Sorting out one’s true identity at any age can be a complex challenge. If we’re fortunate, we become comfortable in our skin as we travel life’s complicated path. As the narrator says in Ralph Ellison’s novel The Invisible Man, “When I discover who I am, I will be free.” Let’s listen to 13-year-old Tai Mertes’s nuanced quest for identity.  

Tai Mertes will be entering the 8th grade at the Gordon School in East Providence, Rhode Island.

I open the door, waiting for the jingle of the little bell to sound out into the air like a mouse squeaking, freaking out everyone in the room. As mice tend to do. My feet seem to have a mind of their own, stepping inside. A panic rises but is quickly washed away by a lady at the register asking “How can I help you today?” I watch as my mom tells her that I have a scheduled haircut today. She nods and motions us into the main area of the salon, she’s gonna be my stylist. I look around. It’s a nice place. White tile floors and a sort of a modern looking aesthetic. It’s definitely easier on the eyes than Snip-it’s. No fading-but-still-bright colors, no creepy scissor mascots. Snapping out of my “trance”, I slide over to the salon chair and take a seat. My cheeks flush and the nervous-nauseous-excited feeling comes back as the stylist asks me what I want. I don’t know what to say. I guess planning this haircut didn’t help because I’m frozen. What do I tell her? What I think my mom wants me to say? Or do I tell her what I want? Before I can muster up enough courage to say anything, my mom cuts in, showing the lady standing behind me the picture that I chose three-days ago. I relax and nod in agreement. 

I was in 5th grade when I first cut my hair really short. At the time, I didn’t really know why I was doing it, other than the fact that it was easier to deal with and I liked how it looked. Now I think back and realize that it was the first step I took to discover my identity. Since then, I’ve looked further into myself, finding out that I prefer using they/them pronouns and a gender-neutral sounding name. But to get to this point of peace with my identity, I’ve had to go through a process that I believe won’t be over for a long time. A process of finding myself. It’s been quite the roller coaster ride. And I know that it’s not over. Not yet. Because everything’s a process. That’s what I believe. I believe in taking your time. Finding yourself is a journey and there’s no changing that. If it’s important to you, take your time and think. Really think.