Everybody goes through life trying to form themselves into the kind of person that others want them to be.
We grow up believing that we are all supposed to look and act a certain way depending on our gender, ethnicity, sexuality, and social class. We believe that we have to befriend people who make us look good, get a dead-end job just to earn money instead of pursuing our dream careers, or we pursue a career for the sake of prestige rather than passion. Life is a play, and we’re all just testing out the parts of different characters until we settle on a role.
Most of us realise at a young age that we don’t quite fit into society’s circle of acceptance, whether it’s because of our personal style, how we identify, or who we love, but does that instantly suggest that we all stop trying so hard to fit in and just accept that we’re a little different?
No, of course it doesn’t.
If anything, it only makes us try harder to be normal, but who gets to decide what is normal and what isn’t? Normality is nothing more than a false precept that we all use to make ourselves feel like we belong somewhere because it’s scary and lonely to live in a world where you’re the odd one, which is ironic in itself, since nothing makes you stand out more than by being different.
The fact is, we all want to be somebody, but just because you’re not quite who you want to be yet, doesn’t mean that you’re nobody.
Who Am I?
Throughout my life, I have been told so many times to pick a gender and stick to it, mostly by myself. But what are you supposed to do if one day you wake up feeling like the girl you were born as, but the next you feel like the boy you don’t know if you can be?
For so long I have questioned how I can feel like a girl one minute and not the next, why I like the thought of being a boy one day and don’t on others, and why sometimes I feel like I don’t belong to either gender.
It has been an endless battle of questions, confusion, and discomfort all at once. I have spent years bouncing between masculine and feminine, throwing out clothes every time I felt like one or the other because I constantly told myself that I had to choose between the two.
I have spent nearly the entirety of my life feeling this way, and now 26-years-old, it has only been in these recent years that I have discovered what it means to be Genderfluid. So many people scoff at the term Genderfluid, and sometimes I still have trouble admitting that this is how I identify because of the level of judgement that comes with the term. It would be so much easier if I could pick a gender and stick to it, but when gender lives in the brain rather than the genitals, there isn’t much that I can do about it if my alignment changes with each passing day.
So, I accepted it.
Let me tell you a little about what it’s been like to live as a genderfluid/non-binary person before I discovered that it WAS possible to be both female and male, as well as neither.
I was born biologically female and I was raised as a female, no different to my sisters who are both perfectly comfortable with their gender, but unlike them, I showed discomfort presenting as female from a very young age. I hated “girly” things from the get-go, whether it was clothes, toys, colours…anything. I loved my older sisters, but I did not look up to them in a way that most little sisters would. Instead, my big brother was the one who I turned to, he was the one who I would look at and think “I wish I could be like him.”
It only got harder as I got older.
Although I was fortunate to have a mother who didn’t always force femininity upon me, it did take a while for her to realise that it wasn’t just because of my lack of confidence that I did not like to wear feminine clothes.
There were times that she would buy me nice outfits and get frustrated because I refused to wear them, and I’m so grateful that she never once forced me to wear something that I was uncomfortable wearing. Eventually she just allowed me to dress however I wanted, even if that meant wearing jeans that practically looked like curtains because they were far too big for me and pissing off my brother because I was always borrowing his clothes (which I still do).
But one thing that people often assume with me not liking feminine clothes is that it’s all because of the design, the colour or the pattern - and yes - sometimes this is true, but mostly the reason why I don’t like it… is the attention.
Every time I tried to dress slightly feminine, I would absolutely dread going downstairs and letting my family see me because I knew they’d gush and make such a big deal about it. I didn’t want them to see me as any different, but it was as if what I wore made me a different person.
I was 9-years-old when I started puberty and began developing breasts. I still remember one particular day at school when I was getting changed after our PE lesson, and I was hiding beneath the table because I was so uncomfortable with how my body was changing, but a girl in my class looked under the table, saw me topless and exclaimed “Oh my god, Kayleigh has tits!”
That was the day I truly began to hide myself away from the world.
I lived in baggy clothes to hide my big boobs and wide hips. I hung out with boys because I connected with them easier than girls as I was more like them, and I wanted to avoid the attraction that I was beginning to feel towards girls.
Nevertheless, no matter how much I dressed and acted like a boy, I never truly fit in with them. I wasn’t one of the guys, I was just this random girl who hung out with them. I never belonged to their group, but I didn’t belong with the girls either.
I was just floating somewhere in between, alone.
Things became a little easier when I moved up to Secondary School (an all-girls school, by the way) and I became friends with a few girls who were just like me and I finally felt as if I belonged. I had found my people, and I wasn’t a freak, but it was in my second year of Secondary School that my life began to turn on its head and shake loose all of these broken pieces of the person who I thought I was, who I was trying to be.
It all began with falling in love with a girl for the very first time.
Here’s the thing… my coming out was no big deal. I can’t even really remember how or when I exactly came out because it was a moment in my life that wasn’t met with anger or rejection, so over 12 years, the memories have faded.
Of course, if you don’t fit into the heteronormative and cisgender society that we live in, most of us find that we don’t just come out the one time. I cannot even count the amount of times that I’ve had to come out to new people over the years and constantly face the bombardment of questions that ALWAYS follow, but I have come to the point now where I decide if I want to come out to certain people, I decide if I want to answer their questions. I used to believe that I HAD to come out to people and answer their questions, as if I was some abnormality that they had to wrap their heads around. Now, I’ve taken that power back because this is MY life and I don’t have to answer to nobody if I don’t want to.
Anyway, like most people, I struggled with accepting my sexuality when I was younger, but I was never afraid of being rejected by my family. My mum always taught my siblings and I that love is love, and love comes in all different shapes and forms. I was taught from a young age that boys can love boys, and girls can love girls, and that it’s completely normal. My family already knew that I liked girls - vastly because I was completely infatuated with Kate Beckinsale after watching Underworld and had pictures of her all over my bedroom wall – but they never pressured me into coming out before I was ready, they simply waited until I was willing to accept it.
Nevertheless, despite knowing that my family would always love and accept me, I still struggled with accepting my sexuality myself. Now that I think back to this moment, I can understand why.
In Year 8, I met a girl, let’s call her Kaitlyn. We had never met before, despite some of her best friends being in my tutor group (our year was split into several tutor groups and it wasn’t until Year 8 that all the groups began to share classes).
We sat next to each other in our Science class and from the get-go, we were both too shy and awkward to communicate with each other. Eventually we added each other on MSN (oh the days) and we got along surprisingly well, we’d laugh about how hard we found it to talk in person, and it still took another week or so before I finally plucked up the courage to say something. I’m pretty sure that my first words to her was something sarcastic (some things never change) and she looked at me with wide eyes and said, “Oh my God, she speaks!”
From that moment, we became inseparable.
Kaitlyn was everything that I wasn’t; tall, popular, girly, and pretty in an obvious way. I was rebellious and scruffy, but somehow, we connected in a way that I had never connected with anyone. We quickly became the best of friends despite belonging to very different groups, and along the way the line of friendship began to blur. She confided in me in ways that she couldn’t even with her childhood friends because they expected her to be a certain person and to fall in line with their clique, she couldn’t even admit to them that she liked rock music!
One day around Christmas time, we were hanging out at her place and one of our closest friends said that she was moving schools. Kaitlyn was devastated and in the midst of me trying to comfort her with cuddles, we kissed. People say that you never forget your first kiss, and for me, that’s true. It was a moment filled with passion, a sweetness tinged with sadness, and before I knew it, we were making out on her living room floor. Nothing mattered at that moment, it did not matter that we were two girls falling in love and had no idea what it meant. We were together, we were happy.
For a few months, exploring this new side to our “friendship” was exciting, sneaking off at break time for stolen kisses behind the science block, sitting so close together in class so that we could hold hands without anybody seeing, secret smiles from across the room when nobody else was looking. There were moments of panic, almost getting caught in a make out session when we got carried away, people throwing us disapproving glances when we sat suspiciously close together, and the fear that we would be labelled as lesbians when we were just “best friends in love”.
Like most first love stories, ours came crashing to an abrupt, heart-breaking end.
I went away for a two-week family holiday and it was the longest that Kaitlyn and I had ever been apart. When I left, everything was great between us and we’d text each other all the time like most lovesick teenagers do. I had no idea that everything would change so rapidly over the period that I was away and for so long, I cursed that family holiday because when I finally came home, our love story was over without me even having a say in it.
I was clueless, of course, so when I returned to school, I was practically giddy with the thought of seeing Kaitlyn again. However, she was not so eager to see me. Throughout class she practically ignored me and sat as far away from me as the table would allow, and when I was finally able to sneak her away to the back of the science block for some eager kisses with the girl I had missed an unbearable amount, she did not reciprocate. At first, I thought it was just because I had been away for so long and eventually, she’d be back to her adoring self, but it quickly became apparent that that was not the case.
When I was finally able to encourage her to open up to me, I learned that whilst I was away, her so called friend and leader of their little clique, let’s call her Haley, jammed it into her head that I was leading her down a bad path. Haley had figured out that there was something between us, and the girl hated every little thing about me, without even bothering to get to know me. This girl was all about reputation, she was the queen bee who everyone followed and wanted to be like, and she hated that Kaitlyn was finally beginning to pull out from under her shadow because of me. Within two weeks, she had managed to destroy Kaitlyn’s opinion of me and instilled in her a fear that I could not undo no matter how hard I tried. Kaitlyn was so afraid of people finding out about us and losing her friends and family (who also hated me and assumed that I was on drugs just because of how I dressed), that Haley was able to use it to her advantage and completely tore us apart.
After that, Kaitlyn became an entirely different person. She became another person who saw me as nothing more than an outcast, she ridiculed my appearance and made it quite apparent that I would never belong, but that did not stop me from trying.
There is nothing worse than bending and breaking yourself into being somebody that you’re not. I was surrounded by the “cool” girls, desperately hoping that they would accept me into their clique and like me for who I was, whilst knowing deep down that they would never accept the girl with scruffy hair and baggy jeans who preferred video games over make-up and liked ‘weird and scary’ rock music, as nothing more than a loser and a freak. Perhaps it was because no matter how hard I tried, I didn’t accept myself as one of them either. Femininity was not a role I could fit myself into, and they all knew it.
But it was okay, because I learned that I could tear away all of the quirks that made me who I was and toss them into the fire to forge a new version of myself, one who was deemed socially acceptable on the outside, even if I was dying on the inside. I forced myself into skirts and dresses, I forced myself into liking makeup and the same music as them, I even forced myself into liking and dating boys, just because I so desperately hoped that Kaitlyn would come back to me if I could be a girl who her friends and family deemed acceptable.
If only I could have realised back then that society sucks, and nobody is worth feeling alone for, perhaps I would have saved myself from months of embarrassment, judgement, and loneliness. I forced myself so far back into the closet because their judgement made me petrified to be who I really was. If only I could have realised sooner that the “cool” girls who I felt so estranged from, weren’t actually all that different from me. Take away the expensive, revealing clothing, the layers of makeup and their stuck-up attitudes… underneath they were just a group of insecure teenagers who were just trying to find their place in the world. Kaitlyn was so afraid of her sexuality and being rejected by the world that it did not matter who I changed myself into, she could never accept herself which meant that she could never love me.
It’s been nearly 10-11 years since I last saw or spoke to Kaitlyn.
I wonder if she ever grew out of that fear… I hope so.
The Beginning to Accepting Myself
It took another year or so of dating boys, and testing out the waters of being bisexual before I finally began to accept that I was obviously gay. I dated another girl when I was 14 (which only lasted a week because she was also too afraid of her sexuality) which helped me to realise how being with a girl felt so natural, so right, even if it scared the hell out of me. In the end, I finally realised that risking the judgement and ridicule of other people was better than pretending to be someone who I wasn’t. I dated another girl which became my first serious and out relationship, and that, as they say, is that.
Coming out at such a young age was certainly difficult and it took a few more years before I finally stopped questioning my sexuality and truly embracing myself as a queer person. Having such a supportive and loving family made it so much easier for me and I cannot express how grateful I am to have had this experience, because although it was difficult at times, it could have been much worse. I never feared losing my family or my true friends, I was granted the time and space to discover who I was and to come out on my own terms. I was never really bullied, and I have never been attacked over my sexuality or gender.
I’ve not struggled the way so many others have, and whilst I am so incredibly grateful for that, I have found it hard to help those in need because of my different experiences. I have heard so many inspiring coming out stories, but I have always believed that mine would never be among them, and that my story wouldn’t make a difference to someone’s life.
Until one day when I was speaking to a friend of mine who hadn’t completely come out, she asked what it was like for me and so I shared my story. Her reaction was something I did not expect as she said: “Wow, that’s beautiful. That’s the kind of coming out story that we all hope to have, and hopefully one that we will all have one day.”
I have always perceived my story as one of privilege, but she helped me to see that it is one of hope. I am one of the lucky few whose coming out was not a big deal, which shows that our world is gradually changing. We might still be years away from achieving worldwide acceptance, but we’re slowly getting there thanks to people like my family.
So Here I Am!
I am Kayleigh Louise Russell, an out and proud genderfluid/non-binary lesbian, and this is my story. I hope that it instils in you the same hope as it did for my friend. I wish I could say that your experiences will be the same as mine if you’ve yet to come out but unfortunately, I can’t, but I hope that it won’t be difficult, and I hope that you are met with the love and acceptance you deserve. No matter what happens, you are not alone, the LGBTQ+ community is an army and we all have your back. If we keep using our voices to better this world, one day we won’t have to come out of the closet, because we wouldn’t have been hiding in the first place.