I.

I was born into dresses.
Painted nails by the age of five,
Fighting to wear makeup in middle school,
Lace on my bobbysocks and bows in my curly hair.
I went to church each Sunday for the sole purpose
Of getting to put on one of those frilly-collared frocks
That my mother sewed for me
And my shiny black patent Mary Janes.
I was always more interested in fashion than salvation.
I let my hair grow to my waist as a sign
That I was as feminine as Barbie
And prayed to Jesus at night that I would be skinny like her
For the rest of my life
And that one day I'd wake up blonde.

II.

At twelve years old,
I accepted one name, one identity,
One of the two choices offered to me: girl.
I went to sleepovers with girlfriends where
I quickly learned to yearn for the attention
Of awkward pre-teen boys
Who called me names and snapped my bra straps
As a sign of their affections.
I learned that as a girl, my body existed to be shown off
My V-necks making sure nobody forgot what I had
My jeans painted on so that everyone would know
I was still skinny as Barbie
And I got highlights and woke up half blonde.
An F for my gender on my official documents
F for female, for feminine, for fairytale
Set in stone, a concrete reminder of
Vagina means girl,
Breasts mean girl,
High-pitched voice and hips and thin wrists mean girl,
Batted eyelashes and pouty lips mean girl,
Fragile and vulnerable and innocent mean girl,
And I painted my face with makeup as a sign
That I was as feminine as Barbie
and prayed to anorexia for four years that I would be skinny like her
Until I died
And that one day I'd wake up weighing 85 pounds
Because I had learned after those years
That I could never be a real girl
until then.

III.

At fifteen,
I looked in the mirror
At my layered bob with side-bangs,
Victoria's Secret bra, matching thong
Miniskirt, ballet flats, tank top,
concealer, foundation, base, powder, blush, eyeliner, eyeshadow, mascara, lipstick, and nail polish
And was suddenly startled by the fact that my carefully cultivated outward persona,
Painted on with products and photoshopped to perfection,
Dieted and medicated,
shaved, tweezed, waxed, exfoliated, polished, primped, and sold
Was not me.
My official documents said F,
F for female,
For fabricated, for fa├žade, for fake,
F for failure to tell myself the truth,
That female was less than half of the equation.
F for falling under the impression that it took a certain
Product or outfit or haircut or number on the scale
To make me a real girl,
F for falling under the impression that vagina meant girl,
Breasts meant girl,
High-pitched voice and hips and thin wrists meant girl,
Batted eyelashes and pouty lips meant girl,
Fragility and vulnerability and innocence could only mean girl,
And that I couldn't be whatever goddamn type of
girlboy sirmadam beautifulhandsome person I pleased
Without checking back with Barbie to make sure that who I was
Fit with her size triple zero definition of beauty or gender or love.

IV.

At sixteen,
I bought boxers and a tie and a binder and a new haircut.
I didn't correct the waitresses who called me sir
And I smiled when my friends somehow knew to call me handsome sometimes.
I wore skirts and bought new heels and smiled when a boy called me beautiful.
I kissed girls and didn't mind whether they wanted to call me their girlfriend or their boifriend
Because both and neither were true.
I refused to choose a gender from a list of two options,
Refused to choose Mister or Miss as a prefix for my address labels,
Refused to accept that my identity could be summed up by a check in one of two boxes
As if our Technicolor world is made up of black and white
Yesterday I was indigo with a touch of lilac and cinnamon,
Tomorrow I will be an ocean with a splash of scarlet and a stripe of sunshine.
I will take the letter F for myself,
F for fabulous and fantastic and feminine,
I will take M for marvelous and mesmerizing and masculine
G for glamorous and gutsy and girl
B for brother and bride and fucking beautiful
As a boy and as a girl and as everything in between or outside of that
And I will not ask Barbie for permission or approval
Because she is made of plastic
And I am made of skin and blood and hope and heartache
I glance my fingers off my lover's collarbones
and feel the rain on my skin and the grass between my toes
I taste this world and wrap myself in the quilt of this life
And she should look up to me for all the woman and man I am and will be
And wish she could do something besides inspire little girls to hate themselves.
So Barbie, just know that I'm free
To check all the boxes I please.
Just know that I'm free.

V.

Nowadays,
I kiss my lover's lips as a sign
That I am as in love with her as the moon is with the stars
And I pray to the sun that I will believe in radiance
For the rest of my life.
And that one day I'll wake up in the sky.
And I'll be free.
I'm free.