“What’s wrong with you? What’s your disease?” he asked me frankly, with a complementary gesture towards his face and then nodding towards me. I had just introduced myself and been offered a cup of tea. It was our first meeting. I noticed in the corner of my eye how the boys parents both quietly flushed with embarrassment. Most grown ups tend to go to any lengths pretending that there is nothing unusual about me, my voice or how I look.
As I’ve written about earlier, I work a few hours a week after school as companion for a young man with severe autism. He’s happy with the arrangement and I find it very rewarding so I’ve asked my boss for more work of this sort.
That is why I today was introduced to this other boy. He’s been seriously ill since birth and because of that, he is very lonely. I was informed that he has gone trough major surgery many times already. The problems with his health has restricted his possibility to be physically active, to go to school and make friends with kids of his own age.
Now when we’d met, he wondered about me, what was different about me. Because something clearly was unusual about my voice and general appearance. I look masculine but sound feminine and even regardless of that, I’m not like most people. Unlike his parents and my boss, I did not find the question rude, rather relevant and refreshingly honest. I even hoped we could find a way to bound over my answer.
So I pointed to the scars on my upper lip and told him that I, just like him, was born with a few constructional errors. You can still see that my upper lip is very thin and that is because a part of the muscle tissue inside of the of the lip is missing – it never developed properly. I was born with a bilateral cleft lip and palate, showing on the outside as two deep slits in my upper lip. (Maybe you’ve heard of Operation Smile? They provide surgeries to repair cleft lip and palate for children born in development countries.)
It happens sometimes that the body’s natural structures don’t fuse together as they are meant to before birth. The skin and bone had not grown together in the “seams” that naturally exists during a short time of the foetus development for allowing the facial features to grow. This means that I had an opening, or two, where there isn’t supposed to be one. The cleft in my lip was stitched up when I was only a few months old and the palate has been surgically closed. I’ve had plenty of re-constructive surgery, dental care, bone- and titanium implants to patch things up. Today, I don’t have much trouble with my congenital defect, I’ve learned how to compensate for it. But the scars and the unusual asymmetry of my facial features are still there and especially apparent when I smile. Well aware of that, I smiled when I told the boy about what was wrong with me, as a means of raising my personal pride flag. And then, in a light tone of voice I added:
“Oh, and also, when I was born, they thought that I was a girl. Everyone thought that for a long time. But I’m not. I feel like a guy, so now when I’m grown up I’ve changed my name and pronoun accordingly. Not a big deal really, but it is he and him now, and I’m a guy. If you were wondering about my voice, I mean.”
The boy was clearly surprised by this last piece of information about me, but I think it seemed to make sense to him and we laughed together at it. His parents and my boss, in the corner of my eye, looked enormously relived and also laughed. After this undramatic outing of me as transgender, we could bound over our experiences of serious surgery, being hospitalised as a kid and being different from others.
But we did not linger on the subject for long. Partly because I wanted to focus on him and what’s normal and healthy in him. And partly because he was so happy to have me there. Almost before the tea was finished, he pulled me away from the table and the others, eager to show me his room, his things and his X-box. Our formal first meeting, planned to be a just short interview, turned in to a 4 hour long play-date for the two of us and we clicked so well.
Again, I got the job where the parents had asked especially for a male, even thou I was not born a man. I’m really proud to be considered especially qualified because of how I’m different and because of how I make it work. And this lionhearted boy, brave enough to ask the questions that no one ever dares to ask me, I think we will have a lot of fun together in the future.