Who Am I, Not What Am I: A Concept That Took Me Years to Understand

I have felt multitudes of passionate, strong emotions throughout my life, from joy to rage to empowerment to pride, but the emotion that will forever stay with me, forever burn in my memory, is exclusion. There was a period of time in which I felt I would never fit in. Most people experience this, but in my case, it seemed so hopeless, so unfixable. I thought that saving myself would be changing myself.

When I was about 10 years old, I would dress and act the way a stereotypical boy did. I wore long basketball shorts down to my knees, baggy t-shirts and I opted to play football and baseball at recess instead of whispering and giggling with other girls. It was something I had always prided myself in; I was part of two cultures, both boy and girl. One encounter tore that impression down. A few words from a stranger’s mouth made me feel broken and wrong even. It was a feeling that knocks on everyone’s door but no one wants back for a second visit.

I was at a chess tournament facing a boy that struck me as rather rude. He had no qualms saying whatever he pleased and I found that mildly terrifying. At one point, he looked up and squinted at me. At first, I thought he had something in his eye. “Are you a boy or a girl because I can’t tell,” he snickered. The words ordinarily wouldn’t have affected me, but the way he said them seemed so nasty. Suddenly dressing and acting the way I did seemed like a bad thing, seemed like something to be ashamed of. I wanted to cry. It was in that moment that I realized I wasn’t like other girls, that I barely even thought of myself as one, but I was also certain that I wasn’t a boy. I didn’t know what I was. Instead of being both, I was neither. All at once, I imagined I would always have trouble fitting in, always feel excluded due to this.

“I- I’m a girl,” I muttered through shaking breaths.

“Ha, you don’t look it,” he sneered, adding salt to the wound. There are a million responses to that comment I have come up with since, but at the moment all I could think to do was keep playing. Though I won the game, it felt like I had lost. It took me a while to realize that I didn’t need to call myself a boy or a girl, that I just had to keep being me. I spent years struggling with this, struggling with the idea that maybe… just maybe I didn’t need to identify with something, that maybe, in fact, it was not I in the wrong but the millions of people around me that perpetuate this idea that little boys and girls across the world need to choose between two options that might not fit for everyone, this idea that there should even be a difference at all. We are all the same. We are all different too. But what does it matter? What does any of it matter?

I am a girl and proud. My brother is a boy and proud. My friend is neither girl nor boy and proud. It is time to move past these forms of identification that have divided our country, our people, for so long. It is time to come together, because what are we all really? We are human. And that’s what counts.

Photo: Mikael Kristenson

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