“My style, especially as a trans person, is everything to me — sometimes the only thing that gets me out of bed,” says Charlie Durkin, a 22-year-old recent graduate of the University of New Hampshire. He’s an easygoing, chatty guy with an activist spirit and a seemingly permanent smile on his face.
Born Allison Elizabeth Durkin, Charlie grew up knowing that he was attracted to women. But, having been born a girl, was told not to like other girls that way and not to dress like a boy. “I remember being stressed out about fashion in high school,” he says. “My mom got me these huge push-up bras, and I actually loved them because everyone would tell me my boobs looked great. And now I bind every day. It’s kind of funny how it came full circle.”
Charlie says he realized for certain he was not a girl as a sophomore in college during conversations with The Alliance, an LGBTQ+ organization at UNH. “Dressing more masculine and expressing myself in a more masculine way is where I feel comfortable,” he says. “It’s the most authentic version of myself, and I realized then that that’s where I fall on the gender spectrum. I love this version of myself.”
Fashion has been a major component of Charlie’s transition. It wasn’t until he started shopping for clothes in the boys’ section that he began to feel more comfortable. “I don’t think I would have been able to get as far as I did without the clothing that I had,” he says. “Even if people couldn’t see me the way I wanted them to, I could finally see myself the way I wanted to.”
Charlie also proudly wears his tattoos, all of which bear special significance. There’s one on the upper left side of his chest that reads, in Roman numerals, “April 25, 2016,” the date he received his first testosterone injection. Below it is “October 6, 2016,” the day his name was legally changed.
When Charlie came out as transgender, he says, the reactions were overwhelmingly positive. But it was his dad’s response that left the deepest impression. “I called my dad and said, ‘Dad, I have to tell you something. I’m transgender.’ And he said, ‘Oh, honey, I love you so much. I just have no idea what that means,’” Charlie remembers with a laugh. “I told him I want to be called Charlie, and he would text me and say, ‘Hey, Charlie, son, boy,’ adding every single gendered language in there just to make me feel good. If we were out somewhere and someone misgendered me, he would correct them. He dealt so swiftly with people questioning it. I talk about my dad so much, because he’s just so amazing. This is a white, cis-straight male, very privileged, who has had no education about this but just decided that he would learn along with me. I wish I could put him on a pedestal so that everyone could see how great he is.”
As a recent graduate who plans to head to medical school in a couple of years to study endocrinology, Charlie remains fashion-forward while staying within a budget by shopping mostly at thrift stores. He’s also received gifts from family and friends, including others who have transitioned and given him their old clothes.
After years of struggling with his identity, Charlie says he’s finally refined his style to match the person he’s become, without sacrificing comfort. His impeccably organized closet is full of soft T-shirts, jeans, and khakis. He also loves to dress up and has an impressive collection of bow ties to match dress pants, button-up shirts, and vests.
While it makes Charlie feel good to dress like a guy, he stresses that isn’t what makes him one. The way we choose to dress or look is a personal form of expression, he says, but what truly matters is far simpler than that.
“You don’t need to look or dress a certain way to be whatever you want,” he says. “When I think about it, I don’t think ‘I’m a guy’ or ‘I’m a girl,’ necessarily. What I think about is that I’m a human. That’s what’s important, is being an authentic human, and being true to ourselves.”
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