First Time Feeling Fine

I am a nonbinary bisexual with a deeply religious, southern background. I came out to my mom and little sister over Facetime halfway through my senior year of college, on national coming out day. I had spent the last four years training the two of them for this moment, and in that time we’d gotten closer than I ever thought we could be. Though they weren’t thrilled about my coming out, I never had to question whether or not they would support me. I give them major props for having the conversations with me and for somehow breaking through the small-town reactionary pattern of feeling threatened by anything different than the decided-upon norms. It could have gone better: I would have loved for my family to celebrate and embrace who I was, but it definitely could have gone worse.


A few months later I moved home to quarantine during the pandemic. I was faced with deciding whether or not to come out to the rest of my family, who I feared wouldn’t be quite as supportive. My fears proved to be more than understated. I spent March through July holding my breath, trying not to make the air between us more hostile than it already was. I left in August. The next year of my life was a journey to finally feeling comfortable with who I was, and it’s been filled with the highest of highs and the lowest of lows.

Art by Katie Wilkerson

When I was in middle school I dressed pretty androgynously. I wanted to do what the boys did. Not for attention, but because the thought of not being allowed to do something really bothered me. It always bugged me that friend groups would split off according to gender. I would hang out with my male friends and no one would pass me the Xbox controller. I would hang out with my female friends and ask them to come fishing or skating or play kickball, but they didn’t like the optics. Gone were the elementary school days where we all played together at recess. I didn’t feel like I could compete with boys athletically, and I didn’t want to compete with girls aesthetically. I just wanted to exist among my peers, but I ended up feeling isolated and strange. Art was a way I could express the energy I couldn’t seem to get out otherwise. I found myself writing, acting, and drawing. This was a field I felt equal to others in, and I found neutral groups that allowed this energetic ambiguity to flourish. I have great memories of theater sleepovers and art shows where gender didn’t seem to play a role in my accomplishments.


I graduated high school and went on to art school. It was only after escaping my small-town bubble that I realized just how stifled I had been. Growing up, I had gone to church camps where the lessons were completely based on what it meant to be a Godly woman versus a Godly man, and how any blending of the lines was not only morally wrong but harmful to yourself and others. I had been told that girls had to wear T-shirts over their bathing suits, but if I asked why the rules were different for boys, I was told I was being spiteful. I sat through girls-only seminars in school that attempted to explain to a room full of children why wearing yoga pants or skirts above your calves to school was unacceptable behavior and distracting to male students and teachers. I was told to ask fewer questions, be less outspoken, and not volunteer for leadership positions to give boys the opportunity to lead. I remember sitting in class heartbroken, wondering why women had to be supporting characters, why I could never be a hero, if I could ever truly pursue my passions or if I’d have to follow the directions of a man for my entire life.


In my junior year of college, I shaved my head. It was the most traumatizing thing that had ever happened to me, even though it was a direct result of my own decision. I knew that I could shave my head; my older brother did it all the time. I knew that I was allowed to, theoretically, but once I did I had absolutely no idea who I was. My purpose in life up until that point had been to be wanted, looked at, protected. People no longer treated me as a person without autonomy. I realized I had never known what it was like to feel worthy of anything more than being treated like an object until I no longer had the displeasure of being constantly objectified. People didn’t know whether or not to hold doors open for me. They didn’t take things out of my hands, or interrupt me when I was speaking. Men actually smiled at me on the street! Platonically! Life was no longer a game of being as quiet and beautiful as possible in order to not be mistreated or ignored... and I had no idea how to play anymore.


After I came out to my family, I realized I needed to get far away from the place that had made me feel like craving a gender-neutral existence was the most self-serving and manipulative thing that I could ever do. I needed to not think about gender. I needed to just be my fucking self! I think womanhood is a beautiful thing in all of its nuance and strength and grace and dignity, and there are so many aspects that I identify with. It’s not that I’m not supportive of women who prefer a domestic lifestyle, and it’s not that I think anyone who doesn’t want that shouldn’t identify as a woman, but it feels wrong when someone looks at me and reduces me to womanhood. The same way if someone walked up to a cis woman and said “Hello, pardon me sir-” they might feel totally uncomfortable being addressed that way. I actually prefer being called sir more so than being called ma’am. Not because it’s accurate, but because of the implication that I could be something other than what my family and my town always told me I had to be.

Art by Katie Wilkerson

LA has been a dream. Not specifically because the city is so accepting, but because I’m far away from the places and the memories that wouldn’t let me accept myself. This summer I dated a bisexual person for the first time. I had no idea what it felt like to be accepted completely for who I was until then. He asked his conservative family to use they/them pronouns for me, and they did! If anyone tried to make me feel bad about my identity, he stood up for me. He had his problems. He would sometimes refer to me as “femme” which I didn’t particularly enjoy, but overall the idea that he could be attracted to me in any form I occupied was freeing on a level that I had no idea was possible. It gave me the courage to advocate for myself with my own family, with my friends, and even at work. I had never asked anyone to respect me the way that he enthusiastically respected me. I felt, for the first time, like I actually knew who I was.


I don’t feel particularly masculine or feminine. Sure, I have traits that could be defined as either term, and I love that about myself. I love wearing a sundress and wearing my curls down over my shoulders. I love wearing a tank top and a baseball hat to Home Depot, and knowing what I’m doing, and being physically strong and independent. I feel as if I woke up in some alien place where either of those qualities has to define me as an overall person. Some nights, I dream of myself with flowers tucked into my long hair. Some days the only thing that makes me feel like myself is being covered in sweat and dirt without a single hint of aesthetic beauty to be found. I’m most comfortable being thought of and referred to at a baseline, the standard, somewhere in between. Some days it’s different than others, but every day I know who I am. I am non-binary.


These days I occupy a much more fluid space. It’s not that certain pronouns bother me, it’s just that they aren’t true. I appreciate it when strangers refer to me in a neutral way without being asked. Sometimes it’s fun to roleplay as a girl or as a boy, but ultimately I know that gender doesn’t need to play a part in my future. I can love who and what I love, I can be successful, I can enjoy my life and pursue my passions. I spent so long feeling guilty and uncertain for being uncomfortable in my assigned role. I can’t express to you what a monumental relief it is to know that no “hes,” “shes,” or “buts” about it. I am simply Katie. Finally existing in that space just feels so right.


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