Despite the gross and vicious rumors that circulated during the tail-end of Frank’s enrollment at Queen of Peace Private School (and Frank fully believes echoes of the rumors still befall the occasional ear even after he was kicked out), Frances Iero is not a woman-hater or brain damaged or confused. Fuck that shit.
Frank can’t say when was the exact moment he knew he was a boy in the wrong body. It was always a knowing inside of him, a niggling doubt that something was wrong. That no, he did not want the skirts and dresses that plagued him until he got a say in his wardrobe choices, and no, he really did not identify with the Disney Princesses and wanted to pretend to be one when the neighborhood girls would come over to play. No, he could wait for his breasts, butt, and child-bearing hips to develop, he could wait all eternity long because having them was wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong.
And it wasn’t long for that knowing to seamlessly shift into a yearning to be a boy, in some way or form. Which was why one Spring Break weekend, a fourteen-year old Frank pocketed his saved birthday card and Christmas money before leaving his house and taking the bus to the closest Goodwill he could find on Google. Sweat started to prickle his skin even though a rush of cool air greeted him as he entered the store. The store was practically empty and he could feel his cheeks flush with excitement as he walked towards the men’s section of the big and practically empty store. He took his time picking his selection and felt like a thief sneaking contraband into the fitting room when he went in to try on five pairs of pants (finding jeans in girl’s sizes was hard enough for his size and frame, so Frank was resigned to find a good fit and spend a part of his evening hemming the length of his new pants).
And despite the nervous warning of his imaginative mind, no one jumped out of the rack of men’s small through medium t-shirts pointing out a finger and hissing crossdresser!! Nor did the tall, black woman at the register even glance twice at his selection as she bopped her head to whatever music was pouring from her oversized headphones as she rang his purchases up.
And after a quick stop at a randomly selected hairdresser, Frank was back home breathing a sigh of relief that his mom’s car was not in the driveway. Thirty minutes later, Frank stood in front of his vanity mirror from the top of his bed so that he could get a full length view of himself. A soft oh passed his lips.
His dark brown hair was now no longer than past his ears, his hair gained some length and scruffiness the closer it came to his face, but stayed short by inches the closer to the nape of his neck his hair got. It was a purposefully androgynous look, a cut that he could claim went horribly wrong when his mom’s and friends from school questioned him about where his shoulder length hair went. And it was an androgynous look that veered delightfully to male with the right clothes on to tip the balance.
The four tanks tops his mom had bought on sale from Wal-mart perfectly flattened the very small breasts he already had poking out, and the large black t-shirt under the thin, red plaid over-shirt hung from his frame without following a single one of his developing curves. The jeans he settled for still needed the help of a simple black belt to fit just right and they were ridiculously baggy at the butt of his pants; he had no ass and his hips were lost in the folds of his clothes, and it was just right.
Frank bounced on the bed a couple of times, dancing to the Souls blaring from his stereo, happiness bursting through him. Later tonight, he thought, he’d go to that show he’d been waiting for months for in these clothes and see just how far he could get away with this. Sure, he wouldn’t win the most masculine award anytime soon, but people would think twice, maybe even three times, before calling him a girl, and--
“Frances?” His mother’s voice sliced through the music and his joy like a blade.
“Mom, I thought - when did you?” He tried to say but the wide and confused gaze from his mother strangled the words. He winced when she emitted a gasp after really looking at his new hairstyle.
“Frances, what happened to your hair? And... what’s with the clothes?” A shaky smile fluttered on his mother’s face, as if she were hesitating at the punchline of a joke that she didn’t really find funny.
Instead of answering the question, Frank bought himself time by getting off the bed and powering off his stereo, and immediately regretted doing so because the silence in the room was heavy and interrogating in nature.
His mother waited. Frank cleared his throat, trying to think of some excuse but what blurted out was, “this is who I am, mom.”
“This?” Linda Iero’s face was still clouded in confusion, and Frank realized his mother’s eyes were looking past his shoulder. His heart clenched with hurt and shame that started to hone into anger, and his anger only grew when he felt the sting of tears at the back of eyes.
“Yes, this.” Frank motioned towards himself with his hand.
“Oh, Frances,” another weak smile, “I always knew you were a tomboy but—”
“No, mom!” Frank yelled so forcefully his mother recoiled and finally made eye contact with Frank, “I am not a tomboy! I am not a girl who likes to do boyish things, Goddammit. I am a boy! A boy, mom, this is what I am, and please, please don’t tell me I’m wrong because that’s how I’ve felt in this body ever since I can remember.” Warm tears ran down his face quickly and Frank closed his eyes to try and force them back. “Please, mom, please …”
He kept his eyes closed even as he heard the soft sound of footsteps walking towards him. They remained closed even as he muffled his sobs on his mother’s shoulder when she tugged him in for a strong embrace.
“Please, mom, please,” Frank didn’t know what exactly he was pleading for but he couldn’t stop the words from escaping his mouth.
“It’s okay. I know, I know. It’s going to be hard, but we’ll talk about that later. Just settle, shhh.” They slowly settled onto Frank’s bed, Frank leaning, practically cradled in the crook of his mother’s arm, and he let himself cry his fears and guilt and confusion until all he could feel was a little bit of hope.
It was weird letting someone else know something secret, something you’ve known since forever but could never actually say the words. Even if that person was someone as amazing as his mom.
Linda Iero was Frank’s favorite person in the entire world. Granted most teenagers found their parents their least favorite of people, but ever since Frank’s father left years and years ago to pursue a life without Frank and his mother, it’s always been just the two of them. And they treasured that bond and strengthened it with love and respect.
Frank could only hope as he followed his frowning mother out his bedroom that that bond was strong enough for this.
They talked in the living room for hours, the curtains were still drawn aside even though nighttime had already fallen. Frank spoke for the most part, sometimes looking at his mom directly, other times fiddling with a button on the sleeve of the over-shirt he still had on; his mom hadn’t made him change from his boy clothes. Mrs. Iero listened, interrupted with a question or two sometimes, but for the most part allowed her Frances to let loose everything she had been storing up, even if some of it was incoherent and was more of a rant about sexuality.
“It’s going to be hard, Frances.” Linda finally said when there was a lull in the conversation.
“I know, mom. But like I told you, I didn’t choose to feel this way. And...it gets a bit weirder because I’m a boy in a girl’s body who might … uh, like boys?” The button Frank kept twisting on his sleeve finally came loose from its thread. He frowned at it.
Linda expelled a sigh. “Well, that certainly makes a complicated situation just a little bit more complicated doesn’t it?” There was a slight teasing note to her voice.
Frank gave a nod and said, “just a bit.”
Linda reached over to hug Frank breathing out an “I love you. We’ll figure this out,” before heading to the kitchen and preparing a late dinner.
Yea, favorite person in the world.
Trouble, when it did find Frank, did not come in the hands of strangers, but rather from a friend.
One Saturday, a bit more than a year after the talk in the living room with his mother, as Frank was wiggling into a chest binder he created out of panty hose (not the most comfortable fit and man he couldn’t wait till he raised enough money for an honest to God binder made of breathable material), the doorbell rang. Frank’s mother was working her graveyard shift at the Dirty Spoon Diner, so Frank was on his own for dinner.
Pizza! Frank thought and then cursed when he couldn’t find his band t-shirt and the doorbell rang twice more incessantly.
“Hold, the fuck up!” Frank yelled as he pulled on a bathrobe and jogged towards the door and threw the door open. “Woah, you guys deliver fast! Do you have change for—” Leslie stood before him with a large Coach purse practically bursting with what looked the whole chip and candy section of a 7-11.
“Hey, Frances. Sorry for dropping by but I was bored at home and I remembered you complaining about having nothing to do this weekend to do, so I decided to surprise you with a girl’s-night-in-chick-flick-action-adventure-double-feature,” Leslie jiggled her Coach bag.
Frank didn’t know whether to invite his oldest friend in or slam the door in her face. He did remember telling Leslie yesterday that his Saturday looked fraught with boredom, but that was yesterday, now Frank had a date with a moshpit. And oh God, he was in his binder with only a cotton bathrobe covering him.
“Frances, can I come in?”
“Uhm, no? I mean, yea. Wait,” Frank clutched his bathrobe closed with a steel grip. Leslie’s smile was lost in confusion and she motioned to come in. Frank could only step aside and tried to calm his frantic heart.
He watched Leslie set her bag on the couch and remembered her small, smaller than even him, and loud when they met years ago in a classroom a week into first grade. Leslie was a long time friend, one who while amazingly stubborn, could also be gentle and understanding. If there was anyone else other than his mother he would choose to tell it would be his best friend. He hesitated for a second before saying:
“Can I tell you something, Lee?”
Leslie left his house that Saturday after the first chick-flick, which neither of them paid any attention to, without her customary goodbye hug and with her mouth set in small line. Frank didn’t tell his mother why he was irritable most of the weekend, instead he closed himself in his room and deleted a thousand unsent text messages on his cellphone to Leslie. She just needs time, Frank thought.
Monday morning at eight o’clock Frank walked into first period biology and found Leslie’s chair empty. He felt the weight of a stare on him and turned up to find his friends, Bethany and Tyler, in their seats. Beth quickly averted her gaze and leaned in to quickly whisper something into Tyler’s ear, he wrinkled his nose as if he smelled something unpleasant.
Leslie arrived to Biology five minutes before the bell would ring with an excused note in hand. Mrs. Flattery gave Leslie a wave of her hand after reading the note and Leslie exited the classroom once more without sparing one glance at Frank.
Three chimes signaled the end of class and Frank did not even wait for Tyler and Bethany to leave first. He was out the door before the rest and was stopped by a firm hand on his shoulder.
“Ms. Iero, come with me to my office, please.” The Headmaster of Queen of Peace, Father Thomas, was a tall, stern figure whose blue eyes glared disapprovingly at Frank.
Frank glared back and followed Father Thomas.
It was a sin to rebel against the design and role God gave his creation was Father Thomas’s point. And although Father Thomas of the wide shoulders and stern face kind of scared Frank, he couldn’t help scoffing out loud at hearing him.
“Ms. Iero, the school counselor has opened her schedule for eleven p.m. at which time you will meet up with her today,” Father Thomas said.
“No,” Frank replied immediately, staring at the agonized, life-sized Christ figure on a crucifix on the wall behind Father Thomas. It was the only decoration on any of the walls of Father Thomas’s office, “I don’t need counseling because there isn’t anything wrong with me except being born in the wrong body. So unless this counselor is going to help me transition I don’t need to see her.”
Father Thomas called his mother.
“ My son does not need counseling, Father Thomas.” Frank’s mother was livid. Pretty brown eyes narrowed and bright with anger.
“You condone this atrocity, Mrs. Iero?” Father Thomas’s voice did not raise in volume no matter how much Frank’s mother did. It remained measured and clipped.
“I support him for what he knows is true, no matter the difficulty. And I will not force him to go to any kind of counseling session he does not feel a need to go to.”
“Nothing I say will convince you otherwise to do the right thing, Mrs. Iero?”
“Not a thing.”
“Then I regret to inform you that after this semester is over, Frank will not be permitted to return to this school. Our caliber and integrity cannot be put to risk by allowing your daughter to continue her enrollment at Queen of Peace.”
“What?” Linda Iero smacked a hand onto Father Thomas’s desk, face dark with anger and jaw clenched. Frank was fisting his own hands in his chair.
“Calm yourself, Mrs. Iero.”
She only delivered a scathing glare at Father Thomas that did nothing in breaking his stoic expression, “My son will be leaving with me today, Father Thomas. Tomorrow he will return to his classes, but if anything is to happen to him during his stay here, I will deliver wrath and publicity to this establishment that will soil your precious integrity, you hear?”
“We do not condone violence, Mrs. Iero, inasmuch as we do not condone France’s behavior.”
“Come on, Frank.”
After that day in Father Thomas’s office, it took Frank a while to see the bright side of anything. It took Frank’s absence the rest of the day for the rumors and whispers to incubate like a man-eating virus before traveling throughout the whole student body, all three thousand four hundred seventy two of them.
He was treated like a leper: avoided during classes and lunch, and on the walk to and from classes he was given at least two feet of space in the hallways. But the whispers of Faggy Frances and laughter at his expense always reached his ears no matter the space given.
But nobody touched him and after finding his bicycle tires slashed one day after school, his mother was resolute on given him ride to and from school.
Frank didn’t go out in his boy clothes until two weeks into summer. Despite his paranoia, no one from school had followed him as he took a bus downtown to visit his favorite music store. As he mindlessly strummed a couple of chords from a beauty of Fender, thinking about betrayal and back-stabbing bitches named Leslie and what exactly would happen in his new school.
Suddenly, he stopped playing and snapped his head up in realization. An idea, a plan starting to form in his mind... one that just might work with ...
A new school meant a new life and new people. People who wouldn’t know more about him than what he decided to show. So if he decided to dress as a boy and essentially have everyone in his new school believe he was a boy, then they’d have to take his word for it because who would tell them differently?
It’d have to be a secret, of course, because once people know you have boobs and a vagina, apparently you can never be taken seriously as a guy again. And the kind of people who would understand, he learned, are few and far between; he highly doubted he’d find any of the kind in high school, he thought bitterly.
“Dude, are you gonna play that because I’ve been eyeing that baby since I got here.” A hyper voice broke his thoughts and Frank finally noticed a tall boy fidgeting and eyeing the Fender with great interest.
“Yea, sure, here.” After a guitar exchange, Frank walked out of the store, smiling his first genuine smile in months as he tried to figure out the right way to explain this plan to his mother.