‘Mom asked, ‘Will boys find you attractive?’ But I wasn’t a boy OR a girl. I acted feminine to avoid bullying.’: Non-binary person shares journey, ‘I want my body to feel like mine’

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“Growing up, the relationship I had with my gender was invisible to me until I started to understand society and the ways I was expected to behave. I remember in year 6, age 11, not understanding why I was being referred to as ‘the only girl’ on the football team and why my gender effected the ways my friends would interact with me. I remember being fed up with the boys not passing the ball to me, despite me being better than half of them. On one occasion when my mum had come to pick me up from practice, I was clearly in a bad mood so she asked what was wrong. And I replied something along the lines of, ‘Why do the boys not treat me the same?’ She asked what I mean by ‘same.’ but I couldn’t put it into words. I replied, ‘Why do they never pass to me?’ She explained that it was because I was a girl and that because of this, they might treat me differently. My body filled with rage and sadness. At the time I didn’t have the language or the understanding that I have today, I didn’t understand that I was non-binary and not a ‘girl.’ I didn’t understand that the world didn’t see me the way I saw myself. I knew I wasn’t a ‘boy’ as much as I knew I wasn’t a girl and this only confused little Robin’s brain more.

Courtesy of Robin Clowser

My first few years in secondary school were horrible. They taught me a lot, though. They taught me how to become a pro at blending in with my peers. After spending the first two years making the mistake of only hanging out with the boys at break time, I learned that I needed to lean into my feminine side, to avoid bullying and name calling. Looking back, I don’t think it was that I even enjoyed the boy’s company more than the girls, it was more that I was more interested in winning a game of Patball than I was in putting on makeup. In my head these things were never gender related, they were just preferences. It never occurred to me that the sex of the person I was hanging out with would affect the way others viewed me. I assumed everyone felt the same way I did about their gender; this was clearly not the case. So throughout school, I adapted into a person my peers expected me to be, and behaved in the ways a young ‘girl’ should. I stopped playing football or any sports, I stopped hanging out with the boys, I started to wear a skirt and put makeup on, even though it made me extremely uncomfortable and I kept my head down. Completely burying and repressing any and all signs of me being anything but a straight and female. Two things I definitely am not.

Courtesy of Robin Clowser

I played this performance with myself so deeply that I truly convinced myself that this was who I am. It wasn’t until many years later, in my first serious relationship at age 20, did I start to wonder about my gender. At first that was all it was: a conversation in my head with myself that I would always find a way to ignore. I would tell myself, ‘Just because you want to be more masculine doesn’t mean you want to be a guy.’ And this was true. But I didn’t know how to feel about the whole ‘not wanting boobs’ thing. I put it down to thinking it was because, ‘All girls compare their bodies to other girls and want bigger this, smaller that.’ But there was a voice that said, ‘Yeah, but no girl doesn’t want their boobs at all!’ I was able to repress these voices for another 3 years. As you can imagine this created a number of problems. My mental health deteriorated, I was deeply lost with my identity and would always seek validation from others creating very unhealthy relationships. I didn’t like who I was, but had decided I’d rather be deeply unhappy than be out and lose everyone. And to a point, I was so used to this person I had created to protect myself, that it didn’t even feel like an act. But I was so unhappy.

Courtesy of Robin Clowser

Finding non-binary people on Instagram, and others within the LGBTQ+ community, truly saved me. A young artist/influencer called Chellamen, who identifies as he/they/them was someone I had been secretly admiring for years. I had followed him for some time and found myself searching his Instagram every night before I would go to sleep, as it brought me a lot of hope to see someone who I saw my true self in. Now once I had been exposed to non-binary people, who were being celebrated and loved, it changed my frame of mind. I started to realize how much internal homophobia I had towards myself. It wasn’t so much that I didn’t think my best friends would accept me, it was that I wouldn’t accept myself.

Courtesy of Robin Clowser

But through finding Chellamen on Instagram, I finally felt like I had permission to be myself. I felt seen and understood. I started showing up for myself by starting gender therapy. After a month, I cut my hair short for pride month. I also quickly decided to come out on social media to anyone whom didn’t know I was part of the LGBTQ+ community. It felt like I was finally taking back some control in my life; control that had been stolen from me in my childhood. No more performing for those around me in order to blend in to avoid pain, humiliation and shame. I wanted to be proud of who I am.

Courtesy of Robin Clowser

Thus, on the 30th of June, I posted an image of myself with the statement: ‘Trying to allow myself the space to find that authenticity and to never hesitate to be anything but myself but this still comes as a challenge, as being queer has never be connected to safety and acceptance throughout younger years. But I’m kinda bored of having a subconscious filter on, even when it comes to my own Instagram account. This is hopefully a step in the right direction for my own personal growth. Happy Pride Month 💜🤍💛🖤.’ I linked my GoFundMe page that I had set up to raise money for my top surgery. I was terrified. All morning before posting it I was convincing myself why I shouldn’t share it. Imagining all of the things that could go wrong. ‘If I post this, am I ever going to have a good job?’ ‘Am I ever going to be treated the same way?’ ‘Will people now think I’m a freak?’ ‘Will their support up until this point go away?’ Deep down I knew these voices were the same voices that would control me in secondary school and they almost got me again. But this time I was sick of listening to them. So, I shared it. I came out as non-binary. In 3 days I raised £430 and received message after message of friends and even strangers telling me how proud they were of me, how much they love me, and even messages from many people I had fallen out of touch with, donating and sending their support. I spent at least the next 2 days crying with happiness, in disbelief that people could be so kind. The same people I had convinced myself to be afraid of.

Courtesy of Robin Clowser

When I came out to my mum, she had a lot of painful questions that were not said in a spiteful way, but felt like questions the world would demand to know. Questions such as, ‘If you’re transitioning, does this mean guys won’t find you attractive anymore?’ ‘Why do you want to change so much of your body into a male’s body if you’re not a guy?’ ‘Surely, you can have to top surgery and that’s enough?’ And these are questions I imagine a lot of people may have and don’t understand. To this, I replied, ‘It’s not really about the body I’m in being more connected to man or women. It’s about finding the body that feels like mine. I will transition and I will still be Robin, non-binary.’ My mum found it slightly overwhelming and I felt disappointment in her tone. I imagine she felt like the chance for her to have grand kids had slipped away. A common misconception. I realized that everything she had imaged her ‘daughter’s’ life to be, had just changed. I reassured her that I still would love to be a parent one day and this is still possible with the insane science and technology we have today. I repeated that I am still me. I am still her child. Nothing has changed and nothing will, other than the body my being sits within.

Courtesy of Robin Clowser

I have learned a lot throughout this journey, mainly though therapy, relationships ending, and seeing the most bizarre people prove me wrong by supporting my transition. I know now just how strong I am because I have been forced to be so brave, in ways that you should never have to be. At 23, I have started to finally stop hiding and performing for others. I do plan on starting testosterone, and hopefully by 2022, have enough money to have my top surgery. I am far from feeling comfortable in my own skin or confident enough to scream this story from the rooftops, but I also understand how important a trans experience/story can be for those who are still feeling the need to hide, and are feeling very alone.. If it wasn’t for the LGBTQ+ community I found on Instagram and the non-binary representation that I saw, I doubt I would have been able to understand myself in the ways I do today. With that, it is important to remember that no one else’s experience is yours, and that you should never compare your progress with loving yourself with anyone else’s. This is something I have to remind myself of daily.

Courtesy of Robin Clowser

There comes a point in my story where I had to stop living a certain way for other people. I had changed myself into the person I thought someone wanted and needed me to be, a number of times. I did this for my mum, for my brother, for my ex, and for my friends. But in this process, I was actually destroying all of these relationships because I was living a lie. I was deeply depressed and could only support the people around me as much as I could support myself, which was hardly at all. But I see that now and I understand that my life isn’t for them to dictate and control. And as Lizzo says, ‘If I’m shining everybody gunna shine.’ Now, 6 months later my mum still trips up and calls me my dead name. But overall, she has been nothing but supportive and accepting.

Courtesy of Robin Clowser

Being yourself should never come with losing family, or worse, losing your life. And unfortunately, we still live in a very unaccepting world. Trans rights are always being challenged and the press will always portray us as monsters. This is something I am very aware of and it terrifies me. But I know myself now and I’m excited for who I am becoming. I know I am not a monster. I am just Robin, trying to get a job, buy a car, fall in love, and be a good friend. Just like anyone else. There is no need for me to hide. Thanks to my insanely supportive friends, I am able to be the light not only in my life but for others too.”

Courtesy of Robin Clowser

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Robin Clowser from Brighton, Sussex, England. You can follow their journey on Instagram. Submit your own story here and sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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