By Tyler Smith
Dust motes sail softly through the strained sunlight illuminating my bedroom. A fan whirs, pushing the unkept curls across my forehead in regular intervals. The unmistakeable smell of burnt toast comes from downstairs, and my aunt swears. Her wife’s musical laughter follows. I don’t need to be in front of them to know that a pair of arms are being wrapped around Lisa’s waist, a kiss placed gently on her cheek.
As I walk down the hallway towards the bathroom, I hear my aunt say goodbye to Allie as she leaves for work. Cold water raining down wakes me up more than a cup of coffee would. When I’m clean, I step out of the shower and catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror. My naked body stares back at me. I quickly pull a binder over my chest, its colour several shades lighter than my brown skin. It digs uncomfortably into my shoulders, but the physical pain is worth it for the relief of the relentless dysphoria that has been my companion for several years.
I put on The Charlie Uniform of blue jeans and an old hoodie, allowing the world to see me as a ‘boy’ until the badge stuck on my now flat chest informs them that I’m not.
Lisa convinces me to take a piece of toast with me and it’s not even 10am when I’m walking towards the bus stop to get into town. This has gotta be a new record for me.
The sun relentlessly burns my skin and the bus shows no sign of showing up soon. Defeated, I sit beneath a tree and being to search my backpack for my earphones when a chipper voice grabs my attention.
A small girl in a pink flowy dress smiles down at me. I look around, praying there was someone next to me she was talking to, but it appears we are alone. My stomach sinks.
“Uh hey,” I mumble. Recognition flickers in my mind.
“I’m Shari, remember? We had math class together with that old witch, Jones.”
Unfortunately, I know exactly who she is. The girl who cheated on her boyfriend with another girl at a party and claimed it didn’t count because she ‘isn’t’ into girls like that’.
“It feels like so long since we graduated, doesn’t it?”
She beings to chatter mindlessly about her new boyfriend and the other things I don’t care about. I’m barely paying attention and struggling to nod and laugh at the right moments. When the bus finally rounds the corner, I’m praying she finds someone else to annoy.
I tap my go card and greet the driver as Shari calls someone else’s name behind me.
“Luke! Oh my God, it’s like a reunion in this bus! Charlotte, come over here!”
He smirks at me as I turn. The bus moves forward and I cling to a pole. Shari’s eyes beg me to join them, but every inch of my being is desperate to leave.
“Aw, no, don’t call him Charlotte. He’ll go cry in the bathrooms again.”
My stomach sinks. A smile grows across his face, revelling in the discomfort that grips me stronger than an alcoholic holds a beer can.
Shari’s confusion is humiliating.
“My name is Charlie.” I mumble, sitting in the chair beside the pole. Sweat covers the palms of my hands and I spread them over my jeans, trying to get the texture of the denim beneath my fingertips to keep the tears away.
Their judgement feels like a flame and I’m standing too close. I can’t move away even though it slowly burns my skin through my clothes. The desire to move away is instinctual and persistent, but my body won’t move. As I begin to count my breaths, the girl and boy begin to laugh.
My hand fumbles for the stop button. The beating inside my chest is too fast. I need to get out of here.
The bus pulls over. The doors open. My legs jolt upwards and I slam my card against the reader. I jump out, landing in a piled heap on the concrete. As the bus pulls away, I see them in the window. She’s laughing and he wears a cruel grin.
Sobs begin to rack through me. Cars go past but no one stops. I clutch my knees to my chest and keep repeating the one thought that will keep me alive.
My name is Charlie and I am non-binary.