There are many empowering things about finally being old enough to become a proper pokemon trainer. For most people it is the responsibility that comes with raising a pokemon. For others it has more to do with the independence that comes with finally being allowed to leave home and explore without having to go with someone that has a pokemon able to defend them. For Ash, the world explodes from a tiny town into a whole new world. It wasn't like his mother kept lots of pokemon around the house and travelled through the country often. No one remarks on the outfit Ash chooses to wear that first day. Trainers, jeans and a t-shirt with a jacket slung over the top is practical after all and caps are the best defence against the gruelling Pallet town sun. Everyone knows Ash, but that is part of living in a small town.
They don't know Ash out there so Ash can ,be he now. Ash can be who he should have been all along and no one will ask questions. Ashleigh. The name he was born with but not the name that he was meant to have. It wasn't that Ash didn't like it but it just didn't feel like it belonged to him. He has always felt that something was wrong. He was born a girl but that didn't mean he was female, didn't mean he had to grow up as a good little girl and grow into a woman. His pokemon adventure meant he could be a he now, the boy he wanted to be. His trainers, jeans, t-shirt and jacket slung over the top could fit either of the genders society likes to concern themselves with so now he could introduce himself as Ash, the person he saw in his own head and felt in his own skin. He didn't have to be his mother's little girl anymore, because he never truly had been. It isn't that Ash thinks of girls as weak or anything less, just that he doesn't feel he is one of them. Male. He. Him. Those are the words that belong to Ash.
Pikachu doesn't care. He would electrocute him whether he was calling himself she and had long hair and a dress on anyway because he just doesn't like him and that suits Ash just fine.
The freedom lifts a weight in his chest that he didn't know he was carrying. He wasn't entierly comfortable before but now he feels a relief he didn't realise he needed. He thought everyone felt the way he did, like something was pinning him down. No one notices anything or asks any questions and he catches his first pokemon and meets new people. It is like a whole new life, build just for him. Part of him wonders if he should tell Misty and when but she nags all the time and shouts too much and the idea of telling her is scary. He tells Pikachu instead and the pokemon just looks at him with big black eyes before peering over at Misty's sleeping bag and then back at Ash. Just like her, he had told the little electric mouse. I grew up like her and I'm not a boy on the outside, just inside. 'Chaaaaa' is the only response he really gets and a wave of the little pokemon's tale with a smile before he curls up on Ash's sleeping bag and goes to sleep. Ash doubts that Pikachu can understand fully but it is still a form of acceptance and in the bug invested forest Ash clings to it. Hope. Things might just turn out ok after all if he tells people and if it didn't he had his pokemon and he had dreamed of that his whole life hadn't he?
Bathing is something he does carefully. He has long since learned to numb himself to his own feelings about his body while bathing, pushing back the panic and feeling that it isn't right, isn't his, isn't what he wants. Now it is about keeping a secret and it hits him that even in freedom he is still living a lie. The weight comes back, heavy and uncomfortable upon his young shoulders. It should come from him really, yet he has no idea how to tell Misty and now Brock about his feelings but knows the worst way it can happen is for one of them to come into his part of a stream and find out from his naked form. His chest is small, for now, but it might grow and then it will be harder to hide even if he binds it like that man he read about in a gossip magazine Gary's mother had lying around one day. They are so honest with him and even if everything he tells them about his dreams, his past and his hopes for the future is true it doesn't seem to make up for the lies in his own mind so how can he hope for it to be enough for them?
I'm not who you think I am. I was born female. But I'm male. Male. Male. Male. Boy. Boy. Boy.
It will hurt more the longer he doesn't tell them and by the time he has earned his second gym badge he knows the three will be travelling together for a while and he can't omit the truth any longer. Ash never thought he would have to talk about it, never thought that far down the road. He just saw a chance to live how he wanted to and grabbed it with both hands. Girl or boy he is still a child and the decision is huge and terrifying. He worries about Brock more because he likes Brock while Misty grates on his nerves and makes his stomach twist strangely. He thinks he has a crush on her and that she probably realises that and that is what scares him most about telling her. Ash having a crush is one thing but Ashleigh might be another.
Brock is the one he tells first, figuring at least he will be quiet and give him the time to tell Misty where the red-head has a thing about yelling, loudly. At first, Brock thinks it is a joke and Ash feels his face fall. The older boy catches on when Pikachu appears from the bushes and starts berating him with its tiny firsts on Brock's chins, cheeks crackling with electric anger. Ash's heart swells for the tiny pokemon and he's never been so happy that he slept in that first day.
"So you're trans then?"
Ash blinks, before shrugging. "I don't know the terms. I'm Ash. I'm Ash the boy and not Ashleigh the little princess and that is all I know."
'Pika, Pika', and the mouse is nodding again, arms folded this time as it stares defiantly at Brock.
"I wish I had known before but I get why you didn't say. This is a big deal. Well, it isn't but it is. Thank you for telling me," Brock says seriously, tilting his head and studying Ash thoughtfully. "I'd rather you felt comfortable in your own skin. I've seen too many that don't feel that way, people and pokemon."
"I wasn't trying to hide anything. I didn't expect to be travelling with friends so soon. I didn't expect to make friends really; I didn't have many growing up. My head was always out here on the road where I was free from it all and was the best pokemon trainer in the world!"
"I can easily imagine that!"
"Hey! I'm going to do it you know, be the best. I will catch them all!"
Misty doesn't say anything at first but does turn a bright shade of red and shake with anger. Pikachu doesn't pretend to hide and give Ash time on this occasion, but sits perched on Ash's shoulder ready to step in if it has to.
"Is this another one of your jokes? Because it. Isn't. Funny!" Misty snaps while stomping her foot on the grass. Brock is refilling water bottles at the stream to give Ash time and he kind of wishes that he was with him now, to back him up.
"It isn't a joke. Brock said it was trans or something? I don't know the terms! I just...I never felt right as a girl. I didn't fit in. I hated the dresses and the dolls and having my hair put up. I hated all of it. It wasn't me. I felt like a stranger in my own body. I feel better now. I can....I mean I can show you. No, not like that," Ash half-shouts as Misty opens her mouth to scream at him again. Scrambling with his backpack he pulls out his identification. His trainer-ID merely states his name, age and the town he comes from. Ash Ketchum.
His national ID, however, lists his sex, blood-type, next of kin contacts and states his name in bold as Ashleigh Ketchum. Misty takes the two cards from shaking hands and her mouth goes slack as the reads the pair of them.
"I'm sorry, right? It isn't easy to tell people when I don't even understand it all myself. I'm a kid right? I just...I just know I should have been born a boy. I didn't think that you'd stick around and that I'd have to explain but I'm doing it now because....we're sort of friends right?"
Her face goes bright red again and Ash shrinks in on himself because that clearly wasn't the right thing to say. Pikachu jumps down to the grass between them and eyes Misty carefully as she starts shouting again, "Of course we're friends you moron! Why do you think I'm so angry?! I want you to trust me, even if you're a fool! I know I get annoyed at you all the time but that is what friends do. And boy or girl, I still want my money for my bike."
Just like that things are back to normal and Ash snatches the cards back and starts ranting at Misty again about how she is always bike this, bike that, and they bicker continuously until Brock comes back from the stream. Then a Caterpie appears and everything falls apart but though people are hard and won't always understand, pokemon are what Ash does.