I am a 42-year-old non-binary, disabled parent of two adult children. I didn’t realize that I was a part of the rainbow umbrella until they were well into their teenage years. I was raised in a culture and religion where everything was black and white. People were the same: one or the other gender.
The skills and hobbies you were taught and allowed to enjoy were based on that binary; there was no wiggle room above a certain age. When I started to show interest in the activities that the boys did, the thought was, “Oh, she will grow out of her tomboy tendencies.” I would rather help my father with his chores: mending fences, washing the family vehicle, and building the latest patio furniture, instead of my mother’s homemaking duties. I understood and related to males more than I did my own gender. Dresses were useless for the things I preferred, such as playing catch and helping Dad.
Don’t get me wrong, makeup and feminine things could be fun. Sometimes. Except for Barbies, I did not understand the appeal, not even slightly. My best friend was a Cabbage Patch Kid doll. That was the extent of my doll tolerance, other than stuffed animals.
As I hit my teenage years, I understood girls even less. I befriended mostly guys as I could relate to them, and they were not “boy crazy” like the girls I knew. This should have been a clue. Yet, up to this point I had not heard the word transgender. I just knew that I did not fit the mold that I was being squished into by my family and the religion we practiced. The more I tried to be what people wanted and expected of me, the more I thought there was something wrong with me. I felt like I was broken. As a lot of the kids that grew up in the 1980s and 1990s, I shoved myself into the neat box labelled “female” and slammed it closed, although I really did not fit.
High school drama class was my first introduction to the gay community. The teacher was openly gay and frequently had his boyfriend show up at the end of the day. At this point all I knew about being gay was that their behaviour was “a sin” or they were “sick.” Either way, they were to be pitied and needed to get help. My teenage self did not understand. All she saw was her drama teacher who was full of fun and the most accepting person that she had met.
Most teachers took one look at this obviously severely disabled student and put her in the back of the room, hoping she would not be an annoyance. This drama teacher could not be wrong in her eyes. Besides, did Christ not say to love thy neighbour as thyself? There was no mention of “except gays.”
After graduating from high school, I moved from Calgary to Edmonton. For a while, I was inactive in the religion that was ingrained in my brain. However, loneliness brought me back to the fold. Shortly after, I met my husband and converted him. Dreams and ambitions were cast aside so we could start a family. Our first born was a girl and I thought to myself, “Oh no, she’s going to grow up gender confused!”, due to the fact that I did not exactly dress normally according to society, except on Sundays. I started wearing the one colour I usually avoided like the plague: pink. I did not force her to follow suit. Our relatives bought enough pink and frilly stuff.
After our son was born, I gradually began to be less active at church, which meant that the pressure to be gender stereotypical was lower. I became inactive because I was done with being judged and people using religion as an “excuse” to exclude groups of people. Especially the gay community. I knew a couple of people from the gay community and there was nothing wrong or evil about them. Then I started to go to the local Pride Centre five years after I formally left the church. I wanted to be a real supporter for something that I firmly believe in. Equality for all. I went to the women’s group originally as an ally.
Eventually I found drag, or it found me. The centre hosted an information night on drag. This was exactly where everything clicked! I don’t remember who said it, but they said that drag is not bound by sex or identity. That one could be a queen even if they were biologically female and vice versa. One could even do both! Somehow my brain also applied that logic to gender. And I started crying. Everything made sense. My gender was fluid. In that moment Al was born, or at least the beginnings of Al.
I contacted the Imperial Sovereign Court of the Wild Rose and got involved. I fell in love with all the people there. I started volunteering for the drag court and performing on rare occasions. Through volunteering, I met someone who used their initials as their name. I realized that I could do the same. Voila, Al was born.
My first performance was a Freddie Mercury song, and I ordered a binder for it. I wasn’t prepared for the feeling a piece of clothing gave me. I was so incredibly happy that my chest was gone. I did not want to only bind for drag, I wanted to wear it all the time. That was when I knew I was right. I could wear clothing from both sections of the clothing store. Al did not have to choose one gender. I could keep all kinds of clothes and that was okay. I stopped purging feminine clothes and masculine clothes whenever I had an opposite-gender day. I started wearing clothes that matched the way that I felt: feminine, masculine, androgynous, mixed, or agender. I was surprised how quickly I became comfortable in my skin for the first time in the entirety of my life.
Being comfortable in my skin spilled to other areas of my life, not just my gender. I started seeing past my disability. Yes, it was a part of me, but I realized I should not assume that I cannot do something based on a preconceived notion that someone else had. This led to me trying new things and improving skills that I already had. It has brought me here to MacEwan University and taking steps to better my life. In short, I will forever be thankful for the LGBTQ+ community for helping me to find and become myself.