My blood runs cold at the words, my PSP hanging limply in my hands. The Dissidia boss I had been so desperate to beat a second ago blasts my character away with ease. Chris Leung and Ernie Alvarez-Martino, two of my best friends, rave as they talk about how we’ll be able to actually talk in class, how we won’t have to struggle with the Pythagorean Theorem, how Mrs. Abernathy had never missed work in her life and what could have happened to her...I couldn’t focus on any of it. All I can do is think about the sub, who is probably going to read our names from the class list.
Here’s the thing: according to the class lists, my name is Sarah.
Yeah, I was accidentally born into the body of a girl. If I had a choice between rectifying that or getting rid of my freckles or unmanageable black hair, I would be Pizza-Faced Harry Potter anyday.
Since I can’t start transitioning or even legal change my name until I’m eighteen, I’m taking baby steps so that everyone knows that Sarah can’t come to the phone right now because she’s dead (closet Taylor Swift fan here). I’ve been wearing boy clothes consistently since I was six, but starting this year, I have asked everyone to call me Derek. Even though Mrs. Abernathy is harder than hard, she has stop calling me Miss Richards and start calling me Mr. Richards, which is more than I can say for other teachers.
Speaking of which, Miss Rawlings, my U.S. History teacher, comes into class, her blonde curls bouncing around her round face. Now, you know those people who are straight up dissing you but try to pretend like they’re not? Yeah, that’s Miss Rawlings. She’s...uncomfortable with me, and will make a whole show and dance about it.
For instance, today we’re discussing Native Americans. I’m half paying attention because I’ll still trying to figure out what to do about the sub when I hear Miss Rawlings calling me-- or, rather, I hear this:
“Sarah, I mean, Derek. I’m so sorry, it’s just so hard for me to get used to but I’m doing the best that I can.”
Don’t break your arm patting yourself on the back. “Yes Mr., I mean Miss Rawlings.”
“Hey, you’re being rude Sa-Derek. You shouldn’t call people out of their gender.”
Wow. No self-awareness whatsoever. Rather than pointing that out and getting detention (again), I throw out a comment relevant to our class topic. “Speaking of gender, Miss Rawlings, do you know that in many Native American tribes there were people known as two-spirit? They were holy people who were neither male nor female but a combination of both.”
Miss Rawlings stutters into silence; she really couldn’t think on her feet. I sit back in my seat with a smirk on my face. Turning red, Miss Rawlings continues her lesson, ignoring me for the rest of the hour.
After U.S. History was Biology. Mr. Jamison, like Miss Rawlings, thinks that I should remain in the prison of my body because biology trumps emotions I suppose. Unlike her, however, he’s a lot more direct about it.
“So you see,” Mr. Jamison states at the end of his lecture, “Plants, like every living creature, have sperm cells and egg cells that produce new plants. It’s nature working in its natural order. Don’t you agree?”
Mr. Jamison looks directly at me when he says this. Usually, I ignore the bait. Not today.
“But if one plant contains both sperm and egg cells, wouldn’t it be a hermaphrodite?”
“Which is natural for plants, but not for humans.”
“What about humans who are born intersex? There are people who are born with male and female...”
“They are unnatural, and thank God that we have the science to correct such aberrations. Now, those who selfishly buck natural trends for their own amusement is a different matter.”
Biting my lip, I pull my purple-and-lightning-bolt hoodie over my head, before yanking it off before Mr. Jamison could say anything. I didn’t want to be sent to the office for challenging him (again). Instead, I just lie my head on the desk and think about the ways that I could tell the sub my real name.
“My name is Richards. Derek Richards.”
“I’m Derek Richards!”
“Sarah is my slave name.”
I groan into the desk. There’s no way she’ll take me seriously if I say any of those. But what can I do then?
Before I know it, Biology have ended and I’m off to my favorite class: English. Ms. Jimenez-Devereaux is my favorite teacher ever, and she started calling me Derek before anyone else did
Ms. Jimenez-Devereaux is leaning on her desk when I come in. When she sees me, she pulls a book titled Orlando: A Biography off of her shelf.
“Hey Derek. I know you’ve been interested in genderqueer material, so I think that you’ll like this book. The main character switches between male and female.”
“Really? That’s so cool! Thanks, Ms. JD.”
“No problem, Derek.”
Afterword, class begins. As we discuss ideas about how the society of 1984 could have come to pass, I wonder if I could ask Ms. Jimenez-Devereaux to talk to the sub and tell her my situation. Ultimately, however, I decide against it. I have to fight my own battles.
Before I know it, class was over. I only have lunch before Geometry now. Sweat begins to pour from my hands as my heart races. My tangled curls become a refuge for my fidgeting fingers. Suddenly, a thought occurs to me:
What if I don’t correct the sub?
I mean, it’s only one day, and I will probably never see her again. What does it matter if she quickly says “Sarah”, I answer to it, and we both move on with the rest of the day?
It matters to me.
I want, no, need, to be acknowledged as the boy that I am.
I need to show the Mr. Jamisons of the world that I am much more than what my biology dictates.
I need to show the Miss Rawlings of the world that my life will not be dictated by their discomfort by it.
I need to show the Ms. Jimenez- Devereauxes of the world that their support of my journey is worth everything.
I need to show myself that I deserve to feel comfortable in my own body. That I deserve to wear clothes that define how I want to be seen by others.
And I won’t make concessions for the sake of a small convenience.
Rather than going to lunch, I go straight to the Geometry classroom, hoping that the sub was eating lunch there instead of the teacher’s lounge. Sure enough, I saw wooly black hair bending over a cup of instant noodles. Taking a deep breath, I knock on the door.
The sub jerks her head up, her eyes bulging out of her bronze face. “Come in” she says.
I do so and approach her desk, my hands opening and closing.
“Mrs. Abernathy is not here, I’m...” she starts.
“Her sub, I know” I start, but the words I want to say catch in my throat before I blurt out, “I’m in your fifth hour.”
“Okay. Can I help you with something?”
All of the grand gestures I thought of before disappeared. Instead, I take a deep breath.
“My name is Derek. Derek Richards. But the roster will say Sarah Richards instead.”
The sub’s eyes glances at fifth hour’s roster, before she smiles.
“I understand, Derek. I’ll make a note of it. Thank you for letting me know.”
I feel tears welling in my eyes, but I blink them away. “Thank you, Ms...”
“Ms. Moriaka. I’ll see you after lunch.”
Lunch is amazing after that. I was even able to defeat the Dissidia boss that I was having trouble with.
Finally, in Geometry class, my hand shoots in the air as Ms. Moriaka calls Derek during roll call. I was so relieved that I didn’t even complain about the nightmare that Mrs. Abernathy left for us to do.