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Reading the Mess Backwards

June–July 2020, no. 422

Reading the Mess Backwards

June–July 2020, no. 422

Listen to this essay read by the author.

When I’m ten or so, my brother appears shirtless at the dinner table. Ever the eager disciple, I follow his example without a second thought. It is a sweltering January day, and our bodies are salt-crusted from the beach. Clothing seems cruel in these conditions.

As my brother tucks into his schnitzel, tanned chest gleaming, I grow conscious that the mood has become strained. Across the table, my parents exchange glances. The midsummer cheer of recent evenings is on hold.

I look down. Two small nubs peak from my ribcage, barely the beginnings of breasts. My torso is white and soft, a reptile’s underbelly to my brother’s hard brown exoskeleton. I realise: this chest of mine does not belong in public. It is somehow obscene, something to be hidden rather than flaunted. My brother and I differ in this crucial respect.

Excusing myself, I flee upstairs and don a T-shirt. Back at the table, there is a palpable sense of relief. Chatter resumes. All is well with the world.

Comments (8)

  • Love your story! Such a turbulent trajectory, challenging body and gender hegemonic concepts, I am glad that you finally found a blazer that fits, with internal pockets :) ! Hope your story helps many more people to find their corporeal space in the world!
    Posted by Jorge Knijnik
    09 January 2022
  • Beautiful essay about being comfortable in one's body.
    Posted by Ally Cerritelli
    11 October 2021
  • Very well done. My strongest feeling from all this is that it's all about not so much 'male' and 'female' as 'masculine' and 'feminine'. That is to say...the difference between human and gender. The latter is learned, and Yves's article shows the pain and distress when what is learned does not match with reality. Which is that we are human.
    Posted by Judy Crozier
    08 January 2021
  • Wow, really, really interesting! I now know, thanks to this essay, a little more about the extremely diverse spectrum of human (and probably other animal's) gender/sexuality. I can also imagine, thanks to your words, just how confusing it must be to try and figure out that you are something that society tells you doesn't exist, that is, something that is neither 'man' nor 'woman'.
    Posted by Steve Chivers
    14 December 2020
  • WOW! I've just read your story and can see why you won. Magnificent writing and with real heart. Congratulations on this outstanding story.
    Posted by Nicky Webber
    25 November 2020
  • Yves, your accuracy and honest stream of consciousness are refreshing. I especially love this passage: "Did I land in a place where ‘girl’ was a container so small it could break your bones?" Thank you for sharing your experience and inspiring others to question the systems. ⚡️
    Posted by Kate Pitches
    18 November 2020
  • Incredible writing. I just want to keep reading this fine work.
    Posted by Anni Doyle
    10 September 2020
  • Congratulations, Yves Rees - a well-deserved win. I can identify with your story and the 'messy middle-ground of gender'. I never did 'fit' and wondered why. Now, at the age of seventy, I believe there is no need to aspire to be ultra-feminine or ultra-masculine - in the middle is fine. In fact, it can be argued that this is the best place to be - where sanity reigns and anything is possible.
    Posted by Alison Gidley
    27 June 2020

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