The Girl Inside My Head

The Girl Inside My Head

The girl inside my head is thrashing around. Anger for the first time in my life which is thick – and – fucking tired. 
The air is salty from the calm waters that stick out in my view. Bodies around me l glisten with sweat and tanning oil as i take a hit from the spliff that is passed to me. “I wish I could take off my top”. Just do it! I yell “I’m doing the same thing” i giggle pulling down my bathing suit top to show the pods of fat upon my chest that are growing into breasts. “Ya..” … “But it’s different for you.” 

The air becomes sweltering as the girl inside of my head thrashes around, screaming loudly as I breathe deeply. I run to the water and dive below into the cold caress of her embrace as I hold my head underneath counting until I feel sane again. One Mississippi two Mississippi three Mississippi four…
The girl inside of my head thrashes around as I am told I am not real

The girl inside of my head trashes around as I am told that my body is unwanted, undesirable, unfuckable.

The girl inside of my head thrashes around as the girl across the club mouths to her friend “that’s a dude…” And I shutter as I feel his gripped hand slip from my ass as he pulls away and looks at me like he wants to kill me. 

He doesn’t kill me. I’m lucky tonight.

He shakes his head and walks away. the girl inside of my head continues to thrash around as the blue lights on the dance floor of aurora illuminate me and make my tiny breasts look puny.

But you see there is nothing wrong with my body. No, when the goddess created me she got EVERYTHING right. My love for myself is an act of a defiance in a world that aims to destroy me.. To belittle me.. To squash my existence.

I will not yield. I’m tired – but I will not yield. My transness is the very essence of who I am. It’s my truth. 

The girl inside my head is thrashing around and she will continue to thrash until the last bit of truth leaves my mouth for the bodies and mouths who were silenced too early on. 

Because you see this is for leelah acorn and Islan nettles and every single trans girl killed directly or indirectly by a culture that tells us we are wrong. I am beautiful. You are beautiful. They were beautiful too. 

A Response to The Orlando Massacre

A Response to The Orlando Massacre

 Last week everything was different. Last week I was a one-woman-show crying for my own pain and no one else. This week my body is enmeshed in the pain of the brothers and sisters who were attacked, silenced, and defiled. Our sadness is valid and our anger is righteous. The sun streams into the room as the curtains flitter from the soft flow of humming air that comes from the fan next to my face. I groggily open my eyes and see Justin standing on the other side of the bed “there was a mass shooting last night. Fifty people are dead. It was at a gay club.” His face is heavy and solemn. It takes me a few minutes to register what he just told me as I lie in bed, struggling to move my body.

A gay club.. We were just talking about going to pride this weekend, both of us queer club-rats. I slowly walk down the stairs and sit on the couch. We watch the news together and listen as the facts roll in. the body count is fluctuating, the news is refusing to call this massacre a hate crime, our blood pressure rising as they continue spinning their islamophobic news narrative.

“Love is Love!” I see this status posted by a girl I went to high-school with who used to hook up with the guys who called me a fag. “We are all one!” I see this status right underneath the love is love status, posted by a middle aged housewife I’m friends with on facebook.. Is she a family friend? I can’t remember. But I do remember that just last week she posted an article about HB-2, the bill that would prohibit me from using the women’s bathroom if I decided to go to North Carolina. She included a little blurb which read “I can see both sides to this debate!”

These are the people who want to be called allies.  You know what I’m talking about. The people who gave themselves a rainbow filtered facebook photo and posted an arbitrary prayers for orlando status. The People who have a gay cousin, or uncle, or kid in their school who sat behind them in one class three years ago. They come to pride with their boyfriends and families; snapping pictures of drag queens or searching for a GBF, laughing at their boyfriend as he hurls one slur after another after another “did you see that faggot try to touch me? What the fuck” he drunkenly screams as he smokes his cigarette outside of the dark lady, a rainbow flag flying above his head. His girlfriend says “he isn’t a homophobe though.. He’s just drunk”

“It wasn’t a hate crime, it could have happened anywhere”.

But it didn’t. It didn’t happen anywhere. It happened in our safe space, a space where my body is at home and goes unchecked and un-clocked. A space which is all-too-imperfect, full of our own slurs and our divisions and our own issues; still, a space that is our own built by us for us.

Just a week ago, I was dancing on the dimly lit dance floor of the dark lady as other happy queers jumped up and down next to me, my skin gleaming with sweat as I laughed into the face of my best friend. My first time in a gay club in my hometown since I’ve transitioned, I feel like the out-of-place older sister as I dance around and laugh with the gay men who grab my ass and scream “yes queen” into my face. Imperfect, but still our own space. A week later I’m back on that same dimly lit dance floor. I’m not dancing though and my skin isn’t gleaming with sweat. There is no laughter. I anxiously wait for the bartender to give me my drink and I find myself pacing around the dance floor. “Ok there’s an exit over there.. But it would be too easy for someone to come in through that entrance over there.. I guess I could duck over there but then what about that window over there?” I’m having a conversation in my head, tipsily trying to figure out my survival plan.

Hot wax drips down my hand as the mayor commends us for our bravery as we cry together under a shroud of candle-light. I don’t feel brave. I don’t feel strong. I am scared. I am angry. Stop asking us to stay safe. Stop calling us brave. Make this world safe for us. Do better.

Love & Lust

The summer sun streams through the windows, illuminating the parts of our bodies that are uncovered. I can’t take my eyes off of Thiago who is fast asleep after a night of drinking and dancing. It’s how we’ve spent most of our nights in the four weeks that we’ve been together. If we aren’t partying then we’re fucking or sleeping.

I lean over and watch as his chest rises and falls, tracing his smooth, tanned skin with my fingertips, outlining every muscle and crevice. I shift my body close enough to him that I can feel his warm sleeping breath on my neck. His brown curls are matted to his forehead with sweat from the heat that fills his small bedroom. The floor is littered with the clothes we stripped from each others bodies last night, my jeans and tank top are crumpled into a ball that peaks out from underneath the bed.

Naked, I stumble over to the small desk and light a Dunhill cigarette from the pack that sits there, inhaling deeply as I wait for the ancient computer to turn on. My mom has written to update me on news back in Rhode Island. She tells me that everyone is doing well, they’ve been inundated with snow again, and that the O.J. Simpson trial started today.

Remnants of a life I no longer recognize.

We met on a crowded street in Lapa, a boho club district in downtown Rio. The thick humidity caused sweat to pool on my back and chest and the scent of weed and cigarette smoke was everywhere as bachata music from the surrounding clubs boomed in the streets where people stood and sat with beers. His shirt was off and his chest gleamed with sweat as he smiled at me and handed me a lighter as I put a cigarette in my mouth. I wanted to giggle as he brought the lighter to my face. We danced all night the first time we met and never parted ways. The silence between us is comfortable and we speak through the motions of our bodies instead of through words; partly because of his broken English and my broken Portuguese.

I stub out the cigarette and reach for the joint in the ashtray. I scroll through more emails and see the confirmation for my airplane ticket home in two weeks. I don’t want to leave but the semester ended weeks ago and there aren’t any options for me to stay. I open up the window to try to let some air into the sweltering room. I sit on the chair naked and smoke the joint while I stare at Thiago. My stomach flutters whenever I look at him but today it feels like it is filled with lead. I have to figure out how to tell him that I’m leaving in two weeks. Or I don’t.

Thick smoke hangs in the still air as I climb back into the bed and wrap my arms around his thick warm body. I want him to hold me and kiss me and to continue exploring each other bodies. My eyes move from his chest – smooth and warm pressed partly against my breasts – and up to his face. His eyelashes are longer than mine almost touching his cheeks which rest high upon his face like tiny figs. I move my arms from out beneath the sheets and begin tracing his full lips. I want to run my fingers through his curls but stop myself anxious not to wake him up just yet.

The room is almost silent except for the chirping of the birds and the yawn of the ceiling fan fluttering above our heads. Nothing is helping me to escape from the revolving flow of thoughts that pervade my mind as I lie in bed. I want to get out of this bed, pack my bags, and slip away. I want to freeze time so that we never have to leave this momentary bliss. I want everything to work out so that no one is hurt. Each potential solution I’ve thought of has fallen apart moments later when reality struck.

His eyes begin to open “Bom Dia, Bonita”. We smile at each other and embrace; our bodies becoming one. His mouth opens in pleasure as my legs open to his touch. We move through the bed and tangled sheets and I look into his eyes full of lust and love. Today isn’t the day. Not yet, not right now.

Girl-Child

 

One of the biggest cliches of all time is that you never really know what you had until it’s out of your reach. When I finally reached the point where I could no longer deny who I knew I’d always been, hidden under years of carefully curated suppression and compartmentalization, I couldn’t wait to throw off my boyhood and jump onto my path to womanhood; a world of its own that I had been silently longing to enter for my entire life. I realized fairly early on in life that with each loss comes a heightened state of consciousness; experiencing a death for the first time, having your heart broken by a lover, or realizing you’ve outgrown a place or person.

There are also the happier occasions that create growth; falling in love, experiencing life in a place completely unlike any place you’ve ever been before, or the excitement that comes with shedding one part of yourself so that a new one can be born. I was eighteen when I lived abroad for the first time ripping my roots from the soil my family had lived on for over a hundred years.

I didn’t ever think I’d miss anything about my boyhood but how can you prepare to miss something that you’ve never gone without? It’s been the small actions of being a boy that I’ve found myself crying over on nights when I allow myself to wallow in self pity; just for a moment. Not having to wear a shirt on the beach, being able to take a walk at night without wondering which is the safest route to take, tensing up and moving your hand towards the phone in your pocket as a man walks past you on a dark street. Coming into your own is a painful process but we don’t often talk about the pains that come with waking up to a new sense of self.

Most people would not assume that an epiphany, the catalyst into a new life journey, would begin by binge watching an Amazon series inside of a cramped and hot apartment in a country that’s not your own. I’m not most people, so it made perfect sense to me, when after watching the second season of transparent in thirty four hours, I walked into the bathroom of the hot and cramped apartment I was staying in, grabbed a razor from the cabinet, lathered my face with thick shaving cream, and began shaving my face. I had been growing out my facial hair for the last five months. It had been my last attempt to cling to any shred of masculinity I might have.

In New York I didn’t feel the impulse or desire to appear masculine in any way, but studying abroad in Rio, I kept running into situations where my gender was called into question. After shaving the thick-black-hair off of my face I looked in the mirror and did what seemed most natural at the time; I grabbed a tube of dark red lipstick and applied it to my lips.

So much of that part of my transition seems distant and hazy. I remember putting on the lip-stick in the mirror, the episode of Transparent I watched when the thoughts started circling my mind until I broke out in tears, and the cigarettes I smoked; smoking one after another as I sat on the edge of the small terrace in my apartment, sweating in the oppressive humidity. I put the cigarette in between my lips and lit it. I inhaled a deep drag from the marlboro gold and looked out into cloudless night sky wondering where my journey as a boy ended and my life as a girl-child began. The sun was slowly coming up, the sky still dark enough that the lights from the buildings dotting the skyline were visible through a thick haze. I exhaled and ran my hands over my smooth and naked face. The heat combined with the screaming anxiety I felt inside, over making this leap kept me up for that entire night and the next four days.

A week after I came out as a trans woman I packed my bags, got on a plane, and went back home. Five months in one of the most special places I’ve ever been to was over but all I could feel was a release. I kept waiting for the moment where I would break down and be full of nostalgia and sadness over leaving but I couldn’t look back. On my last day in Rio I sat on the beach before heading to the airport, taking in the mountains and the ocean and I knew that Rio no longer looked like me. It was the best place for Marco and the city nurtured that part of me and even celebrated it, but with the birth of Nika and my girlhood it was time to go onto new chapters and to discover a new horizon.

When I left New York during the summer of 2014 to go back home before leaving for Rio the city seemed like a much different place to me. New York has a habit of changing with or without you and the ever changing landscape can sometimes make one feel hopelessly small and insignificant. Before I left New York I knew that I needed a temporary break from the city because it was no longer serving me the way I felt I needed to be served. Hindsight is always 20/20 and I realize now how entitled that state of mind was but I couldn’t handle being here anymore and so I ran into the arms of another lover and stayed there until I was ready to come back. My identity was breaking down and becoming frailer with each summer day spent in my apartment in Queens and a sense of dread was permeating my mind. For some reason New York is not the city where I was able to fully see myself. Finding clarity in the chaos of New York is a perplexing challenge that I took on every day

It was freezing and grey out the day I made the four hour trip from Rhode Island back to New York. It had been over five months since I’d been back and for the first two hours I slept in the back of the car. As we approached the George Washington Bridge all of the baggage I thought was still waiting for me in New York dissipated and it felt like I was moving here for the first time. I was seeing everything through new eyes; the smog hanging over the Manhattan skyline, The Empire State building becoming visible as you drive into the thick blanket of haze, and the reflection of the sun on the Hudson. I felt like the city was opening up its arms to welcome me home. The anger and frustration I had felt for New York when I was last here during the hazy summer months was gone and I was ready to hit the streets as a new woman in pursuit of life in New York.

It’s been five months since I socially transitioned and came back to Lang and time has continued to spin out of my control as I move on from one phase of my life to another. There are days when I catch myself staring at men on the train with their legs spread wide open, taking up an extra seat, as the rest of us try to quietly find a space for ourselves. I was certain of myself before I transitioned, gaining confidence and sexual freedom as a young gay boy. Now I’m starting all over again and when I think about it too much it feels like a crushing weight is closing in on my head. The impulse to scream until the weight releases is one I may, on occasion, give into within the quiet walls of my bedroom.

These are the moments where I become angry and nostalgic for the days when I lived as Marco instead of Nika who sits crushed between two people, who has her legs tightly crossed so as to not take up anymore space than I have already taken, who doesn’t wish to be a nuisance in spaces that aren’t made for her. But there is a price to be paid if you want to live a life of full happiness and so I guess this is what it costs. I thought coming out would make all of my anxieties go away, and in some ways it did but navigating the world is a series of upsets and small anxieties and so I’ve chosen to navigate those things in New York.

Rio seems to be a city that captures anyone who visits it and either sends them spiraling into a love affair with all it has to offer or sends the visitor running home, unable to look past the chaos of the city, and into the beauty of its imperfections and flares. Coming to Rio the first time around was nothing but a pit stop as I waited to head to Europe, specifically London, a place I had dreamt of traveling to my whole life. Alas, the universe had a different plan in mind for me and in the course of two months my heart burst open and an overwhelming love for the city, its culture, and its people was planted inside of my soul. Throughout my life I have struggled to find a community that “looks” like me, that truly sees me and understands me. When I got to Rio I felt like I found my community and my tribe. And when I left my heart was broken and I was certain I would never feel such bliss, happiness, and love again.

I stood up, brushing the white sand off of my tiny speedo, and walked down to the ocean. The waves were smashing against the stand, pulling people in, and then spitting them out. I waded into the water and let it cover my thighs, while I looked at the setting sun. The sky was full of pink, orange, and purple hughes, falling over the favelas that circled above the city, sitting perched on the green mountains that dotted this playground city. I had shaved my legs for the first time in six years that morning and the water splashing against them made me feel slimy and soft the way a jelly fish feels if you’ve ever touched one. Christmas was coming in three days; my first christmas away from my family. Walking into my womanhood in a country whose language I didn’t speak or fully understand, in a country that looked like me in some ways but still wasn’t completely home away from my family and those who knew me best.

All of these things overwhelmed me in a way I had never experienced before. Maybe it was being so far away from everything I knew, maybe it was the paralyzing heat, maybe it was the space cakes I ate on an empty stomach, or maybe it was a combination millions of smalls factors that exploded within me; but it was on that beach, standing in the south atlantic ocean, that I made a promise to myself to enter 2016 as Nika, leaving Marco behind in this city.

During my last two weeks in Rio, I ran wild through the city trying to hold onto the freedom and anonymity I had in a place where so few people knew me. The beach was overwhelmed with people and to a visitor this might seem like too much to handle; to the locals and the people who made this city their chosen home, it was normalcy and as good as it gets. The brightly colored umbrellas were banging up against each other from one end of the beach to the other, people laying out, some roasting in the sun with oil covering their faces and bodies, others sitting under the cool shade, sipping capirinhas; a local drink made from sugar cane, vodka, and lime. I had just eaten my third space cake sold to me by a young guy with dreads and washboard abs. He told me to split each one with a friend because they were so potent but mind numbing potency was exactly what I desired.

Within the following days I began making good on that promise slowly coming out to a select few friends but unable to leap into the next step of telling my family about this realization. I wasn’t ashamed and I wasn’t scared of what their reaction would be, but a permeating sense of guilt overtook me every time I thought of telling my family that I was a woman. It was as though that by telling them I was a woman I was in turn robbing them of a brother, a son, a nephew, etc. All of the things they thought they knew about me were going to unravel and I wasn’t ready to micromanage their unraveling while dealing with my own rebirth. It’s now been three months since I’ve come out and everyone knows. If they had any unraveling to do they did it without burdening me and left me to navigate this path in the openness of New York.

By happenstance I came upon Rio de Janeiro; I don’t mean to say that I discovered this city or put it on the map for others. I ran through a list one day of cities and countries I wanted to travel to and somehow Rio ended up on that list. When I planned my trip there, it was to be a two month pit stop, before I headed to England for the rest of my gap year. Two years later and I’ve been back twice now, unable to shake the geography and sounds of that city from my psyche. Clarity came in the form of coming out as gay my first time in Rio, where much like my second time there, I was surrounded by a group of twenty-something-year-old volunteers, and much in the same way as the second time, I was basking in the sun in a speedo when my consciousness rose to the surface and washed me anew.

It’s been months since I’ve been back in New York and the honeymoon phase of coming out has worn off and at night I find myself lying in bed wondering how to get back to the sense of clarity and purity I always feel when I’m abroad. In Brazil I thought I had prepared myself for the obstacles that come with being not only a woman but a trans woman. But how do you prepare yourself to fight in a battle when you’ve never experienced one before. This isn’t to say that navigating the world as a gay person wasn’t difficult but being a man was the most carefree experience of my life and there are days that I want that sense of security back.

There’s a real danger in romanticizing the things that matter to you, something I’ve thought about a lot in the time that I’ve been back in New York. I look back on my semester in Rio and I see someone who was blissfully happy but also entirely conflicted, struggling internally not to boil over like a tea kettle. These days I am so caught up in the moment as my body and mood changes so frequently, I barely have time to look back and long for anything that once was; I only want to look forward right now unable to pause for moments full of nostalgia. I knew that saying goodbye to my life as Marco would be a jarring process but I didn’t realize how long it would truly take. There are still pieces of him that follow me around but I trudge forward anyway. I said goodbye to twenty years of boyhood on a sunny beach in a loud and beautiful city. Out with the old and in with the new;it’s the perfect way to survive and flourish in New York.

Coming back to New York has been an experience in which I’ve silently mourned one loss and loudly celebrated my own rebirth. Layers of anxiety and confusion lifted and I’ve been in a process of growing exponentially in the warm embrace of my community of friends and peers alike within the comforts and safety of Lang. My hair is longer, pods of flesh are visible beneath my shirt as my breasts begin growing, and the essence of my being feels completely renewed and different as I walk through the halls of a place where I can process the loss of losing a part of myself I wasn’t completely ready to say goodbye to. Even with the nastiness and sadness, the confusion and internalization of everything trans people face, I wouldn’t go back in time and do anything differently. The pain has been a necessary one; one that has literally given me life and set me on a path to higher consciousness and a healthier life, so that even if I am in the chaotic quietness of Rio or the rapidly changing landscape of New York, I can continue to find the space to breathe and shift my identity as I see fit.

The Elusive Fourth

I should have known that going to Amy Frishman’s Fourth of July party was going to be a mistake, but the thought of spending the day in our small backyard with my family, prying aunts and drunk uncles included, was just too much to bear. I should have stayed in New York and gone to a club or Washington Square Park or my sisters annual house party at her apartment in Queens.

It was the searing summer heat that drove me crazy. The hot cement and waves of rotting trash hitting me in the face as I walked down Sixth Avenue or 14th street or down Myrtle-Wyckoff to get to my apartment. The sounds of Dominican and Puerto Rican children laughing and screaming to their mothers and calling for their friends was enough to make me completely homesick.

I booked my bus ticket at four in the morning, dragging my bags through Port Authority in the early morning, before the city was fully awake, leaving it as though I was running away like a thief in the night.

With the bus driving out of the city I turned in my seat and twisted my neck to look out the window. My favorite part about driving out of the city is watching as the Empire State Building becomes almost invisible behind the thick haze of smoke and fog that seems to penetrate the city more than usual during July. As the bus journeyed past the strip malls and green pasture farmland of Connecticut, making its way into the boonies of Rhode Island to reach Providence, I heard a quiet scream inside the back of my mind. I put my headphones into my ears and blast my music, fading in and out of consciousness for the four hours it will take to get home.

Is July the hottest month of the year in New York? I’m not sure, but this year it’s felt that way. Sweat pools inside my bra, making its way down my chest and into my pants as I lazily walk back to my apartment after sleeping with Jarrod. He’s been one of my summer-fuck-buddies; one of the guys I give head to and let fuck me in exchange for the comfort I find in his arms. The same comfort I find in any guy if they choose to look past my dick.

It’s been a year since I’ve been home and the most that my friends in Rhode Island know about my transition is from the instagram posts and occasional texts we exchange. Erin Borque is the only one I’ve stayed in contact with, but even that has become irregular. Being away from home makes it easy to shut people out, but Erin didn’t give up. It was a text from her that prompted me to come home; a message full of emojis begging me to come home for the weekend for her family’s annual pig roast.

Coming out was a gradual experience but the moment I declared myself a woman the people around me radically shifted their perceptions of me. Not all of those perceptions changed negatively, but the change from an effeminate gay boy to a young woman immediately placed me in view of the straight men in my life. The football players who might have called me a faggot in high school suddenly became confused when they started getting boners as I walked by them in a mini skirt and crop top, my fleshy thighs and budding breasts titilising their boyish minds.  I had spent years building up barriers to keep them out, neither lovers nor friends.

I was certain of myself before I transitioned, gaining confidence and sexual freedom as a young gay man. Now I’m starting all over again and when I think about it too much it feels like a crushing weight is closing in on my head. The impulse to scream until the weight releases is one I may, on occasion, give into.

The bus pulls into Kennedy Plaza and comes to a jolting halt, flinging me forward in my seat. Passengers grumble and yawn collectively as they grab their bags from the overhead bins and make their way off of the bus. I descend the steps into the damp humidity that looms over the city. Placing my bag down I fumble for the pack of Marlboro twenty sevens and grab the spliff I rolled last night; there’s no way I’m starting off this visit sober.

In New York I’m one of the hot girls. My olive-tanned-skin and long locks of silky brown hair give me some kind of Sophia Loren allure. I’ve been on hormones for six months and the full effects are taking over my body; warm pockets of fat forming on my thighs and my butt, my boobs filling out my bras for the first time. My skin is softer and smells like the coconut oil I lather on myself every night.

When I’m in Rhode Island, around the people who knew me before I started visibly acting as the woman I’ve always been, I am reminded of the crushing inadequacies of this body I inhabit. But still, there is an odd comfort in the embrace of arms which are warm and familiar.

My dad pulls up to the bus station and rolls down the window as I walk towards him “How’s my girl doing?” he asks with a toothy smile. I get into the car and lean over to hug him before buckling up.

The car-ride is almost entirely silent; it’s the first time in months I’ve heard birds, their high pitched songs ringing through the air. I roll down my window to let the breeze flow through my hair, staring at the elm trees that line the streets of College Hill, forming a green and yellow canopy. My dad parks the car outside the house, grabbing my bag for me, walking behind as I swing open the screen door. The oakwood floors have gleams of light bouncing off of them; illuminations from the stain-glass window in the hallway. The smell of garlic frying in olive oil moves through the house and I see the back of my mother’s body; she is cooking food for the family gathering tonight.

I quickly walk up the stairs, unwilling to talk to anyone until I take a bath. I turn on the faucet and sit on the toilet seat watching as the water splashes against the rose colored tub. I like my bathwater to be almost too hot – hot enough that I have to lower each part of my body into the water gingerly. The idea is to fill the tub with hot enough water to steam the bathroom until my mind numbs. These days I can’t take a bath unless the water is full of soap suds and bubbles. I reach for the lavender body wash in the cabinet beneath the sink and pour the bottle into the tub, watching as the suds gather and grow, spreading out across the surface of the steamy water, thick and foamy.

The bubbles add scent to the tub, but they also serve as a way for me to cover the parts of my body I can’t stand to see. I inhale deeply letting the scents of lavender and eucalyptus fill my nose and chest. I shift the bubbles with my hands trying to move them towards my groin to cover any trace of my dick; my flesh looks pink and wrinkled beneath the surface of the water. I close my eyes and gnaw at the inside of my cheeks, easing my head down into the steaming water and letting it wash over my face, holding my breath and counting to ten before coming back up for air.

The towels my mother left for me in the bathroom are soft and smell like the tide laundry detergent she’s used for as long as I can remember. I grab another towel and wrap it around my head, tucking in the tufts of wet hair that stick out on the sides. Walking into my bedroom I throw myself onto my bed and reach for my IPhone. There’s a message from Erin Borque “Are you home yet?? You better be coming thru to Amys party tonight! Pregame at my parents pig roast! Can’t wait to see you.”

Erin is part of the group of girls I was friends with in high school, the kind of girl who would defend me when the guys made homophobic comments behind my back. She’s one of the few girls I know who can still look beautiful even when I am holding her thick dirty-blonde-hair as she pukes into a toilet at Seaweeds bar or in the bushes behind Jeremy Goldman’s pool house. We haven’t seen each other since I’ve transitioned; I haven’t seen anyone besides my family since I’ve transitioned. Going to college in another state allowed me the excuse to avoid seeing people. “I’m so swamped with work” I could tell them, or “I can’t spend money on the bus ticket right now.” It was a necessary act of self-preservation; the only way in which I could give birth to Gia and say goodbye to Giovanno.

The name change was simple enough, all I had to do was change a vowel in my name. It was a symbolic act for me, where in an Italian American household with my father speaking in his broken English, even something as small as a vowel can turn a word from masculine to feminine.

I peel the towel off of my still damp body and throw it onto the floor, walking to the window to let in the late afternoon breeze. Sunlight pools into the room and the smell of fresh cut grass wafts around. I reply to Erin’s text to let her know I’ll be at the party tonight. Opening my bureau drawer, I pull out a bathing suit. It’s my first bikini, one I bought last summer before I told anyone I was trans. The top is hot pink and snug on my chest. The bottoms are black and high waisted. I do a quick tuck of my penis before slipping on the bottoms, I’ll adjust it before I go the party, securing the tuck with athletic tape so I can walk freely without any trace of my dick being visible.

I turn around and arch my back, looking at my butt. Estrogen gave me an ass – meaty and plump. It caused a layer of fat to form over the entire surface of my body, giving me gleaming skin. My chest, at first swollen nipples that were warm to the touch, have formed into full grown boobs. It’s the most obvious physical sign of my womanhood and it’s catapulted me into the view of the guys around me. Tonight is the first time I’ll be visible around the boys who knew me as Gio. Luckily most of them don’t even remember who I am and the idea that I might pass as their embodiment of a woman is both exciting and nerve-wracking. Even with the crippling anxieties of being fetishized or rejected I have found ways to turn my body into currency in ways that give me some fucked up version of authority over myself.

But then there are the smaller markers of my body that make me visibly trans and undesired. My small but visible adam’s apple, the bulge on my groin that sometimes appears if I don’t tuck correctly, or my voice which is deep and raspy. I’m hesitant every time I make out with a guy, afraid that his tongue or mouth will make its way to the patches of stubble on my face. The rejection is almost always subtle enough that their knowledge of my transness isn’t verbally communicated. A quiet wince slips from their mouth, they stop kissing me and look at me curiously, before stepping back and quietly walking away, feigning the need for a drink or a cigarette: an easy escape. I thought I would get used to the rejection, but it’s crushing every time. It reduces me to the little girl-child who was rejected by the boys and called a sissy.

I never tell my girlfriends the full truth about my experiences with boys, leaving out the painful details and filling in the ones I wish had existed. Internalizing the rejection and confusion is damaging enough, but to recount the harrowing sense of being an object is too new to me to share with anyone. Instead I lie and make myself look like I’m in control of my body – that I enjoy blowing random guys who only stay if I don’t take my pants off, that I enjoy being felt up and groped on by guys who can’t look me fully in the eyes as they’re inside of me. I lie to my friends so much I’ve begun to believe my fabrications myself, blurring the lines between fact and fiction.

I finish putting on my bathing suit and begin pushing through clothes in my bags, searching for the bottle of estrogen; small blue pills I put underneath my tongue twice a day and will continue to take for the rest of my life. Pouring the contents of my bag onto my bed I reach for the red mini skirt and a white crop top I bought from Forever 21 and put them on. I play with my hair for a bit, trying to decide if I look too masculine with my hair piled high on my head in a messy bun. It’s certainly the more appropriate decision in this heat, but I opt to leave it down, framing my face with a kind of mystery that keeps me guarded enough to have fun tonight.

I mingle with my parents in the kitchen for a bit, exchanging small talk while my mom continues cooking and my dad preps the food for the grill. Grabbing the keys off of the kitchen table, I give them each a kiss goodbye and hop in the car, driving the short distance to Erin’s house. My anxiety begins to lift as I drive. I reach for a cigarette in the pack in the console, lowering the window as I light it. I inhale the smoke deeply letting it glide out of my mouth as I turn onto the Blackstone boulevard, a long tree lined road that has old money homes on either side of the street; homes where doctors, lawyers, and professors live. I pull onto Erin’s street and park my car. The party is already full and I immediately spot Erin standing with some people drinking beer and smoking cigarettes on the sidewalk – Natalie Caputo, Alex Ricci, and Jamie Gordon.

Before getting out of my car I look into the rearview mirror wiping the sweat off of my forehead and combing my fingers through my hair, pulling out a few strings, thick and brown, which I flick onto the passenger seat. As I begin walking across the street my heart starts beating; it feels like the wings of a humming bird are flapping away inside of my chest. I can’t tell if it’s because I’m excited to see my friends after so long or because Jamie Gordon is standing there with them. I’ve been silently lusting after him for as long as we’ve known each other but he was always out of my reach as one of the straight dudes who I lingered near but never really spoke to. His thick curly brown hair is partially covered by a backwards snapback, his thick muscular body is tanned and he’s donning a pair of cut off navy chino shorts and a white tank-top, sweat gleaming on the upper part of his chest as he sips his beer and smokes a rolled cigarette. Erin turns her head in my direction and immediately runs over giving me a hug that knocks us both onto the ground. We break out into a giggle and she pulls me up taking me into her house and up the three flights of stairs that lead to her bedroom. She lives in an old colonial home and every time I’m over I find myself running my fingers over the repurposed victorian chairs, tiffany lamps, and end tables; each piece of furniture expertly picked out by her mother who works as an interior designer.

Erin’s room is in what was once the maids quarters of the house, her bedroom window overlooking a slope that leads down to the woods and gay bay; a filthy part of the seekonk river which gets its name from it’s history as a gay cruising spot, but is mostly used by locals like us to smoke joints on the banks of the muddy river. I fall down onto her bed as she closes her door and locks it. “Okay first of all where the fuck have you been, Gia?” she tries to make it sound like she’s joking about my recent absence from her life but her voice betrays her and I can hear the feeling of sadness tinged with anger that I’ve been gone for so long. “I’m sorry girl.. Honestly I haven’t been able to bring myself to come home. I know I’ve been a flake but with everything going on I couldn’t deal with being here.” My words sound hollow and rusty. It’s impossible for me to tell her that I’m more depressed than I’ve ever been, that being around her and the other girls we are friends with makes my stomach twist with knots full of jealousy.

“It’s fine.. I get it. There’s just so much catching up we have to do!” she sighs and slumps down onto the floor. She’s never been able to stay mad at me for more than a few seconds. As I sit on her bed I watch her sift through her bag, pulling out a small baggie of cocaine. Taking the keys out of her bag she dips a key into the baggie and snorts a bump. I step off of the bed and sit on the hardwood floor as she lifts the key and white powder to my nose. Snorting it, I tip my head up and spread the skin around my nose with my fingers, closing my eyes as the coke drips down into the back of my throat. Getting up from the floor Erin walks over to her dresser, pulling her crop top off and flinging it onto the floor, changing into a bikini top. My eyes linger on her breasts which are full B cups making my A cups look like nothing but small lumps of fat. As she gets dressed I walk into the adjacent bathroom that’s connected to her bedroom, standing in front of the mirror I compulsively run my hands up and down my body checking for any minor imperfections which becoming glaring when I am around girls who aren’t trans.

I bite my bottom lip ripping a piece of skin off with my teeth and stare at my face as a spot of blood pools on my mouth. I lock the bathroom door and squat down, pulling up my skirt and taking off my bathing suit bottom. Reaching down I grab my dick and pull it backwards toward my butt, crossing my legs so that there’s no room for it to move around as I rip strips of athletic tape from the roll I brought with me. It’s uncomfortable but until I can surgically transition, this is my only option unless I want to walk around with a bulge in my pants every day. I pull the bottoms up and pat down on my groin, turning to the left and to the right to make sure any trace of my dick is completely invisible, before walking out of the bathroom.

I run the faucet and splash cold water onto my face and then walk back into Erin’s room where she grabs my arm again and leads me downstairs and into the backyard. Her yard is packed, neighborhood children running past me as their mothers sip cocktails and keep watchful eyes on them. We walk past the adults and find our group of friends who have moved from the front yard to a quiet space near the firepit. The girls immediately run up to me and we exchange excited greetings as they ask me what feels like a thousand questions, most of which I don’t hear. I sit down on the hot cement and smoke a cigarette, chewing the inside of my cheeks while twisting my hair with my fingers into knots as my friends make various comments about my changing appearance.

“You’re so fucking beautiful, like you look amazing” Natalie exclaims as she sits beside me and reaches for the cigarette that I’m holding in my hand “Bitch I appreciate the compliment but I was hot before I transitioned, are you really that surprised?” I say back to her careful to mask the tone of my voice so that my defensiveness comes off as my typical sass. She laughs and takes a drag from my cigarette before walking away. The gaggle of comments on my appearance is both flattering and annoying, their way of welcoming me into the inner circle of sisterhood and receiving me as one of the girls while also making me feel like a china doll who is on display.

I can’t slow my eyes down as they rapidly move from one direction to the other. I put my head down and shut them squeezing them closed and pushing in on my eye sockets so hard that when I open my eyes there are spots forming around me. I try to get a hold of my breathing which is rapid and shallow; it could be the coke or maybe it’s just anxiety. The heat is breaking as the sun gets ready to begin setting, signaling for us that it’s time to hop in our cars and drive to Amy Frishman’s party at her parents house. Erin and I decide I’ll leave my car at her house since I’ll probably end up sleeping over after the party anyway. We all split off and somehow in the midst of tipsily deciding who will drive, I end up in Jamie Gordon’s car while Erin, Alex, and Natalie drive with two other boys who are heading to the party with us.

Jamie walks a few steps ahead as I follow him to his car crossing my arms around my stomach, my eyes lingering on the ground. I get into his car “thanks for the ride.. I can spot you gas money if you’d like” a futile way to try to break the awkwardness that is hanging over me. “Nah.. it’s cool but thank you” he responds as he puts his keys into the ignition checking the rearview mirror as he drives away from Erin’s house, following the car ahead of us to Amys party. I can’t stop biting the inside of my lips and cheeks unsure if it’s the coke that has me writhing with anxiety. We make small talk as we drive to the party but for the most part the ride is silent. Stopping at a red light he reaches over my seat to open the glove box pulling out an aux cord to attach to his phone. His hand brushes against my thigh and lingers for a few seconds as he plugs in his phone sending shivers through my spine. Time seems to stop as his fingers linger on my body, my stomach fluttering as I count out silently in my head; one mississippi, two mississippi, three mississippi, four. The light turns green and he moves his hand as he steps on the gas. He says nothing as he removes his warm hand from my thigh, causing me to wonder if it was intentional or an accident. Please let it be intentional.

The sky is cloudless and dark and the air feels balmy as we pull up to Amy’s house and walk into her backyard. Her yard covers an acre of land that looks over the narragansett bay and it’s packed with people; some of whom I know but mostly people I’ve never met. I feel relieved at the lack of familiar faces because it means I can blend in as just another random girl attending the party. I spot Erin and the other girls standing by the inground pool as boys splash them and do cannonballs into the water. I follow Jamie like a shadow and walk with him to the pool house where a table is lined with food and alcohol. Parties hosted by adults are always the best, allowing you easy access to a night of drunken fun that you don’t have to pay for. I grab a plastic cup filling it with ice and straight gin. I chug the gin, the cup half empty within a few seconds, and immediately refill it; I’m on a mission to get blackout tonight so I can loosen up and escape the thoughts that have been circling my mind for weeks.

Our bodies touching in the car slowed down time and as the gin pulses through my blood I’m finding it hard to focus on any-one-thing. I can feel myself becoming crossfaded; my head and stomach both woozy from the mixture of drugs and alcohol. The rest of the night seems to pass by in a blur. At one point I’m singing at the top of my lungs “I’m a bitch, I’m a lover…” the pulse of the music energizing me as Erin and I jump up and down to the song, unable to stop the laughter coming from our mouths. Running through the grass full of people and into the house, we stumble, falling on the stairs as we make our way into the bathroom where Erin pours out four thick lines of coke; two for each of us. I can barely keep myself focused, fumbling with the dollar bill Erin hands me as I lower my head down and snort the first line and then the second. I run my finger through my nose pulling out the resin from the coke and swishing it around on my gums. “I really want to get it with Jamie” the words leaving my mouth are slurred and slightly unintelligible as Erin looks up from the bathroom counter she is snorting the coke from. She slaps my butt with her hand and laughs “Go for it girl! You’re so fucking hot and he’s single.” In that moment I forget about the one barrier keeping me away from guys like Jamie; I forget about my dick.

Leaving the bathroom we hold onto each other for support, sloppily making our way down the stairs and into the yard, running to stand with our friends as the fireworks go off on the bay. The fireworks shoot up into the sky blasting off into technicolor hues of red white and blue. As I sway back and forth with Erin by my side, I feel a hand touch my lower back, warm and firm. Before I have the chance to turn around I hear a voice whisper in my ear “Let’s go smoke a joint”. I recognize Jamie’s voice right away; deep-set and sexy. The words linger in my ear for a few seconds before I turn around. Looking at him I feel my nipples tingle as my stomach fills with butterflies. His pupils are huge and his breath smells like tequila. I purse my lips and smirk at him grabbing hold of his hand as he leads me away from the pack of people and down a long set of stairs that lead to the dock where Amy’s parents park their boat.

Silently walking down the steep stairs in the dark, Jamie takes out his Iphone and uses it as a flashlight, guiding me along by keeping his hand on the space between my butt and my back. My heart is beating quickly and I can’t control my breathing as we stand on the dock where he lights the joint. He doesn’t break eye contact with me as he inhales smoothly, exhaling a cloud of smoke into my face. He hands me the joint and I take few hits as he begins talking “You seem really chill, not like most girls I know” is that meant to be ironic or is he serious? I hand him back the joint as he steps closer to me, leaving a small gap of space between our bodies. “Oh really?” I say opening my mouth slightly as I tip up my head to meet his gaze. I’m too drunk to want to speak so I rely on my eyes and body language. Pushing back my shoulders to make my chest the focal point and tipping my head slightly to the side letting my hair fall over my shoulder, my heart quickens even more as he leans in to kiss me. His tongue brushes against the side of my neck making its way to the corner of my mouth. I move my face and meet his lips, slipping my tongue into his mouth as I wrap my tiny arms around his thick back. I’m surprised by my forcefulness but something inside of me is on fire and all I can think about is wanting him to rip off my clothes.

He lifts me momentarily, bringing me to the ground with him as we make-out on the dock. I climb on top of him and kiss his neck feeling powerful and visible as he lets quiet moans slip from his lips. He takes off my top and unties my bathing suit as I straddle his legs ready to go down on him. I feel his hands moving to my waist as I begin unzipping his pants but stop him before he can do it “Wait…” I pause unsure if I should tell him what is down there. I know it’s not completely unsafe to be honest with him because everyone is still up on the lawn; the music still blaring. I keep my eyes on his partially unzipped pants “I wasn’t sure if you knew but.. I’m trans.. I have a dick.” I mutter. I begin counting waiting for him to tell me that I’m disgusting or to take my body and throw it into the water that surrounds the dock. One mississippi, two mississippi, three mississippi, four mississippi, five. Meeting his eyes I watch as he shrugs “I’ve never been with one before..” I don’t even stop to think about his language, his words turning me into an object. “I can keep my skirt on” I say a little too excitedly, desperate not to be rejected after so much momentum. He nods and lies back again as I go down on him placing one hand on my boob and the other in my hair forcing my head up and down as he plays with my tits. I feel like I’m drifting off somewhere else as he pants and moans.

I feel his body tensing and prepare myself for him to finish but instead I feel him jolt up as a flow of warm putrid liquid covers my hair and drips down onto my back. It takes me a few seconds to register what just happened before he pushes me off of his body and stumbles up the stairs where he finishes puking out the tequila he had been drinking all night. I crawl over to the edge of the dock putting my hands into the water to wipe the the puke off of my chest and out of my hair. I lie back on the ground, dipping my feet into the cool water, covered in his vomit. I place my hands around my waist hugging myself. The vomit is foamy just like the bubbles.