As somebody assigned male at birth (AMAB) who recently came out as non-binary, I’d like to take a moment to describe what my journey of coming to terms with my own identity was like. Looking back on this journey, I can recognize the five stages of grief as I grieved the end of the life I knew, and welcomed all that is yet to come.
*Author's Note: This article is not an attempt to speak to anybody’s experience except for my own. Our stories may look different, but you are still valid in your identity no matter what.
It’s hard to look at yourself for who you are. It’s harder, still, when you don’t see yourself represented in the media. You hear the whispers from folks who don’t recognize their own ignorance, and the opposition grows oh so loud.
Being pushed into the shadows is a sad reality for many, and I was no different. Only, I didn’t realize this was the case. Growing up, I always showed interest in dolls, makeup, dressing up and other traditionally feminine things. I went to a small, private Christian school from kindergarten through eighth grade, and I remember in kindergarten being told that my “My Little Pony” doll was for girls and something I should feel ashamed for liking. Family members reprimanded me for liking lip gloss and skirts or writing with glitter pens.
All of these events taught me the person I was expected to be, and it can be hard to question what you’ve always known.
Ever since I was young, I would get so upset when people tried to tell me what I could or couldn't do. People seem to forget that we are all on our own paths in life. My life might not look like your life, but that doesn’t make my life any less valuable than yours. It's wrong for us to write anybody else’s story for them.
When I think of the dark history of colonialism and evangelization, in the Americas in particular, I feel so much sorrow and so much anger for the beautiful souls and ways of life that were pushed into the shadows. The modern queer movement is rooted in these same gender expressions that were oppressed by the colonizers of the 16th century.
When we think about who is intending to write our paths, it can be so upsetting to finally understand the role that these institutions play in dictating who we should and shouldn’t be.
For a brief history about the topic, I encourage you to read the following post by the author, performer, and speaker Alok:
As I started considering the prospect of, "Oh yeah, this is who I am," I still didn’t feel comfortable being open about these thoughts at first. I didn’t really have any close friends or family who are trans or non-binary.
At first, I thought that being non-binary only looked one certain way and behaved one certain way and I didn’t find myself fitting into that mold. I felt excluded from every form of representation I had seen in the media. I felt like an imposter.
I decided to start using he/they pronouns because at the time I didn’t mind being addressed by “he/him” pronouns, but I realized that nobody would ever use “they/them” with me.
CW: Mention of suicide
I felt so sad depriving myself of clothes I wanted to wear and the pronouns I wanted to use. I felt like I was going through this alone and that I didn't have anybody with whom I could feel affirmed and validated. I wasn't alone in feeling alone. LGBTQ+ youth have much higher rates of depression and anxiety as opposed to their cisgender counterparts.
According to the Trevor Project's National Survey of LGBTQ Youth Mental Health in 2021, "72% of LGBTQ youth reported symptoms of anxiety disorder in the past two weeks, including more than 3 in 4 transgender and non-binary youth" and "62% of LGBTQ youth reported symptoms of major depressive disorder in the past two weeks, including more than 2 in 3 transgender and non-binary youth."
In the same survey, the Trevor Project highlighted the fact that LGBTQ youth that had access to spaces their sexual orientation and gender identity reported lower rates of attempting suicide. Obviously, creating these spaces and providing a sense of acceptance and community is a start at addressing these troubling statistics.
I bought this beautiful blue dress recently that makes me feel the freest I’ve ever felt. My identity is about me having the freedom to do what I like and be who I want without anybody putting me in any of their boxes.
There was a voice in the back of my head for so long that told me, “You’re not androgynous enough” or “This doesn’t bother you that much," but facing that realization head-on required a level of honesty with myself that has been so liberating. What do I like? What makes me feel comfortable? If I could take out what I’m worried about people saying or thinking of me, would I still want to be non-binary? Would I prefer certain pronouns over others?
In physics, I remember learning about kinetic energy, the energy of motion and potential energy, or the stored energy that depends upon the relative position of various parts of a system.
I believe that the same applies to us: we get so busy doing — going through the motions, that we don’t stop to think that there might be more out there for us. Deep inside each of us, there is more potential than we recognize. One idea that resonated with me in the above video was, if I was in a room by myself, or if I could completely remove society’s perception of me, how would I address my identity? How do I identify?
For those who don’t have the luxury of coming out just yet, I think being able to see yourself for who you are is one of the most powerful things you can do. Your safety definitely should take priority, but it's so empowering to know what you’re fighting for.