Names have been changed.
I was born male. But starting from age 5, I felt perplexed by the gender binary (the belief that everyone is one of two traditional gender identities). I stared up at bathroom signs in confusion. The monotonous blue walls and the faint smell of urine in the boys’ room felt oddly discomfiting, and the prospect of using a urinal frightened me. Why was everything linked to either male or female?
I hated organized sports. My parents pleaded with me to join a team, but playing baseball, football, and basketball was not fun. I would rather be drawing, coloring, and writing fantasy stories. Watching action movies, I wondered why my brother admired the stereotypical strong, hyper-masculine superheroes. My cousin watched the same movies, and she liked the pretty femme fatales.
I didn’t find either of those types interesting. I looked up to complex, intelligent heroines who had more than just strength or beauty. I admired Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games and Tris Prior from the Divergent trilogy. At school, my friends were mostly girls. I knew I wasn’t a “normal” boy.
Although some of my classmates over the years occasionally teased me about being “girly” or “sassy,” it didn’t bother me that much. It hurt a little, but nothing like what came later. Teachers or other adults usually scolded the teaser, which made their words seem wrong.
Toward the end of 6th grade, I developed feelings for a boy at school. I didn’t know it was a crush at first, but soon it became clear that I was attracted to him. I didn’t know any gay people, but I saw a report on the legalization of same-sex marriage in New York on TV. During the report, there was a short clip of some people’s opposition to the decision. I picked up that gay was not OK, so I kept my crush a secret.
Somewhere in Between
I realized my feeling that I was different was about more than just who I was attracted to. I also felt as if I wasn’t a boy—or a girl. I felt somewhere in between. But people didn’t tease me that much, so being different didn’t really bother me.
Then, the summer before 7th grade, I started a day camp program that my best friend Thomas attended. But on the first day of the camp, Thomas wasn’t there. I arrived and looked around the gymnasium, hoping someone would introduce themselves to me and join me in the activities I liked—drawing, writing, and jump rope.
Instead, they all started playing with some kind of ball, and no one even looked at me. My heart sank as I sat in the corner, waiting for Thomas to arrive and listening to two boys screech over a basketball game.
Finally, Thomas came walking in—with another boy. I waved and smiled. He nervously glanced at me, then went back to talking to his other friend. I stared at them in shock as they walked away. Shock was replaced by a pang of loneliness that was foreign to me. I sat in the corner and wrapped my arms around myself.
Later that day, we went outside to play baseball. The captains picked teammates one by one—my least favorite method, because I was usually picked last.
This time I was picked second to last, but the captain assigned me to bat last. As I sat on the bench, a short blond boy came up and asked loudly, “Why is your voice so high?” The rest of the boys on the bench broke into laughter. I blushed.
The blond boy seemed to inflate as he uttered the words, “You’re so gay.”
I wanted to disappear as the other boys laughed. I was scared, but hid my feelings until I got home. Then I cried for a long time, wondering why everybody hated me.
In the back of my mind, I knew I’d never felt like a normal kid. But I dreaded the truth. I didn’t want to be stigmatized for the rest of my life. I wanted to be normal.
The next morning, I looked in the mirror and saw bloodshot eyes and my anxiety. I wanted to erase myself and replace me with a straight, cisgender person. I didn’t even care if that person was a boy or girl.
No Blending In
Nonetheless, I got ready and went to camp.
We started the second day in a dark, cool room. I quietly crept to the back of the room as the other kids chatted loudly, trying to avoid attention as my cheeks burned. Our first activity was drawing. I beamed inside as the counselors passed out pieces of paper. I grabbed a bunch of colored pencils and drew a girl with sophisticated angel wings. I looked at it proudly when I finished.
Then I looked around the room. No one else seemed to be drawing. They were all talking to each other instead. My heart stopped as I felt a tap on my shoulder. I whirled around and saw a boy with olive skin and brown hair staring at my angel.
“Your drawing is so…” he said, pausing. I smiled, waiting for a compliment. “Gay,” he finished. My smile disappeared and I ran to the bathroom, tears forming and cheeks burning.
I locked myself in a stall. Why was everything I did called “gay”? Was I gay? After five minutes of bawling, my tears dried, and I gazed at the speckled wall of the stall. I breathed in and out, and I knew I had to do something, or this summer would be horrible. My attempts to blend in with other boys didn’t work anyway, and I knew I needed a long-term solution that would let me be myself.
Internet Identity Boost
With determination, I opened the bathroom stall. I tried to hold my head up high as I left the bathroom. I ignored everybody for the rest of day. When I got home, I immediately started googling “being gay.” I found a Yahoo answers thread and a forum website with a lavender background. There I found stories by 16- and 17-year-olds about accepting their sexuality and coming out.
Reading stories of teens overcoming their struggles, my heart quickened. Every story touched my heart, and I slowly became more comfortable with myself. I continued reading the stories every day after camp.
My parents told me not to trust people on the internet, but I had no other sanctuary for my identity. I started joining online forums to find support and met so many nice people this way. My computer was in the living room, so I made sure my parents weren’t around when I went onto these forums. I learned about the gender binary, and other terminology that describes our experience as LGBTQ+ people.
Saying It Out Loud
I gained enough confidence to come out in person to my new friends in 7th grade. I was caught off guard when one of my close friends, Mai, told me she was bisexual and asked me what my sexuality was. My heart raced as she awaited my answer. Breaking the awkward silence, she said it was OK if I didn’t want to share my sexuality.
I sighed, feeling bad about not telling her. So, for the first time, I said, “I’m gay and non-binary.” The words felt awkward coming out of my mouth I wanted to swallow them back.
Mai then broke the silence with a cheesy smile and a hug. I was shocked, because I thought nobody would accept me for who I was. I quickly embraced her in return. After that, I came out to most of my close friends. Although their responses ranged from “I’m not surprised at all,” to “Oh my God!” they were all positive. This made me feel more comfortable with myself.
In my freshman year of high school, I met Dylan, someone else who identified as something other than the gender she was assigned at birth. On the third day of biology class, she introduced herself to me. We also had gym together and bonded on the sidelines. Dylan told me she was transgender and shared her discovery of her gender identity and how she got the courage to come out to her parents as bisexual and transgender.
Dylan convinced me to go to the LGBTQ+ gala at my school. The nametags included pronouns, and for the first time I wrote “they/them.” Dylan brought rainbow flags and pink, white, and blue transgender flags, and we wore them as capes. It was a really fun night.
Now I don’t restrain myself and don’t try to fake having stereotypical boy characteristics. Before, I acted more reserved than I felt and didn’t talk to many people. Now, I feel proud of myself and my identity, and I have more self-confidence.
Still, I’ve realized people are less accepting of my gender identity than they are of my sexual orientation.
When I’m asked, I say that I identify as non-binary (neither male or female). Many of them look at me strangely or ask what that means. The way I explain it is: Think of what your gender is. If you are cisgender or transgender, you have a clear sense that you are male or female. If you’re non-binary, it isn’t that clear-cut. I feel as if I’m a mix of male, female, and anything in between.
Some people are understanding, while others respond like I must be joking and the idea of non-binary is ridiculous. Still, I have hope that being non-binary will someday be considered normal.
People also ask me which terms I’m fine with and which ones I find offensive. I appreciate being asked. As long as no cursing is involved I’m not offended by any of the terms. “Queer” and “homosexual” are OK with me as well as “trans,” “genderqueer” and “genderfluid,” but I think “non-binary” describes me best.
I’m still trying to tell my parents about my sexuality and gender identity, but I’m not sure how accepting they will be. I hope to date someone non-binary or a gay guy (trans or cis).
Although I found my confidence and some supportive allies online, there are many mean trolls there. The internet is a way of branching out to a much larger community, but since we’re all behind a screen, it’s easy to say things we would never say face to face. I hope in the future, we won’t need the internet because we will be able to freely talk about our gender identity and sexuality in real life, and find friends and partners there. I know that although I found initial support online, having friends I could connect with emotionally in real life made me feel even more confident with my identity.