Apples or oranges, is what it sounds like when I’m asked if I’m a boy or a girl. I don’t like apples. I don’t like oranges. I like strawberries. But my village doesn’t like strawberries. For generations, we’ve been told that strawberries are dangerous to our well-being, and we’ve accepted the facts at face value.
If must choose, apple or orange, I pick the one that hurts the least.
Do you want a serrated knife or a knife that has a blade a foot long? Do you want to be stabbed in your abdomen or in your chest? I’m asked to pick between two death sentences with equal amounts of pain, of suffering. But I’m familiar with one of them. I’ve been stabbed with serrated knives before. So I pick the foot-long blade. The one I’m unfamiliar with, because I have to hope that it hurts less than what I’m used to.
That is what it is like to be gender non-conforming. It hurts like I’ve been stabbed, every time I’m called a girl. I’ve been a ‘girl’ my entire life, and it doesn’t fit me. It doesn’t define me. It’s not who I am.
It’s like wearing a shoe four sizes too small. I’ve worn that shoe before, but it doesn’t fit anymore. So, I tell people I’m a boy. It is the best I can do, given my circumstances. There isn’t a way for me to explain, every time I meet someone new, that I am gender non-conforming. I’m neither a boy nor a girl.
I’m a boy who has an uphill battle to reach my own identity.
I stare at bathrooms, at dressing rooms, whenever I leave my house, when I’m forced to pick between boy and girl, never sure where is the safest place to go. Because that is the life I live. My choices reflect what is safest, not which I am most comfortable taking.
I don’t know what it’s like to be comfortable. I have never felt comfortable, never felt like I belonged. Never felt like I had a home. And that’s a really hard feeling to have. To acknowledge.
I can’t look at the TV and say, “Look. There’s me.” I can’t watch a play, read a book, and find myself in the characters. As a writer, I look at these things and say that it’s up to me to represent myself. And that in itself is a struggle. I don’t know comfort. I can’t write comfort if I don’t know it. I can imagine what it’s like, but I myself have never felt it.
I don’t have bathrooms. I don’t have dressing rooms, changing rooms. When teachers ask to separate boys and girls, I sit down in the middle of the room. Society is aggressively gendered in everything it does. Everything must fit into a neat box.
I don’t fit into any of the boxes society so desperately tries to shove me in and chain me down. I won’t be contained by its cells, and I won’t be held in a place I don’t belong.
On November 8th, 2016, I woke up to a message from someone close, telling me suicide was not the answer. As time goes on, and politics shape policy and opinion on the issue, I get more and more desperate in my attempts to find the truth. It’s scary, to acknowledge that. It terrifies me.
On November 8th, 2016, I woke up to a message telling me that I need to fight. I need to remind the politicians, the ones in charge, that I am here, and I’m not going anywhere. That I don’t care about your apples and oranges, I don’t care about my death sentence. I’ll gladly accept that death sentence. Because if by accepting my death sentence, by whichever blade, I open the futures of other strawberries, then it is a death sentence I welcome with open arms and an easy smile.
And it’s then I realize I am comfortable. That my comfort lies in the fight with others like me. That my life revolves around revolution and desperation, and that I’m okay with that.
I’m scared. Because when the fight is over, where will my comfort be? Where will my home be?
My experiences have not been pleasant. Teachers who won’t respect my pronouns and identity, students who decide it’s their job to tell others my identity, no bathroom in which to pee. I’ve been bullied and ridiculed, assaulted and teased.
At seventeen years old, I have lived through so much, things that some adults couldn’t possibly comprehend happening to a child, a teenager. All because of my gender identity. All because I refuse to conform with the societal expectations of what gender is.
When I was asked if I wanted to write this article, it took me no time to decide whether or not I wanted to. But I struggled for days to figure out what I wanted to say. Even now, typing this last paragraph, I wonder, have I said enough? Is there more to say? In the end, I chose to try and help you understand what it’s like, to be a gender nonconforming student. What it’s like in our heads, what we experience. And I hope that it affects you, and I hope that you understand how scared we are.
I am asking for allies, people who will open their hearts and their minds to help us stay safe. Help make sure the next generation of gender nonconforming students doesn’t live their lives scared and alone. Other gender nonconforming folks, stand up. We need to stand together, and stand tall. We are here, and we’re not disappearing. We need to be here and remind them we are here. We will fight for our rights. For equal rights.
I’m asking you, all of you, to rise up and stand for equality. That is what our country is founded on and what we must always fight for.