Meet Aley and Charlotte, two people on very different journeys of self-discovery. They come together in a love that transcends gender.
“When I was born doctors put an ‘M’ on my birth certificate and it’s been plaguing me ever since.”
The words show the torment Aley Halverson has faced since the day she entered this world.
Multiple mental breakdowns were followed by years of counselling and support from her parents, helping Aley become the woman she is today – in love and comfortable in her own skin.
Aley, who lives on the South Coast, identifies as a transgender female who was assigned male at birth.
“Something did feel off about my teenage years,” she said.
“I disassociated my way through high school, barely tried to understand or explain anything that was happening with me cause it was just too much at the time.
“But I knew that I wanted to get out of this small country town and out of this space.
“Like that was the thing that was bringing me down.”
At age 17, at university in Canberra, Aley had mental breakdown after mental breakdown.
The feeling of being in a different body is something I never felt. It’s always been my body, it just wasn’t quite correct.
She realised the small town she had escaped wasn’t the problem.
She had brought the problem with her.
It wasn’t until she had a “particularly” bad breakdown, left university and went home to her parents that she was able to rebuild her mental state from the ground up with the help of a psychologist.
She now knows she suffered major depression and anxiety disorder only partially related to her struggle to find her identity.
“It was separate and distinct.
“Even though the breakdown may have been caused in part by these background feelings it was definitely clinical depression,” she said.
“It was only after I had broken myself down and rebuilt that I could figure out my gender wasn’t the same as the one I had been assigned at birth and how I could fix it.”
When Aley was well enough to return to uni, first day she wore a “very cute skirt and crop top”.
She wasn’t yet on hormone treatment but it signaled the beginning of a newfound confidence and comfort in her own skin.
“It was a very anxiety-inducing and amazing experience,” she explained.
“I met up with an old friend who basically commented on how good I looked.
“I met a lot of queer and transgender people for the first time in my life; it was a mixed experience but overall very positive.”
In April last year Aley met Charlotte Tortorella on a dating site.
It’s not an uncommon way to meet prospective partners these days, and more common for people who may not fit heterosexual norms.
“It’s more common for transgender and queer people; it’s a very easy and quick way to tell if people are comfortable with who you are when you have it right there in your profile,” Aley said.
“If someone messages when it’s in your profile, there’s more chance they are interested in you.
“If you meet them in a bar and then three hours later very explicitly you have to tell them who you are … and if they decide to take it badly …
“Things clear up a little easier on dating apps.”
Charlotte saw only beauty in Aley.
There was nothing not to be comfortable with.
The pair soon realised their meeting would amount to more than just a fling.
“We thought it would be something casual but it quickly became apparent to both of us that we were very well fitted for each other,” Charlotte said.
“It became a lot more serious and romantic and lovely and I love her.”
Charlotte describes herself as “trans, specifically a-gender with a hint of girl”.
“The feeling of being in a different body is something I never felt.
“It’s always been my body, it just wasn’t quite correct,” said Charlotte who “figured it out when she was 20 and came out two weeks later.
“The same goes for a lot of binary trans people, for me it very definitely felt like I’ve always been who I am.
“There were just certain things that just weren’t right at all.”
Coming out was fairly effortless internally for Charlotte – but it wasn’t all plain sailing presenting her newfound self to the world.
Charlotte went through a period of ostracising herself from her family because she felt they didn’t respect her as a person.
“I knew they weren’t calling me Charlotte, I knew that they were very distinctly doing it only to my face,” she said.
“My brother is very supportive, he always has been, and he would tell me when I wasn’t around they were calling me by my dead name and showing no actual respect for the person I am.”
After about six months Charlotte’s family came around.
“I use ‘she’ and ‘her’ pronouns … I definitely hate ‘he’ and ‘him’ pronouns.”
Charlotte prefers to be referred to as a girl or woman – but woman makes her feel old so she doesn’t use that word very much.
When she first came out she wore dresses, but now has a much more butch aesthetic – on the softer side.
“When I first came out wearing dresses around Crown Street Mall, I wasn’t taking any hormones then ... people were really, really staring, the kind that people possibly haven’t had to deal with unless they’d done something really, really wrong.
“Not that I had done something wrong, they were the weirdos for staring at me.
“I was just trying to shop,” she says with a cheeky grin.
Charlotte is very open about her physical change into the person she is today.
HRT treatment has reduced the effect of the testosterone which was making her body develop in a way she didn’t like.
“When I first came out as trans I hated facial hair,” she said.
‘’Taking estrogen gave me boobs, that’s nice, I’m really into that.
“There’s no bleeding, I don’t have a vagina.
“But there is a lot of grouchiness and pimples and even occasionally abdominal pains.
“I don’t know what my body is trying to do there, it’s trying to prove a point like, ‘you asked for this, didn’t you?’”
Charlotte also takes much delight in being mistaken for a lesbian couple when she walks hand-in-hand with Aley.
She sees no point in reacting to the opinions of others, as long as she knows and feels comfortable in who she is.
“It was pretty easy to deal with because I’ve always been the kind of person that if someone got upset just by me being who I am, I’m kinda happy that I made their day a little bit worse because they are a bigot.”