Growing up these days, kids aren't taught much about exploring themselves, it's all about what we can explain; whether it's through religion, or science. I myself attended a religious primary school; trips to the local church once a week, and hymn practise every morning. We were taught to understand what was male, what was female, and how the two interacted. From an early age, I often broke those boundaries, I made a petition for girls to be allowed to wear shorts rather than a skirt or dress, I had my hair cut shorter than any of my classmates, and frequented what were considered 'guy's activities'. At the time, I, much like everyone else, thought little of it. I just liked the concept of breaking rules, but there were unspoken rules broken without knowing.
By the time I turned 12, I knew I was different, and so did my friends. One specific friend, someone just like me, came out to me one day, explaining that they had never felt like a girl. Which struck me as odd.
Was it really something we were supposed to feel? My whole life I was taught that there was no choice, everything was defined by science or God, it was fact. Wasn't it? A penis, or a vagina? Those were the only options, and yours had been decided long ago. I myself had pictured myself in the mirror, slicked my hair back and pretended I was a boy, and in some ways, it felt natural. Sometimes I would look at my body, my hair, and it would feel alien, like it just wasn't mine.
You see, at this point we didn't know anything, 'queer' was a slur, 'trans' was something I had never heard of, and 'gay' was an insult. That was what I had been taught, what we had all been taught, and even though I wasn't exactly religious, I felt it would be horrible to become one of those things.
But it was also when I started looking at myself I realised I was different. I would listen to my male friends describe girls they liked, how they wanted to kiss them and hold their hand. I wanted to. I thought it was normal, girls held hands all the time, some even kissed, it didn't make me gay. Right?
It took me years to learn and unlearn, with my friend by my side. We learnt that there was nothing wrong with the LGBT+, it was even widely known in science, I learnt that there are animals that can change their gender because of certain events, or even form homosexual bonds that lasted much longer than heterosexual ones. So it was natural, it wasn't odd, or strange. It was normal.
In doing so, I had to unlearn things too, I had to unlearn that gay was a bad thing, or that queer was a slur. I unlearnt that it was physical attributes that decided who you were, that it was our genetic code, our hormones, that dictated our lives.
By the time I turned 15, I knew who I was. My friends accepted it, and more of them actually came out too. We stand by each other now, comfortable in our own skin.
Growing up is a process. You need to learn and explore to find out who you really are, not just what people say you are. Don't worry if things change; for the longest of times I was convinced I was straight, that I could never be anything but straight. But after years of reading, learning, and unlearning, I know who I am.
Teenagers With Experience is an organisation created to provide teenagers worldwide with an online platform to share their own experiences to be able to help, inform and educate others on a variety of different topics. We aim to provide a safe space to all young people. You can contact us via email, social media or our contact form found on our home page.