I Am J

by Cris Beam

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

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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 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.

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

In I Am J, Melissa feels a strong bond with her friend J and becomes anxious as she feels him slipping away. Earlier in the narrative she pulled away from him, but later she looks for ways to recover their former closeness. When J comes out to her as transgender, then, she wants to understand what makes J “different.”

Part of J’s struggle is concerned with the attitudes of his father and mother. Both have difficulty accepting what J is communicating about his gender identity, so his mother suggests that he leave their home for a while as his father processes the idea of hormone treatments. This results in her taking J to Melissa’s home. It is during this period that Melissa strips while the two of them are alone together in her bedroom.

One of the points that Melissa is trying to make is that everyone experiences identity-related difficulties in their lives. Her own problems manifest in cutting, and through revealing the fresh cuts on her body, she aims to show J that he can—and, in her opinion, should—feel free to reveal himself, too. This is, however, all prompted by Melissa’s misunderstanding what J means when he describes himself as transgender: believing that J’s body must be different from hers, she thus feels he ought to feel comfortable showing her that difference.

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