Being Born Twice

James Vaughan

My mother’s first pregnancy was a turbulent one. Her body waged war on the clump of cells that was determined to be me. Though I eventually emerged unscathed, the umbilical cord was wrapped so tightly around my neck that I was nearly snuffed out before the doctors could even pronounce me female. Growing older, I still felt suffocated,  as if I should drop dead the moment anyone referred to me as female.

At this moment, fourteen and finalist in a local beauty contest, my throat felt excruciatingly tight, as if it already knew what was to come. Behind the curtain, the sequins of my dress pricked at my underarms and back. The shocking teal fabric glowed menacingly. I gripped the boxers I wore underneath as if to suck out all the comfort from what part of my real appearance remained. The crusty, powdery makeup made me want to sneeze, to claw my face bloody.

“Contestant number 39!”

My stomach lurched. I wanted to throw up. But not in a fit of nerves. Those nervous butterflies that existed only shallowly drifted farther and farther away with each pound of costume I slapped on. This time, it was something deeper; a sickening longing that twisted my stomach and clouded my thoughts entirely. Aware, but not really all there, I dragged bits of myself into the dusty spotlight. The light exposed my body in an abstract display of unflattering shadows and highlights. I squinted from the brightness and walked to the front of the stage, flashing a lipstick-stained, twitching, plastic grin.

“She's a fourteen year old girl…”

There’s that feeling again.

“…her name...Cassandra...such a pretty name…”

The smile wilted immediately, resembling that of a dried, dying petal. The corners of my mouth began melting, trying to take the makeup and my heart down with it. Who? 
My head felt like a water balloon, sloshing around and vulnerable to bursting. I did a simple turn to advertise my dress and distract the audience from my teary eyes. It wasn’t the concept of the beauty pageant itself that bothered me. Or the costumes or the makeup. It was just that. They were costumes. It wasn’t about me at all. However, to the ecstatic parents and friends that observed from the audience, I must have put on a convincing act, because, as I would find out later, I still came in third, even if it wasn’t truly me who had won.

Once I found myself protruding further in the limelight, I felt the words pounding against cerebral walls, urging me in an almost prophetic warning.


I did a final nauseating curtsey for the crowd. 


I turned and exited the stage. I was really crying now, but I couldn’t let anyone see. 


I collapsed on the steps leading outside. I knew I’ve felt this before, but never this urgently.

I didn’t know why. 

I didn’t know why I couldn’t stop crying or why I couldn’t help but feel wrong whenever someone called me “she.”

I didn’t know why I was wearing boxers right then instead of what all the other girls wore.

I emptied my lungs and stared down the last few concrete steps. I wondered where I’d be five or ten years from now and if I’d still be satisfied with just pretending. All ideas of myself were blurred by both tears and uncertainty. After vigorously rubbing away the eyeliner stains with my knuckles and patting down my hairspray-stiff pixie cut, I realized. I couldn’t be stored away inside a blue dress and behind a fearful smile, at least not anymore.

I was a boy.

Oh, boy...

A hand gripped my shoulder from behind. It was my mom, her eyes filled with a mixture of confusion and worry, though not enough to warrant an interrogation. My dad knelt alongside me and congratulated me on placing third in the contest, his eyes clouded too much with pride to be bothered with actually seeing through them. I couldn’t honestly explain to either of them why I had been crying. I knew they would settle on a much simpler reason later.

 I never intended to lie to them, it was just that I realized that, in that moment and for all moments to come, of all the things I could be for my parents, a girl was not one of them.

“I’m so proud of you,” my mom said.

“That’s my girl,” my dad said.

“You look beautiful,” they both said.

I knew I couldn’t tell them. Not yet. I smiled, for the first time in a very long time. Nothing could try and suffocate me anymore.

For now and for once, I was enough.

 About the Writer
Split Lip Magazine

James Vaughan is a first year college student in Richmond, Virginia. He is an English major and aspires to one day be a teacher. He is renown for winning several local awards and hopes to create a sense of community through his writings. James retells through his writings the human experience, what it means to be LGBT, and how to be proud of individuality at a young age.