Leo the Mer-Guy! Chapter One: Bad Beginnings

Leo Castellano was not your regular boy. Not because he was a transgender boy–Leo had known his true identity his whole life. It was as normal to him as eating cereal for breakfast. He knew his pronouns were he and him and his. He knew who he was, even if other people didn’t.

No, Leo was not your regular boy because he was just plain weird. He knew that. His classmates had always made sure to remind him. He’d embraced it. If the alternative was being mind-numbingly boring along with everyone else, then he was perfectly comfortable being weird.

Being weird was awesome. Being weird meant you could chase frogs and watch old French movies and imagine crazy worlds, and no one could stop you.

For some reason, as Leo got older, his parents were less okay with the general weirdness. It was like the moment he entered high school, all those dreaded Parental Expectations exploded out of them at once in a miasma of pink confetti.

You see, Leo’s parents didn’t know Leo was trans. Leo’s parents still called him by the wrong name and used the wrong pronouns.

Which, to Leo’s horror, meant that, now that Leo was in high school, his parents expected him to be on the girl’s soccer team. Or ballet, if he preferred. But they wanted him in some group activity, something to get him some friends and into a decent school. Only problem was, those activities were all gendered out the wazoo.

Leo didn’t want to wear the women’s soccer uniform and only hang out with girls. Don’t get him wrong, girls were awesome–most of his weird friends were girls. But it was just a painful, constant reminder that other people didn’t see him how he was, that he wasn’t right in his skin.

It wasn’t fair.

And, just to make things worse, Leo’s parents had to move to another state just two months into Leo’s freshman year because of Leo’s mom’s job.

Just when he’d made a few friends. Just when he thought he might want to join photography club. All of it was gone.

Now, here Leo was, sulking in the back seat of their minivan, staring up at the new, cookie-cutter, two-story house that they had officially moved into. Today.

On Halloween.

Leo usually loved Halloween. He loved trick-or-treating with friends. You were never too old to get free candy in a terrifying costume. He loved watching scary movies and carving jack-o-lanterns.

Now, here he was, on Halloween, with school the next day. A new, unfamiliar school, where assignments had inevitably already built up. And boxes in the trunk for Leo to unpack. Boxes and boxes of sketches and books and toys that Leo’s parents said he was too old for.

Leo did not want to start life in Red Oaks.

He just wanted things to be the way they were before.

And, he wanted to be himself. His real self.


Theo Poling is a Creative Writing and Arts double major at the University of Michigan. In their free time, Theo enjoys fostering cats, baking, and going on hikes. Theo is transgender, nonbinary, and bisexual, and is passionate about representing LGBTQ people in positive ways in genre fiction. Theo's series, We Exist! is a weekly serial that publishes short story chapters about empowered queer protagonists in science fiction and fantasy settings, where queer people have previously been excluded. Check out the newest installment of We Exist! every Thursday.

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