by Mikayla Mislak
I’ve never felt entirely comfortable with calling myself a woman. When I was a kid, people described me as a “tomboy.” I literally rolled in mud and used to catch frogs, insects, toads, and snakes. I wasn’t squeamish and I cried in first grade because I didn’t want to wear a dress for picture day. I liked wrestling and playing tag with the boys. I found the girls boring unless they liked catching frogs with me. I still wore pink and had plastic flowers braided into my hair, but I was happiest when my hair was wild and I could climb trees like Tarzan.
As I grew up, my dissatisfaction never quite left me. Sure, I was comfortable with wearing dresses and skirts to school, but I still liked wearing boy’s clothes too. I was thirteen when I finally had the guts to cut my hair short. My mother looked anxiously as my aunt sheared off my dirty blonde locks, her hand covering her mouth like she was watching something die.
Since I lived in a small farmer’s town, cutting my hair short and wearing boy’s clothes was enough to be frequently mistaken for a guy. It didn’t matter if I wore makeup or a bra. A few strangers, who were almost always women, would confuse me for a man.
One time, my father’s best friend met me for the first time in years. I answered the door and she shook my hand. She turned to my father and said, “You have a handsome son.” I beamed and my father frantically corrected her, saying I was Mikayla, not Malone. My father glanced at me and saw my look of joy. His cheeks reddened in embarrassment, polluting my excitement with something shameful.
But after years of these repeated antics, it became very clear to my family that my dissatisfaction with my gender wasn’t going away. Once in a while, I could sneak in a “I’m like a guy that way” joke. One of my biggest victories was convincing my parents to let me go to prom in a tux.
My dad helped me pick it out. We went to the tux store together. I was nervous and half expecting the employees to be rude since I was a woman. But the nicest woman helped me every step of the way and my father made sure that everything was done right so that I would look my best. On the car ride home I thanked him profusely for accepting me as I was.
At prom I got my third pleasant surprise. No one at the dance was bothered by me. They all danced and laughed with me as normally as ever. I danced with girls and guys, strangers and friends alike. Not even the cheerleaders were disgusted by my clothes; instead, they were only impressed with my dancing.
My deviations have limits, though. I once tried to ask my family to occasionally call me “Mike/Michael” instead of “Mikayla.” I had just gotten back from a LGBT club that I went to on Wednesday nights. We talked about gender fluidity and I confessed that I wanted to be called both “he” and “she.” That night I felt incredibly masculine, and one of my friends took notice, getting my attention by calling me “Mike.” I almost cried from happiness when she did that. I didn’t want the feeling to end. So that night I asked my family when they were watching a movie, but I was immediately shut down with, “Your friends can do that.”
I like that I can call myself a woman. There is great power in femininity. But it is not all that I am. There is something else, a piece of my person that is not acknowledged as being true because my physical body does not reflect it. In my ideal world, I would be recognized as being both a man and a woman. People would refer to me as both “she” and “he” and I would be truly whole. People would see my shifting masculine and feminine energy, and they would immediately know what gender they would refer to me as. My professors would switch between calling me Michael and Mikayla. I wouldn’t feel so awkward going to the women’s bathroom in my boxers. My mother wouldn’t shame me for binding my chest and guys wouldn’t laugh at me when I told them how I truly felt about my gender.
But in this world, I still have to pick between boxers and bras — one always ruling how I am seen.