CHARLIE RIVER - AN EXPLORATION OF IDENTITY

I shaved my head with a number two razor during my lunch break at my job with a design agency as though it was just another day in the office. Two months later, on June 20th, I changed my name to Charlie River on all of my social media.

THIS IS WHY I DID IT:

  • I knew deep down that I wanted to pursue my dream of being a social media influencer, but I was too afraid to use my real name. I was afraid of getting my identity stolen, or having a stalker. I was afraid of showing my true self, owning my shit and being transparent about who I am with the world. I was afraid to tell my story, and I thought maybe by creating my image under a different name I would feel safer.

  • I was tired of being approached by men. I wanted to be off putting. Intimidating. Less sexualized. I knew that making these changes would send a message to the world that said "This person is possibly not straight". At the time I was in a committed relationship, so I had no desire to be sending out 'ask me out' vibes. I wanted to create a filter.

  • I was tired of being a girl. Of playing the part and thus attracting those who expected me to keep up this role. Why is it that by default I am the designated one to get coffee for clients? Why is it that it is bad manners for me (a petite woman) to help carry something because ‘heavy lifting’ is for men? Or why is it that I am so often educated by a man on something that I know plenty about just because it is assumed I am clueless?

  • I wanted to have more qualities of a man because I was searching for a way to be respected, heard, and just seen as a person versus a sex object.

  • I was tired of the stares and cat calling from the men standing on the corner watching as 'la guera' walked home to her shit apartment on the wrong side of town.

  • I was tired of being told I am beautiful 30 times for every time I am told I am smart.

  I started introducing myself as Charlie, I printed new business cards, changed my website domain, made a new email, all of it. This changed my life. It gave me a new way of seeing the world that I never would have seen otherwise.

LET ME CLARIFY SOMETHING. I DO NOT WANT TO BE A MAN.

I don't want a penis, I don't want a beard, I don't want a big nose when I'm 65. Have I thought about it? Yes. But not because I feel trapped inside a body that isn't mine. I entertain the idea just because I want to see the world through the eyes of a man. I want to walk in their shoes. I want to experience both the privilege and the hardship. I want to see the world in a new light and learn.

     BUT AS IT TURNS OUT, CHANGING MY HAIR AND MY NAME HAS TAUGHT ME MORE ABOUT WHAT IT IS BE A WOMAN THAN IT HAS TAUGHT ME ABOUT WHAT IT IS TO BE A MAN.

    Since the age of maybe 13, I more often than not felt objectified my men. However, making this change made me realise that women who present as more masculine or 'possibly queer' do not get treated any better. If anything, they get treated worse. I went from feeling like a sex object to feeling like I was making bad life choices. For the most part, people’s reactions left me feeling misunderstood. I have gotten "But why?" more times than I can count. Not adhering to the expectations of your gender makes most people feel uncomfortable. And even those who have intentions of being all loving and inclusive just become paralyzed around that which feels foreign. As a society, we fear what we do not understand.

Making this change did, however, give me some insight into how men are treated in the business world. I started getting so much more work.That is partially because I was working my ass off, but I swear more people reached out to me simply because they assumed I was male in my advertisements. Once, I was asked "So do you just answer the phone and I am going to meet your husband at the meeting?”. (To all of you considering pen names for your career, keep this in mind.)

I also realized that in regard to my online career, changing my name did not reduce my anxiety about sharing myself with the world. It doesn't matter what name you go by amongst friends and what name you go by online. If someone knows you or has a vague idea of how to find you through socials media, they will find you. Your neighbor can find you, your boss can find you, your grandma can find you. So unless you change your name and remove all of your pictures, the world will figure out who you are. Once I realized I can't hide, I finally decided to put myself out there and bite the bullet.

I CAN’T ‘OPT-OUT’ OF HOW MEN TREAT WOMEN, NO MATTER HOW MUCH I CHANGE MYSELF. ONCE I CAME TO THIS CONCLUSION, I STOPPED CARING ABOUT MY ‘MASCULINITY’, AND I STARTED CARING MORE ABOUT BECOMING THE FEMALE ROLE MODEL I NEVER HAD.

SO I CHANGED MY NAME BACK TO MY REAL NAME.

RIA HARDCASTLE.

I changed my name to Charlie River because I was trying to run away from the problems that come with being a woman. Those problems didn’t go away. And trying to solve them by changing who I really am gave me insight, but also kind-of made things worse.

     TO ALL OF THE WOMEN OUT THERE WHO FEEL SIMILARLY OPPRESSED, HERE IS MY ADVICE ON HOW TO MAKE THINGS BETTER. STOP WASTING YOUR TIME TRYING TO PROVE THE POINT THAT IT IS A MAN'S WORLD. INSTEAD FOCUS ON HOW TO BE A ROLE MODEL, AND HOW YOU CAN HELP CREATE A WORLD IN WHICH EMPATHY AND EQUALITY RULE.

The best thing that I got out of this experience was this: So many of my amazing friends who follow me on social media and know me in real life, reached out to check in. "How are you!? You changed your name?! What are your pronouns? Love you tons by the way!". Messages like these literally made my day. I can not reiterate this enough. To those of you who took the time to ask me how I was doing and how you can be supportive, thank you. I love you SO SO SO much. You make the world a better place.

Though I don’t recommend this experience for everyone, I can say that diving deep into an exploration of self expression is part of who I am. Regardless of the name I go by, I will always be a tomboy, and I don’t regret embracing this side of myself one bit. It has allowed me to connect with my tribe and filter out those who don't support me. Every time, it reminds me to write my story for myself, and no one else.

As always, I believe in you. I love you. #letskickass

PHOTOS BY @RIA.HARDCASTLE