By April Zhang
Transgender, according to Merriam Webster Dictionary, refers to the feeling “of, relating to, or being a person whose gender identity differs from the sex the person had or was identified as having at birth.”
As a non-native English speaker, I’ve seen the word, looked it up, and memorized it before. I never thought it would be so close to me in real life, so close that I could grasp its meaning in context.
It was a few years ago, the night of my middle school dance. Sour, sweaty, shaky, I walked out of the gym at 10:30 p.m. and went to grab late-night fast food with my equally exhausted friends. As we were in line, talking, laughing, and singing, my phone buzzed in my hand. It was a Snapchat from one of my long-time friends who I barely got to see. My finger swiped right on the message to open it, and I started reading. It was a long message, almost as if she typed it on a separate document, then edited it, and then reread it thousands of times before sending it all at once.
See, here’s the thing about Snapchat — I’ve argued about this in my Mock Trial competition, and this is definitely the truth: it has a higher level of privacy. Individual messages get deleted instantly as you leave the chatroom, and group texts only last for 24 hours. I think that’s why she sent me the message via that specific app that night.
Her introductory words were extensive and — if I were to be honest — boring and cheesy, and I started skipping lines seconds into reading. I skimmed all the way until the second-to-last paragraph — yes, her message was basically a short essay — and somehow intuitively felt like this would be the point of the entire message, so I started reading it word by word. It was still long, but could also be easily summed up in 3 words.
“I am trans.”
Trans, short for transgender. According to Merriam Webster Dictionary… you know what it says. Just scroll back up to the first paragraph.
Let me talk about this friend of mine for a second.
She is — inarguably — pretty, yet different. I met her on the first day that I transferred to a different school when the tips of her hair were dyed all blue. Being constantly stared at and frequently hearing whispers from behind, her hair was way too bold for middle schoolers — she cut it within the next few days. She also used to wear band tees all the time, until she was warned by the Dean of Students. “She said, ‘It’s a Christian school, you can’t wear these things, blah blah blah…’” I still remember her describing the incident in the hallway that afternoon, when her smiley eyes were filled with an invisible gray fog.
Second semester, she was surrounded by rumors. Her drastic distinction from anyone else bonded all other girls together, despite their mutual, hidden hatred toward each other. They were the ghosts in the creepy old stories, surrounding her in an unbreathable layer of clouds while blocking her from the hands she could have reached out to. The silent bullying in a private middle school was never direct or brutal, but that didn’t make her days any better; murmurs that followed everywhere she went, the circle people unconsciously formed around her, “truths” whispered in the restrooms while she sat at the stall right next door. Who started it and how the rumors began were no longer the questions, and her feelings were nothing as long as the others had fun. Interests and attention could immediately transfer without any extra effort: just another unanswered question, just another helpless soul.
I was not that surprised by her message, but that she finally had the courage to share her concern, to ask her question, and to try seeking the answer. At the same time, I didn’t know what to do. Do I also bend on the ground and look for the answer in her shiny, broken heart? Do I just give her the answer that I think is true?
I could not help but think of another story I read just this afternoon. Another helpless individual, but this time a guy, having the will to dress up as a woman since infancy. Beaten by parents, bullied by classmates, he had only one friend in high school, yet the colleges they each attended were thousands of miles apart. Before his friend’s departure, he bought the boy a dress, a wig, and a pair of high heels; his friend said it would be really cool and brave if he put them on and walk outside. A few years later, right before dinner with his family and family friends, he stared at that bag and decided to put it on. He decided to be the brave and cool kid his friend said he would become if he had the courage to be honest with the people around him, the world, and, himself.
The most I can ever do, I thought to myself more than ten times about this, is to be that friend that bought the dress. I could not push her to do something that I know is significantly hard and risky, nor do I have the right to take all the blame for her. Her decision is in her own hands, and I, really, can only cheer for her on the side. I know she would be brave, and I know that she would eventually overcome her fear to make the decision she would never regret. I’m only a fan in the stands, and she is the main player on the field, taking control of her own life.
That night, all I typed on the Snapchat keyboard was, “I believe in you. I love you.”
I believe in her, and I believe in her strength. I believe in the power of healing, the power of bravery, and, most importantly, the power of love.
There is a lot of indifference, a lot of hate, and a lot of desperation. But I want her — and all those who are reading this, who may be insecure about themselves, who may be scared of others’ opinions, who may be hiding from the world and their true identities — to know, that there is love.
My favorite (and the only) Norwegian drama I have ever watched, SKAM, once said,
“When there is love, there is hope.”
Photo Credits: Google Images