TRIGGER WARNING: This fictional story contains body image and gender identity issues. It also contains acceptance and hugging.
I stand in front of the mirror, my skin damp from the shower, my short hair dripping. I frown at my reflection, at the body I detest. It’s not disgusting or deformed. In fact, it’s quite ordinary, perfectly normal. It just doesn’t feel like my body. It doesn’t feel right. I think: this isn’t what I’m supposed to be like, this isn’t supposed to be what houses my consciousness. Expect that it is. This is what I’ve been given for this lifetime.
I’m still a teenager, still rapidly changing. Yet the changes aren’t ones that I like. I lift my breasts, one in each hand. I think about the women who get boob jobs to make their breasts larger. I don’t really want them at all. They feel strange on my chest. They move in disconcerting ways. They’re not a part of me, yet I can’t get rid of them. The rest of my body is slim, athletic, proportionate. Neither the curves of a woman nor the musculature of a man.
I’m somewhere in between; non-binary.
As others in my age group are transforming into their adult forms, following the ancient archetypes of male and female, I am not. Perhaps certain parts of my body are changing along certain pre-laid plans, filling in specific patterns, but it’s against my will.
I rebel against this division in our society, in our roles, even in our public toilets. I am simply me, a unique being, with unique features and desires. I refuse to be categorised, to be neatly shoved into a box for the convenience of others.
I see the determination, the passion, in my eyes in the mirror. I drag my gaze away, break the obsession with my reflection, with my outward appearance. I am more than that, more than idealised, unobtainable, air-brushed body shapes, more than pre-prescribed clothes and colours, more than those narrow expectations.
I pull on underwear and jogging trousers. I put on a sports bra that holds my breasts flat against my chest. It’s uncomfortably tight around my ribs but it’s the best I can do. A baggy t-shirt over the top hides more of my skin.
I walk out of my bedroom, downstairs to the kitchen. My parents are preparing dinner, my younger sister is doing her homework at the dining table. Mum and Dad always cook together. They twirl around the kitchen as if in some well-choreographed dance. Dad chops onions. Mum spirals some oil into a frying pan and puts it on the stovetop. The chopping of the onions is completed just as the oil is hot enough. Dad slides the vegetables into the pan, placing a kiss on Mum’s cheek as she stirs the onions to a symphony of sizzling.
Dad notices me first, standing on the threshold. I don’t know what he sees in my face but he puts down the chopping board and knife, walks over to me and wraps his arms around me. A moment later, Mum hugs me too, her arms going around us both. I am enveloped in the warm comforting scent of home, of family. I feel another set of arms come around me too, as my little sister joins the group hug and we are complete. My heart swells with love.
“We love you,” says Mum, echoing my thoughts.
“We love you just the way you are,” Dad adds.
The tightness I often carry in my gut eases and I am filled with acceptance.
“The onions are burning,” says my little sister.
“I know,” says Mum. “This is more important.”
She kisses my cheek.
“Whatever you want to be, that’s fine with us,” says Dad.
“We want you to be happy,” says Mum.
“We’re your family,” says my sister. “Whatever you need, we’re here for you.”
Tears slide down my face as they hold me and the smell of burning onions fills the kitchen.