I guess I had a weird upbringing, or weird parents, because I never really understood what society looked for. I didn’t understand why I had been arbitrarily assigned to stand on one half of my elementary school gym, with my best friend on the other side. I used to fight with my teachers about it. I’d ask why I had to be on the left half of the gym–I liked the right side more, and could I go stand over there with Sam? They’d always take me to the side, and explain that Sam and I had different bodies, and that’s why we couldn’t stand on the same side. I was a girl, I went on the left, and that was that.
That was not that, as a matter of fact. Parts of my family are very heavily traditional, and I used to get into huge fights with them, especially my grandfather. He’d ignore the fact that my brother was sitting in the kitchen doing nothing, come into my room, and ask me to stop doing homework to clean the kitchen and help make dinner.
I just didn’t understand why I got singled out, why I had to put in extra work to understand my body, understand why people wanted these extra things from me that they didn’t ask of my friends.
That’s when I realized that I wasn’t getting singled out. I started talking to the girls in my class, and we realized that we were all having those same experiences. Only their frustration was a little different; they were mad that they had been picked to do more work, and I was mad at the category of “woman” that made us do that work.
I didn’t have some kind of singular life-changing and identifying moment. For me, everything was a series of small events, a growing sense of discomfort, and not even realizing that I didn’t think of myself as a girl in my head anymore.
After realizing that my skin would crawl when people called me a girl was because of the gender attached to it, I began to do some research. I found a few informational blogs, read them, and decided that this absolutely could not be me. It just didn’t fit–I never had a single “ah hah!” moment where I realized my gender, so I couldn’t be this “trans” thing I had been reading about.
I spent about a year and a half doing that until I couldn’t even stand the sight of myself, and came out to my older brother’s girlfriend. The first time I told my story, I was yelling, because I didn’t even understand the feelings I was trying to express.
She’s been integral to my journey–I would never have found the strength to come out to my parents without her. She helped me pick an interim name–it wasn’t my birth name, but it’s not what I go by anymore. I went to hang out at her house one day after school, and I brought two backpacks. I told her that I was going to come out to my parents that night, that the backpack I was leaving here was my just-in-case bag, and that if I didn’t text her by midnight to please call someone.
I sat in silence in the living room with my parents for 45 minutes. I asked them to sit down because I needed to talk to them, and then just stared at them for almost an hour, trying to get the words to come out of my mouth. I was just so scared of what they were going to say–I had heard both of them say things about the people on TV–and I was afraid of what they would do.
My dad got up, said that if I wasn’t going to say anything, he had work to do, and I just burst into tears.
The second time I told my story, half of it got swallowed up by sobbing.
Their reaction was better than I had even let myself hope. They sat quietly until I had calmed down enough to actually speak, and started asking how I had waited so long to tell them–didn’t I hate being called by my name? How could I have stood that for so long? Can we help you pick out a new name?
(That last one made me cry again, I won’t lie)
The issue I’ve run into, ever since, is the binary understanding of gender. I cried to my parents, and they were absolutely ready to have two sons instead of one. They weren’t ready at all to have a son and a child that was not a son or a daughter. I’ve been out to them for a few years and pronoun use is still shakey sometimes.
After I came out, high school was… not great. I got followed home once, with a truck full of the football team yelling slurs at me all the way across town. I was asked to leave one of the clubs I was in, because the teacher wasn’t comfortable having me in the club with “my proclivities”. But I also found a new lunch table to sit at, where no one said the wrong name, and I found new clubs to join.
Since graduating high school and attending a university, I have grown exponentially. I’ve become much more sure in my identity, and how to express it–I’m nonbinary androgynous, with a touch of genderqueer. I started going to the Gender/Sexuality Alliance meetings at my university, and I’ve worked my way up. Now I’m the Vice President, I’m hosting our fourth annual professional drag show on campus, club attendance is higher than ever, and I’m running for President for the next academic year.
A lot of what I do now is education. I give presentations to the general members of our GSA to get additional and more intersectional viewpoints, and then take them to the university’s faculty and administration. I’ve been arguing with the university to give the trans/gnc community on campus a bathroom for three years now.
It is not my job or your job to be the single voice of explanation for a community. But where individuals CAN help is in sharing their stories, their experiences, their knowledge–when it’s safe. It’s not always safe, and that’s why I speak out, why I hold seminars at the school, talk to faculty that I’m genuinely afraid of.
Because I’m willing to take this risk so that the next person doesn’t have to.
I found my place, and it was not here for me. I looked at the sheer stone wall of academia, and picked up a chisel. Find your chisel, and make your space to be safe. If you need one, chances are that someone else does as well, and they’ll be right beside you.