Santi (They/He) is a DIY fashionista, grassroots organiser and queer creative. They are the Founder of G(end)er Swap - the first LGBTQ+ clothing outreach organisation based in the UK that supports Trans/GNC people to access style resources. Santi is a drag performer (AKA Pre-T Boy), the creator of DIY clothing brand GIRLY BOY and enjoys writing from time to time.
"Skins is about a non-binary teen trying their hardest to accept the skin that they are in whilst finding their footing in a tumultuous relationship with their parents. This short story straddles fiction and memoir as the experiences of the main character Scout, and their relationship with their parents, are extracted from my own teenage experiences.
I wrote this piece, and similar ones, to process my own past, and experiences with gender, through a new lens as a Trans adult as I never really 'knew' who I was when I was young. I am particularly focusing on writing that centres aesthetics and the visceral experiences of our bodies through an often confusing and emotional relationship to gender."
My dad picks me up once a month and takes me out for lunch as a treat. The endeavor is always an anxiety inducing one because I can’t mindread. I wish I knew what mood he was in, how late he would be and if that meant I had a certain amount of minutes less to have to stir up excruciating small talk which was usually about a fast food menu at said restaurant. Next to wishing I was born in a different body, I curse my genetics for not giving me psychic powers. Instead, once a month I huff and puff with uncertainty as I pace back and forth at the roundabout outside of my school, anxiously waiting for my dad to arrive.
To kill time I like to hyper fixate on my fingers. Looking for loose skin to pick around my cuticles in hopes that one day I could shed this entire skin suit. Using my thumb and index finger I pull on a thin sliver of calloused skin. I pull until it burns. I grimace and grunt from the burn. A grimace turns back into a half smile and a sigh of relief emerges as a bubble of bright red blood leaks out for me to feast on. A ritual I can rely on.
While waiting for enough blood to seep out, I take the same finger and press my fingertip into my sore eyelids. The skin is taught and ballooned from frantically rubbing blue eyeliner off my eyes with a paper towel, usually just seconds before I am due to walk over to the roundabout. The recipe for removal: a bit of industrial green hand soap, a few drops of water on a piece of rough paper towel and two to four giggling school girls pointing and laughing at me in the big mirror of the school toilets. My frantic need for survival mutes the laughs. Being a spectacle isn’t new to me.
I bring my finger back down. Good timing. Thick blood begins seeping from the bottom of a fingernail caked with eraser dust and blue glitter.
When I turned thirteen this year, my mother bought me my first liquid eyeliner. A short ride to pick up toilet paper turned into an impromptu makeup shopping mission. I wandered off to the makeup aisle and vigorously swirled my index finger around face powders and tested lipsticks on the back of my hand. I looked in the brightly lit mirror, dabbed a bit of bacteria infested orange tint from a lipstick tester on my bottom lip, then started scanning. An oily forehead, bushy brows, protruding eyes, a hairy upper lip, black heads on my chin, a sallow skin tone. I look away. Then I look back and I start to pick at my wide chin hoping that a new face could reveal itself from underneath. My mother interrupted my self flagellating process by placing a sparkly tube of liquid liner in my hand. I looked up at her not really knowing what to say. She filled the silence with, “the colour will look really pretty on your skin. Don’t lose it”. She marched to the checkout counter and she summoned me to follow.
In the mornings we left ten minutes earlier for school, so I had more time to apply my eyeliner. A blueberry liquid wobbled across my lashline. With every speed bump she drove over and with every sweep of my inexperienced hand, a new squiggle appeared on my lid. Like many gifts, I know this one was another ‘sorry for being a bad mom’ gift. I stared wide-eyed in the mirror and applied my mothers guilt in three uneven brush strokes. She watched me at red lights with helplessness. Before my first class I tiptoed to the bathroom to take another minute to admire the blue frost. Maybe I look pretty. The thought disappeared when I later went back to rub it off. Actually, maybe I don’t.
At the roundabout, I picked a crusty grey scab off of my thumb and popped it into my mouth. I watch the blood pool in the divet that I had peeled a week earlier while thinking about the inconsistency of not being allowed to wear makeup to school, but it being okay to be prancing in a miniskirt or a bodysuit at dance class. “Whatttt the fuckkkkkk” I sang to myself under my breath in a pseudo opera voice. I sucked on the sweet pool of blood forming on the side of my thumb which flavoured the piece of dry scab in my mouth. I swallowed the scab and shoved my thumb behind my teeth and sucked. Scab stuck in my throat and my thumb quickly wrinkled from the moisture of my mouth. Skin was my only vice, and yet, the one thing I yearned to shed.
Ten minutes passed. Anxiety waned as my habits took center stage. With my thumb in my mouth I kicked some old cigarette butts out of the way. I leaned over and took my thumb out to rub out a scuff mark that appeared on my brand new skate shoes. Popped my thumb back in my mouth and did a scan of my chosen outfit.
Brand new skate shoes that looked like huge slippers on my feet, hairy ankles because I wasn’t allowed to shave my legs, denim capris and a white crop top with an image of Little Miss Chatterbox on the front. I grabbed my one free hand and pulled up the waist of my jeans to make sure my navel was covered. I shimmied deeper into my jeans feeling my new G-string cut into my crotch causing friction in between my ass cheeks. It was too small. I pulled the zipper up higher on my baby blue PVC jacket to hide my flat binded chest. I held tight onto the strap of my hot pink Hello Kitty backpack filled to the brim: spare clothes (skirts, shorts, heels, sneakers, bras, binders, boxers), a toothbrush, some snacks and my ID. A security blanket for school, for general life, and things to adorn this skin when I got bored- or lost. I pulled my thumb out and used excess saliva to perfect my fringe parted into curtains. Wafts of sour milk and morning breath grazed my nostrils as the saliva coagulated in my hair. Leftover breakfast, and a bitterness secreting from this body used to gel down my fringe.
The sound of wheels screeching breaks my trance, I look up. My dad speeds around the roundabout and slams his foot on the break right at my feet. I watch his tie flap up and gently slap the steering wheel before resting in its place again. The coiffe of his widow's peak bounces momentarily. I saunter up to the passenger door, wing it open and step inside. The smell of cigarette smoke instantly fills my nostrils and the consistent buzzing of his pager drills into my skull. He hasn’t eaten today; I can smell a pinch of stomach acid that cuts through his empty “hello”.
We speed off down the highway. I look straight ahead and try to make dirty words out of the license plates that I can see. ‘Boobs’ and ‘butt’ are the only ones I can make out for today. We drive in silence and I pretend that we are in the final race to the finish line in Super Mario Kart on Nintendo 64. I scan the road for mushrooms, stars and gold coins to pass the time, making any piece of litter or roadkill a fun video game narrative to see me through. I can feel my dad side-eyeing me. I continue to look straight ahead with my raw stubby fingers clasped tightly around my knees. I wonder if there are any flecks of blue still on my face.
We pull up to McDonalds and a sinking feeling of disappointment hits me. I thought we had decided on going to KFC. McDonalds will do, I guess. I still let out a sigh of relief as the familiar colours of a fast food restaurant comforts me. Yellow and red signage, beige and grey plastic benches, a fake brown glazed stand with a ketchup pump. I feel more related to Ronald McDonald at this point than my own father. The smell of grease and the sound of Backstreet Boys on the radio fills me with a tinge of glee.
“You find a table and I will order. What do you want?” My dad asks me while looking down at his pager and pressing the button over and over again as if it was his life support. “The quarter pounder with cheese and a strawberry sundae”. It’s the same thing I get everytime. He’s nodding as if it’s the first time he’s hearing this and walks off in his kitschy white loafers that drag along the ceramic floors. I twist on one foot to face the row of plastic grey benches and I opt for the one in the back corner. I sachet over to the table and do a mini pirouette before sitting down. An old woman in red horn rimmed glasses with a mop of grey curly hair smiles in my direction. I frown back to make sure I don’t receive any more attention.
I sit and stare out the window and gnaw on my fingernails. I scan the parking lot and notice someone walking across it. They have stretched out earlobes, a lime green mohawk, tons of face piercings and a fake tattoo (it must be) of the anarchist symbol on their cheek. Bold. Another person walks past. A gay man maybe? A pink tote bag, a floral jumper and a flamboyant swish to his step. Gender on others was not legible to me. Even on myself. Sometimes I thought I could figure myself out but then I’d quickly wash it off in the shower in the morning. Clean and fresh skin - a new canvas to paint with blue glitter.
A red tray is plunked in front of me. Before my dad sits down I grab the burger wrapped in greasy parchment paper, unwrap it and sink my teeth into it. The tanginess of the mustard rolls down my tongue while I crunch a piece of pickle between my teeth and wrestle with a large chunk of gritty beef clinging to the roof of my mouth. My dad sits in front of me and his food sits there while he tinkers on his pager again. I slam another piece of beef in my mouth, suck a thick stream of grease to the back of my throat and use my fingers to pinch a piece of onion out of the burger. I smear the slimy string into my tray with my index finger. It looks like skin.
I go for another bite of my burger and I see my dad staring at me with perfectly groomed eyebrows. He points at me with one long fingernail and utters in a monotone voice, “why are your eyes so red?”. I quickly replied, “it was the chemicals in science today.” He stares for half a second more and decides he’s happy with that answer.
He slams his pager down and picks up his burger, carefully unwrapping it like a precious gem. He picks at every fold of the parchment paper with his index finger and thumb carefully peeling the layers with his hairy fingers. The peeling technique runs in the family.
He took a bite and with a mouthful of brown meat and bright orange cheese he asked, “and what exactly did you learn in science today Scout?”. I could feel the fear of being caught in a lie, especially now that he addressed me by my actual name. I shared an interesting fact that I learned. A safe choice.
“Well, in Biology I learned that human skin has seven layers but it has three main subdivisions. Our outer layer of skin is waterproof and the third layer is fatty—” He holds his index finger to his mouth and silences me, and in protest I finish my last word… “tissue”.
Placing his burger down he pats his thick black moustache with a napkin gently so as not to jolt the hairs out of place. I can see a response culminating. The softness of my father never made sense in conjunction with the harshness of his words, and the strength of his right hand across my cheek when he was angry. The man was five foot two and drank espressos and smoked cigarettes for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but had the ability to control everybody around him. It conflicted with my ideas of what a ‘tough guy’ should be. Tall, muscular, a huge jaw, sausage fingers and a voice that could summon mystical narwhals from the deepest oceans. My father was an androgynous pixie that packed a punch- literally. My mother was taller than him, only wore sportswear with her hair tied back and had biceps the width of his head. Gender is illegible.
He crumples his soiled napkin and places it down, scratches his right nostril with his left pinky nail, places both hands on the table and looks at me with black brown eyes. I can’t see his pupils. “Now in biology class I learned that men have thicker and stronger skin and bones than women. Women have fragile skin and are weaker”. He smirked in my direction, “And, I learned that women aren’t as smart. Smaller brains they say”. I tilt my head back and pop one skinny shriveled fry into the back of my throat like I am enthralling in the ritual of downing a sweet maraschino cherry. I prepare myself. I tilt my head back in place like a robot and look at him square in the eyes and take another bite of burger. I let silence speak its piece. I can see the tip of his nose bubbling with beads of sweat and I can see spit balls forming in the corner of his mouth as he battles with the uncomfortable silence. He continues, “Biology also tells us that there are only men and women”. As he finished his sentence I felt a nerve hit my mouth.
A stiff veiny piece of cow nerve emerged from the beef patty and hit the roof of my mouth. I tried to chew it down so I could swallow it but the both tough and blubbery texture made me feel sick. Between chews I shook my head fiercely determined to break this nerve down - and my father at the same time. “That’s not true!”, I sputtered. He lifted his clasped hands under his chin and gave an evil smile. “You can’t prove otherwise can you?”.
The nerve hit the back of my tonsils and I dry heaved with such force that I vomited up a pile of brown beef worms in a cheesy sauce. The vomit smells sour, like stomach acid, like disdain for this skin I was in. I stood up. My dad also stood up and kept yelling at me. Drops of his spit landing on the ground beef and orange jelly pond diffusing rapidly across my tray. “You dress ridiculous! Blue PVC, really? What is up with that short spiky hair, or should I say dykey, hair!” He kept going but I had already made a beeline for the swinging doors.
Hello Kitty backpack swinging in hand I charged to the exit. I used my tongue to flick a piece of bun from behind my back molar as I pushed through the doors. I kept storming ahead then picked up pace with a light jog. “Fuck it” I whispered under my breath and made my way to KFC.
“One small bucket of chicken please and..”. I stood at the till trying to catch my breath in between my orders. I grabbed my bucket of chicken and took it outside to the parking lot. I threw my backpack down on the curb, plunked my butt down on the hard concrete and sat staring at the hair on my legs with the bucket in hand. The feeling of the wind racing through every follicle was sobering.
“Sick of this shit” I muttered as I slammed the bucket on the concrete and reached for a chicken leg. I used my index finger and thumb to pull the skin off of the drum stick in one go. Satisfying. I placed the naked drumstick back in the bucket and stroked the fatty underbelly with my thumbs. Did chicken have three main subdivisions of skin too? I slurped back the skin without chewing on it. I could feel it glide down my esophagus. I used my greasy fingers to massage my sternum letting the skin descend. I picked up another drum stick with fresh fried skin and repeated the ritual. This skin was easy to pick off. I felt jealous.
Getting bored, I smeared the excess grease from my fingers across my forearm, too lazy to grab a napkin. I picked up my backpack with my right hand, scooted the bucket of chicken under my left armpit and started walking back to my school. I’m not going back home tonight. I had a bag packed with clothes and half a bucket of fried chicken in case I got hungry in the night. Enough skins to last me a while.
I arrived back at school and walked slowly to the girls bathroom, where I didn’t belong. I stood in front of the mirror for a while rolling the blueberry cylinder between my greasy fingers. I stood back from the mirror scanning my face: balmy forehead, doe-y eyes, upper lip hairs that I was proud of, a chin that showed I was becoming an adult. I stared into my own eyes. I could see my pupils.
I bit my lower lip nervously, grabbed a Band-aid from my back pocket, unwrapped it and slowly rolled it over my bloody thumb. I checked behind me to scan for any stray schoolgirls lurking in the stalls. The coast was clear. I grabbed my eyeliner, touched the silky brush point to my eye lid, and for the first time did one perfect sweep of blueberry glitter across my lash line.