An experience shared by many LGBTQAI+ people is the duality of both hilarity and grief when reflecting on life prior to coming out; the hilarity of missing the now painfully obvious signs of being queer, and the grief of time lost and opportunities missed due to not being your authentic self. It is something I experienced when I came out as bisexual, but I was completely unprepared for how it would pale in comparison to my coming out as non-binary. Over the past two years, I have kept uncovering memories of moments when my true self shone through but I somehow completely missed the point.
I was fortunate to be brought up with a range of toys to play with ranging from dolls and teddies to cars and Lego. I had a particular fondness for a beautiful wooden train set with junctions, train sheds, and moving turn-tables. When I started school, I remember being quite confused that my peers were so adamant that I should be playing dress-up with the girls when I went to play with the wooden bricks. To be honest, I don’t think I really understood what was so fundamentally different about boys and girls besides the obvious; the whole concept of things being gendered boggled my tiny little brain.
However, it wasn’t until puberty started that what I can now recognise as feelings of gender dysphoria began to ramp up. There was a period of about five years where I basically refused to wear a skirt or a dress except on certain occasions. This was partially due to the absolutely hideous skirt that was a part of my school uniform, but also partly because I wasn’t happy with the changing shape of my body and I wanted to do everything I could to hide it.
It was around that time that I also began to notice how much more comfortable I was hanging out with boys than girls. I struggled to relate to girls, to share their interests, and so began my “I’m not like most girls” phase. During school hours I was in a group of five, but never felt like I fit there. I was always the first one to be ejected from the group whenever group work called for only four people, and painful as this was, this did lead to me banding together with a group of three boys for a drama project. I had the most fun I ever had in a school drama project; so much so I still remember my part in the performance to this day.
As part of my performing arts education, I took drumming lessons, and I also took singing lessons and was part of the school choir. While I can just about hold a tune, my talent is limited; I would only ever be a chorus singer. I began as a soprano but was quickly moved to alto, but even then, I would struggle with the higher notes. I was then moved to the tenor section alongside two girls.
Once a year, around Easter, the choir would take a trip across the Pennines to a gathering of secondary school choirs from the North of England, followed by a trip to the Blackpool Pleasure Beach theme park. At one of these events, our choir performed “Chasing Cars” by Snow Patrol, and unusually tenors were chosen to sing the melody, not the harmonies we were usually given. If we’re being precise, the melody was carried by myself and the two girls, who between us had enough power to be heard over thirty other voices singing harmonies. Despite being grouped with girls, singing a “boys” part was strangely euphoric.
It should be said that any one of these experiences alone does not indicate that someone is trans. Demonstrating particular behaviours or refusing to wear certain clothes certainly does not dictate gender. Girls can display tom-boyish behaviour and remain girls, and the reverse is also true. However, the more I reflect back on my childhood, and the more of these memories I uncover, I find myself wondering how it took me over twenty years to figure out that I was non-binary. It is both hilarious to have missed so many signs, but also saddening that I missed so many opportunities to be my true self simply because LGBTQAI+ education was so lacking. I really should have known, but how could I have known without knowledge that people claim children should be shielded from? Having access to that information won’t make your kids gay, but it might just make a gay or trans kids’ life that little bit easier.