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2011 Commonwealth Essay Competition Michelle Lee YY (14), Singapore Senior Runner-Up

Girlpower!OR,Boypower! Theycameforhimonehotafternoonashewaswalkinghomefromschool.Handsslammedintohis back,andasheturnedaround,someonetwistedhisarmsharplybehindhisbackandlaughedashe criedout.Thesunwasbehindtheirfacesandshiningintohiseyes,sohecouldrecognizethegrouponly bytheiruniforms;studentsfromhisschool.Hetriedtowrenchhisarmfree,strugglingdesperately,but theywouldn'tletgo.Instead,theymovedintosurroundhim,tighteningtheircircle.Someonepunched himhard,acrosshisface,andthroughthepain,hesuddenlyrealizedhowmuchtheyhatedhim.And morefearfully,hewonderedhowmuchtheywouldhurthim.Heturned,searchingdesperatelyfora breakintheircircle,awaytoescape,buthewassurroundedallaroundbyfaceafteranonymousface. Withalastfutilestruggle,hetriedtobreakfreeandrun.Hestumbled.Thenthemobsurged,andstruck attheboyatitscenter,andsurgedandstruckagain. Theykickedhim,andthistimehefell,lostinthetangleofarmsallreachingtograb,totwist,tohurt.He screamed.Itwasahighpitchedtorrentofrawsoundthathedidntknowcouldcomefrominsidehim, andtheyslappedhimtomakehimshutup,tillhewassilentandstill.Abovehim,someonewaslaughing raucously.Anotherkickintheribs,andhegroanedandrolledaway.Withshatteredglasses,hestrained tohearwhatwasgoingonheheardthesoundofmetal,andheflinchedawayinfear,silentlybegging thatitwasntaknife,theycouldhurthimasmuchastheywantedwiththeirbarehandsbutwithaknife theycouldcut,theycouldkill.Theyheldhimdownsohecouldn'tturnhishead.Nexttohishead,he heardbladesclosing,andwithasickeningacheherealizedtheywerecuttinghishair.Itwasfartoolong, pushingtheschool'srulestothelimit;hisfatherhatedit.Hesaiditlookedlikeagirl's.Thescissors snipped,andsnippedagain,andhefelthisshornheadlighten. Finally,theylethimgo,andhelaythere,wonderingwhattheywoulddonext.Someoneclearedtheir throatslowly.Thenhefeltsaliva,wetandslightlywarm,hittinghisfaceandrunningdownthecurveof hischeek.Theywalkedawaywithoutspeaking. Lyingthere,hewishedthatheweredead. Thenheheardthesoundoffootsteps,runningtowardshim,andfeltahandonhisshoulder."Areyou okay?"Itwashisbestfriend'svoice,andhenoddeddully."Iheardyouscreaming.Doyouneedmeto callanambulance?"Heshookhishead,andstumbledtohisfeet."I'mfine.Theydidn'thurtmethat badly." Shehelpedhimup,frowningattheobviouslie,andtheywalkedalongslowlyinsilence.Heheldhis

glassesagainsthisfacewithonehand,squintingthroughtheintactlensagainstthesunlight'sglare. Witheverystephetook,hecouldfeelhislegstrembling. Shespokeunexpectedly,almostbrusquely.IsthisaboutwhathappenedonWednesday?Whenwe wereallowedtocomeinnormalclothes?Hestaredather,takenbysurprise;heknewthattheydhave totalkaboutwhathappened,buthehadneverexpectedtheangerinhervoice. Hedidntknowwherehehadgottenthecouragetowearaskirtthatday,orevenwhyhedidit.The impulsehadrisenoutofsomedeep,darkpartofhimhehadntnoticedbefore.Onemorning,hehad squintedintothefoggymirrorandnoticedthathecouldpassasagirl.Hishairwaslongenough,at least.Andtentatively,hehadrealizedhelikedthisdistortedreflection,areflectionthatsomehowwent beyondthesurfacetostrikeathiscore. Whenthedaycame,hehadbroughtspareclothes,tochangeout.Assoonashesteppedintothe school,thewhispershadstarted.Hechangedintohisspareclothesbeforethefirstlessonstarted,face burningwithshame.Whenhewentbacktoclass,someonehadthrownhisbagoutofthewindow, spillingitscontentsontothefieldbelow.Heatehislunchalonethatday,forthefirsttime. "Idon'tevenunderstandwhyyouwanttopretendthatyou'reagirl!Itsnotlikeyoulleverreallybe one,anyway.You'reontherugbyteamandeverything,you'rereallypopular.Andyoudidn'tevenfight back." Hechokedthewordsaroundhisswollentongue,feelingconfused."IonlyjoinedrugbybecauseIdidn't wanttoletmydaddown.Hewantsmetotakeafterhim,butIdon't.Notatall." Shelookedathimangrily."Aren'tyoujustlettinghimdownmorenow?Atleastheexpectssomething ofyou.IfIwereyou,I'dhavefoughtthem.Whatareyougoingtotellhim?"Hetriedtothinkofawayto explainhisinjuries,buthecouldn'tthinkofany. Instead,heexaminedhisbestfriendintheharshafternoonsunlight.Forthefirsttime,herealizedhow muchshehadchangedoverthepastfewyears.Whenhadshechangedfromjustbeinghisfriend, comingovertoplayvideogamesinherbaseballcapandjeans,tothewayshewasnow?Shewastaller now,andneater,standingupstraightandtakingsmallstepsasshewalked.Shehadgivenupher advancedmathematicsclassesforcheerleading,stoppedplayingD&Dwithhimtogoshoppingafter school.Helookedather,andrealizedpainfullythatshehadbecomeastranger. ***

Mondaycame,andhewentbacktoschoolforthelasttime.Hisfatherhadtakenadayoffworktodrive himthere,sayingthathedidn'twanthimtogetbeatenupagain.Whenhisfathersaidthat,hedidn't lookhimintheeye.Theyhadn'tspokenaboutwhathadhappened,buthecouldhearthe disappointmentinhisfather'svoice.Whenwasthelasttimehisfatherhadbeenunconditionallyproud ofhim?Hecouldntanswerthat.Withoutthedistractionofschool,hisdaysblendedintoeachotherlike cottonwool,hisinsidesnumbashewaitedforeachnextdaytoarrive.Whenhethoughtaboutthe future,henevergotveryfar.Allhecouldfeelwasanxiety,thefeelingofhavingnowherelefttogo.

Goingbacktoschool,hewalkedthroughthecorridorsfeelingisolated.Therewerestaresandwhispers, butnoopentaunts.Thecrowdspartedashewalkedthroughthem.Hehadsomehowbecome untouchable,invisible,someonewhowasn'tpartofthem.Whenheclosedhislockeraftercollectinghis books,hearinghowfinaltheclicksounded,hesawhisbestfriendwalkingpasthisclassroom.Her normallymessyhairhadbeenpulledbackintoasleekponytail.Shesaidsomething,andthegirlnextto herlaughed.Ashewalkedoutoftheclassroom,heraisedhishandtowavetentatively.Sheglancedat him,andthenwithadeliberatemovement,turnedbacktoherfriends. Whenhegotbacktothecar,hisfathertookonelookathisfaceandfrowned,turningthekeyssharply intheignition.Theenginestartedwitharoar. "Boysdon'tcry." 33.2%oftransgenderedyouthhaveattemptedsuicide.55%oftransgenderedyouthreportbeing physicallyattacked.90%reportedfeelingunsafeatschoolduetotheirgenderexpression,and74%have beensexuallyharassed.Inasurveyof403transgenderpeople,78%reportedhavingbeenverbally harassedand48%reportedhavingbeenvictimsofassault,includingassaultwithaweapon,sexual assaultorrape. InsteadofwritingaboutGirlPowerorBoyPowerinthetraditionalsense,Ichosetowritethisessay aboutthosewhodonotconformtothegenderrolesthatareexpectedofthembysociety.Bydividing powerandabilityintotwocategories,girlpowerandboypower,notonlyareweenforcing stereotypesbydefiningthelimitsofwhatonecandobygender,wearealsoignoringyouthwhodonot conformtothesecategories.Bywritingaboutcharacterslikethese,Itriedtobothrepresentthegender rolesrelatedtotheconceptsofGirlPowerandBoyPower,andalsorepresentwhathappenstopeople whogoagainstwhatsocietyexpectsofthem.Withtherecentbrutalbeatingofatransgenderwomanin aBaltimoreMcDonalds,resultinginherhavinganepilepticseizurewhileonlookersvideotapedherand laughed,theissueoftransphobicviolenceisevenmorerelevant. Ihopethatinthefuture,thisoutdatedconceptofdifferentgendershavingdifferentabilitieswillbe abolished,andpeoplewillnolongerdiscriminateagainsttransgenderyouth.