This was loosely based round conversations or things my teenage daughter has said over the last couple of years. Of course I’ve expanded on it, before handing it in as my final creative writing assignment.
Who She Is.
She looks at herself in the mirror unsure of the face staring back. She knows it’s her own. Her pale green eyes; her olive skin. But who is she? What is she?
A girl, she can hear voices say. The whispers of people she meets every day, their cursory glances only taking in her physical appearance. It doesn’t feel right, what they say. Doesn’t feel like her regardless of how she may appear.
Alien, a small voice, her own from the past whispers and she smirks. She remembers the first time she tried to put a word to the mess of ideas and feeling swirling in her mind. Remembers the look of horror that spread across her teacher’s face as she uttered it, thinking she was putting herself down. It brought another smile to her face. Self-deprecating, she’d always been good at that, hiding her anxiety behind humour so no one knew how much she doubted herself. She did it less now. Her friends all knew her to well to let her get away with it. Just like the word Alien it no longer fit her.
If only she knew what did.
The memory cleared and her reflection stared back at her from the mirror once more. She knew there was nothing wrong with how she felt, that was okay to feel different to how the world perceived her. But there were so many labels, so many ways for her to identify herself and she didn’t know if there was one that fitted her best. The pressure to do so coming from the world around her, needing, wanting to put everyone into nice tidy boxes. But she didn’t do tidy, glancing around at the mess she’d left on the bathroom floor and shrugging her shoulders, she would clean up later. Maybe.
She was female.
And yet, she wasn’t.
And some days, she was neither.
Maybe, she’s neither.
Maybe She isn’t the best word to describe them.
The new pronouns rolled off her tongue, Them, Their, They, filling the air around them. They let them swirl around, drifting across their skin and wondered if these pronouns would suit them better. Did their neutral form encompass all the feelings swirling around inside them, or did it only throw up more questions?
They raised a hand, running it across the surface of the mirror. Fingers touching and yet they weren’t. It wasn’t the first time they’d wondered how they fitted into the world. Puzzled over the best way to describe themselves to those around them, to help them understand. A label was what they wanted. A concrete name with a fixed definition. They knew it wasn’t necessary. Don’t push yourself into a box for the sake of everyone else, their mother would say. You are who you are and you don’t need to justify it to anyone. It didn’t stop them feeling envious of those who could slot into boxes easy. Didn’t flinch, understood without question the labels best suited for them.
No. The more they said it, the more foreign the neutral pronouns seemed to their ear. What worked for some, didn’t work for them – no, her, switching back to her previous pronouns. She would have to keep looking till she found the words which worked best.
She walked out of the bathroom, towel wrapped tight around her and her mind already sorting through her drawers, trying to figure out what she wanted to wear. Skirt? Pants? Leggings? Too many choices and none which felt right. Not today. Maybe a dress? The weather forecasted should be hot enough to wear one now that the chill of winter had fled. Yet, it didn’t feel right either, her skin crawling at the thought of wearing something considered feminine.
Shrugging her shoulders, she opened the first drawer and pulled out a pair of shorts. Black sport shorts, the go-to item she wore on days she didn’t feel tugged in one direction or another. Slipping them on, she let her towel drop to the floor while she rummaged through her drawers again for a top and a bra.
Whenever she tried to explain who, what she was to people they always looked at her strange when she said she enjoyed wearing a bra. It pissed her off. She struggled with her gender identity, not her physical appearance. She liked how she looked – though maybe her boobs could bigger and she could be a little taller. But she had to admit despite enjoying wearing bras, she hated shopping for the blasted things. Refused to step inside a lingerie store or department to purchase one. Those places made her skin crawl. All that colour, lace and bows – especially the bows. Why did they all have to have bows on them? Yet she wouldn’t not wear one.
It didn’t take long to find a top she liked, most of the ones in her drawer were black and… black. She tugged it on and then brushed her shoulder length hair, pulling it back off her face while glancing out the window. Clear blue skies greeted her, the sun already high in the sky and she cursed.
“Fuck. I’m going to be late.”
She had thirty minutes till she was supposed to arrive at the café, fumbling with her phone again and only managing to drop it twice before she found the message that would confirm who she was meeting.
Information she struggled to keep straight in her head, causing them both no end of amusement. They knew of each other’s existence. She never hid it, from anyone. Another part of her, adding one more label to her name if she chose to use them. A list of words or an acronym that always put her mind of a chemical formula and one that annoyed her. Shouldn’t, couldn’t there be a way of wrapping all of who she was up in a single word and one that fitted her.
Oh, right. Scrolling through messages from them, today was the day they both would meet each other. Another first for her, never wanting her partners in the past to meet. Explained the anxious feelings creeping through her veins and trying to tell her thirty minutes would have her running late, when the café was ten minutes away. On foot. Ten minutes spent strolling down the boardwalk, the salt laden air blowing through her hair and she hoped it would calm down her jittery nerves before she got there. Calm her thoughts.
She didn’t need a label. Didn’t need to fit into a box, she reminded herself, grabbing her wallet and keys as she moved toward the door. Her hand rested on the door handle, turning it as she glanced down at her feet and cursing. Shoes. She would need to put on shoes to go to the café, or at least jandals. She hated shoes, hated the blisters on her feet because she’d burnt them, even more. Huffing she walked back to her bedroom to grab them, slipping them on before leaving. The door closed shut behind her with a bang, and she stood there breathing in the sea air deep while listening to the roar of the sea as it sent waves crashing onto the beach.
They loved her for who she was, and that was all that mattered.
Except it wasn’t.
She wanted more
And that scared her. Excited her.
The boardwalk wound its way through the tussocks, the sand dunes and the grassy reserves toward the edge of the shopping centre. Her feet slapped on the wooden boards, seagulls cawed overhead as they flew and cars rushed past, but her mind was still drifting back to the thoughts that had surged through her head earlier. She barely noticed the umbrellas that spread over the tables grow larger, the closer she got to the café. People beneath them no longer fuzzy black dots, gaining colour, clarity with each step she took. If only she could say the same about her mind. Still she smiled, despite the anxiety toying with her nerves and looming like a large black shadow on the edges of her mind. She wouldn’t be late. She had plenty of time, ten minutes to be exact.
Ten minutes early. She was, wasn’t she? Anxiety rose quick in her veins as she stood on the edge of the road and stared across to the café. She bit her lip and flicked her fingers while resisting the urge to giggle, noticing the two people she was meeting were already there. Had she got the time wrong? She was pretty cure she hadn’t and yet the way they were chatting to each other, the half-empty cups in front of them, the pair had been there for a while. She could feel herself begin to shake, they’d never met each other before today, and yet they sat talking like they were old friends. It would have pleased her if her nerves hadn’t been shot through with worry, thinking she’d stuffed up somewhere. Then again, they didn’t look angry as their heads turned toward her and they waved.
“Stop spending so much time inside that head of yours,” her boyfriend growled, but there was no heat behind his words as he rose to greet her. “We are early. You are not late,” letting her go so she could sit on the chair between them. “I’ll go buy you a drink. Green tea frappe?”
She nodded and watched as he strolled off, her gaze fixed to his back till he disappeared amongst the customers swarming inside the store. Her shoulders slumped and she stared at the table as though it was the most exciting thing in the world. She lifted her head as her hand, still trembling was grabbed by her girlfriend, fingers tangling together. The nerves from before rushing away like the tide and a smile spread across her face.
“He’s nice. I like him,” her girlfriend said, squeezing her hand and grinning. “But he’s right, you do need to spend less time in your head. Stop trying to fit yourself into a box. We like you, because you are you… not because of some label.”
She stared at her, the smile she wore tinged with confusion as she listened to her girlfriend speak. How did they know? How did they always know when her mind had drifted to the need to find some way to describe herself? Her thoughts must have showed on her face as her girlfriend laughed and her boyfriend gave her a knowing look as he sat back down, pushing her drink toward her.
She stared at the table again, unable to look at them both and trying to absorb everything they were telling her. They both knew her so well and yet, while they laughed, they weren’t laughing at her. There was no judgement, never had been about anything she told them or when she got like this – anxiety levels racing high, making her want to crawl into bed and not emerge for days. They had simply accepted her, calm words and ice cream in hand as they waited for her to come out the other side.
A hand reached over and stilled hers as she traced around the rim of the cup. Another tilted her head, not letting her avert her gaze from theirs. “Don’t disappear back in there.” She didn’t know who said it, maybe they both did, but she could see in their eyes they both meant it. Concerned but not angry at her sudden mood change.
“I’ll try not to,” a small smile teasing at her lips and drifted toward her eyes as she began to relax.
She would try not to focus on it so much, this need to have a label, a neat little container of descriptions to give people. Maybe one day a word will come to her and just click, but it didn’t mean she had to spend her days anxiously searching for it. It wouldn’t change who she is by knowing it, not to those around her or to herself.