By Hallie Underwood, ’20

“I try to out myself as much as I can because I want people to refer to me properly.”

Junior Gray Cook sat on a park bench in the UAHS courtyard, under the shade of a tree. They wear a red and black flannel shirt, dark jeans, and headphones hung around their neck. Nonchalantly, they gesture their collections of brightly-colored pins and buttons, decorating their maroon book bag. Big, bold, capital letters read in one button “Ask me about my gender,” on the other “They/Them.”

Cook said they first began experiencing gender dysmorphia when they started playing with toys.

“The earliest memory I have with my dysphoria is wanting girl toys and a pink room,” Cook said. “The masses think if you’re identifying as male from birth, then you want to play with action figures and trucks, and if you’re born a girl, the toys you play with as a child are dolls and princesses. I think that’s way too binary — expecting the binary is ridiculous.”

Some high school students never feel at peace in their assigned gender or their opposite gender, living them in confusion when coming to terms with their identity.

“I was having a lot of, I guess you could say, dysphoria, with my gender, because I was having a lot of doubts about gender roles. I didn’t see myself as any more or less feminine or masculine than anyone else,” Cook said.

Like Gray, Junior R Thompson identifies as non-binary and also struggles with gender dysmorphia in their daily life.

“Dysmorphia, in my experience, is just weird … it’s just a weird feeling. When I’m alone at home, I feel more like myself. I know myself. I don’t have to worry about explaining myself to anybody. But when I am with others, at school, or with other people, I know that they don’t understand my identity, or my true feelings,” Thompson said.

When Cook first began to realize they didn’t identify with a feminine or masculine identity, they turned to the internet for help.

“I looked up ‘What does it mean when I don’t look like a male or female? What does it mean when I have no gender?’ A lot of the signs pointed to me being non-binary. Others said it was the early signs of going through a full gender swap. I didn’t feel like I was a female living in a male body — I didn’t cling to that idea very well,” Cook said.

COMING OUT

Cook started identifying as non-binary in mid-January, and came out to their mom and step dad in April of their sophomore year.

“My parents were never not understanding of the whole LGBT thing. They know a lot of my really good friends are non-binary and transgender. They’re very understanding of it… but they weren’t as educated as they could have been,” Cook said. “I don’t blame them at all, because they didn’t have anyone that they really needed to be educated for.”

Cook said their parents made took it upon themselves to learn more about non-binary identity.

“I didn’t really tell them anything of what they know. They did it themselves, which is really awesome,” Cook said.

Thompson came out to their family several years ago.

“I knew that I was non-binary in middle school, I started having feelings outside being a female or male at that time,” Thompson said.

While most students feel nervous on the first day of school, pronouns and names add an element of stress for non-binary students.

“On the first day of school this year, I got really nervous about whether or not I should tell my teachers what I go by,” Cook said.

However, the response from teachers has been generally positive Cook said.

“My Fort Hayes teacher had a student survey that you had to fill out, and the first questions were preferred name and preferred pronoun. It automatically shows you that she is respectful of what you want to be called, which is really heartwarming to me,” Cook said.

REACHING OUT

Students at UAHS have also reached out to Cook with questions about gender identity.

“Some people have gone as far as to say, ‘I don’t know anything about this, I want you to tell me everything about it so I can understand.’ People who I don’t even know message me asking about it — it’s absolutely amazing,” Cook said.

Thompson and Gray feel today’s generation will be more accepting of nonconforming gender identities. But, there is still a long way to go, Cook said, who’s studying film at Fort Hayes.

“Our generation has been pioneering all of these gender ideas, all these sexuality ideas,” Cook said. “In terms of gender-neutral characters in film, I can’t think of any.”

Cook recommends attending the school’s gay-straight alliance club which meets every Friday.

“It’s as simple as going to hang out with your friends,” Cook said. “It’s focused around the LGBT community and introducing them into the world of people who think in the binary.”