i’ve known since third grade that i was queer. i noticed freckles & giggles no matter who made them, noticed hands — touch — knowing that i wanted the closeness but couldn’t stand the pressure. even then, being identified as feminine made my skin feel tight. i hated the giveaway of my girlish hair so much that i let it grow into a tangle resembling a bird’s nest, something my teacher lovingly pestered me over; she would cheer on the days i came in sleek & straight. i secretly relished substitutes mistaking me for a boy, never bothered to correct anyone until sniggering classmates gave me away. i wished the teachers would keep doing it anyway, my big doe eyes begging them to ignore the children laughing. i grew up in boys’ clothes & leftover 90s grunge until i had to start looking professional. i’ve hated my chest since high school — always used the word “reduction” when “remove” rang a far sweeter bell — wore two tight sports bras & ace tape during summer gym to hide any bounce from my ample bust. now, i let myself smoke cigarettes because it makes my voice raspy & i’ve stopped shaving. my niece calls me uncle & it soothes something that’s been chewing on my gut. maybe i connect the dots, finally form a picture. one day i hope for a real body that finally looks like mine — no longer a phantom spilling over, no longer just a dream that feels more real than life.