This story is part of Girls Write Now and Channel Kindness’ Kindness Collection. To learn more about Girls Write Now – a nonprofit organization dedicated to amplifying girls and gender-expansive voices – visit girlswritenow.org!
When I was seven, I dressed up as Peter Pan for halloween. My mother later told me that another mom thought I was a boy but realized I was too pretty to be one. I’m sure she meant this as a compliment, and perhaps I took it as one then. I’m not sure, though, because this moment was something I forgot. I forgot this, and I forgot how the need to cut my hair felt like a snake’s need to shed its skin, a necessary metamorphosis. I forgot the compromises I made, and I forgot all those times I forgot I was supposed to be a girl: when I read the boy parts in drama class or joined the boy’s side in a game of coke and pepsi at my fifth grade graduation party.
I was too preoccupied to focus on these situations, too focused on friends and theater and being a kid. My friends were all having their first crushes on boys… I was having mine on a girl.
When I was little, I thought that everyone received misfortune in equal amounts, like monopoly money, spread out throughout their lives. It would only be fair.
Naturally, being gay was going to be my one big identity crisis. I had gotten it out of the way early, came out as a lesbian in ninth grade and ventured no further beyond the closet door.
At first, I got pretty into the whole dressing-like-a-lesbian thing. I wore cargo pants and untucked flannel shirts and slicked my hair back in a way that, looking back on it, was far too reminiscent of our school’s creepy math teacher (every school has one).
At first, this affinity for masculine clothing didn’t bring up any questions or confusion for me. I was a feminist and a gay kid with a history of unconventional fashion choices. I would frequently wear four skirts at once in the fifth grade.
A series of Freudian slips and unexpected thoughts finally made me realize I might not be a girl at all. Being trans was not something my conscious mind could even fathom, and even when it could, I tried my hardest not to let it.
It was something I had to realize over and over again, something I worked to forget in an effort of self-preservation.
It was something I realized when I was called “girl,” and “she,” and it felt like those dreams when you can’t stop falling. It was something I realized when I saw myself in the mirror in girl clothes and felt like a misaligned flap book. I didn’t match up.
Happiness and transness were concepts that had always been portrayed to me as mutually exclusive. It took time to realize they could intersect.
I cut my hair myself one night. I was sick of going to hairdressers and not getting what I wanted, sick of them refusing to cut my hair short because “it will make you look like a boy, and you will cry.”
It was perfect, and this was terrifying.
At this point, I had to force myself to remember what I had carefully forgotten. I had to sit with the fact that I wasn’t okay with being perceived as a girl, that these were feelings I couldn’t keep to myself if I wanted to live freely. And I remembered things my subconscious had buried, moments that made me think, “I should have known.”
But I didn’t know back then. And there I was.
Happiness and transness were concepts that had always been portrayed to me as mutually exclusive. It took time to realize they could intersect. It took time to find joy in questioning and confusion.
But that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? Being nonbinary means finding beauty in the liminal, freedom in existing outside of societal norms, a sick joy in watching strangers try to figure out if you’re a boy or a girl. It’s about trying things out until they feel right and casting them off when they no longer do.
When I was younger, I thought everyone had an equal share of misfortune, but I know now that is untrue. Suffering isn’t something to be quantified or depleted. And who’s to say the trans experience must be defined by suffering? It doesn’t have to be. Questioning can be exciting, defying norms empowering. It was only when I pressured myself to figure everything out fast that discovering myself became anxiety-inducing.
I may never be truly sure about who I am. My perception of myself will probably change 10 times over as I learn and grow. I will never find what is perfect and exact. But the search is what makes being nonbinary so divine.