My gender journey starts like every fairytale, with a little “girl” and thoughts of a bigger, brighter and better world, seeing beyond the bubble that I existed in and secretly yearning after things that I knew wouldn’t be seen as socially acceptable. Though I don’t foresee myself reverting to my hyper-feminine ways, it would be a lie to say that I didn’t enjoy my expression and presentation from my childhood up until my early twenties. I loved dressing up in my aunt’s old wedding dress, wading through my mother’s bag of nail polishes and trying on her insurmountable number of lipsticks in shades of pinks, reds and purples. The works. I would agonize in the mirror trying to get my hair into the perfect pouf in the morning before middle school, always pulled back too tight. I, in truth, wanted to be like all the other girls. Isn’t that what everyone wanted in 2009?
I Came Out as Nonbinary 2 Years Ago & the Hardest Part Had Nothing to Do with Pronouns
The First Time I Came Out
But no matter how hard I tried, something was always off. I never felt like I was measuring up to be the woman that everyone seemed to think I was. When girls were buying push-up bras from Victoria’s Secret, I avoided low necklines like the plague, always thinking my chest was “too big.” “Guys love that!” my friends would say in reassurance, and I’d think to myself, That’s good, right? On the inside, I was wondering what it would be like to run my hand down a smooth, flat chest.
The repression of my gender identity and expression was something that thrived in secret, and started young. I was always great at hiding my desires—masking in a sense. I joined the fifth grade choir at my Florida middle school, not because I could hit all the notes, but because the performance uniform was a crisp white button-down, slacks, cummerbund and bow tie—regardless of gender. It was an outfit that I knew I would never get away with wearing as a girl. At the time I was embarrassed, like my peers, but not for the same reason: I was embarrassed because I wanted to wear it, not because, like the rest, I didn’t. Around the same time, I asked for a British-inspired, spunky outfit from Limited Too for my birthday. It came with a red plaid skirt and tie, a navy bejeweled tank top and a fiddler hat. To my surprise and disappointment, I received everything but the tie—the only thing that I was really after. In high school, I would sit in my father’s closet when no one was home and try on his clothes: too big blazers, dress shirts in a variety of colors and a whole hanger full of ties. Jackpot. But this only happened when I was alone, the volume on my laptop turned as low as possible as I watched YouTube videos learning how to tie a tie. No one was going to teach me, I was a ‘girl.’ Why did I need to know that?
With masculinity out of reach, I would ponder what it meant to be a woman. Was it girl power? Was it body acceptance? Was it freeing the nipple? Was it fighting for equal pay? And while I’m absolutely in support of all of these things, they felt like foreign concepts to me, at least in relation to myself as a ‘woman.’ The older I grew, the less they felt like things that applied to me. Womanhood felt like a goal that was never achievable. Perhaps that was because I’m not a woman—but I didn’t know that yet. So I threw myself into ‘womanhood’ full-force and quickly adopted a hyper-feminine persona while still presenting myself as a queer and trans ally, not knowing that in a couple years’ time, I myself would be out as a nonbinary lesbian. (I know it sounds contradictory, but keep reading.)
In 2015, I went to Emerson College, widely considered one of the queerest schools in the nation, where I was introduced to all manner of sexualities and gender identities—including they/them pronouns. Despite being surrounded by queerness, it wasn’t until late in my sophomore year of college that I realized that my desire for masculinity could also take the form of a woman; that lesbianism was in store for me. Accepting my sexuality was the first hurdle—a second puberty if you will. I had to figure out how to woo women, compliment them, understand them and date them. And in this discovery of my sexuality I was introduced to the concept of a butch/femme dynamic—a historically complex understanding of the subversion of gender roles that manifest in two sapphic women or people, one more masculine or butch and the other more feminine or femme. Femme was a role I could play, but as much as I liked the butch/femme dynamic—even felt comfortable in it—it was limiting. It would take coming out, a three-and-a-half-year romantic relationship, moving to Brooklyn and forming friendships with nonbinary and trans people for me to figure that out for myself.
When I started to question my gender mid-2021, it was agonizing. I was rethinking everything that I had been taught about the binary and what it means to be a man or a woman. What if I didn’t want to be either? What if I felt like something entirely outside of that spectrum? And while I was having incredible emotions pertaining to how I saw my gender, my therapist kindly reminded me that cisgender people often don’t think this much or this constantly about what their gender means. That for the most part, they are content with existing as a man or a woman.
The Second Time Around
Coming out a second time was full of questions, conversations and revelations. I asked nonbinary people around me how they understood gender and I read the work of people like Leslie Feinberg, a prominent transgender butch lesbian activist, to learn more about the complex experiences different folks had surrounding their own gender. All of these moments of understanding provided clarity and, dare I say, peace. I saw that other people were also daring to exist outside of the box.
When I tell people that I’m nonbinary, they expect a light bulb moment. And while this may be true for a number of people, it wasn’t my experience. I’ve muddled through, embracing ambivalence and the unknown, and allowed myself to explore as I learn new things about myself and the world around me. Something that I do know is that I’m not a ‘girl,’ a ‘lady’ or a ‘woman.’ Above all else, I am a person, and that’s how I like to be referred to and addressed.
Though I am comfortable calling myself a nonbinary person now, I look back at my diaries and see entry after entry of anger and confusion, trying to find a place in this world that sees me for me. And even though I am far more comfortable expressing myself and embracing a nonbinary identity, my journey is still very much in progress. In fact, I don’t ever think it will be fully complete. At this point in time, I am a long-haired brunette with an undercut. I bind my chest sometimes, but still have all of my curves. I wear clothes that make me feel comfortable, whether they make others comfortable or not. And that’s something I’ve learned to be okay with.
Coming out, of any variety, can be messy as all hell. There isn’t always a concrete answer—or answers—to your question of identity or sexuality. You may continue to question things as you go along and ultimately, you may not get it ‘right’ the first time. That’s all part of the journey.