‘The never-ending question: Are you a boy or a girl?’

Fighting Words 2020: September 2nd, a story about gender identity and being accepted, by Scout Fitzsimons

Illustration: iStock

Illustration: iStock


Name: Scout Fitzsimons
Age: 15
School: Methodist College, Belfast

September 2nd

September 2nd, 2016
The never-ending question. The question that waits around every corner. In the nooks and crannies you least expect. At home, online, in school, with friends, with random strangers in the street. I stare at the survey on the desk.

Scout Fitzsimons
Scout Fitzsimons

Are you a boy or a girl?

I tick boy. I mean, I am one, right? That’s what my parents say I am, what the school says I am, what my friends say I am. I hear “he” every time I’m mentioned. I don’t even look a little feminine. How could I be a girl? I’m a 12-year-old boy from Belfast. I like action movies, monsters, rugby. Boy things. All boy things. But I also like make-up and those baby blue crop tops in New Look and my sister’s Monster High dolls. All girl things. But why are they all girl things? I asked my dad this once and I wasn’t allowed to go into my sister’s room any more.

I finish the survey, ticking all the boxes. Apparently, they do this at the start of every new year. They give each pupil a survey on what they like or don’t like at the school, but I like everything about it here so far. The walls have a new lick of paint, free from graffiti or chipping. The uniforms make me feel so tall and proud and bigger. My school bag is laden with books full of things I have never heard of before. I think I’m going to join the choir too. I always feel freer when I sing. When my voice flows through the air; the notes vibrating in my blood. The melody brings the worlds I see in my mind to life, the harmonies letting my soul run wild. It’s my own galaxy. Within my song, I’m safe.

The teacher collects the surveys. I’m nervous. It’s only my second day but I still haven’t made any friends. And my parents still won’t give me a phone so I can’t even pretend to be busy on that. I consider pulling out my book, but then I’ll be known as that quiet kid who only reads, with no friends, for the rest of the year. I pretend to look very interested at my twiddling thumbs.

Out of nowhere, two kids come and plonk themselves down on the seats beside me. One, a girl with tawny skin and frazzled-looking black hair knotted tightly in a braid. The other, a boy with sharp blue eyes and so much gel in his brown hair that it makes him seem like some conniving villain. He smiles at me.

“What’s your name?” he says, his voice high and chipper.

“Uh, Nathan Greene, ” I reply quietly. For some reason, I am blushing. Why am I blushing? God, and I’m ginger so it must really show.

“Nice to meet ya!” says the girl, her voice equally as high-pitched as the boy’s. She is smiling too. “I’m Gemma, and that’s Tyler. We’re both first year too.”

Suddenly a ringing pierces through our conversation and my eardrums. I’ll still have to get used to that bell.

“Wanna walk to class with us?” Tyler smiles at me again, wide and welcoming. I look at Gemma, her smile smaller but just as welcoming. I jump up from my seat, school bag in hand, and follow them out of the classroom.

This school is going to be amazing.

September 2nd, 2017
The ever-ending question. The question that waits around every corner. In the nooks and crannies you least expect. At home, online, in school, with friends, with random strangers in the street. I stare at the survey in my hand.

Are you a boy or a girl?

Good question. Am I a boy or a girl? What even is “boys and girls” anyway? I don’t get how what’s in your trousers is relevant to how efficiently you think the lunchroom is run. I suppose it doesn’t matter, though, because the question is still being asked. It’s always asked. I tick boy, so as to not arouse any suspicion. I already get enough crap for coming back to school this year with long, brown-dyed hair. Gemma and Ty think it looks awesome; like I am some thoughtful artist who is contemplating their next masterpiece. My Dad says I look like a tranny.

I hum a song as I finish off the survey. The teacher collects them in, and the whole class erupts into noise, talking about their answers. Gemma is sitting next to me, and Ty next to her. Her hair is still in her iconic braid and she’s gnawing at her pen, which she tends to do when she’s bored. She looks up at the ceiling, her eyes bright and thoughtful, pondering some great question about the universe, most likely. Ty is yawning.

He notices her thoughtfulness too, smirks, and nudges her shoulder. She tears away from whatever she is thinking and shoots her head around to face Ty. She hits him on the head with her pen.

“OW!” he yelps. “What was that for?”

“For interrupting my inner monologue!”

“Your inner monologue is boring,” he moans, “So is yours, Nathan. I can see you staring into space.”

“Shut up,” I fold my arms and grin. “All you think about is fast food and comic books.”

“Don’t forget your Mom.”

“Darlings,” says Gemma, “Put the bickering aside. Class is about to start.”

Lo and behold, the bell rings.

September 2nd, 2018
The ever-ending question. The question that waits around every corner. In the nooks and crannies you least expect. At home, online, in school, with friends, with random strangers in the street. I stare at the survey in front of me.

Are you a boy or a girl?

I’m so done with this survey. I’m so done with this school. I’m so done with all of it. Why … why is it all so confusing? Why do I have to choose? I’ve looked it up; how I feel. How one day I feel like a girl and the next a boy; and some days neither. I’m not sure of who I am. I’m not sure of anything. Apparently loads of people feel like I do, but I’ve never even heard of people like me until I researched it. I feel like an enigma. I feel so alone. I can’t find the will to sing.

My dad kicked me out of the house last week for wearing make-up. I never wanted him to see. I usually did it when I was sure he wasn’t home. But he came back from work early and …

I’m staying at Ty’s now. I broke down in his living room. I just don’t understand how a bit of make-up justifies my father abandoning me. He said I wasn’t his son. He said his son would never betray him like this.

I don’t tick any boxes. I can’t pick anything, because I don’t know what I am. Apparently, to the world, I just don’t exist.

The teacher collects in the surveys and looks questioningly at my blank one, but continues to take the others in. Gemma and Ty sit either side of me, awkward and unsure of what to say. I breathe deep and try to speak without choking up.

“Hey,” I say. Both turn far too quickly towards me, “do either of you know what … non-binary is?”

Their expressions soften, and Gemma’s lips, for some reason, curve into a smile. “I think I do,” she says, “Is that who you think you are?”

“Um,” I begin, but it’s hoarse and choked, “Kinda? I’m not sure.”

“And you don’t have to be.” She puts a hand on my shoulder. “Because we’ll love you no matter what. No matter how you choose to identify, or who you love. We’ve got you.”

“Uh,” Ty scratches his head, “I’ve heard of it, but I don’t really get it, dude, I’m not gonna lie.”

I turn to the floor, tears beginning to fall. Of course he’d never accept me. Of-

“That doesn’t me I don’t still love you! Dude, I care about you! And if me caring about you means understanding and respecting this, I’m all here for it. Like Gem said, we’ve got you.”

I laugh, salty tears rolling down my cheeks. Gemma and Ty pull me into a hug.

This … this is all I wanted.

The bell rings.

September 2nd, 2019
My name is Nat Greene.

I’m non-binary.

The survey lies before me. The usual question sits there, dull and ignorant on the paper. I take the sheet, crumple it, and drop it on the floor, the biggest grin on my face. I feel like I could burst into song.

Me and my father are speaking again. Not well. Not comfortably. But speaking. He apologised, which is something. I have a home, which is something.

But I will not be erased again. I will sing my own song, belting every lyric.

My name is Nat Greene. And I exist.