“Kenny Harris! It’s a pleasure to meet you at last!” Dr. Pierce said while vigorously pumping my arm up and down.
“You didn’t even know who I was until yesterday,” I pointed out to him.
“Ah yes, but in the last twenty-four hours I have given you much thought. Now sit down and let’s have a little chat.”
I stepped into his office and he shut the door behind me. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting, but the room surprised me. It totally looked like some old lady’s living room. I don’t know if it was the lace-covered end-tables, the stained-glass lamps, or the rose-patterned couch, but something reminded me of my Great-Aunt Susan’s place. As I sat on the ugly couch, I half expected to find a couple of cats hiding beneath the seat I was slowly sinking into.
Like most doctors, he had all of his diplomas up on the wall. Dr. Pierce was supposedly one of the leading children’s psychologists in the state of Washington. At least that’s what my mom heard from some other parent in one of her support groups. I wasn’t so sure I wanted to go see a kid’s doctor, but she made it clear that I didn’t have a choice in the matter. I’m not sure how she did it, but she managed to get me an appointment the day after she first called.
“How old are you, Kenny?” Dr. Pierce asked, even though I knew he already had that information.
“And you’ll be starting high school this fall?”
“How do you feel about that?”
“Look,” I said, done wasting my time on stupid questions, “we both know I’m not here to talk about my feelings about a new school. So let’s just cut to the chase.”
“Alright,” Dr. Pierce said while scribbling something on his clipboard. “Your mom is worried about you.”
“She is. That’s why I agreed to see you so quickly.”
“Why is she worried about me?”
“Think about it Kenny. You dropped a pretty big bombshell on your parents last month.”
“I guess so,” I mumbled as I started to wish that I hadn’t told him to cut to the chase.
“You guess?” He asked as his eyebrows rose a few inches above his thick, black glasses. “I think that many parents would react to such news with far less tolerance and understanding. Your parents want to help you, and it took them a lot of courage to come to me, just like it took you a lot of courage to talk to them.”
“Well, yeah. So far they have been pretty good about it. I mean, at least they’re calling me Kenny now.”
“Exactly. Your parents are trying. They could still be calling you by your old name. What was it?”
“Emma,” I whispered to my sneakers.
“A little louder please,” Dr. Pierce prompted.
“Emma,” I said as I looked up at him.
“But that name didn’t fit you, did it?”
“No, it’s a stupid girl’s name.”
“It’s a very nice girl’s name, which is probably why your parents chose that name when you were born. As much as you may not like it, you have to admit that you were born a girl.”
“I know I was born a girl,” I told him sulkily. “But that doesn’t mean that I feel like a girl, or that I ever felt like a girl. My body might be a girl’s body, but I’m a guy. I just wish that everyone could see that.”
Dr. Pierce kept his unblinking eyes on me as he asked, “Is that what you told your parents?”
“And what did they say?”
“They wanted to know how I could know something like that, but I couldn’t give them a real answer. It’s just something that I know, deep down inside. I might only be fourteen, but I know this about myself. I can’t be happy anymore if I have to pretend to be someone I’m not.”
“Well, I have to be honest with you here Kenny,” Dr. Pierce said, as he put down his clipboard for the first time. “You are the first transgender teenager I have ever worked with. I’ve had one other transgender patient, but she was much older than you. Also, she was transitioning the other way. I’m going to do my best, but you have to be patient with me. Okay?”
“Okay.” I said. “So does that mean that you’re going to see me regularly and maybe even help me start transitioning?”
“It means that we’ll meet once a week, sometimes we might invite your parents in too, and we’ll figure everything out.”
Dr. Pierce stood and walked toward the door. I followed his lead and pulled myself out of the ugly couch. “I’ll see you next week,” he told me as he held the door open for me. “We’ll meet at the same time.”
I walked back through the waiting room and found my mom reading an old National Geographic. As I approached, she looked up and smiled at me.
“How did it go?” She asked as she put the magazine on the table in front of her.
“It was okay,” I said as I walked toward the exit. “He doesn’t seem too bad.”
“I told you that it would all work out.”
“Yeah, I have to come back next week at the same time.”
“No problem kiddo. Now, let’s go pick up a pizza or two for dinner. If I don’t have a game plan by the time we get home, your dad just might try to cook something,” she said with a laugh.
I laughed too and followed her to the car. Maybe the doctor was right. Maybe my parents really did have my best interests at heart. At least they didn’t try to disown me or kick me out. As far as families went, mine was okay.
I woke up to a scream on the morning of the fourth of July. I had planned to sleep in most of the morning before going to the park with my family. Unfortunately my mom woke everyone up at 9:30. I stumbled from my bed and ran up the stairs from my basement room in only my boxers and a muscle shirt.
“What’s wrong Mom?” I gasped as I slipped into the kitchen. “Did you hurt yourself?”
She took one look at me, still in my underwear, and started laughing. My dad came into the room behind me and laughed too. My sisters came running into the kitchen a few seconds later and repeated my question.
“What’s wrong?” Shannon demanded.
“Did something bad happen?” Natalie asked.
This just made my parents laugh harder, which made us kids just look at each other in confusion.
“Did they tell you anything?” Shannon demanded of me. “And why are you in your underwear?”
“They didn’t tell me anything. They just started laughing. And I’m in my underwear ‘cause I ran up here as soon as I heard Mom scream. I was still asleep before that.”
“Ugh, why can’t you wear pajamas like normal people?” Shannon asked with a sneer. “I know you’re a freak, but can’t you at least pretend to be normal.”
“Oh yeah, like you’re normal,” I spat back sarcastically. “That’s rich coming from the girl with a bunch of green stuff on her face.”
“It’s a beauty mask,” she said with a sniff. “Not that you would know anything about beauty.”
“Yeah, and obviously you don’t either,” I laughed. “I should get a picture of this and show all your friends what you really look like.”
Shannon started to lunge for me, but Dad stepped between us. He spread his arms apart and wrapped Shannon in a big hug, which only smeared her so-called beauty mask into his t-shirt. She squealed with indignation and stomped back to the bathroom. Natalie giggled and asked if she could have a hug too. Dad picked her up and squeezed her between him and Mom in a three way hug, just the way Natalie liked it.
“Let’s go in the living room and wait for your big sister to be done in the bathroom,” Dad whispered into Natalie’s ear, but loudly enough I could hear too. “I’ve got some big news to share with everyone.”
Dad carried Natalie to the living room while Mom and I followed. I flopped into the recliner, and put my feet up. Mom sat down next to Dad, who was bouncing Natalie up and down on his knees. Something big was up. Dad was hardly ever this upbeat so early in the day, especially during the summer.
Dad taught high school English during the school year, but during the summer breaks, he worked nights at the different fruit packing warehouses in town. He usually slept pretty late because he didn’t get home from his shift until 4:30 in the morning. In fact, sometimes he slept through the afternoon too.
Shannon finally joined us after what felt like an hour. Her beauty mask was washed off, but replaced with tons of make-up. The rest of the family was still in pajamas, or in my case, underwear, but Shannon wouldn’t dream of joining us until she was completely dressed. It was almost a miracle that she came running when she heard Mom scream since she hadn’t put on her $150 dollar jeans yet.
“So what’s going on?” Shannon asked as she settled herself next to Mom.
Dad quit bouncing Natalie and turned to look at the rest of us. “Are you kids ready for this?” he asked.
“Well I wouldn’t have asked if I wasn’t,” Shannon said. “Just tell me already so I can go meet up with Melissa and Stephanie. They’re waiting for me.”
I nodded at Dad and he broke into a huge teeth-showing smile. “I got a new job!”
“Really?” I asked. “Like working in the orchards instead of packing?”
“Nope,” he said with a grin. “Guess again.”
“Are you going to be the boss now?” Natalie asked.
“Nope. Try again.”
“Will you stop playing games and just say it already,” Shannon interrupted. “I’m running late.”
“Well, since you put it so nicely...,” Dad said with a laugh. “I got a new teaching job, at a private school. And the best part is that it comes with enough of a raise that I won’t have to work with cherries at all anymore.”
“Sweet!” I yelled, jumping out of the recliner. “Does that mean you can come with us to the fireworks tonight?”
“Yes it does Em- I mean Kenny,” he said, nearly slipping up on my name. “I turned in my resignation at the warehouse last night.”
“If it’s a teaching job, why are you quitting your summer job now?” Shannon asked. “When does the job start?”
“Well, here’s the biggest news,” Dad started.
“Here we go,” Shannon muttered under her breath.
“The job isn’t here. We’re going to have to move.”
“WHAT?” Shannon screeched. “I’m going to be a junior next year. I am not starting over at some new school.”
“Now honey,” Mom said softly. “You could go to the school your Dad is teaching at if you want. One of the perks of his new job is that you kids can go to the school without paying tuition.”
“Private school? Like with uniforms? No way. I am not going to some snobby school. I want to keep going to my school. How far are we moving? Can’t I just drive myself from wherever it is we’re moving to?”
“That won’t be possible Shannon.”
“Why, where are we going?” she whined.
“We’ll be moving to Western Washington. The school is in Seattle.”
For once, Shannon was speechless. We all watched her bottom lip start to tremble. A tear ran down her cheek. She lowered her head and stared at her lap. I looked at Dad. He was watching Shannon and seemed to be trying to say something. His mouth would open for a second. Then it would close. It was Mom who finally broke the silence.
“It’s a scary move for all of us,” she said softly, “but it will also be a great opportunity for this family. There are some great schools in that area. The one your dad is going to teach at is one of them.”
“I just want to go to my own school,” Shannon sulked into her lap.
“There will be better resources for Kenny,” Mom continued.
At that, Shannon’s head snapped up, her eyes wide. “So we’re moving because of the freak? I should have known that was the reason you decided to ruin my life!”
“Now Shannon,” Mom began.
“No. I can’t believe that you’re going to pack up the whole family and move us to some big crime-filled city just so it can be a better freak.”
Dad cut off Shannon’s rant sharply. “Shannon. That’s enough. I’ve told you time and time again that you are not to call your brother a freak or it.”
“My brother? My brother? I don’t have a brother. I have two sisters, one of which is a freak. Do you know how much crap I have to take for her weird behavior? It was bad enough when everyone just thought she was a little dyke. Now that she’s gone and changed her name and insisting that people call her a boy, it’s a thousand times worse!”
“Shannon,” I broke in timidly.
“I’m not talking to you,” she spat in my direction.
“Shannon Elizabeth Harris!” Dad bellowed as he stood up. “You will not treat your family this way. You might not see Kenny as a brother yet, but that is what he is. You will respect him and not call him a freak. You will not call him it. And you will not call him she. Do I make myself clear?”
Shannon muttered something that I couldn’t hear, but Mom responded sharply. “You know that’s not true. We just want you kids to respect each other. Kenny has never treated you so badly. You might argue with each other, but he has never gone out of his way to make you feel bad about yourself.”
“Fine,” Shannon said shortly. “Can I go now?”
“Yes, you can go now,” Dad broke in, “but I want to see a better attitude from you, or you won’t be seeing your friends anymore. I mean it.”
“And Shannon honey,” Mom said as Shannon stomped toward the front door. “Think about silver linings.”
“What silver linings?” Shannon asked tiredly.
“Seattle has excellent shopping,” Mom said with a smile.
“Well, I guess that will be better than our half-ass mall.”
The door slammed as Mom’s exclamation of “Language!” echoed back at us. I smiled to myself. Mom knew Shannon’s weakness. She knew that a good shopping bribe might make Shannon open to the idea of moving.
I knew we wouldn’t see Shannon for the rest of the day, which I really didn’t mind. Mom gave me an apologetic smile before disappearing back to the kitchen. Dad tousled my hair as he followed her.
Even though I had wanted to sleep in, I figured that I might as well stay up now that I was really awake. I walked to my own room to get ready for the day, but I had only gotten as far as finding a pair of shorts on the top of my laundry pile when I heard a soft knock. I opened my door and found Natalie rocking back and forth on her heels. She asked if she could come in, and I let her. She made a beeline for my bed and started jumping up and down on it.
“I know you’re my brother Kenny,” she said between jumps. “I always wanted a big brother, and now I have one.”
I let her keep jumping as I found the rest of my clothes. None of the shirts on my floor smelled very good, so I pulled a clean t-shirt from one of my drawers. I was really lucky that I hadn’t really tried to be girly before all this. My family didn’t exactly have enough money to go out and buy me a bunch of new clothes, so I had to make due with the old ones. At least I had been shopping in the boys section since I was eight.
My shorts were baggy and cargo style, which was the style most of the other guys my age wore. My t-shirt was just a plain blue one that had a surfing logo on the back. Even my green-checkered boxers came from before I told my parents I was going to start living as a guy.
Looking back, I figured that my parents should have known there was something different about me. Maybe they just thought I would be gay, like Shannon and her friends all said. They might have just been denying that anything was different about me at all.
I grabbed my clean clothes and opened the door to my bedroom. Before I walked down the hall to the bathroom, I told Natalie to go upstairs and get dressed herself. I didn’t want her hanging out in my room when I wasn’t there. I heard her quick footsteps running up the stairs and across the floor above me as I locked the bathroom door.
I never liked to spend a lot of time in the shower, so I was in and out pretty quick. I jumped in, soaped down, and rinsed off. I was in and out in less than five minutes. I toweled off and pulled on my boxers and cargo shorts, but unfortunately I couldn’t just pull on my t-shirt.
My body has started to betray me when I was twelve. It had snuck up on me, but one day I noticed that I couldn’t just wear a t-shirt anymore. Mom had gone and bought me a bra, but I took an instant dislike to the lacy thing and refused to wear it. She thought I was being crazy about not liking how it looked since it would be under my clothes and no one could see it anyway, but the main problem I had with it was the way it shaped me. I had tried that bra on once, and it made the problem much more noticeable. Suddenly it was obvious that I had boobs.
After I threw the bra back at Mom and shouted about how I would never wear it, she stormed off. I figured that I was in trouble for yelling at her, but she came back to my room an hour later with a Wal-Mart bag in her hands. She told me that I couldn’t just wear t-shirts anymore, but she wouldn’t make me wear the lacy bra she had picked out the first time. She realized, after I threw my tantrum, that it really was more of Shannon’s style than mine. She had opened the Wal-Mart bag then and handed me a pack of sports bras. She told me that I had to wear something and that would at least feel a bit better to me than the alternative. So for about a year and a half I had been wearing the sports bras.
Unfortunately, while the sports bras worked better than the other bra, it was still apparent that I didn’t have a flat chest. After I first told my parents that I wanted to start living my life as the guy I was, I had found a way to stop wearing the sports bras all together.
I had been doing some online research on transgender guys for a while before coming out to my parents. I had even joined an online group with other female-to-male guys my age, and all of them had a similar concern to mine: how do you get a flatter looking chest? The answer turned out to be pretty easy. There was an online company that specialized in medical supplies for people after surgery. One of the items they listed for sale was a chest binder to keep patients from hurting themselves after open-heart surgery or something like that. A couple of the guys in my group already had a binder and swore that they worked great.
Once Mom and Dad seemed to get over the shock of my news, I told them I was going to buy one of those binders. I had been saving up my allowance and had the $30 I needed to buy one. I just needed them to use a credit card on the website for me. Dad didn’t see a problem with that and got online to order it right away. I happily handed over my $30 when he finished the order and held out his hand.
So once I was out of the shower and dressed from the waist down, I set to work on the top half of my body. My binder was made from a kind of scratchy material; I think the website had said it was nylon and spandex. So my skin felt all funny if I wore the binder directly against it. I easily solved that problem by going out and buying a compression t-shirt. The material of that shirt was soft and silky, so it felt good against my skin and helped the binder slide on easier. I was lucky enough to be pretty skinny and have a small chest to begin with, so once I had the compression t-shirt and my binder on, I had a pretty masculine looking chest. At least no one would say it was a girl’s chest.
I slid my regular t-shirt on over the binder combo and took a look at myself in the mirror. I finally liked how I looked. I had been avoiding mirrors for almost 2 years, but now I could finally smile when I saw myself.
Dad had been promising our family that we could go on vacation as soon as he didn’t have to work in the warehouses anymore. We all held him to his promise, and he agreed to let us take a weeklong vacation at the beginning of August.
Naturally there was trouble when we all sat down together to plan. Of course Natalie, like most eight year olds, wanted to go to Disneyland or Disneyworld. She didn’t care which; she just wanted to meet Donald Duck and Goofy. But almost as soon as she said it, Shannon sighed dramatically and said that Disneyland was kid stuff. Mom pointed out that even adults liked to go to Disneyland, but Shannon refused to let up. Natalie started crying and ran off to her room. Dad narrowed his eyes and gave Shannon his “now look what you’ve done” look while Mom went after Natalie.
The three of us sat there in silence while we listened to Natalie’s muffled crying. Mom’s voice could be heard trying to convince her to come out from under the bed. Dad continued to stare at Shannon who was obliviously checking her cell phone for new text messages.
“Why don’t we go to the beach?” I suggested. “We could go back down to Oregon. It was lots of fun last time.”
“I am so not camping,” Shannon interrupted. “Last time we were there, I smelled like fish the whole time. Plus it took me forever to get my hair back to normal.”
“Then don’t go in the water,” I argued.
Mom came back into the living room where we were holding our family meeting with Natalie trailing behind her, still sniffling.
“Kenny brought up going down to the Oregon coast,” Dad told them. “What do you think about that?”
“Can we go to that cool-” Natalie started.
“I already said that I don’t want to go camping,” Shannon interrupted.
Natalie’s lip started to tremble again, but Dad turned on Shannon before the waterworks could start. “I’ve had enough of your attitude, young lady. Your sisters, uh sister and brother, are excited about going anywhere. Now what if we agreed to get a hotel room on the coast? Would that be okay with your royal highness?”
“Ronald!” Mom said sharply. “Don’t talk to the kids that way.”
Shannon flicked her wrist and rolled her eyes and said, “I guess that will work for me,” as if she didn’t care.
With the location taken care of, Dad adjourned the family meeting. He said it would be less of a headache for both Mom and him if they just took care of the details by themselves. Mom said she would take care of reservations and everything online. I was a little bit worried about that because she wasn’t the most computer literate Mom around. In fact, she could barely check her email without asking one of us for help.
Somehow everything worked out and I had to give Mom credit. On the first Sunday of August, we all piled into the car and headed for the beach. True to his word, Dad found a hotel for us to stay in. Mom had managed to get us reservations in a pretty nice place that was right along the beach. They didn’t want to pay extra for deluxe rooms, but still managed to get us an Ocean view. Dad and Mom got their own room. That left us kids in the room next to them.
As soon as we walked in the room, Shannon claimed one of the two beds as hers and dropped the bigger of her two suitcases in the middle of it. That left me and Natalie sharing the other bed, but it was a pretty big bed and Natalie is a pretty small kid, so I didn’t mind.
We settled into the hotel pretty quickly. Then we decided to split up. Natalie and I wanted to go play on the beach, but Shannon wanted to go shopping. She had been saving all her babysitting money for the trip. Mom volunteered to take Shannon to the factory outlet stores while Dad said he would accompany us to the beach.
I decided to skip the compression shirt and threw a muscle shirt on over my binder. I pulled on a pair of green and blue swim trunks and grabbed my towel out of my duffle bag. Natalie had been wearing her swimsuit under her clothes all day and was ready in seconds. Dad told us that we could go ahead and cross the promenade to the sand while he got ready, but we had to promise to stay out of the water until he got there. I thought that I was old enough to go swimming on my own, but figured that he was just worried for Natalie.
“Kenny, can you bury me in the sand?” Natalie asked me as soon as we stepped into the sand.
“Sure,” I told her. “But let’s get a bit closer to the water first.”
By the time Dad caught up to us, Natalie’s head was poking out of the sand with just a bit of her orange swimsuit showing through the cracks of the sand mound.
“Look, Daddy!” She shrieked. “Kenny buried me!”
“I see that. Now, who wants to go swimming?”
We all ran for the water, but I was the only one who managed to get in past the ankle. Natalie screamed that the water was cold, and Dad agreed with her. But I had momentum going, so I kept pushing until I had fallen in completely and come up gasping for air and dripping with seawater.
Dad and Natalie eventually made it farther into the water and we had lots of fun splashing each other and trying to catch waves and ride them to the shore. We spent all afternoon in the water and by the time we dragged ourselves back into the motel rooms, the sun had given us pink skin. Shannon and Mom got back a little after we did and Shannon dropped six or seven shopping bags onto her bed.
Natalie and I had to take showers to get the sand and seaweed out of our hair, and by the time we were both clean, Mom had decided that we were going to have an easy dinner that night and told us that Dad had gone to get something from Pizza Hut.
That night was great. Shannon was in a pretty good mood after shopping most of the day, and Natalie and I were exhausted after playing in the water. We didn’t really have the energy to argue with each other, so it was an easy-going night. We just lounged on the beds while watching Seinfeld reruns and eating pepperoni pizza.
The rest of vacation went pretty well too. Mom took Shannon shopping a few different times, and that kept them happy. Then Natalie, Dad, and I ended up playing either at the beach or this really cool arcade. One day, Natalie and I ended up building a giant sand monster. At first, Natalie just wanted to build a sand castle. But I convinced her that it would be more fun to make an ogre. I used Natalie as a scale for the size. It took a while to get the sand to stay together. But we figured out, after an hour or so, that using really wet sand and scooping it up, instead of using buckets, worked the best. So first we build a somewhat humanoid sand person that was just a little shorter than Natalie. After we had the general shape, we started to add fun details. We used some sticks we found down the beach and sculpted a really gruesome face. The monster ended up having really sharp looking driftwood fangs, bulging eyes, and a squishy nose with boogers clogging the nostrils. To make the effect complete, I added a long strand of seaweed so that it looked like there was a really drippy booger leaking into its belly button. Dad took some pictures of us standing next to it. We even managed to convince Shannon, who was on a shopping break, to kneel in front of it and look afraid for one of the pictures.
We had lots of fun at the arcade too. I never knew that Natalie was so good at skee ball. She kicked my butt. But then I beat Dad at shooting baskets, so I felt a bit better. It was hilarious to watch Dad when Natalie talked him into playing Dance Dance Revolution with her. One of her friends had the home version, so she was pretty good. Her feet just flew under her while Dad tripped over his flip-flops.
We earned a lot of tickets over the week, mainly from Natalie’s skee ball skills, and by the end of the week we had enough to pool together and get a giant stuffed dolphin. Natalie was so happy when I told her that she could have it to herself. I didn’t mind giving it up. I saw how happy it made her. Besides, what freshman guy needs to have a 2 foot purple dolphin hanging out on his bed?