Artwork by Grey Zuniga

On the cold tile of the singular gender neutral bathroom is where I feel safest. In the luxurious lawn chairs sprinkled throughout campus, sitting alone with the hum of the freeway and the chirping of birds I feel… safe. At least until I feel the confused eyes of peers burning into the back of my head. In the dark library, hiding under a countertop, I feel embarrassed, but I feel safe. With my peers, I feel visible. 

In school, I feel on display. 

On a morning, pregnant with exhaustion from the day before I walk to my circle of people. It is a well worn walk, 87 paces from the entrance to them, I meld with them as they acknowledge me. I ask, as usual, whether my love interest is around like I’m the main character in a precocious fanfiction waiting to be swept off my feet. It’s a normal day, I’m still sleepy and in this moment, I start to relax. Then, out of nowhere in comes a character from subplot B of the poorly written fanfiction that is my life. She walks up to me eagerly, clearly pleased with herself. She greets me as the bell rings and says thank you. I ask, of course, what for? 

“I just wanted to thank you, as you were parking yesterday my grandma saw you pulling up. She said ‘why is that boy in olp uniform?’ the throw away character responds: 

‘Oh they go here grandma’ 

‘Are they letting boys into school now’ 

‘No grandma of course not” 

In my mind’s eye I see the older woman’s eyebrows furrow with concentration, then release with realization. 

“So I just wanted to thank you, Grey, for confusing my grandmother!” 

Initially, I am amused. My existence has baffled a poor older woman who has probably never been able to experience the joy and extravagance of queer culture. I am uncertain as to what my response should be like, that doesn’t exactly make me feel happy, she is beaming at me, in adoration of her own anecdote. I put on my best sassy gay best friend for her and say: 

“Ugh werk grandma! She got my pronouns right, we love that!”

She laughs, satisfied with my response feeling glad I found it as humorous as her, however the moment she leaves the plastered on smile begins to melt off my face. How horrid it is to know what most people think when they see me. The entire interaction doesn’t sit right, but then – in a twist! Another cis person decides they want to share about the discomfort my existence brings! 

The reformed-now-woke-mean-girl turns to me with enthusiasm. 

“Oh hey! That reminds me, Grey. The other day in class someone was saying how they don’t get why someone would go to an all girls school if they identified as he/they.” 

“Oh?” I reply, already feeling the energy being zapped from me. I check my phone as she goes on. 

“Yeah! Well I told her that those people are AFAB, she was just confused about what that meant and I had to explain. How ignorant, right? I can’t believe she doesn’t just google it-” 

It’s only 7:50am, a solid 5 hours before I can run off to safety. 

“It’s like, some people didn’t have the choice to go here! Can you believe that.” 

“Yeah that’s not great.” I reply with as much enthusiasm as I can muster. 

8:10 am and I’m feeling off. I sit in chemistry, trying to find something to do with my hands. I have nothing to fidget with and I attempt to follow along with the lesson. Slowly my energy falls and the words begin to blur together, attempting but failing to infiltrate my mind. I pick up a pencil, thinking drawing might help, and I manage to butcher an attempt at a hand. I look at the words on the page we were supposed to do… something with. I envy their inanimate state. 

An hour or so blurs by and suddenly it’s 9:35 am. Then suddenly I’m anxious, or angry, or nervous, I can’t tell. The meds I take dampen my ability to feel at all, all I know is I’m acutely aware of the fact my chest is not flat. I dash from Second period to the one and only gender neutral bathroom. I struggled with bringing a binder there discreetly, usually I’d hide it in my jacket but I gave it to my A-plot love interest since they spilled coffee on theirs. 

My politeness has made me feel naked.

Instead I am left to shove it in my irritatingly loud paper lunch bag. As I struggle to get it in there the crinkling of the paper mocks me with its deafening noise. I manage to get down to the stairwell and shove the binder down the front of my pants and hunch over to hide the obvious bulge it makes. My back hurts from hunching all the time. 

Finally I make it my safe haven. As I undress I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and flinch. I struggle with the tightness of the binder over my head. I also discovered that my cycle has decided it is a convenient time to appear. Today will be a dysphoric day. 

I stand for a moment adjusting my chest in my binder, trying to get flat while also having the ability to still breathe and not bruise a rib. Images of Pinocchio screaming “I want to be a real boy!” echo in my head, it’s almost humors, because I know I’ll never be a real boy. 

Suddenly I’m outraged. Why the fuck would both of those people say that to me. In what world would it make me feel better to know my very existence bewilders people. My trans identity is not a vessel for entertainment for a throw away B-plot character. And why did I swell with pride at hearing that some ignorant old woman thought I was a boy. Why did I glow at the validation of a random cis person? To the reformed mean girl: why in the world would I give a shit about your performative outrage? You get to feel outraged, I get to feel unsafe, ostracized and shamed for being out. Being friends with cis-feminine-semi queer women does not absolve you of transphobia. 

So early in the morning, I have been explicitly reminded of my transness three times. I am left wondering: how many other people have had conversations about their lack of respect for my pronouns? How many others have squirmed in their seats when I walk by? How many grandmothers have I bewildered? How many people have wanted to tell the tranny to get out of the girl’s bathroom? Yet I must sit here, performing for my cis friends. Coming up with fun and gay sassy remarks about transphobes or ignorant older women. If they come up to me with a fun anecdote about my transness I have to laugh along with them or be an inflammatory-constantly-offended-overly-woke-transgender social just warrior who makes them uncomfortable. People don’t take kindly when you point out their ignorance. 

It is 10:57 am, and I am already exhausted. Breathing heavily from the restricted airflow my binder allows. I sit here, like the other 51% of trans people who have self harmed, wondering how Im going to get through the next 2 and a half hours without scratching off my skin, snapping at the people I love, and how in the fuck and I going to get through my AP world history exam. My safe haven has become my depression den of a room – constantly in darkness, with various clothes strewn around. I don’t know how I can keep doing this for the next month. My days are crawling along. The pride I felt in myself yesterday for exercising and socializing is dwindling as I flail, miserably trying to use my buzzing brain to do anything worthwhile with my day. 

It is 11:01 am and I’m scared to go down to my peers. Afraid of what I may do if my trans-ness is brought to my attention again. I want to cry but my meds numb me off. I feel worthless. I will never be a real boy. 

It is 12:47 pm and I have failed my test. I sat staring at question 13, desperately trying to stop the tears from streaming down my face. 

You’ll never be a real boy 

You’ll never be a real boy 

No one will ever see you as a real boy 

I can’t take it anymore, I walk and head outside to a little table and start to hyperventilate, waiting for an inevitably embarrassing encounter. I am told I must come inside, I must compose myself. I need to be left alone, I need to cry, but I can’t in this school – not without lying about the subject matter that is manufacturing my tears. I sit face down in the back of class burning with embarrassment and shame. Feeling worthless and weak, I reside to hide under the table and do what I can to control the pain. 

Thanks for confusing my grandmother! 

Why would he/they decide to go here? 

I can’t breathe in this binder 

It is 8:57 pm. I came home without my car, weary of my ability to make rational choices. I arrived home at 2:30, and decided to stay awake till a meeting at 3:30. At which point I find myself sobbing into a bowl of cereal. I compose myself and attend my meeting. At which point I tread wearily down stairs, my brother asks if I want to go surfing but seeing my disheveled state chuckles and thinks better of it. My mother enters wearing a trench coat of pity, asking if I’m okay. I don’t know how to respond so I am silent and meek. I go to the garage, and in the lonely futon I find refuge. No one will bother me back here except rats and ghosts. I lay in the sun, feeling the exhaustion set in, no more tears left to cry. I arose three and half hours later, exhausted, covered in a cold sweat and mildly nauseous.

It is 9:06 pm, and I am proud of myself for getting through the day. I cannot think of the consequences of my actions right now, it’s not safe. I try to do homework but begin to sob every time I open up my assignments. Google classroom makes me nauseous. 

I am Grey 

I failed my AP world test 

I have a missing English assignment 

I didn’t pay attention in Chem 

I am Grey 

I will never be a real boy 

I will never been seen as a real boy 

And I don’t know what to do