This is my reality

This is my reality

Mieke Vanderkolk

   Years ago, you would never catch me wearing anything other than a princess dress and heels. I wore them while raking leaves when I was seven. I wore them while walking a dog that had 50 pounds on me. I wore them while eating with Disney princesses and while picking my first American Girl doll. I went to the daddy-daughter dances in them. I loved dresses and heels. I still do.

   Most people don’t recognize my struggles with gender identity. Their eyes skip past the days I spent wondering why I wasn’t a boy. For a long time, I categorized myself as a tomboy. I hoped that if I wore “boy clothes,” people would call me “he.” The way I felt relieved when people would call me a boy was addicting. 

   I first discovered I was queer around fifth grade, after my best friend came out. It was like opening a door that was locked my whole life. My journey began with the confused idea that I was bisexual. As time went on, I explored my sexuality, until I started questioning my gender. I think I went through every set of pronouns to end up where I am. Imagine shopping for clothes, but instead you’re shopping for an identity.

   I’m not sure when, but at some point I discovered “I am Jazz,” a show centering around a transgender female, Jazz. This was the first exposure I had to transgender individuals. I don’t recall my parents ever expressing transphobia or talking negatively about transgender individuals, yet I felt the intuitive need to hide my identity from them. I hid for a long time until I eventually came out around Christmas several years ago. I had ordered myself a gay pride flag, which my dad saw in the Amazon cart. It’s cliche, but my heart definitely skipped a beat when he said something along the lines of “Who ordered a gay flag?” I’m not one to be dishonest, but out of self-preservation and immediate reaction, I blamed my brother. They soon found out the truth and were accepting of my sexuality. 

   Although I don’t recall when or how I came out to my family as transgender, I do remember that it was the most nerve wracking and vulnerable thing I’ve ever experienced. We started slowly, using they/them pronouns and other gender neutral terms. Unfortunately, it didn’t exactly give me the gender euphoria I yearned for. Later on, I came to realize that I could not spend my entire life catering to cisgender people, and that I had to stand up and set some boundaries. Finally, we began to use he/him pronouns along with masculine terms. I say it began because it’s still a work in progress. It’s now been months, and daily I have to listen to conversations and scream across the house to replace she/her with he/him. This is just part of the experience I have as a transgender individual, the family dynamic is just the beginning.  

   It’s common sense that somebody will always be judging. Nobody can be perfect, and it’s impossible to please everyone. Being LBTQ+ is not an exception to this. Being out and open to the public is like putting a massive target on your back. It is admitting that sometime in your life, if not multiple times, you will be hurt and hated. I experienced this hate first in eighth grade, when a group of boys would call me and my friends “faggots,” before asking what was in our pants. I was with different friends, and we were walking out of Target when a van full of teenage boys screamed faggots at us. I wasn’t surprised or angry. This is our reality. 

   Being part of the LGBTQ+ community is  obviously not all sunshine and rainbows. However, it’s always important to share the unity we have as a community. Yes, my life would be easier if I was a “normal” cisgender, heterosexual person. Although having this identity and expressing myself introduced me to people and places I never would have otherwise  found. It definitely took a long time, but I’m proud to be transgender. There is so much to say. There are aspects of my journey that I can’t put into words. Transgender youth are here, and we matter. 

   So always consider these three words: support saves lives.