She didn’t hate herself, however she hated the body that had been her prison for the past eighteen years. She hated the frame, gait, weight, descriptions of ‘volumocity’, ‘filling out’ or ‘womanly’. Her body had first betrayed her at the age of twelve, the lone affirmation of womanhood was gifted to her but towed a trailer of fear, mistrust and repulsion. Most girls would have welcomed such a growth but for Charlie (formerly Charlotte) was left with an empty pain, a bruised and aching stress within. Her auburn hair sat neatly atop her freckled face, pretty chocolate brown eyes nestled either side of her nose which sat above her small thin lips. She felt that as far as her cohort went, that she was of average build, stature and looks. However, this was not her body. Her hips were wider where they should have been narrow; her waist cinched i where it should have been in alignment with her chest, which had itself broken their silent vow by erupting in two masses of tissue that reminded Charlie of her repulsion at herself daily. 

Her pendulous breasts were heavy and disgusting. She had tried unsuccessfully to bind them with medical wrap but two became four as she pulled tighter on the dressing. Her sister was feminine, the epitome of womanhood, cheerleader, high school sweetheart and soon to be mother. The tick boxes had been aligned and ticked off chronologically. Even menstrual cramps were more bearable than having to exist in this skin. A defunct and incorrect body, a body that had served some form of purpose until puberty, but one that had never been a ‘correct fit’ but growing up had been more tolerable than that.

    How could Charlie convey to her parents that their straight A daughter resented her existence and fantasised about ending it all. Would she hurl herself off of Devil’s Drop into the rapids below? The force would surely bash her skull in. A train track? To cut up his lump of flesh, in an attempt to rectify what had gone so wrong. Poison as a female was all too obvious. If I had wanted to become another statistic I would have conformed and crossed off the life milestones as her sister had done. 

    Her father ran a gardening business, her mother had a part time job doing the accounts for a family run funeral parlour in town.

Charlie knew that she wasn’t gay, s/he was in the wrong body, but s/he was attracted to women. Up until this point s/he had presented as female, been forced to live as female, pigeonholed as female…but he was not female.

    College had been an opportunity for freedom, the safety of education, of being a swat or nerd had allowed Charlie the excuse of avoiding social gatherings, the disappointment of his first time with a boy, being tomorrow’s gossip and being labelled as frigid because she wouldn’t put out. The fear of being touched when the sensation of your own hand on your own body horrors you. No, no, no. For Charlie education was the leveller, indiscriminate of age, sex, orientation or ‘other’ (I have no language for this yet). At home I was called Charlotte, at college it would be Charlie.

   

As a child I resented the frocks and outfits that my mother would inflict on me (and my sister), two years apart and dressing us the same, when inside we couldn’t have been farther apart. My sister liked dance and drawing, whereas I would lose hours exploring the river that cut through the woods at the back of our house or tinkering with old lawnmower engines in the garage with Dad. He liked that I showed an interest in the ‘family business’, but would often mention that outdoor work was not womans work. ‘Get your Mom to teach you accounts, then you will be able to do mine!’ he didn’t mean any harm, just didn’t know why I was so interested, the usual gender norm assumptions floated across the the dining table, family events, strangers in the street.

‘You’ll make a lucky boy very happy one of these days…’- Mrs Reed the elderly widow down the road.

‘Why not focus on a more womanly subject than engineering?’-Mom.

‘You’ll have to find a guy as clever as yo to keep up with ya…’ – Dad.

It wasn’t their fault, just a small town mentality, cisgendered and majoratively heterosexual town in Ohio. Population 9,925.

    We were not a God fearing family but Mom would drag us to church twice a month. She believed that it taught right from wrong, good morals and kept us out of trouble. She was right on the latter. Mom would get dressed in her pearls and twin set earrings, her formal dress and suite blazer, her red hair casually coiffed and Sunday hat with a sky blue bow perched atop to complete the look. I had a Sunday dress that made me feel nauseous every time I put it on, or even think about it now. Checkered blue with, knee length with frill detailing on the neckline and cut off at the shoulders. I wore the dress regularly but it never failed to feel unnatural, nearly as much as I felt about my own body. Yet this was an extreme of the performativity that I had worked on at home for the previous eighteen years. Alice bands were practical, the shortest that I was allowed my hair was shoulder length. But with college on the horizon this was about to change. I noticed girls more than boys, but the idea of labelling myself as a lesbian didn’t feel right. I noticed attractive men but I didn’t feel that yearning of closeness or a want of closeness that I had when looking at women. I am not a woman, I am not a lesbian. I have no language to describe me. But out of everybody I know myself, my mind, my essence of being, of this I have never been uncertain.

College offers a path to financial freedom, independence from others and more importantly being free of the reliance on a man for anything. I don’t want children, I don’t necessarily want marriage, but I do want to be able to buy and curate a little part of the world to call my own.

2 thoughts on “Charlotte

  1. Such a moving piece of writing, thought provoking and sensitively handled. I was transported into Charlie’s battle against the norms of small town America. I enjoyed the description of how innocent comments by parents may be very painful, and accepting that ‘It wasn’t their fault’ can help to give a new perspective leading to hope for the future. Stayed with me long after reading.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Lovely story, sensitively written. Shows great insight. I’d like to see the author do more with this character.

    Like

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