dick I don’t want to see him again.
I went downstairs once and Mum was there in the living room having a really bad cry about Nan, her mum, being gone, so I went to hug her and comfort her like a daughter should. We sat there on the sofa clutching each other and sobbing – but then she had to ruin it by saying it was like she’d lost a son too, as if ‘Jake’ had died. And I was like no it’s not, I’m still me … but it’d only make things worse to start on that again, so I ran back upstairs to my room. We each had to weep and wail all on our own.
At last it’s the day of the funeral. There’s a knock on my bedroom door and it’s my brother sent to make sure I’m getting ready, if I’m even coming, there’s just an hour to go. I yell back yeah sure whatever. I give myself like a minute more to lie there doing nothing, and then I get up and do what I have to do. I unhook the suit on its hanger from the wardrobe door and I get hold of the jacket in my hands and try to rip it apart – but of course I’m not strong enough, the hormones have leached away a lot of the boyish muscles I used to have. So I just drop the suit on the floor, kick it into the corner. Maybe I’ll take a knife to it later, or if they’ve still got the receipt I can exchange it for a skirt or shoes or something. Mum’s not said don’t show if I can’t be a boy, they’re not that mean. I get dressed in my funeral outfit: a short black skirt and a sleeveless top that shows off a bit of my boobs. I do have breasts, they’re small but mine all mine – the work of over a year of hormones, plus yeah a push-up bra. I wear my flat gold sandals – ’cause Nan said once that she liked them – showing my toenails painted scarlet like my fingernails and lips. I eyeliner all round my eyes. I’m just fixing my hair and checking in the mirror that all anyone could see is a girl when my phone sings its song and it’s a text from Kieran. All at once the confidence that’d been building as I got dressed evaporates. My hand’s shaking as I sit on my bed staring at his name on my phone’s screen and I’m suddenly too scared to even read a text. I sit there for ages till I hear the doorbell chime downstairs. People are arriving for the funeral, first up will be my least favourite uncle, my mum’s uber-blokey brother, along with whichever wife he’s on at the moment. I remember when I was little he used to keep telling me things that’d make you a man and oh my God I don’t want to see him right now. We’ll be heading to the funeral place soon.
Immediate family in the two or three cars behind the hearse. Then at the church there’ll be loads of people who remember me as ‘Jake’, their nephew or cousin, and who’ve never before seen me as a girl called Molly, their niece or cousin. Oh my God it’s going to be awful. And holy shit, did anyone tell the vicar that I’m a girl, that my name’s Molly? If when he does the eulogy thing he says Nan’s survived by a grandson called ‘Jake’ I’ll just die.
Except I won’t. Nan’s ghost’s making me brave. I’m out my bedroom door and skipping downstairs and into the front room and then everyone sees me. Sees Molly, not ‘Jake’. My mum and dad, my brother, my uncle and his skinny, hollow-eyed wife. Dad doesn’t look happy, but like he’s finally given up – like okay, he surrenders, I’m his daughter, fine. My brother gives me this look but it’s not saying, Oh look, there’s my weird brother dressed as a girl, it’s saying, Oh look, there’s my annoying big sister. My uncle just says Hi, Molly, no sneer in his voice, takes my hand and gives me an avuncular peck me on the cheek like he’s never known me as anything but his niece, Molly. And my mum comes and gives me a hug, whispers in my ear that, come to think of it, she’s actually kind of proud of me.
I can feel Nan making me brave. Nan who’d once said, Oh, Molly, how could anyone ever’ve mistaken you for a boy? Later when I’ve the chance I’ll read Kieran’s text – maybe it’ll say goodbye forever, but maybe it’ll say he still wants to see me, it’s cool I’m trans, doesn’t change how he feels about me. Or maybe, like, something in between. Whatever, I’ll deal with it. Decide whether to give him another chance. Because I’m not poor confused frightened ‘Jake’ anymore, who’d once spent three weeks in hospital after trying to kill herself – I’m Molly, now and forevermore. No one can make me go back. This is who I am, doesn’t matter what anyone thinks or says, today or any other day. I’m done crying – well, apart from a few tears at today’s funeral, obviously. We’re in the car now, trailing the hearse. A glass box on wheels stuffed to bursting with flowers all around Nan’s coffin. Church soon. Lots of people who’ve not met me as a girl. I’m not saying I’m not scared. But it’ll be okay. And it won’t be long now, maybe less than a year, before all my bits match my soul. Then my life can finally get started; then me and my shiny new vagina can take off into the world, into being myself at last, into who knows what.