Rocco Sanabria


The park is empty. Five in the morning, chilly, wet, ​not​ lonely. The pull-up bar is cold and rusty, but I come every morning because the doctors thought that I shouldn’t, or that I couldn’t, but the doctors lied and tore an artery, the doctors made mistakes.

Up and down, I use my weight to move away from this morning’s nightmares.

I woke myself up, marks were on my neck, I was scratching again. I don’t know why I do that. I’m not itchy during the day.

The peach fuzz on my chest stands, so do the scars.


Kevin asked about my chest. We were playing chicken, the game we all played in third grade. First one to let go of the monkey bars loses. I didn’t think my chest would grow and I told him that; I was trying to believe that. My hands weren’t slipping. His were. Why is he asking now? My left arm dropped. I had to scratch my nose. Kevin knew before me that my body would give me shit. Did Kevin see me as a girl? Does he not believe I’m a boy? I’m a boy. Kevin dropped. ​I guess yes, I would have a surgery if I need it. ​I won. The game lasted too long. My hands were still on the bar.


The day I won “Monkey Bars Chicken” was the day I lost patience, the day I wanted top surgery before I even needed it, and the day I knew I’d die for it. A dream of mine. A nightmare.  


My calluses have grown; they’re detached from my body. I want to grow, too.


The pond, my audience, is still. I jump, I grip the eight-foot steel bar, I swing my body, I pull myself over, and then drop back down—still holding on.  I need momentum and energy to do it again and again. The momentum that shoves me, no, pulls me away from the ground.

I don’t like routine.

I like calisthenics.

I don’t know how many dips or pull-ups I’ll do, or in what order: never know if I’ll follow them with muscle ups or push ups… If I’ll workout today or just hold on to the bar. I don’t need to know anything to have this control.


I knew I was a boy, and I had no control.

No one wants to perform top surgery on a kid. Fourteen is too young.

I wanted to die. Mom knew this. She always said, “rather have a happy son than a dead daughter.” She had no control either. What I know now is that we had momentum, we held on.


Dr. Taub, 82, had a trapeze bar hanging from tall ceilings in his Soho loft. He also had a line of ventriloquist dolls and a grand piano on which he had sex. I know this because Mom read that in the draft of his autobiography he left open on his desk during my checkup. We laughed about it the day before my surgery. It was easier to laugh because we didn’t know.

We didn’t know he was uninsured. Didn’t know he was kicked out of the hospital. We didn’t know, and maybe he didn’t know this one either, that his aged hands and tired eyes would make their own decisions. They’d tear the artery, the artery over my heart, a fourteen-year-old heart that just wanted to love his body. A fourteen-year-old beatless heart.



This is what I think about until I start to move and count—Count the pull-ups, count the push ups— reps become louder than thought.

I’ve tried dumbbells, weights, assisted machines but, I haven’t found anything yet that compares to the weight of my own body pressing against me. I use my own body against me.


Here, I challenge my body for a rematch.


Kevin wanted one, but I knew I was tired.


I laid on the gurney, eight hours after my death—alive, completed.

I don’t remember too much because I was asleep for most of the autumn and winter. But I remember that night. Mom and dad rested me in the passenger seat, Dr. Taub came, too. The motherfucker asked them to buy him sushi. Happy I was alive, they did.



I’m still thinking, dreaming, and pulling.

I still don’t know if those nightmares are because I died that day or because I woke up.


Until then I’m still holding on.


Rocco M. Sanabria is an undergraduate at Emerson College studying Writing for Film and Television. He is an advocate for transgender rights. He intends on finishing his degree while pursuing a personal training certification, wanting to help create a healthy self-image for transgender youth and adults.