I've heard of gender once. Before the wars, before the discovery of ban-x. Back then equality was a curse word. Something thrown around in an attempt to be heard or an attempt to seem proper. Back then division and uniqueness were worshipped. Being original was smiled upon, not punished.
My grandparent told me of the time of He's and She's. A time when babies were born with different chromosomes that determined their sex; Another word so foreign to me it feels funny on my lips. Sex. Sex. It sounds like hex, which might be the same thing. It bewitched people and drove them mad with opinions, and labels, and confusion. It doesn't even mean the same thing it used to. It's a dead word. As dead as the genders themselves.
It's forbidden to talk about the day of the genders. Taking away diversity didn't rid the world of fear. But once, when sitting under the Georgia sky watching the orange marbled hues settle over the trees, my grandparent told me about the color of their hair before the ban-x. Russet red that was as fiery as they were. At least that's what their partner used to say. Without looking around they leaned forward and whispered to me that in the day of the genders they were a girl. Called "she" and titled after womanhood.
My heart pounded low in my belly at their words. They were forbidden. They would bring division and punishment. They were the most glorious words I had ever heard. Her name was Dalia. I wanted to speak the entire sentence over and over again. Just saying "Her" alone sounded so regal and magnificent.
That night my grandparent gave me a nervous wink after giving my arm the shot. They tucked my faction lengthened hair behind my ear. I stayed silent, afraid the questions burning on my tongue would be let loose if I spoke. Do you miss being a she? I ached to ask. Or do you prefer the age of ultimate equlaity?
After helping me into bed they cupped my chin in their palm and smiled at me. I tried to picture their approved white hair flaming with color instead. I squinted my eyes to try and see past the generalized features but it was no use. Grandparent looked the same as they always had. Option twenty five in protocol elderly features.
As if they read my thoughts grandparent said, "Me is me no matter how I'm seen." Their sigh as they left my room spoke otherwise.
I dreamed of sunsets that turned into long flowing red hair like wind moving a waterfall, spraying the face and tickling the shoulders. I dreamt of black nights and wet rivers and when I woke my bed was damp. My chest was sore as if an elephant had tap danced on my ribs and when I moved I felt swollen all over. Like I had somehow gown larger over night. Grandparent always said I was due a growth spurt.
I washed my face in the sink and as I dried off with a towel something caught my eye in the mirror. My hair. My protocall chin length hair had sprouted several inches in the few hours I slept and auburn roots peeked through the top. My face looked softer too. Squishier on the sides and I pulled my fingers up to it as if to test out the theory. Yes, softer indeed with a peach glow forming from all my pinching.
I gasped at what I saw next and fell back against the wall behind me. Two round beads created two small shadows on the front of my shirt. I grabbed at my chest to again confirm what my eyes were telling me.
I next did what any sensible person would do when confronted with a completely different body. I screamed.
Grandparent came running in and the door made the wall shake when it swung open with a whack.
"What happened to me?" I wailed. Even my voice sounded different. It was light and airy like I was a bird singing.
Grandparent smiled a nervous smile like she had planned the whole thing. "I always knew you were her."
And there was the word again. Her. The title of femininity. The very word I clung to the night before like a prize. Tremors rolled down my arms like fear throwing a fit before leaving my body and I felt something as foreign to me as the sprouting breasts. I felt empowered. I was She.
When did it all go wrong?
Some people will never know what it is like to self harm. And that is for the best. Self harm is an addiction, the kind that I can perfectly remember the moment when it all went wrong.
A bent paperclip, twisted into a wire the length of my hand. Long enough to do damage, short enough to hide.
That's probably what went wrong.
Not the paperclip itself, but the hiding. I learned about all kinds of places I could hide things. I learned that while they dug apart my room, they never checked the school locker. They never spotted the difference between my cuts with a razor blade and my cuts with a paperclip, even though I said they were the same things.
But it wasn't the issue with them. It was the issue with me.
The thing about me is I didn't even notice I was depressed. I thought it was normal. All my friends were the same way. I didn't even consider people's insensitive bullshit as bullying until someone told me it was. I thought everyone got called ugly by their friends. I thought everyone was told they were too weak or scared to kill themself. I thought that was normal.
I guess I was wrong.
I appreciate your attempts to comfort me or protect me, but you forget we do not have the same problems. I did not care about my weight, my acne, my hair until you told me there was something wrong. I did not care to watch not what I ate but how much I ate until you started commenting. I do not need to hear "don't you think you've had enough?" or "is that skin?" or "I've found...for you to use." I did not ask you to become my largest critic because of your own insecurities. I loved myself, my body, my hair until you began to "help."
I did not need to hear your constant comments on your weight and your body. They've begun to squirm their way into my mind, and now they wait until I have let down my guard.
I did not need to feel your fingers subduing my locks, teaching me that I had to hide a part of myself to look presentable. It's taken me years to accept my mane.
I do not need to hear your constant whisperings of what I should and shouldn't eat, and lately, how much. I wonder if your problems stem not from eating too much but not enough.
I do not need to hear your constant critiques of everyone around you. You're only teaching me how to be impatient and angry.
I love you, mother. I really do, but sometimes I wonder if it's me you see or only a younger you.