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Coming of Age Contemporary LGBTQ+

When ten-year-old Dawn entered the Goodwill drop-off station in Madera, she dragged a garbage bag full of clothes behind her. She huffed and puffed as she made the haul. It didn’t help that the temperature was about to hit ninety degrees on this day in early June.

“This weighs a ton!” she cried with exasperation.

“Well, you wanted to do it by yourself,” her mother replied.

She offered a smile that was really an I-told-you-so expression. Moms knew how to do that smile really well. Dawn ignored the look.

“I should have put this on my wagon.”

“But you gave that away last week,” her mother added, still smiling.

“Well, that was a mistake,” Dawn said.

She was there to make a donation, the idea of charity and do-unto-others instilled in her since she could talk. One of the earliest books her mother had shared with her was The Bernstein Bears Think of Those in Need. And once Dawn had turned eight, her mother had taught her that for every dollar she earned in allowance, she should put aside ten cents for charity. Just recently, she’d donated a whole twenty dollars to the local Ronald MacDonald House in Fresno. She knew it wasn’t a big amount, but as her mother had said, if one million people each gave twenty dollars, that would be twenty million.

That morning, as she pondered what to do with the clothes she no longer needed, it occurred to her they could be used by a kid who maybe couldn’t afford to buy new. So, off they went to the Goodwill. Struggling with the garbage bag, Dawn realized it really wasn’t that much of a burden. If Jesus Christ could carry his cross, she could certainly handle this one task.

She finally made it to a table where a plump lady with salt-and-pepper hair waited to check in the donation. She looked to be around the same age as Dawn’s grandmother, but there wasn’t much resemblance beyond that. Her nana wore glasses, used bright red lipstick, and smelled of rose water. Plus, she went to the salon once a week to get her hair done. She didn’t dye it, saying she didn’t see the need for that, but did like her silver locks to be styled regularly.

“Always look smart when you go in public,” she’d told Dawn.

In contrast, the Goodwill lady sported faded jeans and a T-shirt from the Chukchansi Casino. Her flat hair was scooped behind her ears, and she smelled of a breakfast burrito she must have eaten earlier. Dawn dusted off her hands and placed them on her hips.

“I’m giving away my old clothes,” she said, as the woman hoisted the bag onto the table. “I don’t need them anymore.”

“Well, that’s very generous of you,” the woman said. “Let’s see what you have here.”

She opened the bag and turned its contents out onto the table, poised to push all of the items into the large bin where donated clothes wound up for processing. She pulled shirts and pants out and held some up for a quick inspection, her brow furrowing after examining four of them.

“These are boys’ clothes.”


Dawn’s tone was matter of fact, the same way she might tell her mom she needed new pencils for school or that the mail had arrived. The woman looked down at Dawn then at her mother. Dawn craned her neck to see her mother’s reaction—an enigmatic stare. Yep, that’s about right, she thought. That’s my mom’s don’t-mess-with-me look. She turned back and the Goodwill woman’s face flushed with pink.

“Oh,” she said, turning back to the young girl. “I understand.”

Dawn figured she didn’t really understand. Adults said things like that, especially to little girls like her. Her own teacher said the same thing when she walked into class two months before, dressed in an Old Navy tulip-sleeved hem-long pink top with purple and rose-colored leggings. Her mother had offered to call and speak with the school before Dawn showed up, but the girl insisted she not do that.

“Are you sure?” her mom asked.

“Yep. Gotta fend for myself.”

When her teacher laid eyes on her, she said, “Donald, why are you dressed like that?”

“My name isn’t Donald. It’s Dawn. Like the sunrise.”

Her teacher scrunched her face, and Dawn just looked at her. Her mother had said people might need some time to adjust and for her to be prepared. Several seconds ticked off before the teacher’s eyes widened.

 “Oh,” she said, nodding. “I understand.”

Dawn looked at the Goodwill woman and smiled. “I’m a girl now. Well, actually, I always was a girl. I just got the wrong body. So, that’s why I don’t need these clothes.”

The woman cleared her throat. “Well, I guess you don’t.”

Dawn recognized that tone of voice. Adults used it when they didn’t really mean what they said, like “Do what you want” really meant “You’re making a mistake.” She couldn’t let the woman’s words slip by so easily.

“I really don’t need them.” She paused as she tilted her head. “Have you ever felt like you were someone else?”

The Goodwill woman froze. “Well, I, uh, no. Not really.”

Dawn crossed her arms. “So, there’s nothing about you that you wish were different?”

The woman looked up at Dawn’s mother and Dawn could see the plea on the plump woman’s face: Aren’t you going to say something to your daughter? Step in? But her mother said nothing. She’d told Dawn off and on that she was precocious—a word that Dawn had come to savor as much for its three-syllable sound as its meaning. Her mother had added that adults might struggle with her forthrightness, and she’d need to be strong. And here was one instance. The Goodwill woman looked back at Dawn.

“How old are you?”


“Well, don’t you think a ten-year-old shouldn’t ask adults questions like the one you just asked me?”

Dawn squinted slightly. “Why? Does it make you feel uncomfortable?”

“Not really.”

Dawn could tell that wasn’t true.

“And how do you know for sure you want to be a girl?” the woman asked.

“I don’t want to be girl,” Dawn replied, her voice ticking up slightly. “I am a girl.” Then she added, “And how do you know for sure there’s nothing about yourself you wouldn’t like to be different?”

Again, the woman looked at Dawn’s mother. This time her expression did not plea for an intervention. Instead, she narrowed her eyes, and Dawn detected annoyance bubbling inside her. The woman pursed her lips and shoved all the clothes into the bin. She turned back to Dawn, her face and neck blotched with red.

“I guess that’s it,” Dawn said. “Could I have a receipt, please?”

The woman pulled out a pad, scribbled something on it and handed a piece of paper to Dawn.

“Thank you,” she said. She turned to leave with her mother but stopped, spun around, and addressed the Goodwill woman one last time.

“Do you have kids or grandkids?” she asked.

The corners of the woman’s mouth had pulled into a frown. “Why do you ask?”

“Because, if you do, be sure to love them, no matter who or what they are. Bye.”

Then waves, then turned and wrapped an arm around her mother’s waist as the two of them strolled out and into the sunshine that poured down on the Central Valley. 

March 28, 2022 21:21

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1 comment

L.M. Lydon
22:35 Apr 04, 2022

I like the direction in which you took this prompt. Dawn has "outgrown" the clothes in a sense other than physically sizing out of them (mental/emotional growth). Her matter of fact, straightforward tone in the conversation with the donation lady is wonderful and really adds to the story by conveying her precociousness.


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