NBWeek Day 2: Ivy’s Storytime
@itzmoviestar (Movie Star/Connie)
This is 2,013 words. That’s four full single-spaced pages on Google Docs. You have been warned.
When I was little, I was a girl. This seems to be something that the media and even some other trans folk don’t understand. You know the story: a mom is crying because she feels like she’s lost her son. Her daughter puts a hand on her knee. “Mom, I was always a girl,” she says. And Mom finally understands.
That’s not how it was for me. I used to be a girl, and now I’m not. It sounds simple when you say it like that, right? And yet, my experience is not the one represented in the media. This is for a very practical reason: most people are cis. By extension, the media is for cis people. And a lot of creators are rightfully worried that if they give transphobes a reason to invalidate trans people—the idea that trans genders don’t always behave like cis genders—it’ll detract from the legitimacy of the trans community, who need as much solidarity as we can get. So they stick with the narrative that people like to hear: gender isn’t a choice, because even if you don’t know it yet, your gender is something innate. Fixed from birth.
I’m writing this for you, the future authors, influencers, and producers of the future, so you’ll realize the value of representing all facets of a community, not just the ones that are easy to understand. I’m writing this for you, the kids who are wondering if you’re trans enough or if this is just a phase. Of course it’s a phase. That doesn’t make it any less real.
So, back to the story. When I was little, I was a girl. Obviously, I wanted to be a boy. It wasn’t that I thought I was a boy; on the contrary, I liked being a girl. I liked the social cues and inside jokes, the intimacy that boys didn’t seem to have between them. I just wished I was a boy, in the same way I wished I could fly. My subconscious picked out the classmates I admired the most, boys who were tall and freckled and effortlessly funny, and, living in the amatonormative society of elementary school, assumed I had crushes on them. I rejected anything I considered “too girly,” like lip gloss and Sharpay Evans. I learned the term “internalized sexism” and was teased for trying to be “not like other girls.”
(It would be a couple of years before I first heard the term “internalized transphobia,” and at least another year before I was comfortable enough with my femininity to admit that Sharpay Evans was indeed fabulous.)
I couldn’t tell you the exact moment when I started to suspect something was up. I told my parents it was sixth grade, but in reality, it was probably earlier. There was one trans kid at my elementary school, an agender eighth grader, and you could say they and their friends were the catalysts for what my grade would eventually become. They ran an event that year, and though I knew about the gender spectrum in theory, it was the first time I truly understood what it meant to be nonbinary. As a friend and I walked back to class afterward, we had a discussion that remains one of the shortest and most memorable of my life.
“I think I’m probably, like, a demigirl or something,” they said.
“Yeah, me too, probably,” I told them, and we returned to our conversation about Sherlock.
Three years later, my friend is out as transmasculine, self-identifies as a dandy, and has the most epic hair I’ve ever seen.
After sixth grade, I left my elementary school for a girls’ school for grades 7-12. It was there, surrounded by older girls who perfectly embodied fourth-wave feminism, that I understood that my reluctance to be seen as “girly” wasn’t just internalized sexism. I was finally proud to be a woman, except I wasn’t.
If I’d attended more than one meeting of Alliance, my school’s GSA, I might have avoided much of the hassle of the next two years. But Alliance was intimidating and political and mostly white, and by the end of seventh grade, I was pretty sure I’d figured it out on my own. I was nonbinary.
On an impulse, I pasted ten links into a Google Doc and sent it to my parents. They accepted me, technically, but they didn’t know what to do, and neither did I, due to the pesky detail that I came out as trans on an impulse. I had done it, but it wasn’t right. It wasn’t enough. I needed something to change.
Remember how I used to want to be a boy? After a year of withdrawal, summer camp brought about the same feelings tenfold. All my hallmates were older than me, and when (on another impulse—see the pattern here?) I told them I was a trans guy, they naturally believed I knew what I was talking about. By the end of the three weeks of camp, I was certain I was a guy, and I told my parents as much. Ah, this they knew how to do! They made quick work of contacting the administration of my school, and I applied out to a new, coed school for 9th grade.
(I did end up attending Alliance regularly in eighth grade, but there were multiple aspec exclusionists in there, and that was… basically the vibe. Needless to say, the most significant thing I got out of it was organizational experience for applications.)
I went through eighth grade as a boy, with deliciously short hair and he/him pronouns. And for a few months, I felt really good. I was more confident. I was more sure of myself. But at my girls’ school, with no brothers and a dad who wasn’t exactly the embodiment of masculinity—and who I looked up to more than anything—I had no frame of reference for what it meant to be a boy. What made me feel good was being treated as something other than a girl.
I do remember feeling like a boy quite a lot that year, though. It’s a part of my genderfluid identity that I tend to feel different based on my clothes and hair, so I felt masculine a lot that year. That was a big part of what tripped me up—the fact that this new type of dysphoria wasn’t the incessant but mild wrongness I’d felt the previous year. It was intermittent, shifting overnight between highs and lows. I didn’t know that you could experience two different types of dysphoria depending on the gender you were perceived as. I didn’t know that this intermittent type of dysphoria even existed. So I took the highs as proof that this was right, and passed off the lows as a symptom of all this being new.
The summer after eighth grade, I went to two camps. The first was a week-long coding camp that was approximately 99.99% male. That week made me realize that the awkwardness I felt about my gender wasn’t just the fact that I hadn’t gotten used to it yet, and maybe something was still up.
The second was a two-week-long choir intensive that was so deep into the mountains that they told us to bring extra water because the air was thinner up there. Everyone was really gay, on account of choir, so on yet another impulse, I introduced myself with they/them pronouns. It turned out that there was another enby at the camp. It was the first time I had met a nonbinary person who presented close to their gender assigned at birth, but that wasn’t why the experience was eye-opening. I was being treated as a nonbinary person for the first time in my life, and it felt good. It wasn’t the nervous, euphoric rush I’d felt in early eighth grade. I just felt like a person. It was normal. It was nice.
It would be a lie to say that this was a huge revelation for me. I’d been re-questioning my gender for a while, but I was having a really hard time coming to terms. I had already switched schools and changed my name and pronouns, my parents had tried so hard to change their view of me, and I felt like it would be unfair to go back on it now. Besides, this wasn’t supposed to happen. Besides, my gender wasn’t supposed to change.
Remember that talk we had about the media? Well, here’s the part where we learn how it swooped in to bite me. I was consumed by exactly the same worry as those creators: that if I told my mom I was actually nonbinary, she would think that “all this transgender stuff” was just me trying to defy gender norms. That I wasn’t actually trans, or that I wasn’t trans enough. Pretty quickly, these worries turned into doubts that I was even trans at all. And these doubts were reinforced again and again by publicized stories of people who had known their real genders since they were three years old, and characters who rejected the notion that they had ever been their gender assigned at birth.
However, choir camp felt like confirmation enough that something was up, so I decided to test the waters when I got back home. I asked my dad, “What if it actually was just a phase?” And in classic Dad fashion, he said that would be completely fine. (My dad is awesome.)
So just before the beginning of the school year, I had a shockingly non-painful conversation with my parents, which I will now paraphrase.
“Just kidding, I was right the first time,” I said, making finger guns.
“Cool,” my dad said. “You’re still switching schools, right?”
My mom jumped in. “Yeah, I think I always knew you weren’t really a boy.” I chose to ignore my annoyance and made more finger guns.
Ninth grade came around, and I won’t lie—introducing myself with my pronouns unprompted was, is, and probably will always be like stabbing myself repeatedly in the gut. I thought I was nonbinary, but I had been wrong before, and that was part of what made it so scary. But I kept with it, mostly because I had to, and by the end of the year—that is, a couple months ago—I was finally comfortable with my gender.
That doesn’t mean I’m comfortable. Introducing myself is still a big hassle, and I get misgendered all the time. But now, I can introduce myself as Kieran, they/them, and feel like I’m introducing myself, not some fake person I pretend to be for appearances. Like at choir camp, being treated as nonbinary feels normal.
I’ve changed my name twice. I’ve changed my pronouns twice, and I might be about to change them again. When I changed my name for the second time, just a few weeks ago, I was finally mature enough to know that it didn’t mean those other two names were any less me. They served their purpose while I was using them. But like a kid grows out of their favorite clothes as they get older, I grew out of those names and those pronouns. They were me once, but they aren’t anymore.
When I was little, I was a girl. I say this because I don’t want to fight myself anymore. I’m done invalidating my identity by telling myself, “You didn’t used to feel this way.” Guess what, brain? People change.
As Finley from Finley Myself says, “People think that phases are worthless. They assume that the fact someone didn’t always think or act the same way means it’s meaningless. They’re wrong. Life is full of phases. Childhood is a phase. Puberty and adulthood are phases. Questioning is a phase. Self-discovery comes in phases, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.”
For now, my name is Kieran. My pronouns might be they/them, ey/em, or something else I haven’t tried. I’m aromantic, unless I fall in love. And that’s okay. And you will be too.
I… wow. This is incredible and right and so, so needed. It’s such a fulfilling experience to read something like this and to know that you’re not alone. Everything that you say— about the media, perceptions, gender, and society— is so true and well-written. And your story, especially in the way that you write it, is so inspiring, especially for people like me who are still struggling to find their place in the non-binary world. Thank you so much for these four google doc pages of amazingness!
I don’t really know what to say…
That was amazing to read. Thank you so much!
Ugh ****** I really needed this today. Questioning is scary. It’s nice to know that, I don’t know. That questioning is okay and being open is okay and changing your mind is okay. Thank you so much for sharing your story.
I honestly am amazed beyond words. This story was so helpful, hearing your experience really inspired me and showed me that phases are okay. That it’s okay to make mistakes along the way. Thank you. Thank you.
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