Run around with the other boys, play football and ride bikes with your shirts off in the summer. Think girls are gross and exclaim “eugh” when you see your parents kiss. Scowl at everyone who buys you something pink. Cry for hours when they try to force you into a dress. It’s a phase they say, she’ll grow out of it. She’ll grow out of it. Eventually they say you’re too old to be a tomboy, their patience wears thin. The boys don’t want a girl hanging around with them. The girls all think you’re strange. You don’t fit anywhere.
Get to high school, it’s a new start. You can do it right this time. Keep your head down, wear the right clothes, apply the correct make-up, do your work how they tell you. The teachers love you, you have enough friends, everyone thinks you are okay. Meet your parents’ expectations, work hard to be like your sister. Try and ignore that crying voice inside as you apply your lipstick and straighten your hair. Hang out with the right gang of girls. Kill time until you graduate. It’s fine, it’s an image, a picture that won’t crack. Pretend it’s real.
Things are going perfect but you stare at the boys coming out of the changing room with jealousy. You pretend it’s lust. Pretend you don’t want their body or hair. It’s desire, nothing more. Stop yourself from staring at your best friend and her beautiful blonde hair. There’s no attraction, there can’t be. If she found out, your mask of normality would shatter. You can’t have that. Pretend there’s nothing there, smile and joke along with them. Lust after boys and apply your make-up.
That’s when things go wrong. You can’t control it any more. You are certain she must feel the same way. You try to kiss her, desperate to touch those soft lips. She pushes you away, she calls you a dyke and tells everyone who’ll listen. Your friends are gone, the illusion is starting to crack.
The mocks and comments begin to start, you hide and cut and disappear. You try and fade into the background but it doesn’t work. You’re the dyke now. Dyke, faggot, gay, lesbian. Sprawled on your schoolbooks, shouted in hallways, spray-painted on your front door. You beg for it to pass but it doesn’t. You give up, find a group of friends who accept you. You smoke, drink, you cut, you fuck whoever you can, you snap. Your parents get scared when you don’t come home every night, they panic thinking they’ll find you in a ditch somewhere. You don’t care. Self-mutilation and the people you think are friends, they’re the ones who care.
A realisation comes after a particularly bad house party, they don’t even hold your hair back when you throw up. They leave you on the bathroom floor, unconscious after too much vodka. You wake up and wander home the next morning in a stolen jacket and blood-stained jeans. You’ll never find out where the blood came from. You’ll pull yourself together just in time to get the grades for university, you isolate yourself from everyone and feel slightly dead inside. Everyone says they’re proud of you, you don’t trust people any more. You just want to get out of this town.
It’s university when you realise what’s wrong. You knew a long time ago but it was a fantasy on the internet. Accounts under a male name, pretending you’re someone different. Not allowing anyone to know the real you. You slowly realise that is the real you. You stare at yourself in the mirror and try and figure out what you hate. It’s the weakness, the femininity. You cut your hair short and bind your chest, you buy clothes you like and stop shaving your legs. Your smile is real for the first time as you are someone new. The person who is you. You’re Elliot now.