As a kid, I didn't know whether I was a boy or a girl. To protect myself from bullies, I suppressed my feelings for years.
I experienced gender dysphoria as a child but suppressed it because bullies made me feel unsafe.
Years later, I found a sketch I drew at 9 that reminded me of the confused kid I once was.
Now I'm nonbinary and learning to accept my childhood and my inner children.
I've always seen life as a field of middle ground, a rainbow of gray areas. I stray from rigidity. For me, gender is no different.
As a kid, I knew I didn't feel like a boy even though everyone told me I was. As an adult, I've accepted every pronoun in the book in an attempt to stuff my infinity into a few letters. I've come to realize I can't, and more importantly, I don't have to.
When I was younger, I experienced gender dysphoria but suppressed it to protect myself. Years later, when I stumbled upon a sketch I had done as a kid, it validated decades of identity confusion.
I experienced gender dysphoria in my childhood, but trauma led me to forget it
Boys grossed me out. I thought they were dirty and messy. Girls, on the other hand, were clean, intelligent, and mature. Boys played pranks on substitute teachers. Girls told the truth. Boys made a mess of their lunch trays. Girls did all their homework. Boys missed the toilet. Girls washed their hands. I used to think: I'm a girl, obviously.
I saw my values reflected only in the girls around me, and I so desperately wanted to be seen as one of them. Before I understood differences in sex anatomy, I sincerely believed I was female. "Naughty Girl" by Beyoncé is the earliest song I can consciously remember jamming out to in the car, and at 4 years old in my booster seat, I knew she was calling to me.
Bullying told me otherwise. As I grew up, everyone informed me of my rumored boyhood. My mom asked me to stop wearing my sister's clothing, my teacher ridiculed me for reading when it was the girls' turn, and insults at school grew nastier over time.
Queries like, "Are you a boy or a girl?" and, "Are you gay?" composed the soundtrack of my childhood. It was mid-2000s Ohio; queerness existed only through whispers. The word "gay," in and of itself, was a slur.
The truth is, I wasn't sure, but it became clear I wasn't safe to be myself. So my brain repressed my gender dysphoria to the point of completely forgetting that I ever had those thoughts as a child. As unbelievable as it sounds, at some point in fifth grade, all traces of queerness completely escaped my consciousness.
Everything changed when a conversation with a friend brought back my childhood memories
When I was 18, I came out as bisexual. Two weeks before I turned 19, I was reminded of another part of myself.
My best friend and I took a weekend trip to his family's home in Hoboken, New Jersey. Sitting in his childhood bedroom, we started talking about one of our friends who had recently started using different pronouns. It was 2018, and this was new territory for me. As we parsed out what that might mean for our friend, the memories of my childhood dysphoria flooded back.
The little girl in me woke up. So many questions rushed to the surface: Am I a woman? Do I transition? Should I call my sister and ask for her clothes back?
I came out as gender fluid, and soon after, I found a drawing from my childhood that validated everything
I immediately started identifying as gender fluid and accepting all pronouns. Luckily my family supported me, though it didn't always seem like they fully understood. I still had to prove that how I felt went beyond sexuality.
A year later, I confronted the biggest challenge of all: cleaning out my horrifically messy closet. Through my excavation, I stumbled upon my fourth-grade social-studies notebook. I flipped through the pages of my 9-year-old self.
I stopped when I saw a freckled self-portrait looking back at me. Underneath the sketch, I inscribed: "I dont no if I am a girl or boy."
I trembled as I held the only known artifact of my preadolescent gender confusion.
For my brother, this served as proof that I wasn't making it all up, and for my mother, it evidenced how much I braved at such a young age — completely alone.
For me, it validated the memories of my gender dysphoria.
Now as a nonbinary adult, I'm learning to accept my inner children
Over the past few years, I've transitioned from accepting all pronouns to they/she to just they/them. If I'm completely honest, none of them feel entirely representative of me, but "they" comes with fewer expectations.
I've also learned boys aren't gross and girls aren't perfect. After years of rejecting the more masculine parts of me, I now give the confused little boy the love and validation I once reserved only for the little girl. I am both, and in being both, I'm something else altogether.
To the confused kid who drew that portrait many years ago: Am I a boy or a girl? Obviously.
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