A letter to the boy who used to be a girl

Hi. I hope you’re well. I’m not sure whether you would ever remember me, but I remember you.
I’m really sorry but I can’t remember your name, but I do remember your face. It’s been years since I’ve seen you, back in the days of college, when we were young, stupid and high-spirited. Not that we probably aren’t still stupid and high-spirited, it’s just that experience tends to make us wiser, and more compassionate.

I wish we had been more compassionate to you back then. It’s true what they say; children can be honest yet cruel.

Truthfully, I have only thought about you a handful of times since we left our education years, and mine were not happy or unhappy thoughts, just curious ones. We were never friends, we barely knew each other in fact, and we probably spoke about two sentences the entire time we shared a building together, but I can honestly say you were one of the few people in those days who have stuck with me. It was only when I saw you just a few weeks ago on the bus, that blank glance you gave which showed you didn’t recognise me, that the memories came back to me about how you were treated by our peers. I wasn’t certain it was you at first, although I suppose, in my head, I recognised you in an instant. You’ve changed since those old days, you seem more confident, self-assured in the way you walk and less self-conscious. I’m glad that you are, it is nice to see that we are able to shrug off those shells of ourselves, those skins which we used to hide behind which only made us feel vulnerable. Certainly I can say that I am a hundred times more confident, talkative, silly and happier than I was those ten years ago.

I remember you in those first few weeks when you came to our college, timidly and quietly creeping into the Common Room. You were not noticed by many, and it is a sad fact but you were not conventionally pretty enough, loud enough or English enough to be noticed at first. I remembered that English was not your first language, and you would speak it slowly, faltering a little as if you were unsure. And you had a very deep, husky voice which would surprise those who heard it, something which, when I look back on it, you tried to restrain without much help.

And you were not a petite girl, I remember you as tall, and broadly built, and deep brown skin which indicated you were from South India, something which didn’t help in a Common Room full of fifty stick-thin, pale Asian girls who looked underfed, and who would flaunt their yellow stick-insect legs from underneath the latest Topshop skirt or Krisp jumper dresses. No one was directly rude to your face, of course, they never commented that you wore your blue jeans and blue jumper too many times in one week. Perhaps it was something we’ve inherited from Asian and Desi culture, gossiping quietly, noticing and judging without saying the words out loud.

I remember you came into college one day wearing a new dress and you seemed quietly happy, that same look on we all have on our faces when we buy something new and are really happy to wear it because we want to impress someone. It was only later on in the day that you seemed less so, as if you had perhaps realised that buying a new outfit would not automatically help you get accepted into the folds, that people will judge you according to their own petty values.

I heard boys in my classroom talking crudely about you, more than one person had commented that they could not tell if you were really a boy or not, that we must be joking if you were a girl. I remember one time that a boy pretended to be genuinely confused so he could make a joke of it and see what you would say, acting the innocent with cheeky eyes. I wish I had spoken up then, your horrified face once you’d registered what they asked, your silence as you looked down in embarrassment and then quietly left. I am sorry that I was part of the audience, too meek to speak up in case I would be targeted too, too weak to know what to have said. I may not have actively taken part in the jokes, but I passively myself through my non-actions, which is something that I regret. In those days, I was struggling with my own confidence issues, my strongest desire was to be ‘normal’, popular, liked. I had spent so many years being the odd one out in the classes and combating my ‘weird’ personality that I had clung to the threads of a newly found, shaky confidence that came when I made new friends and formed my own girly clique.

I saw you with your sister once, on a Saturday afternoon at the local library. I’m not sure how I knew she was your sister, but I could tell from the easy, familiar way you were with her, much like how I am relaxed with my own sisters. I loved going to the library (I still do), and I would go every week to exchange read books for unread ones, taking my time to go through the shelves. That one time I looked up and saw you, you were in your own little world, carefree and chattering, a rare smile on your face. I didn’t catch your eye, not sure what to say to someone I barely knew. Plus, I liked my solitary Saturday afternoons, so I left quietly, pretending I hadn’t seen you, in true English style not wishing to make conversation in a public place.

(I can be a bit anti-social like that, and I still do that now, admittedly, when I see someone I don’t feel like making polite conversation for. Or when I’m looking like a bag lady and I don’t want anyone to know I have polka-dot pyjamas on. I’m sure you know what I mean.)

I asked my elder sister about you once, told her that it was unfair that you were not as feminine as I could see you wanted to be back in those days, saying it was not your “fault” that you were made the way you are. My sister correct me straightaway, saying that by even saying the word “fault”, I was indicating that there was one, there wasn’t anything wrong, and that I shouldn’t say it so. All people have their own genes, DNA codes and levels of testosterone and oestrogen, even me and you, and you simply had more testosterone which was more visible than perhaps in another girl. My sister had studied the ethics of genetics, the human genome and bio-psychology (among other things) while at university, so this was something which made sense to me and which I agreed with – while it didn’t seem enough to stop the jibes you must have heard I was glad to hear a different take on it.

Time moved on, of course, and so did we. I left college very soon after you joined, went on to university and then working life, and you, of course, followed your own path.

When I saw you on the bus a few weeks ago, you had changed in appearance, starkly enough for someone to assume that you were an ordinary young man. You were wearing men’s trainers, and men’s clothes, and you had your hair cropped short. You had a sports bag with you, and you sat with your legs apart, easily, casually. In no way do I mean to put labels on you, and I will not pretend that I understand what you feel, or have felt. My feelings of guilt stem from wondering whether the way you have been treated by others eventually made you feel resigned to looking more masculine than other girls, and that you felt that it would simply be easier to look and dress the way you do now, regardless of wanting to be something else. But I also have hope that maybe you were not as conflicted as this, maybe the way you are now is how you want to be, and that our younger, stupid selves just quickened your journey to your current image. Or maybe you have no such conflict and all of this is imagined on my part, and you just like wearing men’s clothes because they’re roomier.

What I would like to say in the end of all this is: I hope you are happy. I hope you don’t encounter discrimination today the way you did from our ignorant, younger selves. I would also like to thank you for being one of the stepping-stones in realising that we are all human and equal, and for a chance to look deep inside myself, scrutinise my insecurities and examine my own actions. My religion is constantly emphasising equality and empathy for everyone, and it is also this which makes me think back to you, and how unfairly you were treated. It is easy in today’s age to become too concerned about the little, superficial things, how many gadgets we have, how pretty we look, how many photos we have on Facebook, and your gentleness and refusal to let things bring you down showed me otherwise.

I would like to say I remember you, even though you may not remember me. You seemed, in those short glimpses of you I got recently, stronger and more assured, and I would like to applaud you for not letting us get in your way. Regardless of whether you choose to be male or female, you have shown me your own streak of feminism, or really, I should call it humanism – it is okay to be who you are. Perhaps some will not agree with me on this view, but I’ll say it anyway.

You may never read this, but I wish you all the best anyway.

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