By Bex Shuholm

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The first time I came out, I came out to myself, at seventeen years old. Not many people have a clear moment, they just sort of “knew”. Early on, I didn’t.
I had no inkling I was anything but straight until Junior Year of high school. At this point in my life, I thought I had everything figured out. I was six months into a romance that had been a year in the making with our high school’s star soccer player. I was planning on attending college to become an aerospace engineer, or something similarly sophisticated. I had a 4.0 GPA, every service club on campus on my resume, and spent my free time practicing trumpet and tutoring at local middle schools.
One spring day, I took the first swing at the giant rainbow iceberg just beginning to peek out of
the water. I was sitting next to a girl in Spanish class, who I had recently learned was dating someone. She wouldn’t tell me who, making me guess. After giving up, she finally told me—and the name that came out of her mouth was the name of another girl. I was stunned. She didn’t seem gay, she seemed so…normal.
I wasn’t raised around gay relatives or family friends, or exposed to anything but traditional gender norms and heteronormativity. I had just never considered girls as an option before. But then, looking back, I suddenly became aware of so many “more-than-friend” feelings that I now recognize as crushes.
I loved my boyfriend and felt like I knew who I was, so this discovery rattled me to my core. As a result, my rush to come out at school was not graceful. This was the catalyst to my “rebel” year; suddenly I wanted to dye my hair, cover myself in tattoos and piercings, and do everything else my parents had turned their noses up at. It wasn’t pretty, but realizing I wasn’t straight was the catalyst that helped me challenge other expectations: that I had to date men, look the part, get good grades, study something practical, and be a big success. Thus began a never-ending season of iceberg hacking.
My journey to coming out as non-binary was less of a shock. Growing up, I loved playing dress up in traditionally masculine costumes: knights, Darth Vader, Spiderman, pirates, and many more. I played the prince at a first grade birthday party, had my hair cut short in second grade, and for most of my childhood wanted to be a boy. It wasn’t just that I liked the things boys were supposed to like, though; something about me felt different but I didn’t have the words for it. That all went on pause, though, as the peer pressure of middle school and high school swept me into conformity. I dressed the way everyone expected me to; I hated makeup and dresses, but that’s what my friends were wearing—so if that meant fitting in, I did, too.
Upon coming to college, I started wearing things I was comfortable in, like sweats and flannels. It took a while, but I was finally honest with myself that dressing in traditionally feminine clothes felt wrong. I slowly moved the dresses, skirts, and other feminine clothes out of my closet, replacing them with more gender neutral items. I then started experimenting with more masculine outfits, and started building my own wardrobe that I felt expressed my true self. Bit by bit, button-ups replaced blouses, ties replaced scarves, Oxfords replaced heels.
I’ve come out a couple of times to my parents by telling them point blank, but frankly those
conversations have never gone well. I have always cared deeply about what my parents think, so I felt a lot of guilt when they didn’t react positively to my coming out. I have wonderfully loving parents, and don’t fault them at all for a lack of understanding because I know it’s not out of a lack of love. If I had felt more comfortable and secure with myself and my identity when I had come out, I don’t think I would have felt so guilty, or like I had done something wrong.
Instead of rehashing these conversations when I come home from college, I simply continue to talk about the girl I have a crush on, and dress the same way I do at school. This more casual way of “coming out” is still valid, yet often overlooked. Even though being open about my gender and sexuality can make being home uncomfortable, they’re not things that are going away. It is important to me that I start merging these two sides of my life.
While coming out to my parents was (and continues to be) difficult, coming out to myself has been the hardest part. Even though sometimes I feel like I have done something wrong, I remember to affirm to myself that I haven’t, that I didn’t choose this, and that I didn’t “do” anything to my parents. I’m still getting used to the idea that I can be both gay and non-binary (and maybe have a tattoo or two), and still be respected and taken seriously by the professional, adult world.
I am in my sophomore year at St. Olaf College, working towards my dream of becoming a professional trumpet player. Some days it is difficult to wear what I feel comfortable in. Walking in the hallways of the music department feels like I am constantly coming out simply by existing. It has taken a lot of self trust and support from friends, and daily reminders that I am valid. While it’s difficult, the more I do it, the more confident I feel, the more normal it becomes, and the more I start feeling like myself.
What’s been most important in my journey is coming out to myself, and resisting the urge to hide my sexuality or gender, especially when it’s simpler to do so. Becoming a gay, non-binary adult is a journey that no one could have prepared me for. However, it’s one that gets easier the more honest I can be with myself and the world around me.

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