*This is a work of nonfiction based on actual events I experienced firsthand; used with permission.*
When I was in kindergarten there was a set of fraternal twins in my class, Corinne and Christopher. Though they weren’t of the same gender, it didn’t matter to them. Their twin-ship made them inseparably close to each other and they rarely stepped out of their own little world to play with us other kids. It was the mid-eighties at the time, and when their mother cut Corinne’s hair into a bob and Christopher still sported a bowl cut, there were times it was hard to tell them apart, their faces were so similar.
Even though it was so far in the past now, I still will always remember the costume party we had in kindergarten. I was dressed up as a gift, a present. My mom had put me in a long-sleeved white turtleneck and white leggings and then fashioned a big wrapped box to put over my head and my arms through. My head popped out the top, and mom put a bow and wrapped ribbons in my ponytail. My mom was always more creative than other moms when it came to making me my costumes.
I remember that when the twins walked in, we all did a double-take because they were dressed exactly the same, like the TV cartoon character, Rainbow Brite.
I was always a nosy child and I’m still a nosy adult, so of course I listened in on the conversation the twin’s mom had with our kindergarten teacher.
“Christopher just loves Rainbow Brite as much as his sister does, he was throwing a fit when I got Corrine that costume and wouldn’t let him have the same one.” She shrugged. “What hard could it do, the children don’t care,” she said.
What harm could it do, indeed?
By the last years of elementary school, it was clear to all of us who went to our small school with him that Christopher was different than the rest of us. By eighth grade, he was what you’d call a “goth” and would use a black marker to color his fingernails, and sometimes would wear a black skirt or dress over his black pants and shirts. Of course, he was harassed and made fun of, but Christopher never wavered in his desire to be himself.
When we got to high school, a school much larger than the one we had come from because it merged four elementary districts into one, Christopher doubled down on asserting his personality outwardly. He brought back color to his life, often in the form of rainbows somewhere on his body, painted nails with real polish, wore jewelry, and insisted to teachers and friends that we start calling him the more androgynous “Toph” instead of Christopher.
Flash forward to senior year, the pivotal year of 1999. The word “transgender” had not yet been added to my vocabulary, but I could see it growing every day when I looked at Toph transitioning into who she would eventually become. But not without an awful lot of pushback from their parents.
Corrine at one point confided to me that Toph left home every day wearing jeans and a sweatshirt and would hide in a copse of trees to change clothes before getting on the bus to school because if their parents found out he was dressing like a girl, they would kick him out. She also alluded to Toph being physically abused by their father for the way Toph wanted to present himself.
At one point Toph didn’t come to school for a few days and I asked Corrine what was up. She started to cry, telling me that the past weekend their father had gone into Toph’s bedroom and destroyed everything “girlie” that belonged to them. All of Toph’s jewelry, makeup, dresses, shoes, and other feminine items they had collected over the years, just gone. Toph’s entire identity was wrecked by their own father.
After the fight that ensued, Corrine said that later that evening a van came and picked Toph up.
“I’m not sure where he went,” she shook her head. “But my dad said he won’t be back until summer.”
That would mean after graduation. Toph did not get to come back and finish high school with us, and I never saw or heard from either him or Corrine after high school for twenty years, until we all happened to attend our high school reunion.
I felt a tap on my shoulder at one point and turned to see a tall, beautiful blond, towering over me in her heels.
“Corrine!” I said.
“Nope,” they shook their head and gave me a shy smile. “I actually go by Sofia now.”
Suddenly I realized it was Toph, Christopher, who was standing in front of me. The scared, abused little boy had blossomed into the beautiful woman they always had wanted to become.
I was happy for her, that she had finally gotten what she’d always wanted, even though it had been an awfully long and hard battle to get there.
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