What Tumblr Taught Me About My Gender Identity

From telling their mom to navigating grade 11, Toronto teen Indygo Arscott explains what it was like to embrace their non-binary gender identity

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Indygo with leaves in the background

Photo illustration: Ka Lee and Joel Louzado

I’ve struggled to figure out exactly how I should label myself since I was a kid. Every time I saw the words “male” and “female” and the instructions to check one of them off, I felt terrified, because I’ve always known that I’m neither and yet both. For a long time, I thought I had no other choice but to fit into some kind of box.

But my first introduction to gender non-conforming identities didn’t come until I was about 14. I actually learned about the idea from Tumblr, though it wasn’t so much a particular post as an idea that became planted in my brain. At first, the idea of being non-binary didn’t really make any sense at all. It was something I had never heard of; something strange and unusual that seemed as if it would exist only in fictional universes. However, as I delved deeper into this community of magical boundary-breaking wizards, I began to feel a sense of belonging.

Neverthless, I still thought my gender identity was a secret I was going to keep forever (literally—I vowed it was something I’d take to the grave), because I thought I didn’t have the strength to face the world head on. I was worried what my friends and family might think of me, or that they wouldn’t understand. Plus, I’ve always had difficulty fitting in and finding things I had in common with people; I was sure coming out would only alienate me more.

That—knowing I was non-binary, but not being able to tell anyone—went on for two years. Then, last September, I was hospitalized for anorexia nervosa. I was on bed rest for almost two months so my body could recover, which meant I spent a lot of time within my own mind. In situations like this, it’s impossible to avoid some kind of self-discovery, whether it’s wanted or not. What else was there to think about? How comfortable the bed wasn’t, or the heart monitor I had to wear 24 hours a day? So, between staring out the window at fall’s grey skies (anything was better than my usual view: white walls and medical equipment) I took a deep look within myself.

It was as if I was on some kind of internal quest for identity. I thought about how I had known this about myself for so long, even though no one else did. And I also thought about how, if I wanted to live, I couldn’t spend my life pretending.

Not long after I came to this realization, I got the news that I’d finally be allowed to go on a short walk. The first thing I wanted to do was take a breath of fresh air. It was a chilly autumn afternoon and I only got as far as a damp bench right outside of the hospital doors, but I had never felt more excited in my entire life. My mother was right beside me, as she had been for the past two months, sleeping in an uncomfortable chair that turned into an even more uncomfortable pull-out bed. I took a deep breath, and just blurted it out: “I’m non-binary.” (Later, I’d realize that I actually identify as two-spirit, but depending on who I’m talking to and when I’m talking to them, it’s still sometimes simpler to say non-binary.)

My mother’s reaction was everything I could have hoped for—she was happy for me, and although she didn’t entirely understand what being non-binary meant, she was open to learning. The rest of my family has opened their arms with acceptance and the desire to learn, too. And thanks to colonialism, they do have to learn. Even though my Indigeneity informs my understanding of gender, I’ve had to learn about my two-spirit identity from research because throughout the Americas, settlers tried to wipe out Indigenous peoples’ understanding of gender in favour of a Eurocentric binary system.

Coming out to my classmates was truly difficult. Actually, I haven’t managed to come out entirely yet. Social media has helped: I made an Instagram post with a long caption where I talked about “coming out of the closet.” After that, I received a ton of support from my peers, but all the sudden it was as if I had become the authority on all things trans. People began to ask all sorts of questions and raise concerns that, to be honest, weren’t any of their business. I’m happy to educate people and point them in the direction of resources, but there is a fine line between wanting to know more and invading my privacy.

There are still moments where I am terrified to look in the mirror, or publicly identify myself. I hope these moments don’t happen forever, but healing has never been linear. These simple acts of reclaiming my identity as a two-spirit kid from Toronto are powerful acts of resistance. The very fact that I am living and breathing is powerful. I’ve also learned that there is strength in my confusion, in my experimentation and most certainly in my community. It feels so wonderful and comfortable to finally find strength in something that used to cause me so much pain.

As long and hard as this process has been, my struggles in gender are important parts of me. I wouldn’t change these times for anything, and although they continue to be nerve-wracking, I know I wouldn’t be me without them. My experiences have come together to create my story, and while they may seem chaotic, they flow together in perfect harmony.

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