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For a While by Taylor Bereiter

I am eight years old. My family is getting ready to eat dinner — spaghetti, my favorite. Tonight is a good night. I can feel it.

I’ve been thinking hard about what I’m about to do. I feel electric, like my smile could literally shock someone. I don’t know why I’ve never done this before. It all seems so simple now.

As I get closer, the lack of distance chokes the confidence out of me. I continue approaching my mother with static-charged trepidation and croak a greeting at her with anxious lips.

“Mom …”

“Yes, honey?” my mother says.

My mouth quivers and my knees follow suit. What if she just laughs at me? What if she thinks I’m weird? What if she gets mad? “I … I think I want to be a girl.” For a moment, my shaking body stalls. Adrenaline locks me in place. I wait for a sputtered laugh, a scowl, a disgusted eye. Anything. What I get instead surprises me.

“Sally!” My mother fawns at me. Her smile spreads across her face, wide and innocent, unaware of the severity of my intentions. “Oh, I always wanted a girl! Come on, let’s get you dressed then. You know if you were a girl that’s what I would have named you.”

My mother gushes on, but I am no longer paying attention. I’m about to change my life forever. No more praying to God to wake me up a girl. No more waking up crying because he didn’t.

“Okay! Thanks!” I say incredulously, my deepest wish coming true. I can’t believe it. My mother rushes to her closet and selects a light, faded green dress. I grab a jet-black headband — even though my hair is too short for it to do anything — and some assorted jewelry. Most notably, I take a necklace I’ve pined after for far too long. My mother coos how pretty I am, the way she would over a doll.

Afterward, I rush to my place at the table — against the wall, to the left of my twin brother. I become completely comfortable surrounded by family. If I felt electric earlier, I feel like a thousand bolts of lightning now. Focus. I have to focus. This is a valuable learning opportunity. I turn my attention to my mother.

She twirls her spaghetti onto her fork, wrapping it around the silver prongs several times. I’ve never done that before. I usually just cram everything into my mouth because it’s freaking delicious. I mime her practiced, feminine movements. I’m starting to get the hang of things.

This mirrored dance continues for a few moments, but then the mood shifts. Putting on my mother’s clothes and jewelry doesn’t make the difference that I thought it would. No magical energy rushes through my body like I always dreamed. Being a girl just feels normal.

I look around at the faces of my family. My mother busies herself by waving her hands in ritualistic motion, instructing me on how a girl properly eats spaghetti. Matt, my twin, engages in a staring contest with his plate of food. My dad leans on his elbows, his hand folded against his chin like a marble statue. Greg, my nine-year older brother, pretends not to look at me. He sucks at pretending. I get a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach — things no longer feel normal. They feel uncomfortable. I fidget anxiously in my seat. I just want dinner to be over.

I envy my mother. I want, I wish desperately to have the long curled hair slicked straight by hot metal. I want to inhabit her — crawl inside her body and take it over. But not really. I don’t want her body. I just want out of mine.

After being excused, I immediately take off my mother’s clothes that I’d commandeered. I didn’t like the dull, glaring eyes or the ritualistic twirling of the fork into the spaghetti — far too needless and cumbersome. I hardly got to consume anything at that rate. I make a note to not mention wanting to be a girl again.

I am twelve years old. “God wants us to have this house,” my mother quips. “Piper can come inside finally, instead of being chained up outside of Dad’s, poor dog, and you two will finally have your own rooms.” My mother doesn’t own much, but she’d sell it all if it could somehow give my twin and me a life where we would never know an empty fridge.

I can see the house just down the street as we leave her father’s. We don’t own it yet. Before we can move in, we have to paint the walls and clean the yard. The gravel road crunches beneath our feet as we approach. We start to survey the damage, and I look into my mother’s eyes. They look like dirty Christmas lights, muddy from fear but bright with hope. My mother, Matt, and I have been staying at her father’s house for a year in a small room together. My mother sleeps on the bed, my brother has laid permanent claim to the couch, and I got stuck with the carpet. Our budget doesn’t afford us many choices in housing.

As we get closer, the front yard becomes visible beyond the waist-high grass.

“Oh my god!” my mother shrills. I look to where her eyes are fixated. The upper half of a dog skeleton hangs on the fence, the deceased creature’s bowed ribs clinging to the metal wiring like a hairclip.

The smell of dog urine greets us upon entering. I can’t help but wonder whether the dog from outside caused it. The house contains nearly nothing but still somehow remains in disarray. Several doors are scarred from previous owners, banged in at about kicking or punching height. Pantry doors rest half-opened. The garage contains a washer, a dryer, scattered tools, and copper pipes spread across the floor. A layer of filth coats everything.

We begin to move through the rooms. The one at the end of the hall belongs to me. The smallest room for the smallest child. My mother enters before me.

“Don’t come in here!” she screeches back in panic. I look anyway. Markings litter the walls, enveloping the room. Plastered on the far wall are two crude stick figures in black marker with the words “Jesus” etched above their heads — one with a poorly drawn penis, the other with ballooning breasts. I can’t help but identify with them. I imagine a story for them. A story where the girl, trapped, climbs out of the other to live.

I am fourteen. I’m at my grandmother’s house. My cousins Tina and Jaimee run after me armed with lipstick, chasing me through a domestic battlefield. Eventually the chase leads outside, around the small yard bordered by metal fences and dotted with head-high apple trees. I run back into the house with my two cousins close behind. This battle stretches back a few months. My cousins keep insisting, chasing, strategizing, determined to give me a makeover. I try to not let on that I want one. Today turns out different though. They are more persistent, and I am less.

“Okay, fine. You can do it. But only if you stop trying to give me a makeover ever again afterward,” I offer in mock reluctance. My two assailants eagerly accept the deal. They lead me into the narrow, dimly lit bathroom where the operation will take place. A flurry of hands glides across my face. Eye shadow brushes gingerly onto my eyelids, mascara grips my lashes and fills them out, and glitter smears my cheeks.

Truthfully, I’ve waited a lifetime for this. I’ve wanted my cousins to give me a makeover since the first time they offered, but fear of the social fallout to follow stymied my footsteps into the feminine. This feels like a rite of passage. I wonder what my mother would think if she saw me now.

They finish and step back, admiring their handiwork. I imagine getting to see the girl I’ve so desperately wanted to be since my unanswered pre-adolescent prayers. But I look into the mirror and am greeted instead by a monster. My masculine, jutting brow clashes against my blush-shined cheeks. Light, feathered peach fuzz gives my upper lip a browning glow, even under a thin layer of flesh-colored foundation.

My cousins look at each other, smiling, proud of their work. “Let’s go show everyone!” they exclaim. Shit. I thought I could just wash everything off afterward.

“Come on,” I begin in protest, but there’s not much I can do at this point. They lead me into the front room where my Aunt Rose, Mom, and Grandma are giggling incoherently in a language only sisters and their mother can understand.

“Oh my god!” my grandma laughs upon seeing me. My mother and aunt start laughing too, but in a playful “what-the-hell-is-he-up-to-this-time” kind of way. Even all these years later, my mother still thinks I’m pretending.

I am eighteen. I am a senior in high school. I live with my mother and Matt in the house we resurrected from its ruin.

I’ve been talking to a trans woman online whom I met on a transgender chat support site. Already quite far along into her own transition, she showed me pictures of her from before — a staggering difference. Thinking back on the pictures gives me hope. I know transition is possible now.

She advises me to tell my mother that I need therapy for depression instead of dealing with the stress of coming out to her — a therapist could help me figure out how to do that. “Watch out for the 48-hour rule,” she warns, cautioning me about the coming-out experience. It can take time for things to sink in. Digesting your child’s social deviance can devastate slowly, like rain devouring a cliff.

I pace all around the house in frantic circles, working up the courage to call my mother into the front room to talk to me.

She emerges from her bedroom groggy and waddles her way into the kitchen. She opens the fridge and selects something to eat. I don’t know what. I’m not paying attention. My breathing is heavy, weighed down with anxiety. My mother notices my attempted-calm-yet-frantic nature.

“Something wrong?” she probes with concern, taking a seat on the couch.

“Um, mom, can I … I … can I talk to you for a minute?” My stomach churns like I ate a box of grenades and pulled the pins out. I tremble in anticipation of the explosion.

“Of course, what’s wrong?” she replies.

“I think I need to see a therapist,” I manage to mumble.

“What for?”

Anxiety tenses my throat and my quivering bones betray me into silence. I can’t even look up. Tears flood my face, transforming me into a rattling sprinkler. My mother continues to question.

“What do you want to tell me? You can trust me, I’m your momma,” she attempts to reassure me. “Are you gay?”

Close, I think. The truth is, though, that I am attracted to women, not men. I am pretty sure that makes me a lesbian, but the fact that I can be transgender and a lesbian still seems particularly novel to me. My mother takes my sputtering sobs as consent to further her questioning.

“Do you want to be a girl?” The words hit like hammers. I break. Any lingering confidence in my blood expires. My body shifts into a sob I never knew existed. My whole being commits to crying — an involuntary spasming of terror and grief. My mother knows she guessed correctly.

After I am able to contain myself — though just marginally — I begin to detail events from my past in order to assert legitimacy over my newly sort-of-proclaimed identity.

“Do you remember when I was about eight years old, and I told you that I thought I wanted to be a girl?” I ask.

“No, not really,” my mother replies, a bit dumbfounded despite having been the one to guess my identity in the first place. I have no reason to doubt her though. Her memory is marred by years as well as multiple sclerosis. “I probably just thought you wanted to play dress up,” she continues, her lips limp and serious.

“You said that if I were born a girl that you would name me Sally?” I continue, hoping to spark a memory.

“Yeah, I was going to name you Sally if you were a girl, but I don’t remember what you are talking about still,” she apologizes. I’m not surprised, but I am disappointed she doesn’t remember. Except, a part of me can’t help but think that a part of her doesn’t want to remember.

We talk for a long while. I explain to her what transgender means and how I have felt this way for as long as I can remember, but just within the last few years learned the language necessary to describe my experience. Eventually, my mother makes her support clear.

“You know what, if anyone has a problem with it — fuck ‘em. Just fuck ‘em,” she declares with unbridled love and determination in her eyes, a sturdy pillar full of bite for any bigot that might harm me.

We retire to our bedrooms after a long hug. I slump into my computer chair, not believing what just occurred. I just fucking came out to my mom.

Since that moment, I’ve seen my mother crying. I’ve seen her worrying. I’ve seen her heart deflate against the weight of my identity. My mother, the perfect supporter a few months ago, has deteriorated into a husk of denial. She can’t handle my truth. Not because of who I am, but because of how she thinks the world will treat me. She doesn’t know before and after pictures. She doesn’t know hormones. She just knows that some people only know how to greet difference with a fist.

My mother does not realize that I can handle that. But I can’t handle her crying over me while I’m still alive. It hurts too much. I know it’s all my fault. I’m doing this to her — how cruel to kill her youngest son with a daughter.

We are in the car. My guilt hangs heavy in the air. Silence fills the vehicle, crushing us.

“Are you … are you still going to do it?” my mother asks with a tremble in her throat. “Please, please don’t do it. I can’t handle the thought of you having a sex change when you go off to college in Hawaii.” She doesn’t understand still — I’ve never mentioned anything about surgery. I’m interested in hormones.

Tears begin to rust on my mother’s cheeks. They spilled out a while ago but I didn’t notice. Her pain feels palpable. Cold. Like my coming out of the closet sucked the warmth from her. My plans for transitioning in Hawaii seem futile now. I can’t bring myself to blast this fragile pillar of a woman to rubble.

“Uhh … no, I’m not. Just … just, um … just forget I ever told you that.”

And we did.

For a while.

About the Author

Taylor Bereiter is a graduating senior majoring in Creative Writing and minoring in queer studies. Taylor identifies as a queer trans woman and goes by she/her pronouns. Taylor enjoys her time doing people things, like staring out of windows and breathing. In her free time, she also enjoys existing places.