My name is Charlie Todd. I am a second year Creative Writing student. I write poems about the sea and essays about old Hollywood actresses. I have more books than sense, drink copious amounts of tea and make really good cheesy mash potatoes. Seriously, you ought to try it. I have been told that I am extroverted, introverted, emotional, logical, practical, fantastical … and that I make far too many comments about back ache for a nineteen year old. I love religion, but don’t follow one. I recognise my privilege as a white individual whilst championing the experiences of my working class upbringing. I am passionately left-leaning, unapologetically nerdy, and perhaps most of all, motivated to get my words and writing out into the world.
I am also a trans man. That factors simultaneously into all of the above, and none of it
Six months ago, I would not have comfortably written that statement. In fact, I’m not sure that I am fully comfortable writing it now. I am keenly aware that in writing for Voices, there is a strong possibility that my coursemates, acquaintances, even my lecturers will read this. Telling my ‘coming out story’ seems like such an odd concept to me because truly, I’m still living through it. You never come out as trans just once. Sadly, gender is not something you can wear like a Sims diamond over your head. You can’t see gender, you can only ask, or assume. This is particularly the case for those of us who are ‘pre-t’ (pre-transition, as in, not having undergone medical sex reassignment treatments or surgeries). We do not look like society’s idea of ‘man’ or ‘woman’, ‘boy’ or ‘girl’ - and heaven help you if you’re non-binary, though that isn’t my place to speak.
And so we have to come out almost every day, two or three times a day, if not more.
I think what most people outside of the LGBTQ+ of the community don’t understand is that coming out never truly stops. Just because you accept your identity, just because you embrace that part of yourself, and tell others that you have doesn’t mean that they’ll understand. I live in the knowledge that, as a trans man, there will always be people who question the legitimacy of my identity. Who question my right to call myself a man, to present myself in masculine ways. To assume that my coming out story came to an end when I told my loved ones, Is to assume that I won’t ever again have to sit down with someone and explain to them that I am transgender. At this stage in my journey, I can’t yet see a day where that would be possible.
It comes back to this concept of ‘passing’, which is a phrase used commonly by binary trans people (those who identify within the gender binary) to indicate that they have successfully been seen as the gender they identify as without others recognising that they’re transgender. For example, back when I had short hair, if I wore a binder and baggy jumper, and didn’t speak too much to reveal my high pitched voice, people would assume I was a boy without asking. They were right to, I wanted and still want to be seen as a boy, without having to tell people that I’m trans.
But, passing is really hard work. When I first came out aged fifteen, I obsessed over this idea of passing. I refused to wear anything other than three layers (binder, t-shirt, hoodie) and any bright colours were an absolute no. I would hold my tongue in public, barely whispering “thank you” to bus drivers and shop clerks in case my voice gave me away. Most of all, I wouldn’t show affection to my friends, for fear of being seen as feminine. The idea that if I slipped up, that if I wasn’t ‘trying hard enough’ to pass, I was somehow less trans. Passing soon stopped feeling liberating. Being recognised as masculine was always a confidence boost, but I felt restricted in every action, every item of clothing, every word I spoke.
As you can see from my photographs, I no longer worry so much about passing. Of course being misgendered still hurts, and that’s a pain I can’t describe. I can only hope that anyone reading this will either entirely understand what I mean, or are lucky enough to have never experienced that pain, and so can only be sympathetic. Fighting to pass hurt more, because most of the time, it rarely worked. Back then, I was being misgendered daily by my parents and teachers, even a few friends.
Over the years, and with many thanks to Falmouth’s supportive LGBTQ+ community, I’ve come to feel far more free to dress and express myself the way I want to. When I feel like sh*t about my appearance, my wide hips and large chest, I try to remind myself that if I were born a cisgender male, no one would ever question my gender presentation. If I had a flat chest, narrow hips, a deeper voice and were slightly taller, people wouldn’t question my long hair or love of dangly earrings. Allowing myself these scraps of ‘traditional’ femininity has meant I can stand a little straighter, feel a little more like the person I can and will become when I’m able to start testosterone, and undergo top-surgery to flatten my chest.
I know I’m not alone when I say that I can not wait for that day to come; the day that I can start physically moulding my body to the one it’s supposed to be.
Moving to Falmouth was the biggest step I’ve taken in regards to my transition as it afforded me the freedom to leave behind the complexities of my identity in my home town. There’s no one here who will pull up the past, my deadname, or to cast doubt over my identity. Certainly, that was not my experience in school. At school, I was ‘the gay kid’. Ironic really, given that firstly, I am not gay, and secondly, I know for a fact at least four of my former classmates have come out as LGBTQ+ since we finished school in 2016. Here, I am 100% Charlie. My friends, acquaintances, lecturers have been wholly wonderful in accepting me for me. No one here wrinkles their nose up at me or debates whether I am ‘enough’ of a boy to respect my pronouns, or refuses to use my chosen name. And that’s exactly how it should be for everyone. No one should have their identity put up for debate.
Having said that, I realise that in writing this piece, I am putting myself in the world for debate. By standing up and waving my blue, pink and white flag, I am opening myself up for criticism and questioning. That fucking terrifies me! Really, it does. But I’m trying to keep in mind all of the trans people I knew in the years and months leading to my first coming out and after who put themselves out into the world, loud and proud, for younger trans people like me to look up to. If just one person struggling with any aspect of their identity can pick this magazine up, this collection of light and hope, and see all of us making a noise. I think that’ll make it worth it. People need to keep standing up for themselves, for this community, because we’re the ones who understand what it’s like to be trans. To not pass. To be misgendered. To be told, worst of all, that you don’t count. We have to remind each other, and the world at large, that that isn’t true.
There is an absolute melting pot of opinions within the LGBTQ+ community. Which words are we allowed to use to describe ourselves? Others? What is offensive? What is liberating? What does it mean to be ‘trans’? To exist within, outside of, or without the ‘gender binary’? What counts? What doesn’t?
So many questions that nobody but you has the authority to answer.
You, me, we are all so much more than the limited pot of labels and adjectives that the English language has to offer. Trust me, I’m a creative writing student! But seriously. Only you can decide who you are and which words you use to describe that. Only you can live your life the way that you want it to be lived. No one else, just you.
Treat others as you wish to be treated, offer them the space for their freedom of identity. If it matters to you to fly your pride flag big and bold, then do it! If you’d rather admire from afar, your flag tucked neatly in your bag, that’s okay too. If I’ve learned anything in the last 5 years of being (at least partially) out, it’s that everyone is going to have an opinion on who you are and who you should be. The only person whose opinion matters? You.