Aracely had taught Miel that so many things worth fearing—the water, the dark—brought with them things worth wanting. The river kept this town’s fields growing and alive. The dark gave them the stars and the sudden warmth of certain fall nights.
But there were some things only a boy named Samir could teach her, because he had lived them with her. And this was the one she held onto now, as they stood in the wild land between their houses: that they would both become what they could not yet imagine, and that they would still be what they once were. The girl from the water tower, a rose growing from her wrist, and the boy on the wooden ladder, hanging the moon close enough for them to find.
It wasn’t long after we met, when we fell in love as teens, that I wondered if my not-yet-husband might be transgender. I wondered when I saw him wince at being included in the terms ladies or girls. I wondered when I caught his hopefulness at being called young man, and his devastation when a closer survey of his body in a T-shirt and jeans elicited an apology, an oh, I’m so sorry, young lady.
If I understood him in a way he didn’t yet understand himself, he did the same for me. He knew my childhood nightmares of la llorona, the mythical spirit-woman who had drowned her children and now wailed through the night, looking to steal mestiza daughters like me from our parents. I had no idea I would later reimagine the legend of la llorona in a book about a girl who fears pumpkins and a boy who paints moons. All I knew as a child was that my fear of her was evidence that I’d been born between two worlds. And in his unease with the gender he’d been assigned at birth, my not-yet-husband knew a little about that feeling.
We’re young enough, and all of this happened recently enough, that we heard the word transgender as we moved from our teens into our twenties. But neither of us could say it yet. Saying it would have marked a point my husband couldn’t turn back from.
It was during this time that I learned of bacha posh, a cultural practice in parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan in which families who have daughters but no sons dress a daughter as a boy. This daughter then acts as a son to the family. As an adult, a bacha posh traditionally returns to living as a girl, now a woman.
It’s understandable that often a bacha posh has difficulty adjusting to her role as an adult woman after years of living as a boy. From the other side of the world, it’s easy to pretend this discomfort is just a product of the culture she lives in. But what daughter, in any part of the world, could learn the language of being a boy and not feel unsettled stepping back into her role as a young woman?
That space, between the lives boys and girls are expected to inhabit, came into sharper focus when my husband did come out as transgender, and as he transitioned to living in a way that better reflected his gender identity.
As teens, we feel the growing weight of questions we’ve held in our hands since we were children. For my husband, that question was how he wanted to live and what name he wanted to be called. For me, it was whether I could see myself as something more than a daughter born in that space between worlds.
Something happened when we sat with those questions, together but quiet. The boy I married became the man he’d never thought he was allowed to be. And I came to understand that the night held not only la llorona but the moon and all those stars.
This is the thing I learned from loving a transgender boy who took years to say his own name: that waiting with someone, existing in that quiet, wondering space with them when they need it, is worth all the words we have in us.