It was the third of July, my hometown’s traditional day for fireworks, and I was standing in my room frowning. The outfit I was wearing was fine. It really was. Or, it should have been fine, according to my fledgling middle school fashion sense. Underneath the fabric, my skin was crawling. Something lodged in my stomach mumbled and mumbled and mumbled that each outfit I had picked out was wrong as clothes were flung into various recesses of my room.
This had happened before, more than once. Feeling defeated, I rummaged through my drawers on last time.
While searching for yet another outfit, a memory flashed before my eyes. Web pages with the definition of transgender, non-binary, agender, androgynous, gender dysphoria. Pages that I had poured over before like they contained the world’s secrets. In reality, they contained my own secrets. They contained thoughts and feelings I had not allowed myself to think until then when I could no longer escape them.
It was gender dysphoria that I had been feeling. Nothing was wrong with my outfit. Something was just wrong with me, I thought. It was a long way towards self acceptance and pride, but it was a start.
In truth, being nonbinary was not what was wrong with me. It was other people’s hatred, middle school’s strict social norms, and my own burning desire to fit in and be desired that prevented me from feeling comfortable and safe in exploring my gender identity.
Youth is the time period in which we figure out who we are and who we want to be. For everyone, this entails both struggles and joys. For transgender, non-binary, gender nonconforming, and/or questioning youth, without support and acceptance from our family, friends, and communities, the journey towards self-acceptance and self-love for all facets of ourselves is even more difficult.
When looking back on that time in my life, I do not regret how things happened. My journey made me who I am today; a person I cherish and am proud to be. However, it is harder to push the “what if’s out of my mind. What if hatred of others’ bodies and our own hadn’t been so important to the adults in my life? What if the books I devoured as a child had characters who were queer like me and had full, happy lives? What if I spent less time trying to be the girl I was supposed to be and instead was encouraged by the adults in my life to try things, regardless if they were for girls or not?
For today’s parents and adults who interact with young folks, I encourage you to be brave and compassionate. Whether the young person in question is questioning their gender or exploring their presentation or not, encourage their passions and provide role models of with diversity in gender, sexuality, race, ability, age, career, and lifestyle. Examine your own behavior and decisions and how they play into gender roles, misogyny, racism, classism, and beyond. Young folks learn so much from the adults in their lives. When they learn skills and traits and ideas that empower them, you will be surprised by how much they grow.