Why does Melissa strip in front of J in I Am J?

Melissa strips in front of J to reset their friendship and spur J to open up about his gender identity.

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In chapter 9 of I Am J , Melissa strips in front of J. She takes off her clothes and, in the process, reveals the cuts on her arm. Seeing Melissa naked is nothing new to J. As Melissa acknowledges in the chapter, J has probably seen her naked “hundreds...

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In chapter 9 of I Am J, Melissa strips in front of J. She takes off her clothes and, in the process, reveals the cuts on her arm. Seeing Melissa naked is nothing new to J. As Melissa acknowledges in the chapter, J has probably seen her naked “hundreds of times.” This time is different. This moment carries particular weight.

Melissa and J are best friends, but their close relationship has been fracturing. At the start of the narrative, during one of their sleepovers, J kissed Melissa while she was asleep. The kiss is problematic. As Melissa was sleeping, she could not consent to the kiss. More so, Melissa’s response—“I’m not a lesbian”—sows further confusion in J because J doesn’t think of himself as a girl.

The issues with Melissa relate to the difficulties that J experiences throughout the story. Lacking acceptance, he runs away and comes out to his mom. To protect J from his dad, J’s mom brings him to Melissa’s apartment. Shortly after this, Melissa strips in front of him.

It’s as if Melissa’s trying to restart their relationship. Taking off her clothes is a way to remind J that she’s his best friend and that he’s seen her naked numerous times without it being a big deal.

By revealing her body, Melissa also hopes that J will take off his clothes and show her his body. In doing so, Melissa wants J to articulate why he feels his body is different from hers.

Stripping doesn’t get J to talk expansively about his gender expression. J doesn’t say much besides that it has to do with his brain, not his body. But taking off her clothes does lead to Melissa platonically cuddling and comforting J, which is “precisely what he needed.”

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Melissa has taken off all her clothes many times in front of J. As she says, with characteristic exaggeration, he must have seen her naked "hundreds of times," yet she's never seen him naked once. She thinks this is deeply unfair, but J comes right out and tells Melissa that he's not taking his clothes off for her.

Not willing to accept this, Melissa strips and stands naked before J. She holds out both arms, showing J the fresh cuts she's inflicted on herself:

"J, here's my body, every inch, and yes, I cut, so what?" Melissa was practically shouting now. "You’ve seen it before. If your body's so different from mine, I want to see it!"

Unsurprisingly, J feels trapped, "like a rat in a cage." He's being pressured to do something he doesn't want to do by a friend who seems to have "lost her mind." J responds to this very uncomfortable situation by telling Melissa in a soft voice that his body isn't any different from hers. Like everyone else in his life, he thinks, Melissa doesn't understand him.

Melissa realizes her mistake and comforts J. She thought that because J is transgender, his body was different from her own. But in actual fact, J explains, it's his brain that's different, not his body.

Just as J has seen Melissa naked many times before, but she hasn't seen him in the same state, so Melissa has never seen J cry before until now, though he's seen her cry on numerous occasions.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on