What do you want to be when you grow up?

involuntary expression of terror
“Hahaha. Don’t be silly, sweetheart”

A ruler lands sharply on my knuckles. Not a real one. We still get slapped in supermarkets but not with rulers. Don’t be ridiculous.

It’s a microsecond of terror on my mother’s face before she saves it. This is not my first experience of mortal shame. I know what to do.

I will never burn like this again.

I’m watching gender nonsense, the binary. I’m studying. I adapt. I am a boy.

I am safe in here.

I grip the bars. Shame backs out of the room. Soon I forget.

I stare outwards, forgetful, for a decade.

I play sports in public. I read my sister’s magazines in a locked room. I’ve no idea why I’m sneaking around.

I try on some identities: Nikola Tesla, Christopher Hitchens. A decade passes. I move to the country. Ralph Waldo Emerson. Another decade passes.

Back to the city for another try. A Casanova? An entrepreneur? A hot mess?

Nope, nope, nope. Exhaustion.

With cheerful encouragement from someone who sees parts of me that I no longer can, I try on a frock in an op shop and the bars begin to dissolve.

“You look lovely, sweetheart”

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