Myself in moments

I thought it would feel strange walking into my high school. It had been almost two years since I graduated and four years since I had attended in person. But as I passed through the front door, it felt oddly normal, like I had ducked my head out for a moment and was returning to class.

The thudding of my old boots filled the otherwise silent halls as they dragged on the floor. I got them in middle school and they never quite fit me, always too wide and loose on my feet.

I walked past a classroom. I stopped.

It was a large room, the one where I had attended film club meetings and English classes. In my memories, half the lights were always switched off because we could never fill the space, making it feel more like a movie theatre or a concrete cell than a classroom, depending on my reason for being there. But when I stuck my head in, it was neither. Backpacks were piled in the front and students filled the space in a crooked circle. All the lights were on.

On this chance day that I walked in, it was the end-of-year Gender and Sexuality Alliance party, just like the ones I had attended as a student only a few years ago. Except for my former teacher, all the faces were new but the feeling in the room was the same.

“Join us! We just finished the pronoun circle,” the student leader called out to me.

So I joined. And for the first time, I spoke the words that I could never bring myself to say at that school: “I’m Sidney and my pronouns are they/them.”

Throughout high school, I looked simultaneously strange yet boring: short hair, acne, textbook-filled backpack, instrument case in hand and probably some atrocious outfit composed of camo or hand-me-downs.

I knew I needed to leave to figure myself out.

This desire was the reason why I opted to go to BC for university instead of staying in Ontario, though I had never told this to anyone. Just like I had never told anyone from my hometown that I was Queer.

There were many “hints” in my life that I chose to ignore — the itchy feeling in my spine when people tried to gender me, the kinship I felt when watching Queer characters in movies, how I always felt out of place in my conservative suburban community. But it wasn’t until the end of grade 12, during a Zoom call, that I was forced to confront it.

I had been pushing for a gender-inclusive gym option and was meeting with the principal, my teacher advisor and the head of the physical education department to discuss the project. I don’t remember what I was saying when the tears started leaking out, nor do I believe that they had anything to do with the project. All I remember is that one moment I was speaking, and the next I had muted my mic. I turned off my camera. I sobbed.

I could hear the conversation through my headphones, but on my side of the screen it was just me making a sad attempt to dry my face with sopping sleeves. “I am Queer,” said a clear voice in my head. And for the first time, I felt sure about something.

I like to think that it was Vancouver’s rain that washed away my fear of my identity, but in reality, it was the friends I made. Around them, I did not feel the need to be anything I wasn’t. I didn’t need to be anything at all. We could be silly as we sang along to musicals out of tune, or we could be serious as we talked about our hopes and fears for the future.

“How did you know?” A friend asked me at a sleepover.

We were laying on the floor; me in a sleeping bag and him folded into a fuzzy black blanket. The sound of other friends’ conversations allowed ours to flow beneath, unnoticed.

I thought it was the truth when I told him I didn’t know, but I did. I knew it that day in grade 8 when I was playing basketball and I had a feeling for a girl that I could not explain. I knew it in my first year of university when a boy told me I was kind, leaving me light and floaty. I knew it when I realized that maybe being alone forever wasn’t something that I really wanted, but something I chose because I thought that it was the only alternative to heterosexual marriage.

The difference was that in living 3000 kilometres from the place I spent my life confused by all these emotions, I finally allowed myself to feel them without thinking about the societal consequences. What I wish that I had the words to say that night was this: “I now understand my sexuality enough not to put a name to it.”

I’ve stopped seeing my sexuality as gay or straight, nor do I see it as bisexual or pansexual. For me, there are too many things attached to all those labels for any of them to be accurate. If I like someone, then I like someone. If I’m not a boy or a girl, then I am something else. Yes, my pronouns are they/them, but I don’t see myself as non-binary. It reminds me of everything I’m not. I define myself by everything that I am.

One December night, I was a teenager going to my first prom — a UBC Pride Collective Prom. I walked in wearing a collared dress shirt and orange overalls. Music pounded from the speakers and balloons vibrated to the beat. All around me, people were dressed in the most beautiful ties, gowns, suits, flags and whatever else felt right to them. And because of that, it was beautiful.

When we see Queer culture in the media, we see characters go to gay clubs and loud parades. They wave rainbow flags and shout “YASS QUEEN!” For the longest time, those things made me feel like an outsider to the community.

But at the Pride Prom, I finally understood; these spaces aren’t about demanding that everyone be a loud, flamboyant version of themselves. They are about being in a room surrounded by people who don’t need explanations. They are about being you and not apologizing for it.

That prom left me with a happy bubble in my stomach; a feeling I realized that I’ve had before. I’ve had it sitting on the beach with friends, when nothing needs to be said. I’ve had it biking full-speed down Main Mall at night, just because I want to feel the wind rush against my face.

My Queer identity is made of moments where I can come as I am, whoever that may be.