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From Shame to Pride: Coming Out as Non-Binary

Aaron Hensel
Guest Blogger
Talking about this has never come easily. It took me decades to open up to my wife, family, and close friends. And still, I haven't had the chance to talk to many loved ones about it. But after the first conversations, I learned that sharing vulnerability with the right people is a gift I need to finesse. I hope you don’t mind if I share it with you, too.

For most of my life, I felt I didn’t belong in the places I was. I barely expressed my full self until a couple of years ago — body and verbal language, outfits, makeup, nails, hair, and all gender-expression artifacts. I mimicked my male friends to feel I belonged and softened my manners to fit within roles, jobs, and a particular personality type. Like most all AMAB* humans, I mocked and hurt queer people like me my toxic masculinity. These were obvious attempts to hide from others what I already knew on the inside.

Note: Genders don’t necessarily imply a specific expression — a person of any gender can express themself in any way they want. The above is solely based on my experience.

I felt diminished so many times, had my voice shut down, and had people making jokes about my style, behavior, clothes, and size when I tried to express a mild version of what I was. My sexual orientation was never openly gay, bi, or pansexual, although I’ve always been pansexual. And like most closeted people, I had an alternate life when I was single, where I would allow myself to channel my queerness.

I was constantly made fun of for being different. For many years I felt wrong, dirty, and disconnected. Most people I was attracted to were considered the same. And I took the most effortless ride at that time — to deny my true self and move forward with a CisHet** life.

Note: Being attracted and happily married to a wonderful cis woman and deeply in love with her doesn’t mean I am any less queer or trans now.

I’m lucky that I started looking inside myself at a young age, and thankfully, I never let that sparkle go away. After decades of therapy, I finally decided to listen to myself fully. Today, I am in the middle of a journey of gender identification and transition.

I lost friends on this journey. Or at least people I thought were my friends. Some beloved family members won’t talk to me anymore. But, with empathy, the right people will understand. And like my therapist says: we should celebrate the ones who stick with us and the new friends we make and avoid spending energy looking back in anger at the ones that left us behind.

I identify as nonbinary. I am queer.

And shouting that loud didn’t come easily. Imagine how hard it is to revamp your whole life, let people know about it, think about changing your pronouns, learn about gender, understand your new community, and educate people around you, even when it’s not your role.

Lately, it feels liberating and like an open wound at the same time. A lot of things are triggering me more than they should. I am afraid I can no longer count on my “male self” to be listened to and respected. Expressing nonbinary brings prejudice, denial from some, and sexual harassment. Society is not ready for it. People can be violent against femininity.

My pronouns are now they/them. Treating me with the proper pronouns shows you acknowledge my journey and respect me.

If you’re reading this and it led you to feel something, please read more about gender. Educate yourself and others. Help normalize being trans and nonbinary.

If you’re in the thick of it and need someone to talk to, the WhiteFlag App is a safe space to begin conversations and practice how you want to talk with the people in your life about what’s going on. It’s also comforting and validating to talk to others who have been through or are going through a similar journey. It’s important to remember that you aren’t alone, even though you may be feeling the most alone you’ve ever felt. Once I realized there were others like me, others who have navigated this, I felt empowered to continue on my journey.

*AMAB: Assigned male at birth (used in contexts in which a person’s gender identity contrasts with the male sex they were assigned at birth)

**CisHet: A person who identifies as the gender they were assigned at birth and is attracted to people of the opposite gender


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