Kristian never really thought about gender for the first ten years of his life. He had two older brothers, which meant a lot of hand-me-downs; having the same haircut as his brothers and being called Kris was too convenient for his parents to mind. At school, everyone thought he was a boy until they heard his full name, and he liked it that way just fine.
It probably helped that he was a bright kid. Way ahead of his age group in reading, writing, and maths, he sailed through his schoolwork and read biographies of famous scientists in his free time. He could hold his own in the playground football games, but the books were always a stronger draw.
His reading taught him roughly what puberty was about, but he only related to it in an abstract way. Learning, not long before his eleventh birthday, that this was something his own body had in store for him in the next few years, knocked him sideways. He had nightmares, which he tried to cope with by staying awake as long as possible. He tried to talk to his parents, and to the school nurse, but he could never manage to put into words what was so horrifying about starting periods. His mother told him over and over that it was a perfectly normal thing that happened to all girls, and his only response was, "Well then I don't want to be a girl."
Before, he had fitted in fairly well at school as a tomboy, but now he stood out as one of the weird ones. Kids soon noticed how his full name on the register made him flinch, and several of them took to calling him by it, very deliberately, to watch his reaction. When he tried to turn an old felt-tip into a crude STP device, someone found out, and jokes about his "homemade dick" followed him from primary school to secondary.
He'd hoped things would be easier in a bigger school. They were harder. A gendered school uniform marked him out from day one, and every class had a register with his full name on. Surrounded by girls who were thrilled at having anything to put in a crop-top, his insistence that his developing chest was still flat stood out even further. As kids started to form relationships, everyone took it for granted that he was a lesbian, and "dyke" was added to the growing collection of insults aimed at him.
Sometimes school work offered an escape - especially maths and science. But other times, the constant background of whispered taunts ruined his concentration and his work suffered. Teachers worried about him, but the only answer they had to the abuse was, "Just ignore them." Good memory and some brilliant exam performances compensated for the weaknesses in his coursework, and he came out with a slate of GCSE results not far behind the teachers' predictions from better days.
Fortunately, his school didn't offer A-levels. He went to college for them, among a different and less vindictive crowd. He tried to change his name to Kristian then, hoping he could claim the missing letter was a clerical error, but it proved not to be quite so simple. Still, everyone was happy to call him Kris, and he managed to make friends. He dated a couple of lads - he thought he was probably bisexual, but the only girls interested in him were lesbians, and he couldn't face that. He sailed through his A-levels and headed to the University of Liverpool to study physics.
University suited him even better than college. He met a few trans people, and slowly came to understand what had bothered him so much about puberty. A trans woman doing postgraduate studies helped him legally change his name to Kristian, and he came out to his family. His parents were cautious but mostly supportive; his brothers fully supportive. He looked into medical transition, but decided he couldn't drag himself through that much gatekeeping and still keep on top of his course load. Graduate first, was his plan, and then start the process as soon as possible.
He graduated with a solid 2:1. Three days later, he went out to celebrate the end of uni with a few friends. On the way home, their car ran off the road and into a wall.
Kristian was the only one seriously injured. He was in hospital for two weeks, and in physiotherapy for a lot longer. His injuries weren't lifethreatening, and physically he seemed to be mending well. But he started having nightmares, as terrifying as the ones he'd had as a child. Every time he went to his outpatient appointment, his stomach cramped and he struggled for breath. Tiny, irrelevant-seeming things sent waves of horror through him. He went to his GP, hoping he'd feel better if he got on the track to getting hormones, but he felt so ill when he stepped into the waiting room that he cancelled the appointment and went home.
His family, who had been so supportive of his transition, couldn't understand what was happening. As far as they were concerned, the accident had been a terrible shock, but it was over and done with now. He'd been lucky enough to make a full recovery, so why was he spending his days moping?
The first of the horror passed. He still couldn't bring himself to go back to the doctor's, which left his transition in a kind of limbo. But once the nightmares receded to every other night, he thought he might manage to look for work. As long as he stayed away from anywhere that reminded him of doctors or hospitals, he ought to be OK. He took a string of temp jobs - mostly warehouse work, with a bit of food service - and tried to take life one day at a time.
His biggest obstacle was his parents. They didn't mind him living at home while he got himself sorted out, but they kept asking when he was going to manage that. When his dad commented that it was a waste of his degree to work in a warehouse, he knew he'd need to move out. He found a bedsit he could just about afford, as long as he was working fairly regularly, and moved. His mum was a bit hurt; his dad took it as a welcome sign that he was starting to sort himself out.
But he couldn't pay his rent when there was no work, so eventually he had to sign on. As he waited for his appointment at the Jobcentre, he noticed another "client" watching him. They looked to be about his age, or possibly younger, and their hair appeared to have been cut with hedge clippers in pitch darkness and then dyed bright purple. He stared back, and they walked over to him, a hand extended. "Hi, I think I went to school with you. My name's Aron, but when you knew me I would have been called Suzanne."