When I was born, the doctor checked one of two boxes on my birth certificate. I was assigned an "F." What was once just a letter became a symbol for my gender category in the world. Female. Girl. Woman. It was more than being sorted based on biology, it was a determinate for how I would be seen by the world and for how I was meant to see myself. It was about what clothes I would wear, what pronouns I would use, what kind of name I had, and what I would look like. This happens to all of us and, for the most part, it works out OK. We're able to squeeze ourselves into one box or the other, feeling comfortable in whatever label we were given. A waitress calls us "ma'am," and it feels right.

As Pride Month 2019 kicks off, I want to talk about what it's like when that assigned letter doesn't work out. Almost every aspect of life exists on a broad spectrum, and gender is no different. Sometimes, the gap between how you feel and how you are seen becomes too large to consolidate. It starts to leave a sick feeling in your stomach. Suddenly, it is clear as day that all the people in your life are only seeing half of you, and on some days, even less. There are days when you can't even look in the mirror because you don't recognize yourself either. The feeling isn't always new, but rather like noticing an old ache you've grown very used to. I once read an analogy that went a little like this: Gender is like a bone in our body. We don't feel it unless something's wrong. We can feel when there's a disconnect, a break, a gap. Unlike a real bone injury, it's not a bad or harmful thing, but it can still cause us pain.

I started to seriously question my gender when I was 15 years old.

I felt misplaced among a group of women, like I was an outsider who just happened to be there. I felt a twinge when addressed as my birth name, which is a very feminine one. The older I got, the worse these things began to feel. The first time I met one of my best friends, she asked me for my pronouns, and answering "she or her" felt like telling half the story.

When I put on my costume suit for Mary Poppins my junior year of theatre, I looked in the mirror and finally recognized myself. I started to check "other" in gender categories on surveys and exams. I began a life-long process of self-acceptance over something I'd always known deep down. I was not a woman, but I was not a man. I was kind of both, kind of neither. I fell somewhere in the middle, feeling a partial sense of belonging among the traditional binary gender categories, but whole in my very own right.

After over four years of trying out different sets of pronouns, clothing styles, haircuts, and even first names, I feel that I've finally found the language and presentation to exist in the world as who I am inside.

It was all trial and error, and at times it was exhausting and discouraging. I am beyond grateful for the people in my life who gave me unconditional love and acceptance throughout a process that, in a way, will always be ongoing.

If I were to describe my gender, I would say I'm a blend of woman and neutrality, with the latter dominating most days, including a fluid experience of maleness that comes and goes. The separation between who I am inside and how I was perceived motivated me to come out. I socially changed my first name to something comfortable, familiar, and more neutral than what it was before. When people use a mixture of pronouns for me and call me by my chosen name, I feel fully seen. When I can dress and identify in a way that acknowledges the expanse of my gender, I feel that the truest version of me is able to exist.

The national conversation on trans rights often paints gender liberation as the final frontier in terms of queer acceptance. There is lots of controversy and opinion about the spectrum of gender, the debate about whether it's a spectrum at all. The truth is, 7.5 billion people falling into only two categories makes very little sense. Many cultures around the world acknowledge a third gender and beyond, including lots of indigenous tribes. I believe the American culture has yet to catch up and open our minds about the complexity that comes with being human.

I can assure you that the experience of being non-binary is an extremely real one.

I, and so many others, are living it every day. It is not a choice, but if it were, I think I'd choose it anyway. There is something beautiful about containing multitudes, about being fluid in my identity and having such a unique perspective. I am not ashamed to live outside the box. I feel free from the constraints of gender roles, of our cis-normative world. There are so many joys in being who I am regardless of what other people think. After all, at the end of the day, how I identify and present myself is about my comfort.

By now, I have a pretty good sense of what makes me feel happy. I love cheesy sitcoms from the early 2000s, I love smoothies that are blended perfectly, I love bad EDM music and writing poetry. I also love being non-binary. It's a part of me that captures my personal experience living in our heavily gendered world. Questioning and experimenting with your gender takes some easing into, but ultimately it's a form of self-exploration, and that's such an important thing (even if, in the end, you decide you're comfortable as your assigned gender). While we're all on our own personal journeys of finding who we are, let's practice love and patience with others and ourselves. Let's respect one another. Let's listen to the unique perspectives we all have to offer. Let's introduce ourselves from a place of authenticity and confidence.

Hi, my name is Jules. My pronouns are she/her and they/them. I am non-binary and proud.