Isadora Quagmire is eighteen months old when her fellow triplets start to speak. Duncan and Quigley say their first words within a few hours of each other, but Isadora is silent. But no one seems that bothered about it, so she doesn’t worry.
When she is three years old, she still isn’t speaking. But her brothers are chatterboxes, so it starts to become more obvious that there is something different about her. Isadora doesn’t really mind not being able to speak, but there is one problem: with no way to communicate with her parents, she can’t tell them that she is a girl.
The Quagmire triplets are identical, and were all assigned male at birth. But she isn’t a boy, unlike her brothers. She is a girl, and how can she tell her parents that they are mistaken when she can’t talk to them?
Learning to write is a lifeline for Isadora. She is three and a half when she learns how to write, and it means she can finally communicate. Her chunky pencil gripped awkwardly in her hand, she sticks out her tongue as her leg bounces up and down under the table (the triplets are being homeschooled, being taught how to read and write and do math up the dining room table), and writes a simple message:
I am a girl.
Duncan looks at her scruffy writing, his eyes flicking up to her face. Isadora can’t make eye contact (it hurts her head in a way she can’t explain), but she sees the intense expression on his face. Quigley leans across the table and starts chewing on his fingernails.
Thankfully, they have all finished their writing exercises, so it is easy for Duncan to get them excused. He walks over to their tutor and tugs on her sleeve. “Can we go play?”
After correcting his grammar, their tutor looks at the three worksheets and nods. “Yes, you may.”
And Duncan shoves the note in his pocket along with a pencil, before grabbing both his siblings by the hand and rushing out of the room. They run to their shared bedroom, a huge room that the triplets share. Duncan shuts the door and puts the note on the little desk their parents got them last year, and just stares at Isadora, who flaps her hands nervously.
“You’re a girl?” he says.
Isadora stares down at the floor, noticing how the carpet sinks under her feet, and nods.
“A girl,” Quigley says. “So you’re not a boy? You don’t want to be called Jeremy anymore?”
Hearing the name she hates so much makes her eyes sting with tears, and soon she is crying. Her brothers hug her close and the triplets cling to each other, and Isadora wishes life wasn’t so complicated.
She shakes her head violently, hands flapping.
“Okay,” Duncan says, head close to hers. “No Jeremy. What’s your name, sister?”
Isadora smiles, loving being called a sister. She wipes her eyes and Quigley rubs her back. And she thinks about the name of her great-grandmother, the name her mother mentioned many times with a fond smile.
And she takes the note and grasps the pencil and slowly, painstakingly, writes, Isadora.
“Is-Isadora,” Quigley says, stuttering slightly over the new name. “Like Mother’s grandmother?”
She nods, smiling.
“Isadora,” Duncan says, smiling. “I like that.”
And Isadora starts crying all over again, but they’re happy tears this time.
That evening, Isadora holds her brothers’ hands as they walk into the sitting room, where their parents are sat together and listening to music.
“Mother?” Quigley says, and Duncan says, “Father?”
“What is it, darlings?” Mother says, smiling.
“Aren’t you supposed to be in bed?” Father adds, but he pats the couch, encouraging the triplets to sit down.
“We want to talk about something… important,” Duncan says.
The boys put their hands on her shoulders, and Quigley say, “Our tr-triplet isn’t a boy. She’s a girl.”
Isadora swings her legs, watching the patterns on the rug.
“She wants to be called Isadora,” Duncan says.
The three of them sit in silence, waiting for their parents’ reactions. But, amazingly, Mother and Father are perfectly happy about this. They tell Isadora that they are glad she has worked out something so important, that they are happy for her, and that they love her name. And Isadora starts crying and their parents hug her, and soon the whole family are cuddling, and she’s so happy.
Isadora speaks for the first time when she is six years old, but she never loses her love of writing. Especially as writing comes far more naturally than speaking, and she sometimes loses her ability to speak and has to rely on writing to communicate like she did before she could speak.
As her ability to write gets better and better, Isadora finds she has a skill for poetry. She learns all about poetry and writes lots of different types, but her favourites are definitely rhyming couplets. She writes them all the time, filling up notebooks with couplets, whilst her brothers watch in admiration.
“I wish I could write like you, Issy,” Quigley says, a slightly jealous tone to his voice.
Isadora grins and flaps her free hand, writing another couplet in her neatest handwriting. Considering she is the one who developed slowest of the three triplets, learning to speak far after her brothers and always acting a bit… differently, it makes her smile to see them actually jealous of her.
“I could… teach you,” Isadora says, forcing her words out so her voice turns out flat.
Quigley grins. “I’d like that.”
When she is seven years old, her parents get the triplets a new tutor. But this tutor doesn’t seem to like Isadora very much.
Ever since she came out as transgender a few years ago, Isadora has been gradually transitioning, growing her hair longer and getting new clothes, as well as a promise from her parents that she can go on puberty blockers when she gets older. And every day, looking in the mirror and seeing her reflection makes Isadora smile and flap her hands with happiness.
But… she doesn’t feel happy around her new tutor. This woman genuinely doesn’t like her, and Isadora hopes it isn’t because she is trans.
Their tutor takes the triplets to their usual table in the dining room, and introduces herself properly.
“Hello, boys,” she says, and Isadora flinches, Duncan and Quigley glancing at each other.
“Um… ma’am, only two of us are boys,” Duncan says.
Putting a hand on her shoulder, Quigley adds, “Isadora is a girl.”
“Isadora?” the tutor says, looking at her notebook. “I wasn’t aware I was tutoring an Isadora. According to the records your parents gave me, your names are Duncan, Quigley and Jeremy.”
Isadora winces, her eyes filling with tears. Behind her back, her hands wring together, trembling.
“No, that’s not her name,” Quigley says, sounding like he is close to shouting.
“Mother and Father put a note on it, we saw it,” Duncan says, putting his arm around her. “They can’t get her name changed on our off-official record, but they said they told you what Isadora is called now.”
“Please, use her real name,” Quigley says, and Isadora blinks rapidly to stop herself crying.
The tutor looks at them, frowning. “I was using his real name.”
And that is when Isadora breaks down. Tears streaming down her face, she hurtles out of the room, flapping her hands so hard it makes her wrists click. She hears her brothers call her name, but she can’t think to reply. All she knows is that she is so upset and so hurt and she just wants to curl up in a ball and cry.
She runs into the triplets’ bedroom and jumps onto her bed, pulling the blankets over her head. She sobs and sobs, curling up into a ball, hugging her knees to her chest. Why did that woman have to say that? She is a girl, not a boy. Why didn’t she understand that?
Isadora hears her brothers enter the bedroom. They approach her bed from either side, their voices quiet.
“Are you okay?”
But she can’t talk, her limited ability to speak completely gone. All she can do is cry and reach for their hands. Duncan and Quigley take her hands and hold them tightly, sitting on the edges of her bed and comforting her as she breaks down completely.
When she eventually calms down, she hugs her brothers, wiping tears from her red face.
“We’ll sort this out, Issy,” Duncan says.
“We promise,” Quigley adds.
That evening, the boys explain what happened. Mother and Father hug Isadora, and she never sees that tutor again. She thinks Mother and Father fired her.
When she is nine, the triplets get a new tutor; she must be the sixth one in as many years. Thankfully, this tutor likes Isadora. In fact, she seems interested in the way Isadora acts.
One day, when the children are having break time in the back yard, the tutor crouches down to Isadora’s height and says, “Have you heard of autism, Isadora?”
She can’t speak today, so she shakes her head. Scrabbling for her notebook, Isadora writes, What is it?
And her tutor smiles and tells her all about autism, a developmental disability. And as she hears the woman talk about the traits of autism, Isadora realises that this reminds her of herself.
That night, she writes about autism and Duncan and Quigley read her notes and nod.
“I think you’re right,” Quigley says.
“I think we should talk to Mother and Father,” Duncan adds.
And the next day, Isadora talks to her parents. Mother and Father nod and explain how their tutor has already talked to them about this, and they are going to get her assessed. Isadora flaps her hands, amazed that she has learned about all of this. The idea of her being autistic makes so much sense.
At the age of nine and a half, Isadora is diagnosed with autism. And she smiles and hugs Mother and Father, so glad that she finally knows why she acts the way she does. And she goes home and writes rhyming couplets, and she is so happy.