What It's Like to Be Non-Binary in a Small Town
I always knew I was different from all of the other people I was surrounded by in high school. I thought it was just because I was a full foot taller than some of them, or my crazy curly dark hair, or maybe it was because I was Filipinx in a heavily white community.
While those were all factors in why I felt so alienated growing up, there just seemed to be something else missing. I was 17 years old when I came out to my friends as pansexual (for those of you who don't know what pansexual means, it basically means that I am attracted to a person no matter what gender they identify with). I thought that after I came to terms with that, whatever weird turmoil I was feeling internally about myself would go away. But I was wrong.
I moved from my tiny midwestern town in southwest Missouri to Kansas City in August of 2015 to attend art school there. I considered myself pretty self-educated when it came to things like gender and sexuality (thanks to Twitter, Tumblr, and Google, of course). But it wasn't until going to art school that I was really thrown in and exposed to gender. My school had a gender-neutral floor at the dorms for transgender people, non-binary people, and basically anyone else who thought that that floor would be the best place for them.After starting school there, I became close friends with a couple of agender people. I learned a lot from them just by being around them and I began making more friends on the internet and in person who identified as non-binary or genderqueer. I did a lot of self-education during my first semester, since I wanted to make sure I knew as much as possible about this stuff so my friends didn't have to explain things to me (I had watched how answering questions constantly about their gender to strangers would drain them).
I discovered the term "demigirl," which seemed to really resonate with me. I only expressed this to a few of my friends, since I was still very tentative and unsure of myself. After a semester at art school, I took a year off. I traveled and made art and spent tons of time by myself. I also had a lot of time to think. I really took this year off as an opportunity to get to know myself again. I was so different than the person I was when I was in high school.
After a few months, I came out to my friends and on social media as gender-fluid. This was a very big step for me. I started going by he/she/they pronouns and felt very comfortable with myself for the first time in what seemed like forever. My friends were great, I couldn't of asked for a better support group. But as time went on, I felt myself changing even more. A few weeks before I was due to start back at art school in January, I told everyone I was non-binary and would only accept they/them/theirs pronouns from now on. And that is where I am now. I'm not a woman, and I'm not a man. I'm just myself.
It wasn't an easy journey, and I still don't think it's even close to finished. I'm moving back to my very conservative not-so-diverse hometown in May. It's going to be interesting to go from the very accepting, open community I live in now, to that. I have a lot of change ahead of me, but I have also been through a lot of change already. And if I've learned anything from myself, it's that I don't just settle for the reality people have set for me.
By Michaela Hosp, 20