I met him when he was fourteen. Well, maybe he was thirteen. In any case, he looked like he was seven years old.
He was so short and thin, but there was something about his presence and the ball of hair that he carried on top of his head that made it impossible for him to go unnoticed. What impressed me the most though was not his never ending energy or the way he could permeate every corner of a room; I was hypnotised by the way he could do ballet with the precision of a surgeon.
In a room where most of us where stumbling around trying to not fall on our faces (me in particular, because you have to be brave or stupid to take formal ballet classes for the first time when you are twenty seven) Joe twirled and landed like a feather, his toes as perfect as his fingers, his whole body extending in enviable exquisiteness.
It was an arts (acting/dancing/singing) summer camp and most participants were around fifteen. Only a couple of adults like me stayed around the whole two months and it was only because I had so much fun. We did something different and daring every day and we mingled with people from the media and it was fuel to my thirsty artistic soul.
Joe used to hang out with the girls, sitting on our laps and playing with our hair. He praised all the girls. I was the sportiest gal in the group and he had the grace of making me feel like a lady. I heard a girl in the bathroom one day talking about him, asking another one “but he’s… you know… he…” to which the other girl answered with conviction “he’s NOT GAY.” I smiled in silence because I had more years in my pockets and I thought they were wrong.
I connected with Joe through the Harry Potter fandom, he touched my lighting bolt pendant like it was the Holy Grail and we talked for what seemed like hours about all the possible outcomes of the next books.
We stayed in touch through Facebook so I was able to see how he grew as a photographer. Even in high school he had a way with portraits that was amazing to see, something I always wanted but could never achieved. He could capture people’s true self, even when they didn’t know who that was.
In his senior year he wrote a heartfelt, but straight forward status (he also had a way with words): he came out as gay. He was the only gay person in his school to do so and the response of his peers was overwhelming. What I say was all positive, but I’m sure some people must have given him a hard time.
When he was in college Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I came out and I got in touch with him to watch it. I met him in the train station. He was leaning on a light post, dressed boho styled, cool hat on his head. I don’t remember saying hi, I ran to him and hugged him and kissed him. He sang a Katy Perry song on the way and performed it as if he was on Broadway.
I was thrilled when he moved to New York to continue studies on photography at Parsons. He seemed to be having a great time and his art evolutioned, it skyrocketed in quality and creativity. In his senior year it he wrote a Facebook status accompanied with a photo of him and his mother, both wearing similar makeup. He came out as transgender. I sat back contemplating this new face. Was the sweet boy I met so many years ago still there somewhere? His ball of hair was missing, this woman had awesome hair. Her eyeliner was better than mine. I wrote her a message and she wrote back with the same sweetness as always.
She shared her new name a few weeks ago and it’s her birthday today. My gift is using it for the first time.
Happy birthday María. You are still an awesome person and I still want to hug you before saying hi. Also please point me towards whatever you are doing to your nails.