Labels Weigh Down the Person Underneath: Chris’ Story

CC image courtesy of Flickr, torbakhopper
As I was growing up, appearance was very important to my mother.

You must cover certain parts of your body, you must not show certain areas of skin, you must hide particular shapes that are a part of your body, you must do your hair in an exact way, your clothing must draw the correct attention from worldly, sex-obsessed men, your eyes are the pathway to your soul and must be makeup-free, you must present your body in this way. Only this way. I was taught to be always aware of how I presented myself and how others presented themselves. I was told that one way of presentation was correct and any other was immoral. I was also taught about gender roles. (I wasn’t educated about genders, but I was told I had to wear dresses because I was a girl).

 

The gender I learned about told me that I had to wear baggy clothing with appropriate coverage and to have the longest hair. I knew from a very young age that I didn’t want the same future for myself that my mother wanted, but I followed the rules regardless. I didn’t have a choice.

I was able to leave my mother’s house at the age of 14 (I was very lucky to escape so young) and I was immediately thrust into public school in the middle of ninth grade.

I struggled to find a place where I belonged.

I decided to thoroughly rebel against everything my mother had ever said and copy whatever the popular girls were doing at my school. With the appearance-obsessed mindset I had, I analyzed everything they did, wore, and said. I wanted my body to match theirs, and I developed an unhealthy relationship with food: skipping meals, bingeing, and purging. I was so focused on becoming them, that I forgot about myself, I forgot to love myself and take care of myself. I forgot to get to know myself and find out more about myself.

The summer after ninth grade, I was able to be more free of the teenaged anxiety that often occurs when surrounded by your peers, and I healed quite a bit. I was on my high school’s dance company my sophomore year and the main thing I can remember was detesting any gendered costume I was required to wear, although I didn’t fully process why. I always asked to wear whatever the boys wore, but I didn’t even have an explanation when asked why. Body dysphoria weighed down on me heavily and I struggled with self-harm. I started binding and experimenting with different clothing styles.

Around this time, my sister came out as a lesbian and I was drawn to the LGBT community, feeling it was a safe place for myself. I was becoming interested in other people romantically and I dated a few girls. (I didn’t choose to date girls. I just did what I felt was right for myself.) Many of my friends started referring to me as a lesbian because I was “a girl who dates girls”, but they never asked what I identified as.

This is something I have been thinking a lot about lately.

So many people slap labels on the people around them without asking first. I think it is so important to validate that other person by asking, without any assumptions, who they are and how they would like to be addressed.

I met my current girlfriend shortly after this as I was living under the label “lesbian”. Something I’ve always loved so much about her is that she doesn’t care about labels. I’ve always had a rough time finding words that accurately describe me, and she’s always said that she loves me for me regardless.

During my final year of high school, I came out as non-binary because I knew I wasn’t a girl. I spent a lot of time educating a lot of people about what genderqueerness is and why it’s important to validate that person’s identity and not to disregard plural pronouns. I spent a lot of time with queer people and researching queer things and finding queer resources. Since leaving the fundamentalist lifestyle, I’ve been introduced to this magical world of people just accepting themselves and the people around them for who they are regardless of any labels.

I’ve recently come to find that the non-binary label isn’t correct for me.

I identify as male and I plan to physically transition. I am still coming out to my family and friends and it’s been a very slow and hard process for me. Give me a break, I’ve had to “come out of the closet” three times. That’s more than anyone should have to!

When I think about what my parents did and that would do differently, one thing that stands out is the appearance-focused mindset. I don’t want my children or anyone I find myself socializing with to feel that their physical appearance is more important than their emotions, their mind, or their personality. I think we grow based on what we’ve experienced, and this is something I feel very strongly. Although I want my physicality to match my identification, I still want to feel okay in my own skin currently, and I’ve worked very hard to get to a place of self-acceptance. My girlfriend has been with me through all the shit and has done nothing but support me as I’ve figured myself out and she helps me to love myself.

My older sister who had previously come out as a lesbian started dated a guy because she also has the “fuck labels” mindset and chooses to date who he wants regardless of gender or a label. Knowing that she was a safe place made it easier for me to tell her about my identity. I was just looking through an old scrapbook the other day and I saw my 6 year old self in an oversized blue and red striped polo with some mud and a giant grin on my face. I leaned over to my older sister and said, “Can’t you see the little boy in my eyes?”. Looking back, I can see myself loving the long boyish shorts. I enjoyed playing with legos, eating dirt, and roughing it out with my older brother.

I want to encourage any and all readers of my story to respect every person’s identity and not to be afraid to ask about a name or pronouns that may differ from what is on paper or what may be physically logical.

The more love and respect we spread, the better world we create for everyone.

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