TikTok Helps Genderqueer Teen Realize Their True Self. “This is Who I Am. This is How I Feel.”

by Li

My name is Li. I’m from Somers, New York. 

My parents never forced gender norms on me. I never had super masculine or feminine toys as a kid or clothing. They let me lean towards that myself. But the only problem with that was when I went into kindergarten and elementary school, I had more exposure to stereotypes and the expectations of society, and how I had to be feminine, and I had to have long hair, and I had to have bright colors. 

I never really confronted my sexuality or gender until seventh grade, where I had a friend of mine come out as part of the LGBT community. And I was very supportive of them because I knew what the LGBT community was at the time, but I never knew about the gender spectrum. And so, when they told me about that, I was like, “Oh, that’s interesting.” 

And I looked into that myself, and I held off on that until COVID, which was mid-eighth grade. And during COVID, I had a lot of time to think because school was online and I was alone a lot. I had time to go online and go on social media and expose myself to different types of alternative TikTok, or alternative means of living, and dressing differently, and being who you are. 

I was surprised that so many people had similar stories to me. And I was like, “That’s strange. Maybe I should look into this, as well.” I went on a chat site because I was still trying to figure myself out, and I found this person on a bisexual tag. And so, I was talking to them and they were explaining being bisexual doesn’t have to be both. It could be a preference, it could be fluid, it could be whatever you want it to be. And I was like, “Oh.” I had an a-ha moment. And I was like, “I am bisexual.”

You don't have to conform to people's standards. You can be respectful to yourself and be respectful of others.

This epiphany was really important to me because all of my childhood, I was so focused on liking men and the TV shows and movies I watched, I was like, “No, that man’s cute. I should like that man.” But when I look back a lot of moments I had were like from the Batman and Poison Ivy movie. I liked Poison Ivy a lot more than I liked Batman, which was a little funny to me now that I think back to it because I never really thought about it like that.

So, two months later, I go to sit down with my mom who was at the dining table at the time, on her phone, just doing her own thing. And I sit down next to her and I pull out my phone. I Google bisexual flag and I pull it up and I show it to her. She needs reading glasses, and I totally forgot about that aspect, but she was like, “What is this? I don’t understand.” 

And I point to it a little bit farther away so she can see. And it said bisexual. And I was like, “Hey, this is me. This is who I am. This is what I feel.” 

And she’s like, “Oh, that’s great.” And she was super supportive and she told me she’d love me and that she’d always be there for me, which was very important to me, especially at, what, I was like age 14.

With my mom being supportive, she helped me out of that gender-conforming femininity. And so, I started exploring more masculine clothing. And I put up flags in my room and I got more comfortable in my own skin. In ninth grade, I kind of got a little bit more disconnected from that femininity. And I cut my hair short, which was a really big step for me because I wanted to present more masculine and I wanted to use different pronouns. And I wanted to be this non-feminine, non-masculine kind of person.

My mom had been away for a few months in San Francisco for work, so we went to go visit her. And we were just walking down the sidewalk one day and I was talking to her and I wanted to come out in the least stressful way possible. So, just when it was quiet for a second, I said, “Hey, mom. I’m gender fluid. Do you know what that means?” 

And she said, “No, what is that?” So, I explained to her about the gender spectrum and gender fluid and how I’d be using a different name and different pronouns, which is a lot to process. 

What she said to me was, “I just need some time to process this,” because using a different name and pronouns can be a big step, especially for my mom who’s known me my entire life and been using the same name and same pronouns for me ever since I was little.

And so, later on, she got more comfortable with it and she uses my name and pronouns all the time, and she barely ever slips up. And she’s so good about introducing me to people as Li, and it’s absolutely wonderful. I sometimes look in the mirror and I’m like, “What happened?” This is a two-year difference, and everything changed and I feel so happy. And it was just this wonderful, wonderful two years where I could finally figure myself out. 

Even today, I still feel forcibly feminized. I still feel like I have to be feminine sometimes, especially to present in front of older people who don’t understand so much yet. And it’s still really difficult, obviously, and it’s going to take some time. So, I really hope for a more gender nonconforming future, especially for younger people like me.

You don’t have to put yourself in a box. You don’t have to conform to people’s standards. You can be respectful to yourself and be respectful of others. The only opinion about yourself that matters is your own, and you shouldn’t have to worry about anyone else’s opinion about yourself. And you shouldn’t have to worry about what people think you should wear. You should wear whatever you want.


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