5

22

British Columbia, Canada

November 2014

Trigger Warnings: internalized ableism, internalized transphobia, internalized heteronormativity, ableism, self-esteem issues, homophobia, and transphobia

I was eighteen and fresh out of high school when I first started to question my sexual orientation and after three/four years of exploring and trying out different labels I’m still in the midst of working out what I personally identify as.  When I first came out to myself the revelation came out of nowhere, and it wasn’t something I accepted immediately. Since then I’ve come to accept and be okay with the fact that I am not heterosexual, yet at twenty two years old (my current age) I’m still trying to determine where I stand on the romantic and sexual orientation spectrum. The only label that I knew didn’t fit and that I haven’t considered in the past three years was heterosexual. Additionally, this past year I started to question my gender identity, an exploration which was sparked by the knowledge that sometimes people identity as different from the gender they were assigned at birth. I believe I’m not completely cisgender, though what – who – I am in terms of gender still baffles me.

After a sufficient amount of consideration I’ve reached the conclusion that I am non-binary, and therefore use they/them/their pronouns and have asked important people in my life to use those pronouns as well when referring or speaking to me.  I do feel I lean towards the masculine side of the spectrum, though I’m not one hundred percent sure about that yet. As a result, I feel much more comfortable wearing clothes that are labeled for men even if I did feel nervous buying those clothes. I generally have mixed emotions about wearing them in public because I’m painfully aware not everyone is educated on the variety of gender identities and expressions and might target me because of their ignorance. Yes, I’m comfortable wearing male-designated attire, but not everyone is accepting of what they perceive as women dressing like men and may react with discrimination because of that.

Several days ago I was stopped by the police (for not wearing a helmet, because lack of money meant I had to choose between multiple essential purchases, and groceries have been the bigger priority). My biggest fear, based on unpleasant experiences between police officers and transgender individuals that I’ve either read or heard about, was that they would either be condescending or outright discriminatory about my gender expression – neither of which thankfully happened. I recently obtained employment at a boarding school which occurred before I realized I was non-binary and ever since then, coming to that realization has been a double edged sword. Sure, it means greater self-awareness and a proper chance to dress in the clothes I feel comfortable in but it also means I have to deal with transphobia as well as homophobia, heteronormativity, ableism, and sexism.

The shifts I’ve worked the past several weeks have been challenging for several different reasons. One of my coworkers has been verbalizing his ignorance about the lgbtq+ community, and it has stirred up unpleasant feelings (namely, a vague sense of internal discomfort and annoyance and hurt or something, I’m still working through this because it’s ongoing) and has made me reconsider disclosing my gender identity with coworkers. Part of me wants to be open about who I am, the main motivation for that awkward conversation to avoid being constantly misgendered (which is painful, and bad, and I wish they would stop of their own volition) as she or her. On the down side, it could go very badly and people could just end up deliberately misgendering me or acting in other discriminatory ways on purpose because they think it’s amusing to do so. Or they could have alternative negative reactions that I’d rather avoid if at all possible, because getting along with coworkers isn’t a bad thing.

At work there are two staff bathrooms, one of which is designated for women and the other designated for men. Since I’m not out at work I use the women’s bathroom to avoid conflict with coworkers and supervisors – but I wish there was a third option (I’d be much more comfortable in a gender neutral bathroom, though there is an unfortunate lack of those in my community aside from the university). I’ve considered asking the supervisors if it would be possible to remove the gender designations entirely, but there are two things holding me back from doing so. I’ve already asked for an accommodation based around being autistic (specifically, unless it was a safety concern, I asked people not to touch me without permission, because of my sensory processing disorder) and received support for it, so part of me feels making a request for my gender identity would be asking for too much and I’ll lose my job for being seen as an awkward person that the workplace will be better off without.

I am ultimately sort of trying to suck it up to avoid creating what part of me feels is unnecessary friction between my coworkers and myself (and I’m kind of upset with myself for my differences and inability to be like the majority of other people and I’m kind of trying to pass as ‘normal’, though another part of me knows there is nothing wrong with me for my gender identity, sexual or romantic orientation, or disabled status). I’m wary about entering new social spaces and becoming attached to the sense of community and belonging within the groups and the people who attend those groups, because I’m worried that as soon as I’m honest about who I am I’ll be told I’m not welcome in those places.

Approximately two months ago, I joined a local group for autistic people and was thrilled to be present at the first meeting because of just how much I identified with things they were saying about experiences they’d had because they were also autistic, and the profound sense of validation and affirmation and general sense of ‘hey I belong here, these are my people, and they are awesome’. The other day I was worried that I wouldn’t be welcome at a designated women’s only meet up because of my gender identity, so I messaged the group organizer about this. After several hours of worrying I was going to be told I wasn’t welcome at the monthly meeting in question the organizer got back to me and said it wasn’t an issue.

About five or six months ago I relocated to a much bigger town with more to offer someone like myself, who fit into several different minority categories yet didn’t feel comfortable or particularly welcome in the lgbtq groups that were available in the town I’d been living in until last summer. Partially because of my dual identity as an autistic and lgbtq person and I couldn’t find any groups that would be supportive on both fronts but also because my mental and emotional health took a beating between having social anxiety, self-esteem/self-hatred issues, depression, and an eating disorder, I was left without any extra energy or resources to make myself attend social events, let alone leave my house most days.

About a year ago I told my mother I’d made a friend (that was as close as I could get myself to saying there was mutual interest/attraction between her and I) in another town and she was pleased for me. At least, she was pleased for me until I mentioned we were going out for dinner later that evening though I never outright stated it was a date, I think from her tone and the way she quickly moved on to another subject she knew what I was implying and didn’t approve or want to talk about it.

Since then I haven’t really let myself entertain the idea of going on dates – not just because of the lack of family approval but also because I was at a point in my life where I didn’t know what I was doing with my life and was trying to figure out not only that but also relatively consumed with figuring my romantic and sexual orientation out, and didn’t want to risk (and still don’t for that matter) going on a date with someone, only to later realize the gender they identified as didn’t interest me, and consequently be accused of leading someone on. I also struggle with self-confidence and self-worth, largely but not exclusively tied into being a member of the disability community, and still wrestle with determining my value and didn’t/don’t feel like I have anything worthwhile to offer someone else.

I grew up believing that relationships were associated with sex, which didn’t appeal to me at all between the ages of eighteen and early twenties, a discovery I made when my ex pressured me for sex and I swiftly changed the conversation. Now that I believe I have sorted out my sexual/romantic orientation, it is a bit of a different story. I’ve settled on demiromantic/demisexual (which describes someone who has romantic/sexual attraction to someone after forming a close bond/getting to know that person before taking the relationship beyond a platonic level). I’m inclined to believe it took me so long to reach this conclusion because of the emphasis and importance society places on romantic/sexual relationships as well as the relative erasure of demisexuality in the media and the way it was simply never presented as an option for someone to be during my formative years, so I was in the dark about who I was on that front until recently, and figured there must be something wrong with me as a result.

I was nineteen when I came out to my parental figure, and at the time the label I used was bisexual since it left me with the option of meeting social expectations of heteronormativity and not diverging from the path my family wanted me to be on. I was informed that this didn’t change the relationship between my parent and myself, but I was also discouraged from sharing this knowledge with other people and was told that because I’m also disabled (I’m a self-diagnosed autistic person, as well as having a comorbid disorder of diagnosed fetal alcohol spectrum in addition to significant vision and hearing loss) I couldn’t know what my sexual orientation was and therefore should just stop thinking about it. Which wasn’t what I needed to hear, because of the active way my parent disapproved of who I was and discouraged me from exploring this part of my identity any further. I did continue to wrestle with it for several more years in what has occasionally felt like trying to climb a brick wall because I just couldn’t seem to find a term that fit at least not for a long while after that initial coming out to a family member.

It wasn’t for another year or two that I discovered the term intersectionality through browsing an online lgbtq forum and discovered that there were other people like me (who are both disabled and part of the rainbow community) existed. This discovery answered some of my questions about my life/future and what goals I’d be able to accomplish in life (though the one about my ability, as a disabled person, to parent effectively is still something that I consider frequently, as I only know a few disabled parents and none of them well enough to ask how they balance their needs as a disabled person with the needs of their child/children). Until I met those people either in person or through online conversations I wouldn’t let myself entertain the idea of perhaps having the chance to be a parent someday, though I knew it was something I did and do want, because I’m not entirely certain it would be in a child’s best interest to have me as their parent.

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