All through middle school, Sasha was “brainy, shy, and introverted,” making them an easy kid to ignore. Karl, Sasha’s father, says that it was like Sasha wore an “invisibility cloak”—they always just sort of blended in. Sasha didn’t have much need for other people and believed the “world would be better off without humans in it all.” Inside Sasha’s head, the world “was fascinating enough,” and they were often lost in their own languages and imaginary subway maps.
Sasha’s “invisibility cloak” is highly ironic, since their skirt tends to draw undue attention from others. Furthermore, Sasha’s fascination with the intersecting lines of subway maps has an interesting correlation to social intersectionality, or the intersecting nature of social groups (like race or gender) that lead to discrimination in society. Much like a map, intersectionality identifies how, and by whom, certain groups are marginalized.
Sasha noticed what others didn’t. They saw subtle shapes and colors, and in their infinite love for cats, they “had a habit of meowing.” Some blamed this behavior on Sasha’s Asperger’s, but since Sasha “has never not had Asperger’s,” they can’t really say if that was the case. “The only mind they’d ever been in was their own,” Slater writes.
This passage speaks to Sasha’s nonbinary approach to life. Just like their gender, they appreciate nuances and differences that others ignore. Like their Asperger’s, Sasha doesn’t view this behavior as an anomaly or deviation from normal; rather, this is natural and simply who they are.
In the sixth grade, Sasha met Samantha, who “looked right past Sasha’s invisibility cloak and saw a kindred spirit.” Samantha was an outcast and was quite a bit smarter than the other kids—a product of her father’s “Dad Homework.” Samantha’s father worked as a nanotechnologist and he kept his lab in the family’s basement. Samantha first noticed Sasha because they used to write their name on their homework in Greek letters.
Sasha’s writing of their name in Greek letters is another reflection of their obsession with the shape and sounds of language, and Samantha’s intelligence, like Sasha’s other friends from school, reflects her middle-class status. Samantha’s father’s job as a nanotechnologist implies that they do not live in Richard’s neighborhood, and as such, Samantha has increased access to education.
Like Samantha, Sasha was “passionate” and opinionated, and the two became fast friends. The other sixth graders assumed that Samantha and Sasha were boyfriend and girlfriend, and that “they were K-I-S-S-I-N-G. (They weren’t.)” Samantha was mortified when the other students would sing and chant at them. “Stop making fun of us!” she would yell.
Samantha is mortified when the other students assume that she is Sasha’s girlfriend because, like Sasha, Samantha does not fit neatly into gender binaries. Their relationship is not romantic or sexual in the slightest, and the fact that even schoolchildren assume this speaks to how deeply engrained gender and sexuality are in American society.
Samantha had a “disorienting feeling” for years. She felt like everybody else “had been issued a handbook,” yet she had no idea who she was or who she wanted to be. She knew that she was supposed to be “pretty and cute,” but Samantha’s new curvy body did not feel “sexy” or “good.” She hid under baggy clothes and begged the pretty girls to tell her how to be popular. The girls never shared their secrets, and Samantha sunk further into a depression until her parents took her to a therapist.
During one of her sessions, Samantha told her therapist about a slam poem she saw on YouTube called “Hir.” In the video, two girls traded a microphone back and forth between “a girl named Melissa and the boy inside her named James.” Melissa was “trapped in the flesh of a stranger,” and Samantha immediately knew why she felt so disoriented in her own body. “I think I might be…transgender?” Samantha said to her therapist. “I don’t think you know what transgender means,” the therapist said. Samantha didn’t bother to tell anyone else for two years.
When Samantha’s therapist dismisses her comment that she is transgender, they also dismiss her and leave her feeling invalidated, like her gender identity is a mistake. The therapist’s reaction reflects the widespread discrimination and marginalization of transgender people. By not accepting Samantha’s gender identity, her depression cannot be properly treated, and she cannot receive adequate medical care.