I Was Transgender In An LGBTQ-Unfriendly School System

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girls gossiping at transgender woman

People always talk about how they’re shocked when partners, friends, or colleagues come out as trans. Maybe it’s because I’m trans/non-binary myself, but I’ve never been surprised.

A lot of friends come out to me. When people tell me they’re trans or LGBTQIA+, I just blink and say, "It’s about time. So, when do we shop for new clothes? When do I meet your partner?"

The truth is, most cisgender people are blissfully unaware of the strange inner battles a queer person like me faces. This is doubly true for kids at school. The signs are often there, but no one ever seems to notice unless they’re facing it, too.

Things have started to change since I was a kid. Parents are beginning to get a glimpse at what it means to be gender nonconforming as a kid, but there are so many moments where it’s written off as "being a tomboy."

I don’t blame them for being shocked when their kid starts dealing with gender dysphoria.

Looking back, I see moments that should have tipped me off that I was transgender. It took years to find the vocabulary for my identity — agender and nonbinary — so I didn’t come out until my 20s.

I couldn’t talk to anyone about it because I didn’t even have the verbiage for it. The concept of being agender didn’t exist back then — or at least, not in the more widely recognized way it is today.

It also took time for me to come to terms with what I felt. I thought feeling conflicted about my gender was normal. I thought some people just act out, grow out of it, and then conform.

People told me I was being stupid and crazy when I was acting out, but I couldn’t understand why no one else was as upset about being a girl as I was. I thought all the other girls were crazy for not acting out.

In reality?

I was just trans in an LGBT-unfriendly educational system.

RELATED: What Transgender Kids Wish Their Parents Understood

Here are 5 moments that should have tipped me off that I was trans:

1. Changing in the locker room was the worst

Locker rooms are and always will be, absolutely terrifying for me as a trans person. Most cisgender people may feel a little discomfort changing naked in front of others — especially in middle school and high school — but me? I refused to change. It got to the point where my first middle school had to have a parent-teacher conference. They kept arguing with me, "It’s unsanitary."

I didn’t care. I did not want to be there.

When they finally forced me to change, I hid in the corner. I would actively seek out the most desolate place in the area and not speak to anyone. If I had the time, I’d wait until everyone around me was out.

Why? Because I genuinely did not feel like I belonged in that changing room. I felt like I was the wrong gender and my boobs and butt and everything just grossed me out.

Eventually, I started refusing to participate in gym altogether during middle school.

My gym teacher stopped trying to argue with me.

2. My girly-girl fashion phase was a total front

You know that phrase "The lady doth protest too much, methinks?"

Welcome to Ossiana, circa middle school, high school, and first year of college. I tried to lean into my feminine side. I tried so hard. I was told, repeatedly, that if I was just more feminine, it’d all click and people would like me more and I’d live happily ever after.

Like most impressionable kids, I bought into it. If everyone told me the same thing, it had to be the truth, right?

I felt so uncomfortable about it, but I tried. I tried so hard. I was hyper-feminine: short skirts, corsets, makeup, heels higher than a stripper’s … and it still felt so wrong.

The only thing I ever felt comfortable wearing in high school was a long black leather trench coat, primarily because it hid my body’s feminine parts. And I knew that was why I liked it so much.

Some time in college, something in me broke.

I eventually started to wear sweatpants and baggy tees. And it was like a new world opened up for me. My clothes started to hide my body. They started to make me feel more masculine — yet still plausibly female. They were neutral.

More importantly, those baggy clothes let me define myself by something other than being female or male. Those clothes and the big black trench coat I wore? Yeah. Those clothes were and still are me.

I never felt comfortable in women’s clothing, especially dresses. The only time it ever felt right was (and still is) when I model because I feel like I’m playing a character.

Because, well, I am.

RELATED: 4 Crucial Lessons That Helped Me Accept Myself As A Queer Woman

3. My ex-boyfriend's mom verbally abused me

"You’re a GIRL. You want to have KIDS. You like MAKEUP, get it?"

"…and you’re wrong if you say no."

My then-boyfriend’s Evangelical Christian mother said those words to me. I could barely hold back my tears while she shouted at me. My ex did nothing to stop her from berating me.

Eventually, I broke up with him because I couldn’t take the abuse.

I wish I could say this was an isolated event, but it wasn’t — not just from her, but from other religious groups (aside from the Moonies, who partially raised me).

used to be Christian … until I wasn’t. I attended Bible study and was pretty desperate to fit in with the Christians on campus. That went over about as well as a bowling ball trying to swim.

Nothing seems to piss off religious people like not conforming to gender norms. I swear, it almost feels like these Christians could smell the queerness on me. Eventually, I learned to avoid Christians because they kept reminding me how I was wrong, for existing the way I was. I quickly learned that Jesus didn’t love me as I was — straight from his followers.

Oddly enough, I was a Satanist for a while simply because the kids at college made me feel so unholy, I felt the only person who would accept me had to be the Devil himself.

4. I acted out — aggressively

Cisgender kids don’t act out quite like a child dealing with gender dysphoria.

I didn’t realize why I did it back then, but I was acting out because I was scared, shoved into a box I didn’t belong in, and punished whenever I’d express myself. I felt alone, petrified.

And worse, I couldn’t even come up with the words to say how I felt because those words didn’t exist. So, I responded like a cornered animal. I got aggressive and I started to lean on my aggression to protect myself.

I acted out by beating the crap out of people. In fact, I was "asked to leave" my first middle school after I tried to chuck someone out a second-story window, bit someone, and choke-slammed a kid.

School left me with a burning rage because of how smothered and caged I felt. The very people who were supposed to make me feel safe as a child betrayed me.

As a kid, how can you be okay with that?

You just can’t.

That left me with a serious, primal wound that festered into a burning, white-hot rage. It was a Rage With No Name for the longest time and I developed a reputation for being a "nightmare child" at school.

It took me a long time to get my temper under control, and I’ve still been known to scrap in my adulthood. I usually don’t win those fights, but it’s still a thing.

5. I told my gym teacher who I was — and he didn’t believe me

Then, there was that time I broke down in front of my gym teacher. It should’ve been the biggest sign ever. But no one read it — including me.

I think this entire breakdown happened because of the locker rooms, or being picked last again in class. It was something like that, but the reason why it started doesn’t really matter.

Either way, I remember being in class on the verge of tears, yet again. The gym teacher asked, "What’s wrong this time?"

"I don’t want to be a girl," I said.

He looked at me quizzically, "You want to be a boy?"

"No, I don’t want that either."

He gave me a confused look and said, "Well, you can’t just be neither. You have to be either/or."

That’s when I burst into tears, which got me sent to the guidance counselor, where I said absolutely nothing because I couldn’t even figure out what was so devastating about hearing that.

RELATED: How Many Genders There Are — And Why Talking About The Spectrum Of Identity Matters

If any of this resonates, I have news for you…

You may be transgender like me.

The 2000s may have seen major progress for marriage equality, but they weren’t a friendly time to be queer or trans. Like, women got a pass for making out with women, but if you weren’t cisgender? It got ugly, fast.

I was in middle school in the '90s — and being gay was not as accepted as it is now. One of my classmates kissed a boy and faced such bullying for it that his parents pulled him from school.

If I’d said I was trans, I’m pretty sure my life would’ve been ten times worse. No one really talked about transgender identity. In fact, I didn't even hear the terms "agender" and "non-binary" until I was 20.

Conversations about trans identity happen so frequently now, and that’s a huge move in the right direction. I would’ve loved to hear my feelings validated back when I was younger and didn’t understand.

It’s so hard to explain to cisgender people how gaslit you can feel when you’re put in clothes that don’t reflect you, forced to act a way that feels so unnatural, and then told you’ll eventually like it.

You ask yourself if you’re defective or crazy. You look around and wonder why it all seems so natural to everyone around you, except you. I spent many years thinking I was born to be a defective throwaway of a person, that I was just too weird to be loved or accepted by others.

If you’re in my old shoes, I want you to know this: You’re okay just the way you want to be. You’ve got this and eventually, people will see you for the beautiful soul you are.

Oh, and parents? Tell your kids there’s nothing wrong with them if they want to shop for different clothes or wear their hair a different way. If your child is trans, being their rock is the best gift you can ever give them.

RELATED: What It Feels Like To Have (And Love) A Transgender Son

Ossiana Tepfenhart is a writer whose work has been featured in Yahoo, BRIDES, Your Daily Dish, Newtheory Magazine, and others. 

This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.