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Audio Essay: Family, friendship, and gender identity in rural Ohio

Art by Ell Tobias
Ell Tobias
Art by Ell Tobias

I was 16 or 17 when I heard a kid in the hallway say, "I don't understand why those (expletive) (slur) get a whole month to celebrate."

And that just stuck with me.

I never fit in. I never played sports, never hung out with guys, and all my time was spent reading or with girls in my class. I knew that kid meant me, but I didn't know why.

I went home to tell my dad about my day. All he said to me was, "I don't see how he was wrong. Where's the straight pride month"? And I didn't know how to respond. I just went to my room feeling gross and betrayed, but still not knowing why.

Fortunately, I was leaving for a trade school out of town. There, in my history class, I learned about the Stonewall riots and how LGBT people stood up for themselves for five days against the cops.

A few months later, my best friend told me they identified as genderfluid and pansexual. I looked at them confused, like, "You're just saying words. I don't know what any of that means."

I needed to find out for myself.

For months after I read people's online stories about their gender identity, and it finally clicked, my sadness, anger with myself, and discontent with who I was finally made sense.

I was a transgender female.

And I was okay with that...until I wasn't.

I went on to Antioch College, where there were more people like me. It came naturally for them to call me she and her, but it still didn't feel right.

Why did this not feel right anymore? Was I wrong? Have I been straight and cis this whole time?

My friends looked at me and said, "Maybe you're non-binary if you don't like she/her or he/him pronouns"?

I said, "Wait, say that again."

And they repeated, "Maybe you're non-binary."

And I felt this enormous weight lift off my shoulders. I always felt like I never fit in. Now, I had found the right fit for me.

I would probably die for my friends. Honestly.

There are always going to be people who suck and people who will tear you down, whether they know it or not. But at the same time, I have friends I can always lean on and talk to about my issues.

God, I love them; I love them so much.

But there are a couple of people who I would love to be able to sit down and talk to again after years, even if they don't care. Like the old best friends or family members who wouldn't accept who I am today.

Today, I am Ellis Tobias, my friends call me Ell, and I am an agender person.

I'm happy with who I am.

David Seitz produced this audio essay at the Eichelberger Center for Community Voices at WYSO.

Ell is a Community Voices Producer at WYSO.