Featured

i am not a girl

Like most people, my journey to self-understanding was a long one. Unlike most people with journeys like mine, I didn’t spend my entire life knowing I was different. A little backstory: I was raised by people from religious families, people whose beliefs revolved around heteronormativity and gender roles. I played with dolls as a child. My brother played with cars and action figures. Pink was for girls. Blue was for boys. I “played along”, as a young child with limited understanding of the world. Whatever my parents said, went. I didn’t question, my mom and dad were always so strict when I was younger, always so condescending and manipulative. I knew better than to get on their bad sides.

I’ve had anxiety as long as I can remember. I’ve always blamed it on my parents’ name calling, the shouting matches they’d have at me through my door. As a preteen and a teenager, my mother was always adamant I could tell her anything, and she loved me unconditionally. After awhile I realised that was a lie. She loves me, sure, but only the parts of me she knows. I only show her the parts she’d like. When I got older and began to talk to her about things, our conversations almost always ended in lectures, or yelling, I was always the scapegoat. Eventually I stopped talking to her about anything personal at all. She still wondered why.

I was a tomboy as a kid – or at least, that’s what I chalked it down to. Ever since I was a young kid, I’d wear clothes that were stereotypically boyish. I remember my mother asking why I’d never wear a dress, and me explaining I didn’t like how girly they made me feel. I never wore makeup as a teenager. I never dressed up. I’m just a tomboy, I’d say to myself and to everybody else, and for years none of us questioned it. Living with my parents was hard, I could never really expres myself in the ways I wanted to, I could never really experiment with hairstyles and fashion. I was a straight, cis-gender girl for more than twenty years of my life.

I remember asking my mother, about ten or so years ago, what she would do if I were a lesbian. I remember her looking at me, making a face, and saying she would take me to a psychiatrist. I remember my father hearing that the lead actor in his favourite show was gay, and promptly refusing to continue watching it. I think, in those days, I was so conditioned to heteronormativity and so deeply terrified of my parents that I managed to fool even myself for years. I’d get crushes on girls at school, and I’d convince myself they were only platonic crushes, and that’s how it was for most of my life. It wasn’t attraction, I didn’t even consider that it could be, this is how every girl feels when they want to be friends with another girl. Thinking about it now makes the whole thing sound ridiculous. I suppose after long enough, lying to yourself becomes second nature.

Ever since I was old enough to know what attraction was, I’d find myself drawn to the women in movies, books, television shows. I liked them because they were ‘pretty’, or because I ‘wanted to be friends with them’. There were even times I’d wish I were a boy, so I could date a pretty woman I saw. I knew lots of queer people growing up: my cousins, my friends. Fun fact: two of my best (girl) friends, who are now married and trying for kids, had only just begun dating when I befriended them in middle school.

In college, I cut off all my hair, and left the sides of my head shaved. I still lived with my parents at the time. I remember coming home and my father instantly commenting, the same judgemental way he would when I wore fitted clothing, or didn’t shave my legs. It was scary for me, I’d had long hair my whole life, and in an instant all of that was gone. It was an incredible feeling. I’d leave my hair uncombed and dress in hoodies and jeans from the men’s section of stores. I felt like myself. I came out as transmasc to my closest friends, and I began to experiment with new names. I’ve changed my name a lot over the years. Avery, Emory, Jack, Finn, Danny, it took awhile before I found one I felt comfortable with.

When I was twenty three, I moved out of my parents’ home. I had a three year old and I’d grown tired of the harassment and my mother trying to over-parent me. I lived in a basement suite with my son for a year, and the freedom was liberating. I’ve kept my hair short through the years, always shaved on the sides; eventually, my parents stopped hassling me about it. Something was missing, though. I was identifying as male, but still I didn’t feel satisfied a lot of the time. Was that normal? I had crushes on girls all through college, and I told myself the same shit: it’s just a friend crush. Only what if it wasn’t?

The feelings I had became very conflicting. It was hard to determine whether I was drawn to women because I was attracted to them, or because I wanted to look like them. My gender usually stays the same for quite a long time. When I started feeling the urge to put on dresses and grow my hair back out, I was confused. I’d spent all this time identifying as male, and I’d been so happy doing it, and now I wasn’t. It made no sense. I thought it was a phase, maybe, I’d just been experimenting, but I think deep down I knew that wasn’t it. I had some identity crises. I talked to a lot of friends. In my later years of college, it finally clicked. I’m attracted to women, and men, and everyone in between. I’m not a girl, or a boy, but sometimes I’m both.

My whole life, I’ve only dated men. There’s a huge part of me that feels like I’m missing out, or that I’m not worthy of calling myself LGBTQ+ if I’ve never been in a same-sex relationship. I guess I’m too afraid, of my family, of strangers, of judgement. I guess I need to learn to devour that fear before I can really be true to myself. I feel regret for never having done more exploring into my same-sex attraction. I feel like an outsider, sometimes, like I’m posing for attention or whatever else. It sounds silly. There’s a pressure to conform; I’ve always been terrified of not being liked by people. I’m not out to my family. I’m still far too anxious of even the thought of bringing it up. It’s challenging, sometimes. I’m afraid of what people will think of me. I’m afraid of offending somebody. In today’s day and age, it’s impossible not to.

When I was younger, I resented my parents. I resented them for the way they raised me, for the stress and anxiety they’ve caused me. I’ve forgiven them, now, but it’s a shame, all that time I wasted being afraid of them. We’re on better terms these days, although I still wouldn’t say my relationship with my parents is “great”. It’s decent. It’s frustrating. They are stuck in their beliefs, and I am stuck in mine. I don’t really need them as part of my support group: I’ve got wonderful friends, and I’ve got a partner who accepts me just the way I am. I’ve learned there’s no use trying to change people who don’t see a problem with their ways. I’ve learned you won’t always be liked or accepted, and I’m still coming to terms with that, but I like and accept myself now, at least, and that’s something.

I just want to take this one last moment to say that it doesn’t matter what you look like or how you were born. What matters is how you feel on the inside, and you should pursue that, despite what people think. It’s easier said than done, I know that. It’s hard to be yourself in a world that’s always trying to make you into somebody else. I wish you took more pride in how you looked, my mother would say, I want my daughter to dress up. (News flash, mom, I’m not your daughter, not all the time, anyway). It’s hard to explain to people who aren’t willing to understand. Your identity is yours, not anyone else’s. Your sexuality is not a phase, or a gimmick for attention, or a disgrace. You’re valid.

That’s all I wanted to say for today. Stay true, everybody.

apollo

today i spoke to god

+ he was yellow:

a fervent boy

whose beardless face

had cursed a soul

and loved a thousand more.

god is

a golden boy

whose skin is

doused

in light

whose hands are summerlike

today i spoke

to god:

a flowerchild with hands

that tremble in

the light of day +

he was brazen

+

grey

+

bronze

+ tangerine.

god plays the lyre

+ wears a rock citrine.

one robe

one gleam

one baby child

under

one mezzanine.

god falls

in love

with nymphs + kings +

throws a quoit to

split the seams –

today i spoke to god

+ he was draped in golden dew

+ played a tune;

+ the god of the sun

adores

the queen of the moon.

neurodivergence in the workplace

One in five Canadian adults will struggle during their lifetime with some sort of mental disorder. This translates into more than four million adults who are dealing with possibly debilitating mental symptoms that affect their ability to live, work, and be productive. The cost of mental disorders, both treated and untreated, totals fourteen billion dollars annually. This cost doesn’t take into account the pain, suffering, and challenges of a neurodivergent adult, who may spend their whole adult lives attempting to survive in the workplace. Out of the ten leading causes of disability in developed countries, four are mental disorders, and despite this, almost half of all neurodivergent adults refuse to seek help. Let’s consider the reasons for this: shame, denial, abuse, or simply just the inability to do so. 

Now, with this in mind, let’s consider. The probability is quite high that, of all the people in your workplace, about a quarter of them live with mental health struggles. But would you know this, if nobody told you? The problem with invisibility disabilities – such as depression, substance abuse, and others like this – is that if they’re not disclosed, they won’t be accommodated. Realistically, even if they are disclosed, in many workplaces, accommodations aren’t given. We are misconstrued to be lazy, attention-seeking, or attempting to get out of a job. In today’s working world, it’s hard to be taken seriously if you don’t act or perform the same way everybody else does. As a neurodivergent adult, I’ve always found the workplace to be unkind, unwelcoming to those of us who perform in different ways. 

There are pros and cons, of course, to disclosing a mental health issue to one’s colleagues. Like any other health issue, it can lead to isolation or judgement if misunderstood. Like many other health issues, it can be accommodated by accepting, understanding colleagues. But the chance of this is slim, for those of us whose brains function differently than the norm. Neurodivergence in the workplace is a gander, a risk many aren’t willing to point out, and simply struggle with silently in order to be treated fairly. The question is: is it really worth it to hide your mental health issues at work?

Canada-wide, suicide is the leading cause of death among men ages ten to fifty, and the fourth leading cause among women. This begs the question: why are men more likely to die by suicide than women, and why are they still not taken seriously? The question answers itself, of course. From a young age, men are told to be stoic, tough, taught that they can’t be a man unless they’re brave, and this is undeniably harmful. When it comes to the workplace, this mindset of stoicism and emotionlessness makes men struggle in silence, scared that they will be laughed at or dismissed for speaking out. Neurodivergence in the workplace is nothing new, and yet it’s still not understood. When it’s not understood, it cannot be accommodated.

With all of this said, there is only one way to make neurodivergent workers feel welcomed in their place of business. As an adult attempting to work with mental health issues, I can be the first to tell you it isn’t easy to find an environment that makes me feel at home. There is only one way to make neurodivergent workers feel welcomed, and that is to understand us. Do not deal with us in a way that is surface-level, a refusal to get to the root of it all. Do not treat us in a way that is reserved for the stupid, or the difficult, or the unpleasant. We are none of these things, purposefully. To understand is to open your mind to knowledge, to information you may not have been exposed to before. To understand is to listen, not in a way of judgment, and not in a way of close-mindedness.

To end the stigma behind mental illness, we all must understand it. To understand, we first must listen. To listen, we must be educated. Education starts with you, and it starts with me. We cannot learn if we are not taught.

It’s a neurotypical’s world

It’s been a while since I’ve sat down at a computer and actually put genuine effort into writing something. I could blame my “hectic schedule” – though while that is partially true, my motivation works in strange, annoying ways.

A couple months ago, I got a job in fast-food. Obviously it’s not my first choice, but the pandemic has kicked my ass, as I’m sure it has to everyone, and so fast food was the only job I could get. I moved with my partner and my son to a new beach town, a high tourist destination, and I enjoy it here. I work forty hour weeks at a place where the managers abuse and degrade their employees, and it’s bringing out the very worst of my mental illnesses.

It’s a neurotypical’s world, and I’m just living uncomfortably in it. I feel I’ve never fit in with the rest of the general public. I’m awkward, and I stim often and “abnormally”, and I never quite understood how to socialise successfully. Truthfully, I’d rather sit in my dark room in the quiet than do just about anything else. Too much light is over-stimulating. Too much noise is over-stimulating. Perhaps that’s why I’ve always felt so at home at night. Work is the greatest struggle I’ve had in a long time. I’m not understood there. I’m treated badly, and I have to put up with it because I need the money. But I deserve better. Everyone there deserves better.

It seems to me that a lot of adults expect respect from younger people, despite treating them like shit, and doing nothing at all to deserve it. But I don’t respect them. I don’t respect my managers, who go around yelling and bullying workers into submission, and who call us “disrespectful” and “rude” when we’re just standing up for ourselves. That’s not the point. I’ll never be understood there, or anywhere, with my anxiety disorders, my ADHD, my autism. I’ll never be respected, it feels, by people who have no idea what it’s like to be neurodivergent.

The first step, I suppose, is to speak to my doctor about a screening, get myself some different medication. I see my doctor often enough, but I feel I’m never taken seriously. I’m not a woman, but I’m treated as one. If therapy weren’t so expensive, I’d probably still be in it. I could do these things, I know I could, it isn’t a question of competency. It’s a question of motivation. What is it, and how can people find it so easily? I know I seem lazy, and I feel it. Most of the time I’m just trying to force myself to get out of bed and go to work. When I’m not working I’m sleeping. When I’m not sleeping, I’m cooking and cleaning. It seems so repetitive and depressing that that’s all I’m doing with my life. My books don’t bring in any money. I don’t have any other talents in life.

I want to explain to them that I am listening, despite not making eye contact, despite forgetting what you’ve said two minutes later. I want to explain to them that I’m snapping because I’m anxious, and I’m over-stimulated, and I need to go stand in a quiet room for a while to calm down. I wish there was a way to make people understand me, to make them listen, to learn to work with my brain rather than against it, but it all seems so hard. I’m embarrassed by my meltdowns at work, by my horrendous memory and lack of self-suffiency. I’m embarrassed by my processing issues, my uncomfortable stims. I can’t help it. I can’t go a day without hating myself, lately.

A while back, I took my road test, and I failed. I was very upset by this at first, I felt stupid and sad. Not too far back, I realised I probably can never drive at all.  Every time I get behind the wheel, no matter how calm or prepared I am, I always forget I exist. Does that make sense? I don’t know if it’s anxiety, or sensory overload, or something else. I really don’t know. The thing is that I disassociate every time I try to drive.

I think sometimes I’m too hard on myself. I think, when I’m having a bad mental health day, I’m too easily disappointed in myself. People associate mental illness with incompetency, or inferiority, and sometimes I think they’re right. I know this assumption isn’t true. I know I’m not any less competent than anyone else. At work, we all have to do things in exactly the same way, and I feel overwhelmed by this, because my routine and comfort is being compromised. It doesn’t matter. The lights are too bright, the background is too noisy, I don’t like the feeling of my shirt on my back, and I’m not allowed to stim. I don’t know. It just feels recently that my mental health will always have to compromised.

A PSA

Let’s take a moment to consider why it’s accepted by society for a woman to wear “men’s” clothes, but not for men to wear “women’s”. Let’s take a moment to consider that the reasons for this are obvious: 1.) it’s degrading to be a woman, and 2.) a man should be “manly”.

Look, the patriarchy hurts women, obviously, but let’s not pretend it doesn’t hurt men too. Boys are taught to be stoic, masculine, athletic, muscular: even if that isn’t who they are. We force men to stifle their emotions, and then blame them for not knowing how to talk about them. We tell them to “man up”, implying that showing emotions makes you womanly and weak. We tell them to “be a man” but give them literally no clues on how to do that. We equate their clothing with their sexuality and their masculinity with their value as a man.

In 2017, the suicide rate of men was more than 3x higher than that of women. This needs to be discussed. It’s atrocious to expect a human being, regardless of gender or anything else, to suffer in silence or swallow their problems. We are not robots. We are sentient. And we NEED to stop telling men that it’s not okay to be themselves.

As the parent of a boy, already having these expectations pushed onto him by society, I need to step up. As the parent of a boy who rejects gender roles, I need to put energy into dealing with fully adult people judging a child for the way he lives his life. Do not tell me a man is any less a man if he chooses to wear a dress. Do not tell me a man is any less a man if he puts on makeup, or has long hair, or (God forbid)! CRIES about something. Don’t you dare tell me.

Look, clothes have no gender. Feelings have no gender. Colours have no gender. Behaviours, toys, and hobbies have no gender. There is no “right way” to be a man. Don’t you dare try and tell me there is. We need to normalise feminine boys, chubby boys, short boys, queer boys, long-haired boys. We need to teach our boys they are valid and loved the way they are.

TEMPTRESS

☆ spacegirl
you live in the clouds
speckled pink
like a tulip :
loving the wild of the
night
flecks of blue
in your sight.

spacegirl
you burn thru
the skies : hearts of men
on the ground
at your feet
pile of dust at your sides:

like an animal’s lure
of their prey –

you commit
to the spear

hearts of men
fraught with fear
in the blink of
your green speckled eyes.

spacegirl : the keeper of moons :
flecks of blue :
maiden’s child
you burn thru the skies
like a fire

naked

+ wild

what can the moon bring?
even the deer listen when you sing.

spacegirl

a canvas sky: paint the moon paint the stars

breathe in your art.

and spacegirl
sleeps under the moon
with the deer and the birds
gracing the skies
and the night
with beautiful words. ☆

sun children

It’s harder, some days than others, to be a functional adult. There’s always something in my life to stress about, always something that needs to be done. But things progress, one way or the other, somehow. I’ve been focused on looking at life as a child would: appreciating the little things, spending time in the present enjoying all of life’s blessings. There are always blessings, although it’s difficult to find them at times. In these past few months, I found my way back to religion and spirituality, and it seems so strange: I spent so many years adamant there was Nothing and Nobody out there. My days begin with counting my blessings, opening my heart to the Gods, thanking the Universe for all it’s given me. It’s been a very long time since I’ve welcomed any sort of Higher Being into my life. It feels uncomfortably vulnerable, but I’ve been growing a little more day by day. My days are filled with reflection and prayer, but it’s not something I’ve done long enough to remember to do it every day. As somebody who was raised under Christianity, I find myself comparing all of the Pagan Gods to the Christian one, though they couldn’t be more different. If I forget to pray for a day or two, or forget to thank the Universe for my meals, or even if I treat somebody with a slight amount of disrespect – I feel I should repent, that I’ve angered the Gods, that they will have a vengeance toward me for ever after. It’s dramatic, sure. That’s what I’ve grown used to.

Meditation can be a grounding activity. Relaxing is hard to do; it always has been, for me. I try and embrace the silence, to ground myself with the elements and the environment, but I can never seem to calm my mind. There must be some kind of noise in my background: soft music, a wind-chime, background mumbling. I can’t focus my mind without something to focus it on. It gets hard to keep everything straight. Yesterday I left an offering to the Gods, an I sat in candlelit silence and meditated in their presence, and I felt at peace. It’s how I know They’re there, the peace. When the sun shines down on me and I feel welcomed and just pleasant. When I sit underneath the moonlight and feel at home and at peace. I am becoming one with nature, which I have never really tried all that hard to do before, but which I think I needed. It feels odd to explain to other people, still. It feels odd to explain to people who don’t believe the same things I do. It feels unwelcoming, sometimes, practicing my newfound faith around others, and I know that’s just because of my internal phobias. The phobia of ridicule. The phobia of society. Human fears. The more I ground myself and grow my self-esteem, the easier it becomes to stand up for what I believe in, and to be true to myself. Two things which, of course, I’ve been awful at for most of my life. Hail the Lady, and the Lord. I am improving.

Once more, I’m fumbling with balancing my internal environment with my external one. How is my subconscious connected to my relationships with others? It’s the journey of learning to be strong, grounded, assertive, and kind, equally. It’s a foolish thought of mine that sometimes I’m running out of time to perfect myself and figure out my life. It’s a foolish thought because, although I’m nearing my thirties, there’s more than enough time. There is this lifetime, and the next, and the one after that. There is, possibly, an infinite number of lifetimes. I used to lie in bed, unable to sleep, petrified of the thought of death and all its gruesomeness. This is something I have not done in weeks, perhaps months, since I was welcomed by religion. I suppose it helps, believing that I will be reborn into a new body after the death of my current one. I suppose it helps knowing there is Someone out there to watch over my body and my spirit.

They say you should do one thing a day that scares you. For me, recently, this was expressing myself truly on social media, in front of people I knew would judge me. This is always intimidating, to put oneself voluntarily into a vulnerable position, but I’m beginning to understand the growth that can occur from this. I have had more mental growth these past few months than I think I have had in years. Maybe other people can’t tell, but I can. I feel a different way about myself and my environment. Despite this, society is a harsh mistress. I can change myself, but I can never change someone who is unwelcoming to change, and I’m frustrated by this. But I’ve learned it’s pointless to try and change a person’s ways if they don’t want them to be changed. I’ve learned it’s a waste of time and energy, and that all I can really do is focus on bettering myself. There have been several instances in the past little while which have greatly disrupted my inner peace, and it takes time to quit allowing these things to affect you. I need to become calmer, to take a few breaths and balance myself, before jumping into conversations I am upset by. I know this, and I make a conscious effort to become a more peaceful person: because, though I am good at masking externally, my mind is seldom at peace.

I had a close friend, a couple weeks ago, decide she no longer wanted anything to do with me because of my sexuality and the things I am passionate about. I wasn’t bothered by this as much as I was bothered by the future effect of her bigotry on her children. It’s about the children. As a parent, it’s always about the children. I want to be better – calmer, kinder, gentler – for my child more than I want it for myself. This is the way it always is. I can put on a façade, pretend not to care about the hateful things people spew, but of course I care. Why can’t everyone be kind and understanding to each other? is a thought I’m often struck with. We can wish this as many times as we want, but the fact of the matter is that some people will always be hateful. And it has nothing to do with us. They are hateful because of their own insecurities, their own self-esteem, their own upbringing. When someone tells me I’m an awful parent – or I’m ruining my child’s life, or I’m stupid and don’t know anything – I can be upset by it. Truthfully, I always am. I’m learning how to separate personal prejudices from professional opinions, and how to disregard things I know to be untrue. Does this make sense? They say the most unkind people are the ones who need kindness the most. I guess it’s just hard to know where to draw the line sometimes.

It’s harder, some days than others, to manage anxieties and insecurities. There’s always some sort of anxiety, despite how hard I try to appear otherwise; it isn’t something that will just disappear overnight. Overcoming mental obstacles takes years of practice and self-awareness. It can be discouraging and uncomfortable and scary, because I think it’s necessary to learn how to let yourself be vulnerable, but I can do it. And you can do it, too, whoever you are, whatever you’re struggling with. You can overcome your obstacles, and find peace, and calm that thunderstorm that rages inside of you. Just breathe, and remember you’re alive, and remember you’re loved, and we’ll survive alright.

the downfalls of gender fluidity

These past couple days, and today especially, the level of dysphoria I’ve been feeling is just overwhelming. There’s always such a sense of incompleteness in my life, and I don’t think there’s anything I can do about it. When I wake up feeling an overwhelming urge to just shave my head, and put on a suit, and stick a sock in my pants so it looks like I have a penis – it’s just something I can’t handle. I look in the mirror, or I go to take a shower and it’s like this total imposter is in place of my body, and I can’t get rid of them. I can’t just alter my body parts at will, as affirming as that would be, I’m not a robot. It just, it’s so hard looking in the mirror and wanting to see this guyish, deep-voiced, broad-shouldered man looking at me. If this is all I wanted, then whatever, I would take hormones and become this full-time man. But unfortunately, it’s not that easy.

Those are the hardest days. When I wake up and feel feminine – when I want to see this cute, big-eyed girl with perky boobs in the mirror reflection: that’s easier to deal with. It’s a matter of just putting on a padded bra, and throwing on a wig, and some makeup, and I’m satisfied for the moment. And then some time passes, and I want to shave my entire head, and it becomes such an overpowering desire that I just end up doing it – and you see where I’m going with this. Weeks or months or days later, I always come back around and regret shaving my head, and I let it grow out, and it becomes this awful, never-ending cycle of dysphoria and irrationality. And I feel…. there isn’t much I can do about it, I can’t be every gender at once or even convincingly pass as the sex I’m not, and it’s so emotionally draining.

It’s just not a matter of female/male. I don’t know. Sometimes I go for a walk and I want strangers to look at me and seriously question my gender. You know, or I want them to question their sexuality looking at me, or I want them to wonder how I identify even if it’s none of their business. Some people seem to do this so flawlessly and I just can’t pull it off in a way that I’m satisfied with, and I’ve tried a thousand different ways. I’m always too feminine, or my hips are too big, or my chest is too small, or my hair is too awkward-lengthed. There’s never any satisfaction with what I wear or say or do. Can I not just be one or the other? Can I not just be a man or a woman instead of ruining my mental health trying to be everything? And so few people understand – they can empathise, but they haven’t been there, and so they can’t really understand on an emotional level.

It’s just something I’m having a lot of trouble dealing with, especially lately. I guess, growing up, I always just blocked out the feelings so I didn’t have to deal with them, and then when they do get acknowledged, they’re just that much worse from years of avoidance. It’s not a topic that’s easy to bring up off of the internet, so I don’t really try. It feels like people are still so judgmental towards trans people and trans issues themselves, even just bringing them up to others can be anxiety-inducing a lot of the time. But I don’t know. It’s just something I need to get out of my brain. It’s like: how can I be true to myself/happy with myself and also feel like I fit into society? That’s the million dollar question.

moonchildren

The last thing Birch’s mother said to him before his disownment was that she couldn’t support his choices, and so she couldn’t have him living in her home. Not that he chose any of them, but that didn’t matter; his mother was set in her ways. He supposed he’d rather have been disowned than continue to be a part of that family, anyway, but there were some things he’d enjoyed about being at home. “If you’re going to continue on this path”, she’d said, her eyes wide and shining with fake tears, “your father and I cannot support you.”

He always knew that ending was a possibility, growing up with a family like his. They just never talked about it until there was no other way to ignore it. He was always the kid they regretted the most; everyone all knew that even if no one ever said it.

Grace is on the floor again. Cujo sits by her side, as he always does, nuzzling his nose into her arm. He hasn’t been around long, but Birch knows everyone feel so much better now about leaving Grace home by herself. Still, it’s not like that ever really happens, because he never leaves.

“Gracie,” he says, and kneels at her side. “Are you okay?” She says he’s supposed to keep calm, that he isn’t needed as much now they have a dog. “Good boy, Cujo.” Grace seizes over and over again; it’s not so scary anymore, but it still isn’t pleasant.

“Hmm?” She stops, looks around, always disoriented after these ordeals. She doesn’t speak much, just pets the dog softly and wistfully. “I’m okay.”

Her meds have fallen from the nightstand; Birch picks them up. “Tired?” Cujo pants; Grace allows Birch to help her up. “You should take it easy for a while, maybe take a nap.” Sometimes he doesn’t quite know where to draw the line when it comes to helping Grace. She’s his best friend, but even Birch can piss her off sometimes.

Having accompanied his human to the couch for a lie-down, Cujo settles into his dog bed .”Thanks,” says Grace, taking her pill bottle, which is filled with a combination of different medications. She isn’t the Grace Birch remembers from junior high, or even from high school, but that’s bound to happen. She looks at him for several moments, her eyes unfocused, and then she lapses into sleep. 

The night of the accident, Grace had gone to a party with her sister, Bronte. Birch wasn’t there. If he had been, he would have told Grace not to get in the car with a drunk driver. Then she wouldn’t’ve been there when Bronte crashed the car, and she wouldn’t’ve ended up the way she did.

Being homeless sucked. Being homeless in the coldest state in America? Now that was a whole other level of shitty. Birch spent most of the time hiding inside the ferry terminal or the airport. If it weren’t for Grace, he’d still be out there, and probably would’ve froze to death.

It’s snowing. Snowfalls this time of year rarely last. As Grace nods off on the couch, Cujo stands by the door of the house, wagging his tail to go outside. Despite being a service dog, he gets a lot of downtime. “C’mon.” His equipment is easy to remove, but takes a while to get onto him. “Let’s go play outside while Gracie’s asleep.” When Birch opens the door, he bursts outside.

Birch’s younger brother used to say he wished he looked like him. He had no idea what he was talking about. Birch wishes he looked like everyone else.

He takes Cujo down the road on his leash. It’s bizarre how many people approach to pet him without asking first, especially when he’s working. Grace hasn’t always had a service dog. She’s only been disabled for six months, after all. It’s sunny, which means Birch can’t leave the house without his sunhat and glasses. Even on the days when the sun barely pokes through the clouds, he can’t be exposed. He’s gotten used to it by now, he supposes, but it was hard when he was younger, when his parents still gave a damn if he survived or not. Most of the time he likes looking different.

In eighth grade, Birch was paired with Grace for a group project in social studies. That was how they met, although they’d really hated each other in the beginning. He thought she was a know-it-all. She thought he was a slacker. Birch had even begged the teacher to let him change partners, because Grace was infuriating, and honestly he wasn’t sure how they made it through that experience without killing each other. Somehow, they became friends. Maybe it was when she stood up to a guy who was harassing him after he was outed. Yeah, he was outed. In junior high. In front of the whole class. It was a wonder he ever went back to school after that.

“Excuse me, could we pet your dog?”

Birch is approached by an Inuit woman and her daughter, bunched up in parkas despite it being sunny. Normally, he’d say no; you’re not supposed to pet a service dog. There are a lot of Inuit people here;

he’s even related to some. They mostly keep to themselves, hunting and fishing and whatnot.

Most of his face is covered. It always is when he goes out: only his eyes exposed. The woman and her daughter huddle close together. “Huh? I mean – sure. He’s friendly.” Cujo doesn’t get a lot of attention. When he gets pet, he pants and wags his tail. Growing up, Birch had had a dog named Slumber; well actually, he supposed she was more for his little sister. But he was the one who took her on the most walks.

His sister Bryony is eight years old and autistic. His parents have more kids than they know what to do with, and for some reason they’re all named after things in nature. What kind of name is Birch, anyway? He’s the oldest, which means he’s the one they fucked up most, and he’s also the one they disowned first. He’s sure there will be more after him.

Birch has always worn glasses: since he was born, basically. He’s not legally blind, but he’s pretty close. His glasses make him look bug-eyed, which people aren’t shy about pointing out.

“Come on, Cujo.” He tugs the dog’s leash, but he’s busy sniffing the snow. “Let’s go home and see if your mom is awake.” He never used to understand why people referred to their pets as children. His mom did it all the time when he was a kid. Of course, he never understood a lot of things when he was younger, and he still doesn’t. But he does understand that some people have no right to raise kids at all. People start a family, and they try so hard to mold their kids into whatever thing they want them to be, but they’re not clay, they don’t always fit into molds. Sometimes he thinks that’s why his parents have so many children. They fucked up the first one, and the next one, so eventually one has to turn out the way they want, right? What does he know; he’s not a parent. Maybe he will be, someday, but that won’t be for years.

There is something about living near the ocean. Birch can walk down to the sea-walk in five minutes and sit by the coast. It’s always so relaxing there, especially at night. When he was homeless he spent a lot of time down there, despite its lack of shelter; he just found it a good place to sit and think. When he wasn’t at the Glory Hall, there was also the library and random places of business he could sneak into. He always hated that, loitering. He’d have done anything to avoid it. After a while he started stealing things like food and clothes, because he had to live, and the Glory Hall only went so far. It did save his life, though.

The day he was kicked out of his house, he wandered for hours, until it was very dark. He doesn’t remember some of it, honestly. Eventually he hitched a ride from a stranger all the way to the homeless shelter, and they took good care of him there. Of course, everyone claims to care about a homeless

youth, but nobody does anything about the family that made them that way.

                “Gracie?”

                When he gets home, she’s in the kitchen baking, dancing carelessly to some of her favorite music. “You okay in here? Smells good.”

                She smiles, taking a baking sheet out of the oven. Gracie’s always been a baker, ever since they became friends. “I made cookies! Chocolate chip; I know you love those.” He does. After taking a drink, Cujo curls back up in his bed in the corner of the living room. “Here,” says Grace, and holds a cookie out, “try one.”

                Birch never had the best relationship with his sisters. Maybe they’re just too different, or maybe they’re just too young. Grace feels like his sister.

                “Thanks.” Everything she bakes is delicious. He wishes he could bake like her.

. . . . . . . . . .

                Snow didn’t always hate herself. Actually, back in the day she thought she was pretty cool. But things change, and people change most of all.

                Being closeted at school is the worst. Junior high is hard enough without all of those added issues. Snow wishes her parents understood, but all they care about is Bryony. Sometimes she wishes she were like her so that she could get some attention too.

                “Hi, everyone! It’s me, Snow.” She makes videos. She’s only twelve, but she already has lots of subscribers. Sometimes it helps to have someone like you on the Internet, it makes you feel more at home. Her best friend, Elise, walks home from school with her, her jacket pink and puffy. “I wanted to tell you guys about something that happened today.”

                Elise holds her phone in a selfie stick, which makes it so much easier to film. Snow hates the way her voice sounds. More than that, she hates the way she looks, and the way she’s forced to dress, and pretty much everything else about herself. Her mom says she’s too young to be depressed, but her dad tries to understand sometimes. She thinks she’s going to end up like her brother, disowned and never coming to visit.

                As they continue their walk home, Snow talks to the camera. It’s hard putting her life out there on the  

Internet for everyone to see. It’s especially hard because she has to admit things to herself to admit them to other people, and sometimes she doesn’t even know the truth about herself. All her parents ever wanted was for her to be an obedient son who got good grades and had typical interests. To be honest, she thinks that’s exactly what they think of her. But she doesn’t want to be that anymore.

                “Okay, so in my last video, I told you guys about some stuff that’s been going on at school. And well… yeah, I just wanted to say something else that happened that really upset me…” Elise and Snow edit the videos, but they’re not very good at it yet. Snow is not even allowed on YouTube at home. Her parents think the Internet is evil, so they lock the computer at night. Not even Lynx is allowed to use it, and he’s fifteen.

                Elise waits for Snow to finish talking. She’s so girly: long hair and frilly pink shirts. Up the street from Snow’s house, she sighs and shuts off the recording. It’s too difficult. It’s like she’s hiding herself from the whole world and pretending to be someone else, and she can’t do it. Everyone knows her as this shy, studious boy who does what he’s told and stays out of trouble. That’s not who she is. But no one would understand if she told them the truth, especially not her religious parents. They think anything different is a sin. They think anyone who isn’t like them is an offender, and it’s not a thing they’ll change their minds about.

                Elise stops in the sidewalk, touching Snow’s arm. “Are you okay?”

                Snow thought Elise would be disgusted when she told her the truth. She thought Elise would hate her and refuse to be her friend anymore, and it was scary. She doesn’t want to be different. She wants people to be proud of her. She smiles, even though she’s not happy. “Yeah.” Elise lives down the street from Snow. “I just… don’t really feel like doing the video anymore.” It seems so easy to talk about things, but it’s not, not even to her best friend. She has a journal, but it doesn’t feel the same. She misses Birch, but her parents pretty much pretend he never existed.

                “Okay.” After saying their goodbyes, Elise hugs Snow and walks down the street to her house. She’s known her since she was a kid. In a way, that makes all of this so much harder.

                Snow’s mom is home when she arrives. She’s a freelance website designer, so she’s always home. Snow hates it. All her siblings are home too, which means it’s easy for her to sneak into her room without being noticed. At least, it is most days. Today, her mother calls to her as soon as she walks through the door. “Monty, come here.”

                She’ll never understand Snow. She doesn’t even try. Snow puts her backpack down. “Yeah?” Her

mom’s makeshift office is in the living room, where she always has her laptop and phone. Snow’s baby brother Heron is asleep in his nursery; she can see him when she peeks through the crack in his door. She doesn’t know why her parents keep having kids. They can’t even take care of them properly.

                Snow wants to come out. With her family, she doesn’t think she’ll ever be able to.

                Hyacinth is five years old. She sits at the kitchen table drawing a picture of her family. She always draws Snow looking like a girl.

                Snow’s mom smiles at her, taking a break from her work. “How was school? Did you have a good day?” She asks each of them every day. The answer never changes.

                Snow shrugs, sits next to her. “It was fine, I guess.” They aren’t close. She tries so hard, but she just doesn’t understand. “Do you need something? I have lots of homework to do.”

                This year in school, Snow is going to learn about sexual health. Everyone has to be split up by gender and taught differently. Both her older siblings learnt it in eighth grade, so she knows she’s going to. She doesn’t want to, because nobody knows she’s a girl. Nobody will let her take the class with the girls. Elise said she’d tell Snow everything she learns, but Snow wants to be there. She knows it won’t make a difference either way, because even if she is a girl, she won’t develop into one. She’s already started going through puberty, and it makes her hate herself even more than she already did. Snow’s voice cracks every time she speaks, and she’s taller than all the other girls, and taking a shower is just…. she doesn’t know. It’s hard to take a shower without looking at yourself.          

                “I’ve been thinking.” Snow’s mom touches her hair. It’s only at Snow’s shoulders, but her mother complains about it all the time. “I have a hair appointment scheduled for myself tomorrow after work. I thought you could come along. Maybe get a haircut that’s a little more boyish?”

                Snow was afraid of this. Her last haircut was eight months ago, and her mom made her shave the sides. After that she couldn’t look at herself without wanting to cry. “I don’t want a haircut.”

                For a long time Snow never knew what this feeling was called. It was so confusing. She felt like all the other girls, but she didn’t look like them. Eventually she told the guidance counsellor at school about it, and she told her it was called transgender, and that nothing was wrong with her. But it’s still so terrifying, even if nobody knows the truth. Snow knows they’ll find out someday. Her brother Birch was outed to her parents by

 a neighbor. Maybe the same thing will happen to her.

                She looks surprised. “You don’t? Your hair is getting so long-”

                “I like it like that.”

                The baby is awake. He whimpers from his nursery; Snow’s mom gets up to tend to him. “Well, okay.” She glances at Snow, taking a moment to examine her haircut and outfit. When Heron begins to cry louder, she sighs. “Go and do your homework, Monty.”

                Lynx is home. He and Snow share a room, because there aren’t enough in the house for them all to have their own. It’s expensive to live in the state, for one thing, Snow always hears people complaining about that.  The older kids share a room, and the younger kids do. They have bunk beds, and Snow sleeps on the top because she’s younger. Snow never used to feel weird about sharing a room with her brother, but she does now, and she doesn’t like it. She never gets dressed in there. She never looks at herself when she does get dressed. If she explained how she was feeling to her brother, he’d probably understand. He was the first one to know that Birch is gay, and he never cared about that. The wall by Lynx’s bunk is covered with posters of bikini models. The wall by Snow’s bunk is bare and gray.

                “Hey, Monty.” Lynx grins at Snow, for once looking away from his phone. “I’m going for a walk to the harbor in a little bit; want to come?” He looks like his dad. He has eyes that make him look harsh, but he’s alright. Snow doesn’t feel like going out. Every time she does, everyone just calls her sir or boy. She’d rather stay home in her room, by herself. She wants to tell Lynx the truth, but she’s scared.

                Snow climbs the ladder to her bunk. She wishes she had an older sister. Maybe she’d let her borrow her bras and try on her clothes. Maybe she’d give her fashion advice. “No, thanks. I have lots of homework.” Snow doesn’t.  Sometimes it’s easier to make excuses instead of telling the truth.

                Lynx shrugs. “Suit yourself.”

                Snow’s name isn’t Monty. It’s Snow. Her friends call her Snow, like the princess. She doesn’t feel like a princess, but she wants to.