Trigger/content warning: Gender questioning, cisnormativity, implied disownment and (positive) coming out.
Author note: As with any identity a human might have, but especially minorities, we are not a monolith. Alby’s gender questioning journey is derived from my own experience and the research I have made of other people’s journeys. Everyone’s gender experience is unique, and Alby’s is a bit different from mine also, however if this helps you with yours, I am forever honored.
The line seems endless, the sun is harsh and the shirt I borrowed from my dad is making it worse. This is why I never like going for tortillas on a Saturday morning.
“And here you are sir, one kilo of tortillas.”
The old known warmth of the tortillas sets on my chest. I go back to where my dad waits for me. He turns on the car and drives back home and as the road passes underneath us, I know that something’s shifting in me. I don’t know what.
That night, I wake up to a bad-lit sky with an epiphany. That person called me “sir”, and I liked it very much.
For some reason I think the moon is judging me. What does this mean? Do I want to get called a boy? Do I want to be one? Maybe I just liked the word “sir” more than “ma’am”.
I never thought about my gender that much. Why? I really can’t say, maybe it was easier that way. It isn’t that I dislike being a woman (I don’t) so maybe I’m just overreacting? Maybe this is just a trick from my brain to make my life a little bit more interesting.
I spend the rest of the night watching that rather small platinum asteroid who has decided that being around the earth is a good decision. Breaking my skull apart while remembering all the metaphors we made around the rock.
Another day when the weather is cooler, and the shade of the trees protects me and my friend from the sun, I ask: “How did you know you were a boy?” and immediately shove the biggest piece of mango down my throat.
He finishes eating a piece of fruit and says: “Umm, you know when you look into the future or your expectation of it?” Rodrigo catches my eye and I nod, and he goes on, “Well, when I did/do that, I saw/see myself as a man. And so… you get the picture.”
He crushes a jicama with his teeth, lips staining from chamoy.
“I don’t know how you like that sauce,” I say.
“What!? This sauce, the very pinnacle of our culture?” He laughs. “But why do you ask?”
I lean on the bench, careful not to touch bird poop. “Don’t know. When I see my future, I don’t think I’d be happy being a woman, but I wouldn’t exactly be sad about it either.”
Rodrigo steals a piece of mango from my cup. “Well, gender can be such a mess but, I’m here to help.”
It starts raining on our exit. We leave two empty cups filling with water.
After many nights under the watchful gaze of the moon, basking in the artificial light of my computer while my bloodshot eyes read through the words of people in the same boat as me, I gathered enough confidence to request something from Dad.
There is a hiss of the meat cooking while I chop vegetables. Intellectually I know that he is okay with this. If he wasn’t, he wouldn’t have taken in Rodrigo. Emotionally however, I feel like a piece of bread ready to be torn apart by pigeons.
“Dad,” I say, putting away the knife.
“Yes, princess,” he answers me, and the word sends my brain into a loop. I unravel the word, expand it, until it loses its meaning.
“Do you think you can call me prince sometimes? Not that I dislike princess, but I don’t know, I may like prince too.”
He leaves the meat unsupervised; it complains in hisses. “Of course.” He smiles at me. “Tell me if you want to try other nicknames too, okay?”
“Yes thanks, and could we try different pronouns too? Maybe they/them?” My hear flutters and I know it’s right.
“Sure thing, prince.”
I start peeling a cucumber while my dad seasons the little chicken fingers our neighbours gave us. We don’t put on music, just the hiss of the meat frying and the swift of the peeler our soundtrack.
On a Sunday, a week after my conversation with Rodrigo, some friends invite us to a barbecue. That morning as I got dressed, the light reflecting on the mirror’s bathroom painted the picture of a human in their underwear, behind them is a blouson pink dress with printed flowers. When I pulled it on, I liked how the dress settled around my body.
“Now, a photo with all the ladies!” says the photographer: the uncle of the three year old whose birthday we are celebrating.
There are only four women in the party, but in the photo five people pose with the birthday pal. After the photo, my dad asks if I could bring him a beer. He pries the cap loose and offers me a sip. I hate the bitter taste of the beverage that makes my tongue recoil.
I steal a tamarind flavored soda and climb my tree. I don’t own it of course but after almost dying and being carved by its hands I think you could say I belong to it. Leaning against its branch I can see all the people at the barbecue. In my little bubble of Rodrigo and Dad I forgot that we lived in a cisnormative and binary world.
Maybe I should stop. Living as a woman isn’t bad, I could see myself doing that for the rest of my life and feeling not happy per se, but also not sad.
“Space for two?”
I look down to see Rodrigo.
“Not if you want to fall,” I say, and he finds a comfortable position in his own part of the tree.
“What are you thinking about?”
“My dress, maybe I shouldn’t have … It doesn’t matter. Anyways, why are you here?”
“Miguel will never find me, and I will finally be crowned the hide and seek king… What doesn’t matter?”
I snort. “It amazes me how you always lose to a twelve-year-old.” I pick at the hem of my dress. “Don’t know … the fact that no matter what I wear people will still see me as …” I drift off, looking out at the people below.
“Well, there are ways to change that if you want to,’ he says, shuffling slightly so he’s a bit higher in the tree. “But you also don’t want to be seen as a boy, right?”
“Yeah, but in the end, it isn’t as if I’m miserable how I am now. Not like you were.”
“It doesn’t matter if you don’t get gender dysphoria. Alby, life isn’t about not being sad, it’s about being happy.”
We continue observing the children play and the adults make idle conversation. They seem to be happy, at least most of them are smiling. I would like to wear one of those smiles in my future. I might even fight for one.
A month later, I leave the house in one of my dad’s shirts. It’s nothing fancy, just a plaid shirt with orange rectangles and a knee-length grapefruit skirt, but it makes me feel good. I still don’t know what gender I am, but at least I have decided I’m not 100% woman or 100% man.
“And a cone of lemon ice cream for the…” The vendor looks a bit confused; I smirk at them.
“Gentleman or lady is okay.”
I look into my future as whatever I realize I am and feel the old warmth of tortillas settling in my chest.
About the author
Ari Ochoa Petzold (they/xe) is a Mexican-Venezuelan bi genderfluid writer. They like dancing to old music and history. In their free time you can find xem trying to coerce their friends to participate in another of their crazy projects. Find more of xyr work in the Sea Glass Magazine, Graveyard Zine, Hooligan Mag and at Instagram in @Ari_gibberish.