HE • by Kyle Ross

He stares at his nude self in the bathroom mirror. He runs his fingers from his neck down his chest and over his breasts. They’re gentle, fragile, moving across his skin as if one wrong touch and he would break. He isn’t a porcelain doll; he isn’t a doll at all. His wide hips mock him from the base of an hourglass figure. There’s a frown on his face as his hands lower to his thick hairless thighs and he bends over to cradle his knees. He doesn’t hate his body. He hates what it’s missing.

He picks up a piece of fabric from the floor. This item has become his best friend in recent months. He pulls the tight fabric over his head, struggles to get his hands through. It traps around his neck. He tries to catch his breath. Anxiety boils up in his throat; churning his stomach, burning from the inside out as the scratchy spandex rubs his skin raw. He struggles. What if this time he truly gets stuck? How humiliating it would be to call for his mother, shirtless, and struggling with the one item he knows she despises. With one hand scrambling under the curled bottom edge, he tries to yank his other hand through. Eventually, he gets there.

He shrugs on a pair of boxers, jeans, and a t-shirt. It’s summer and the sun boils the afternoon sky. There are many things he wishes he could do but without support, it’s nearly impossible until his 18th birthday.

Mother looks up at him from the dining table as he walks by downstairs, calls him by a name that no longer has meaning to him. She uses pronouns that make his stomach flip. It’s 1:17pm. They leave to run her errands: return a dress at the mall, buy water-softening salt at the depot, stop at the Kosher market for meat. Conversation between them is nonexistent. For one day, maybe they can go without an argument over who he is. Mother believes that she knows best; she doesn’t know him as well as she assumes she does. She isn’t in his head, doesn’t hear the thoughts that run untamed through his mind.

He stares out the window of the moving car. People pass by on the streets, carrying beach chairs and pails as they walk towards the shore. Men are shirtless and no one gives them a second glance. Men like him can’t walk shirtless. He hasn’t gone swimming in the past few years; can’t stomach the thought of wearing a bikini or a one-piece. One day, he will swim again and the only stares he’ll get will be focused on scars across his chest.

She tells him he must grow out his hair for his aunt’s wedding — a cisnormative ideal that defines the girl as a giver of nature and beauty. He didn’t want to be the flower girl, not because he hates flowers or the obvious. It’s the idea of all eyes on him, querying his form. He doesn’t want to give his mother the idea that maybe someday, he’d be in the white dress to follow the fallen petals. He wants to stay away from the family that preaches inclusivity, yet never practices it. The Torah is hypocritical like that, and they are dutiful followers. The word ‘no’ does not pass his lips. He is too scared to say otherwise. The word gets trapped in his chest, constantly aware of the pressure that rests there. He shifts, trying not to show his adjustment.

He is obedient through the chores, carrying heavy bags of salt like the dutiful son he wishes she saw. The rest of their time together is like the end of a dropped phone call. Both sides hear static. He retires to his bedroom as the day lulls over. The walls are still pink from when he was younger. Despite him asking to repaint them a more neutral color, both of his parents have said no. He has never been given a reason why.

He told his parents he was a boy. They told him he couldn’t be.

He smiles, however, as the day finally comes to rest and he’s able to feel the relief of taking off his binder. He loves it, yes, loves how it turns bumps to pecs. But, god, it hurts. The pain is worth it. People say beauty is worth pain, but masculinity is too.

Summer days come and go. They are grey, like his binder, and boring, like his time. The heat wraps around his little town and suffocates it. He’s the one suffocating the most, but no one notices. The weather forecaster does not share solace for the boys out there, like him, where the heat of the sun beats down on them with no relief.

He looks at himself again, back in the mirror. His fingers rub across his smooth jawline and cheekbones. He folds up his binder, coughs to release the fluids that may have built up in his lungs. Dangerous, yes, but a little sacrifice compared to his confidence.

He thinks this world is dangerous in and of itself. Wearing a binder is not more dangerous than crossing the street. Both can lead to broken ribs. Being trans is the risk he takes every day; to love himself, to fight for existence against a society that says ‘no’. He wonders when people will understand, he and so many others, just want to be happy in their own skin. He sighs and waits for a better future.

He falls asleep to dreams of a future where all mentions of him as ‘she’ drift into the sea. He wades into the ocean, the waves licking at his flat chest. If he could wish them goodbye, he would. His old name and pronouns soon turn to mist. And he hopes that one woman out there, like him, who needs these catches them and loves the name he never could.

Kyle Ross currently lives and writes in Boston, MA where he is completing his final year at Emerson College. He lives with his cat, Tetra, who inspires him daily.

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