It’s never really the right time to come out, but I’ve always been someone people listen to.

“Queer” is the word I use to describe my sexual preferences and gender. It’s an umbrella term for me. I try not to think about it too much when it comes to dating: I like who I like, and that’s that.

Gender is a little different. Some days I feel like a girl; seldom do I feel like a “woman.”

I tried using “they/them” pronouns (in addition to “she/her”) during the gray area between my 2019 college graduation and the start of COVID-19. I was writing my name on a whiteboard at my old job and needed to include my pronouns. I kept writing “she/they,” only to erase the second word.

I weighed whether a pronoun switch would confuse too many people. I wondered whether I truly felt this way or if I was making all of it up. I talked to my therapist about it. I talked to my trans friends and my queer friends. I decided it wasn’t time to come out yet; I had some stuff to figure out.

In the aftermath of the pandemic, I have had time to think about my gender and sexuality, and I have realized that I have always known who I was. It’s other people who didn’t understand. 

A friend from back home once described our hometown in rural North Carolina as a place where everyone knew he was gay but no one really gave him a hard time about it. I don’t think anyone gave me a hard time about it either, but I remember what the people around me were saying.

The first time I heard “gay” as an insult was in the carpool line at my elementary school. I think it was described to me as “boys who kiss boys and girls who kiss girls” in a tone that suggested the very idea was absurd. From then on, I knew I had to associate “gay” and “bad” to blend in, because that’s how everyone else was acting.

There are lots of memories like this. A classmate once told me her parents never let her watch Teletubbies because they were “gay.” There was a teacher who told two of my male classmates, “Don’t do that or people will think you’re gay.” I was always worried that my eyes would linger too long in the locker room and someone would call me out.

It took a long time for me to realize that these weren’t things other people worried about. I thought everyone else was also living in their head.

Growing up, a lot of people around me were going through things that seemed much more important at the time. It felt out of the question that I could be anything other than an ally, but my “rational approach” didn’t make the thoughts go away. I wasn’t really thinking about anyone in particular; I was just thinking about it.

There are a lot of people who will see my photo and tell me I’m still a woman and deny me the agency of making my own decisions about my gender. They do it because that’s all they can see me as. They do it to put me in my place—to put me back in a box I never really fit into. 

I don’t really care; I know who I am. Now you do, too.

Sara Pequeño is a former INDY staff writer and current freelance writer based in Durham.

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