Transgender Teens & Young Adult Coming of Age

This story contains themes or mentions of suicide or self harm.

Content Warning: Transphobia

The sterile, lemony scent of Lysol lingered in the lobby, melding with the comforting glow of the afternoon sun streaming through the sweeping exterior windows as Elias carried the box of his old dresses to the reception desk. To the left of the desk, seated at white tables surrounded by colorful chairs, a few teens scribbled in notebooks or tapped away on laptops, perhaps working on homework, though he suspected the trio crowded around one computer in the corner silently clapping each other on the back were gaming. It surprised him for a second that they would have computers. Aren’t homeless people supposed to have nothing? But then he realized maybe people donated laptops the same way he was about to donate clothes.

He’d been in homeless shelters before, but never one for people his age. Every few months his family did community service together, and a few of those outings were spent serving food at one of the permanent shelters downtown or helping prep the church basement for the rotating shelter that came through every other year. Last time he had to scrub the church bathroom. His stomach tightened at the memory of the volunteer manager directing him to scrub the women’s restroom.

He wasn’t allowed in the men’s room back in those days.

Elias set the box as gently as he could on the reception desk, letting the weight of it slide through his fingers like a fish being released back into the water.

The receptionist smiled at him.

“Welcome to Youth Place,” she said with the same warmth he felt from the sun against the back of his arm. “I’m Bronwyn, my pronouns are she/her. What’s your name?”

“Elias,” he said.

“Elias,” she repeated, taking out a clipboard and starting to fill out a form. “Let me get Deborah, she’ll help you store your things in a locker. Are you hungry?”

“Oh,” said Elias, “I’m, uh, not homeless.” He kept his voice low, feeling oddly exposed so close to the other kids. He pointed at the box. “I’m here to drop off some clothes. To donate.”

Bronwyn bowed her head. “I shouldn’t have presumed.” She reached down and picked up a rather bare spiral-bound book. “Looks like someone used my last triplicate sheet. Just a sec.”

She popped through the door behind the desk into a back office. A window in the wall let him watch as she rummaged around in drawers and cabinets, pausing every few seconds to glance up towards Elias and the shelter’s main entrance behind him.

Elias was used to presumptions, though this was perhaps the most harmless he’d encountered. Not being allowed to clean the men’s bathroom. Not being allowed to join the boy’s swim team, or any boy’s sport. The presumptions people made based on his biology blew. When he thought he was a tomboy, people just presumed he was a guy. He liked that presumption. He didn’t like the apologies that inevitably followed when people heard his voice or his name, the name he buried because it was dead.

He presumed his parents would hate him or be ashamed, so he held on to that name for too long until it felt like a rope around his neck lingering there inescapable when his mom and dad spoke it with pride of his accomplishments when teachers called it during class when best friends smiled and breathed it out loud saying hello how are you none of them realizing they made him fight for air beg for air sometimes even pray for the rope to cinch tighter.

Saying he felt relieved when he finally told his parents and they embraced him, proving his presumptions unfounded, would be like saying the Milky Way was pretty. He no longer needed to fight for air. Instead, it filled him and let him proclaim his joy at the top of his lungs.

Together, they packed what girl’s clothes remained in his closet into the box. He went through a phase a year or two ago where he hoped it would just go away and bought dresses and skirts and makeup. That was just a phase though, a last attempt by the world to control him, tell him he who was.

His dad drove him over to Youth Place, even offered to walk in with him. But no.

This was something Elias needed to do alone.

They were originally going to just drop the clothes at Goodwill, but then Elias learned that almost half of people his has age without homes identified as queer, and of that a disproportionate number were trans. As soon as he heard that, he knew who he wanted to have his clothes.

If he could, he would pass on more to them. Lord knows somewhere there’s a 16-year-old trans girl who could make good use out of what he bound up tight to his chest. He planned on getting top surgery as soon as he could, but it seemed like such a waste for them to just get sucked away. Couldn’t there be somewhere trans folx could just go and drop off the parts they didn’t need and swap them for the parts they did? For trade: boobs, never wanted.

The door to the shelter swung open. A girl walked in, maybe a little older than him but it’s hard to tell, brown hair down to her shoulders, wearing tight jeans, a pink blouse, and a black jacket. Her face demonstrated the same skill with makeup that Elias had – novice – though he presumed she hoped to improve at it over time, while he hoped to never slather lipstick on again if he could help it.

She sauntered up to the desk, smacking on a well-chewed piece of gum.

“Hey,” she said. “You moving in?”

Elias pointed at the cardboard box. “Well, no actually. I’m here to drop of some clothes. To donate.”

“Whatchya got?” she asked, pulling open the flaps and squealing when she spotted the spirit jersey on top. Oblivious to the slight musty smell the clothes acquired sitting in the farthest reaches of his closet, she held the oversized sweater to her chest. “Oooh! She cute!”

“Welcome back, Phoenix,” said Bronwyn, returning from the office with a fresh triplicate pad. “Will you be staying with us again?”

Phoenix nodded, now clutching a crop top Elias couldn’t believe he ever thought was a good idea to buy.

“Yeah,” she said, holding it to her chest. “Mitch tried to hit me again, so I left. And he stopped paying me.”

“I’m glad you’re safe,” said Bronwyn. “Just a sec and I’ll get you checked in. You know the clothes have to go into the clothing bank, though. We need to wash them first, and you can get them from there.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Phoenix put the clothes back in the box and sighed, closing the flaps. Elias noticed the crop top peeking out of her coat pocket. “There’s an old dude just sitting in a minivan outside.”

“If it’s a Honda, that’s probably my dad,” said Elias.

“He good to you?” asked Phoenix, studying him with piercing brown eyes.

“Yeah.” His answer felt like an admission of guilt for some reason, but he wasn’t sure how else to respond.


Bronwyn tore the receipt off her pad and held it out for Elias. “Thank you for your donation, Elias. And if you know anyone who needs our services, please send them our way. Everyone is welcome here.”

“Even me,” said Phoenix, teeth grinding on the gum again.

“It was nice to meet you,” said Elias, nodding at Bronwyn.

He turned to Phoenix. “I’m glad you’re going to get the clothes.” Was that rude to say?

He headed for the exit. He felt the lightness he hoped he would, having left behind that cardboard box containing the final remnants of a person that never really existed, knowing the rest of his life waited on the other side of the door, a life without pretending. A life of joy. Yet he struggled to smile as his mind lingered on Phoenix, on the inequity that grew with each step he took towards his dad waiting outside to take him home.

A few moments later, Elias pulled open the door of the minivan and slid into the passenger seat.

“You wanna drive, Elias?” asked his father. “You need practice.”

Elias reached over and gave his father the best side hug he could across the armrest and gear shifter.

“I love you dad.”

His father, caught off guard by the gesture, feeling his child tremble against him, rested a hand on Elias’ arm in return.

“I love you too, son.”

April 01, 2022 07:12

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