Kay Barnes | Contributor | email@example.com
“Every good girl likes Barbies and pink glitter.”
I grew up thinking that this was an indisputable law. However, the first time I noticed something was wrong with me, I was 12. I quickly buried my awareness and carried on like the good girl I was supposed to be. I could have started an army with the number of Barbies I owned. However, nothing could convince me that glitter, the color pink or otherwise, was a good thing.
My grandmother would always request — demand, really — “Wear that pink skirt. It makes you look so pretty.” I became so fed up with that skirt, so I burned it. That was the year I stumbled upon the people. I was 15 and realized they were so different from everyone else.
I was in a restaurant with my mother and sister when a party of three walked in. The two men were obviously a couple, so my mother was already predisposed to giving them ugly looks.
However, it was the woman who earned my mother’s most ferocious glare, and my ardent respect. She was dressed in a yellow sundress that would have shown off the figure of any woman, yet this woman wasn’t like other women. This woman had broad shoulders, large hands, narrow hips, and no chest to speak of. I thought she looked wonderful.
My mother, however, said to me as we paid our bill, “I’m glad we finished before those men sat next to us. Did you see the fag in the dress?” My family and friends always called them “freaks” or “unholy abominations,” depending on how religious they were feeling that day. Yet she seemed so confi dent in who she was that she risked identifying herself as the opposite gender. I finally realized that there were others like me, that I wasn’t alone.
My father had never been a part of my life, but even he asked, “Why don’t you have a boyfriend?” I’d had boyfriends before. None was serious, and they didn’t last long. I knew they wouldn’t get it if I told them, and lying is never good in a relationship. However, at 17 I could finally admit the truth to myself, when I could finally look myself in the eye in the mirror.
My oldest sister took me shopping once. While she was dragging me along from store to store, she asked, “Why don’t you ever wear dresses any more?” I knew if I told her, she’d laugh.
At 18, I told my cat. He just blinked, so I gave him a can of tuna. A lot can be said about the world when a cat accepts a person more easily than other people do.
“Okay, so if you’re not a lesbian, you like guys, right?” my mother said. I thought she was starting to understand. Then she said, “Then that means you’re straight.” She ignored me for the rest of the day.
Nineteen saw me in Las Vegas helping my sister move. I was sitting in a restaurant there when a total stranger recognized me for the man I was inside. It’s always when I’m with my mother that I encounter transgender people or strangers who are accepting of other lifestyles.
My mother and I were at one of the restaurants in the Stratosphere hotel having dinner. A lone man was seated next to us, and we ate our meals in mutual disinterest. He finished first as my mother and I paused to talk every so often. As he got up, he said, “I hope you and your son have a lovely time here in Vegas.”
My mother ignored his comment, but I don’t think I’ve ever felt happier than at that moment. He accepted me without any hesitation, better than my mother did. I had been trying to tell her for a while, but she played off all my hints as if this was just a phase I was going through. I almost wished it were.
I turned 21 and fi nally told my best friend. It took me over an hour to force out the words, “I am transgender.” She said, “I already call you dude,” then she let me cry twice as long while she hugged me. She then threw a pillow at me after I told her I was worried she’d hate me. She was only mad that it took me so many years to tell her: “Don’t you ever keep something like this from me again.”
“But you’re my baby girl!” my mother said after I told her. I was 23. I was finally able to corner my mother and tried to set her straight. She cried. She said she was losing one of her daughters. She blamed herself that I turned out wrong. I never brought it up again after that, and now she pretends I never told her.
“What name do you prefer?” None of my family has ever asked me this. At 24, I am still Kayla to them. I wonder if they think that I’ll become the person they want me to be. For now, I go by Kay until I can have my name legally changed to Luke, though I’m not used to being referred to that way, so it might take a few tries before I realize I’m being addressed.
“So what now?” I ask myself. I’m 26. I’m a student. I work. I have bills and student loans to pay. I’m trying to save up so that I can undergo sex reassignment surgery. That’s proving to be a bit difficult because, as I said, I’ve got bills. I cringe when people call me “she,” “miss,” or “girl.” Some days I trudge home, head down toward the chest I’ve grown to despise, and can do nothing more than cry into my pillow. I blame that on the stupid hormones my biology pumps through my brain. Most people don’t look past my ample chest. And I get it. I would notice, too.
So until I can afford to have something done about it, I remind myself: don’t let the boobs fool you.
They will never fool me again.
Editor’s Note: this article first appeared on May 4, 2014 in the spring 2015 issue of Mainline magazine.