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Growing up Non-binary in the South

By L Loman

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I grew up non-binary in a “medium sized” Southern town. I say medium sized because it wasn’t quite a big city, but we had a lot of stores and a nice downtown and generally a few activities to do. I grew up in Clermont, Florida, a town that is really trying its best to be progressive, but at its core is still in the South and is very much full of the older generations. It is mainly a town for people who are newly retired or families looking for a good place to raise their kids. As someone who is non-binary, this can be scary. So let's start from the beginning of my gender and sexuality story.

In elementary school, I didn’t know gay people existed; I probably couldn’t even tell you what it meant to be gay. I had no idea what gender really was. I thought gender equaled genitalia. I think this is how most kids grow up though: they don’t really know what gender or sexuality means before they hit middle and high school. Any time my parents talked about any of their friends that were gay, they wouldn’t ever explicitly say it. I know that this was somewhat purposeful because parents think that they are “protecting” their children. They would do the limp wrist hand gesture that we all know. Unfortunately for me, in fourth grade I developed the biggest crush on my best friend (classic gay coming out story I know). When I tried to communicate this to my parents, they simply brushed it off and told me I just really liked being friends with her. Since I didn’t have any vocabulary to use or anything in the media that I consumed to compare these feelings to, I brushed it off as well. As fifth grade went by,I had started to question my gender. I knew that I didn’t like wearing skirts and dresses, but my parents spoke so ill of trans people that I knew I wasn’t “allowed” to want to be a boy. So I just ignored it and tried to become ultra feminine in order to combat the feelings that I was having. Then we got to Middle School. No more having to wear uniforms. I could dress how I wanted to go to school and convey my personality.

In middle school I started opening up to the people around me. I met probably the best friend group for me at that time. They were all exploring their sexualities and let me openly talk about my sexuality without judgment. I had also begun opening up to my sister about my feelings towards gender and sexuality. Because she is six years older than me, she had a lot more vocabulary and knowledge on gender and sexuality than I had. I decided to start educating myself on this whole LGBT thing, and after many many many “Am I gay?” quizzes, realized that I am in fact bisexual. The internet was an amazing tool in helping me figure myself out.Transgender creators on Youtube helped me gain some vocabulary to help me better identify myself. For pretty much all of my seventh grade year, I thought that I was transgender. I couldn’t tell anyone though. The running joke of my seventh grade class was people saying they identify as an attack helicopter (how original). This all stemmed from someone trying to encourage everyone to respect their pronouns, and that was the moment I knew I couldn’t tell anyone. I look back and I am glad I didn’t try to be outward about my gender identity because it wasn’t the right label for me. I think deep down I knew that, but once again, a lack of vocabulary and education caused me to not have the words for my identity. Then in eighth grade, I was back to being hyper feminine so that no one could catch on and I didn’t have to deal with the feelings. Then, the coronavirus hit and it was just me in my house alone with nothing but my feelings and whatever I could find to entertain/distract myself. I didn’t get an eighth grade trip or graduation. I couldn't see my friends, and no one from my friend group even tried to stay in touch with me. So it was back to the internet.

Quarantine was the first time I ever heard the term non-binary used casually and not in a derogative way. When you live in a town like mine, you see many people who belive that identifying as non-binary is“weird” or just in general not normal. Trans people are constantly looked down upon and didn’t even think about using any pronouns other than she/her or he/him. So I was in a rough spot. I didn’t know if this was what my identity was and I had no one around me that I could ask. I was mostly involved in a church in the area and all my friends came from there. Those friends didn’t even know I was bisexual, so how was I going to tell them that I am an entirely different gender than how I mainly present myself? Then the world opened up again and I didn’t have time to think about gender and sexuality. School was starting and I didn’t want to be an outcast. I told myself I would just deal with it after high school.

Freshman year was a tough one. I went from hyper fem toa dressing a little more like a boy. The first time I shopped in the boys section was in seventh grade, and I got a few short and t-shirt outfits for summer, but they weren’t “stylish” because I thought that was a part of being a boy. However, freshman year me would not be having that. In freshman year, I wore t-shirts with flannels and jeans no matter how hot it was because it gave me a feeling of androgyny. I just didn't have the words to say that yet. By freshman year, pretty much everyone knew I was bisexual and it was widely accepted because a good amount of the student body is also a part of the LGBT community. There are always a handful of straight guys that make fun of those kids, but there's more of us than there are of them, so they usually shut up. I had decided that I was just going to put all of the gender questions behind me and just identify as a girl, I just happened to use she/they pronouns. I met one of the greatest people my freshman year though; She was my captain on the colorguard team and she had also figured out she was bisexual. She didn’t want to tell anyone and ended up dating a guy that I particularly didn’t like. She helped me figure out a lot of my gender questions and let me voice what I was feeling and was actually the first person to use they/them pronouns for me. I was still an avid member of the church, but a worship leader was brought in and she was the first person in the church that I ever told I was bisexual. She was super welcoming and really made me feel like I could be accepted within the church and I came out that summer to most of the girls in the youth group. My gender questions were still there, and there was still an anxiety that my parents would hear from someone about my sexuality. My captain graduated and the only people on the guard that I was friends with were very obviously against the idea of trans and non-binary people. There was a trans person on the team that year and the majority of the team ignored their preferred pronouns and were just outright transphobic when the person was not around. This confirmed in me that I could not tell anyone in that activity.

Sophomore year was the year that I finally decided to start identifying as non-binary. I am still not out to everyone in my life, but I am out to those that matter. Beginning of sophomore year was the marching season for band and colorguard. There was a flute player that I had a crush on and she had a crush on me too. So naturally a relationship bloomed. We hung out all the time and it really helped me confirm my sexuality because I had only dated men before her. We dated all through marching season and I was really happy with her. But I had been having conversations with some of my friends and started to ask people to use they/them for me rather than she/her. Then it just clicked. I don’t really know how to explain the feeling, but I just knew that non-binary was the label for me. So naturally, because I was still with this girl, I told her. She did not react how I expected: she made it about herself which I have learned a lot of people do. She said that she didn’t know if she was still a lesbian because I was non-binary and she tried really hard to respect everything and be a good partner. But overall, I think it was weighing on her security in her sexuality. So, she broke up with me on the first day of winter break. All of winter break, I just worked and tried to get over her and after the first week I truly think I was. That’s when I met my current boyfriend. I was immediately upfront with him about my gender and sexuality and he has always been so supportive and respects my gender preferences with terminology. That brings us to the current day.

Currently, I am out to pretty much all of my friends, some people on the sports team, at work I proudly use they/them pronouns and some people have issues with it but some people respect it. I have recently come out to my mom about my gender identity and while she is aware she doesn’t use my preferred name or pronouns. My father is still unaware. Overall, the people who I would like to know about my identity know and respect it and respect me.

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