All my life, I have been pretty good at fitting in. Or at least, maintaining the appearance of fitting in. I lived with this idea in my head that I could become anyone I wanted to – anyone who’s better, who’s not weird, who’s somehow perfect. I grew up in Ukraine. A country now wrought with pain, trying to figure out its place in the world – somewhere between its communist, conservative past, and a bold, progressive future. I think it’s ironic how, in a lot of ways, my story overlaps with that of my country.
At 16 I liked the things a lot of boys did. I liked pretty girls, loud music, cheap beer, and dreaming about being a rock star. I’d formed a “band” with my best friend, there was only the two of us, and I wanted to be the lead singer, but couldn’t sing in tune, so settled for playing bass.
I should probably preface this piece by admitting that my outlook on life has become increasingly nihilistic over the last few years. Very little impresses me these days. With that being said, I feel that some hard truths need to be expressed regarding Netflix’s popular show Queer Eye. Let’s begin.
I have been robbed. Perhaps, long, long ago, there may have been words to describe my experience. But I have been robbed of language, and my experience has been robbed of meaning. Lacking, now, in language that applies to me, I am forced to fit into concepts too narrow for me. I can identify outside of the binary, but my identity exists only in relationship to the binary. Even the word “nonbinary” communicates what I am not, and cannot convey in any meaningful way what I am. Assigned female at birth, I am allowed to exist now in opposition to that, in relation to that, but never free from it.
To start this tale, I guess we need to start at the beginning. So, you can see my upbringing and see why things ended up as they did. A little long, and a little dark, but bear with me.
My father is disabled, he has a rare form of MS that is extremely variable. From days he can walk 20 miles to days he cannot leave bed. He cannot work and hasn’t been able to since his late twenties. It took most of my life time of testing to even find out what was wrong with him. My mother gave up work to care for him, and then me when I was born. They lived in poverty, just trying to survive.
It was the sweaty ass-crack of late summer when I huff-puff-gasped! my way into the blissfully air conditioned halls of my university on my way to some meeting of personal academic importance, and like many freshmen and veterans alike, I became promptly lost in the Labyrinth-like campus, and not looking to incur the wrathful Minotaur of tardiness, I found myself sidling up to a Student Services Desk to ask for directions.
I remember dressing up as a nun when I was around 8, it just felt like my natural place. I wasn’t particularly religious, I just liked the idea. Somehow, something inside me was telling me that there was no other space I would fit. I grew up on Disney and soap operas and even though I dressed as princesses and loved the heroes, I never wished for the same “happy ending” they had, never thought much of it, I just didn’t – at best I wanted to be Jackie Chan.