Real

by Pamela DiFrancesco

The boy on my ward of the psychiatric hospital blocks the rest of us out with his headphones. They are not attached to an iPod, but to an old disc player. He vogues for a shifting, uncomfortable audience in the day room. He pantomimes caricatures of his race. He trusts his expressive face towards the seated people. He shakes his ass provocatively. The other patients call him Princess. I call him The Queen. When my friends come to visit, they point to his wriggling body and say, “Make friends with him.”

I do. He tells me he believes he was born intersex and forced into the body he is in now. He swears he has felt what were once his ovaries. His testicles don’t feel right, he says.

How much, I wonder, is real?

My close friend tells me that when she was younger, she would look at beautiful girls and think, “I want to be her.” What she meant, she tells me, was, “I want to fuck her.”

A lover admires my dresses. We pick one and put him into it. He looks at himself in the mirror. He tells me about the women’s clothes (a dress, a bra, and a pair of underwear) he dressed himself up in when he was younger. He tells me how he valued these pieces of clothing. How meticulously he hid them when he took them off. How ashamed he was afterwards.

I talk about an edition of This American Life that told the story of young children who expressed gender dissonance, and how their parents allowed them to express it. Let their boys wear skirts to Kindergarten. Let their little girls cut off all their hair. I talk about it again and again. Once, after talking about it, I say, “I wanted to be a boy when I was little.”

How much of it was real?

Out in the outer boroughs of New York, I work with children. One little boy likes princess stickers instead of car stickers. He calls his hair beautiful, pronouncing it, “Bee-you-tiff-ul.” He draws himself in dresses. He wants to sit with the girls. He pretends that fairy dust shoots out of his fingertips and showers everything around him as he twirls around dancing. The other adults laugh, saying how he is gay and won’t know it for years. How he will move from the end of Brooklyn to Greenwich Village when he is old enough.

One day, he starts to draw a princess and stops.

“I did a very bad thing,” he says, and throws the drawing away.

I have never wanted to be feminine as much as I did the day I was at the queer clinic, watching the transwomen talk to each other.

Late at night, my lover and I are pressed together, my back to his front. He is touching me, telling me how, in his mind, in his fantasy, in that moment, he is touching himself, his tits, his cunt. If only for a minute, we wish, why can’t we trade bodies? Be each other? I touch his ass like a cunt, he sucks my clit like a cock. After, we are crying.

Was it real?

Did we make it up?

How much of this is real?