True Colors



Zoe Trope

My best friend got his tits chopped off.

My mother dated a man named Henry who wanted to be a woman named Rachel. He dumped her months ago but now they’re trying to be friends.

My first serious relationship was with a girl who wanted to be a boy. I wrote about him in my memoir. I was 15 years old.

When my best friend came out as trans, his family disowned him.

When my mother’s ex-boyfriend came out as trans to his wife, she divorced him.

My girlfriend told me she was my boyfriend. I got dumped a few months later.

Maybe it was the distance. I lived in Portland and he lived in Seattle.

Maybe it was because what he said was true, that I was lucky because I “looked like a girl.”

In college, I lived in a women’s dorm. It was a small cottage with 35 residents. An on-campus facilitator taught “Trans 101” at our dorm. Ten residents attended. In the workshop, we looked at pictures of people and ranked them, from very masculine to very feminine. One of the pictures was Jamie Lee Curtis. Later we learned that some of the people we had put on the continuum were drag artists or identified as trans. We questioned the differences between gender and sex. We were taught how to be allies, how to be respectful of the pronouns that other people use.

At house meetings, we always introduced ourselves by saying, “My name is —, I use she/her or he/his or ze/hir.” I joked that I would one day announce my chosen pronouns as airplane and duct tape.

My mother’s ex-boyfriend never asked to be called Rachel, but my mother said that was the name he had chosen for himself. He never asked us to use female pronouns, either. Henry is a tall, thin man with long fingers, wide eyes, and a dimpled chin. Once, when he was having dinner at my mother’s house, his bushy gray hair was down to his shoulders and he wore dangly silver earrings.

Under his black turtleneck, Henry had two, small pointy breasts about the size of plums. They looked like little girl boobs, the kind you see on 11-year-olds before they get their first training bras. I felt guilty, but I couldn’t stop staring at Henry’s little girl boobs, and how they seemed so disproportionate on his nearly-7-foot frame.

A few months later, Henry stopped taking hormones. His boobs disappeared. He dumped my mother. She said, “I can’t believe I wasted time on that guy.”

My best friend, Jazz, wore a frog bra. It’s a thick sports bra that flattens the wearer’s chest almost completely. Jazz only complained a little bit when the bra made it hard to breathe. He took off the bra at night, when no one else was around. I feel like I was one of the last human beings on earth to see Jazz’s boobs unrestrained.

When he came to visit Portland with his girlfriend, he stayed at my mother’s house because his own family refused to see him. They said he was too young to make decisions about his body. They said he was “mutilating” himself.

My mother started dating someone new. Mike was older than Henry, conservative, quiet, and occasionally cranky. My dad met Mike before I did, and I asked my dad what he was like. My dad didn’t think Mike had very much personality.

My dad asked, “How do you feel about that water?” and gestured to the glass in front of me.

I shrugged.

He said, “Yeah, that’s about how I feel about Mike.”

Mike was very attached to his dog, Buddy, who came with him when he stayed the weekend at my mother’s house. The dog was getting older. One weekend, the dog puked all over the house and my mother had to throw out every rug she owned. Then the dog died. Mike went off his medication.

Jazz stayed at my mother’s house once when Mike was there. My mother tried to explain to him that Jazz was transitioning and preferred to use male pronouns. Mike quipped, “Well, he has the butt spread of a middle-aged woman.”

My mother told me this story later, after Mike had left. I was quiet for a moment and asked her, “How could you let someone say something like that about my friend?”

“I didn’t,” she snapped. “That’s why he isn’t here right now.”

Mike bounced in and out of my mother’s life after that fight, but they finally split up when he accused my mother of running a halfway home for trannies. My mother said Mike was obsessed with his dead dog.

Recently, a man tried to write a TV show based on my book. The lead character was a teenager bent on losing her virginity to a cute college boy. She wasn’t queer like me. Her boyfriend wasn’t trans like mine was.

When Jazz graduated from college, he was recovering from chest surgery.

I was at his graduation ceremony wearing a gold necklace that said Mother in swirly letters. My parents and Henry were there, too.

Jazz’s other family wasn’t there, and neither were his tits, which were in a biohazard garbage bin somewhere outside a surgeon’s office in Cleveland, Ohio.

The network passed on the script for the TV show. Maybe it wasn’t edgy enough. Maybe it just wasn’t true.



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5 responses to “True Colors

  1. Wow.

    I feel really stupid saying how powerful and beautifully written this was, but that’s all I have to say right now.

    Well done, Zoe.

  2. Your life was a whole lot more interesting than mine.

  3. I have very little experience to draw on in this area, so it’s hard to comment intelligently on, what seems to me to be, these very complicated gender issues.

    I’ll just say that Jazz’s family was wrong. People need to figure this stuff out while they’re young. There are few things harder for children to deal with than parents who are trying to sort out their gender. One of my best friends had a father who became a woman and she describes it as absolute hell.

  4. Kate

    This was wonderfully painful (/painfully wonderful?). Beautiful writing as always, Zoe. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Amazing! I wish everyone could have as much respect for others as you.

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