Dysphoria; non-malicious deadnaming and misgendering.
The plane rumbled loudly under me as we descended towards Nashville. Well, this is it. Time to face my family, for the first time since I realised I was transgender. Not that I had any intention of coming out to them, but still. I hoped I could manage to keep everything hidden until my inevitable coming out.
It was the afternoon of the twenty-ninth of December. Once I’d come back from having dinner with Lena and Lexi and recharged my cellphone and switched it back on, I found an e-mail from the airline I’d booked my flight with – the flight that had been cancelled on the twenty-third because of the Storm of the Century – offering to replace the ticket and put me on an upcoming flight, and I’d managed to grab one for the twenty-ninth. Which was very good: I would manage to spend New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day with my family, at the very least, since I couldn’t be with them for Christmas. My mother was obviously elated, as were Peter and Leah; they’d given up hope on seeing me in person before spring break.
I wouldn’t be talking to them about my recent… Realisation, though; there was lots of thinking I needed to do before I would even consider doing that, I wanted to be secure in my identity before opening that can of worms.
I wondered how my mother would take it. I sincerely hoped she would accept me, but I had my doubts; even though she’d defended me against uncle Adam at Thanksgiving, that was because he’d disrespected me. I had no idea how she would take her child coming out as queer – she was from a traditional Southern family, after all, just like my father had been. And just like uncle Adam, of course. Even though she always said she loved me – quite often, in fact – and she’d said I could talk to her about anything, it could become ugly. I would need to plan my coming out carefully, and steel myself for possible rejection.
But that wouldn’t be for a while still. For the time being, I could just enjoy myself and relax, hanging around my family. Yes. Some R&R would do me good, after the whirlwind that had been the last few days.
“Theo! Over here!” my mother called, waving at me as I left the secure area of the airport with my luggage in tow.
“Hi, Mother,” I said, rushing over and hugging her. “I’m so glad to see you.”
“Me too,” she replied. “I’m happy we could manage to meet before the end of the year. Did you have a good flight?”
“Yeah, there was a bit of turbulence, but nothing much,” I answered, following her out of the terminal. “I was lucky the storm cleared out faster than I thought.”
“It did, didn’t it? We got some snowfall here, but nothing near as bad as what you experienced. When did it stop snowing?”
I thought back. “It was still going, though not as hard, on Christmas morning. It must’ve stopped some time over the following two days, the sky was clear on the afternoon of the twenty-seventh.”
My mother’s eyebrow rose in surprise. “You didn’t notice when it stopped?”
I hesitated. “Um… I was all cooped up in my room, I barely looked outside. Must have missed it.”
She waved her hand as we got in the car. “Ah, just as well. What matters is that it did stop, so you could be here.”
We made the trip home in silence; I just watched the scenery passing by out of the window – we seldom got more than a dusting of snow in my home town, so it was very interesting seeing how much everything seemed to be different when it was all painted white.
When we arrived, the sun had started to set, and it was getting dark: I noticed that the windows of our house were dark, too.
“Peter and Leah are spending the afternoon with some friends,” my mother explained. “They’ll be back for dinner.”
I nodded in acknowledgement, while she unlocked the front door and stepped in, with me right behind her.
“Hold on, let me get the lights,” she said; she crossed the living room and flicked a switch.
“Surprise!” yelled several voices. I looked around, blinking in surprise, and to let my eyes get used to the sudden brightness: my siblings and my grandparents had stood up from behind the couch, and were smiling and waving at me.
“Hi, Theo!” Leah said, jumping forward and hugging me. “It’s so good to see you!”
“It’s good to see you, too,” I replied. “But what are you all doing here?”
“We’re here to open our Christmas presents, of course!” my grandfather replied.
“Of course!” he continued. “When we got the news that you wouldn’t be coming for Christmas, we decided to wait until you could come home, to open our presents together.”
“Oh,” I said. “You shouldn’t have, really. I didn’t even know if I would manage to get here before spring break…”
“Well, then we’d have waited until spring break,” my grandmother nodded.
“Thank you,” I said, smiling and hugging her. “It’s so nice of you to be here.”
“Anything for my grandson,” she said.
My smile became a bit fixed. I gulped, and tried not to show my discomfort as we broke our embrace.
“Well then, shall we begin?” my mother asked.
“Yes, let’s,” I nodded.
We took our usual places around the room – the adults (myself excluded, for things like these I was still a kid) sitting on the couch, while the kids sat down cross-legged on the floor – and got to opening presents. I obviously hadn’t had the possibility to buy anything big or expensive, I was a college student on a scholarship after all, but everything I brought was well received, as were all other presents: I got a new pair of running shorts and a running T-shirt from Peter and Leah, some nice bits of stationery for college from my grandparents, and a cookbook from my mother. I really liked everything, it was clear those who gave them to me had put some thought into what they were buying.
After that, we moved to the kitchen for dinner, and I got to regale my family with my stories about college – not that I had many new things to tell them, I’d seen them barely a month before after all. My grandparents were especially interested when I talked about game nights: they’d only heard talk of role-playing games in a negative light, because of the panic they’d been associated with in the early eighties, but they were glad to hear that they were just that – games, to be played for one’s enjoyment, not because of anything suspicious.
At the end of the night, Peter, Leah, and I hugged our grandparents good night, as they left to go back to their own home, and then headed to bed.
Despite being tired from the trip, I spent some time lying in bed, looking at the familiar ceiling of my childhood bedroom, and thinking. Over the course of just one afternoon I’d been repeatedly called Theo, grandson, he, him, so many times that I’d lost count; Lena and Lexi had explained to me that that was called misgendering and deadnaming: referring to a transgender person as their former gender and former name. Not that my family was doing it out of malice, of course – they didn’t know any better. But still: I’d only fully realised I was trans a few days before, so why did it hurt so much?
The following morning, my mother sent my siblings upstairs to do their homework – apparently they’d been given lots of it, and were already lagging behind on it. I, on the other hand, helped her tidy up the kitchen, then took up position on the couch with a book.
“I’m going to do some shopping, do you need anything?” my mother asked.
“I don’t,” I replied, looking up from a story about a hunter meeting a unicorn in the woods. “Rather, do you want me to come with you? Or go instead? I need to make myself useful around the house, since I’m here for a few days.”
“Oh, don’t worry,” she said, shaking her head, but with a smile on her lips. “I will manage. Though I’ll be grateful if you’ll help me bring in the shopping bags from the car when I come back.”
“Yes, of course,” I said.
“See you later, Theo,” she said, and hugged me goodbye.
I went back to my book, and soon I heard my mother’s car start and drive away outside the house. I just kept reading, I had some free time.
The story was getting interesting – the hunter had been splashed by the unicorn’s blood and collapsed into bed – when I heard someone clear their throat. I looked up from the book again, and saw my siblings standing at the foot of the stairs, looking at me.
“Yes?” I smiled. “What is it?”
They shuffled their feet a bit; they seemed really nervous. “Theo… Can we talk with you for a bit?” Peter asked. Leah was just looking at the floor.
I frowned; this seemed quite important. “Of course,” I replied, sliding a bookmark between the pages of my book and setting it down; I gestured for them to take a seat on the couch, and they complied.
“Okay,” Peter said, breathing the word out suddenly. “I know this may be a bit much to ask, but please, don’t tell mother about this, not yet.”
“Okay, I won’t,” I said, my frown deepening. “I can keep a secret if needs be.”
Peter looked at me for a couple seconds, then turned to Leah and nodded; she nodded back. She still wasn’t looking at me, but down at her hands instead, and she was wringing them together really hard – she was clearly extremely nervous.
“I…” she began timidly; her voice was barely audible. “I’ve met… Someone. At school.”
“Okay. And…?” I said, smiling encouragingly.
“We. Um.” She gulped. “We’ve been seeing each other for about four months now.”
“Oh, I see. Okay,” I said. “Well, it’s nothing bad, is it now? You’re already fifteen, you’re old enough to begin thinking about… Love stuff. It’s okay, don’t worry.” I flashed her my best smile. “So, who’s the lucky guy? Do I know him?”
Suddenly, Leah seemed to panic a bit: I thought she was wringing her hands hard before, but that was nothing comparing to the torture she was putting them through at the moment.
“I-- Um-- I--” she stammered, then she clammed up. She looked up at her brother, a pleading look in her eyes; Peter sighed.
“See, Theo, that’s the problem,” he said, looking at me carefully. “It’s a girl. Leah likes girls.”
I blinked. Once, then twice. “Oh,” I said. “Oh. Um. Okay. Well.”
Leah started crying. “See, I told you he wouldn’t get it,” she told Peter.
“Oh, Leah, no,” I said, getting up from my spot on the couch and walking over to her. I knelt down in front of her and put my hands on her shoulders. “It’s okay, really. I’m not mad, this is just… Unexpected, that’s all. It’s perfectly fine.”
She sniffled and looked up at me. “Really?” she whispered.
“Really,” I nodded. “You like who you like, there’s no shame in that.” I hugged her tight. “Though I can see why you came to me rather than Mother.”
Peter snorted out a laugh. “Yeah.”
I broke the embrace. “So, who’s the lucky gal?” I asked.
“It’s Melody Carter,” Leah replied. “We’ve been friends since we were little, she lives a couple miles from us.”
“I… I think I’ve met her a few times when she came over,” I said. “Fit girl, short black hair?” Leah nodded. “Yeah, I remember her. She seemed nice. You have good taste, sis.”
Her eyes were still wet with tears, but she smiled impishly. “I do, don’t I? And besides being cool and cute, she’s so good with her hands, I--”
“Okay, okay,” I cut her off. “I get it. Okay. Jeez, you don’t have to brag.” I paused. “Normally this would be when I ask if you’re using protection, but I don’t think that applies here, does it?”
Peter and Leah both laughed. “No, I guess it doesn’t,” he said.
“But yeah, it’s okay,” I said. “Really.”
Peter elbowed his sister. “See? I told you he was good.”
She smiled. “Yeah, I guess you were right.”
I put on a mock-offended face. “What, you thought I wouldn’t be?”
“Well…” she said, rolling her eyes. “We had our doubts, to be honest. After all, this is Tennessee, and ours is a very… Traditional family.”
I nodded. “Yeah, that’s right.”
“But then you stood up to uncle Adam at Thanksgiving dinner. You said you have some good friends who are gay,” Peter continued. “So we talked it over, and decided to talk with you.”
“It was good that you did,” I said. “I’ll always be on your side, no matter what. And I’ll give you a hand when it’s time to talk with Mother.”
Leah grimaced. “Yeah, I’m not looking forward to that conversation.”
I shrugged. “You never know.” There was a pause. “So, is that all?”
They smiled and nodded. “Yeah, that’s all,” Leah said.
“Good,” I nodded.
Leah and I shared another hug, and then they got up to leave. I watched them walk away.
And made a spur-of-the-moment decision.
“Hold on,” I said.
They turned back towards me, a quizzical look on their faces; I patted the couch, and they sat down again.
I took a deep breath.
“What do you know about transgender people?” I asked.
Peter tilted his head to the side. “Not… Much, really?” he said. “They’re, like, men who dress as women? I think?”
I grimaced. “No, not quite.”
I thought how I should put it: even though I’d gone on a rabbit-hole dive through the internet, and asked Lena and Lexi lots of questions, I was far from an expert. So putting it simply was probably the best option.
“You see,” I began. “There’s this… Thing, called gender identity, which everyone has. Me, you, Mother… Everyone.” They nodded, eyeing me carefully. “And gender identity tells you if you’re a boy or a girl, in here.” I tapped the side of my head. They nodded again.
“For most people their gender identity is the same as what their body looks like. Boy body, boy identity, girl body, girl identity,” I continued. “For transgender people, it’s different. Boy body, girl identity, girl body, boy identity.”
“Okay,” Leah nodded. “So what you’re saying is, transgender people have a boy’s brain, but a girl’s body.”
“Or a girl’s brain, but a boy’s body,” Peter added.
I nodded. “Not exactly, but close enough,” I said. “And it makes them feel really bad about themselves, even if they don’t realise why exactly. And when they realise it, there are things they can do, drugs they can take, to change their body to match their mind.”
Peter looked pensive. “Wouldn’t it be easier to change the mind, rather than the body?” he asked.
“It wouldn’t,” I replied. “Don’t ask me how or why, I’m not sure myself, but apparently it’s much easier and safer to change the body.”
“Okay,” Leah said. “Alright. And why are you telling us all this?”
I just looked at them in response. I was shaking a bit, hopefully they didn’t notice.
There was a long moment of silence, hanging in the room.
“Wait,” Leah said. She pointed at me. “Hold on. You’re saying…?”
“What?” Peter asked. “He’s saying… What?”
“Oh, honestly, Peter,” Leah replied. “What do you think? Why would Theo tell us about all that? Just out of the blue?”
I could almost see the gears in Peter’s brain turn. He slowly turned to look at me. “You’re…?” he said.
I nodded. “As it turns out, kids, your brother is actually your sister. Surprise!” I exclaimed, throwing out my hands and splaying my fingers.
They looked at me for a few moments.
“That’s so cool!” Leah said.
“Yeah, it’s great!” Peter added.
I blinked; even though I didn’t know exactly what reaction to expect from my siblings (though I feared rejection, which apparently hadn’t come), that was definitely not it. “It’s… Cool?” I asked.
“Of course!” Peter said. “I’m so glad you managed to figure it out.”
“…Why?” I said. I was honestly puzzled.
“Well, you said it yourself,” he continued. “That transgender people feel bad about themselves, even if they don’t realise it.”
“Right,” Leah nodded in agreement. “You’ve always been so… I don’t even know how to describe it. There was just something about you, that wasn’t there yesterday when you arrived home. You looked – you look – much brighter and happier than usual. So that’s why.”
I was much brighter and happier than usual? Really? I honestly hadn’t noticed, but I guessed they had the advantage of being outside observers.
“So you’re okay with it?” I asked.
“Why wouldn’t we be?” she said. “After all, no matter what you look like, you’re always going to be our brother.”
“Sister,” Peter said.
“Sister, right,” Leah corrected herself.
I just stared at them for a couple seconds, then I burst out laughing. All the fears, all the scenarios I’d had running in my mind, suddenly melted away like snow in the summer. I realised that I was crying, too: I was laughing and crying in relief at the same time.
My siblings leaned forward and hugged me, just like I’d hugged Leah earlier that morning.
“Oh, by the way,” I said, when they’d let me go. “Don’t tell Mother about this just yet.”
“Obviously,” Peter said; Leah nodded in agreement.
I heard keys turn in the front door’s lock. “Oh, speak of the devil,” I said, looking up; I hadn’t even heard her car pull up in the driveway.
“Theo! Peter! Leah!” my mother called as she entered the house. “Come help me with the groceries!”
She looked around, and spotted us sitting there on the couch. “Oh, there you are,” she said. “What were you three doing over there?”
“Nothing much,” I said, shrugging. “We were just having a chat, that’s all.”