G-A-I, G-A-N, G-A-U— no, too far. G-A-R. Garden. There it is. Annie On My Mind. My heart pounded as I took it off the shelf. I grabbed a stack of other books, random titles, and stick the novel in the center. I walked to the counter with the spines pressed against my abdomen, trying my best not to run in the library and avoiding turning my head towards a group of my classmates doing chemistry homework at a nearby table.
I didn’t make eye contact when I handed my books to the librarian. I looked instead at the soft, blonde curls piled on top of her head. I wondered if the color was naturally so even or if she’d dyed it. I wondered if she had grey hairs she wanted to hide. And I hoped for the first time in my life that someone hadn’t heard of a book.
When she finally scanned Annie On My Mind she smiled at me and for a moment I thought the world might end right there, with me nervously shifting my weight and clutching my library card up to my face with both hands. Too close to my face. Is that weird? Is she noticing? I handed her the card hurriedly. The world didn’t end. I mumbled a thank you, stuffed my books into my bag (pre-unzipped for a quick get away) and sped out of the library.
“Hailey!” Samantha was eating lunch in the hall just outside the library doors with a girl I didn’t recognize, waving me over.
I approached them, trying to smile, and they launched back into gossiping— names I knew but couldn’t connect to faces. I put my bag down; it was heavy now, and tried my best to pretend to follow along. Courtney, Josh, Davis, Lindsey. Or did she say Linda? I didn’t know any of these people and I couldn’t stop thinking about the book hidden away in my backpack. Eventually Samantha’s friend said it and jolted me painfully back to earth: “I heard he’s gay.” I was painfully aware of my heartbeat.
Samantha wrinkled her nose in disgust. “That’s gross.”
I didn’t decide to react. My body did that for me. Before I’d even processed Samantha’s reaction I’d picked my bag up off the floor and walked off without saying a word. I didn’t cry on my way to Spanish. I think I was too numb.
The first person I told at school was my lab partner in physics: Jacob. I didn’t plan to tell him but when he asked me out I didn’t know what to say except, “I don’t like boys.” So I told him I didn’t like boys.
“We could still go see the movie,” he suggested, “as friends.”
Our parents dropped us off a half hour before the show started. Neither of us had any extra cash so we wandered around the arcade, pretending to play the games and making excessive, silly sound effects with our voices. Eventually he told me about the other girl in our physics class he thought was cute and I told him about Robyn and the way my breathing stopped every time she answered a question in history.
“Man, this is weird,” he said eventually.
“Yeah,” I agreed, watching the intro credits for a racing game start over for the third time while I moved dramatically back and forth on the attached fake motorcycle, “I wish we had some quarters.”
“No, I mean—” He blushed lightly. “—You’re a girl and we’re talking about girls.”
As soon as we were seated and the lights in the theatre went down, he reached for my hand. I swatted it away again and again but he begged all through the pre-film advertisements. “I’m not asking you to be my girlfriend. Just hold my hand for a little bit.”
After the movie he insisted on walking me to my mom’s car. I pleaded with him not to but he followed me anyway and opened the car door for me. This time I did cry.
“I asked him not to do that,” I explained to my mom in between sobs.
“He was just trying to be a gentleman,” she said gently.
A week later he sent a picture of his dick to my phone.
I told one person. And then another. And then another. I started dressing the way I wanted to and cut my hair up above my ears. People knew and things changed.
No one started conversations with me anymore unless they couldn’t avoid it and then they’d babble awkwardly and look away like they were trying to avoid staring at something stuck in my teeth.
If I looked at a girl for longer than a couple of seconds or smiled at a girl in the hallway or was too friendly when I had to talk to another girl in class, her inevitable reaction was some mixture of fear and disgust. Whenever it happened I remembered how I’d felt about Jacob trying to force his sweaty palm into my hand. I wondered if she felt the same way about me.
I avoided going to the bathroom at school as much as possible. When I had to, I looked to make sure no one was watching before I opened the door and prayed no one would be inside when I got in. I knew someone might perceive a boy slipping into the wrong bathroom and I knew no straight girl would want to be alone in there with me.
I heard “is that a boy or a girl?” often. People didn’t bother to lower their voices.
I felt disgusting. I felt wrong. The person everyone was seeing when they looked at me wasn’t me. I didn’t want to be the dyke they thought I was anymore. I didn’t even want to be in my body anymore.
I told everyone to start calling me Daniel and ‘he’ instead of ‘she.’ I make a plan to go to a new school in the fall where everyone will think I’m a normal boy. I’ll be able to blend in. No one will see a weird, disheveled, dangerous lesbian when they look at me any more. I think everything is going to be okay now.
(Note: The events written here are true but names have been changed and dates may not line up perfectly with an objective narrative.)