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I am not a girl. It took me years to realize and come to terms with it, but I am not. No way around it. No technicalities. I am not a girl, and I never was. But I didn’t always know that.

It didn’t matter so much when I was young. After all, boys and girls are treated quite similarly when they are young. And that was good enough for me. Then, around middle school, everything started to change. All of my female friends began to start to express their femininity. They would wear makeup to school, and wore the school uniform skirts in ways they thought looked cute. I, on the other hand, concealed my appearance at every chance with baggy shirts and khaki pants. All I wanted to do was try out for the baseball team, but there were no girls allowed. Looking back, those were probably the first external moments where I realized I was different from some of my peers. Not inherently better or worse, just different. And different can be terrifying to anyone, let alone a middle schooler.

Then, my family moved to California shortly before high school and I decided that high school was the Time. I was going to completely revamp my look. It was high school, after all, and I wanted to be so grown up. I desperately wanted to escape middle school and the memories of feeling awkward in my body, and surely if I just tried hard enough those feelings would pass, right? So I went with my mom to a couple of stores and bought a wardrobe of crop tops and high waisted shorts, all in accordance with the latest girl’s fashion and abandoned the boys clothes I had favored up until then.

I thought that would fix it. I had thought that surely, by wearing what all the other girls were wearing and blending in, I would feel less uncomfortable. Less self-conscious. I was wrong. I didn’t feel at home in my own skin when I was wearing those clothes, and my discomfort not only remained, but began to grow worse and worse. I ended up searching the internet, scrambling for a reason why I didn’t feel complete, and then boom. There it was. For the first time in my life I finally had terms for what I was feeling. Gender dysphoria. I still wasn’t sure, though, so I took a good long look in the mirror and realized something. Something I had overlooked for far too long. I didn’t recognize the girl staring back at me.

I didn’t recognize her because I wasn’t her. Simple as that. She and I were two completely different people with completely different interests. Little did I know, my mom was watching me from down the hall as I gazed despondently into a mirror one day before school. That day, she made an appointment at a hair salon. I had talked about wanting to cut my hair short before, and she thought it would help me feel better. She was right. With every snap of the barber’s scissors I felt a weight lift from my chest. For the first time, I was doing something that would make me comfortable with myself instead of pushing those feelings down and trying to mask and overcompensate. The feeling was liberating.

Years have passed since that day and I can still remember like it was yesterday. After that moment, I decided to make a change. I resolved to be myself, to be authentic, because I couldn’t stand to live for other people anymore. I am not a girl, and I was done pretending like I was.

After so much worrying and contemplation, I came out to my family and closest friends, letting the chips fall where they may, and came out the other side knowing who was truly there for me as a person, and those relationships have only grown stronger as I was finally able to reveal who I really am.

By now, I have come to a really good, calm place in my transition, and I could not be happier. The voices of those who don’t understand or criticize are drowned out by my own happiness and the support of the amazing people around me who accept me for who I am. Just the way I am. And now, when I look into the mirror, I see myself staring right back. The boy staring back is me. I am him.

I was never a girl, even when I was pretending that I was, and that is okay. I needed that girl to protect me until I was ready to face the world. I will be forever grateful for everything she endured. But I am not her. I never was. I am a boy. I am male. I am finally myself.