Out of a Box

Photo Sarah Whiting

As of 2022, I am an unapologetic straight young woman. Before then, I struggled with who I was as a person. I questioned what my identity was because I did not know. My gender dysphoria did not come from an internal place. People around me always told me what they thought I was feeling and what I must be because of what I looked like and how I acted. As a child growing into who I was, my thoughts were easily impressionable, so when people told me what I was and what I was feeling, I believed them; I believed they saw something I didn’t. I was confused, and what I knew of my identity crumbled.

Growing up, I was always a rough and tough girl. I had two older brothers, an older sister, and a younger sister — a large, competitive family. Around fourth grade, I started wearing fewer dresses and skirts and more athletic clothes. Kids in my class would make comments about my looks and poke fun at me by asking if I was a boy. I took their comments as just goofing around, so they never really bothered me.

During the summer before sixth grade, I caught a bad case of lice at summer camp. My mother wanted to cut my long curly hair, and I let her. After she cut it, she asked if she could shave my sides, and I let her. During that summer is when I really started becoming more of a tomboy. No more dresses, skirts, or wearing my mom’s high heels. Adults and other kids would accidentally refer to me as a boy, and at the time it was funny. When I started sixth grade I went to a new school with new people, and the comments from the middle schoolers felt a little more hurtful than those in elementary school. But with each year of middle school, the comments subsided or were intended as jokes, and all was good.

In 2019 I started my first year of high school, and that was the year I really began to self-doubt. I was a girl with short hair who didn’t shave her legs and wore boy clothes. If I spent time with guys, it meant I wanted to be one of them, but if I hung out with girls, I must have liked one. There was even a group of boys who called me “it” because they “couldn’t tell what I wanted to be.” Their words hurt and I got defensive, but behind closed doors I often thought, “Are they right?” I felt like I was being put into a box, but I also wasn’t sure if I needed to get out.

Before freshman year ended, Covid took the world by storm. Throughout quarantine, the comments and jokes were pushed to the back of my mind. But when in-person classes returned, I was forced to remember them. I couldn’t goof off or be comfortable with friends without comments, and at this time their words changed. Now it was, “You must be bisexual,” or “Do you want to be called she/her, he/him, or they/them?”

It wasn’t until I really sat and reflected within myself that I was able to firmly say that I am an unapologetic straight young woman.

Would I have experienced gender dysphoria if I didn’t receive jokes, comments, or questions? I don’t know. However, I do know that if I were treated and respected as just another person, I would have felt more comfortable, open, and not put into a box.

If there was a class focused on gender identity at my school, I know I wouldn’t have been comfortable speaking up about my experience around the individuals who were stereotyping me because of how I looked.

I strongly believe that requiring a class on gender identity could teach kids how to be inclusive and create a safe space for people to talk, but it could also have the opposite effect. Not every kid will come into the class with a good heart to learn and ask questions; it’s school and not everyone takes it seriously. The class could become like a boring health class where everyone but a few discard the information they learn. If the class isn’t required, then a safe space could potentially be created inside the classroom, but what happens once students leave it?

Instead, schools should focus on modeling inclusive behavior and teaching students how to respect each other. If kids are taught to respect their peers, it can lead to a safer environment where they feel comfortable expressing themselves and discovering who they are without hiding behind closed doors. That can happen without the addition of another class.

Isabella Thoulouis (she/her) was born and raised in Minnesota. Her core values are diversity, equity, curiosity, learning, and expressiveness. Isabella is a curious seeker, vivid dreamer, and avid thinker. These three qualities fuel her creativity and are the basis for the creation of her writing. She is a senior in high school.

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